When it’s time to hire a wedding photographer, for most couples, there are just three important considerations to take into account. The order of them is important because as you descend the list, you get further and further away from the primary goal of walking away from your wedding day with something you and everyone after you is going to be happy with for a very long time.

The goal in your search for a wedding photographer is to find someone who meets your needs in all three categories. But if you can’t find a photographer who meets all three, then chop off number three, if you still can’t find someone, chop off two and three. But never, never drop number one for any of the others, it won’t be worth it in the long run.

#1 – Do you believe in them?

This question is not of the wishy-washy, touchy-feely variety. This is cold-hard-analysis–are you confident that the person you’re considering is capable and experienced enough to capture your wedding and deliver well-processed images in a timely manner. Do you believe in their ability and willingness to deliver something objectively well done?

You need to rummage around their personality, their history and their attitude to come up with these answers. There’s no certificate of any kind that will prove any of this, so you have to do the legwork to find out and whether or not you believe in them. It is a question you have to answer for yourself.

Do they seem like they have their act together? Do they seem confident and knowledgeable about weddings specifically, and photography in general? Do they seem secure in their style and ability? If you’re meeting with more than a few photographers, I recommend grading them privately and subjectively on each of these things on a scale of 1 to 10. The reason being that if you meet with a lot of photographers, you may find yourself remembering some aspect of their personality that you like, but forgetting some qualities that made you unsure.

#2 – Do you like their images?

Okay, next up, the images. Do you like them? No, not just the ones they put on their website. At weddings, photographers take thousands of images. A lot of them are redundant or just didn’t quite turn out, and so they’re axed. But in addition to the 20-30 favorite images on the website, there should be hundreds more finished images that were delivered.

You need to see a whole wedding delivery, that’s the point. A good photographer should gladly give you access to view another client’s finished images in order to help you make up your mind. Always ask for this. When you’re looking through the images, certainly there are going to be some you’re not crazy about, but you should be oscillating between “That’s nice” and “Wow that’s great” and only occasionally saying “eh, I don’t really like that” and rarely saying, “that’s awful”.

This is the second consideration when choosing your wedding photographer because images with a style you’re not crazy about will still be more valuable in the long run than images created (or failed to be created) by someone who doesn’t really know what they’re doing. A photographer you believe in, creating images that are good, but not totally your cup of tea, and at a price you can afford, is still better than someone who gives you serious doubts, but who has a few images you love and is inexpensive. Which brings us to the final consideration…

#3 – Can you afford them?

There is a good reason that we list this one last, even though so many of you want to put it first or second. If you’ve found someone you believe in and you really like their images, you’ve got a winning combination. But, if you’ve found someone you don’t believe in, or whose images you don’t like, the low price isn’t going to make it worth it in the long run.

So to get the winning combination, it’s usually worth it to break the budget to some degree. But if that’s simply out of the question, and sometimes it is, then it’s better to just keep looking for that combination. There are a lot of photographers out there, and a lot of “fauxtographers”. If you’re looking at price first, you’re making a lot of room for the latter group. That’s why it’s so important to focus on the first two points diligently, and perhaps increase your cost expectations to some degree. If your budget is under $2k, expect to meet with dozens of photographers before you find someone right for you. If your budget is less than $4k, you’ll probably find someone with the right combination in the first 2 or 3 you meet.

Something most photographers won’t usually tell you is that they are often willing to negotiate. While photographers generally won’t negotiate arbitrarily, like a car salesperson might, they are usually happy to negotiate when a good reason exists. For example, they may negotiate fewer hours, or package features, but aren’t likely to just take a lower price for the same exact service. If you’ve found a photographer with a winning combination of the first two qualifications, but you find them out of your price range, don’t be afraid to ask them what could be done to bring the price down a bit. A little conversation on this point never hurts and sometimes gets you exactly what you’re looking for.