September 18, 2023

How to Hire the Right Photographer for Your Event

Philosophy, Events, Resources

How does a photographer choose a photographer?

My fiancé and I are in the process of planning our wedding, and my #1 priority was photography. Shocking, right?

I can confidently say I have attended more weddings than the average bride-to-be (most of them as a photographer and not a guest). I know from experience that I will be stressed out on wedding day if I don't have complete faith in our photographer. That's why I love it when my friends and family* hire one of the photographers I recommend! *Check out my sister's wedding captured by Nick Otto.

Being present at my wedding is important to me. I do not want to be distracted by worries that a moment was missed, or feel the urge to grab my camera and snap some photos myself.

We decided to get married at my fiancé's family's rural property in northwest Wyoming. This presented a challenge because I don't have a network of photographers I trust in Wyoming, like I do here in California.

After spending quite a lot of time researching different photographers, I wanted to share what I learned from that process in hopes that it will help you avoid missteps and hire the right photographer who will allow you to be relaxed and present at your event.

Whether you're hiring a photographer for your wedding, birthday party, or corporate event, these tips will help guide your selection.

Look at complete client galleries

Most portfolios on photographers' websites are highlight reels of the best photos they had taken at the time the website was most recently published. I'll let you in on a secret: we're not always the best at updating our website and sharing our most recent work. Even my Instagram feed feels outdated sometimes.

When I was choosing which wedding photographer to hire, I spent hours watching video recaps and scanning blog posts trying to be certain I would be happy with the photos my wedding photographer would deliver. This is tricky on both sides, trust me. I can't show you what your event photos will look like because I haven't shot it yet!

Ask to see their most recent event galleries. This will give you a sense of how many photos they deliver, and what shots they include that don't typically show up on a portfolio website.

For instance, you might know that you'll need photos of all the signage at your event to show your sponsors where their logos were displayed. If you look through my complete client galleries, you'll see that I deliver hundreds of photos after an event, including a variety of signage shots precisely for this reason.

You'll want to make sure that the photographer you hire pays attention to such details without your direction. The last thing you want to be worried about on the day of your event is that your photographer captured the banner that greets your guests at the entrance. A top-notch event photographer won't need to be reminded.

Screenshot from Kathleen Sheffer Photography's client gallery - 2023 Symposium at Stanford University

I am a perfectionist when it comes to getting photos sharply in focus, so when I see a photographer delivering blurry shots or images with chromatic aberration, I make a mental note not to work with them. Sounds harsh and nit-picky, but I know I'm not alone in this: I learned it from mentors early in my career, in part because it impacted why they would or wouldn't work with me.

I take plenty of out-of-focus shots myself. In fact, from curating other photographers' raw files as an on-site editor, I know we all do. The distinction comes down to what gets delivered to the client, which is why I recommend asking to see the complete final product.

Don't have a nit-picky photographer's eye? Ask someone who does! My fiancé is a marketing executive who contracts a variety of talent, including photographers. Guess who he goes to when he needs to vet a photographer? It's me, hi, I'm the perfectionist, it's me.

Researchers at Stanford's 2023 DIPH Symposium huddle around a laptop collaborating on a publication.

DIPH Symposium at Stanford University - Kathleen Sheffer, 2023

Understand who will be at the event, and keep it local

Will the person sending you an invoice be present? Or are they sending someone else in their place?

Recently I saw a photographer based in New York looking to hire two local photographers to cover an event in San Francisco on his behalf. He was offering $100/hour, and I can guarantee you he's charging the client waaaaaaay more than that (the same NYC photographer was sued by a client who paid him $76,000). Woof. If you're going through an agency or third-party, chances are you're not getting your money's worth.

If the person you are communicating with isn't going to be at your event themselves, then any instructions you give them have to be relayed to whoever will be present. We've all played the game of telephone enough times to know that train can go off the rails, and fast. You'll get more value by working directly with a local freelance photographer.

Researchers at Stanford's 2023 DIPH Symposium mingle during cocktail hour

DIPH Symposium at Stanford University - Kathleen Sheffer, 2023

Check for hidden fees before booking

Some photographers charge a session fee and then again for photo downloads and prints. I learned this the hard way myself when I hired a family photographer.

Ask lots of questions about their rates. You can be blunt. Google a list of questions to ask your photographer to check for any you might not have thought about.

Audience members look focused during a presentation at Stanford's 2023 DIPH Symposium

DIPH Symposium at Stanford University - Kathleen Sheffer, 2023

Read reviews

A star rating doesn't give the full picture. Read a handful of positive (and negative, if any) reviews from past customers. Are any complaints relevant to you? Are the positive reviews detailed? A good review will reassure you the photographer will deliver on their promises.