So you want to hire a candid photographer for your wedding?

Cross-posting this blogpost from ShutterPal‘s blog for wider reach :)

Wedding and couple photography, especially candid forms, are picking steam these days. Not just in the West, but also in India. The typical Indian Wedding Photographer is your local guy with strobes and flashes, bag full of cameras and handful of assistants. Unfortunately, people, especially the young and the socially-very-networked crowds have come to realize that those flashy and glittery photos in the most shimmering dresses posed in front of a facade of mirrors or false decors are no longer cool. What is considered cool and worthy of keeping as memory sake forever, is a bunch of photos shot well, that capture not the event as it happens, but the way it happens. People are looking for emotions to be captured, those expressions.

All fine so far. If you are getting married soon, you start searching on Facebook and Twitter for candid wedding photographers, typically in your own city. Thanks to Facebook, sharing photography portfolios has become easier than ever. We don’t need to know web designing or even create a website at all. Facebook has all the elements in place to put up your content, and promote it. Along with the ease of promotion, what has helped this sudden surge of photographers, is the affordability of a DSLR camera. Something that was out of reach for most a few years back, is suddenly cool to have – not just to get an entry into this profession, but also to have photos of nicer quality. What that means for you, is that you get a very wide choice to choose from – all kinds of rates and all kinds of fancy options. However, here are a few key points that I’ve collated from various sources, which you must think about before you make a decision. These points can also be good reads for budding wedding photographers!

1. Check that the photographer has a big enough and diverse portfolio to show you: You would want to see as much of the photographer’s work as possible. It is quite likely that he has uploaded only his 5 best photos on his blog or FB page, and that the rest are not worth seeing. But trust me on this, do not make a decision till you have seen at least 3-4 wedding albums and 25-30 photos – this is a minimum. In a country such as India, where all states and communities have their own ways to celebrating weddings, it is important so see if the photographer has covered a similar wedding before.

2. Do not fall for a photographer who has the costliest camera and only the most expensive lenses: Today, most DSLRs take equally good images. Whether one uses a full frame, or an APS-C sized cropped sensor, it does not matter. Also it does not matter if the camera has 15 MegaPixels or 24. A good photographer can create excellent photos even with a 5 year old 5 MP DSLR.

Talking of lenses, it is similar but not exactly the same. What you need to ensure, is that the photographer has at least one wide-angle lens (and an 18-55mm works just fine, trust me), at least one tele-zoom lens, and at least one prime lens (either 35mm or 50mm or 85mm, depending on which camera you are using). Also ensure that he has at least one lens that opens up wide enough, and by wide enough I mean f/1.8 to f/2.8. Having super expensive f/1.4 or f/1.2 lens in the kit is good, but definitely not a must have.  This is because lighting is not always great at weddings. Most Indian weddings are at night, and wedding halls mostly always have only ambient lights sufficient to set up the right mood.

3. Talk to your photographer and get to know him well: To enable a photographer to capture good photos candidly, it is important for you to be natural, and not cautious or aware of his being beside you all the time. If subjects get too cautious, the natural and candid looks fade away. Things get difficult for the photographer. For this, it is important that you and the photographer have enough conversations and get into each other’s comfort zones.

It is also important that the photographer is humble and not rude. Sometimes photographers go overboard and get bossy. This can be a very uncomfortable situation for your family and guests.

4. Turn up the lights a little bit, please: This one point is very important from a photographer’s point of view and something that the clients must ensure to get the best results. As mentioned above, lighting is an issue at most weddings. Indoor lighting is mostly kept just ambient enough, and you would be knowing this since you must have already come across those local photographers carrying their strobes and flashes all across wedding halls. If the wedding is conducted outdoors and during the night, clearly photographers face issue of lack of lighting. One of the key rules in candid photography is minimal usage of flash. So while most good candid photographers do carry flashes along, they are not used all the time for those un-posed and candid shots. Personally, I do not carry a flash with me yet. When really essential, I use the on-camera flash, which is also rare. Flashy photographs are done by local photographers, and flashes pretty much ruin the natural candid looks.

So, as a client, the best thing that you can do is turn up the lights a little bit. Most indoor wedding halls have light control board and since you are paying to rent the place, it is perfectly alright for you to ask them to put some more lighting. Best is to take your photographer with you a day in advance and let him check out the lighting for himself.

I’ve seen wedding photographers who were hired for clicking and also printing the wedding album, click at an ISO of 6400! At that ISO, and even with the best of today’s cameras, you can only imagine what the print quality would be. For digital-only soft copies, ISO 6400 may still work fine, but not recommended. So bump up the lights and let the photographers click at a more comfortable ISO 400-1600.

5. RAW vs JPEG, doesn’t really matter: If a photographer tells you that his pricing is on the higher side just because he shoots all photos in RAW, consider him again. Some photographers (especially the ones at the higher end of pricing) shoot only in RAW and swear by it. Honestly, to me, it does not matter. I can set my camera up perfectly to get awesome shots in JPEG and then fine tune them up on the computer. Shooting in RAW takes more memory, and then later, more time to edit and deliver. If you are planning to go economy mode, this is one of the most important things you would want to consider.

5. Understand the pricing offered by the photographer: Candid wedding photography rates vary a lot! And at most times, they will be higher than those quoted by the local flashy photographers who would also give you printed albums and a video DVD. It is very important to understand what the price includes before you book someone. Here are a few things that can push up the prices –

a. Backup – What if the photographer gets ill on the day of your wedding, or what if his flight gets cancelled? Does he have a backup plan for you? Typically, rates will be higher for someone providing backup options, than someone who has no such plans.

b. Number of cameras – Very often, candid photographers who charge petite amounts or offer free shoots, come with only 1 DSLR camera and a few lenses. I have myself done this in the past. Now here is a risk. If the photographer wants to shoot a few group photos after a few close up shots, he has to switch lenses. It would mean loss of time, and a risk of losing out on some special candid moments! He also runs the risk for damaging his own camera by this frequent changes of lenses. At Hindu weddings, there is a lot of smoke due to the fire, which puts the camera sensor at more risk. Typically, a good candid photographer would have at least two cameras, which he would use with two different types of lenses attached permanently for the event. Another option is renting an extra camera for the day of the event. Try and ensure that there is a second camera. Clearly, a photographer with multiple cameras will quote higher and you should be fine with it. Just as with a camera, also check if he comes with extra batteries to last the entire ceremony. You do not want him to stop clicking in a few hours and then spend 2 hours waiting for his batteries to get charged again.

c. Printed wedding albums – Nowadays many candid photographers also offer printed wedding albums. The rates go up with the size of printed wedding album requested. Most couples do not ask for printed wedding albums and this is an excellent way to cut costs, IMHO! While you cut costs by not getting the printed album through the same photographer, do ensure that he delivers you print quality images (200+ dpi). You may want to print a select few photos, later.

d. Number of photos – If you think, the rates are proportional to number of photos delivered, you are wrong. I know some awesome photographers who deliver not more than 200 photos from an 8-hour event, and some really sorry photographers who will give you all the 800 photos they click in a span of 4 hours. You must understand that any event can only have a certain number of candid moments captured. If a photographer is offering you more than 200 photos (for a day’s coverage), be guaranteed to get repeat shots.

e. Amount of editing – Many photographers at the lower end of the price spectrum, will just give you all the thousands of photographs they click, immediately transferred from their SD card to your laptop. You do the sorting, you do the clean up, you do the color and brightness corrections and you do the cropping. Honestly, if you want that, just borrow a DSLR from a friend and ask your relatives to click the photos.

On the other hand, good photographers will pick and choose the best ones for you. They will ensure that the photos are not just of good quality, but of print quality. Which means, they will set the brightness, contrast and color tones to create the best that they can. At the end of the day, the photos they click, are a proof of how good they are. And they really care about the perception they create amongst the audiences. I do not give any photos straight out of the camera. I always edit the photos, and pick and choose what I deliver.

To summarize – Hiring a candid wedding photographer who would charge you only Rs 5000, or $100, comes without backup plans, and gives you a few hundred photos straight out of the camera is not a good idea at all. Having just said that, I must add that I have done exactly that when I started out, and now when I think of it, I feel stupid. Thankfully for me – things just fell in place, and luckily the results were good :)

I hope this blog post makes some sense to you, and enables you to take a better decision! After all, what you pay for should be what you get, and what you get should be decent enough to be called “good” at the least!

On the same note, here is a link from another wedding photographer’s blog that also has some of these points and a few sample images of what you should ‘not’ expect.

Do check out my candid wedding portfolio and get in touch if you wish to hire me :)

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