How to choose a wedding photographer (the most complete guide)

  • Lauren manages, writes and contributes to the strategy of The Knot’s print editorial content.
  • Lauren oversees The Bump’s editorial strategy and execution.
  • Lauren has a degree in magazine journalism and lives in New York City with her husband and two children.

Digital

The first decision you’ll need to make is whether to go with digital or film (or a mix of both, which some photographers will do). Digital is the most common way of shooting. The biggest advantage? Time—depending on your photographer, you could see snaps just days after your wedding. Digital cameras can shoot in very low light—a perk when you’re photographing an afternoon-into-evening wedding. And thanks to a display screen, your photographer can preview shots and adjust accordingly. “A digital photographer has more freedom to explore lighting options and angles,” says Jasmine Star of Jasmine Star Photography. “You can push creative boundaries without the limits of film.” For you, that means lots of images to choose from when putting together your album.

Images shot with film have a soft, organic quality to them. “Film has a better range, from highlights to shadows,” says Braedon Flynn of Braedon Photography. But shooting with film is, well, more work and more money too. In addition to purchasing rolls of film, processing and editing images take time. “My costs in film and processing are around $1,500 per wedding,” Flynn says. “I wait to get photos back from our lab and then I need to edit them, so there’s about a four-week turnaround.”

Classic

Once you’ve figured out the digital versus film dilemma, it’s time to consider the look of your photos. Like the ones in your grandparents or parents’ wedding album, classic images are those that stand the test of time—striking, gorgeous and a bit formal. These photos reflect reality (similar to documentary), but they’re infused with the shooter’s artistic license. “As a photographer, you’re always waiting and watching, and thinking what can I create out of ordinary moments,” says Genya O’Neall of Vue Photography. “When things happen naturally, it’s the best.” Love this style? Ask to have the simple moments captured. “It’s a photographer’s job to turn your ordinary into beautiful,” says O’Neall. “If you like a classic look, let them know you’d love a modern take on the shots you’ve seen for years.”

Artistic

“Not all portraits have to be a couple in full frame looking at the camera,” says photographer Angelica Glass. “With Pinterest taking over weddings, it’s easy for things to look similar—when you can deliver unique and artistic moments that are only for that couple, it becomes very special.” Photography is not just about the photographer. A couple’s willingness to have fun and enjoy the moment can take a photo to the next level, Glass says.

Lifestyle

“Lifestyle photography is photojournalism redefined,” says photographer Allan Zepeda. “It’s candid, yet done so with some direction and styling—it has an approachable feel and a relaxed result.” A good photographer will look for moments but also set the scene, says Zepeda.

Dramatic

Lighting is a key component of dramatic photography. “Off-camera-flash photography is something a lot of photographers spend a great deal of time mastering,” says Vanessa Joy of Vanessa Joy Photography. “You need to be able to create your own light in some other way if the sun just isn’t cooperating on the wedding day.” When choosing your photographer, look at one or two full weddings similar to the one you’re planning. “Anyone can take a great photo here and there, but what separates a true professional is their ability to take amazing photos, consistently, capturing every part of the wedding day,” Joy says.

Documentary

Rather than posed or highly styled shots, documentary photography captures candid or spontaneous pictures of people, décor and action—in the moment. “I choose angles and backgrounds that make everything look its best,” says photographer Charlotte Jenks Lewis. “And once I’ve done that, I try to capture something real from the couple.” Look for an intimate space for group portraits. “You get more interactions with everyone and you’ll create better moments,” Lewis says.

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“But how will I zoom in and out?”, I blinked my eyes in disbelief.

How to choose a wedding photographer (the most complete guide)

My first encounter with the concept of fixed or prime camera lenses was when they were explained to me (a baby photographer) when I met with a local wedding photographer whose work I was (and still am) crushing on. I was so surprised to hear that there were lenses that (gulp) didn’t zoom. ‘What’s the point of that?’ I wondered. Why pay more for less?

Clearly, I had lots of catching up to do!

There are many merits to utilizing prime lenses in your photography. One is that you may find you can achieve mind blowing sharpness and quality with a lens that isn’t 10 lenses in one. I like to say that the 50mm prime lens doesn’t have to try to be anything other than 50mm. It only needs to focus on (pun intended) being the best 50mm it can be. Of course, there are many fantastically sharp and capable zoom lenses out there, but you will find that you’re not only paying for quality, but versatility. Prime lenses aren’t very versatile, but what they lack in versatility, they can make up for in quality which may leave you asking, “what zoom?”

How to choose

So with so many to choose from, how do you choose the perfect prime lens for you? You can be like me and buy-to-try a whopping 14 lenses in 5 years, to the tune of $10,250, (true story) or you can try these great 5 steps:

  1. Choose one of your existing zoom lenses
  2. Set it on a focal length and leave it there
  3. Shoot for a week or so only on that setting. Experience what it’s like to use your feet instead of your zoom. Photograph your typical subjects, ones you photograph the majority of the time, and see how that focal length feels.
  4. Repeat the exercise at different focal lengths.
  5. Assess your experience shooting at different lengths. The setting at which you felt most comfortable will be a great indication of where to start when purchasing the perfect prime lens for you.

How to choose a wedding photographer (the most complete guide)

Bonus tip!

If you use multiple lenses (or even just a few), there’s a super cool way to use Lightroom to see all the images taken with a particular lens. First, make sure you’re in the library module. On the left (under the smaller preview image) click ‘all photos’. Then on the top bar, click ‘metadata’. You’ll then see many sorting options depending on what photos you want to see. In the middle is the box which shows every lens you’ve used for all the images in your catalog (if you don’t see that use the pull down menu to select “lens”. How cool is that?! Then you can sort by focal length and see which one(s) you use most often.

How to choose a wedding photographer (the most complete guide)

My Final Choice

As I mentioned before, I’ve experimented with many different zoom and prime lenses. As for primes, I’ve owned the following Canon lenses: 50mm f/1.8, 50mm f/1.4, 50mm f/1.2, 85mm f/1.8, and 24mm f/2.8. After all that, the only one that remains in my collection is the 50mm f/1.2. I personally love quite tight portrait shots so although I think the quality was fantastic, the 24mm was too wide. The 85mm had phenominal sharpness and quality, but I sold it to help pay for the 50mm. I find the 50mm great on my full frame camera for wideish family shots but also tight-enough portraits. The f/1.2 means it’s my best lens for ultra low light and the sharpness is a little mind blowing. For me, it’s the perfect prime lens.

Now, there are many lenses from which to choose and that’s where you fine people come in! If you’re a prime lens aficionado or even just a fan of a particular lens, get involved below and tell us what prime lenses you have experience with, and which are your favourites!