This post is inspired by an enquiry I recently had, in which a couple had copied and pasted a long set of questions for me to answer (around 30 of them), some of which were out-dated ("Do we get the film negatives?") and a few where the answers could easily be found on my site and within my information and pricing pages ("What is your style?" / "What is in your packages?")
I get it, I do, and I'm absolutely not judging anyone for feeling a little lost and googling "questions to ask your wedding photographer" and copy-and-pasting a long list without really reading it.. Hiring suppliers for your wedding can be daunting, and there's a *lot* to think about. I have so many lovely meetings and chats with couples who enquire and they often say "We don't know what to ask! We've never done this before.." which is true for most people planning a wedding - it's not often in your life you hire a photographer, but you need to know that you're making the right choice too.
So, with my experience over the years, I thought I'd make my own list. Good questions and why you should ask them, and bad questions and why you shouldn't.. Hopefully it'll give some insight and be helpful for those of you looking to hire a wedding photographer (and I'm right here if you need me!)
I'm going to assume that you've enquired and had an informative reply.. The following are questions to ask after you've established availability for your date, and been given pricing breakdowns and a bit of information about what's included..
WHAT TO ASK..
ARE YOU INSURED?
Important! Every business should be insured. It's also worth checking if they have public liability insurance as some venues won't let a photographer shoot there without it.
WHAT HAPPENS IF YOU'RE ILL ON THE DAY?
Another hugely important question - there should be a contingency plan or system in place so that if they can't cover your day as a result of illness or an emergency situation, then they can ensure that you have wedding photography coverage. I've had to cover for photographers in the past, and I have a network and system I can trust, so I know I'd never leave anyone 'high and dry', even if something happened to me personally.
DO YOU CARRY BACK UP KIT ON THE DAY?
No professional photographer should be without at least two camera bodies, a range of lenses, at least two flash units, and batteries and memory cards that they should need on the day. They should be fully backed up and covered if any of their kit fails so as not to compromise your coverage.
HOW DO YOU TRAVEL ON THE DAY?
It's worth asking a few logistical questions (if they apply) to put your mind at rest so you don't need to worry about timings and missed coverage (for example, setting off at 6am to do a five hour journey for an 11am start is risky at best and irresponsible and unprofessional at worst..) Your photographer should be well-practised in managing logistics and travelling from prep to ceremony to reception, and should be happy to talk about how they will manage the day and your timings.
IS THE PRICE INCLUSIVE OF EVERYTHING, INCLUDING POST-PROCESSING, TRAVEL AND ACCOMMODATION?
Check you know exactly what is included in your coverage and package before booking, and check that it's confirmed in your booking form.
WHAT RIGHTS TO OUR IMAGES DO WE HAVE?
Most photographers now work in a different way to how photographers used to, in that you usually receive your images and have personal printing rights rather than paying for coverage and then prints and albums on top. Check you now exactly what you're able to do with your own images. Most photographers will allow you to print and share your own images for personal use (i.e. printing and sharing for yourself and for family and friends) but not commercial use (selling your own photos on for financial gain). Your photographer should include this information within your terms and conditions or contract.
HOW DO WE ORDER AN ALBUM?
Ask about the album process, check if you need to order an album in a certain time frame, and ask about their album supplier. Most of my couples order their albums after their wedding date has passed rather than pay up front ahead of their coverage, so it's worth checking your photographers' flexibility in when you can order or put together an album after your date.
WHAT IS THE BENEFIT TO HAVING A SECOND SHOOTER/EXTRA HOURS/OTHER EXTRAS?
Your photographer should be happy to chat to you about the benefits of a second shooter and any other extras they offer, and help you work out whether those add-ons are right for your day and coverage.
CAN WE ALTER A PACKAGE TO SUIT OUR BUDGET?
This is a question a lot of photographers get asked and the answer is usually 'it depends' - the short answer is that it's at their discretion. There is a big difference between needing shorter coverage and asking for a price that reflects that, and overspending on something else and then asking for a discount for your photography to make up for it. There is a huge range in pricing for wedding photographers for so many reasons, make sure what you're asking or discussing is fair to your supplier.
HAVE YOU SHOT AT MY VENUE BEFORE?
This is and isn't relevant - I would ask this out of curiosity but don't let the answer determine whether or not you book someone. For those of us who travel UK and worldwide shooting weddings, there is every chance we've never been to your venue before, but it also won't impact how we cover your day. I'm regularly at locations that I haven't visited before, but I manage my time on the day to appropriately scout, explore and plan how I'll cover your day there.
WHAT GROUP SHOTS DO YOU DO AND CAN I ADD ANY?
The first thing to suggest here would be to book a photographer whose style matches your hopes and expectations - i.e. don't ask a relaxed documentary-style photographer to do 20+ group shots or you'll compromise how they work. Check which group shots they do as standard, and ask about planning and adding a few more closer to the time. They may be happy for you to add a lot, or they may suggest a maximum number you can add so that they're still able to cover the rest of your day well and appropriately.
CAN I HAVE INFORMATION ABOUT THE BOOKING PROCESS AND WHEN FINAL PAYMENTS ARE DUE? WHAT IS THE TURNAROUND TIME FOR OUR IMAGES?
This information may be provided to you with any information or materials that they've sent over; if it isn't, clarify before booking exactly what happens next and what to expect.
WHAT DO YOU DO TO PREPARE AHEAD OF OUR WEDDING?
Most photographers use a timings form or ask for certain information ahead of your day so they can be as prepared as possible. Ask what sort of information they need and use, and when they'll need it.
WHAT NOT TO ASK..
CAN WE HAVE THE RAW FILES?
This is the equivalent of getting the film negatives, and I don't know any photographer who gives away their RAW files. Even for an additional fee. RAW files are proof of copyright, and giving out RAW files has been equated to giving out the ingredients to a recipe in a restaurant - they are the unfinished article; it's better to wait for the end result and enjoy that instead. Unless you're a photographer or creative yourself, it's also unlikely that you'll have the software to do much with them.
CAN WE HAVE A DISCOUNT FOR THE SAME PACKAGE AND COVERAGE TO SUIT OUR BUDGET?
Frankly, you're being rude. If you're looking to compromise your coverage in correlation with the price you can afford then it's worth discussing whether your photographer can accommodate that, but if you're asking for a discount for the same package and coverage then you're being cheeky and undervaluing the job that they're doing. How would you feel if one day someone at work said "Can you work the same shift for 20% less today?" Not cool, is it?
CAN YOU COPY THIS PHOTO FROM PINTEREST?
When you hire a photographer you should be trusting their style and approach, and know what to expect from what they do. Asking creative photographers to replicate shots you've found online isn't fair to the person who created the shot in the first place, and not fair to the person you've employed to creatively cover your day in their own way. Employ someone you trust and embrace that your day is unique, and won't look like someone else's. That's where the magic lies.
CAN I GIVE YOU A SHOT LIST THAT I FOUND ONLINE?
Most photographers will be happy to accommodate a few extra group shots of friends and family, but if you hand someone a list saying with things like BRIDESMAID PUTTING NECKLACE ON BRIDE/RING BEARER HOLDING RINGS/WALKING BACK UP THE AISLE, then it all becomes a bit paint-by-numbers and you'll compromise how they naturally cover the day. Your photographer is there to capture everything as it happens, not orchestrate you and your guests to a black and white list you've found on the internet. Embrace your day for the story it is - and again, hire someone you trust to document it.
MY FRIEND/UNCLE/SOMEONE I KNOW HAS A NICE CAMERA AND WANTS TO TAKE PHOTOS AND GAIN EXPERIENCE ON THE DAY TOO, IS THAT OK?
The answer is 'probably not'. This person is likely to get in the background of your professional photographs or get in the way of your photographer. A lot of photographers will have it in their contract that they will be the main person covering the day (sometimes with the help of a second shooter they have chosen to work with themselves). Having someone keen to 'get their own shots' all day can easily end up compromising the coverage you receive.
Hopefully this has been of some help, I think a lot of it comes down to hiring someone whose work excites you, someone you can trust, works professionally, and someone you can see fitting in well with your plans and your celebration. It's such a subjective thing, and you may like someone's work slightly more than someone else's without being able to properly articulate why. So do your homework, go through their portfolio and read through their information and about me pages.. and go with your gut. Invest what you can afford in a fabulous photographer, trust them to do their thing, and be grateful that you did for the years to come.