At least once or twice a week, one of the brides coming to my studio for a consultation, walks in, sits on the couch, and as soon as her purse hits the coffee table, out comes the … “list.” It’s a list of “questions for your wedding photographer” that she has found in a bridal magazine or website. Unfortunately, most of them contain obvious questions like “do you have a backup camera” (!), “how many weddings have you photographed” (I stopped counting after 100), “how many years have you been doing this” (going on nine as a full-time wedding photographer), etc. One time, after years of answering pretty much the same questions, I couldn’t hold back anymore, so I asked the bride who was in my studio:
“Did this help your decision-making at all?”
The bride pondered for a minute, looked up towards the ceiling and then she said “hmmm, not really?”
“And why is that?”
“They all seem obvious,” she said, “they seem like the minimum requirements for any photographer. They tell you which photographers not to hire, but they don’t really tell you what to look for in the photographer you end up hiring.”
A-ha! The bulb went off in my head. That’s exactly what those lists were, minimum requirements. Now, call me crazy, but I’m guessing most brides would want somebody better than the … “minimum requirements photographer” shooting their wedding. So, I decided to put together a list of specific points about choosing a wedding photographer, that would hopefully take a bride past the obvious “do you have a backup camera,” or “how many weddings have you photographed…” questions.
1) “Mommy, mommy why is the sky white in all your wedding pictures? They didn’t have blue skies back in your day?”
Obviously, the No. 1 thing you are looking for in a wedding photographer is picture quality. Very often, you look at the pictures of even some very expensive photographers, and you can’t quite put your finger on what’s missing. What’s missing is color in the background! Odd as it may seem, if you want to assess a wedding photographer’s skills, don’t look at the bride and groom in the foreground, but look at the background. More specifically… the sky! Or the trees. The sky, trees, foliage, buildings behind the couple, very often need a different exposure from the bride and groom in the foreground. It takes skill and equipment to get both exposures right in the same shot. So pay attention to the fact that while the light on the couple may seem okay, the sky will often be washed out and even trees, foliage, etc, will have drab, muted colors. Some photographers try to pass this off as a stylistic choice, but it isn’t. It’s an unfortunate side effect of poor lighting skills. A skilled photographer should be able to get both flattering light on the couple in the foreground and color in the background (sorry, but Photoshop-enhanced skies that look like a liquid detergent don’t qualify).
A couple of exceptions to using the background as a litmus test are a) when the couple is silhouetted or b) the couple is so far away that it essentially becomes part of the background. Silhouettes are very easy to do, because they don’t require a photographer to throw any light on the couple. By the same token, when the couple is so far away that you can’t even tell who they are, you’re not shooting wedding photography anymore, but landscape photography with a couple of random people thrown in. Oh, sorry, that’s … artistic.
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