Hiring A Wedding Photographer & Mark’s Advice For Taking The Best Engagement Photos

Top 3 pieces of advice when shopping for a wedding photographer:

  • Ask a log of questions! Describe your style – Ask about style aesthetically and their style of how they work. Make sure your photographs will look the way you want them to and that you will enjoy spending the day being photographed by that person.
  • How long have they been photographing and how many weddings have they photographed? – Ask to see an entire wedding’s portfolio, not just 30 photos. It’s easy to get 30 good ones out of 3,000. You want to see if they can adjust to the lighting changes of the day, if they can photograph indoors and outdoors. See if they can get every aspect of the events of the day. Maybe they can get great portrait style photos, but can they get in-the-moment candid photos?
  • How long will it take to get the images? – You shouldn’t have to wait more than 2 weeks for the proofs, and wait no longer than 2 months for a final album. Anything more is unacceptable. If they are doing a great job shooting, there shouldn’t be so much “fixing” to do on the back end. And make sure you know upfront what you are getting for your money. Some unscrupulous photographers will charge you for taking the pictures, and then you find out that in order to get digital copies or prints you must pay even more. Some will even hold your photos hostage until you buy additional products you never wanted.

Top “Do” & “Don’t” for Wedding Photography: Don’t – Fall in love with one photographer’s style and ask the photographer you hire to adjust to that. Get the photographer that already has your style. That way you know you will get the style of photograph you want. Don’t try to get the photographer to shoot something they don’t do. You just set them up for failure.
Do – Trust your choices. Let the photographer do their thing. They know what they are doing. Don’t micromanage. You’ll miss your whole day and the experience of it. Let the planning go the week of the wedding.

  1. What do you wish people knew? – Don’t skimp on photos. The two biggest things you should be spending the bulk of your budget on are the location and photographs. You get what you pay for and this is the most important day of your adult life. And definitely do a trial run with hair and makeup – don’t let the first time you realize you hate the hairstyle and make up you chose be the day of your wedding. It may not photograph the way you want it to and it may not look on you the way it looked on the model.
  2. What resources exist to find reputable photographers - WIPA, Wedding Industry Professionals Association (, it’s an organization that vets photographers. They are not just a service anyone can sign up for. The photographer has to fit into a certain criteria, including but not limited to the length of time they’ve been operating. WIPA vets the photographer’s background, makes sure they have insurance, etc… It’s a one-stop shop for everything wedding. DO YOUR RESEARCH. Millennials are especially prone to solely looking at a photographer’s website and deciding that’s all the research they have to do.
  3. Advice for the day of: Take your time. Don’t rush getting ready. You’ll feel relaxed and have a good time. And there will be time to fix any problems should they arise. Drink a ton of water staring the night before. It’ll make a difference in your skin, energy and stress levels. And SPANX!!!! Change into your sexy lingerie after the party. Spend your day in comfortable underwear that will give you beautiful lines in your dress. Flattering your figure in comfort is WAAAYYYY more important. Don’t tan or sun before your wedding. I’ve seen too many sunburn or bad tanning horror stories. It’s better to be closer to your own skin tone. Your own skin tone photographs better, anyway. How far out should you book your photographer? - 1 year is typical. Photographers are one of the first vendors booked. Don’t wait! They are booked out at least a year in advanced. Book your venue first, then your photographer! Is a tip expected? - It’s not expected, but it’s always nice. $150 - $200 is common. It’s really for the assistants who are the ones lugging around the equipment and setting up any lighting for the photographer all day.
  4. What kind of deposit is normal – 50% deposit and 50% by the event date is normal. Remember, these are expensive weekends to book out. A deposit is insurance for them. Remember, the photographer is expecting to work and if he or she loses that weekend they usually can’t book another wedding in such short notice. That’s a large part of their income that they lose.
  5. How much should you spend on photographs? - At least $7K. That will get you great photographs. Some people charge as much as $17K! And that’s fine if you want to, but $7K will get you fantastic photographs. Remember, you get what you pay for.
  6. What are some pitfalls to avoid – Bait and Switch – sometimes you will interview a photographer and then the day of the photographer’s assistant shows up. Another pitfall is not receiving the negatives or high-resolution versions of the photos you ordered. There are two reasons unscrupulous photographers do this. One: They’ll essentially “ransom” the photographs for up to a year to make you buy products you don’t want or need. Two: They will suddenly claim the package you bought only covers taking the photos, not the prints or album. Make sure the final price is the final price. Be certain of what is in the contract to avoid hidden fees or unexpected caveats.
  7. What if you have a strange request for photographs – I’ll definitely tailor the photography to whatever adventurous thing they want. They just have to sit down and communicate what they want ahead of time. You can’t pop it on the photographer the day of. A wedding day is scheduled tightly. You don’t want to go over the scheduled time for photographs or go over budget if what you want from your photographer goes above the budget you’ve agreed on.
  8. Should color correction/Photoshop/any other corrections be included? – Every photographer is different. I include basic corrections in my package. But bigger Photoshop jobs – like putting in a UFO, or something like that, will be extra. Erasing major blemishes may be extra, as well. It’s a good question to ask the photographer when you are interviewing.
  9. Should you own all of your negatives? - In the digital age it’s more about getting high-resolution digital files of your photos once you have chosen your picks from the low-resolution proofs the photographer will send you about two weeks after your wedding. If a photographer still uses film, then you should ideally receive those negatives. Remember, every photographer owns the copyright to the photographs they take. They just license the use of the photos to you to copy and reproduce. The photographer always retains the rights to the your photos for their portfolio. That’s not photographer-to-photographer; that is a legal matter. The photos are their intellectual property.

Misc. Advice:

  • Go to Etsy for great ideas on how to turn your photographs into creative “thank you” cards or gifts.
  • Weddings go by so fast. Take it slow and take it all in. Enjoy your party and let every one do their jobs.
  • Do lots of events before hand and make sure your guests get their quality time with you then. That way you don’t have to spend your whole day making sure you touch each one of your guests. You can sit back and relax while you enjoy the day.
  • Have your “first look” before the wedding. A lot of couples like to be traditional and see one another for the first time at the ceremony. These days more and more couples are having their “first look” before the ceremony. There is less pressure to have that “first look” in front of all those people. They get to have their true reaction without 100’s of eyes on them. It’s more intimate to really have that one on one time alone. It can be an emotional experience. You may also want extra time before the ceremony to touch up any makeup you may have erased with tears of joy. That extra intimacy really shows in the photos. You may also lose a great deal of the nerves by getting the “first look” out of the way early. Stress and nerves definitely show up in photos.

Mark Steines’s Advice For Taking Your Best Engagement Photos:

How should we make sure we get the style we want? - Look at your overall theme. Paige and Jason wanted a rustic wedding; they went for an old western/country themed location. How should you approach Engagement Photos differently from Wedding Day photos: - Engagement photos should be more casual. They are a chance for the couple to show off their personality and get comfortable with the photographer and get comfortable with getting photographed. Most people are so aware of the camera; it takes them a while to get loose. The day of the wedding you are on a tight schedule. With engagement photos you can take your time and ease into it. How can you best get what you want out of your photographer? – Show them examples of what you like. Make sure you do a pre-interview or fill out a questionnaire so they understand your relationship and can get to know you guys better. Show them a favorite photograph of you. I took a great photo of Paige and she wasn’t wild about it. We all have a different perception of how we look our best. Show them how you think you look best. What should couples do while photographing to get the best pictures? - Don’t pose. I like to give indications and directions for how to exist in the space, but I don’t tell them how to pose. I like to catch them in the moment. I will even make up a story for them to enact so they have something to imagine. They won’t just exist in that space, they’ll tell a story. I’d rather capture moments than poses.
What should couples bring with them? You can bring props like block initials or objects that mean something to you. If you have a hobby, like horseback riding lessons, you don’t necessarily have to have the horse, but maybe a bail of hay or a saddle to suggest is nice. Definitely bring multiple changes of clothes to play with. I’d have at least three.

Check out Laura Grier’s Beautiful Day Photography Portfolio and follow her on Twitter & Instagram: @beautidayphoto

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