Beyond the Portfolio: 5 Mistakes to Avoid When Choosing a Wedding Photographer

Oh another delightful  wedding planning treat for you today as part of our new year wedding planning series 

Choosing a wedding photographer is no easy feat. The industry is spoilt for choice with some great photographers. It is easy to get seduced by pretty pictures, but choosing a great wedding photographer goes beyond a great portfolio. 

To get you clued up I have invited the sensationally brilliant fine art photographer; San of Sanshine Photography to get you wedding savvy when searching for the right wedding photographer to work with., she has jotted down some of the common pitfalls couples make when choosing a wedding photographer so you can avoid them!

Sanshine Photography

Hit it San!

Your wedding photographer is someone you will be trusting to capture some of the most cherished memories of your lifetime.

As there isn’t a shortage of people with cameras out there these days, it’s very easy to get confused in the sea of websites, pretty Instagram accounts and cute Facebook posts. So to aid you on your quest for your perfect wedding photographer, here are the Top 5 mistakes most couples make and advice on how to avoid them:

1. Judging a photographer’s abilities by their front slide show

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As much as the images on the home page of a photographer’s website will give you a good idea of their general style, they are also a very limited amount of the most favourite of the best images this particular photographer has ever taken throughout their entire career.

It’s a shop window, beautifully decorated and lit. Some photographers will even hire specialist companies to select and edit images for them for the sole purpose of having an impressive front slide show. That’s right, it potentially means that should you choose them for your wedding, your images may not be of the same quality and finish as the ones in the slide show because they will have simply been edited by completely different people!

Advice: Make sure you actually browse for a while before jumping to any conclusions and don’t make any decisions based on the highlight reel alone – and when doing so, try to avoid common mistake number 2:

2. Confusing styled shoots with real wedding coverage

Hertfordshire Wedding Photographer

Styled Shoot example

If you haven’t done much research into modern wedding photography yet, you may not realise that some of the images on wedding photographers’ websites will not be from actual weddings… Boom.

Styled shoots (or inspiration shoots) are collaborative projects between wedding professionals like photographers, dress designers, florists, cake makers, stylists etc. Styled shoots are often done for publications or advertising, and some (like photography workshops) with a purpose of perfecting the skills of all participants. But regardless of the valid reason behind the shoots, please remember this: these images are not from real weddings, they are staged photographs taken in a professionally controlled environment. Most of the gorgeous shots you will see from these shoots may have taken hours to construct and perfect.

This, however, is not to say that photographers who do styled shoots are not to be trusted or are bad. Some of the greatest photo artists out there participate in such projects all the time! (Nu Bride: Agreed! Styled shoots are very popular and are encouraged in the industry, so don’t see them as a negative –  just be aware of the difference between the outcome of images of a styled / editorial shoot v’s a wedding) Just make sure you don’t fall into the trap of being only shown beautiful ‘styled’ images and no real wedding coverage at all.

It’s becoming quite popular for new photographers with little ‘actual’ real wedding experience to pay for a number of workshops and build what will look like a stunning portfolio out of ‘styled’ images alone. There is nothing wrong with giving an inexperienced photographer a chance, but do make sure to adjust your expectations of the results accordingly – real weddings are fast-paced and a much, much tougher environment to demonstrate photographic skills in than a fully controlled photoshoot with much more time to spend on one shot. There are no retakes during a wedding ceremony!

Advice: If you’re not certain which images are ‘real’ and which are from styled shoots, try looking for ‘featured weddings’ or ‘real weddings’ on the photographer’s website or blog. If you can’t find any, perhaps send them a quick message asking to see 2-3 full weddings to give you an impression of what  full real wedding coverage by this professional will look like – not just shots with perfectly staged models and lighting. It’s worth checking that the images you see in full weddings consistently match the level of quality you would expect from the rest of their work. What you want to see is a collection of images taken in a variety of lighting scenarios (preferably similar to what you will have at your wedding) and during different parts of the day – during the ceremony, outside, the speeches, the evening reception etc.

3. Getting too impressed by fancy words

Fine-art-wedding-photographer-London (50)

If you’re looking for a high level professional, you will be coming across words like ‘published’, ‘award-winning’, and ‘acclaimed’ etc a lot. As photographers, most of us pretty much feel that it’s a must to have one impressive title or another these days to be taken seriously. And I appreciate that it’s always good to know that a photographer you’re considering has their work constantly featured in magazines or has won awards in their career.

But here’s some honest truth: pretty much any photographer who produces decent enough work can get published. If a photographer has skills and has been in the business long enough, chances are, they will have also been lucky enough to capture an award-worthy shot. Titles and badges, as great as they may be, should not be the things you rely on when making your decision. What you should think of is whether you would still be impressed by the same images if you saw them without all the big words around them. (Nu Bride: Absolutely 100% agree. Booking a photographer is also very personal and one that may have won a series of awards may not be the right fit for you. Awards are wonderful but should not be a prerequisite when looking for your wedding photographer. Great work, skills, diverse portfolio’s, credibility, insurance, positive word of mouth and a great personal connection are all worthy criteria to look for).

Advice: Don’t let the titles fool you – it’s much more important that you choose a photographer whose work you love and connect with!

4. Getting overwhelmed by all the ‘pretty’

As wedding photographers, pictures of pretty things is what we do very well. But please don’t let that make you lose focus when browsing our websites!

While looking through a photographer’s portfolio or blog, try not to get distracted by cute wedding ideas or detail and focus on images that would matter the most to you if they were of your big day.
If when looking through real weddings you’re seeing mostly beautiful photographs of flowers, cakes and shoes, accompanied by only a few average photos of couples, it means that for some reason the photographer may be heavily relying on the so-called ‘filler shots’ (contextual images of surroundings, objects etc) to make their work look good.

Would it make you happy if most photos from your wedding day didn’t contain actual people? Or if the photos of you and your other half were lacklustre but the photos of curtains were magazine-worthy?

If great shots of your jewellery, bouquet and centrepieces is what matters the most to you, then congratulations, you’ve found your perfect photographer! But if you’re looking for someone to capture emotions, little moments between you and your other half and candid photographs of guests interacting and yet you’re not seeing anything like that in the photographer’s portfolio – perhaps it’s not their strong suit?

If instead of adoring the chemistry between couples and being excited to one day be the couple in those beautiful images, you find yourself going ‘Ooh, I love this ring bearer dog!’ or ‘That hair is lovely’, take a minute to regroup and get back to actually evaluating the photographer’s skills when it comes to photographing a wedding, not a perfume commercial. (Nu Bride: San – You’re hilarious! LOL!)

5.Thinking the photographer’s personality doesn’t matter

London Wedding Photographer

This is a big one. (Nu Bride: big, HUGE!) Obviously, loving the artist’s work is key, but wedding photography is a very personal, very people-oriented form of art.

Now think about this: your photographer will be with you all day. They will deal with your closest family and friends. They will be present for every important step you take that day. So please make sure you pick someone whose personality and approach you love as much as their art. (Nu Bride: Could not agree more, so important)

It would seem so obvious that all wedding professionals should be lovely and helpful, but that is simply not the case, much like with any other profession, different people go into wedding photography for different reasons and you will find that no two wedding photographers are the same, in their art as much as in their personalities. Fun fact: some wedding photographers don’t even like weddings! (Nu Bride: Shhhh, don’t tell us that! )

So if there is something about the photographer you don’t like, remember that they will be around for hours and hours on one of the biggest days of your life. The job of your photographer is help you create precious memories and have the best time – not to add stress, so make sure they are a good fit for you and your wedding!

Advice:  Always have a meeting and a chat with your potential photographer about the way they work, ask any questions you may have and see how you feel about them, both on a professional and on a personal level. Your relationship with the photographer can make a vast difference to how you feel on the day and how you see your wedding images for the rest of your life – so make sure you are on the same page and understand each other!

Sound tips, thank you so much San.

The moral of the story, use websites to get a flavour of photographers work, narrow down your favourites, use reputable blogs and word of mouth for recommendations and always arrange to meet with your favourite few (I recommend 3) get a feel for them and their ethos and view their weddings in full. Take your time, it’s a big decision, but you will be spoilt for choice, our industry has some deliciously talented, kind and passionate wedding photographers in it!

Happy planning!

The Talent

Sanshine Photography

For further information on Sanshine Photography please visit:

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7 Responses to “Beyond the Portfolio: 5 Mistakes to Avoid When Choosing a Wedding Photographer”

  1. Dean
    January 11, 2016 at 8:38 pm #

    Nice article, thanks San!

    I really like the natural look for wedding photos – the ones that really tell the story of the day and people who were there. Too many staged photos can really ruin the flow of the day.

  2. Andri Benson
    January 15, 2016 at 5:52 pm #

    Great advice San, it’s all to easy for couples be overwhelmed by all the choices out there so these are great tips to follow.

    • Nu Bride
      January 19, 2016 at 10:21 pm #

      Couldn’t agree more!

  3. Sam
    January 16, 2016 at 4:30 pm #

    Great advice, and great post. Very good and certainly covers things that couples don’t think about.

  4. Mark Alesky
    January 19, 2016 at 1:46 pm #

    Yep, some sane advice here, I’ve nodded my head more than once !

  5. Pete
    January 21, 2016 at 7:18 pm #

    I often groan inwardly when I see this type of heading, written by so called ‘experts in the field’ but San is spot on and clearly knows what she’s talking about. Great article San, I wish I had a thumbs up icon!

  6. Denise
    January 31, 2017 at 10:40 pm #

    This is such a great and well thought out article, with advice that should be shared with every prospective wedding couple. The “front page slideshow” and “styled shoots” particularly resonate. I often suggest couples look through a few complete weddings to get a real feel of a photographers work. It’s easy to create a few awesome pictures in amongst a couple of hundred not so awesome ones. Styled shoots are a great idea for creativity and trying out new ideas and collaborations with new suppliers, but don’t reflect the emotion and unpredictability of a real life wedding. Off to enjoy the rest of your blog ????

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