Finding and Hiring the Right Wedding Photographer

By:  Chris Holmes (Holmes Photography Studio)

     Your wedding photography is one of the most important decisions you will make for your wedding day.  With over 30 years of experience I hope I can give you enough insight to make this decision process easier – and most importantly help you make a wise choice.  With so many choices and price-ranges (due to a flood of amateurs into the market) it's important to decide whether you want truly artful, meaningful images that evoke emotion when you view them and that you will treasure the rest of your lives together, or just some snapshots.

     As you know - when the dress is tucked away, the music is silent and the cake has been eaten, you are left with your wedding photos to relive this incredible day for decades to come.  That is a HUGE responsibility for your wedding photographer(s) so it’s a decision that should not be taken lightly and is not a decision to be based on price alone.

     In fact many wedding photos and albums become family heirlooms passed down from generation to generation.  It’s hard to place a true value on that, but if not done well – your wedding photography can become a wedge in your marriage before it even gets off the ground.  This is why it’s important to sit down with your fiancee’ and discuss how much each of you value your wedding photography and come to an agreement.  If wedding photography is truly important to both of you – the decision is easy.  If it’s only important to one – then the other should defer to that person who does value the importance of great wedding photography.  It shows respect for your future spouse and their values and it’s an easy way to make them happy in this very important decision.

     I have a 76-year-old friend who told me how his fiancee’ demanded they go with the cheapest photographer they interviewed.  My friend – who truly values great photography, although not happy with the photographer she chose or his work, agreed to her wishes.  Now 50 years later he is still upset when he talks about what a lousy job the photographer did.  His wife now wishes she would have listened to him back then and agrees it was not a good decision.

     If one of you truly values great photography – please listen to them.  The money spent when figured over a lifetime together to hire an excellent photographer with years of experience is negligible compared to the heartache of realizing you “saved” a thousand dollars but you sacrificed the memories of what should be one of the happiest days of your lives together.  Yes believe it or not – 50 years from now your wedding photography will either be a source of great joy for you, your children and grandchildren or it will be a sore spot in your relationship.  Can you honestly say that about any other vendor you hire for your wedding?

So how do you go about hiring the right photographer for your big day?

I could literally write a book on this but here are some key points in the process that hopefully will make it simpler than you might imagine.

1)       Most important - hire a professional with years of experience.  I can’t emphasize this enough.  Wedding photography is like no other photography and this is not the time to let an amateur or new professional learn his trade at your expense.  You may have friends or family members who want to photograph your wedding as a gift (either highly discounted price-wise or maybe even for free).  If you are tempted to go this route PLEASE, PLEASE, PLEASE, check out their work just as thoroughly as you would a true professional.  Free or cheap is not a great deal if the photos are so bad you get teary eyed (not the good kind of tears) because the photos are horrible.   I’ve had moms come in and hire us for their second daughter getting married and break down in tears because she made the mistake of going the “friends or family” route with her first daughter.  She learned the hard way that if you want free or cheap – expect results that reflect the price and expect to live with that decision for a very long time.

2)      Referrals.  If you have friends or family who have hired a wedding photographer recently and they had a wonderful experience then you are way ahead in the process.  Look over the work they did for them and if you like what you see then meet with them first.  If you were at the wedding you had the incredible opportunity to also see them in action.  Another bonus in making your decision.  The first question when calling is to see if your date is available.  If so set up an appointment to come to their office to discuss what you want in your photography (style as well as products in the packages they offer.) If you don’t yet have a date, meet with them anyway and their availability may help you narrow down your date.  Referrals can also come from your wedding and reception venues as they see a lot of photographers each year.  We are wedding photographers who created a wedding chapel in 2006 so we see approximately 40 weddings a year (when we are not doing the photography) and we’ve seen it all.  From truly great professional photographers to family members and newbies who have no idea what they are doing, but they are pushy and in some cases bring the bride to tears.  See number 4 below for more on this.

3)      Search the Internet.  If you don’t have a referral to go with search the internet for local photographers and spend some time looking at their images.  Can you see yourselves in their style of photography?  Do they have good reviews?  Don’t expect to find pricing online as this is a very competitive industry and most photographers save their best deals for clients who come in to meet with them.  However when you call them they should be able to give you a price range.  Narrow it down to your top three choices and make appointments to meet with them.

4)      Meeting with the photographer.   Provided you like their work of course, then the next step is to see how much you like them.  This is more important than it may seem.  You will have your photographer(s) shadowing you the entire day so it’s important to be aware of how you relate to them.  Do they seem relaxed and interested in your vision of your photography?  Do they seem genuinely excited to be working with you and do they ask questions to determine what you want from them.  Also – are they polite?  You need to know that they will treat you and your guests with the utmost respect the day of the wedding.  Today’s couples are much more aware of what they want due to sites like Pinterest so is the photographer willing to take some guidance from images you’ve seen online?  Personally I love the opportunity to see what my couples consider great wedding photography so I welcome the opportunity to view images together with them.  The point is to see how flexible the photographer is in working with you so you get the best possible images of your day.   It still amazes me to see wedding photographers who have a bad attitude, or are actually rude to the wedding party and their guests.  This usually comes from them being new in the industry so they are stressed out or they are a contract photographer so your wedding is more like a job to them – and not something they truly love.  You may get a hint of this if the photographer seems at all arrogant or inflexible.  Be observant.

5)      Pricing.  Markets vary but in Mid-Michigan expect to pay from $2,500 – $9,500 depending on a number of factors.  Yes price may be at the top of your list but price should always be taken in context with what you are receiving – including the quality of the work the photographer produces and the products you want in your wedding package.  Some things to think about.  How will you receive your images?  Do you want a disc with all your high resolution images and a shared copyright release to be able to make prints on your own?  (NOTE:  Some amateurs or new photographers may offer this but it’s not what it seems.  Ask if the images are edited and retouched before you get the disk.  This represents about 40 hours of work for the professional, but non-professionals may do a disk dump – putting all your unedited images on a disc for you).  Trust me – unless you are a professional photographer you probably don’t have the skills or the will to go through 2 thousand images and edit them on your own.  Do you want a wedding album or is this something you feel comfortable doing on your own?  How many hours the day of the wedding do you want the photographers (the standard is 6-12 with 8 being the most common) and do you want and understand the value of having 2 photographers?  Two photographers are almost standard in today’s market.  Just as your photographer MUST have backup equipment, having a second photographer assures you will have a second set of eyes seeing and capturing your wedding memories from their perspective.

6)      Book Them!  You will probably just “know” once you meet with the right photographer and discuss their packages.  Once you are satisfied that this is the fit for you then book them as soon as possible.  If you can’t handle the full deposit to book them, then ask if they will accept half of the deposit up front and the other half next month.  If you wait even a week your photographer may be booked by another client.  Most photographers will only hold your date with a deposit and contract so until you’ve done that – they are still looking to book your date.  Most talented wedding photographers book a year to a year and a half in advance so it’s truly never too early to book the right photographer. 

I hope this insight helps with your search for the perfect photographer for your wedding day.  I am always happy to discuss the subject (even if I am not the photographer hired) as I believe all couples deserve great wedding photography and if I can help in any way I am happy to do so.

Chris Holmes owns Holmes Photography Studio LLC in Grand Ledge and has been a wedding photographer since 1981 when he worked as an apprentice in California.  He and his wife Mary also own and operate the Bridge Street Wedding Chapel.  For more information call them at:  517-627-4761  /


Holmes Photography Studio specializes in wedding photography, senior portrait photography, family portrait photography and event photography. They also cater to corporate photography needs and business photography events.