There are SO MANY wedding photographers to choose from, aren't there?! I would be so overwhelmed if I had to pick a wedding photographer now. I thought it was overwhelming 10 years ago, but technology has made the market so much bigger with so many more inexperienced people just creating a website and giving it a try. I know I can't possibly serve everyone as a wedding photographer, but I can at least share some insider secrets about the wedding photography industry that might help YOU find a really great and experienced photographer for your wedding. Here's some insider knowledge on where the most amazing wedding photographers can be found, and how to find the ones who are near you...
Word of Mouth Referrals:Talk to 5 recently married couples about their wedding photography experience and what they wish they did differently as well as who they'd recommend working with. It's important to talk to married couples, since an engaged couple who has selected their vendors hasn't really gone through the full experience and delivery process yet. If someone is highly recommending a photographer you haven't seen anywhere else, it's probably because that photographer is awesome at what they do and they don't need to advertise. Some of the best photographers simply cannot be found in traditional wedding websites and directories because they already have enough business from referrals that they don't need to put themselves out there in any other way. I know many amazing photographers who have really old websites and don't advertise anywhere because they spend all of their time serving clients rather than working on their online presence. (I'm equally guilty of this!) The best people to get word of mouth referrals from are other recently married couples, independent wedding planners, and venue coordinators at your favorite venues*.
*BEWARE of the Venue Vendor List:
Before blindly accepting a vendor list from a venue coordinator, ASK if the venue coordinator has actually worked with AND recommends the people on their vendor list, or if it's just a list that people pay to be on. I've talked to many venue coordinators who say they'd never actually recommend the people on the list they hand out blindly to couples in their venue packets!! It makes me cringe to think there are coordinators who are not providing quality referrals just because they're receiving a kick-back or commission to share names of people who want to work at their venue. A great venue coordinator will be honest about this and give you some handwritten referrals that might not even be on their list. Just know that paying to be on lists is a common practice in our industry and by taking the time to ask for a personal recommendation, you will get better results than assuming a list is handpicked to begin with. If they can't give you any personal recommendations, than they may not have been working in the wedding industry for very long. Unfortunately, due to the stress and long hours of the event industry, there's often a high turnover in venue coordinators- so take note of their personal experience level as well.
Pre-Screened Professional Wedding Photography Organizations:If you don't have enough personal referrals, this is often the second best place to find photographers who are highly qualified and produce amazing work as wedding photographers, but who aren't advertising or paying to show up on highly visible wedding websites. Some of these professional photography websites can even help you find photographers in your local area to help narrow your search. I've been on and off these sites depending on how much time I have to accept non-referral inquiries and how much I want my photography work to be seen. When I'm really busy, I pull back from contest sites and professional organizations, but I love participating in them and getting accolades for my work when I have the time to invest in preparing for a contest. There is a small caution in only using these sites: while someone may have amazing photography work and win awards from other photographers, you still need to check that couples have had great experiences working with them. Some amazing artists aren't the best business people, so definitely go the extra mile to get references from previous clients if you decide to go with an award-winning photographer. Here are my favorite places to find award-winning wedding photographers who are pre-screened for high-quality imagery before ever being accepted into the organizations:
- International Society of Professional Wedding Photographers - http://www.ispwp.com
- Wedding Photojournalist Association - http://www.wpja.com
- Artistic Guild of Wedding Photojournalists - http://www.agwpja.com
REAL weddings in LOCAL Magazines & Blogs:
Do yourself a favor and skip the national magazines and blogs. It's frustrating to look at a big list of people who might not even be in your area, or who you'd have to pay extra travel expenses for. Go straight to your local magazines and blogs, but skip their vendor directory where people pay to be featured (no matter how long they've been in business or if they're a good photographer), and head instead to the REAL weddings section for your local area. Look at the names hidden in the crease of that magazine or under the headline of that article, look for the photographer credit on that blog post. Once you're armed with some names of photographers who have been featured in magazines and blogs, check out their reviews on Wedding Wire, Yelp, or Pictage to see what other clients have said about working with them. If they have no reviews, don't assume anything is wrong, just ask them to share references with you. I've worked with hundreds of couples and only half of everyone I ask for a review actually ends up getting around to leaving one- but if people never ask for reviews at all, and their couples are perfectly happy, they may never get reviewed.
Hopefully these industry insider tips help you find the most amazing photographers who aren't paying to advertise in the directories, who aren't doing wedding shows, and who are otherwise very difficult to find online or in print. This isn't to say that anyone who pays to be in a directory or does a wedding show isn't a great photographer, only that there are a lot of amazing artists who hide out from the public eye and take a little more sleuthing to find! I wish you the best in your search for an amazing photographer, and if you found this post to be useful, please share it with other engaged couples who would appreciate getting the inside scoop as well. ;-)