If you’re planning a wedding and googled almost anything about hiring a wedding photographer, you’ve probably already got a list of like, 200 questions to ask your photographer prospects. “Do you have backup gear?”, “What if you get sick?”, “How many photos?”, “Can we do a first look?”. The list… is very long. And, it’s almost entirely pragmatic stuff. The pragmatic stuff is important, don’t get me wrong, especially if you’re considering someone without a good reputation to fill in some gaps. Thing is, a photographer’s job is not primarily pragmatic. It’s only pragmatic in as much as necessary for the photographer to focus on the interpersonal and creative aspects of their work.
So, while surely you should ask any relevant pragmatic questions that pique your interest, you should listen really closely to how they answer the deeper more challenging questions about process and personality. I think it’s a good idea to challenge your prospective photographers when you meet with them, and see if you can make them sweat a little bit.
So, with that in mind, here are 5 unusual questions that photographers rarely hear, along with how I would personally answer them.
What was your worst screw up at a wedding, and how did you deal with it?
How a photographer answers this question should tell you a lot. You probably don’t want a photographer who’s never had a good screw up on the job. Being unable to point to a clear example, the photographer might be inexperienced or dishonest—every photographer screws up at some point. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t hire them. If they do screw up though, you want to know they’ll deal with it professionally and honestly.
My Answer: 2008-ish, I had a major brain fart and forgot to change my camera’s memory card before the ceremony started. I got through the whole wedding procession until just as the bride was walking down the aisle. Bam! My card was out of space. I ran near full-sprint for a new card and didn’t make it back in time. Within a few minutes of the ceremony ending, I told the Bride what had happened and asked if we could stage one quick photo. I also offered to do a post-wedding session to make up for it. She declined both offers saying “I’m sure there will be tons of good ones”. Indeed there were, and we did end up doing a post-wedding session a few months later for an unrelated reason.
As a photographer, what situation still makes you nervous?
This is a question your photographer is almost definitely not expecting during a wedding consultation, and it turns the usual line of questioning on its head. Where questions you find written online often help a photographer reveal all the ways they are confident, this question asks them to speculate about the things that make them feel less than confident. The usefulness is twofold. You may learn that some things in your wedding will make them nervous, and how they plan to handle that. And, you’ll get to gauge how committed they are to growing in their craft—hint: someone who isn’t at least a little nervous sometimes probably isn’t investing themselves enough in the work. They might not ever be nervous because they never really care all that much.
My Answer: Air travel, definitely. In the last three years, we’ve spread out over the country to some extent, shooting weddings in Florida, Colorado, Louisiana, New York, New Jersey, and so on. Most of the time, we’ve made it a road trip, for three main reasons: Between land and air, the cost is typically similar; it’s more fun; and our equipment never needs to leave our sight. My worst nightmare is arriving at a destination the day before a wedding and learning that none of my additional gear is going to make it in time (critical gear, such as bodies and lenses, is always carried in the overhead). So, when we have to fly to the destination, I put about three times as much planning into ensuring there are no equipment mishaps.
How do you manage yourself when you’re in a bad mood?
This question might be a little uncomfortably personal, both to ask and to answer, but it’s actually a really important one. I’m sure you’ve met someone at some point in your life who was an absolute joy to be around when they were in a good mood, but downright nasty if they got hungry or had a bad day, or someone just really ticked them off. If the photographer you’re considering is one of those people, you better believe that they’re going to keep their game face on through a 45 minute consultation. This question might not be so well received from someone who’s gotten such a criticism in the past, and if so, that should tell you everything you need to know. We all get into a bad mood sometimes though, so someone feeling comfortable with themselves and with you should be able to give you a satisfying answer. There’s no right or wrong here though, so you’ll have to decide what a satisfying answer sounds like.
My Answer: I maintain daily mindfulness and meditation practice, and I give myself broad permission to experience my feelings, when the time is right. Sometimes that means I’ve gotta suck it up and put on a smile, and then allow myself to decompress later. Sometimes it means occupying a quiet corner for 45 seconds to put my mood in the proper place. I do not let my mood get in the way of my creative duties on a wedding day, and I never ask my clients to shoulder that burden.
How do you interact with guests during a wedding?
This question should help draw out whether your prospective photographer is a social butterfly or a wallflower. Different weddings call for different kinds of photographers. If you’d like to barely even notice your photographer on your wedding day, a wallflower might be who you’re looking for. If you think your friends and family will need a little gentle help getting comfortable with a camera around, it’ll come naturally to the social butterfly.
My Answer: I like to engage with guests when it’s appropriate. Sometimes during a wedding it’s critical not to draw any attention, such as during the ceremony or maybe during the toasts or first dance. But when there is a lull, I enjoy striking up conversations and helping guests feel comfortable with me floating around. I find this helps me get some implicit cooperation from guests. For example, when I’d like to catch a candid photo, guests who’ve not interacted with me are more likely to look at me and make a face. So, interacting when it’s appropriate and staying back when guests should be focused on something else seems to give me the most creative options.
Will you help my friends and family if they need something?
This question is about whether you’re going to have to be a middle man for every little thing your friends or family might need from the photographer, or whether you can just give out their info and save yourself the headache. People are going to have questions before the wedding (e.g., “Can I bring my big camera?”), and after the wedding (e.g., “Can I get some prints?”), and it will save you time knowing you can just say “I don’t know, call the photographer”. Most photographers are probably going to be somewhere between making up a policy about that on the spot, and simply saying “no”. If they say “no”, you might want to reconsider that photographer.
My Answer: Absolutely. I’m always happy to help when someone needs something. Sometimes when amateur photographer’s call asking they can shoot along side me, I am able to go a step farther and help them plan their own shots so that they don’t conflict or replicate mine. I’m always happy to hear from family members and friends about how they can help, or how I can help them. So, yes, definitely. Send them over!