Already have a date and a venue? Congratulations. Now it is the right time to book a destination wedding photographer. Whether you book a wedding photographer directly or via a wedding planner, this Quick Guide will definitely help you with the process. You will have no doubts you made the perfect choice and have not forgotten anything important.
Booking a destination wedding photographer is not a complicated task. In fact, it is very easy if you have such experience or you know, how it “usually works” in the wedding industry. Thanks to my 13+ years of experience as a destination wedding photographer, I can share with you some wisdom and very useful guidelines which will make the whole process of booking a wedding photographer pice of cake.
When to book a wedding photographer
First of all, allow me to share with you a very important experience: high quality wedding vendors are usually booked more than 1 year in advance. Bookings made 2 years ahead of a wedding date are no exception.
That is why I suggest to start searching for your destination wedding photographer as soon as you book your date and venue. Of course this rule holds true for some other wedding vendors like videographers, music bands, florists, stylists and others.
I recommend all the couples to book their wedding photographer at least 1 year in advance. If you have very narrow preferences, you should book 2 years ahead. Because remember: there are many other couples searching for a wedding photographer right now, exactly as you do. And there is a “first come, first served” rule. So if you are late, you might need to contact a few dozen photographers till you find someone, who will be available and will fit your needs and preferences. And I can assure you – this is definitely not enviable situation.
Remember: the more specific style / approach / services you are searching for, the sooner you should book a destination wedding photographer.
What is a “fully booked season” factor
Professional wedding photographers book only limited amount of weddings each year. I have some colleagues who book 15 weddings / year only, some others book up to 20 weddings like me. But none of them book 30+ weddings a year. Why? Just because they want to keep their professional approach for each and every wedding. Shooting 40 weddings a year means you need to split your capacity into more jobs thus the level of quality becomes lower. And the level of exhaustion becomes unbearable.
Real pro never ever does this. Trust me, I know what I am talking about. In my early beginnings in 2007, I used to book 35 weddings in 6 months… After handful of such wedding seasons, I decided not to do it again. Now I book up to 20 weddings each year which creates very fine balance between a healthy business and delivery of 100% quality service.
So in other words, even if your chosen photogapher might be “available” for your wedding day, she/he might not be “bookable”. Which means – do not wait too long when booking a well established wedding photographer.
Weekdays make it easier
You will find it a lot easier to book all the wedding vendors for a weekday wedding. It is just because weekdays are not so popular for weddings. That is why most of the vendors will be available even half a year in advance.
But this rule might not hold true if you are planning a destination wedding. Why is that so? During a high wedding season, all the professional wedding photographers are usually fully booked for weekends. So they might not be able to fly a few thousand miles immediately after a weekend wedding and return soon enough to get ready for another weekend wedding. And please trust me here – it is not question of money, but the ability to maintain the professional approach. Each wedding means a lot of energy invested and time consuming preparations. That is why a wedding photographer might not book a weekday wedding even if he/she is available.
Now, when we have answered the timing questions, let’s proceed to the biggest challenge – process of gathering information.
The process of gathering information about wedding photographers
We have already discussed when to book a wedding photographer. Now it is the right time to do another step in the process of booking a (destination) wedding photographer – start gathering information.
Who is a destination wedding photographer?
Maybe you have already started your research and found out there were “wedding photographers” and “destination wedding photographers“. The difference is very simple – destination wedding photographers are willing to travel anywhere you want to get married. And if not, they usually serve their clients at least within the continent they live on. Some other wedding photographers serve rather in their local area.
Please bear in mind that the term “destination” is just a word which anybody can use. In other words – a lot of “wedding photographers”, will be willing to travel even if they do not use the word “destination” in their business names. And some destination wedding photographers might not be comfortable to travel e.g. to Siberia or South Pole.
1. Choose the style: fine art, documentary or other?
After you start searching for a wedding photographer, you will definitely notice some differences in the photography styles. The appearance of wedding photos will differ, sometimes a lot – and that is obviously not a surprise because each photographer preferes different approach thus the resulting images will be very different.
There is no chance to create a full list of wedding photography styles. But when we make it very simple, we can say, that there are three main styles of wedding photographers:
- Documentary photographers.
- Fine art photographers.
- Creative “fearless” photographers.
Documentary wedding photographers prefer to capture the wedding day exactly as it was, not stepping in, just capturing the flow and true emotions. One could describe it as “photojournalistic” style, but whatever we call it, the wedding photographs are usually candid.
Fine art wedding photographers tend to capture the weddings “in the best light”, as if their clients were movie stars. Not only content is important, but also a form. Elegant, hassle-free, timeless appearance with a touch of editorial – those might be words to describe this style. Some of fine art wedding photographers shoot film, as I do (you can view my portfolio here).
Creative “fearless” photographers are those who usually seek for creative angles, interesting see-throughs, unusual compositions to create something really extraordinary. Usually they love bold poses and unique moments. The resulting photos are often very creative.
Of course there are many more wedding photography styles like editorial, fashion influenced, romantic, etc… which blend together so much that in fact, each wedding photographer has his own style.
Now take a look at the photographs and ask yourself – which wedding photography style do you tend to prefer? Of course you will encounter many more individual styles, some of those will blend together. But you should keep in mind your preferences and try to avoid being overwhelmed. How? Just keep track of your search results – create a list of only those photographers who really impressed you. And forget about those who were not “your cup of tea”.
You can use any tool for creating such list. I just like the old school pen & notebook. Just be sure to create one because a few days later, you will not be able to remember the ones who were your favourites.
2. Check the testimonials and recommendations
Since the wedding photography industry is not regulated anyhow, it is up to clients to evaluate the level of professionalism and quality provided by photoraphers.
What I am trying to suggest here – always try to verify the provided information. This can be done very easily:
- Ask for testimonials from previous clients.
- Ask for recommendations from other wedding vendors (e.g. venue, florist, videographer,…). No wedding vendor would recommend a dubious photographer – because their businesses are realiable on the quality of photographs they receive.
The advantage of hiring a wedding planner is obvious here… You simply ask your planner for a recommendation – so there is no need to do your own market research. Professional wedding planners only work with the best vendors (wedding photographers included).
3. Ask for other conditions: packages, prices, delivery time, …
I have already explained there are style differencies among destination wedding photographers. But that is not the only nuance. Let’s compare a destination wedding photographer to a nice restaurant.
Imagine you walk into a fine dining restaurant. First of all, you choose from a menu (photographer’s packages), then you wait a little bit before a chef finishes your dish (delivery time of the photos), and then you enjoy your meal (that’s the delivery of your wedding photos). Of course, in a fine dining restaurant you expect top-class service. In the end you pay for your meal and leave the restaurant. Were you happy? That might be a tough question to asnwer. Why? Because there are many factors which affect your final rating (menu, taste, interior, service, price,…).
Now you see there are really lots of factors that determine the overall quality of such service, as a dinner in a restaurant – or a wedding photography. What exactly are these aspects?
Nuances among wedding photographers
- Coverage: each photographer offers slightly different type of coverage (hours, number of photos, …).
- Prices: the price range among wedding photographers can be huge, from one thousand to ten thousand euro or even more.
- Travel fees: are these included in the price or have to be paid on top? You will encounter both options.
- Retainer: the amount you pay upon signing a contract can be 10% or even 50% of the final balance.
- Delivery time: this range can be surprisingly wide, from 1 week to 15 weeks. Median would be 3 weeks. Some photographers offer sneak-peek previews a few days after a wedding.
- Form of delivery – what you can expect: some photographers deliver just download link, others will send you on top of that a box full of prints and even some luxury gifts. The most common way of delivery in 2020 is a flash drive or download link + some prints.
- A contract: as you might expect, each photographer has his / her own contract which you are highly advised do read before signing.
- Payments calendar: some photographers ask their clients to pay the whole balance e.g. 30 days before a wedding, some before delivery. This differs a lot and you should be informed about this upon signing a contract.
- Personality: your wedding photographer will be the only person who will spend with you most of your wedding day. Which means you should really find out (before you book) if the photographer is friendly and easy to get along with. Just use skype and you should know in 15 minutes. This is extremely important!
- Non-standard situations: what happens if you cancel or postpone your wedding? This is what you need to search for in a contract.
These are the most common nuances among destination wedding photographers. When the research is done and you have collected all this information, it is the right time to evaluate them. No big science – just a common sense.
The process of evaluation
Now, when you have already done your research and gathered all the important information, is the right time create a list of your favourite destination wedding photographers. It’s no big science, just write down those few that are your “cup of tea” in every way mentioned above.
Compare and ask wedding photographers questions
As soon as you have created the list, try to compare these wedding photographers once again. View their portfolio, compare their offers, approach, personality, style, level of professionalism, communication, testimonials,… and just use your common sense. This process is not supposed to take you the whole day. This can be done briefly in one hour. Should you feel all the wedding photographers deliver very similar service, just ask them some questions.
Trust me – professional wedding photographers will love to have a chat with you on skype or answer you via phone call. You can ask whatever questions you might have. Just don’t ask what camera they use because this is really not important. Instead, you might want to ask:
- Can you follow our dress code for our wedding?
- Will you arrive alone or with assistant?
- Can you provide us any quick previews a few days after our wedding?
- Can you show us any sample albums so we can order one after our wedding?
- In case we want to extend our package during our wedding day, is it possible?
- What happens in case you are not able to photograph our wedding (health issues,…)?
- Where will you publish our wedding photographs (website, social networks,…)?
- Will you deliver photos to other vendors in case they ask?
- and so on.
After all the research and work you have done, you should possess all the relevant information needed for a qualified decision. And if you feel hesitant, just trust your guts and make decision. That’s it!
Congratulations! You have made the choice and that is awesome. But wait with popping the champagne because there is still one step left. To finally book your wedding photographer. And this should be done right now to avoid the very common mistake – an enquiry does NOT mean any kind of booking.
Book the wedding photographer right now
Now contact your chosen wedding photographer immediately to book your date. Remember, enquiries keep coming every day – so if you are too hesitant, some of your favourite photographes might have actually got booked during your decision process. I know this sounds a little bit wild but yes, it really happens. And there is no chance for any wedding photographer to track all the enquiries and inform them about the availability changes.
Advice from a real pro
A smart move: In case you want to book a photographer but you need to wait e.g. for a venue confirmation, just explain to the photographer your situation and ask if it is possible to book the date tentatively. In case such photographer receives another enquiry for the same day, he/she will let you know that you should make the final decision as soon as possible. As a professional destination wedding photographer with more than thirteen years of experience, I know it is not easy to book all the vendors. So I always do my best to help couples with the process of booking. And I guess most of my colleagues will be willing to do such preliminary booking for you too.
After receiving a confirmation of your booking from your wedding photographer, you will be usually asked to sign a contract and pay some retainer. Please remember that in legal terms, your date is booked after the retainer payment is made. So I suggest: do not hesitate with proceeding this transaction.
But do not worry… Every professional wedding photographer or your wedding planner will walk you through these steps consisting of signing a contract, payment calendar and other necessities. It is part of the whole service so enjoy being taken care of.
If you have followed this guide at least a little bit, you have probably done almost everything you could to choose the best wedding photographer for you. Actually, by reading this whole guide up to this point, you have already proven your commitment to such a task. And let me tell you: that is really awesome! You know why? Because all the effort you have put into this task will result in the most beautiful wedding photographs from your wedding. Yes indeed.
There are so many newlyweds who are not happy with their wedding photos each year. And this usually cannot be simply fixed. Wedding is a once-in-a-lifetime event so there is no space for “let’s hope” or “maybe”. Just learn from the mistakes done by other couples and book a wedding photographer who is a real professional. Remember, you hire a professional wedding photographer not just because of some show-off on social media. Your wedding photographs in a form of a heirloom wedding album will be passed down to other generations. So make sure this album will be presented with pride.