My wedding this past August was truly one of the most beautiful days of my life. The casual elegance of our small farm setting, the best wedding food I’ve ever tasted, our ridiculously hip 1930s jazz band and my manly husband crying as he spoke the vows he wrote himself – these were all parts of a wedding that, for both of us, truly felt like a celebration of who we are rather than a choreographed performance.

But that doesn’t mean there aren’t some pretty major things that I wish we’d done differently. We should have hired a wedding planner, we should not have chosen a location that necessitated us remodeling it ourselves and, most importantly, we should have spent more time thinking about our photography.

When it comes to budgeting, most folks in the wedding business will tell you that photography is the No. 1 area in which you should never skimp. Pictures capture the moment and help shape your memories as time passes. And it’s unlikely that you will ever again be surrounded by so many of your family members and friends at the same time. For this reason, I willingly paid top dollar for our photographer.

Don’t get me wrong, I had a great connection with my photographer, which is extremely important as this person will be following you around all day: in the dressing room, watching your ceremony, privy to your most intimate moments. And from the 2,000 or so shots she took on both digital and film, I will certainly be able to build a lovely book.

But the problem is that pretty much no one else is happy with the pictures as a whole. Complaints include: too many of the images are out of focus; there are way too many shots of kids; most of the pictures are taken from far away, prioritizing landscape and legs over people’s faces; and, while there are many great shots of Chris and I, there are very few of our friends.

What makes me sad is that all of these “problems” could have easily been eliminated if I’d taken the following three steps.

Step 1: Meet with a few photographers

I only met with one because I was busy and liked her personality, as well as her work, right away. But if I had also met with other photographers, I might have seen different styles or types of pictures that I preferred. I may have stuck with the first photographer anyway, but I would have been better equipped to provide instruction.

Step 2: View as much of their work as possible, including proof sheets

When Jon Koch of Jon Koch Photography in St. Louis, first meets with prospective clients, he not only shows them a few long slideshows representing complete wedding books, but he also provides four or five proof books so that they can truly see what an entire wedding looks like from start to finish – that’s 700 photos for one wedding versus 30.

Remember that photographers are professionals; they are artists each with their own distinct style. The responsibility is yours to determine if it meets your needs. I wish I’d thought to ask for proof sheets because they might have keyed me in on trends in my photographer’s style that were later problematic (One fuzzy-edged picture in a book can look arty, but hundreds of them can get annoying).

Step 3: Trust your photographer’s vision, but provide a little direction

A pro will meets with clients again before their wedding and have them fill out a sheet with specific requests. They should ask about family members so that he or she will know who they are and make sure they are covered. And also take time to make special requests like getting a picture of a group of co-workers, high school friends, etc.

In my situation, my husband and I should have said that we really wanted lots of candid pictures of our friends, and that we preferred people over landscape. I know that my photographer would have happily obliged. She did, in fact, ask us what we wanted, but we were too frazzled at the time – thanks to the remodel job and the lack of wedding planner – to think much about it.

Oh well, at least we had that gorgeous setting. And I have plenty of pictures to prove it.

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