© 2019 by Giselle Smith / Lovely Leaves

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How to Hire A Pro Wedding Photographer


Congratulations on your engagement! You plan on having a memorable day packed full of pretty and you need a talented wedding photographer to document the day. If you have started looking at photographers, you have probably realized that there are so many options. In this post we're going to look at the two main photography styles (light and airy vs. dark and moody), where you actually should be looking for your dream photographer, photography budget, how to really tell if someone is a pro and how to decide which photographer is THE ONE once you have narrowed down the options. We are also sharing quotes from some of our favorite wedding photographers on how they would decide on their wedding photographer. Enchanting photos throughout this post by Stephanie Rogers Photography.


This is post four of our wedding planning series. If you missed the other posts in the series Three Big Wedding Questions: Budget, Guest Count & Date, A Perfect Venue for Your Vision and Design & Styling for Real Weddings + Updated Inspiration, go back and check them out!



The Two Main Photography Styles: Light & Airy vs. Dark & Moody

Photography style is based solely on your preference! I bet you have noticed the photos in this post are different than those I usually share... It's true.


What you usually see me share are photos in a lighter, airy style because I love the way flowers photograph in this style. I am a florist in case you didn't know. In addition, wedding magazines/blogs feature a lot of film-feeling weddings and inspirational shoots and lighter photos roll well with my Insta feed. One thing I love about this style is that colors are almost always true to color which means the colors you see in person are the colors you see in your photos, neither darker nor lighter. Light and airy photography has a timeless, classic feel to it. There are two main things to watch out for in this style, one being photographers who attempt to achieve this style by over-exposing (making things too bright) or extreme editing that washes out colors. You should be able to spot this especially if you are asking to see full galleries of wedding photos. Another thing is that it is important to understand is that light, airy photography can be amazing in film or digital. While film photography is IN right now (and my personal fav), film is an art, an expensive art. Not everyone promoting themselves as a film photographer shoots primarily film and not every couple can afford film photography. This is OK. You can typically tell by the price tag as true film photographers who shoot daytime events primarily in film (mainly using digital to back up) have to charge more to cover the cost of film. If you're on a budget and you love this style, look for a photographer who shoots primarily digital in a light, airy style. Whether you choose a film or digital photographer, light and airy photography should have a soft, romantic feel.


Less commonly used in weddings than light and airy photography, darker, moody photos tend to have a lot of emotion to them and there are many opportunities for turning your standard wedding photos into a work of actual art with high-fashion depth. Darker photos are more likely to catch one's attention. I asked (literally my favorite) dark photographer Brandi Potter of Brandi Potter Photography why she prefers a more dramtic style and here is what she said: "I shoot and edit the way I do because dark, moody photos have a more artistic feel and evoke emotion. There’s something special about it; my photos are never boring. Sure, light and airy looks great hanging on someone’s wall, but I don’t feel anything at all when I look at it. I feel like people’s wedding images should be memorable, not just a nice comment and a like on Facebook and then others forget about them." The photos shared here by Stephanie Rogers Photography are a perfect example of talent in a dark, moody style incorporating seemingly magical editing techniques and still retaining colors from Taylor and Ben's Texas wedding.


Certain photography styles pair well with different wedding styles. Rustic weddings and modern weddings look gorgeous in both dark, dramatic photos and light, airy photos. Classic, traditional weddings are best with light, airy photography whereas bohemian events (as shown) shot in a dark, moody style are sure to make a statement.



Where You Actually Should Be Looking for Your Dream Photographer

Instagram is where it's at in 2019. If at all possible, you want to follow photographers for a few weeks if time allows to get a sense of not only their style, but also their personalities. Start by searching geo hashtags for example #lexingtonwedding #louisvillewedding #lexingtonweddingphotographer and #louisvilleweddingphotographer (obviously with your city and surrounding cities). Choose photographs you like and follow those photographers. Next follow local bridal magazines and blogs and follow photographers you like that you find there. It also never hurts to follow your venue and see if you like any photographers who have shot there prevviously (although do not base your decision solely on this). Have you been getting referrals from friends, vendors and random people? I bet. Follow those photographers on Instagram too.


The cool thing about social media is that it is free. Every photographer can use it; you will find a wide variety of options in a style you love. The not so cool thing is that anyone can share a bunch of beautiful squares to have a pretty feed. Do not hire based on what you find on the Gram. Instagram should be used solely for scoping out options and getting to know photographers from a distance.



Don't Forget Your Photography Budget

Don't forget your budget just because you're in love with a photographer. Photography needs to be 18% of your budget. Just as a reminder of what that looks like for average weddings, here is a little chart:

  • $10,000 Wedding Budget - $1800 Photography

  • $20,000 Wedding Budget - $3600 Photography

  • $35,000 Wedding Budget - $6300 Photography

  • $50,000 Wedding Budget - $9000 Photography

It is okay to spend less, but photographs are all that you will have after the wedding other than your spouse and maybe your dress. The pictures are the key to remembering your big day and sharing the magic for generations to come. That said, don't spend much more than the allotted amount on photography because you still want to have details to photograph and guests won't care how amazing your photographer is if you don't have a meal (or at least heavy hors d'oeuvres) or if everything is a hot mess because you didn't have money left to hire a decent coordinator.



How to Really Tell if Someone is A Pro & How to Decide Which Photographer is THE ONE

You have hopefully been stalking photographers. You have to email them now. Remember that handy-dandy wedding email account you created in post two from the blog series? Time to put it to good use. Visit the websites of your five favorite photographers and email them through their contact forms asking for packages, pricing and to set up a phone or in person consultation. Here is what you're looking for:

  1. Availability! This seems basic, but making sure someone is avaialble for your date should come first.

  2. Good reviews are a must! TheKnot.com is the most reliable source of reviews for all types of wedding vendors.

  3. Consistently shoots weddings in the style you love. BE SURE to ask to see a few full wedding galleries because anyone could have a gorgeous Insta feed. The real deal will have more to show you than a highlight reel.

  4. Fits within your budget for at the very least an 8 hour package. Engagement shoots and second shooters are a bonus, but to capture all of the details and moments of your day, you need 8+ hours for standard weddings.

  5. Someone that replies to your emails within a timely manner and is willing to either A) meet in person for coffee or B) video chat to get to know you.

  6. Personalities you feel at ease and comfortable with. A photographer who seems genuinely excited to work with you is who you want to hire.


Photographers Tell How They Would Choose a Wedding Photographer:

We asked a few photographers we love what they would look for in a wedding photographer. Here are the answers they sent in:


"You want to find someone who doesn't just photograph pretty portraits, but can document the authentic moments and interactions throughout the wedding day between you as a couple and your friends and family. You'll also want to find someone who can work with different lighting situations well, so that they know how to work in low-light spaces, harsh light and even document the energy on the dance floor! Versatility is key in finding your wedding photographer so your images don't look plain, but rather dynamic and timeless! Finding a photographer with a personality you click with is also important. Your photographer will be around you throughout the day and you want to make sure they add to the fun and celebration." Stepahnie Rogers, Stephanie Rogers Photography- Austin, Texas


"I would ask to see a full wedding gallery! Everyone is great at posting the highlights from the day, but it’s a true test of skill to see the entire finished product!" Morgan Worley, Morgan Worley Photography - Bowling Green, Kentucky


"I think when it comes to wedding photography, it’s the combination of a style you love with a person you click with and trust. It’s not just about the photos - it’s about the overall experience and finding someone who cares about that. Do you want them, as a person, at your wedding? Do you trust them to handle your crazy fam when it’s time for portraits? Are they professionals who can handle any lighting situation? Can they make up lost time when the schedule falls behind? There’s a lot more to it and I could go on for hours, but that’s where I think couples should start." Lucy Struve, Lucille Photo - San Antonio, Texas


"I would want to see full galleries to see how they shoot weddings from start to finish in a variety of lighting situations vs. just pretty pictures on their website and Instagram. Then I would want a video call to see if we get along. Also, read reviews!" Brooke Johnson, Honey Gem Creative - Austin, Texas


"Once I find a photographer that shoots a style I love, for instance light and airy and in a timeless matter, I make sure that we are a good fit on a personal level. I want to make sure I work with someone I can be myself around and have fun with. When I feel like we are a good fit on a personal level, I can trust my photographer to not only get those important photos I need, but also capture me and my husband as we really are! I loved building a relationship with my photographer since we spent all day with them." Katie Rhodes, Katie Rhodes Photography - Owensboro, Kentucky

"I think one thing that is really important is that the personalities of the couple and photographer mesh well together because they will be spending more time with their photographer on the wedding day than anyone else." Dani Cowan, Dani Cowan Photography - Breckenridge, Colorado


"If I were going to choose a wedding photographer, I would make my decision based on a few things! First, I would set up a time to talk with them or video chat so I could see if our personalities mesh well together! Being able to get along with the person who is capturing your wedding is so important since they will be with you most of the day! I would also ask to see a full wedding gallery, that way I can make sure I am drawn to an entire days worth of images, instead of just what I see on social media!” Kelli Wellman, Kelli Lynn Photography - Lexington, Kentucky


Thanks so much for reading along today for the fouth post in our wedding planning series! If you need some inspiration, check out our Instagram at @_giselle_smith. Be sure to subscribe to the blog to receive monthly email updates and to get your FREE Wedding Design Outline PDF. You can print this neat outline, hole-punch it and pop it into a binder with your budget and vendor contracts to keep your inspiration in order. Stay tuned next Tuesday, March 4 for our blog post on Choosing the Right Wedding Coordinator for You.


Happy Planning! XOXO






Gorgeous dark, dramatic images by Stephanie Rogers Photography at Deerfield Estates near Dallas, Texas with coordination by Taylor Bible Weddings and florals by Lovely Leaves. Bride Taylor's hair and makeup look came from Katy Reddell Beauty with a jaw-dropping gorgeous dress from Rue de Seine Bridal.