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There’s a good reason why you shouldn’t rely on your shutterbug uncle to photograph your wedding. Your wedding day isn’t a dress rehearsal — when a moment passes, it’s gone for good, whether or not Uncle Bob was paying attention.

Selecting your wedding photographer, however, can be a daunting task. “It can be confusing to couples entering their wedding photography search, as there is so much variety in pricing, packaging and process,” say photographers Camille Fortin Bensler and Chadwick Bensler of Jonetsu Studios in Vancouver. That Certain Look

One of the first things to consider is the style and feel that you want captured. “When you look at your dream photographer’s work, does your heart skip a beat?” says Chadwick. “Do you wish to have a similar feel to your images?”

“Stylistically, if you are moved by what you see, go with that to start your search,” adds Camille. “We like to compare it to how one meets their fiancé,” say Vancouver wedding photographers Gina and Chris Chong of Butter Studios. “When you know . . . you know!”

“I recommend that brides and grooms-to-be take a look at various companies’ online portfolios and when they decide on who the top three are, then contact those companies to set up a face-to-face consultation,” explains Chris.

“Keep in mind that many top photographers will also be interviewing you in a way, too,” notes Chadwick. “There are only a limited number of weddings each photographer can accept, and it is usually important to them that they make a great connection with you, also.”

Portfolios Speak Volumes

Looking through a photographer’s complete wedding albums can be an enormous help. “Entire collections speak volumes about consistency and ability,” says Camille. “Are there genuine moments captured at the critical moment (rather than the moment just after, or just before)?”

A style that grabs you will likely suggest a talented artist, but “excellent exposures, sharpness in the right areas and dynamic compositions are some marks of quality photography” to look for, says Chadwick, adding: “Are emotions captured well? Is there attention to detail and storyline? In a collection of hundreds of images, or in an album, are there just a few stand-outs or is the entire collection exemplary?” Another thing to consider, says Camille, is how much of the photographer’s portfolio is real couples versus models and styled shoots. “Styled shoots and real weddings are not comparable,” she explains. “Styled shoots are excellent practice and can be artistically fulfilling to those involved, but the true test of wedding photography skill is, again, how dothose real wedding collections look to you?”

Adding it Up

Once you’ve narrowed down your list of photographers, you’ll have to consider costs. Generally, say the experts, couples devote about 15 per cent of their overall wedding budget to photography. But you’ll have to decide for yourself how important it is to have beautiful images of your day.

“As there are no re-dos for your wedding day, skimping on your investment in photography is not wise,” says Camille. “Whatever your budget, get the best you can afford. You will not regret it. Excellent photographers can make your other investments in your day look that much better, too.”

“The packages and pricing will vary between wedding photography companies, so there is no set expectation of product and coverage time across the board,” says Chris. As a result, adds Gina, it’s critical to understand exactly what you’re booking: “Definitely do not leave any room for misinterpretation. For example, if the photographer states that they will be providing files for their wedding, the bride should ask if they are non-watermarked high-resolution files. Will all the files be edited? Everything should be clear in the contract and if the photographer does not offer a contract, then questions should definitely be raised for the bride.”

“Consider receiving a quote for all of the coverage and physical artwork [albums, prints, etc.] up front,” says Chadwick, “as many photographers will offer their best rates when they put collections together for you in advance.”

And if you’re hiring a photographer to come with you to a destination wedding, remember that you’ll be expected to pay for all their travel expenses, in addition to their fee.

The Big Decision

When should you secure your dream wedding photographer? “Most wedding photographers will start booking a year in advance,” says Gina. Chadwick’s advice: “Find one as soon as you have your wedding date finalized.”

Once you’ve settled on a budget, consider the type of package, or extent of service, you’d like. “Are you interested in a full-service experience (with album and art services) or are you looking for just a disk of files?” says Chadwick.

Be sure to inquire whether the package you’ve selected includes a second shooter or assistant, as well  as backup equipment. “It really depends on the size of the wedding and the lighting situation at the ceremony and reception venues when considering if a second shooter is required,” says Chris.

Experience, style, price and coverage are all important factors when choosing your dream wedding photographer but in the end, let intuition guide you. “Ask all of your friends and family about their experiences and referrals, then rely on your heart and eye to make your decision,” says Camille.