How to find a wedding photographer in Chicago

How to find a wedding photographer? It’s not hard if you follow a few simple tips. The cost of a wedding photographer in Chicago and most cities is all over the map. Being a professional wedding photographer (who also photographed bands, models and architecture), I want to shed some light on facts regarding wedding photography in the Chicago area. I hope these tips help you find a wedding photographer. I’ve been a wedding photographer since 2005 so I’ve seen a few weddings. 

chicago wedding photography vendors

So what is the average cost of a Chicago wedding photographer?

Chicago is a big city and offers plenty of options when it comes to wedding photography. Well, maybe unlucky actually, since there are way too many options to choose from, and many are bad. Now check this out. From recent college grads to enthusiastic amateurs, to weekend shooters, to large national studios and independent photography studio owners like myself, the market is beyond saturated. People looking to make extra money will go to Best Buy, buy a camera package, and start placing ads for their wedding photography business. These people should not be advertising themselves as wedding photographers.

I took this line from a Chicago photographer studio’s website. I couldn’t disagree more:

As a general rule of thumb, experienced photographers in Chicago tend to start anywhere between $3,000 and $5,000+. Within the under $3,000 range you can find large corporate studios or less experienced weekend wedding photographers.

REALLY?! Listen up brides, and anyone else looking for a wedding photographer in Chicago! This statement cannot be further from the truth. Most photographers I have seen, who charge in the range of $3,000 and $5,000, are garbage. You heard me right. GARBAGE! Either their personality or work is faulty. Just because they charge high prices does not make them good. I charged under $2,000 for most weddings because I wanted to work and undercut these big studios. I know how to work my camera. I know what aperture and Fstop means and how to white balance and when to use various settings. I never shoot in full auto. Most of these “photographers” shoot in full auto and hope for the best. They’ll take 2,000 or more photos, hoping to get 500 good ones. That’s called the shotgun approach. That’s truth. I’ve been into photography since I was a kid and learned how to shoot early on, develop actual film in a darkroom, and work with studios all by the age of 19. Do I sound bitter? You bet. I get very upset hearing about wedding couples spending lots of money on garbage photography or bad wedding vendors in general. I’ve had many brides tell me their wedding photographer horror stories. I heard these things when I was photographing their friend’s wedding. This is what happens when you hire a big name wedding photography studio or someone looking to make a fast buck. Please don’t hire a studio because they have been around forever. Most studios worship the ground you walk on until you sign the dotted line. You will wait MONTHS to get your wedding photos. A friend of mine waited 18 months before seeing their photos! 18 MONTHS! I wanted to photograph his wedding but he insisted I enjoy myself that day as a guest. Fair enough. My average turn around for a fully edited set of 1,000 or more wedding photos was around 8 weeks. I’ve had friends who worked as video editors at a couple big name wedding photo and video studios. Not only were the working conditions bad, the pay was poor, and they constantly fielded phone calls from upset customers.

finding a chicago wedding photographer

Don’t meet your photographer on your wedding day!

Unfortunately, picking the photographer who shows up to capture your wedding when working with a large studio is like picking a name from a hat ranging from a bad personality to the inexperienced photographer. You don’t know what you’re going to get most of the time. You don’t get to meet your chosen photographer before your wedding day. Who wants that? I saw this photographer show up at a wedding once with the unbuttoned shirt, black chest hair and gold chains. He was a “Joey Cologne.” So embarrassing.

The key is to know what you’re looking for in a photographer, compare portfolios online, read lots of reviews and pick the best choice based on how important photography is for your wedding day. The best news is that in a city like Chicago there is a photographer for every budget and every style, so that no wedding will go undocumented! Not all big studios are bad but I wanted to shed some light on this.

beautiful chicago bride

 

All great photographers start out with no clients. The key to finding any wedding vendor is personality. When I was getting married and looking for a DJ, I hired my DJ while working the same wedding with him. I didn’t see how he worked a room and I didn’t have to. Within 5 minutes of meeting him at the reception hall we were both working, I hired him on the spot. I continue to refer only him and we’re still friends to this day. Personality is the largest part of everything, then comes experience. There are 2 types of photographers. Those who take photos and those who make art (with a personality.)

 

So, my wedding photography tips are:

  1. Surf around the web and look at work and pricing. If you can’t afford it, it’s pointless to meet with them. Don’t waste your time or theirs.
  2. Once you narrow it down to at least half a dozen in your price range, see what work you like best, what style, etc. and talk with them on the phone. I am a firm believer in reading people and going with your gut. Talking over the phone is a great start and will show you who they are.
  3. If you like them after steps 1 and 2, meet up. Again, go with your gut. Be honest with them and let them know you are looking.
  4. Don’t be afraid to look at craigslist if you want. I even placed ads on craigslist.
  5. Have fun.
  6. A fun thing to do is purchase instant / disposable cameras and leave them at each table at the reception. Have your wedding guests take photos and leave the cameras with you at the end of the night. It’s a lot of fun to see all the hundreds of photos taken by guests from their perspective.
  7. Another thing you can do is create an instagram account and have wedding guests take photos and upload to that account. Make sure everyone has the username and password. You can put these credentials on the wedding invitation. People get a kick out of this. If they post online make sure they use a hashtag that everyone knows so they can go out and search.

So get creative! Here are some cool books and resources to help you out with your wedding day. Don’t rely solely on your wedding photographer to capture your day.

Am I available to photograph your wedding? You bet. Although I don’t advertise anymore, I still love photographing Chicago weddings and couples. Get ahold of me if you have any questions.

Thanks for reading this blog on how to choose the right wedding photographer for you. Subscribe to this blog to get notification when a new post is up.

Steve

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