Wedding photographer aerial drone shot of wedding ceremony by  Bottega 53

How to Find an Amazing Wedding Photographer

For Memories That Last Beyond the Big Day
BY DONNA KIM / 01 03 22

When you think about your dream wedding, you probably picture in your head certain details like your dress, walking down the aisle, your partner at the end of it… But once the Big Day comes and goes, those pictures in your head start to lose their vividness—unless you have a collection of stunning wedding photos to cherish and look back on again and again. Which is why it’s so important to find a  talented wedding photographer whose style you like, since it’s through his or her lens that you’ll be viewing your wedding for years to come. 

Finding a great wedding photographer is one of those To-Do items that will take quite a bit of research and effort upfront to make sure you hire the right talent to capture every treasured moment on one of the most important days of your life. No pressure! You may be wondering how to even begin the search for a wedding photographer, and what criteria you should look for. To start, take some time to think about what type of bridal photos are most important to you (is it portraits, decor, party shots…), the style of imagery you gravitate towards, then make a list of photographers who excel at both your priorities as well as your desired aesthetic.

See more wedding photography by Michael & Carina Photography
Michael & Carina Photography
See more wedding photography by Natalie Bray
Natalie Bray

1. Research the Best Wedding Photographers

When you look at some of the best wedding photographers’ work, you’ll notice certain characteristics that stand out, even to the untrained eye: pay close attention to the artistry of their lighting, composition, color saturation, and intimacy throughout the photos, and identify which styles you and your partner prefer. There are so many talented wedding photographers out there, and Instagram and Pinterest can be very helpful when looking for inspiration but it can also be pretty overwhelming because of the sheer volume of options. Our curated directory of top wedding photographers all over the world is a great resource, and you can search by your location (or the location of your wedding) to see photographers who will service that area. Most wedding photographers are open to traveling to your wedding destination, domestic or international, but know that you will be expected to cover the cost of travel and accommodation—not just for the photographer, but for his or her team as well, which is something to keep in mind when budgeting. 

Another smart resource when looking for a great wedding photographer is to speak with couples who’ve worked with the photographer to find out if they enjoyed working with them. Nothing is as telling as first-hand experience!

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Eric Kelley

2. Decide on a Wedding Photography Budget

Before you start reaching out to wedding photographers, it’s a good idea to have an idea in your head of how much of your wedding budget you want to allocate to photography and videography. The venue and catering are typically the most expensive parts of a wedding, but wedding photography and videography costs are the next expensive line item on the list. “Once you have determined a number you are comfortable spending for the wedding, begin allocating the funds to the key categories of the event,” says wedding planner extraordinaire Lynn Easton of Easton Events. “It’s important to go into the process having discussed your “must haves” and agreed upon priorities”.

To get an idea of what kinds of numbers you could be looking at across the board, it’s helpful to know that in 2020 the average cost of a wedding in the US was $20,300. And as a point of reference, cost of a two-hour wedding photoshoot in New York City runs around $1,500. Of course, just like with any other vendors for your wedding day, prices across the country vary wildly, and New York pricing is typically at the high end of the national range. But if you are looking for a premium wedding photographer who is based in a major city like New York or LA and will fly to your destination, remember that the pricing will be premium “big city” pricing. The most popular, in-demand photographers will also likely have significantly higher rates than the local average as well. 

3. Consider Wedding Photo Packages

There are a couple different ways that wedding photographers break down their pricing: some may offer what’s known as a “day rate” (which includes a set number of hours ranging from 6-9), while others charge an hourly rate, particularly if you are looking for a shorter photo session. Either way, most photography services are offered as a type of package that includes the details of photo printing or digital downloads and any add-ons, like drone photography or travel and accommodations. When speaking to potential photographers, feel free to ask what dictates their pricing and the details of any package options. For example, does the standard package include just the wedding day? Or does it encompass an additional engagement session—and can that engagement session time be reallocated to your rehearsal dinner? There may be other little-known expenses that can accidentally push you over your wedding budget, like a second shooter, a photography assistant, and any post-production costs. Post-production encompasses editing, color-correction, retouching, and any rush fees to expedite your photos. Most of the time these granular details will be included in a wedding photography package, but it’s important to make sure that whatever services you enlist are all-encompassing—and at the price that you’ve agreed to. 

See more wedding photography by The Edges Wedding Photography
The Edges Wedding Photography
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Stanlo Photography

4. Figure Out Your Wedding Photography Needs

The first question is how many hours—or what parts of your wedding day—do you want to have captured. Do you want to have photos while you are getting ready? Do you want to do a “first look”? How important is it to you to have pictures of the reception tablescape and invitation details that may require some prop-styling skills? And do you want to have your photographer leave after the ceremony or stick around until the last dance? All of these questions will help you and potential wedding photographers navigate how many hours of the day will be needed—as well as how many photographers you’ll need. Often there is a lead photographer who works with a second shooter and/or an assistant in order to divide and conquer your wedding day shot list and ensure that everything is achieved. While hiring an assistant or second shooter can be more expensive (due to hours worked and any travel and accommodations needed), often this additional person on the photography team is able to snap the more candid moments from your wedding party, while the primary wedding photographer shoots your formal portraits and more crucial moments of your wedding day. Having a second shooter also allows the photography team’s time to be split up so that there is someone spending the morning with each person in the couple while they’re getting ready, instead of bouncing back and forth. 

See more wedding photography by Laura Gordon Photography
Laura Gordon Photography

5. Find a Wedding Photographer Who Fits

Once you’ve browsed photographers in your area and viewed their work, we recommend coming up with a list of at least three to five wedding photographers who you want to reach out to. Since the most talented wedding photographers are often in high demand, there’s the possibility that they may not be available on your wedding day—or their rates may be out of your budget. 

When you’re ready to start reaching out to the photographers on your list, try to arrange for a meeting in-person—or at the very least, on Zoom or FaceTime. Personalities are important, since this is someone you will be spending a lot of time with on a very significant day. Photos don’t lie! Your chemistry and comfort level with the photographer you choose is everything. If you’re feeling anxious or uncomfortable, your photos may reflect that. So when you speak or meet with them, ask the right questions, and try to get a sense of their vibe and energy to decide if your personalities would work well together on your wedding day. Some of the best wedding photographers even provide a consultation and engagement test shoot before you hire them, which gives you the opportunity to try out the experience and see if your personalities click. 

Even if you’re not interested in an engagement session and have already found your dream wedding photographer, it’s definitely worth inquiring as to whether any engagement session hours can be repurposed for your rehearsal dinner or a portrait session the day before your wedding. Any opportunity to get accustomed to working with your photographer before the Big Day is worth it, and will make you appear so much more at ease in your photos. “Having your photographer accompany you and your wedding party pre-ceremony is a great way to start the day and guarantee you have captured moments with your closest friends,” advises California-based planner Victoria Holland of Victoria Ann Events. “This will also give your wedding party (as well as yourself!) extra time to become comfortable in front of the camera and establish a closer relationship with your photographer.” 

See more wedding photography by Days Made Of Love
Days Made Of Love
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Jimmy Chu Photography
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6. Ask About Wedding Videography and Drone Footage

Blame it on social media, but more and more couples are also hiring wedding videographers to supplement still photography. A beautiful wedding video preserves the emotion of your day in a way that still photography can’t, with recordings of the ceremony, speeches and every other detail. Which is why many wedding photographers and photography studios have started to offer video services as an add-on. The advantage of working with a videographer who is part of the same team is that he or she will know how to work with your photographer in tandem to achieve all the shots and moments that they want to capture, based on your shot list as well as their own. They will also know how to optimize and divvy up time with the couple, and not be intrusive to each others’ shots. If the photographer you end up hiring does not have a videographer on the team, he or she may be able to recommend a few that they have worked with in the past. 

Nowadays, more wedding photographers and videographers have drone footage options that capture aerial imagery of your event. If that’s something you’re interested in, be sure to ask if your potential wedding photographer or videographer offers drone footage—and confirm the they have a pilot’s license, which is required to operate a drone. If you’re having an outdoor wedding, drone photography of the wedding decor and architectural details is particularly epic. “Depending on the location, your venue’s natural landscape may offer overhead angles or additional floors with balconies that are perfect for overhead shots or drones,” says photographer Edward Winter of READYLUCK. “This is a great reason to have a second or even third photographer that can be in these different positions or operate the drone while your main photographer can be on the ground. Having two photographers on-site can lend to different images from different angels and solve the problem that your photographer can’t be in two places at once” 

Keep in mind, some venues, like private country clubs or big city high-rises, may not allow drone photography and videography, so be sure to ask beforehand. “It’s essential to know the wedding’s location and scout photo spots before the wedding day and, above all, to see if you can use the drone in that location,” say photographer duo Nancy Stuppiello and Piermarco Rinaldi of Bottega 53. “On the day, [your wedding videographer should] use the drone quickly during the ceremony, just for a few shots, so as not to disturb guests, and again briefly during cocktail hour to capture the atmosphere before and during the wedding reception, and the couple’s portraits session.”

See more wedding photography by Roberta Facchini Photography
Roberta Facchini Photography

8. Set the Scene for Your Wedding Photos

Once you have an idea of which direction you want to go with your wedding photography and videography, your wedding venue will play a big part in the success of your imagery from the day. Your photographer and videographer will know the best areas (with the best lighting!) to shoot, but if you have chosen a spectacular wedding venue with a view, be sure to share any photos of the space with your photography team beforehand so that they can map out their shots in advance and that embrace the different picturesque views and perspectives. “If you picked a venue with a view, showcase that with an epic bridal entrance shot that will ‘wow,’” recommends photographer Roberta Facchini. “The photographer will have seen your venue in advance (either online or with a location scouting) and will be able to advise if this is a feasible option (such as, if there is a balcony, a terrace or a staircase where the photographer can stand). Alternatively, you can have a big group photo with that view and your photographer can use different vantage points from above to capture both your breathtaking backdrop and your day-of portraits.” Wedding photographers are always trying to find the perfect lighting and you can embrace all times and light throughout the day. After-dark I-Do moments outdoors can be some of the most magical moments, so be sure to discuss nighttime options with your photographer as well.  

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Vero Suh
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Ryon/Lockhart Photography

9. Allow Enough Time for Wedding Photography

We highly recommend working closely with your wedding planner on all things photography and videography for your wedding day. Your planner will help outline the schedule for the day, so coordinating with him or her to ensure that there is enough time to take formal portraits with your partner, your wedding party, family and friends is essential. 

Inform your photographer of any major moments and surprises you have planned, as well! For example, if you have a unique dance during the reception that you want to perform, or a secret fireworks display your partner doesn’t know about, let the photographer know ahead of time so that he or she can capture all of those candid expressions. After all, you’ve gone to so much effort to find and hire a brilliant wedding photographer, you don’t want them to miss a second!