Making A List: Popular Wedding Questions

What questions should you ask your wedding photographer? If you type that into your search engine, you'll likely find hundreds of thousands of answers. They're everywhere from theKnot to Yahoo answers, infecting the internet like cute pictures of cats.

Like the aforementioned cats, most of these lists are derivative. They all encourage you to ask about RAW processing and photojournalism, throwing around technical words and phrases like someone's high school term paper. As a professional meeting-taker I've spoken with a lot of brides who have simply slid over a list of questions for me to go over line by line while their eyes glaze over.

The problem is that the answers don't often have any context. While photography has become more accessible in the past 150 years, most people just don't care enough to read up on the finer technical aspects. These questions can only help you find the right photographer if you know why you're asking them.

So today, in the interest of being servicey, I've compiled a top ten list of wedding photography questions, my answers and why you should be asking them. Next time, I will also take the five worst questions and mock them.

1. Do you have my date available?

This question seems rather obvious, but it's really the most important. The first thing that you should tell a photographer is the date of your wedding, because if they're already booked there's no point in continuing the conversation. If they are booked (and you like their work), feel free to ask the photographer if he/she might have any recommendations.

This question is also important because it leads to a natural follow-up. How far ahead should I book you? Popular photographers are often filling their calendars a year ahead of time, and some dates are snatched up almost immediately.

To hold any date, I require a 50 percent non-refundable retainer and I typically look for clients to book six months ahead of time. Sometimes, however, a date may fall through the cracks and last minute scheduling is available.

2. Do you shoot RAW or JPG?

This is actually a trick question because the particular answer doesn't matter. You want a photographer that is familiar with their equipment and the images it can provide. The part you want to listen to is the explanation, and whether or not it sounds like they're just making things up on the spot. Alternatively, you can ask if they shoot in manual or aperture priority.

A couple of wedding websites will try to tell you that RAW is better. They're not technically lying when they say this, but what really matters is what a photographer can ultimately produce from those files rather than the file extension. Some photographers are also known to shoot film, which has its own advantages and disadvantages.

I shoot raw, because it's better. During the reception, I switch to JPEG or a smaller RAW format to conserve space on the card because these shots aren't as mission critical.

3. What equipment do you shoot with?

There are many different brands of cameras as well as many different kinds of cameras. As with your question about RAW vs. JPG, your real purpose here is to make sure that your photographer knows their gear and how to use it. I find that this is also a good question to get grooms involved with the conversation, because for some reason they find shoes and color schemes boring. Frankly, I don't know why you're marrying someone so disinterested in color swatches.

I use Canon dSLRs. My primary body is a 5DMkII which is incredibly versatile with great image quality and big files. On that body I'll typically have a 50mm 1.4 (great for low-light work) or the 70-200 f4L (for individual portraits and when I need to be a little further away). When going wide, I resort to the old reliable Canon Xti. It's held up through my short-lived career as a reporter (and more than a few spills to the floor), and it plays host to the wonderful 10-22mm wide-angle lens.

For lighting, it's usually a bounce flash. This lets me move quickly from shot to shot and produce better looking lighting than straight on flash.

Typically I'll rent additional equipment depending on the wedding. It turns out that camera gear is expensive and I try not to purchase something unless I've had to rent it a few times.

4. Do you have backups?

You want a photographer that's prepared and professional. One reason why professionals are more expensive than so-called "weekend warriors" is that they'll have extra equipment ready to go in case something breaks or malfunctions (which is rare given the build quality of many modern cameras).

Usually hiding in the car I'll have a 5D in case something goes wrong, as well as an extra flash unit and lens.

5. What’s your style? Posed and formal, relaxed, photojournalistic, creative, artistic, candid, traditional?

The word photojournalism gets bandied about a lot. Curerntly it's one of the hip trends in wedding photography to provide a candid, documentary style of coverage to a wedding. Technically this means that the photographer tries to work unobtrusively without staging or posing photographs for his own benefit. With the advent of digital cameras this is becoming the norm, since it's incredibly easy to go from shooting in candle light to shooting in daylight without missing a beat.

Traditional and formal styles usually involve more staging for the photographs and psoing. Many traditional photographers work in a very thoughtful and conscientious manner as opposed to the run-and-gun work of more "relaxed" wedding photographers. While the words traditional and formal might call to mind stiff portraits and awkward family photos, that's not really the case any more. Posing can be very dynamic and attractive when done right.

Naturally, most photographers fall on a spectrum in between those two points. I offer a blended style with portraits interspersing more candid, documentary-style coverage.

6. What kind of input can we have on the direction of the shots?

Photographers take a variety of approaches to their work. Some are very easy going and approach a wedding with improvisation and quick wits. Other photographers like to plan their shoots ahead of time, adhering to a very strict schedule of events to make sure that every shot gets done. On your wedding day, you may have a slightly different vision of what's important than your photographer so it's important to reach an understanding ahead of time.

The best way to do this is to come up with a shot list. The list will provide an overview for both you and the photographer so you can discuss your priorities and create wedding coverage that fits your wedding day. Some photographers will try to draw a line on certain items depend on their style. For example, if a photographer is known for their formal portraits, they might want to see more time allotted for those during your wedding day.

At Ryan Richardson Photography, we find a balance between improvisation and preparation. We let cleints know that their shot list is a set of guidelines that we shoot by, not a rigid checklist because not every wedding goes according to plan (and almost every wedding runs at least 15 minutes late). We also try to stay open to different photo opportunities and suggestions from the couple and their guests as the event is in progress. This is part of why it's great to have a second photographer at your wedding.

7. Who will be taking our photos?

For my first few years as a wedding photographer I shot for a variety of studios and often when i turned up for the wedding it was my first time meeting the bride and groom. Someone else handled the sales and walked the client through the wedding process and I just showed up out of the blue with a shot list and an address. If you're working with a studio, you want to be sure of who is taking the photographs so you can be comfortable with what they'll deliver.

There's a second advantage to working directly with your photographer, comfort. Great photography is often as much about the connection between the photographer and the subject as it is the light and composition. When you've had a chance to get to know your photographer ahead of time, you'll feel more comfortable in front of the lens on your wedding day.

At Ryan Richardson Photography, I work as the primary photographer on all of our weddings. I also suggest that most clients book an engagement session, where we can break the ice and build a rapport before the wedding day. Occassionally we use second shooters to help cover weddings, they are booked depending on availability.

8. How much experience do you have?

Experience counts for a lot and knowing that your photographer has been in the business for a few years can give you added confidence. An experienced photographer can also offer suggestions for your wedding day that will help improve it both on the day and in pictures. There is a tradeoff, because photographers with more experience will have a better understanding of the value of their work and will charge more for it.

I have been shooting weddings professionally since 2009, and shot a few smaller weddings before that. In 2007, I began working as a news photographer in addition to my regular duties as a reporter with the Wareham Courier. The work ranged from spot news (firefighters in action) to fundraising galas, and I would later find that it was a great proving ground for wedding photography. At the moment I've shot more than 20 weddings as the primary photographer, for studios as well as my own business.

9. How many other events will you also photograph that weekend?

Photographing a wedding is more than just showing up and pressing the shutter button. Before a wedding you need to make sure that all your equipment is in working order, that the batteries are charged and the memory cards are formatted. You go over your shot lists, review a few techniques and look over pictures of the venue (or even visit the venue depending on your schedule). Wedding photography doesn't stop when the wedding does either, there's a lot of post-production work that has to happen.

Weddings also have a tendency to not going according to schedule, and if a photographer is shooting multiple events in one day a delay at one could cause trouble later.

At Ryan Richardson Photography, we only shoot one event per day to ensure the best coverage and complete attention. This is also why we've recently changed our packages from an hourly rate to full-day coverage.

We do try to book multiple events over the course of a weekend. The only drawback of this is that we often can't always blog about our latest weddings (though we will put up a small Facebook gallery and blog about the wedding as soon as we can).

10. Chicken or the vegetarian option?

Okay, so most bride guides won't tell you to ask this but once you've booked your photographer you'll want to talk about what's going to happen during the meal. When food is being served, there's often little else happening and apart from getting a few shots of the buffet line or beautifully dressed plates, the only thing to photograph is someone chewing. No one really wants to be photographed while eating, and very few people want to see pictures of people eating. Additionally, wedding photography is very hungry work.

Wedding Planning Tip: Try to feed your wedding vendors (DJ, planner, videographer and photographer) as early as you can so they can be ready to get back to work as soon as the guests are finishing their meals. It's also a good idea to keep them as close to the event as possible in case people finish early or a funny incident happens (food fight pictures between warring cousins are excellent).

Another fun fact, photos of cakes turn out 50 percent better if the photographer later eats some of that cake. I am an expert, you can take my word for it.