How To: Choose the right Wedding Photographer

Here are some questions to ask and tips from a professional photographer, Jonathan Ryan, to help guide you in this important choice -

Checklists are great. I use them all the time for binary choices “have you charged your batteries?”, “is all the paperwork complete” and so on. There are some criteria in selecting a wedding photographer that can appear on a checklist: “are you in my budget?”, “do you provide xx service (which I really want)?”, “do I like you?”. I think some of the entries here are very useful.

But I think there are a few things on this list that are a little misleading.
I’ll walk through a couple of them and add my comments. Some of them may surprise you. Though you should bear in mind that as a photographer I’m really after your business so I’ll spin things to make myself look good! And this is just my opinion – there are plenty of people who disagree with me.

Wedding Photographers Suffolk

“Do you belong to a professional assocation?”
Oooooo, don’t get me started. You may be surprised to learn that there are not one but at least 3 professional associations that a wedding photographer could be a member of. You may be shocked to learn that the only entry criterion for at least one of them is “do you have £99?”.

Personally, I’ve been in two of the associations and left both. I didn’t feel that they benefited my clients in any material way. There are many excellent and very experienced photographers in all of the associations. There are also a lot of inexperienced photographers who join to lend credibility to their business. In time they will deserve that credibility. But a checklist that implies that being in a society is de facto better than not is a little misleading.

Maybe just ask me about experience, any formal qualifications (I don’t have any) and about insurance cover (I have plenty) instead.

“Do you have a second-shooter/assistant?”
Again one that might not be as clean cut as you think. Why do you want a second shooter? Why do you want an assistant?
Second shooters are often “trainees” – I wouldn’t expect them to turn in images to match the ones you see in a professional’s portfolio. Often they will deliver great images but there are few photographers who can afford to hire a second who is as good as they are.
Just to be clear, I often have an assistant with me to help with logistics, equipment and lighting. Both my regular assistants have been working with me for over 2 years and are excellent photographers. They don’t bring a camera with them and don’t generally fire a shot all day. Other people work differently – right up to one photographer I heard of who hires a shoot team for the wedding and doesn’t actually take any shots on the day himself. All approaches seem valid.

A better question might be “who took this particular picture? Will they be there on the day?” I could get a friend to come along with a camera and call them a second shooter but it wouldn’t give you any better pictures than if I turned up on my own.

“Do you work from a checklist of required photographs?”
Hmmm…..I’d be very surprised if you got a straight answer to this. Do I expect my clients to remember that a picture of the back of the dress would be nice? Do I need them to remind me about first kiss? Will I forget to photograph the table favours if you don’t write it down for me? Nope. Do I need to know that the organist is actually your sister and that the confetti was hand cut by the school children you have mentored for the past 10 years? Probably best mention it.

Ask any photographer if they will accept client input into the picture they take and you’ll get a resounding “yes”. The experienced ones will also remind you that “no shots are guaranteed”.

“Do you work well with other wedding suppliers?”
Yes. And I’m kind to children and small animals as well. Anybody who answers no to that is just trying to shock you. Save the space on your list for an important question – like “what would you like to eat?”.

How are they dressed on the day?”
This one’s going to get me in trouble.
Let’s start with the most controversial bit. Men can’t be trusted to dress appropriately. Really they can’t. The reason suits were invented was to at least give them a clue on how to behave in polite society.
When I used to work in an office the rules for “casual Friday” stated no jeans. One colleague used to turn up in jogging bottoms with paint stains all over them. I’m not sure he understood that the rules were supposed to be guidelines to proper dress rather than a list to weasel your way round.
Which is a spirited defence of my decision to wear jeans and a T shirt for weddings. All my team and I wear jet black jeans (I go through about 5 pairs a season since they can look old quite quickly), black T shirts chosen for, well, their blackness and a black suit jacket when temperature requires it. We’re easy to spot at a reception “just follow Mike – he’s dressed all in black just like me”. If one of us is caught in a shot then we pretty much blend in (especially in reflections). I carry at least one and sometimes 2 changes of clothes with me because often I’ll spend part of the day lying on the floor, or in mud, or getting soaked through or just sweating.

Seriously, I’ve put a lot of thought into this and believe that I dress smartly enough for any venue while still being able to work effectively. Is that better or worse than somebody who wears a suit that was fashionable in 1977 and hasn’t been cleaned since?
And in case you think I’m being unnecessarily harsh on the guys…I’ve never seen a female photographer dressed inappropriately for a wedding. But I’ve seen very few of them wearing suits.

“What happens if something goes wrong or you are ill?”
I’ve saved my favourite until last.
In my opinion, there’s only one honest answer to this: “I will do everything I can to get another suitable photographer to your wedding – if I can’t then you’ll get your money back”.
Any photographer who tells you they have a fully skilled professional standing by on all the days they are booked ready to spring into life if they are ill is lying. Anybody who says that their trainee assistant second photographer will do as good a job as they will is wrong. Anybody who says that they belong to a network of highly skilled wedding professionals who arrange cover for each other just paid their £99 and drank from the society cool aid.

I have a list of about half a dozen people I’d trust to cover for me if something dreadful happened. If I get to the end of it then I’ll ask around but will make it clear to you that it’s pretty much the same as putting a shout out on Twitter saying “who’s free?”.
And if I don’t call the people on the list it’s because I’m in a coma. Which is pretty much the only reason I wouldn’t show up anyway. And trust me, I won’t be thinking about your wedding.

To contact Jonathan and see his great portfolio of Wedding Photographs please see his website below - Jonathan Ryan of