Planning a wedding is just like planning a big party, right? More often than not, no. While a bunch of typical party elements go into planning a wedding - What food should we serve? Will there be alcohol? Who should we invite and how should we invite them? What am I going to wear?? - so much more goes into planning your wedding! For one thing, coordinating suits with flowers is suddenly much more important. The food and dessert you'll be serving and the evening's entertainment, reach new levels of priority on your to-do list. Contracts must be signed and down payments paid. And there's a photographer following you around all day! (I don't know about you, but no party I ever planned before my wedding - or after, for that matter - included a photographer following me around.)
With so many decisions to juggle, expectations to manage, and Pinterest boards to fill, it can be easy to get overwhelmed during the wedding planning process. Understandably, you want everything to be just right. This is the biggest party you'll ever throw, and you're only going to do it once, so you want it to be perfect!
I remember from my own wedding planning experience that selecting a wedding photographer was one of the most overwhelming decisions to make. At the time, I knew very little about photography and the wide range of technical skills and expertise that go into it. I just knew that I wanted to prioritize my photographer. Like most couples that I now work with, I knew visually what I liked and didn't like, and what I wanted captured throughout my day, but I didn't really know how to voice that when meeting with prospective photographers. I have an entire blog post about how and what to ask a wedding photographer before you book with them, and in this post I'm going to take that a step further!
Not long ago, I posted a survey online asking married couples questions about their wedding photographer experience. (I've previously worked in marketing; I guess marketing is just in my blood, you know?) My goal with this survey was to better understand how these couples prioritized photography during their planning process, what made them select the photographer they worked with, the highs and lows of their experience, and - most importantly - if the photos that they thought would be the most important to them still are.
I got back so many great, specific responses from my survey that I couldn't just keep them to myself! So I want to share the survey's results, along with some specific pearls of wisdom, right here. Take in the data, learn what these wise couples learned, and keep this sage advice in mind while you're thinking about your own wedding photography experience!
This survey was open for 5 days. Its results consist of 42 respondents with wedding dates ranging from July 1990 to May 2018. Most respondents are from 2015 or more recently.
Prioritizing Wedding Details & Vendors
First, I wanted to get a feel for the importance these couples placed on their wedding photographer.
In the chart below, the key shows the rank a couple placed on each wedding detail, with 1 being the most important and 9 being the least important. The bars show how many people voted for a feature in a particular ranking. For example, 12 people said their reception venue was the most important priority for them, while 7 people gave it their lowest priority.
Below you can see the weighted averages of each wedding feature's overall rank. Wedding flowers, followed closely by overall theme / decor were the details that the surveyed couples prioritized the most.
35% would raise the priority they put on photography.
65% of respondents would keep it the same.
No one said they would lower the priority they placed on their wedding photographer.
A note: I did include wedding planner as an option in the survey's ranking question. Less than a third of the couples worked with a wedding planner so I did not include them in the final data as it was an outlier in the results. The majority of couples that did hire a wedding planner had their wedding within the last five years, which isn't surprising. More and more couples are enlisting planners as part of their wedding planning process, which can really take the burden off of you!
Finding the Right Photographer
Next, I asked the couples what aspects of their photographer's offerings led them to select them.
The top two answers were the photographer's overall style and pricing. Having an established relationship (friend or family member) and the photographer's personality were also top factors for some respondents.
This totally makes sense. A photographer's particular style (i.e., their photos!) is going to be the first thing that catches your eye when browsing the myriad listings for photographers on wedding websites. Of the handful that will catch your eye, some will automatically be eliminated based on your budget. From there, I cannot stress enough the importance of selecting a photographer that is a good personality fit to you! The more you enjoy your photographer's company and trust them, the better your photos and overall experience will be on your wedding day!
Wedding Photographer Experiences: The Highs
Next, I asked the couples to describe their favorite parts about their overall experience with their wedding photographer. Words like organized, painless, and detail-oriented repeatedly stood out among the responses. I pulled a few quotes that really sum them up:
Very kind but organized and kept things efficient. Went above and beyond to plan out spots for engagement and wedding photos.
Her unique places to take our wedding pictures. It ended up raining for a while, so she had a backup plan to go to a flower nursery and the colors were beautiful.
Our photographer recommended we sneak away for 45 minutes during the reception to take some sunset photos. While this ruffled a few of our family member’s feathers I am SO glad we did. The photos taken during this time were by far my favorite and it was also the only time during the day I can look back and think about just enjoying the moment with my husband.
What stands out to me about these quotes is that each of these photographers took initiative and provided expert advice throughout the process. They knew what lighting would be best, what locations would look the most amazing for photos, and they had backups when things didn't go as planned. And, most importantly, they weren't afraid to (politely) share that advice with their couples.
I feel like there is a fine line between offering helpful advice to couples and dictating how their day goes, and that sometimes makes me overly concerned with the amount of advice I give to the couples I work with. I'm overly sensitive to the fact that they're barraged with opinions and advice from too many people throughout their wedding planning process.
But seeing how much the couples in this survey appreciated expert advice from their photographer gives me pause. The key, I think, is expert. As a couple's wedding photographer, I am first and foremost their advocate to make sure their wedding photos meet their expectations and bring their vision to life. I do that by capturing the best photos and the most candid moments throughout the day. If I don't step in to offer expert advice when it comes to their photos, who will?
Another pattern I noticed in the couples' responses included key words like candid, genuine, and authentic:
Our photographer really captured us and our family in a way that feels authentic. We also just loved working with her--she was a ton of fun and made us feel comfortable at every moment.
I love how he captured our personalities.The photos are so genuine. The moments she caught legit melt my heart.
Couples love their candid photos the most because they are the ones that feel the most authentic and real. That's why I try to create an environment for my couples where they can feel
Wedding Photographer Experiences: The Lows
Next, I asked the less fun (though equally helpful) question: What do you wish you could change about your wedding photos or photographer experience?
Overall, any regrets that the couples shared were genuinely constructive, or helped reinforce the positive experiences that other couples listed earlier, such as the photographer's organization and expertise during the day:
I wish they would have educated me more on what to expect and kept me a little more organized. Family photos were a mess, and they didn’t even offer to take any until my mom said something. A little more initiative would have been nice on their part.
We chose a location for our family photos that didn’t provide the best lighting. I wish our photographer would have recommended a different location.
Other couples stated that they wished their photographer had captured more candid moments throughout the day:
I wish my photographer had got some more candid pictures of family and us interacting. My husband’s dad passed away a little over a year after we got married and we wish we would’ve had more pictures of the two of them.
And, interestingly, many couples wish they'd spent more on their photographer!
I would have sprung for the larger package. We look at our photos all the time. You never think you’ll need that many until the photos are all you have!
I wish we had booked her for our engagement photos too--we love how those turned out (and booked them where we live since we got married elsewhere), but it would have been nice to work with the same person.
I highly recommend all my brides to add additional hours to capture every moment of the day. I’d say 9-12 hours is a good number of hours for a photographer to be at the wedding.
When I first meet with the couples I work with, I always ask them what is most (or least) important to them for their photography on their wedding day. The number one priority that I hear from my couples is capturing candid, un-staged photos. Thankfully, that's one of my favorite things to do! I completely agree with them that these photos are often the most powerful, memorable moments of your wedding day.
Many of the couples that I surveyed felt this same way. But many of them shared their surprise when some of the more posed photos taken by their photographer turned out to be some of their favorites!
I really didn't think I wanted staged pictures of things like our rings, my dress, etc. It turns out that one of my favorite photos is actually of my parents' house with my dress hanging on the front door. My mother-in-law even commissioned a painting based on that photo as a Christmas gift for me!
On the other end of the spectrum, some couples wrote that they originally thought that more formal, posed photos would be the most important to them. While these couples do cherish those photos, its the more candid photos that now mean the most to them.
I think I originally thought I would really like all of the formally posed photos with family and the wedding party. Not that I would have completely gotten rid of those, but I think I would have requested having more candid photos of everyone, even those who were just participating in the festivities. Those are my favorite because they show some of our most treasured friends and family members having a great time on our special day.
The takeaway here for me is balance. Polished and posed photos are equally as important as candid memories on your wedding day. When placed side-by-side in your final gallery or album, they perfectly complement each other.
Pearls of Wisdom
Finally, I asked each of the couples that completed the survey to write any final pearls of wisdom that they wanted to share with future couples planning their own weddings. I received so many amazing, helpful responses from some very wise couples, and I thank all of them for taking the time to participate in my survey to help future couples! This response in particular sums everything up beautifully :)
Out of all of the expenses that go into a wedding, photographer and videographer are the two I have no regrets spending $$ on. I might put their cost at the top of my budget priorities (yes, even over "the dress"). I feel like we take so many pictures now - moreso than ever before because everyone has a camera at their fingertips with their phones. However, how many of these pictures are of a high quality? Not too many. Also, the day goes by in such a rush, it's over before you know what happened. In the future, it won't matter if you went for an organic raspberry jam filling in your cake or if your shoes cost two months salary - but it will count when you're able to go back and see your family and the amazing memories of a really special, amazing day.
What is your favorite thing you learned from this post?
What do you want to learn next about photography?
Let me know in the comments!