Spring is in the air and thoughts turn from surviving the winter to the wonder of wedding season. Will the bridesmaids be wrapped in tulle? Will you have a buffet-style dinner or plated service? Is it better to have your wedding and reception in the same space? Who will take your wedding photos?
Naturally I'm most concerned with how people will answer that last question.
Bridal magazines and Web sites often recommend that you aggressively stalk your prey with a page long list of questions engineered to go straight to the heart of the matter. Do they know what they're doing? Does this photographer have backup equipment? How long will it take for you to get your photographs after the wedding? Have they ever show a wedding while bungee jumping off a bridge?
Generally the list of questions is coupled with advice to try and find every discount you can and not to be shy about it. After all, it's a negotiation and you want to get the best deal for your money. There's nothing wrong with that of course, but it's the wrong way to approach your photographer.
Like other prey animals, photographers can be very skittish when it comes to loud noises and sudden movements. A pleasant meeting at a local coffee shop can quickly become a mad scramble for escape as you recite questions from a list about ISO and f-stops, and whether or not you can knock $200 off the package price if he doesn't use any flash. Before you know it, the plain that seemed teeming with professionals is almost empty save for a few people with kit lenses, no business plan and a smile.
Successfully finding a photographer is about more than strong-arm negotiations and getting all the essay answers filled out in your blue book. Getting your great photographer takes patience and just the right amount of cunning. Ultimately it's about understanding your prey and to do that you need to know a few things.
Your Photographer, The Artist:
First of all, your wedding photographer thinks of him- or herself as an artist. Contrary to what movies might tell you, wedding photographers are not issued a BMW and luxury penthouses as as soon as we hang up a shingle. Building a brand and a business starts with a passion for the work because when you're first starting it's a struggle to break even.
Of course you want an artist, you want a photographer that takes their craft seriously not someone who thought wedding work would be a great way to meet girls and make some money on the weekends. In the end hiring an artist means that you'll get great images you can treasure for a lifetime, that will resonate with you on an emotional and aesthetic level.
What this means for your conversation is that your ice breakers shouldn't be about your budget, but about what you found appealing in the photographer's portfolio. After all, you're hiring this person because you want their pictures so talk to them about why. The next step for stroking your artist's ego isn't just to talk about what's happening at your wedding, but how you think they can capture it or how their work fits in with what you're imagining for your wedding.
Your Photographer, The Entrepreneur:
Remember when I said that a photographer wasn't in the business because they thought that photographing weddings was a great way to make money? I may have been fibbing.
Wedding photography can be a great job because you get to make a living following your passions, but the most important part of that equation is making a living. Running a business takes a lot of accounting, tracking every transaction and trying to find a place where you can afford to do the work and keep yourself satisfied at the same time (all while remaining competitive in the market place).
So while your photographer loves photographing weddings, they aren't doing it out of the kindness of his or her heart.
When you're talking to your photographer, just as you would treat them as an artist you should also treat them as a business person. No one is going to do their job for half their asking price, and if they are it should raise a red flag. After all, would you show up to work on your day off without getting paid or even at half pay?
Can you get some discounts or extras if you're smart about it? Sure. Should you hinge everything on discounts and giveaways? Not at all.
Your photographer wants to see that you value his or her services, that you think the work is important an d you're willing to take the prices seriously. You don't have to book someone you can't afford, there are photographers for every price range, but discounts don't just happen just because. A photographer has to pay the bills too.
Your Photographer, The Human Being:
At the end of the day, the most important thing is to treat the photographers you meet with as you'd want to be treated. While you're entering a business relationship it's one that is intensely personal and intimate, even if it's just for one day. Just think, the photographer is going to be there as you're getting ready and he or she is going to be there as you're running out in the car to head off to your honeymoon. You are tied to your photographer in ways you're tied to few other vendors and for many the relationship continues beyond the wedding day.
When you have a good relationship with your photographer as a person, you get better photos. Not because they like you more - they're a professional - but because you're both relaxed and comfortable with one another. That great rapport is worth quite a lot, and it's something that the bridal lists often forget about.
So remember when you're meeting with me or any other photographer, value the art, the business and the person and you'll be putting your best foot forward.