Your starting point should be the internet – simply search for “wedding photographer xxxx” with xxxx being your town/city/county and see who comes up on the first couple of pages.
You may have referrals from friends or family and by all means check them out but don’t add too much value to referrals as they are based solely on the service of one photographer rather than a comparison of what he delivered against what others might have delivered. Equally, the market place is changing all the time and new photographers may now be on the scene and worth checking out.
Once you’ve found a number of websites for wedding photographers, go check them out and don’t be afraid to make initial judgements based on how the website strikes you. Websites are shop windows and if the shop window doesn’t impress then it’s quite likely that the services offered won’t either.
Have a quick read about how the photographer describes his/her style, then take a look at any images that might be on display and if the feel is broadly fitting with what you are looking for then add them to your shortlist. Of course, check out the prices as they will vary hugely and for varying reasons but, be warned, the adage of “you get what you pay for” is not necessarily applicable to wedding photographers so don’t go chasing big numbers on the assumption that he/she must be a better photographer !
Don’t be significantly swayed by professional qualifications nor affiliation with professional bodies – the former are largely irrelevant to today’s contemporary wedding photography styles and the latter can simply be purchased – I know as I have both !
Don’t be unduly influenced by whether the photographer has a studio or not. Weddings are not shot in studios and studios are irrelevant to weddings. Indeed a studio base merely tells you that the photographer is primarily a portrait photographer and that weddings are a secondary string to the business. That may not be anything to be wary of but traditional portrait photography is all about posing and may imply a more formal approach to wedding photography.
Watch that you don’t get too distracted by sexy add-ons. We live in a digital age that now spawns a multitude of mediums for displaying wedding photographs and its all too easy to be drawn towards those even when the core photography isn’t really up to scratch or not really what you are looking for. Capturing the right images should be the priority and should dominate your criteria for the final decision – no amount of sexy add-ons or deluxe wedding albums will ever make up for images that don’t hit the mark for you.
Expect to see prices on show or at least reasonable guide prices. If no prices are shown then there is likely to be a good reason for that. If prices are reasonable then there is no reason for keeping them hidden from you. Beware the “we’ll tailor our prices/packages to suit your wedding” line as it is often just a means for the photographer to determine your overall wedding budget before quoting you a price.
Once you have your shortlist, contact the photographer and see if they are available – some won’t be – especially if your big day is on a peak season Saturday. Arrange for them to visit you so that you can check out whether he/she is somebody you feel comfortable with – don’t underestimate the importance of this one – and make sure you get to see some decent sized prints because that will be your end product and they have much greater relevance, therefore, than website images.
Don’t allow yourself to be talked into on-the-spot booking. Wedding photography is not double-glazing and shouldn’t be sold as such. Take notes, physically and/or mentally, and hold back on judgement until you’ve either seen other photographers or until you’ve had good time to sit and weigh it all up – a good photographer will respect the importance of making the right call and will give you the time and space to do so.
One final piece of wisdom which you may think “well you would say that” but which is a piece of wisdom I would pass on to my own family if/when they plan their weddings and that is do not underestimate the importance of capturing your day well. I have lost track of the number of people who have told me after their big day how much more they value their photographs than they thought they would beforehand.
There are all sorts of wedding services that tend to get prioritised higher than photography during the planning stage but once you reach wedding day +1 then 95% of the deliverables from those services are gone – they are just memories – a one day impact and then nothing. All that is left afterwards is the two of you, your wedding rings and memories that will fade with time but which can be re-invigorated with wedding photographs that not only bring back the events from your big day but, if you’ve got it right, the emotions from the day too.