11 Tips to finding great photographers (and cinematographers!)

by Ryan Scott, owner of Firefly photography and cinematography

You're not buying a house, but some research will go a long way. Here are 11 tips to finding great photographers (and cinematographers).


1. Find out what others are saying.

“The photos are amazing! It’s been so fun to relive the day. Thank you for capturing so many special moments and helping to make our day so special.”

“We watch our wedding movie on every anniversary — and anytime I need to be cheered up.”

Are their clients happy? Look for quotes on photographers’ web sites — experienced photographers will have loads of shiny quotes. And here’s a tip — ask other professionals what they think of the photographer. If you don’t hear glowing reviews, there’s a reason.


2. Check their Results

Do you like their online portfolio? If you’re not immediately impressed, move on. But be sure to check out lots of their photos before making your final decision. Ask to see what a full wedding delivery looks like — there should be hundreds and hundreds of photos. Some should be documentary (family photos), some should be candids of guests smiling naturally, some should include just details (shoes, rings), and some should knock your socks off!

3. What about their professionalism?

Do they return your emails/texts/calls right away? Expect to hear back the same day if it’s during normal work hours. If they take more than a day to answer back, they don’t care enough about getting your business, and it’s a red flag for problems to come. (We know a couple whose photographer took a year to get them their photos. Ouch! And their cinematographer took two years to get them their video. Double Ouch!)

4. Find out if you get the “Artistic Release”

I’ve spoken to other photographers who charge $1500 just for the “CD of photos.” Why do they charge so much? Because then they’ll have to edit way more photos. If you come across a photographer who does this practice — holding your photos hostage for more payment — move along. Don’t you want all your photos? Getting the Artistic Release means you can post them on facebook, create your own prints, canvases, thank-you cards, etc. It’s very important.

5. What kind of edits are included?

Editing is intensely time-consuming, and not all photographers choose to edit as much as they should. Do they whiten teeth? If a bridesmaid has a bad blemish day, will they fix it? Color corrections? Good photographers will edit every photo in some way. Over half the work is in the editing room…or at least it should be. Ask your potential photographer how much editing they’ll do for you.

6. One photographer, or two?

We’ve used two photographers at every wedding since day one. Why? So many reasons! You get more photos. It goes faster — one photographer poses people while the other gets the shots. They don’t have to move around as much during the ceremony. You get better photos — photography is an art as much as science, and it’s easier to create art when we’re relaxed; having two photographers puts both photographers more at ease knowing that everything will be captured. They can divide and conquer — while the bride and groom are getting ready, one can be with each. And my favorite — you get much better candid photos — people find it’s easy to hide from one photographer; when they see two, they give up and have a good time!


7. Check out their style — and make a request

If you like a photographer’s style, great! But did you know you can ask photographers for a different look? You may request a “vintage style,” more photos in black and white, eye-popping color, and more. (Most of this happens in the editing room.) The photographer can tell you if they have experience with various styles — and good photographers will provide examples.

8. Works well with others?

I’ve shot hundreds of weddings, and can say we’ve had only one bad incident. (We shot video while working with an unknown photographer. I wanted that day over as soon as we met her. She felt clearly threatened by having other photographers in her presence.)

Ideally, the company you find shoots photography AND cinematography. At Firefly we have two photographers and two cinematographers shooting simultaneously. We’ve all worked together for years, so there’s no threat of a miscommunication. And we all wear headsets to communicate silently with each other. Think about it — if the cinematographer doesn’t communicate with the photographer, they’ll constantly be in each other’s shots. 

Again, ask other professionals what they think of your potential photographer (even other photographers) — it’s a huge indication of what to expect. So when you visit with your caterer, ask them what they think of various photographers.

I recommend you meet with your potential photographer. (We often travel to weddings, so it’s not always possible.) But it’s important to assess whether the photographer is serious about their work, serious about you, and relaxed enough to bring out the best in their subjects.

9. Book early

We had 8 requests for a single date last year. If your date is proper wedding season (May-Oct), book early. If you haven’t set a date, consider a Friday or Sunday wedding. These days are so much less popular that you can essentially choose every vendor you want — photographer, cinematographer, caterer, florist, dj, officiant, wedding planner, etc.


10. How many photos?

We’re often asked how many photos to expect. It depends on how much is going on, of course, but I would expect to get between 40 photos per hour of shooting. If you find a company that provides two photographers, then expect closer to 75 photos per hour of shooting.


11. Budget balancing act

We don’t recommend booking us if that means you can’t afford table linens. Don’t book an overly-expensive photographer if it means you can’t get a good location for them to work. Even the best photographer can’t make a dull cafeteria look appealing. But at the wedding’s end, you’ll have just your photos (and movie, if you can afford it), so if you’re going to splurge somewhere, this would be the time.