So you know the phrase "there are no stupid questions"? Despite the title of this post, the fact is, it's true. You should always feel comfortable asking a question, especially when talking to someone you're considering hiring. That said, as a photographer (and fellow bride) I am constantly seeing "10 Things You Should Ask Your Photographer". And while some of these lists are great (and some are less so), very few of these questions will actually help you get any closer to finding the right photographer. So I've compiled a list of the most common questions that will get you absolutely nowhere, along with suggestions for what to ask instead.
1. What Type of Equipment Do You Use?
This is one of the top questions you'll hear wedding blogs tell you to ask, but honestly most people don't know what answer they're looking for in an answer. Even if you are a camera expert, the latest high-tech gear and expensive add-ons don't guarantee you a good photographer or even good photos. I've seen professionals get better shots on their iPhones than people with $10,000 worth of gear.
The Better Question: Why did you choose the camera and lenses you work with?
Anyone can tell you what they shoot with, but only a true professional can tell you why. You should see a passionate, knowledgable response with details about the performance of the camera and which lenses they most frequently use.
2. How Many Weddings Have You Shot?
So now, this isn't a bad question per se. You don't want the answer to be too few (unless you're getting a discounted rate) but a photographer's blog and portfolio should be able to tell you if they've shot several weddings. (If the same four brides pop up in every photo--it's usually a sign that they're new to the business.) But experience doesn't necessarily equal quality. I've seen photographers shooting their 200th wedding who don't have the professionalism or skill of new photographers on their 8th.
The Better Question: What are the most common problems you encounter during a wedding and how do you handle them?
An experienced professional should be able to tell you about how they handle it when things go wrong. Typical wedding day problems like rain, difficult in-laws, and schedule delays should be part of the norm for a seasoned photographer. If they don't have great solutions at-the-ready, they probably aren't very experienced or committed to their business.
And also ask.... Do you have insurance and a backup camera?
When discussing worst-case scenarios, don't forget camera malfunctions, loss of photo files, and more serious cases like injury or illness. Your photographer should have at least one backup camera, a plan for keeping your photos safe, another photographer who can take over if they become ill, and an insurance policy to cover them (and you) when any of these things happen. (And all of these things, of course, should be outlined in their contract.)
3. What Is Your Photography Style?
This is an important thing to know about your photographer, but you won't really get a sense of what someone's photos look like by talking about them. You get a much better sense by going through their portfolio. The photos should have a consistent look and feel and you should like at least 90% of what you see.
The Better Question: What do you think you offer that makes you really different from other photographers who shoot your same style?
It sounds like a job interview question, I know, but this is a job interview! The answer to this question will not only give you a sense of their style, but also how they conduct themselves as a photographer and why you should choose them over your other options. If they say their style is "loose and natural and they don't believe in posing", that's pretty vague. (Seriously, I don't know a single photographer who defines their style as "stiff and heavily posed".) Push them to tell you how their point of view is even more unique.
4. How Many Photos Do You Take?
I'll answer this one for everyone: Somewhere between 2000 and 4000. I've talked to dozens of fellow photographers and the answer always falls in that range. Does this number have anything to do with how many photos you'll get? Nope. Does it tell you anything about the quality of those photos? Nope.
The Better Question: What is your "culling" process and how many photos do you usually deliver?
For those of you who don't know, "culling" is the process of cutting out photos from the batch to leave only those really excellent photos that the client will actually want to see. Trust me, you want this done! (The photos that end up on the cutting room floor are the blurry ones, the shots where someone is blinking, those awkward in-between moments where you made a weird face, five duplicates of the exact same pose, the one with the car passing in the background... you get the point.) Your photographer should be able to explain why the photos they deliver make the cut and why the others don't, and they should be able to give you a rough estimate of how many images you should expect.
5. Do You Have a Degree in Photography?
Your doctor should have a degree. Same goes for your lawyer, your accountant, and your college professors. But photographers, for the most part, don't end up in the field through traditional education. More like artists, photographers pursue their craft for the love of the art. It's often a hobby that turns into a career over time. While it's great to have a traditional education, a formal training shouldn't be a requirement for a great wedding photographer.
The Better Question: What is Your Favorite Type of Photography to Do?
I can't promise you you'll always get a straight answer out of this one, but what you're looking for is "WEDDINGS! COUPLES! OH MY GOSH I JUST LOVE THEM!". I am a firm believer in hiring people who genuinely, truly love what they're doing. No one is going to go the extra mile in their boring old day job that they only do to pay the bills. You're looking for passion, enthusiasm, and a person who cares about your wedding photos just as much as you do. I'm in this business because I love it, and I love my clients. I want every one of their photos to make them jump and scream and fall in love all over again. A skilled photographer is important, but never underestimate the importance of hiring someone who really cares about their job.