Wedding Photography: Top 10 Things to Ask the Client Before You Agree to Shoot

Wedding Photography: Top 10 Things to Ask the Client Before You Agree to Shoot


When it comes to weddings, is any assignment a good one? Or, should you be careful about the brides & grooms that you agree to shoot? I was curious about this, so I decided to ask several very experienced and talented wedding photographers what they did to avoid coming face-to-face with “bridezilla.”

My trusted panel of wedding photographers are:

Scott Lewis
, Philadelphia wedding photographer
Craig Mitchelldyer, Portland wedding photographer
Missy McLamb, Documentary stlye wedding photographer
Hunter Harrison, Cleveland wedding photographer

I also asked the following question on Twitter:

@heygrover: Wedding Photogs: What questions do you ask a bride BEFORE agreeing to shoot her wedding?”

I got responses from, well, whoever responded (some of them are actually quite funny.) Their answers are posted throughout the story, and I will continue to add them – so respond to me via Twitter and I’ll post yours too.

Top 10 Things You Should Ask a Wedding Client Before You Agree to Shoot

10) What do you hope to get out of the whole experience?
Getting on the same page with a bride and groom is important if you want things to go well. After you determine what they’re really looking for, matching them up with the right services, even if it means less money in your pocket, can result in a happy customer who recommends you to others.

“How do they plan to manage the experience from timing to money to albums and prints etc.? It helps me to understand their endgame and try to come up with a package that helps them do that. I have no problem steering a client to a package for less than their budget point because I think it’s the best approach considering what they said they wanted to do and how they wanted to do it.”
– Scott Lewis

From Twitter:

@PhotoGlow: “In what form would like the images delivered (album, matted prints, Canvas/acrylic/famed print, HD resolution on disk etc)”

@PhotoGlow: Another leading way of asking that is “How will you be displaying the images” (i.e. PLEASE don’t leave images on CD in a box 😉

9) Can you describe the wedding location/venue?
Quite simply, will the location help, or hurt, your images. By asking questions that prompt them to describe the scene, you’ll be better able to plan properly for the job.

“I want to know if the location will lend itself to make good images and to make images that fit my style. Yes, I a good photographer can make good images anywhere, but do I want to shoot in an cheesy 80’s wedding factory with fluorescent lighting on a Saturday in July? This will also let me know what to prepare for as far as lighting and remote equipment, etc.”

“I don’t really care if there are 5 or 500 people there, but it helps to know if you will have space to work. It’s hard to move around and make an image when you stuff 400 people into a ballroom that holds 300. You are not only the photographer, but I think it is also our job to help them with the planning to make the day run smooth.”
– Craig Mitchelldyer

8) What are your photography expectations for the big day?
Many clients expect far more than is humanly possible. By asking them to describe –in detail– what they expect from a photographer, you will be able to decide if this is a job you’d be willing to take. It also opens up the opportunity to manage their expectations.

“About a month before the wedding, I send my clients a form to fill out with all kinds of relevant info — timeline, contact numbers, other vendors, etc. — and I ask them to put down a list of all the family portraits they’d like to do. Doing this well ahead of the wedding day allows time to make changes if needed to the itinerary. It gives me the chance to be the cold, hard light of reality when there’s a need to manage the timeframe and let them know what’s possible within the time we’ve got to work with.”
– Scott Lewis

7) What’s the plan for the wedding day?
Weddings are usually filled with subtle, and not-so-subtle moments. By asking them to run through the plan for the day, it can give you a hit-list of things to look for. Shooting the moments that are important to them, big or small, will usually impress them with your attention to detail.

“Are you arriving to the venue via Parachute? Or on roller-skates? I want to know every detail of the day so I can be prepared for it when it happens.”
– Craig Mitchelldyer

6) Who else are you considering?
This can be an awkward question to ask, but if you can figure out a creative way to say it, you should. Who is your competition? Knowing this will, of course, benefit you from a marketing and product positioning standpoint. But it will also give you clues about the style of photography that the bride and groom really like. If you feel that you are in the right company, and your style is a match – then go for it. Otherwise, beware.

“What are you seeing from other photographers that appeal to you? Prospective clients tend to be very educated and good at negotiating. Oftentimes they hold all their cards close and reveal very little in way of how they are making their decision. Instead of flat out asking, “Who else have you talked to,” think about asking what services or products they have seen that they like or really didn’t like and oftentimes, through natural conversation, you will learn a lot about who and what you are competing against.”
– Missy McLamb

“Have you heard about my services? This is a gateway question designed to open the door to some additional marketing. Use this opportunity to explain what you offer, how it makes you different and why the couple would love the service. Remember, the couple is not your client yet. You have to convince them through service, humor and friendship that you are the right photographer for them. Price can be a factor in wedding photography, but it is more about relationships.”
– Hunter Harrison

5) What is your budget?
This is often a tricky question, because it’s possible that the client hasn’t really thought about it yet – and if they have, they may not have a realistic number in mind. Once again, your skills at managing expectations may come into play.

“Oftentimes prospective clients are indeterminate about how much they want to spend on photography. Try finding conversational and friendly ways to ask what you really need to know, “What is your budget?” Perhaps you could let her know how you compare with other photographers in the area. “Good photographers in this market are charging X. My fees are X. Have you thought about what you would like to invest in the photography?”
– Missy McLamb

“I’m not trying to be the most expensive photographer in town or trying in particular to work with “high-dollar” wedding planners. It’s more important for me to have a price point and working style that allows me to not be overworked in order to earn a living but it’s also important for me to have clients, and other professional relationships, with people I want to work with because I connect with them in some way. So if they’re scrapping together their pennies to get just coverage and a disc or if they don’t blink an eye at a five-figure package the common thread and concern for me is the relationship and connection with a couple. I’ve found a happy place where that’s in a pretty good balance right now.”
– Scott Lewis

From Twitter:

@josieliming: Also, I make certain they know of my pricing before we ever meet. No reason to waste both our time.

4) Are you using a wedding planner?
If a wedding planner is involved, getting the details you need will almost certainly be quicker and easier. Without a wedding planner, you could end up spending a lot of time gathering information (and managing expectations) – which could end up increasing your cost-of-doing-business for the job.

“Do you have a day-job? When a bride and/or her mother do not have full-time employment the wedding planning is their job. This is not to say you should suddenly feign to have the swine flu and decline the opportunity, you just may want to find an assistant who will do an effective job blocking and tackling before they consume hours of your time.”
– Missy McLamb

“How engaged is your family in the wedding planning? This is the polite way of asking “Do I need to worry about your mothers?” Having a fully engaged and excited family can be great and make for some fun photographers. However, family members in disagreement with the couple over details can be a warning sign. With wedding photography one bad review can ruin your reputation. It is almost as important to avoid a bad client as it is to earn an income.”

“Are you working with a wedding planner? What’s their name? If yes, then your very next contact should be the wedding planner. Impress the planner. Offer to do a little work for the planner. In the end, you will get referrals. When a planner is involved, they can be almost as important as the couple.”
– Hunter Harrison

3) Do you understand, and want, the style of photographs that I like to produce?
Are they into you for your style, or because you own a camera and know how to use it? Are they going to let you flex your creative muscle, and are they encouraging you to apply your own style – or are they totally unaware of the subtleties of your approach and think all photographers are the same?

“The edit for the website is really the first conversation I get to have with my clients. So the first “question” that I’m asking them is “do you want this kind of work?” The work I’ve edited on the site is purposefully done to weed through the casual shoppers looking for a “guy with camera” and is intended to stand out to someone who’s going connect with the work that I love to do.”

“I want my clients to be excited that they don’t know exactly what they’re going to get when I reveal the pictures. And I make this clear to them, I don’t know exactly what they’re going to get either but we’re in this together and here’s what I’ve done for other clients. It takes a certain kind of client to feel comfortable with this approach. I’ve found that couples who are confident about themselves make for great clients. We can’t put ourselves out there as experts and then be taken off course by a client who is trying to ask you to work in a way that’s not natural to you or force unrealistic expectations.”
– Scott Lewis

“I ask them if they have seen my website. I know it sounds silly, of course they have if they are meeting with you, but you want clients to hire you for your style, not to come in and say “we want this and this and this” If they have seen your work, they know what you do (traditional vs. PJ, how you use light, etc). You want to make sure your potential client likes what they see, because that is how their images will look.” “I like to know what they like, why they called me. This usually leads to a conversation about how I am different from others, etc.”
– Craig Mitchelldyer

From Twitter:

@rchristopher: [Ask her to] Describe her perfect wedding pic

@Solaresphoto: Have you looked at my work and do you love/like it a lot?

@josieliming: Make sure they understand my shooting style. I’m not there to take happy snaps of her sorority sisters.

2) How did you hear about me?
Marketing 101 teaches us this, but sometimes people either forget, or are too afraid to ask this question. But beyond the marketing benefits, it’s an important question to ask because it can often lead information that can end up helping you before, during, and after the shoot.

“DO NOT PASS GO without asking this questions, period, end of story. You must know how clients find you. Otherwise, your marketing efforts or dollars could be wasted.”

“Why me? The power of this question is disguised by it’s simplicity. The answer undoubtedly leads to what the client wants from your services. Do they speak of the images, the services, or the products? If they talk about your reputation, chances are they want great service and no worries. Pay attention to what the prospective client wants. The question may also reveal additional sales opportunities for albums or prints.”
– Hunter Harrison

“If they do NOT book with you, I always like to ask them who they DID book and why for future marketing purposes. Sometimes its price, sometimes its just a personality thing and I tell all my potentials clients to meet with multiple photographers to make sure they have the right one FOR THEM.”
– Craig Mitchelldyer

1) I’d like to know as much as possible about you. What do you like, dislike?
This is obvious and quite simple to understand. You’re likely to produce much better work if you really know the couple. Ask questions and then really listen to them. Let them talk and pay attention. If the conversation is all about you and your photography, then you can’t possibly be learning enough about the potential client.

“Do you prefer diamonds or pearls? Or any question that reveals her personality. Indeed, these questions are somewhat superficial but they begin to reveal her fundamental personality and how she wants the world to see her. Allow her passions and turn-offs to inspire, constrain and guide the partnership; but above all else, reserve judgment on the answers.”
– Missy McLamb

“I want them to just tell me their story, who they are and what they are thinking. This gives me a chance to directly address what’s on the top of their mind first, eventually all of the things that are important to me will get into the conversation. I don’t have a script or fixed sales pitch so I have to tailor what I talk about to what my client is thinking about or concerned with. I hope that it gives the message that what’s important to them is what’s important to me.”

“I want to know about them, what do they do for a living, how’d they meet, hobbies, music, food, etc. I try to find something that I can connect with them over to start making the first meeting more like a first date then a business meeting. I want them to walk away wanting to see me again more than I want them crunching numbers.”
– Scott Lewis

“How did you meet? Or really any question that gives you context on the couple. The answer may help you to think of new and creative ways to serve the client. Let’s face it, weddings can get redundant and lead to burn-out. However, if you stay engaged and exercise creativity with each client, the work can remain exciting. Did the couple meet at a bowling alley? Then gift them an embroidered bowling shirt. It may cost a little more, but you can plan the cost in ahead of time. Plus, these creative solutions will win you praise and more work.”
– Hunter Harrison

“I want to know if they are sports fans. I want to know if they hate sports. I want to know their hobbies, What do you do for work, I want to know as much about them as I can. I want to make sure our personalities mesh. I tell clients I will be with them for 10 hours on the wedding day…if we don’t click, that can make for a long day! It is important for them to find the right photographer.”

“I think it is extremely important that the photographer and client get along. If you as the photographer don’t feel you are a good fit for whatever reason, you should not take the job and instead refer them to somebody whose style and personality are a better match.”
– Craig Mitchelldyer

From Twitter:

@sartinphoto: First question-Have you ever been committed to an institution or been forced to take anger management courses by a judge?

@heygrover: Ha… you just cracked me up. Funny.

@sartinphoto: I’m halfway serious, very picky about “My Brides”. Which is probably why I shoot less than 12 weddings a year 🙂

@frazerwaller: Do you want a priest?

@PhotoGlow: “Have you had any particularly good or bad experiences of photographers at weddings you’ve attended as a guest?”

It’s important to remember that wedding photography is a business, and there are times when you probably shouldn’t take an assignment. If the match isn’t right, and/or if it’s simply going to take more of your time and energy than it’s worth, it’s usually a good business decision to turn it down.

But there are also times when you want to take an as assignment, but you’re already booked. Then what?

“Sorry, I’m booked. Now how can I help you? So, you’re booked. Don’t say goodbye to the client. After all, they could be a sales channel for you. Do they need a referral? Can you give them insight into the photo or wedding business? Anything you can do to help now will help you later. It’s just good karma. I cannot tell you how much business I have won from ‘dead ends.'”
– Hunter Harrison

Tomorrow, I will flip the question around and ask successful wedding planners to list the “Top 10 Things You Should Ask a Wedding Photographer Before You Book Them“.

What questions do you ask a bride/groom before agreeing to shoot their wedding? Please contribute to this story by adding your comments below.

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There are 17 comments for this article
  1. Photography by Depuhl at 5:45 pm

    This is a really insightful article, even though I don’t shoot weddings, but I find so many photographers jumping on every opportunity – especially in these times – where similar questions would either have managed expectations and saved you from a bad experience or they would have prevented you from getting involved in a production that was going to end poorly. I recently answered an online ad for a photographer, where the client was looking for 2 images to advertise her product – one shot of it plugged into the wall and one shot showing a whole room with the product in use. I did ask similar questions to these listed here (adapted to commercial photography). The answer to the budget question was $25.- for both shots. That’s one job I don’t regret not shooting. Pascal Depuhl Photography by Depuhl

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  3. Eric Cory at 10:43 pm

    In my business its always about asking the right questions. I think when a client is asking all the questions it means your not taking controll of that meeting with the bride and groom. The bride and groom ask because they are trying to sell themslef on you. How can a client sell you? She cant. Its up to you the vendor to take care of the client or some one else will. I have seen so many vendors who are on stand by while selling there services and they want to know how come I did not book? Well take controll, ask questions to keep controll and build client trust through questions that make it sound like you have experence. Then before you know it your booking brides and making money! Great questions here.

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  5. Hakim Wilson at 9:22 pm

    This article of what to ask a client for wedding photography is very helpful. I read through everyones comments and thoughts and it really helped boost up my knowledge of knowing how to deal with curtain topics without loosing your noodle lol. I’m very thankful for this beautiful information and will be reading it again to lock it in the main frame.

  6. Noah at 4:33 pm

    Howdy! This is my first comment here so I just wanted to give a quick shout out and tell you I truly enjoy reading your posts. Can you recommend any other blogs/websites/forums that cover the same topics? Thanks a lot!

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