While planning for your wedding, you will find numerous lists directed at you full of questions to ask during meetings to help you find their ideal photographers. These lists do have value and very likely will help you get started thinking along the right lines to make an informed decision about wedding photography. They include questions like:

How many weddings have you photographed?

How do you describe your photography style?

What is your editing style?

What equipment do you use?

Have you photographed at my venue?

Can I give you a list of specific shots we would like?

How many images will we receive?

What is the turnaround time to receive the images?

These are great things to ask and you absolutely need to know these answers before booking, but they give limited insight in what the images you receive will actually look like. This is because it excludes what we what believe is the most important question:

Can we see full galleries of photos that you delivered from recent weddings?

Every photographer should welcome this request with open arms! It is their opportunity to give you an in-depth look at their work and show you what the the memories they create from your wedding day will look like. If they deny to show you these or refer you to the back images on their website, be very very cautious.

A home page and portfolio galleries gives sense of a photographer’s overall style and the types of photos they can achieve. However, there are numerous ways that these initial images might be very different than what the set of photos you receive looks like.

Why Ask?

Images might be edited specifically for portfolio use.

Some photographers spend extra time processing and editing to photos in Photoshop that they will know will be reaching a very large audience to give the best impression of themselves. This isn’t wrong by itself, but you need to know what the photos that did not get this treatment look like. It just isn’t practical to spend an hour editing each of hundreds of photos from a full day wedding to perfection in this way. You will never get your wedding photos if the photographer tried. Make sure the look photos in the full gallery is consistent with style displayed on the photographer’s website.

The photos might be from second photographer jobs with another studio.

The photographs displayed  might be from their work as a second photographer for another studio. This often means that the primary photographer had already done the difficult part of choosing the location, setting up the couple, and positioning lighting while the second photographed captured the photo from the angle you see. This still takes expertise and being a great second shooter takes its own skillset and very valuable. However it doesn’t represent what the photographer can accomplish when they are at your wedding on there own with all of the possibilities are wide open.

Mixing in some photos from second shooting is not misleading in itself and is a good way to show some more unique ideas, but there should be a good number of images from their own weddings as well. 

Some individual or even sets of images might be from styled wedding sessions.

Styled shoots are an opportunity to take photographs at a staged wedding and are growing in popularity. The location and time of day are selected very carefully, details are chosen based on how well they photograph, and the the bride and groom are models. Over the course of a few hours, everything is positioned into a range of realistic looking wedding day circumstances while the photographer(s) can move around and capture images perfectly in their vision without worrying about any real wedding events.

This is great as a learning experience, but these situations are very different than an actual wedding where time is short, and people are moving on their own accord, and lighting will not be perfect for photography. Wedding photography is the art of making magic out of naturally occurring situations rather than taking photos of perfect situations. Viewing the full set will show you what the photographer can truly accomplish under these real conditions.

Portraits might be from editorial sessions.

Some couples value portraits very highly and will set aside time to get dressed up on another day to capture photos that are otherwise impossible with how weddings must be scheduled. This is an awesome idea if you feel similarly, but photos captured during these types of sessions do not reflect what you will receive on your wedding day. Sometimes there are just twenty short minutes for portraits and a photographer must to push their creativity to the limit to create amazing images in the location they have to make use of. 

You will find photos of a bride and groom in the middle of Times Square early in the morning with no crowds and the city lit up behind them or maybe on the peak of a mountain with a foggy valley below. They either had to begin at midnight the day before to make this happen and are severely sleep deprived or, more than likely, it just isn’t their wedding day. 

The remainder of the photos may not hold up.

It sounds harsh but almost anyone can capture a few great images when photographing for 10 hours straight and taking thousands of photographs. Digital cameras  means there is no real limit of how many attempts you have. If someone shows their 30 best images out of the past 20,000 they took they can easily make their abilities look greater than they actually are. To document a wedding well, the photographer needs to be need to be consistent and capture get great moments all throughout the day. I’m sure you won’t be very happy if there are only a few moments of greatness from your wedding day mixed in with hundreds of photos that are very “blah”. 

The photographs could focused entirely on the photographer’s strengths.

Photographing a marriage takes a very varied skillset ranging from product photography for details, to the posing of people throughout the day for families and portraits, to photojournalism for those candid moments. Some photographers may have an amazing eye for details and portraits and display these very prominently on their website and others may be amazing at using window light when the bride is getting on her dress. However both of these might have trouble lighting a first dance during the reception or capturing that first kiss in a very dark church.  The only way to tell for sure is to look through the gallery and ensure each part of the day can stand strongly by itself, the moments important to you are well represented, and it is all in in a style you love.

By just asking to see some full sample galleries you can be sure of all these answers and be sure you find the perfect photographer for you!