Unlike your other vendors (music, flower arrangements, cake), you won’t really know what until after the fact what you are getting. Careful research and selectiveness regarding professional skills, artistic style and personal demeanor are extra important when choosing your photographer.

Step 1: Settle On A Style

Before you begin researching photographers, decide what type of photography style you prefer. That will help determine the kind of photographer you will want to shoot your wedding.

Step 2: Do Your Homework

Start your search by reading reviews from recent newlyweds and browsing local listings. Review potential photographers’ websites and blogs to check out photos of other weddings they have shot. How do they capture the moments important to you?

Step 3: Set Up Interviews

Meet potential photographers in person. If you like what you see on their site and the fees are in your ballpark range, call to see if they’re available for your wedding date. If so, go ahead and send an introductory email with a bit about you and your soon-to-be spouse, your event and the visions.

Step 4: See A Few Full Wedding Albums

Ask to see two or three full galleries from real weddings they’ve shot (not someone else at their company) to get a better idea of what your complete collection of photos might look like after the wedding.

Step 5: Review Albums With A Critical Eye

When reviewing a photographer’s album, look for the key moments you want captured.

Step 6: Make Sure Your Personalities Mesh

Don’t underestimate the importance of liking and bonding with your photographer. Is the photographer excited by your vision when you describe it?

Step 7: Compare Packages

You won’t be able to nail down an exact dollar amount until you’re sure of what you want, how many albums you need and where your photographer is based, and packages range from $2,500 all the way up to $15,000+ on the higher end of the spectrum. When interviewing candidates, ask for a general range based on the photographer’s standard ‘shooting fee’ and package, plus their standard rates for the type of album you think you’ll want and the amount of coverage you’re hoping to book them for (day of, full weekend).

Step 8: Ask About Your Rights

Most contracts stipulate that the photographer owns the rights to all photos taken at the wedding, even the ones of you. In other words, the photographer can use them promotionally (on their website or blog, submit them for publication and even place them in ads). That also means you can’t just post the digital proofs they send you—most photographers have a policy that you can only share watermarked images or images with their credit on them.

Also, unless you negotiate otherwise, if you want to print the images yourselves or order an album from another source, you’ll have to buy the rights to the images.

Step 9: Get The Post-Production Details

It usually takes at least a month to get all those photo proofs back from your photographer. Your photographer is shooting enormous raw files far bigger than your typical JPG, which gives your photographer greater ability to correct the photo, but it also takes a longer time to upload, process and edit those files.

Step 10: Prep Together For The Day Of

Remember that your photographer is the pro, so while it is helpful don’t spend too much time putting together a detailed shot list for them. Instead, give them an idea of what images you’d like captured (like a shot with each of your bridesmaids in addition to wedding party portraits) and let them do their thing.