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Booking the Right Wedding Photographer
by Joy Smallwood


For most of the brides I work with, booking the right wedding photographer is usually first or second on their list of priorities. Some have even gone as far as eliminating or reducing the budget for another part of the wedding just to have the right photographer. While I never complain about such maneuvering, I caution all couples to really take their time when choosing the person whose going to capture such an important milestone. After shooting hundreds of weddings and working with dozens of couples, here are a few points of wisdom that I offer every couple before they book me:

Go for substance over style

I tell every couple I meet that it's most important that we click on a personal level. Choosing a wedding photographer for style alone is the absolute wrong thing to do for any couple. The photographer is the person who will literally be with you more than some family members & close friends on your wedding day. For that reason, I always suggest going with the substance of an easy-going personality and general likeability over style alone. Don't get me wrong, style is quite important, but if your photographer annoys you, the only style that's going to come out in the pictures is one leaning towards "bride in angst."

Stretch your wedding photography budget to get what you really want

Hopefully, your wedding will be a once-in-a lifetime event, and you want the memory of it to be captured right. There's no second chance with the photography. With my own wedding, before beginning my career as a photographer, I made the mistake of going the cheap route with my wedding pictures. Today, I can barely look at them with getting a sick feeling. Even now, more than 10 years later, they're gathering dust somewhere in the attic, and I cringe every time they resurface. There's no need to break the bank, but if you can find a way to stretch a little to get the photographer you really want, do it. You'll be glad you did during those times you want to wax nostalgic.

If an engagement shoot is offered, do it

I offer every one of my couples an engagement shoot for free. And I don't do it just to give away a freebie, or to entice them to close the deal. I do it because it's the best chance I have to get to really know the couple before the wedding. I always start with getting together with them for coffee or a drink, then we go shoot for a couple of hours and if time permits, we get a quick bite afterwards. It's amazing what that 3-4 hours does for my relationship with the bride & groom. When I show up on the wedding day, it's like, "Hey, Joy. How have you been? It's so good to see you again!" Rather than an under-the-breathe whispher, "Oh no, the wedding photographer is here. I've been dreading taking these pictures all week."

Throw out the standard questions or at least personalize them

Almost every wedding website and advice guide on the market provides brides with a standard set of questions to ask a potential wedding photographer. While it's okay to have a few questions to guide your search, it's best to just be yourself when reaching out to a photographer and ask about what's important to you. I've had brides call me in the past, and before I could get a word in edgewise, she's rattled off 13 questions that I could tell she was reading straight from a guide. No bride or groom would ever hire me if no matter what they asked me, I had 13 standard answers for all brides & grooms. Conversely, pick a few pertinent questions to ask, and let the rest of the conversation be guided by a conversational tone that allows you to both check the wedding photographer's credentials, and also get to know a little more about their personality.

While this list is by no means exhaustive, it should serve as a foundational starting point for any discerning couple wanting to book a wedding photographer who fits their budget (even if stretched a bit), matches their style, and most importantly offers enough substance to make it through your wedding day together.


Joy Marie is originally from Bainbridge Island, Washington. She graduated from the UCLA School of Fine Arts, and now runs a successful photography studio that operates in Los Angeles and Nashville. Joy Marie travels internationally for weddings.

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