How to hire a Wedding/Elopement Photographer

How to hire a Wedding/Elopement Photographer

Ok so you’re engaged, right?

You got the rock and you’ve taken the selfies. You’ve thought about where you might wanna have lots of sexy time on your honeymoon. But it’s been a few months now and you’re supposed to start planning. From figuring out if you should hire a planner to picking your perfect date. From hoping that your venue is free on that day and if you want to invite your mom’s weird cousin. There’s a lot to do.

Well, I truly can’t help you with all of that, but what I can help you with is finding a photographer. I mean, obviously I’d prefer you to go with me, but honestly I just see way too many people who get screwed over, hire a terrible photographer, not know how contracts work, or even what they’re truly looking for in a photographer. There is so much to know and I gotta help someone out because these images are gonna be what you reflect on for the rest of your lives. Your freaking grandchildren, if you so chose to procreate, are gonna see these images. This is your legacy.

Do you want them to see some shitty images from a photographer that you’re bitter about 40 years later?

Didn’t think so.

So I’m here to help.

The first section will be a bit long because it’s incredibly important. This is pertaining to laws in the US as I am based here! Look up what the laws are in your country but from what I’ve looked at, it’s pretty similar.

01 – Your Rights

OK first things first, legal stuff.

The one thing that you should know immediately, the person who presses the shutter (literally anyone anywhere on any machine – even a cell phone) owns the copyright to that image. No one else owns the right to that image. Unless you enter that photo into an online contest and don’t read the fine print of that contest where you’re giving up your rights to that image to the owner of the contest (look up the apple contest if you don’t believe me), then THEY own your image.

Now, typically, with professional photographers you’ll have a contract. Contracts are SO important, they protect the photographer AND client from misunderstandings, unclear expectations, and potential harm from legal battles should it come to that. Every single professional photographer that I know in this industry never ever EVER give full rights to their clients.

Unless they’re shooting a celebrity wedding, it’s not something that is common in wedding photography. Celebrities will often purchase the entire collection of photographs from their photographer with full copyright so that the photographer can’t sell them to tabloids. And it’s PRICEY. That’s tens of thousands of dollars of missed advertising that the photographer is giving up which is why celebrities pay upwards of $50,000 for their photographer. They’re paying for the rights and requiring the photographer sign an NDA.

Now, what you will receive is personal usage rights + printing rights (second is depending on your photographer). Personal usage + printing rights includes sharing on social media, downloading them, printing them, putting them on cards, etc. Some photographers use a different business model that doesn’t include printing rights, instead you purchase prints through them every single time. Some business models don’t let you download any of your images unless you purchase them. However, that’s not as common.

Most photographers I know typically will give you a set number of photographs per hour with personal usage rights and printing rights. Again, talk to your photographer or potential photographers about how they operate.

This next part is important so I’ll put it in big bold letters for you to read with your eyeballs


That means no instagram filters, no photoshopping your body, no removing an ex boyfriend. None of it. If there’s anything that you want gone or changed, please please please talk to your photographer.

If you follow my list below, hopefully it’ll lead you to a photographer that has good communication, has a good editing style that matches what you want, and is a professional in the industry. And if they’re all those things, I’m sure they’ll want to help you out with whatever kind of needs you want. If they can’t, they’re a great resource for you to get someone who can help you. I know that I’ve had couples in the past want someone edited out or someones head changed to a better smile for a Christmas card.

I don’t operate photoshop myself, so I’ve often paid another professional to make that change and I pay for it out of pocket for a one time fee.

Now, if my couple had really bad cystic acne and wanted it edited out of every single photo, they would have to pay extra to have someone professionally do it. Or if they knew how to do it themselves, I would give them permission to edit that out. The important thing is communication!

If you edit the photos yourself or get someone else to without the photographers explicit and specific permission, not only is it disrespectful to your photographer, it’s also illegal. Those images are the photographers property and you could get in trouble should the photographer find out and care to pursue legal action. I’ve never pursued legal action but I’ve had clients in the beginning of my profession slap an instagram filter over my photos and I have asked them to take it down and not to edit my images again.

Think about it. You’ve paid your photographer a few thousand dollars and they’ve spent a dozen hours editing your images to their perfect style that they’ve spent year creating. Why did you spend that money? Why did you choose that photographer? Just to change their hard work? That’s like asking a cake company to create this amazing wedding cake and then remove all the icing and redo it yourself. Save yourself time and energy by taking steps to avoid that.

Keep reading if ya wanna know how to find a photographer that matches your aesthetic so you don’t have to edit them differently.

(And if you’re looking for someone to just click a button and give you unedited photos so that you can edit them yourself, find someone who doesn’t care about that and just wants some money. But keep in mind what you’re risking)

02 – The Style of the Photographer

There are literally a million wedding + elopement photographers around the world (including me, howdy) and each one of them will have their own style.

Every artist is figuring out their craft and spending time + money pursuing that. How they like to shoot, which lenses they like, what camera brand they like shooting with, what they like their tones to look like. If they shoot film + digital (again, hi). Just like you have preferences to the things you like to create and do, so do we. And every other professional field out there.

So take a gander! Take notes of what you like. Do you like super model, editorial style posing that looks like art or more pure in the moment candids? Do you like bright + contrasted colors in your images or do you like warmer muted tones that aren’t as bright? Do you like a lot of black and white fancy shots or do you like blurry, lots of movement images that make it look like a still from an old montage?

Find lots of photographers (both in and above your price range) and write down what you do and don’t like about their work. Do you like really emotional close up images or are you drawn to really wide shots that show the whole scenery? Save those images on a Pinterest board. It can be helpful to join a wedding group on Facebook with a screenshot of your inspiration and see if anyone has any recommendations for what you’re looking for.

How do you want to remember your images? Will this style of editing last 20, 30, or 40 years? There are some photographers that desaturate their greens or have more orange skin tones. Will you like that style years from now? These questions are incredibly important because our brains are so powerful but they’re also very impressionable.

Our memories change and shift and can be impacted by good – and bad – photos. Your brain will start to attach your memories to those images and it’ll affect how you remember them. God forbid, your photographer ends up being crap after you’ve spent good money on them. And you can’t relive the day again.

I don’t want that to happen, so here I am.

03 – Preparedness

When hiring a photographer, if you’re going the professional route, you’ll want to make sure your images are safe.

Do they have backup equipment? What plans do they have in place when something goes wrong? I personally bring 2 digital cameras in case one craps out on me and those cameras have dual slots so if a SD card corrupts, they’re already recorded on another card. I carry multiple lenses for the same reason and I bring a multitude of memory cards so that I don’t run out of cards. I have backup batteries that are all charged up.

I bring my laptop and hard drives so I can back up your images immediately in two places. I have business insurance so that if my laptop breaks (like it did in December 2022), it’s covered by my insurance. I have an online backup in place as well. All of these things are put in place to keep your images (and my ass) safe from harm.

You only get this day once. You want to make sure you’re hiring someone who cares for your photographs with a thorough diligence that only years of experience and scary situations can give you. This is why photographers can and should charge thousands of dollars. That equipment ain’t cheap and neither is the insurance and all the other things that go along with it.

But I promise you that splurging on a professional photographer is always always be worth it. These images will last you a lifetime + more. They become your legacy, your proof of existence. What you look back on for years as the love that you experienced with your best friend.

If you genuinely aren’t afraid of risking that on an amateur photographer, completely fine! Just have a good chat with them about expectations and your vision.

04 – Day of Priorities

I’ve heard it all. “My photographer didn’t get photographs of ALL my guests” or “My photographer didn’t photograph my invitations and menu and shoes and earrings!”, etc.

Write down your priorities. Are detail photos of all the flowers, accessories, tables, etc important to you? Look at some photographers work. Do they have lots of photos of that on their instagram or in their galleries? Odds are, if they’re posting that, they really like shooting detail shots. Do you not care at all about details and would rather have candids of all the people you care about? (That, personally, is my bread and butter) Look for a photographer who’s instagram is filled with those moments. Find out how they like to shoot by looking at their work and find one that aligns with your priorities.

Typically, photographers will have their own list of shots that they like to get for their gallery. If you have a few specific shots that you’d like, feel free to mention it to them specifically so they’re aware. I always like to ask if there’s any special guests or items they would like photographed. Usually it’s someone or something really old, so I make a point to check it off my mental list. What isn’t helpful for photographers is giving them pages of shots that you want.

I shot a wedding like that once in the beginning of my career and I can tell you, I missed some really special candids moments because I was busy looking down at a a stack of papers filled with shots. It’s not efficient and if you’re hiring a photographer that knows the game and has communicated with you about your priorities, they won’t need a piece of paper because they’re so on top of it. After years of shooting weddings, I have a mental list in my head of all the shots I gotta get and don’t need an actual list.

Another factor to look into if you’re a person of color, a bigger bodied person, if you’re a part of a specific religion, etc. is finding someone who shares your core values. Find someone who knows how to edit your beautiful brown skin well. Choose a photographer that knows how to photograph different body shapes and is mindful about unflattering angles.

Finding a photographer who respects your religious views or sexual identity can really make you feel so safe and loved on your day which leads to a comfortable demeanor and makes taking images much more relaxed. I have my core values on my website very clearly so that my couples can know what they are and feel safe if theirs align with mine. I value myself in working with couples that I would be friends with and it makes the day so much more special knowing that you’re on the same page.

Ultimately, find someone you can trust because you’ve got enough to think about when your big day arrives.

05 – Contract

If you find a photographer that doesn’t make you sign a contract…RUN.

Unless they’re just trying out wedding photography and you know the risk you’re taking and the person you’re betting on, it’s not worth it. A contract, like I said above, protects both parties. And know that when your photographer sends you a contract, you can add things or talk to them about amending something. They’ll most likely be willing to hear what you’re saying and have a chat about it.

There will be lots of important things in that document. One of my latest additions to my contract for weddings + elopements was surrounding harassment (sexual or otherwise). I heard a story of a friend getting sexually harassed at a wedding and that was enough for me to hear to add it as a clause in mine. Other clauses include image rights, contracted time, deliverables, etc.

Make sure you’re on the same page about what’s going down. If you think of something that is important to you (I had a client of mine not want any of their kissing photographs online) and you want to add it into the contract, talk to your photographer about it.

That’s about all there is to it! I hope this gives some insight to how photographers operate and helps you narrow down some options for your big day!

Hiya stranger!

I’m Isabella

Film slingin’, tequila shootin’, van dwellin’, travelin’ elopement photographer and hopefully, your future wedding day hype woman. When I’m not behind the lens, you can find me cozied up with friends new and old, on the road in pursuit of the next adventure, hangin’ with my co-pilot Marlow at the nearest dog-friendly establishment, or making dinner in my van before getting back on the road.

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