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Choosing a wedding photographer
This is perhaps more difficult than you might think, particularly if you are not used to looking at wedding photography… which few people are! I’m writing this because I see photographers on Facebook every day who are trying to trick brides into believing that they are professional wedding photographers. I can tell by their prices and their work that they are not, but what can I do to protect consumers? As in most areas, education is the key to avoiding being duped. Read on for a photographer’s inside view of the wedding photography industry and discover how you can safely choose a professional wedding photographer.
Before we get onto choosing a photographer, let’s think about risk. There are certain suppliers that, should things go wrong, won’t really have an impact on your wedding. For example, one of my brides last year employed the services of a local dressmaker to design and make her wedding dress. As the months went by, the dream dress still didn’t fit correctly. The Sunday before the wedding, the bride had her final fitting and the dress was not right, so another final fitting was booked for the Thursday. That day, the bride left the dressmakers distraught as it still didn’t fit. She drove to a local wedding dress shop and bought a lovely silk dress off the peg that she wore on the Saturday. Of course, this whole episode was very stressful and she had to pay twice for her dress, but her wedding day itself was not spoiled.
This is a common story among brides who buy cheap imported dresses online as well. Putting the risk into perspective, buying a cheap copy wedding dress may be stressful and costly, but it should not actually ruin your big day.
If we apply the same reasoning to the flowers the situation becomes more serious…you wouldn’t discover a problem with the florist until the morning of the wedding. Same goes for the wedding cake maker.
What about the photographer? In their case, you might not discover a problem until weeks or possibly months after the wedding. One of my clients has a friend who paid £500 in advance for her photography. The photographer showed up and shot the wedding… then a few days later he explained that due to some kind of “technical problem” the photos were not available. The final outcome was that the couple were not given any of their wedding photos.
Should I search via an online wedding directory?
Yes and No – there isn’t a simple answer to this. Most directories just include whoever will pay them. No photographer can afford to be in every single directory, there are so many of them. For successful, long established, wedding photographers the majority of bookings come via personal referral (friends of previous brides) so they don’t need to advertise…so it’s reasonable to assume they will be less likely to pay for lots of different listings. So in the paid directories you will frequently find photographers who are not getting much business via referral, perhaps because they have started their business recently. This afternoon, I was approached by yet another online wedding directory, so I had a look at their website. There is a charge for obtaining a listing with them, but I couldn’t find what that fee was. So, I went to the listing for wedding photographers and searched for two of Britain’s best known, award winning photographers (Jeff Ascough and Crash Taylor). Neither of them were paying to advertise on this particular register… so any bride searching there could be doing herself out of the best wedding photographers rather than actually finding them!
Generally, I would say it’s best to avoid any directory that makes the photographers pay for a listing as this will seriously restrict the recommendations that directory gives you. However, it’s usually not made obvious to you, as a consumer, that all the suppliers have paid to be listed!
So where can you find the directories that don’t charge?
The ones I know of are
Hitched - this is a paid directory but suppliers are generally of good standing
Wedding Monkey - paid directory
The wedding search – run by a professional wedding photographer. This site is unique in that it searches by availability as well as distance from your venue.
Wedding spot – An online database that takes both free and paid listings.
Free Index – no guarantee of quality at all, but it’s free so most photographers register. Note that the number of references on Free Index does not relate to the number of satisfied clients as some photographers chase Free Index references and others don’t.
Should I play safe and go with one of my venue’s “recommended photographers”?
Sorry, that’s not as simple as you’d think either! Some venues play this in a completely fair manner, and recommend to you photographers who their other clients have been happy with, live locally and work at the venue regularly. No money changes hands either way. Sadly, many professional photographers believe that these fair and honest agreements between hotels and their recommended photographers may be in the minority.
A more likely arrangement is that the photographer and hotel have a rather more “special” relationship that includes money changing hands. In some cases, the photographer is asked to pay a yearly fee in order to be recommended. In other cases, the photographer pays a fee to the hotel when they are booked to work there. I had a phone call from "a local hotel" a while back. They offered me the opportunity to be their recommended wedding photographer. I would be put forward to all couples, have a space in their brochure and attend their wedding fayre - for just £100 A MONTH! I refused the offer on the grounds that they had not checked my portfolio and were not making the proper checks into a photographer. All they cared about was finding a photographer who would pay them £100 a month.
I did a wedding fayre at a hotel that was organised by a reputable bridal fayre company. Four photographers were allowed to purchase stands at £100 each – the catch, at this particular venue, was that they forced the bridal fayre company to offer two of the four places to the hotel’s recommended photographers. Work from the two recommended photographers is permanently displayed in the hotel reception. One company’s work is of good quality, but the other company’s sample frame showed numerous photos with technical errors like flash shadows, poor exposure and incorrect white balance. It makes me wonder why that company was chosen to be officially recommended by that venue… I guess I’ll never know for sure.
A photographer friend in another area mentioned an incident with a different hotel. The photographer had been fairly recommended without money changing hands for some time. When a new wedding/conference manager took over at that hotel, she called the photographer in to see her. The photographer asked, at the end of the meeting, if she would still be recommended by that venue and the manager replied that she would look through her work and decide whether she liked it. Now, shouldn’t the couples marrying at that venue be concerned that someone with no experience in photography is determining who that hotel will recommend as photographer?