10 Questions to Ask Your Wedding or Elopement Photographer

Questions to ask in order to set expectations before booking

Your wedding day is one of the most significant moments of your life, and capturing those precious memories requires the expertise of a skilled photographer. However when hiring a professional wedding photographer, with the plethora of options available (we’ve all seen the hundreds of comments on a photographer referral Facebook post), it’s crucial to navigate through the sea of photographers and identify potential red flags that could turn your dream day into a nightmare. Here are six critical red flags to watch out for when searching for your perfect wedding or elopement photographer:

I’m going to put it right out there – not all wedding or elopement photographers are created equal. There are photographers who have amazing work, but may not have the systems in place to protect you or themselves. They may also have a different communication style, workflow, etc. that doesn’t resonate with you. These are important things to consider when hiring someone to document your best day yet.

Some of the questions below may be answered on their website, so it always behooves you to not just quickly scroll through a photographer’s site just to get pricing. There’s so much more to consider than what money is coming out of your pocket. And there’s a correlation between cheaper prices and not having business essentials in place (like what is listed below).

Do you want to be one of those couples in Facebook wedding groups panicking because their photographer cancelled on them last-minute? No? Good, I don’t want you to either. These questions will help prevent that from happening by weeding out the less reputable photographers out there….

1. Do you have a contract?

Have 👏 A 👏 Contract 👏. Listen, a contract is there to protect the photographer and YOU. It includes things like when you’re entitled to a refund, when payments are due, what happens in case of an emergency, turnaround times, and so much more. If the photographer you’re talking to doesn’t have an attorney-vetted contract, RUN.

2. What is the payment schedule?

99% of photographers will have a nonrefundable retainer that is due in order to book your day. It varies, but popular price points are a flat retainer of $1000, or a percentage of the total package/collection cost, usually either 25% or 50%. Why is this nonrefundable? Because we are blocking off time for you and are unable to take on other bookings. Especially in the case of traveling photographers, it isn’t just one day we block off. Often it’s 3-7 days depending on the distance.

Some photographers allow monthly payments (I do – it’s easier for many people!), but know that you’ll likely be responsible for having things paid in full well before your big day. 2 weeks, 30 days, and 45 days prior are all common due dates for your final payment.

3. What is your turnaround time for images?

This varies, but the important thing is to KNOW your turnaround time. Expectations are key on both sides so no one feels stressed or anxious about images being delivered late or not at all. Turnaround times can range from 4 weeks to 12 weeks. 6-8 weeks of turnaround time is pretty common. Sneak peek turnarounds also vary in time as well as number. Some photographers do 10-20, while others blast out 50 highlights. A super quick 24-hour turnaround for sneak peeks is an offering some professionals have as a feature of their collections.

Need your images edited faster for a reception? Ask your photographer what they’d charge for a rush turnaround!

4. What type of backups do you have (for images and emergencies)?

You don’t need to know a ton of technicals or specifics, just establish if they’re saving your RAW (a file type) images in multiple places. And ask if your photographer is shooting on a dual-slot camera. This enables them to essentially take a photo and have it copied onto 2 different cards, in case one gets corrupted. It’s a staple in a professional photographer arsenal and if someone is only photographing your day with a camera that holds one SD card at a time, I’d mark that as a big red flag (TBH, this may mean they don’t have other things in place like backup hard drives).

Other things to ask along this vein: what if they can’t make it to your day due to an emergency? Do they have insurance?

5. What will it be like working with you leading up to our wedding day?

Do you like to connect with your photographer? Do you not care as long as someone reliable from a photography team shows up and does a good job on the day? Your experience before and after your wedding or elopement day can be just as crucial as the images! Some photographers have workflows where you’ll be able to hop on calls, get customized advice, location docs, have extra resources, referrals, and more sent your way. Others will be more of a “just show up and shoot” type of workflow.

6. Do you have a cap on how many weddings/elopements you do per year?

Jumping off the last question – whether you book a photographer who does 20 or 50, this is important to know. If you want a more personalized and dedicated experience, it’s going to be a lot harder for someone who photographers on average nearly 1 event per week for the entire year to devote more time to each couple.

7. Do you have a particular posing style?

This is a biggie, especially if you feel uncomfortable in front of the camera. Some photographers pose down to the hand placement. This is great if you’re looking for more editorial vibes or if you really (I mean truly) struggle with being in front of the camera. Other photographers do a mix of somewhat posing but also prompting to get the two of you engaged with each other. And still, others will be as close to a fly on the wall as possible in a true documentary style position.

Most images you see are not true documentary-style photography. Read that sentence again. That cool shot of a couple whispering to each other? Most likely prompted by their photographer. That photo of a bride and groom eating part of their wedding cake sitting on a sidewalk? Yep, prompted.

If you hire a true documentary-style wedding photographer, you are responsible for initiating all those cool little moments. If you are not naturally proactive in doing things or aren’t sure how to interact with each other in front of the camera, hire a photographer who can help guide you.

8. Can I see some full galleries?

The answer to this should be a resounding YES. Some photographers have a couple of public galleries, but most require you to email them or will send them after a consult (partially out of respect for the couples in the gallery).

9. Do you work off a shot list?

Every photographer is different. Some (especially with traditional weddings) have some type of shot list. Others work more organically throughout the day with the only shot list being for family/group photos. Shot lists are something that’s part of a photographer’s approach, so if they don’t work off a shot list and you have pages of poses you want, it’s best to find a photographer who is in more alignment with your goals.

10. Is there anything we need to know about image usage?

Typically, you’ll have personal sharing and printing rights, but always clarify! Personal printing/sharing rights means you’ll be able to share the images on social media and print them for personal use. Some things you won’t be able to do with personal rights: entering them into a contest to win a prize, using them for ads, using them on any website where you intend to make money.

A tangential note: most photographers have a clause in their contract that they are the exclusive photographer, so hiring a secondary team or throwing Uncle Bob a few bucks is a no-no.

Are any of these questions ones you haven’t thought of before? It’s not every day you commit yourself to a partner and so if several of these questions are new to you, that’s okay! These will be a world of help to clarify and set expectations with you and your future wedding or elopement photographer.