How will you know you are choosing the right studio?

There are so many photographers out there. Good ones, bad ones, what-are-they-thinking, and of course, the perfect ones! How do you know how to choose the right one for you?

DISCLAIMER: This post is strictly our opinion and is based on what our couples said to us [about the competition]. Also, because we deal with international couples, our competition isn't just in Tampa Bay or even Florida - please don't think we are referring to anyone specifically. (Also, this is not referring to videographers or content creators).

Note: the terms 'bride, & groom' are used, but they are not referring to any gender or specific identification. 'Couple' is our favorite, because it is the two who are getting married.

Here's the scenario: You just got engaged and can't wait to start planning your wedding; or you've been engaged for awhile and need to complete all of your plans so you can start to enjoy being engaged. But whichever couple you are, you need to get several things taken care of in the early stages of planning. (The venue, we know is the first thing reserved - but not always.) Couples getting married at home or outside have more flexibility with their date. Brides with specific visions of their gown also need to get that order into the boutique.

But assuming you have your date, [dress or not], you should start looking for your photographers. Also, for these tips to work, you should also be planning your event about a year out.

Start by talking with married friends & family. If you like their photos, or you were at their wedding and liked their photographers, that's the best place to start. You have seen how they treated the couple and you like their finished work.

If you don't know anyone who recently got married, or you don't like their photos, start fresh. Go online to wedding websites. There are so many! You can find local vendors, as well as those within a reasonable travel distance.

It seems obvious, but start looking at photos on those listing directories. A lot of photographers have very different styles. You may really like one studio over another. That's okay. Some brides like light & airy photos and others want rich, deep color with a cinematic edge. You may not know which style you like, at first. But after looking at about 20 or more studios, you will notice that you keep choosing a specific look.

If you create a "new wedding" account, you can usually start saving all of these studios in a profile and you can take your time going back to each one. If not, just take your time following each link. Go to their social media as well. Their style will be consistent across all platforms.

Follow the listings to their actual website. Here is where you can see a lot more of their work. Photographers tend to put up just a few teasers or their favorite photos on wedding vendor websites. Their personal websites will have a bigger bite for you.

You can see if they travel, do commercial work, artwork, pets, boudoir, and other types of sessions. Maybe you don't need those sessions, but you can see that they have a lot of time behind the camera.

Understand that not all wedding photographers are "wedding" photographers. It sounds existential, but there are a lot of us who have 9-5 jobs, work in another photography capacity (editorial, landscape, production, or digital creation). But if you like their wedding photos, then you will probably like them no matter what they do for the other 40 hours.

Look at their packages, pricing, or investment options. A lot of photographers don't put packages online because high end clients like everything customized. We found that our brides are a mix of both: they want something customized, but want to see what the starting ranges are. If your photographer doesn't list a starting price, and you absolutely love their work, you can assume that they start in the 3-5K range in Tampa Bay. Not always, but most of the time. (Again, disclaimer!)

Find out how they deliver your photography. Do you get an album or digital images, an online gallery, prints, or enlargements? Or do you have the option to add those on later.

You like their work, you like their price range, you like the package options, so now you need to contact them. We usually get a phone call. Our professional couples are at work anyway, so they take a break and call. Other than Saturdays, we pick up the phone.

Narrow down your studio choices to about 10. 5 that you really like and want, and 5 that are similar in case the others are booked. Plus, once you reach out to these studios, you may not be able to book them (see other tips below).

Try to get there first. There are only 52 or 53 Saturdays a year Assuming you are getting married on one of them, you are competing with all of the brides in your area for the best dates, times, & options.

Once you start inquiring, you will see that some of them are already booked. Some studios only take a handful of weddings each year. Some don't shoot consecutive weekends. Some don't travel on a Sunday. Their policies are numerous. Further, you have hurricane & tornado season (in Florida and the US).

Understand that dates around holidays will cost you more. New Year's Eve & Valentine's Day are the most expensive for all weddings & vendors. If money is no object, then skip the next tip.

Assuming your top 3 studios have availability, arrange to meet them in person. There is something about meeting in person that will let both of you know that it is a right fit. (Video chat sometimes works with our international or super-busy couples).

Just like they are looking to see if we are professional, courteous, creative, experienced, and full of energy --We like to see if the couple is in love, has realistic expectations, a clear vision of their wedding, and has a "special something" that is hard to describe. It's a mutual feeling that we get during a meeting.

Do you need 2 photographers? This might be up to the studio. Some do their best work alone. Some like that additional pro to capture what the guests are doing, get the detail shots, or make sure there are photos of the couple as they each get ready. Ask, so there are no surprises or disappointments.

Do you have to pay for the photographers' travel. Essentially, yes. Most travel locally at no extra charge. While your guests are expected to cover their own travel costs, your photographer is working [with] you, [for] you. Ask about their travel policies, if they don't already introduce the topic. Most Florida studios have fixed prices for other cities, because we know the best places to stay. (Gotta love an international airport out of Tampa!)

Your photographer is not your planner, or your Mom or Dad, or your referee. But we are your bug swatter, water-getter, physical barrier from the sun, negotiator (to get people to stand in groups), comedian (to get the teens to smile), and your loyal friend. We will make sure that you feel relaxed and comfortable all day. You get to be the happiest version of yourselves. We will merely capture that on film.

Trust your instincts. If it feels like something is off, it is. Some of the indications that it's off is that you don't understand their plan for you, or you feel rushed or pressured. Not just with a package price, but with how your photography will go on your wedding day. They might say the right things at the right price --but sometimes, it's just a feeling.

The photographer may feel it too. Don't be hurt if they tell you they may not be the right fit. They are experienced enough to know that they can't deliver what you want & need. It's not you and your dream, it's in the delivery of the finished images. (For example, a couple in Paris wanted "hundreds of drone shots while they walk around the city." Paris is a no-fly zone. The couple asked if we could use telephone lenses from the tops of buildings? Yes, I have that email. Unfortunately, that's not something we can do - or the way that we do it, won't look like "how they envisioned it.")

Once you find the perfect studio, reserve more than enough time. Couples might not think they have a long day or big reception. (Your timeline affects the caterer and your guests more than your photographers.) Trust how much time your photographer is suggesting. For example, an 8 hour wedding day could be 4 hours of the couple getting ready, a 30 minute "first look" and Romance photos, and a last dance long after the cake was cut. Your photographers will know.

Most studios are "unofficially unlimited" on your wedding day - because we can't do anything else on your date.

On your wedding day "Feed Your Vendors." The venue always has reduced pricing for a quick healthy snack or light plate. Feeding your DJ, Planners, musicians, minister, photographers, videographers, and the valets is a very kind gesture. We will eat quickly and get back to work. We will sit at the teen table, the kids' table, the coworkers' table, or the cool people table. Extending the courtesy of a vendor meal is never expected but always appreciated. If you don't have it in your budget, we are all okay with that. We usually have our own supplies just in case.

Finally, speak up on your actual wedding day. If you absolutely want a photo of you on the stairs, dancing on a table, running with your sister, we get it! It's your day. We will take care of all of the basic group shots (families, wedding party, etc.) So let us know if the "babysitter and her family" or your 'best friend's niece's godmother" needs a photo with you. Most studios are happy to do those shots when everyone is together at the reception.

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