From an elopement photographer’s perspective

Hello, friends! Daria here.

Today I want to talk about one of the most important decisions you’re going to make when planning your wedding or elopement – choosing the right photographer.
This is of course strictly my own, personal opinion, influenced by my experience and knowledge as a photographer myself. And I am going to refer quite a bit to elopements in Iceland, however a lot of ideas and principles mentioned here will also be applicable to weddings, and other countries.

Let’s dive in!

The reason why this topic has been on my mind lately is because we are actually considering eloping ourselves (yay)! My dream destination has always been Scotland, and I know tons of talented local photographers around there, who I’d happily trust to capture our day. But how to narrow down your choice, and make the right decision?
Here are some things that I would personally take into consideration.

Visual style

A good photographer will always have a visual signature, a recognizable style. As in you see a photo on Pinterest and you know that it’s most likely that photographer’s work.

There is a plethora of defined styles, like “dark and moody”, “light and airy”, “filmy”, “bold and colorful”, “true to life” etc. It doesn’t really matter what that particular style is called, but it’s crucial that you love it. Make sure to spend a decent amount of time looking through the photographer’s portfolio and check the blog too – most of the time blogs contain not just the highlights, but full galleries, which can give you a general idea of how your own gallery may look like.

(c) The Kitcheners
“dark & moody”

(c) Matei Horvath
“classic editorial”

(c) Aaron & Jillian Photography
“light & airy”

Diversity & consistency

So, you love the style. What’s next?

Some photographers will deliver around 100 images per hour, but quantity doesn’t necessarily mean quality. As a rule, portfolio contains the best images, carefully and intentionally put together, with the sole purpose of knocking the viewers off their feet. You’ll have to play detective and pay special attention to the full galleries instead. Is there enough diversity, i.e. different angles, dynamic poses, close ups + landscapes + details, creative captures (motion blur, double exposures), a healthy mix of color and black and white? I would personally go for a photographer with a strong visual storytelling presence, when scrolling through a gallery gives you the impression of a movie in still pictures – it captivates, makes you curious and excited, not bores you to death.

(c) Anni Graham

Consistency is a hotly debated topic in a lot of photography communities. Some strive for it, others consider it uninspired and monotonous. It is undoubtedly pleasant to look at IG feed that’s moody, warm and orange from top to bottom. However, there are other factors that come in play here.

Let’s say, you hire a photographer from Arizona to shoot your January elopement in Greenland. You can expect winter landscapes and predominantly cold tones, maybe even some snowfall, and so those warm orangy tones that are so perfect for sunny Arizona desert will feel totally out of place in frozen Greenland. This can also apply to different times of day – sunrise vs harsh daylight vs golden or blue hour. Or different weather on the same location – lots of sun vs cloudy. The trick is to find a photographer who can adapt. You’ll want to make sure that they can tackle all sorts of weather, different seasons and are used to working at your location (or a similar one).

(c) Katch Silva
Notice the different time of day, light and inside vs outside locations.
Still consistent though, right?

The vibe

Alright, now that you’ve figured out that your photographer is a perfect match in terms of visual style, next thing will be to make sure that they are a perfect match in terms of personality. Trust me, it’s just as important, especially when elopements are concerned – you’ll be spending a lot of time together! Ideally, you’d want someone who doesn’t annoy the heck out of you in the first 10 minutes, or makes you stiff and uncomfortable in front of the camera.

A lot of clues can be picked up from the photographers’ websites. Normally, everything from the fonts to the choice of words, to how the photographers present themselves on the about page will give you an insight. Some are very personal and open, others are reserved and business-like – it all boils down to your preferences.

As an introvert myself, I know I’d prefer to have a calm reassuring vibe, while an overly talkative bubbly person would drain my social batteries really fast.

a playful friendly vibe from Katch Silva

an edgy artsy vide from Hafenliebe Photography

Hop on that call, now!

Most wedding / elopement photographers offer a little online chat before the papers are signed and the retainer is paid. Don’t miss this opportunity and go for it! Hearing and seeing the person live, even if it’s just online, will give you a much better idea of who they are, and whether they give you a sense of trust, safety and comfort. Better yet, meet them IRL for coffee, if you are in the same area.
This is also perfect a time to ask questions.

Do’s

Tell them as much as you can about your wishes and expectations – date, possible locations or venues, any special requests – that way they will easily determine whether they are able to accommodate you.

Ask them to tell you a bit about their shooting style and how it would feel working with them.

Don’t be shy to ask about any practical aspects, like what’s included in the packages, their booking process, payment details, cancellation policies, how and when your gallery will be delivered etc.

Feel free to inquire about what comes next after you’ve booked and what kind of assistance you can expect – guides, location scouting and vendor recommendations.

Don’ts

Don’t expect them to lay detailed itineraries in front of you. Location scouting is a big part of any elopement photographer’s services – it’s time consuming, takes a lot of effort to build up and it won’t come for free.

Same goes for vendors. You can ask whether they provide recommendations, but don’t wait for names and contact information.

Don’t show them a mood board with another photographer’s work and ask if they could do something similar, or your collection on Pinterest that you would like to duplicate.

Photographers love when you get in touch because you appreciate their work and style. And they most definitely want you to trust them and their artistic vision. If that’s not the case, you probably shouldn’t consider them in the first place!

Sidenote : this process goes both ways. Just like you’re assessing us, we’re assessing you! Being demanding, arrogant and self-entitled will never land you a booking, so treat your potential photographer the way you’d like to be treated.

Local vs destination wedding photographer

It’s no secret that Iceland is a unicorn of destination weddings, both for those who want to elope here and those who want to photograph the said weddings or elopements.
Heck, any post on FB by someone looking for a photographer in Iceland usually gathers 300+ enthusiastic offers from the photographers all around the world, trying to seduce the potential customer with seemingly attractive offers, like massive discounts on their packages or even shooting for free, if you cover their flight and / or accommodation.

However, there are a few important things to consider. And here’s why I would strongly suggest hiring a local.

We’re actually local.

It means no cumbersome travel between countries or continents, no unexpected delays or cancelled flights. You won’t believe the amount of last minute inquiries we get from panicked couples, who were abandoned by their destination wedding photographer that had a change of plans (or heart), and just couldn’t make it.

By choosing a local you remove an extra layer of unpredictability and unpleasant surprises.

We know things.

Locals haven’t just visited the country of your choice once or twice, they actually live here. Which means they’ll have a much better idea and understanding about, well, pretty much everything! Locations, vendors, weather – you name it. Basically, they have a real life experience, that simply can’t be acquired during a short one week trip, or after reading a couple of travel guides on Google.

We don’t need to rely on information online, and can always (double) check things.

In our experience, Google is not always accurate, especially with the less known, remote locations. Icelandic landscape changes constantly, so even with an extensive online research your photographer might not get all the needed details, like a road becoming inaccessible, or a thermal pool that’s not hot anymore.

Local photographers often provide scouting services before your arrival, and will make sure you’ll get exactly what you came for.

We’ll know what to do when things don’t go the way we planned.

Imagine this. You are at your location, ready to begin the adventure of a life-time, and.. the road ahead is covered in last night’s snow. Or the fog rolled in, and you can barely see each other, let alone the epic views you hoped for.

With unpredictable Icelandic weather there is no way of knowing what kind of forecast you’re going to get. Local photographers will easily come up with ideas on the spot and tailor the itinerary according to the circumstances you are in, while making sure you get the best of your time and don’t miss out on things.

So, no exceptions? Always go with a local?

Don’t get me wrong, there are lots of amazingly talented and knowledgeable destination wedding photographers out there. The caveat is, their prices will most certainly reflect that knowledge. Maddie Mae from Adventure Instead, a well known and loved company in this industry, charges from $15.000 for an international elopement. Anni Graham, another wonderful photographer, has her international packages ranging anywhere from $20.000 to $26.000.

The most expensive local Icelandic photographer that I know of? $7.000

Bottom line, if you love someone’s work so much you can’t imagine your elopement without them, and – most importantly – if you have the budget for it, then make an exception and pick an experienced destination wedding photographer.

Otherwise? Go local. You will avoid lots of headache and in most cases save on your expenses too. Plus consider this altruistic reason : you will be supporting small local businesses!

Other things to keep in mind

So your photographer is local, you’re in love with their style, you got a warm fuzzy feeling inside after your video call and basically everything is looking perfect.
What else would I personally pay attention to?

Contract.

I know, legal mumbo-jumbo is scary. It also means commitment, and if you’re booking 12 months in advance, you might wonder “Do I really want to commit that long beforehand?”
Truth is, a contact (or an agreement) is there to protect both you and the photographer. Trust me, you want to have it.

Imagine, your photographer is a no show on your day? Or it’s been a year since your wedding / elopement and you still haven’t received your gallery? These stories are not common but they do happen, and you want to make sure you have a way to deal with it.

Online presence / reviews.

These are important for obvious reasons. Try to research a bit and see what comes up – social media profiles? interviews? features? Basically anything that can confirm your photographer is not a unicorn, but a very real person, whose skills and professionalism are known and acknowledged.

Gear.

If you have no affiliation to or interest in photography, random brand names and tech specs won’t make much sense to you. However, you can confirm whether your photographer has back up gear and dual memory card slots. Dual slots will double the chances of having your photographs safe, and backup gear will guarantee that your elopement won’t stop short because of the main camera or lens disfunction.

Final thoughts

Finding a dream photographer that’s right for you is not an easy task. It requires quite a bit of research and patience. But all the work is going to pay off manifold when you are enjoying your celebration or looking in awe through the freshly delivered gallery. So don’t settle for the cheapest option, or for whoever comes first. Remember, eloping or getting married is (most likely) a one in a life time event, and you want to make sure that your day is well planned, you are stress-free and comfortable throughout it, and your memories are captured beautifully.

9 Comments

  1. I love this guide! It was so thoughtfully put together; you really covered so many things that couples may not think of.

  2. So much goes into choosing the perfect photographer that seamlessly fits your day. Love all the helpful info you’ve shared!

  3. This is such a great source of information, and I love your take on many of this topic! There really is a lot to consider when selecting a photographer, and you make a lot of great points! Thanks for sharing!

  4. I haven’t seen such a thoughtful and honest article about wedding planning for a while! Your tips are gold

  5. Choosing a photographer can sound like a difficult task, but you managed to put together an amazing list of things to keep in mind and consider! well done 🙂

  6. Tessa Klingensmith says:

    Great guide! I wish I knew some of these tips when choosing my elopement photographer! Thanks for sharing!

  7. This is a really cool blog and full of useful tips and info. I think it’s great you mentioned the contract as this is something couples can often overlook when looking at photographers! Thanks for sharing!

  8. This is so helpful and so important! There really are so many things to consider when hiring an elopement photographer!

  9. There is definitely a lot that goes into picking the perfect elopement photographer for a couple’s wedding day. Thanks for breaking it down into such helpful tips, that is sure to make the process a lot easier!

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