Once we nailed down our wedding location and a brief idea of schedule, it was time to do the hardest part of this journey (at least for me): picking a photographer.
Please note that I did not have a venue, or really any idea of aesthetic. Just a date. Ish. I was flexible on the date, really.
I just wanted to make sure my photographer was amazing.
As a photographer myself, I had some pretty strict criteria for choosing a photographer, or at least narrowing down the list for Ryan to choose from. If you are in the planning process, this may be a way to help you narrow it down, especially if you are a tinge Type-A, like me (how someone can be Type-A and ADHD is beyond me, but it happens):
Have an idea of your needs and schedule - This is important. If I am having a ceremony in the National Park, then dinner in the town, then back up to the top of the mountain for sunset and cake, I have to factor in travel time. I also knew I wanted to celebrate my two best friends with some cute pictures of us getting ready. By having a rough schedule of what we wanted to do, including our adventure session the next day, I was ready to ask photographers for a specific, custom package. Blog post about basic schedules coming soon!
Set your budget - Eek. Money. I hate talking about money. The reality, though, is that I knew what services I was asking for, and know the value of photography for me. I also know the average market for an amazing photographer in the area we are holding our wedding. Personally, I set a max of $4000, knowing full well I would want to come in under that, but would make an exception for someone perfect.
Pick your style - I know I like bright, true-to-color pictures. Even though the desaturated, moody pictures that are in-vogue right now are beautiful, I knew that eventually I would want more of a classic look and not love those pictures anymore. I wanted to make sure these were images that would be cherished forever. Glamour Shots by Deb was definitely considered after a few bottles of wine, though...
Start researching photographers who service the area - I used Wedding Wire to do all my research, as well as a post with Wandering Weddings Community (I belong to the photographer's group on Facespace, but they are an amazing resource for adventure-minded photographers). I went in with my needs - 5 hours on the wedding day and an adventure session the following day involving a 12-mile round trip hike to a mountain lake with multiple outfits - and my budget. This helped weed out some photographers.
STATUS - 42 potential photographers
Narrow it down - This is where I created a spreadsheet (you can use my template: Photographer Selection Spreadsheet). I included the company name, web site address, and then used a rating scale of 1-5 for my first impression of their web site. Each web site got 30 seconds of my time. I started with 42 photographers (I told you I am Type-A). If a photographer got a 1 or 2, in terms of their web site, I deleted them immediately. Cut throat, I know. Photographers with a web site of 3-5 made it on the list.
STATUS - 27 potential photographers - not too shabby
Read their bios - I cannot stress this enough. You spend your entire day with your photographer at your wedding. They will be touching your hair, floofing your dress, fixing your tie, and making awful dad jokes to make you crack a smile. YOU HAVE TO LIKE YOUR WEDDING PHOTOGRAPHER. The reasons why you keep or eliminate a person based on their bio are so personal, it isn't even worth listing mine. I used my same 1-5 rating system, eliminating anyone who left me wanting with their bio.
STATUS - 22 potential photographers - maybe I just like everyone
Send them a specific message - When I reach out to 22 different vendors, I craft a message in my google docs, then copy and paste it to everyone. I include the following: my name, my fiance's name, wedding date, wedding location, specific needs, and overall vision for my wedding. I also make sure to request a quote from them, as well as an explanation of what that quote includes. Requesting a link to a complete wedding is also wise.
Read the messages and rate them - This is the most time-consuming part of the process. You have to read each of the messages and trust your gut. Are they in your budget? Do they offer any perks with the package? How responsive are they? Most importantly, trust your gut: what kind of vibe are you getting from their response? For me, proper grammar and creative wording were a must. Sounds silly, but I am an English teacher. It matters to me. I also took note of how genuine their response seemed. Even I have a canned response I use for inquiries that includes my pricing and package information, but I always am careful to edit and personalize it. Rate their responses 1-5, and eliminate anyone with a 1 or 2.
STATUS - 17 potential photographers
Look at a complete wedding - If they did not send one in their response, ask again (or for the first time). Look at the entire gallery, and their portfolio on their web site. Take note of posing, emotion, and overall quality of pictures. Be critical and objective. Rate them 1-5. You know the drill now.
STATUS - 11 potential photographers
If you haven't already at this point, pull in your partner. Ryan let me do most of this process because he knew I had a bigger opinion about it (so far his biggest opinions revolve around steak and whiskey). At this point though, I needed another eye. I also am bad at making decisions and Ryan is super decisive. Know your strengths, right?
Pick your top three - Ryan was in charge of this - I hid the spreadsheet and opened the 11 web sites and portfolios. He spent 30-60 seconds clicking through a web site, and closed the tabs of the ones that were a definite "no." He had 5 left, and then he spent time reading the bio. I told him he needed to pick 3.
STATUS - 3 potential photographers
Meet your top choice - After Ryan narrowed it down to 3, I told him the price points for those. We discussed and settled on our top choice. Before giving the go-ahead though, I scheduled a phone call with her to go over details, and make sure my vibe-reading was correct. If you have the opportunity to meet face-to-face with your potential photographer over drinks/coffee/pastries, do it. We all read people better in real life. Make a list of questions, and be ready to talk about yourself.
STATUS - 1 potential photographers
I was lucky enough to fall in love with Tori and her work, and subsequently her after our phone call. Serendipity is the theme for our wedding, and Tori fit right in. She was equally excited about my vision and dreams, and had a professionally-real demeanor. She even agreed to go hiking/scouting for locations when I visit Colorado this June and I could not be more excited to meet her in person, and work with her next June.
If you meet a photographer in person and you have doubts, do not hire them. I repeat: DO NOT HIRE THEM. Most of us in the business want you to have an amazing day, and that happens easiest when everyone jives with each other. Personally, if a couple is honest with me, and tells me they just aren't feeling me as their wedding photographer, I will happily refer her to other people.
Once you do find someone you enjoy who fits in your budget, get that contract signed and get ready to have an amazing wedding day. I know I am.