The internet is awash with advice on the best ways of finding a wedding photographer. While most of this advice is quite useful, it is targeted at people who are already conversant with photography. These are the individuals who can differentiate between great images and poor ones. But if you are a photography novice, there is not a lot of information that can help you out there.
When we speak with potential wedding clients, they usually say the same thing. They do not want wedding photos like those of their parents. They are looking for natural recording of their big day done by somebody who lets things flow naturally without any posing or interruptions. Fortunately, most wedding photographers have already embraced this type of wedding photography. Except for a few photographers who have become known for posing and moving people about during the wedding event in order to get perfect pictures (and it is advisable to ask your photographer about this. It is quite irritating to be posed, prodded and poked the entire day yet you wanted somebody who would hang unobtrusively in the background), most photographers are going to record events as they happen during your wedding. However, the outcomes are decidedly still very different even if almost all wedding photographers are employing a similar approach to their work. Therefore, how can you tell what constitutes a great photo? What should you check for when appraising the portfolio of a wedding photographer?
In my view, it all boils down to how the story is told. Every photographer has a personal perspective on the most appropriate method of telling a story using photos. The way a photographer views storytelling will be reflected in the kind of photos they take, how they go about taking them, their location during important incidents and all other things that happen in between. In addition, there are several variables that a photographer can control and that can be the difference between two or more portfolios:
Any photographer will tell you that lighting accounts for 90% of what differentiates a good photo from a bad one. One of the easiest ways of understanding the effect of lighting is to raise your hand and turn your palm towards the window. Next, rotate your hand to and from and observe the various ways that shadows are projected on your hand as you spin it round. When your hand is directly facing the window, the light falls and it is distributed cleanly and evenly but once you begin moving it at right angles away from the windows, it makes shadows that cause your hand to appear dramatic and moody. This is exactly what photographers do every day. They study light. So, as you scrutinize portfolios, you will begin to observe that all of us play with light in different ways. Some photographers like extremely bright photos so the world appears airy and light whereas others utilize light to create emotion and ambiance.
When you begin to browse through the Wedding Photo Portfolio, pay close attention to the quality of lighting in the photos. Do they look dark and gloomy or bright and romantic? Every photographer has a distinct style, and most probably you will connect with one better than others. In addition, as you peruse the portfolios you might note that some photographers call themselves light photographers and this indicates they only use any available light instead of using flash and other lighting systems. In case you are getting married in a dark place with few windows, you will need to ensure the photographer has sufficient know-how that enables them to create light where there is none. Each lighting scenario is different for all photographers, so ensure you are looking at pictures that have similar features to your wedding location. A midday outdoor wedding when the sun is shining brightly needs a different skill when compared to a reception on New Year’s Eve that is held in a dark church.
request to see a few reception shots because a lot of people exclude these from their portfolios. This is because if you intend to have a reception in an art gallery where there is no light, you want to ensure that we can deal with it. If you observe that all the reception pictures are a bit blurred and have been turned to black and white, then perhaps low-light conditions are not the strong points of that particular photographer. If you notice a lot of backlighting and what seems to be blasts of light at the back of the dancing area, this suggests that the photographer is able to create autonomous light in situations where no light exists.
From lighting, composition is the next aspect you may want to examine in a photographers portfolio. This simply means the manner in which they set up the photo. Even as the photographer captures the moments as they are happening, they are still seeking to find interesting was of relating the story. For instance they might use the bride’s back and the head of her father to outline the face of the groom as she goes down the aisle. This way, you can tell exactly where to go immediately you look at the picture and also you get the additional story of observing the face of the groom from the viewpoint of the bride. When perusing the portfolios, it is important to ask yourself if the pictures were shot from the same angle and perspective.
Nearly all the advice relating to wedding photography will tell you to inquire from your photographer the type of camera that they use. This is normally a futile question unless you are a camera enthusiast. Oftentimes I cannot even tell the best camera available on the market. But as you check through the portfolios you will note that some photographers use various tools to explain things in their own way.
Many photographers have a preference for the warmth of film. Film possesses a quality and texture that is impossible to replicate using the digital format, regardless of how hard one tries. In addition, when a photographer tells you that they use film, this indicates that they were likely trained in a darkroom and they are conversant with cameras other than the digital ones. Therefore your pictures will look unique and the experience of shooting on film will be unlike when you work with an exclusively digital photographer.
As you scan the portfolios, check for elements that make the portfolios unique to a particular photographer. Maybe the images are crisp because they are shot with lenses of extremely high quality. Or perhaps a photographer takes old-school black and white photos using his or her grandfather’s camera. The favorite tool of a photographer will say a lot in terms of how they view the world. But even though you may get some clues about their perspective just by looking at their portfolio, do not hesitate to ask them about it.
Ultimately it all boils down to storytelling. Certainly, according to online photography forums or Wikipedia, there is a correct and wrong way to shoot a photo. But in regard to wedding photography, the only thing you are looking for is a storytelling method that corresponds to your opinion of how your wedding should be.
You therefore need to ask yourself whether the photo you are looking at has a sense of humor. Check if it is romantic and it has softness to it and confirm that it has the crispness of a magazine image. The wedding photographer is going to tell your story through his or her own eyes, so you need to ensure that the two versions are correlated.
In case you feel like this is too much information to process, then simplify matters by asking yourself two questions: do you find the photos appealing and are you pleased with them? If you are not a very visual person disregard this question and ask the second one: do you find the photographer likable and do you feel pleased with them? The answers to these questions are even more crucial than lighting, composition or any sophisticated technology, and they are the principles you should abide by.