How do you find the ideal person to document your wedding?
Just as there is a skill to taking memorable pictures, there is also a know-how to choosing the person you want to take them. How you conduct your search for a wedding photojournalist can make a big difference in ensuring that you’re more than pleased with your photographic experience on the big day, as well as with the moments and memories captured in pictures.
Before you start your search, you’ll need the proper tools, beginning with reasoned and well-informed research. In this article, we’ll walk you through the steps of finding that perfect photographer, including advice on getting a sense of style and shooting philosophy, what questions to ask, logistical considerations, how to judge who is a solid wedding photojournalist and more.
START WITH THE WPJA
Wedding photojournalism has become quite the buzz phrase in many circles within the wedding industry, and a great many photographers these days call themselves wedding photojournalists though neither their portfolios, nor their talent attest to such status.
For that reason, a good place to start in your selection of a bonafide wedding photojournalist is at the WPJA’s Web site. Its members are screened and pre-qualified in that they are accepted by the organization as accomplished wedding photojournalists. In fact, only a fraction of those who apply to the WPJA are granted membership.
You can then narrow the field even further by focusing in on those who work primarily in your state or region. And be sure to consider the added recognition that is automatically attached to the photographers’ awards, signified by the gold and blue medallions on the WPJA Web site. These don’t come easy. The best of the best have been oftentimes selected by Pulitzer-prize winning photographers, as well as other award-winning photojournalists and newspaper/magazine picture editors.
Once you’ve taken these first steps you’re on your way! But there is still much more to consider in your selection process.
GET A SENSE OF TALENT AND STYLE
The ultimate factor in finding your ideal wedding photojournalist is in the portfolio of your candidates. Through their representative work, you must determine if that particular photographer can produce the type of images that will capture the emotions and other rich memories of the day in a way that will resonate deeply with you for years to come. You’ll need to get a sense of the photographer’s shooting style. Take as much time as necessary to peruse their portfolios— this is a once-in-a-lifetime decision and it deserves a thorough approach.
Viewing just a few photos isn’t enough. Our panel of WPJA POYs (Photographers of the Year) recommend that you look at the pictures from at least one entire wedding, if not several. It’s easy for a photographer to take 50 great shots and throw together a “Best Of” compilation from ten years of covering weddings, which is why you should mostly concentrate on viewing an entire event. This will give you a much more comprehensive idea of their style.
As a rule, couples would do well to focus on a photographer’s imagination; someone who thinks outside of the lens and surprises with their creativity. There should be humor and emotion and plenty of examples that highlight the shooter’s unique approach to a scene. Consistency is key here, as well as a masterful command of basic photography skills.
For example, the cake cutting is a routine event that could easily result in a clichéd image. The progressive photojournalist will challenge himself to find that new spin, that fresh approach to a rote ritual. Maybe they’ll highlight the condition of the cake, post-hacking, or the icing-stained cake cutter lying silently in repose. Oftentimes, the coolest images can be found in places where no one is looking.
GET TO KNOW YOUR CANDIDATE
Despite its usefulness in viewing photos, and in providing biographical and style information about the photographer, a website is not the be-all and end-all of wedding photojournalist research. In fact, certain sites can be terribly misleading these days, with some photographers even cutting and pasting from other people’s pages. It would seem that everybody is an ‘award-winning photojournalist,” which makes it all the more imperative that you verify their credentials.
For some, it may also be beneficial to meet a photographer in person or at least have a phone discussion in order to find out more about his or her personality. The conversation can range from a deeper discussion of your photographer’s professional background, to his or her favorite photographs, sources of inspiration, to the specifics of how he or she approaches the wedding day on a logistical level. Is your photographer planning to show up 15 minutes before the ceremony or two-and-a half hours before? Talk to them about your wedding details and any specific expectations you may have regarding your pictures. Share with your photographer what style and approach you prefer, but more importantly listen to him/her to find out how well your wedding day vision matches their mode of operation.
You’re better off choosing a photographer whose working style closely matches your own preferences and personality, rather than hiring a “jack of all trades” who is willing to change his or her normal approach just to please. An extroverted bride and groom with a great sense of humor should seek out a fun outgoing photographer who “gets” you. He or she will be much better aligned with your sensibilities than the guy who just says “Sure, I can make that work.”
You also should be looking for somebody with whom you can spend the day and be comfortable. And that comfort level works both ways. When you and your guests are relaxed, inhibitions fade away and the photojournalist has a much easier time at grabbing those memorable shots.
Most importantly, you want to choose someone who doesn’t just view your wedding day assignment as simply another business transaction. Finding a photographer who really loves what they do and is very passionate about their work is key. Passion is what drives creativity and innovation, and often pushes the artist to go that extra mile.
EXPERIENCE AND BRAINS
Referrals and references are valuable. Talk to friends. The references of sisters, brothers or other brides are some of the best intelligence you can use when focusing in on a wedding photojournalist. You may also check out feedback about the photographer through past client testimonials, which can often be found on the photographer’s web site.
In regards to training, a news background can help, but isn’t mandatory. When a photojournalist has been through the chaos of covering protests, hurricanes and sports championships for newspapers, they come to the table with a unique ability to think on their feet and insert themselves into the action. It’s a second-nature sort of thing.
Yet news or sports experience is not a pre-requisite for excellence, as demonstrated by the numerous WPJA award winners who came into the business from other careers. Talent in capturing spontaneous moments can be innate, and achieved through individual personality and skill.
Any person who has been in the professional photography business for years probably knows how to handle the unexpected and is likely experienced in rolling with the punches. It takes a certain skill to be able to assess situations on the fly and find amenable solutions while retaining high levels of artistry. This is why the single most important tool in any photographer’s collection is his brain.
And the really good ones carry a spare.