Weddings are one of the busiest events a normal person ever has to deal with, yet after they're over and all that's left is the memories so many brides are disappointed with their wedding photos. Remember in Love Actually where Kiera Knightly complained that the only pictures she had of her wedding dress were “blue and wibbly”? If you don't want that to happen to you then it's essential you pick the right wedding photographer. There are something like 300+ professional wedding photographers in Austin alone, and that's not including students and amateurs who do them on the side.
Your wedding is special, it's unique because it's just about your love which means you need someone who can capture that. It's a good idea to do your homework before hiring anybody.
Don't forget to check deposit amounts, contracts, and any paperwork they have that you'll need to look over once you've made a decision who to hire. The last thing you want is to miss the deposit deadlines and end up rushing to find someone else.
Just because someone has a Facebook page it doesn't mean they are an actual photographer. If they're just showing up with their iPhone then it's probably a good idea to run! Professional photographers usually have at least 1-2 DSLR cameras, preferably a “full frame” style. This isn't about megapixels as most modern cameras have plenty of them, but about the capabilities in low light, and about capturing split-second moments with fast lenses. An iPhone can't do that. Another reason you want to ask about their equipment is that some high-end photographers will also bring lighting, an assistant, and all sorts of other things that will cost you a lot more. By establishing you're getting your money's worth with the equipment as well as their skills you know your photos will be top notch. Don't be put off if they say they're renting equipment – you're likely doing the same for the wedding anyway.
Another important aspect of this question is asking why they shoot wedding photography. Someone who is passionate about love and events like yours will have a different quality and be genuinely excited about your event compared to someone who is just doing it for the money. If someone is dedicated to wedding photography then they will have the equipment for it or be working towards it. Most photographers are excited about their gear and will gladly explain it's worth and why they use it. If they nonchalantly reply about their DSLR or camera or can't even tell you what type it is then they probably have very little experience actually using it.
Some photographers don't believe that clients need to know anything about their equipment but when it comes to wedding photography being able to capture certain moments or environments requires particular equipment and without it, they won't be able to get the shot you want.
Surprisingly, just because you hire a photographer to shoot your wedding it doesn't mean they are going to be the one behind the camera. Many popular photographers have several “second shooters” who they delegate weddings to when they're too busy to do them themselves. Make sure you clarify who exactly is taking your pictures and make sure you know they're experienced enough to do it. If in doubt, ask to see specific wedding photography examples of that person's work. Don't forget to mention what the wedding attire is, the last thing you want is for your black tie wedding to be attended by a photographer in denim cutoffs and a Hawaiian shirt. It's best if photographers blend in so business casual is the most common if they don't own that then are they really professional enough for your event?
For brides on a budget having a beginner or amateur doing the event isn't unusual but as difficult as wedding photography is this can be a great way to end up with a blue wedding dress. I know because my first wedding as an amateur I did deliver a blue dress, and it's a fairly common beginner mistake. Ask to see examples of their previous work, and to tell you about any weddings that didn't go to plan and how they handled it. You want to know that they can adapt and are confident just in case anything goes wrong. You can also ask to see the full gallery of a previous wedding so that you can see exactly what you're getting delivered or references from past brides about how their experience was.
What you're looking for here isn't necessarily their resume but how they handled the stress of such an event. Weddings cover several different types of wedding photography which is why it is so important to have a well-rounded photographer. They need experience with single portraits, group photos, event photography, lifestyle/candid photography, and they may need to handle difficult situations like low light or fast moving snapshots. You want to know that not only do they have the equipment but that when it comes time for that one second shot with no “do-over” they'll be able to capture it.
To run a business you have to have a license, but many photographers also carry insurance so that if anything goes awry on the day, or they have to hire someone else to step in because they can't make it then that money doesn't come out of your pocket. Some photographers will operate without a business license but this is illegal if you are paying them. Liability insurance is also important if a guest accidentally trips or hurts themselves on the photographer's equipment since otherwise, you're the one liable because you hired them. Some venues insist that all vendors are licensed so check with the venue as well. Being licensed, insured, and professionally accredited stands out to make them a “professional” above others who just happen to have a camera. You may also want to ask about any courses they have taken or studies pertaining to their photography that gives them extra training.
This isn't an essential one but it can be a useful one. Many times photographers want to know about lighting the venue and whether flash is allowed etc. The reason a flash is important is that the lighting might not be enough to get good pictures, but some Catholic churches especially will not allow flash photography and other officiants may feel it's distracting from the reason for the wedding. This means they either need to know the venue in advance or visit it beforehand. Some photographers will offer bridal shoots included in their packages at the venue before the event as a “test run”. So you get to wear your dress twice, they get to see their event space, and you get an idea of what your wedding photography images will look like beforehand. Especially in Austin, there are so many beautiful venues that they may not have seen yours and being able to walk around together will give them an idea of exactly where you want images and make suggestions.
Another reason to ask your photographer about the venue is if you haven't yet chosen one. Wedding photographers go to many different events and may have a preferred venue or one that they can recommend which you haven't seen yet.
Most photographers have some contingency plans in their wedding contracts so you won't be left high and dry. It may be up to them to provide another photographer or they may already have someone else organized just in case. Ask about what happens if they have an emergency and how they will contact you. I've been at a wedding where the photographer showed up almost 2 hours late because of family issues without calling, if it hadn't been for the “friend with a camera” (i.e. me) she would have had no shots of her getting ready at all not to mention she was almost in tears by that time thinking her photographer was no-call-no-showing on the event.
You'll also want to know how trustworthy their equipment is. Ask about whether they use a backup camera, and whether they have a backup memory card as well in case those fail on the day. While these might not be a reason not to hire them, if they can answer the questions easily it shows they've prepared for this eventuality even if it never happens. Even if their back up turns out to be a good quality smartphone many of them can shoot in camera formats that the photographer would be able to edit successfully so you still won't be left with no images.
Photography these days is so much more than just clicking a picture and putting it up on a website. Your photographer may also be able to do print save the date cards, thank you cards, and other items as well as large canvases or metal prints. Ask about the range they have if any of that interests you but don't forget to ask about other packages that go together with the wedding. Most photographers offer engagement, bachelorette or bridal shoots along with their higher wedding photography packages but you may be able to purchase these separately.
Don't forget to ask about editing. While you might have visions of your photographer trimming your waist, smoothing out your double chin, or making that booty pop they may only offer minimal editing or they may do the exact opposite without your permission if you're not specific. Ask about how much editing they do to each image and whether this includes Photoshop manipulations or not if you do/don't want them.
Most photographers offer different wedding photography packages. While some photographers will only offer digital prints most professional level wedding photographers will offer more or only offer digitals as a second option. Photographers generally have better quality prints than Walmart or CVS which is why it's good to take advantage of this if you can. Ask how you will get your images, whether they are backed up by the photographer and how long for just in case you lose your copies down the line. You'll also want to know how long it takes for them to deliver – are you getting a sneak peek gallery in a week, but it takes 8 weeks for all images to be delivered or are you getting all of the images delivered in 4? Delivery time will differ from photographer to photographer and during peak wedding season this time might be extended. While it might be frustrating to have to wait 8 weeks or more for your images remember that they'll soon be the only thing you have to remember the event so it's worth waiting for perfection with the right photographer.
Wedding photography is a very competitive business in the Austin area. It's vital that you not only do your homework about a potential photographer but make sure that their style fits the event you're looking to create. If you don't feel they're excited about your event, or that you can't trust them to get it perfect then walk away. Hopefully, you're a little more aware of what goes into photographing a wedding like yours and are ready to get this vendor locked in. Even if you're working with wedding photography on a budget you won't be forced to have poor images with this much choice. Good Luck!