This is an article to provide the top tips of what to look for when hiring a Michigan wedding photographer and why Arising Images is up to the task.
Brides and grooms have many resources that they can turn to where they can get a comprehensive list of questions to ask when hiring a wedding photographer. However, most of those lists leave out some vital questions that will help you differentiate between an amateur and a professional photographer.
With so many people losing their jobs in this bad economy, many are picking up their cameras and buying a basic website template and to someone that doesn’t know any better, they can come off looking like a professional who is giving a great deal.
It’s important to be educated so that you know who you are actually hiring and to be able to discern between a professional and an amateur.
So, I’ve put together a list with all the things that I think are really important that will help you to know what you are getting and to know the right questions to ask to be properly educated.
******** Does the photographer have proper insurance?
This is a huge difference between amateur and professional photographers.
A professional photographer should carry two types of insurance.
1) Liability Insurance – this will protect you and your guests in the event of injury at the photographers hands. Some photographers use wired flashes which means power cables might be run across the room that cause a trip hazard.
I heard a story where someone was using continuous lighting which gets MUCH hotter than flashes. The light got too hot, exploded and caught a woman’s hair on fire.
In some cases it can be the photographers negligence and other cases it can be purely an accident. Either way, having liability insurance is extremely important because if something does happen and they get sued without insurance, they go out of business, you get no wedding photos, and your guest who was injured has no recourse.
2) Equipment Insurance – In many cases, newer photographers don’t have insurance on their equipment due to the cost. If their gear gets stolen before your wedding, are they going to have the financial means to buy new equipment? To get proper camera equipment, it can be very expensive. If they can’t afford equipment insurance, there is a good chance they can’t afford new equipment in the event their current equipment gets stolen or damaged.
******** Does the photographer have backup equipment?
Backup equipment is an extremely important thing to have. The fact is, things go wrong and can malfunction. If a piece of equipment fails will your photographer be ready to continue delivering the high quality images that you are paying them to capture?
Backup equipment is typically not something on the radar of an amateur photographer. It’s expensive enough to buy a good set of initial equipment let alone spending thousands of extra dollars on equipment that they may not ever even need. But what if they DO need it?
We carry backup equipment for everything from our cameras and flashes down to cables and batteries so we will never be left unprepared.
******** Does the photographer have a good command of lighting?
Lighting can be a very difficult thing for the average person to be able to notice but it can make a big difference in the overall perception of your photos.
When looking at a photographers portfolio whether online or in person, some red flags to pay attention to are
1) Harsh, ugly shadows on someone’s face from the sun or other strong light source being off to the side where part of the face is lit and there are ugly shadows on the opposite side of the face.
2) Spotty light that causes light patches on peoples faces and clothing from sun coming through the trees and the subjects being positioned poorly.
3) Dark shadows and no light on the eyes.
4) People squinting because they are facing the sun
A good photographer should be able to know how to properly position and light the subjects so that none of the above issues are a problem.
One of the most dreaded situations for an amateur wedding photographer is rain on a wedding day because if they can’t go outside, they have no idea what to do. Bad weather on a wedding day is always a concern but a professional will be able to deal with it and still get you creative and properly lit photos indoors.
One of the things that we pride ourselves on is the ability to create great photos no matter how bad the surroundings or the lighting. Quite often, the natural or ambient light that is available is not sufficient for taking photos so we are prepared to introduce artificial light that will help give your images mood and drama.
Here are a few creative images that we shot with artificial light when we were forced to be inside due to bad weather:
******** Are the photos crisp and sharp?
A professional will use a professional camera capable of producing photographs which can be enlarged and still appear sharp. This is extremely important if you plan on having images printed in a large album or plan to get any enlargements made of any of your photos. Cheaper lenses are manufactured with lower tolerances and will not provide the clarity and sharpness that a professional lens will produce. Amateur/slow lenses can be purchased for as little as $150, while comparable Pro/fast lenses might cost $1500+ for the same range. A fast professional lens will allow a photographer to shoot in low lighting conditions which is extremely important when shooting indoors at a wedding ceremony or reception.
To understand the sharpness in images, it is always best to look through full-size wedding albums. Anything shown on the web or in small print will quite often hide any lack of sharpness. So look through the wedding albums and if things look a little soft focused…be wary. All that being said, this is not suggesting that you ask a photographer what kind of lens they are shooting with, but rather you should judge for yourself by looking at the photo albums.
We only use top of the line canon lenses which will allow us to shoot sharp photos even under tough lighting conditions and dimly lit rooms.
The pics below are just a simulation that will help you to understand what I’m talking about.
This image on the left looks nice but it’s not crisp, while the image on the right helps to show off the rich textures around them. When looking at a wedding album or full-size images, everything should be very crisp and really pop.
******** Does the photographer have a business/sales tax license?
Since photography has no government testing or regulations that are required, just about anyone with a camera can call themselves a professional photographer. One small check you can do is ask a photographer to see their sales tax license. If they have a sales tax license that means that they are at least attempting to run their business professionally and legally. While it’s nice to get a deal, photographers need to obey the law by paying sales tax. If you find a photographer that has no sales tax license, that should be a huge red flag. If they are not following the law, then what else are they not doing? Will their “business” be around by the time your wedding happens? If they don’t feel obligated to the government, will they feel obligated to YOU?
We are extremely particular about paying sales tax. We even log and pay our sales tax on money that we receive as cash and are definitely not afraid of an audit. From when we started our business, we decided to keep everything above board and we know that will work out in our favor.
******** Will your photographer be editing all your photos?
With the onset of the digital photography revolution there are many advances in image processing and editing which can make a MAJOR impact on your photos. There are many young photographers that haven’t learned how to properly process their images in Photoshop and there are also many photographers who have been in the business for 20-30 years that are struggling to learn all the new techniques.
In my opinion, only half the art is taking the photo and the other half is turning it into something amazing. There are probably many photographers that would disagree with this idea. Half of them are purists and their vision is to capture things exactly as they are. The other half don’t know how to do it so they try to act like a purist.
For me, I love to edit my photos. I use techniques that help make the images pop to give bold and vibrant color, help make the viewer’s eyes go to where I want, help make the subjects skin smoother or maybe even fix something that they consider a “problem area”.
To me, this is what makes images really stand out and what takes them from being just a straight photo to a work of art.
I truly believe that it is a BIG mistake to hire a “shoot and burn” photographer who is going to shoot your images and burn you a disk of unedited pictures. Everyone I know that did that typically has no beautiful wedding album to show off and no beautiful pics hung on their walls. Many have the intention of getting those things done eventually but it just never happens. All the photographers I know that do this are part time and have more obligations to their other job than they do to wedding photography. Therefore hiring a “shoot and burn” photographer will probably save you a lot of money, but you will not have much to show for it either.
Here’s just a couple of before/after examples that show how much of a difference editing photos can provide. We do color/exposure edits on ALL of the images that we provide so everything from the website, image book, album, DVDs, etc. all looks fantastic.
******** Does your photographer have a 2nd Shooter or assistant?
A second shooter is an incredibly valuable thing to have for multiple reasons. First, your event can be covered from two different angles and two different artistic perspectives.
If one shooter gets caught in a bad spot at a certain part of the ceremony, the other shooter is still there to capture everything.
The way that we work is that I am the primary photographer and it’s my job to capture all the really important elements and meanwhile Cheridy documents lots of candid photos of people interacting along with lots of the subtle details that make your wedding unique. When I need an assistant to hold a light or a reflector to make the image I’m trying to take better, she’s there to help me out. I couldn’t imagine doing this job without her there.
In many cases, I tend to shoot things with a wider angle lens and she tends to shoot more close-ups which provide a much more diversified set of images.
Here’s an example where I was able to get a unique vantage point on the ceremony and while I was doing that, I knew that Cheridy was still close to the couple capturing everything that was going on.
******** Make sure you like your photographer!
This may sound like a no-brainer but you would be amazed at how many stories we hear about people’s friend or sister or whomever that had a photographer that seemed rude, bored, and generally not interested in their wedding day.
The person that you hire to be your wedding photographer will be with you the ENTIRE day. You will spend more time with your photographer than you do with the person you are marrying or any member of your family or bridal party. Therefore…MAKE SURE YOU LIKE THEM!!!
We only shoot 20 weddings per year and with those limited number of weddings along with all the time we spend with our clients before the wedding, we have a very strong relationship with each client. Our goal is that when we go to a wedding we want to feel like we’re at our friends’ wedding. We hope that when we show up on the wedding day, you feel like your friends have arrived to photograph you.
Some of our best friends are people that we met from being hired to photograph their wedding. One of the greatest things about this business is all the wonderful people that we get to meet.
******** How long does it take to get your pictures and product back?
After your wedding is over, you are in a euphoric state, you are excited, and you can’t wait to relive your wedding day by seeing the photos. If you have to wait too long, the excitement passes. You get back from your honeymoon and get back to work and the daily grind. The anticipation of getting to see your photos is still exciting but it can be frustrating if you have to wait too long. We’ve heard that some photographers take up to a few months just to show proofs and others might take 6 months to a year to show you your wedding album design. This is because they either shoot a lot of weddings and get way behind on the processing or because they have another job that takes precedence.
Since we only shoot roughly 20 weddings per year and have a good relationship with those 20 clients, I am always super excited to see the wedding photos. When we’re done with a wedding and it’s late at night and we’re tired, I still get a rush from seeing all the photos. I’m excited to see YOUR photos. From the minute I walk in the door (literally), I start downloading the images. I back everything up, I look through everything, and while I’m doing that, I typically remember certain images and remember what I wanted to do with those images so I just start working and playing with the photos. Before I know it, it’s 2:00 AM and I’m still working and having fun with the pics. Unless I’m shooting a job the next day or have other personal commitments, I will work on your pics any free time that I have. I never guarantee this, but with every wedding we have shot in the last 4 years, I have had the photos ready for viewing within a week and sometimes within a few days.
Once the photos are edited, all your products get made immediately including your image book, DVD slideshow, website, etc. Those also are usually done within the week. We’ve had clients come over to pick up their DVD slideshows before their guests have even left town so they can bring the pictures home and watch the slideshows with family.
Once that is done, we start working on your album design immediately and will usually have that ready for viewing within 2-3 weeks from the wedding day.
******** Will your photographer help you get organized, get prepared, and create a plan to get the most out of your day?
We’ve heard many stories about wedding photographers that have zero relationship with their clients. They get hired and then ask what time to show up. In many cases, they can’t even remember what the bride and groom look like and hope that she’s already wearing her dress when they get there so they can identify her. They don’t know when events are transpiring, have no helpful input on the photo to be taken, don’t have a plan of where to go, don’t know who the important family members are and are overall completely unprepared.
Personally, I think everyone should hire a GOOD wedding planner. Good wedding planners do a fantastic job of coordinating everything and everyone. However, that’s another discussion. Many of the weddings that we shoot do not have a wedding planner which typically leaves the day to be planned by someone with no experience. We found this to be incredibly frustrating because more often than not, things were running later than expected and there was never enough time to get the type of photos that people really wanted.
In 2006, we started creating wedding day itineraries with our clients. We sit down and talk the day out and make sure that all the major things are accounted for along with all the minor things that most people don’t think or plan for. By creating this itinerary, it provides a time for us to all get on the same page and then we know where we’re going, when we’re going there, how long it will take, how long we can be there for, and when we need to move on to the next thing. We will be able to plan out locations and figure out timing and address concerns over lighting and time of day.
We definitely do not act like a wedding planner and we don’t coordinate any other part of the day, but we will help you to keep on schedule since we are the ones with you for the entire day. These itineraries have been a great asset for our clients because they walk away with a formal plan that they can then share with everyone else involved.
One of the other really important things that we do with all of our clients is an engagement shoot. The engagement shoot is a critical part of the pre-wedding process because it’s the time where we get to spend together before the wedding to get to know each other. It’s a chance for you to get in front of the camera and get all the jitters out. Being professionally photographed can be a bit nerve-wracking and it can feel awkward at first. It’s much better to get over that awkwardness BEFORE the wedding day. At the same time, Cheridy and I will get a feel for who you are as a couple. We will learn how you interact together, how you make each other laugh, etc. which will make photographing you on the wedding day much easier. At the same time, when you see the engagement photos, we will get an idea of what types of photos you like and what you don’t like so we can come up with a better plan to capture what you actually want on the wedding day.
******** Does your photographer have any awards or publications?
One way to tell that your photographer is experienced is to find out if they have won any awards or been published in any magazines. There is so much competition that it’s helpful to know that the photographer you are looking at stands out from the crowd and one way to do that is to see if they get recognized in their industry. When I go to buy a car, I am much more interested to hear that it was a Consumer Reports top pick as opposed to reading about how great the car is directly on the manufacturer website.
We have been published in numerous magazines not only in the wedding industry but also in the photography industry. We have had a number of weddings featured in magazines such as The Knot Michigan, In Frame Bride Magazine, and Style Magazine. We have also been published in Professional Photographer magazine and Rangefinder Magazine which are two of the biggest national magazines in our industry.
We’ve been voted as one of the top photographers in Detroit since 2007, won awards for album design, and even been asked to speak at a national photography convention called Imaging USA.
******** Is your photographer full time or part time?
Knowing this will give you a better sense of their experience and commitment level. In itself, being a part time photographer is not a bad thing. I worked part time as a photographer for my first few years while I was building my business. However, I was not able to truly dedicate myself to my business or to my clients until I left the corporate world to do this full time. When you have to rely on your business to support your family, everything changes and you understand the value of every client and have the time and availability to properly take care of that client in a timely manner. When I had another job, my time and availability was very limited when it came to meeting people, calling people back, getting work done, etc. I had to do everything on weeknights because typically weekends I was busy shooting. I also had personal things on some weeknights which then left me very little time to run my business or too exhausted to run it effectively. Time is the biggest issue. When I had another job, I didn’t have the time to learn new skills, develop my style and technique, or practice new things because my time was taken up by my full-time job and any free time I did have was spent shooting, editing photos and somehow trying to balance family, church, and other responsibilities.
******** Make sure the style fits what you are looking for and that you don’t skimp!
Coming from a photographer, I’m sure this sounds like a sales ploy. However, we learned from first-hand experience to find what you want and not skimp on it.
When Cheridy and I got married in 2001, we weren’t shooting weddings. We didn’t know anything about the business and honestly, we didn’t even know that creative photography existed and didn’t want to pay thousands of dollars for the traditional and boring stuff which is all we had ever seen. We didn’t spend any time researching it and we decided to skimp on our wedding photography. We had a friend who did it as a side business shoot photos for us. We got what we paid for…not much. His camera was on manual for most of the ceremony and he didn’t know it, so pretty much all of our photos were significantly underexposed. We didn’t give him any time to shoot good photos because we didn’t know we needed to and he didn’t tell us. We were left horribly disappointed but…we got what we paid for.
There were a few things that nobody told us.
1) Creative, beautiful, and artistic photography DOES exist.
2) The wedding day is a blur and the photos are the only thing that you have left after the wedding is over. Neither I nor my wife can remember even half of our wedding let alone who was there.
3) The wedding photos are more than something of just US. They are a family heirloom. The wedding album gets passed on to children and stays in the family forever. We didn’t think about that until our son was born and then we started seeing all the amazing photos and albums that we get to do for our clients and realized that we didn’t have anything like that to pass on to our son when we are gone.
W ended up being very blessed by an opportunity where we dressed up and got wedding photos taken in 2009…8 years after our wedding. But now, at least we can say we have some amazing photos. I wish we would have done that back then.
It’s always nice to save money and get a good deal but make sure that you know what you will be getting and that you will be happy if you get what you pay for.
Overall part of our bad experience is what helped led us on the road to do what we do now so were are grateful for every experience we’ve had whether positive or negative, they all helped us to grow.