If you're planning a wedding, you've probably heard this spiel one or twenty times already: After the cake is cut, the flowers are wilted and the last favor has been stuffed into your Aunt Betty's purse, only your photos remain.
So, needless to say, finding the right photographer is pretty important. It's also pretty overwhelming. Photography website SLRlounge.com estimates there are 100,000 wedding photographers in the U.S. alone -- and you're expected to find the one who will capture your wedding exactly the way you envision it. And you thought finding a husband was hard!?
Unfortunately, some of the most common "selling points" for wedding photographers can actually be red flags in disguise. Here are a few factors that shouldn't influence your choice -- and how to make sure you've picked a winner.
1. "This studio shoots 300 weddings a year!"
Experience is a must -- you don't want a photographer using your wedding for practice. But busier isn't always better. If someone shoots 100+ weddings in a year, either they're shooting back-to-back events every single weekend, or they're hiring associate photographers to fill their shoes (and their sample albums). Neither of those is an automatic deal breaker, but you should get a feel for how these photographers handle their heavy workload. If they're doing it all themselves, do they seem passionate or jaded? If they're hiring an associate, is it a talented colleague or a random freelancer? Make sure you know who will be holding the camera on your wedding day, and that they're committed to treating you like a VIP no matter how many other clients they have.
2. "She's running an insane sale!"
I planned my wedding on a shoestring budget, so I wore a $400 wedding gown in order to afford my first-choice photographer. My reasoning? The right photographer can make a budget dress look breathtaking, but the wrong photographer can make a Yumi Katsura look tacky. Ask anyone who's been burned: It's not a bargain if you hate your photos. If your favorite photographer is running a discount (like 10 percent off for Friday weddings, or a free engagement session), then heck yeah, jump on it! But don't let a deep discount be your deciding factor. Good wedding photographers pay taxes, carry insurance and invest in high-end gear and professional-grade printing. So before you cut corners with a dirt-cheap photographer, ask yourself where they cut corners.
3. "The venue recommended him!"
Early in my career, I shot a wedding at a gorgeous local venue and asked the coordinator if I could drop off a sample album for him to show his future clients. He told me I could -- for a price. Maybe I was naïve, but I didn't realize that some venues sell spots on their "preferred vendor" lists. Of course, this doesn't apply to every venue -- some offer excellent recommendations because they like to see gorgeous images of their venue floating around on the web. But always double-check recommendations against friends, online reviews and your wedding planner before plunking down a deposit.
4. "He's family!"
Maybe you have a cousin who just graduated art school, or an uncle who does wildlife photography or a friend who recently launched a portrait studio. And they've offered to shoot your wedding for freeeeee! While it may seem like money-saving serendipity, you risk bad blood if they screw up. Weddings are a tough gig with a lot of variables -- just because your friend takes beautiful photos of sleeping babies, it doesn't mean she knows how to light a pitch-black reception venue. And what if you don't love the photos? What if your images get lost because your cousin has mad skills but no file-backup system? What if your shutterbug uncle heads to the bar to do a quick shot with his brother -- during your first dance? Bottom line: When you're choosing a wedding photographer, choose a wedding photographer.
5. "Her portfolio is a