From the dress to the catering to the flowers, you put a lot of time, effort and energy—not to mention money—into your wedding. But when the day has come and gone, all that remains are your wedding photographs. “There are moments in your life that only happen once, and your wedding is one of them,” says Theresa Aleman, director of marketing and communication with the Professional Photographers of America (PPA). “Unlike studio photography, you don’t get a do-over if your photographs don’t turn out as you imagined.” That is why it’s important to choose a professional photographer who has the experience, education and artistry to effectively document your special day.

Choose a Photographer Carefully    

With the popularity and accessibility of digital cameras, more and more amateur photographers are advertising their services to brides, despite having little to no experience photographing weddings. There is a difference between simply taking a picture and telling a story,” Aleman says. “A photographer should be able to envision a bride and groom’s love story and tell it through images.”

An amateur may offer a lower price, but they are often unprepared for the myriad challenges of shooting a wedding, such as working in a variety of lighting conditions, capturing special moments in an unobtrusive way, and expected the unexpected, Aleman says. For example, if an inexperienced photographer does not know how to light or pose you appropriately, that dress you spent thousands of dollars on is not going to look as beautiful in photographs.

You want to feel confident that your wedding photographs will provide an accurate record of your wedding day. Hiring a professional photographer can make all the difference. “A professional photographer knows how to anticipate different challenges of a wedding because they have encountered these situations before,” Aleman explains.

Perhaps the fundamental difference between an amateur and a professional photographer is consistency. “With the technology of digital cameras nowadays, all of us can occasionally take a good photograph,” Aleman says. “But for your wedding, you want someone who can consistently produce the best possible images throughout the entire event.”

Professional or Amateur—How Do You Know?
How can you be certain that you’re dealing with a professional photographer? According to Aleman, there are certain qualities that differentiate a professional photographer from an amateur.

Experience: Whether full time or part time, a professional photographer views photographing weddings as their career and passion in life. A professional photographer will have many years of experience photographing weddings, evident in an extensive portfolio and referral list. They know how to deal with the unpredictable nature of a wedding and can quickly adapt to any situation, whether a change in weather or gear malfunctions. Don’t be afraid to ask prospective photographers how many years of experience they have and to see their photography from a variety of weddings.

Education: A professional photographer will be educated in photography, whether through college coursework or specialized training. They should be very knowledgeable on lighting, posing and the technical aspects of photography. Most professional photographers continually upgrade their skills through educational opportunities offered through professional associations such as the PPA, which currently has 22,000 members.

Photographers belonging to these organizations attend training sessions and conferences on a regular basis to learn different techniques and the latest trends in photography. “Being involved in the PPA gives photographers an opportunity to keep their skills on the leading edge,” Aleman says. “Involvement in a professional organization is an indication of a photographer’s commitment to photography as a discipline.”

Professionalism: From their website to the way they present themselves, a professional photographer will exude professionalism and have a reputable business. When you meet a photographer for the first time, ask yourself the following questions: Is the work professionally displayed on their website and in-person? Is the photographer dressed professionally? Are reviews readily available, such as a bride’s thank-you note? Do they provide you with a referral list without hesitation?

Envisioning Your Love Story
Every photographer has his or her own unique style, whether classic or avant-garde. Before meeting with a prospective photographer, you should have an idea of how you want your wedding visualized. For example, do you want traditional posing or a photo-journalistic style? “You need to make sure that the photographer’s vision matches your vision,” Aleman says. “You also want to feel an emotional connection with your photographer since you’ll be spending more time with them than anyone else on your wedding day.”

Once you decide upon a photographer, make sure you sign a contract that spells out exactly what the agreements are, the packages and products, and what happens if something goes wrong. A professional photographer will have backup gear if their camera doesn’t work or a backup photographer if they happen to get sick on your wedding day. “Brides tend to focus on the artistic aspects of photography, but the business aspects are important, too,” Aleman says. “You want to be certain that this person is a professional, has referrals, and is reliable.”

Remember to think of your wedding photography in terms of an investment. Your photographs serve as record of your wedding day and will hold even more significance many years from now. “You’ve dreamed of your wedding day most of your life,” Aleman says. “Make sure you get the photographs you want, and most importantly, don’t settle.”

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