Choosing the right photographer is about more than liking the photos.

Choosing the right photographer is about more than liking the photos.

Few wedding vendors require as much research and planning as the photographer. After all, photos are one of the only lasting artifacts of your wedding day, and your photographer is one of the only vendors who will be by your side from the first look to the last dance. The hunt for your ideal photographer is a multistep process that should begin as soon as you have a date in mind.

Step One: The Research

“I definitely advocate for couples shopping around,” says Garrett Martin of Martin Digital Photography. Ask recently married friends and family whom they hired and what they liked or didn't like about the photographer. Go to bridal shows (like the Columbus Weddings Show in January; see pg. 180), read reviews and peruse photographers' online galleries to get a sense of their styles. Ask yourself what you like or don't like about the photos, but keep in mind that you're essentially looking at a highlight reel.

“Everything that you see on a photographer's front page of their website or blog, that's always going to be the 100 percent best foot forward,” says Martin. “As a business owner, why would you do anything different?” If you're not sold on a photographer's best images, you likely won't be satisfied with a full gallery from that person.

It's never too early to start searching for your photographer, but you should have your options narrowed down to two or three favorites at least a year before your wedding date. Most Central Ohio photographers start booking about 12 to 18 months out, depending on the season and their popularity.

Step Two: The Interviews

After you narrow the field, you'll want to sit down and talk to your top candidates face to face.

“You need to get to know the person,” says Ben Barnes of Northmoor Studios. “You're going to want to be comfortable on your wedding day. If somebody makes you nervous, then no matter how much you like their photography, it might show on the wedding day.”

You'll also go over basic details, of course: when your wedding is, what shooting style you prefer—something more hands-on, with a photographer calling the shots, or something more candid and low-key—as well as your budget. But beyond those key components, interviewing photographers should feel more like a casual conversation.

“When we actually get to sit down with [clients] and interview … Elle, she just sits down and goes, ‘Tell me your story,' ” says Brett Reed of Brett Loves Elle Photography. “Just by doing that, we can really tell if they're the right client for us.” His wife and business partner, Elle Reed, adds, “We don't really talk about money or packages or anything until later. We just kind of want to know them.”

But knowing alone isn't enough, say the Reeds.

“When choosing a photographer, we like to tell them that you definitely have to like your photographer and like the work they do,” says Brett. “Because if you like one and not the other, you won't be happy.”

Step Three: The Details

Once you've decided that the photographer's style and personality mesh well with yours, it's time to get down to the nitty-gritty questions. Martin cautions against blindly asking questions often found on the “top 40 questions to ask your photographer” lists floating around the internet and instead focus on a few key details.

Some questions are obvious: How long have you been shooting weddings? How long does it take you to process and send images? How do you deliver images to clients? How many photographers are included in your package, and how long will they be at the wedding? Do you have insurance? How many weddings do you shoot in a day, week or year?

“I think every couple should be able to see samples of someone's wedding from start to finish,” says Hillary Ferguson of Hillary Ferguson Photography. Barnes and the Reeds go so far as to automatically provide this to couples, even when they don't ask for it.

Another key detail is to find out whether the photographer has a backup plan in case he or she is unable to shoot your wedding due to an emergency.

“I have a lot of friends who shoot weddings and are professional photographers that I use as backups,” says Barnes. “I always try to give [clients] a couple of names and maybe even websites so they can go on the internet and take a look, see that this person actually exists, and it wouldn't be a complete disaster if something happened to me.”

Step Four: The Booking

Now that you've officially selected your photographer, he or she will “interview” you to find out what your schedule is for the day and may even help you craft it based on your desired shots.

“I want to make sure that we're coming up with a timeline together, so they're not guessing as far as how much time they need for getting-ready photos, into the portraits before the ceremony, to photos after the ceremony,” says Ferguson. Not having a proper timeline in place can add anxiety to an already stressful day.

“People don't understand, to load 10 bridesmaids and groomsmen onto a bus and then get a couple blocks away from the venue in Downtown Columbus, that's a 15- or 20-minute ordeal,” says Martin. So if you plan to leave the ceremony at 4 p.m. and shoot photos until 5, you might need to adjust the schedule.

Your photographer will also likely ask about your wedding party and family dynamics, to facilitate a smooth shoot on the big day. “Sometimes it's good to know if there are family feuds going on, if … people are going to be nasty during the formal photos, and be ready for that,” says Barnes. And even if all of your family members get along perfectly, knowing who's who can be really helpful during formal portraits.

“I have people send me information on who everybody is so I can get to know everybody by name,” says Ferguson. “It feels a little more personable when I'm working with them that day, instead of just ‘hey you.' ”

Step Five: The Big Day

It's here! Your schedule is set, your vendors are on-site and the countdown to “I do” has been reduced from months to minutes. Now, the key is to hand the reins to your trusted photographer, and let him or her take control of the day's flow. “You're hiring us for our ideas and our style and the way we shoot things,” says Ferguson. So sit back, relax, and let the pro capture it all. œ

Perfect Photos … Check!

You've got your photographer; now you need your shot list. Not sure where to begin? We asked the pros which images you need to get and which ones you can pass on come wedding day. —Jenny Rogers

Get emotional: The more emotional, the better, says Sarah Williamson of Together We Click. Great opportunities for truly beautiful moments include the first look, of course, but also the processional and immediately after the couple says “I do.” Reactions from the newlyweds themselves are great, but make sure your photographer turns around to snap your mom dabbing a tear from her eye, too.

Don't take your gown for granted: If all goes according to plan, you'll look better on this day than any other day of your life. Make sure your photographer takes time to get detailed shots of your gown, as well as the groom's tux and your flowers and hair. Even if you're going more casual than crazy-chic, it's important to document your look for posterity. “I love images of the bride that showcase the elegance of everything she has prepared herself to be for the day,” says Benjamin Derkin of Derk's Works Photography. Ring shots are great, too. “[The rings] are full of symbolism,” says Derkin. “I like to see how they fit together; I don't want hands in this shot, just rings. Well-lit, unique, bling-tastic rings.”

Incorporate the fam: Always get photos with your immediate family members—that's a given, Williamson says. She and Derkin also suggest snapping all the siblings in one big group. Don't be afraid to get wild and show a little personality after the standard formals are done. “Aside from the obvious images, I'm a stickler for paying attention to grandparents,” adds Hillary Ferguson of Hillary Ferguson Photography. “There's always a moment when one of them will get on the dance floor and break it down.”

Get with your group: Partiers? Get photos of your crew taking shots together. Play a game of beer pong. Get a little crazy with some water balloons or a dance-off. When it comes to the bridal party, fun is where it's at.

Retire it: If you're running out of time, you can forget the following over-done images: the bridal party jumping in unison, saccharine-sweet hand-atop-of-hand poses and any poses stolen directly from Pinterest (and someone else's wedding).

Audrey and Tyler Stanley pose for a dramatic shot at Darby Dan Farm, where they held their New Year's Eve wedding and reception. (Nicole Dixon Photographic)

A silly moment between Christine and Brandon Labardee is caught by their photographer and guests alike. (Hillary Ferguson Photography)

Kate and Sam Kennedy's ceremony included excerpts from letters their family members had written to them, so it was only fitting that their photographer capture sweet exchanges like this. (Nicole Dixon Photographic)

A graphic graffiti wall made for a dramatic backdrop in Shaina and Michael Mannering's wedding portraits. (Lambert Photographs)