Kelly Barry-Miller
Executive Creative Director | Master Photographer
Phoenix Memories Photography & Videography

What To Expect
When Hiring A Professional Photographer For Your Wedding


Let's face it . . . planning a wedding can be completely overwhelming, even for the most organized and proactive Bride & Groom.  With a sea of vendors to choose from, and not enough hours in the day to meet with -- or do the research on -- each one, it is important to take a breather, relax, and really think about the vision you have for your day, and the investment you are willing to make, before proceeding . . . then tackle each area one-by-one.

One area we can definitely help you with is how to choose a wedding photographer, that fits your needs & vision, and what to expect along the way. Let's break it down in steps, as we sit with a cup of tea, cozy blanket, talking together as friends. This is the same advice I would give to an out-of-state friend, who may need to look at other photographers in her local market, because I couldn't be there to cover her wedding. This is from an objective standpoint of helping our community make wise choices regarding the best wedding photographer fit for their needs.

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Determine Your budget

When planning to hire a wedding photographer, it is first and foremost vital to understand what you will be getting, based on your budget.  Many people think they will be able to get a high quality photographer, by paying very little money -- because, hey . . . . everyone has a camera, right? They are everywhere, so it shouldn't cost much to get someone to take pictures of us on our wedding day?!  But the truth is . . . if you want a professional with experience, who will give you the images that stand the test of time, you need one that understands and can quickly adapt to the numerous challenges that a wedding day can bring.  Here is what you will need to budget, for the "kind" of photographer you are looking for (which should include their time, experience, talent, client consultations, and post-production editing).

High Quality & Experienced (Master) Photographer
Budget between $2500.00 - $5000.00

Mid-Level Quality & Newer (Associate) Photographer
Budget between $1500.00 - $2000.00

Lower Quality & Brand New (Apprentice) Photographer
Budget between $800.00 - $1000.00

The Higher Quality & Experienced (Master) Photographers should also be able to include/offer private password-protected online galleries (for friends and family to view and order digitals/prints after the wedding); custom-designed wedding albums, boutique packaging of prints, and custom print ordering (for additional pricing).  Many will also include a complimentary engagement session or second photographer (not standard, but a wonderful thing to have). The Mid-Level, Newer (Associate) Photographers may or may not offer online galleries, and you will probably have to pay extra for your engagement session, as well as a 2nd photographer. They also may offer printing services, but plan on finding your own print lab (unless the Associate's are part of an agency like ours who offer custom printing). Lower Quality & Brand New (Apprentice) Photographer's - unless they are  apprenticing with an established photography company, the photographer probably won't have any special add-ons and perks, since they are still learning.



Look Closely At Their Portfolio

A truly professional wedding photographer won't be afraid to show you their portfolio, as well as REAL weddings they have completed.  Don't be afraid to ask to see their samples, as well as a few of their online galleries.  Every photographer has a signature style, which shows an undeniable consistency in how they create  their imagery.  It is important you look closely at the continuity of their portfolio to determine if this style of imagery is what you are envisioning for your day.  If a photographer declines to show you a sample of a REAL wedding then there is a strong possibility they either do not have a quality "real" wedding to show you, or they are still building their portfolio. 

Schedule An In-Person Meeting

The photographer you choose will be with you all day long, so it is highly recommended that you meet them face-to-face, to determine if their personality and style of photography is a good fit for you and your beloved.  It also helps the professional to get to know you better, find out what you are envisioning for your day, as well as assisting you both in custom-designing a package that will fit your needs/budget. It is at this meeting you will be able to view any contracts, and ask the photographer questions.  If you decide you really like this photographer, their portfolio, and want to book them for your wedding date, then you will need to pay a "retainer fee" to reserve  them (more about that below).  It is standard practice for a professional photographer to require a signed contract & non-refundable retainer fee, paid in advance, in order to complete your booking process and to reserve your wedding date. 

Contracts & Retainer Fees

It is also common business practice for all professional photographers to have contracts for you (the client) to review and sign, as part of the booking process. This contract is meant to protect you, as the client, as well as the photographer and promotes a positive accountability and commitment for both. The photographer agrees to provide specific services (with integrity) requested by the client on the contract, and the client agrees to receive and pay for those services in a timely manner, according to the contract.  Review & read the contract very carefully, before signing, as it is a legally binding document.  If you have any questions, in the process, feel free to talk candidly with your photographer, and/or allow your lawyer to go over the document with you, prior to signing. Specific information that should be in the contract is as follows (will vary based on company):

  1. Client & professionals contact information (addresses, emails,phone numbers, etc)
  2.  Listing of services chosen and the details regarding those services.
  3.  Hours of coverage, pricing, locations for photography and schedule of wedding day. (wedding day timeline can be confirmed closer to wedding date, so is not a necessity, but always good to include.) 
  4. Terms and conditions explained in detail regarding all services. 
  5. Signatures of both client and professionals, and signing date.
  6. Copies should be provided for both the client and professional, for their records.

The non-refundable RETAINER FEE is much like a deposit, in that the amount you pay ahead of time should be deducted from the balance due. However, it is different in the fact that it is non-refundable (thus labeled as a retainer fee, rather than a deposit).  It lets your photographer know that you are serious about booking them for your wedding day, and shows your committment to them. In return, your photographer is showing they are committed because they are willing to reserve that day specifically for you (even years in advance), and no one else, even to the point of forsaking their own family memories which could occur on that same day.  A great example of this was when I received a family wedding invitation in the mail, which had the same date as a wedding I was already contracted/retained for a year in advance, and which I declined attendance.   Because I was committed to following through with my end of the contract, and staying true to our client, I had to miss my family wedding and all the memories it held.  THAT is how loyal a professional should be, in capturing their clients' memories, and the retainer fee lets them know you have the same level of dedication in booking and reserving their time/services.

Our company, Phoenix Memories Photography & Videography,  requires a 25% retainer fee, payed at the same time as the signing of the contract, in order to book your wedding day (note: different photography companies may require more).  For example, if the total cost of photography services for your wedding is worth $3,500.00, then you can expect to pay $875.00 as a retainer to hold your wedding date and chosen professional. This is non-refundable, and deducted from your balance due.  Which means if you cancel the wedding you do not receive the monies previously paid for the retainer fee back (unless certain situations are acceptable, which should be stated in your contract). 

Please be aware, that professional photographers may receive multiple requests/inquiries for booking on the same wedding date, so it is important that you (as the client) sign the contract and submit your retainer fee as soon as possible, if you want to be able to retain the highest quality photographer/videographer for your date.

Post Production Importance

Remember the professional photographer that you hired for 8-10 hours to cover your wedding day?  Well that same photographer will end up providing over 120 hours of service by the time you receive your final image delivery.  If you've ever wondered why wedding photography is so expensive, then this is why.  The majority of work that goes into your images, doesn't simply happen on your wedding day for only 8-10 hrs, but for many hours before (pre-wedding consultations, paperwork, phone calls); 2-3 weeks after, in what we call the "Post-Production" phase of editing your images (color-correction, blemish control, retouching, etc.), as well as the wedding day itself.  All contracts show what level of editing you will be receiving, and should be included in the terms and conditions. Some photographer's may charge a fee for re-edits.

Many clients think that they can save money by requesting the RAW and un-edited images of their day, but if you are truly working with  a professional they will not give you the RAW images, because it is like asking for an artist to hand over their prized painting before it is completed.  A RAW image is exactly what it says, it is raw, unfinished and not a depiction of a completed work.  An image doesn't always come straight out of the camera, ready to be handed to the client.  The care and attention to detail in the post-production phase is what gives the image that glorious high-quality, professional look that clients deserve, and which separates the experienced photographer from just any person with a camera. 

Here are a few examples of the immense value of post-production editing, and showcases the difference between the before (RAW image) and after (EDITED image). As you can see, there is a BIG difference in the images, so choosing a professional who is experienced in editing, is KEY, especially for a wedding day, because there are immense lighting variables regarding this live event, which the photographer has to quickly be able to adapt to, in a moments notice, and editing is simply part of having an overall completed look to the photos during the post-wedding phase. 


Delivery Of Images

You can expect approximately 30-60 days for your wedding images to be delivered, and a bit more time on top of that if you have ordered a custom-designed wedding album.  This is normal.  The majority of professionals prefer to deliver well before the contracted time frame, however, it is best to be patient and let them complete their artistry in the time frame allotted on the contract.  Believe me when I say they need this time.  An average work-day for me, during wedding season, is 14-16 hours (7 days a week), so every single hour/day after the wedding is needed, in order to deliver those breathtaking images you deserve.  

Format of Delivery is important, as well.  Decide on HOW you want your images delivered.  Higher end photographers will offer choices regarding this: custom designed wedding albums, proof boxes, custom prints,  online password-protected galleries for viewing, sharing and ordering, and personalized USB's.  Medium range photographers will probably provide a USB only, and lower range photographers may give you a USB or deliver images via Dropbox. If your photographer hasn't clarified how they plan to deliver your images, make sure you have that information before signing any contracts.

In the end, I hope that this information gives you a great sense of what to expect, when looking for a professional wedding photographer.  We have a motto here at Phoenix Memories, regarding our clients and how they should be treated . . . "This is YOUR journey, YOUR love story, and YOUR milestone day . . . and it should be captured with great care."  Choose the professionals that you feel confident will honor who you are and provide the highest quality imagery, which will last for generations to come, and plan on budgeting accordingly.  Your wedding images will be the only thing lasting (other than the ring) long after your wedding day is over. 

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