Selecting & Hiring a Wedding Photographer by Carl Cox

Jenny Collea & Owen Billman WeddingOf all the major rituals of passage in life, a wedding is generally considered one of the most joyous, beautiful and memorable. It is a time when families are together to witness and celebrate the blending of tradition and spirituality as two lives are joined in a lifetime partnership. It is a time for memories–a time when photographs will provide a meaningful and lasting record for families and participants.

Amidst the activity and occasional confusion that are an inevitable part of weddings, the wedding photographer is present to share, capture and immortalize events as they occur, hopefully in an artful, eloquent and uniquely appropriate fashion. The client’s preference is an important part of this process and determines whether the photographer performs his or her role unobtrusively or dominates the occasion. Personally, I would rather have memories that focus on the moment rather than the photographer.

Mistretta_Paint_WebIn a first-time reversal of roles, I will soon be a wedding client myself! I have two lovely stepdaughters who will be getting married in the near future, and I am faced with selecting a photographer of my own. This impending task has inspired me to reflect on the necessary considerations for hiring a wedding photographer from the dual perspective of both client and professional. I have some ideas and information on selecting a wedding photographer to share with you that may be useful.

IMAGES. My first consideration would be images. I come from a family of talented artists. Although my dad spent some time with photography, he, like my mother and sister, preferred the more direct media of painting and drawing. I was the only one to choose the camera exclusively and it has been a lifelong pursuit. Despite this technological gulf, we have all shared the common understanding that with any visual art form, image is an obvious and paramount item. And for my stepdaughters’ weddings, we would rather have images that show a sense of family combined with art in an unobtrusive manner. It can be done!

FEMALE PROFESSIONAL ASSISTANCE. Remember, weddings for the most part are planned and designed by women. For this reason it is usually a wise move to hire either a female photographer, a husband-wife team or a male photographer who has an excellent woman assistant. Speaking from years of observation, there are always moments when only a woman has a sense of what is happening and can provide the needed help; it is a good idea to capitalize on this. For example, my wife photographs wedding candids of the bride getting ready and, if necessary, helps with the veil. And at a moment’s notice she can become a seamstress and sew a loose shoulder strap on a bridesmaid’s dress. Actually, she never stops working with the details that make for wonderful memories, and she does it without being noticed or dominating the moment.

BACK-UP EQUIPMENT. Most of our wedding candids are done in a photojournalistic or editorial style without any interference in the natural order of events. Most photographers will take a couple of hundred images using this style. If you like his or her work, it is important to note at this point that the equipment used by the photographer is not of importance. What is vitally important is whether your photographer has back-up equipment. If you feel you must ask a question about equipment, it should be, “do you bring adequate back-up equipment?”

PERSONAL SERVICE. The biggest scam in the photographic world has to be hiring a major name studio or photographer only to discover too late that you are being saddled with an assistant or a last-minute weekend photographer to cover your event. Make certain you meet and know your photographer because he or she will be spending a good part of the day with you and your family. Also make sure the portfolio samples presented initially are by the person you are hiring. It is important as well to ask to see the same wedding from beginning to end. Viewing a collection of the best samples from several weddings will not give you as accurate an idea of representative style and consistency of quality.

COX_0225RAPPORT. While you may not wish to use all my criteria, it is essential that you have chemistry with and confidence in your photographer. Most wedding photographers who enjoy their profession are good psychologists and can handle people in sensitive situations with ease. You can optimize this built-in asset by ensuring that your professional is well provided with appropriate information. It is an excellent idea to supply a checklist of details, such as the names of important guests from out-of-town. Click HERE to view a sample wedding photography checklist.

PERSONAL RECOMMENDATIONS. A well-qualified professional wedding photographer usually does weddings nearly every weekend during the peak months. This is the kind of pro that I will hire myself. I know from my own experience that repetition is a good teacher and never stifles creativity.  If the photographer is excited about his or her work. The best way to find someone like this is to look at your friends’ albums. If you like what you see, ask about the photographer . Referrals from friends are the best!  Many photographers now have home pages, which can be accessed directly from the search engines. The Web can save a lot of leg work.


Do beware of referrals from caterers and reception sites. Although these can be a good starting point if you are provided with a list, be careful when only one or two businesses are recommended. There may be a mutual arrangement in place that is not in your best interest.


PLANNING. In order to have the best that is available, selection of a wedding photographer should be one of the first items on your planning schedule, along with the church and reception site. This means that you need to book well in advance of your wedding date.


Last but not least, best wishes to you as you plan this most important occasion. As the Irish blessing goes, may the sun always shine upon you and may the wind be always at your back.

Article and Images © 1997 Carl Cox

Carl Cox is an award-winning assignment photographer serving Washington, DC, Maryland, and Virginia.   His studio is located in Rockville, Maryland, a Montgomery County suburb just twenty minutes north of  Washington, DC.   He specializes in location work of all sorts, including executive and family portraiture, architecture, and wedding photography.  In addition, much of Carl’s commercial and corporate work is directed towards publication.  Carl and his wife Bette are available for travel anywhere, and have photographed weddings as far as Ireland and Sweden.