How to Choose a Wedding Photographer | Northern VA Engagement Photography

We’ve come to the last in our series of posts describing how to have an unforgettable wedding! We’ve saved the trickiest topic for last. Of all the vendors you might choose for your wedding, the wedding photographer can be the most challenging to pick. We know this because of years we spent doing wedding photography in the Northern VA area.

So, let’s take a closer look at how you can choose a great wedding photographer, including the 3+1 Method.

• So how do you go about choosing a photographer?
• What should you look for in a great photographer?
• How do you narrow down the choices?

3+1 Method

We suggest using the 3+1 Method for selecting your photographer. This method identifies 3 criteria that your prospective studio should meet, with the final one (the +1) being the deciding factor. Let’s look at the this method, the first 3 first.

(3+1) Pictures, Packages, Price + Personality

In most instances, you can use the first three items, Pictures, Packages, and Price, to narrow your selection down to a small handful of studios that you like. Once you’ve done that, then you make the final decision based on the +1, which is Personality.

To start, you should keep the items in the order we list them as you consider them in a photographer: Pictures first, followed by Packages they offer, and then their Prices. If you get to one of the three, and the prospective studio isn’t meeting that criteria, stop there and move on to another wedding portrait photography studio.


What style do you want? When you look at a photographer’s wedding portrait photography, you are looking at the main reason you’re thinking of hiring them. So regardless of what else you like or don’t like about them, you have to be comfortable “seeing” your event in that photographer’s style of shooting.

If you see your event in your mind as being very elegant and formal, then the photographer’s work should show that he or she can capture that vision accurately.

On the other hand, if you’re planning a big casual party, then their wedding portrait photography style should be able to reflect that.

For years in photographic circles, there has been a significant split between traditional, posed, formal photography and candid, in-the-moment styles of artwork. The truth is there is no right or single way to photograph a wedding. What is correct is simply what the bride wants!

Today, the majority of brides that we talk to say they want about a 30/70 balance between posed formals after the ceremony and candids during the prep and reception. If you fall into that group, then make sure your photographer can switch between both styles. Many can, but there are others who cannot.

Within the limits of their style, many photographers are excellent. However, many don’t like to venture outside of that style. There’s nothing wrong with that, so long as the studio’s style matches your needs. If it doesn’t, then they probably shouldn’t be your wedding photographer!

If you’re not sure what your preference is for portrait style, look at other wedding images. Check out friends’ wedding portraits. Flip through magazines. Check out online photos and ratings on WeddingWire.

And when you approach a photography studio don’t hesitate to bring in sample images. By showing the photographer the images, you are providing them with a sense of your style and vision.

However, you should not expect a photographer to copy those images you share with them! They should serve to 1) identify your style and 2) inspire them. They should be straightforward with you about whether they can do the same style of work, AND they should show you samples of their work.

Keep in mind: If you can’t envision your wedding event in that studio’s style, move on to the next studio on the list.

Now, let’s look at packages.


Albums, fine art prints, thank you cards, slideshows — lions, tigers, and bears, oh, my! Most studios are capable of offering you a dizzying array of products, so how do you choose?

To begin with, you are going to want a studio whose offerings are flexible. The base packages should be able to be customized and/or tailored to your needs. Some studios have offerings that others don’t, so shop around on this criteria.

Some of the items that most basic packages should include are:

Album: There are many album manufacturers out there and tons of different options for an album. Make sure the studio has samples on hand to show you.

Keep this in mind, though: Many times, the album manufacturer will give the studio sample albums that are intended to show off that manufacturer’s work but are not representative of the studio’s photographic style. This is perfectly acceptable, but the photographer should be clear on this point.

The studio should offer album upgrades in the following areas:
• Covering
• Number of pages
• Liner (the material that lines the inside of the cover)
• Stamped text on the front/spine
• Page style

Proofs: The studio will have to have some method of proofing your images to you. That can be anything from a CD-based slideshow, web proofing, and actual hardcover books that are yours to keep.

About Web Proofing: This may or may not be separate from the above proofing. If you have a lot of guests coming in from out of town, then web proofing should be a must for you so that those folks can see your images once they return home.

Wall Art: Wall art refers to large print images for your home. For most homes, you will want at least 16×20 or larger depending on what kind of wall space is available. Make sure you have at least one awesome portrait of you both! Your wedding is a signature event in your life, and you want to make sure you have printed art to remember it. While we’re talking about wall art, you will want to check out the reprint prices.

Many other offerings may or may not be offered: keepsake cards, thank you cards, slideshows, etc. Check with your studio and make sure that you can order what you want out of your wedding portrait photography!



Ah, the big question: How much should I pay?

While you might have thought that price would be the first qualifier, trust us when we say, it isn’t and shouldn’t be. Price is important, but in a wedding market as large as the Northern Virginia area, you will find many studios within your budget. Keep in mind, however, that according to statistics from The Wedding Report, the Washington, D.C. area is one of the top ten most expensive areas for a wedding. Expect costs to be above average in Northern VA.

So how much should you pay? We can’t give a hard answer to that; you will have to decide that on your own. However, we can offer some perspective to help with the decision.

What Matters:
One year after your wedding you will have two (maybe three) things left over from the event. You will have the ring on your finger, your wedding album, and possibly a freeze-dried piece of cake in the freezer. The dress will be packed away in the attic. The flowers will be long gone. The food will be nothing but fond memories, and the music will be distant echoes (if even that).

Years from now when you want to remember your wonderful wedding, you will be reaching for the album or looking at photos on the wall. Am I telling you the photography budget should be the bulk of your overall budget? No, of course not! You still have a significant event to put on, dresses to buy, and other essential things you’ll need to spend on. So, whatever your budget, make sure you have enough to get a good quality album from the best studio you can afford.

While we’re talking budget, let me tell you a story and offer a warning. A few years back, we had a young man inquire about hiring us. He and his fiancée were planning a small event. Because of their budget limitations, (trust me, I’ve been there myself!), our studio was above what they could manage. We understood, wished him the best, and referred him to other photographers we knew who’d be closer to his budget.

Several months later, we ran into him. Unfortunately, he told us he was still “in the doghouse” over their wedding images. Rather than hiring a professional studio, he put out disposable cameras on the tables and had those developed. The guests could take beautiful “real-world” images of the event, right? Wrong! Most guests gave the cameras to their kids to play with them. There is a good reason there aren’t a lot of five-year-old wedding photographers!

Out of $400 worth of cameras and developing they got three good, usable images. Ouch! Disposable cameras might be a good idea to have in addition to hiring a professional studio, but they are no substitute for an established studio with trained staff!

By now, we’ve covered the first three criteria: Pictures, Packages, Price.

You should have started with a large list of studios that have your date available. You initially used Photography as criteria for eliminating some of those studios. Then you started looking at their Packages and eliminated several more, and finally, you reduced the list further based on Price.

At this point, you should hopefully have a list of maybe a half a dozen or so studios that are all in contention. These finalists should be relatively equal on all fronts, perhaps with some differences in package offerings, but overall, they can be considered interchangeable.

Your final task is to look at the Personality of the photographer.

The +1 – Personality

Your photographer is somewhat unique among your vendors because they probably are the only one which delivers a product that is “you.” Let’s assume for the sake of argument that you and your florist don’t get along. The flowers will still smell just as sweet and look just as beautiful regardless. But if you’re angry at or don’t like your photographer, that’s going to show in the final images. No way around it!

To produce a world-class image, the person in front of the camera has to “click” with the person behind the camera. If that’s not there, it will just be a snapshot and, heck, anybody can do that. This final item of the 3+1 Method is based purely on your gut.

Talk to the Photographer

You will need to talk with each of the photographers on your list. If the studio uses multiple photographers, make sure you speak and meet with the one who will be imaging your event.

Chat with them; listen to their thoughts on photography and art. How do they react to pressure? What is their vision for your event?

Then ask yourself, “Will I be able to spend most of my wedding day with this person?” If the answer is “No,” then you should not book them.

Eventually, the list will pare itself down, and a single studio will stand out. Go book that studio. Then relax and dream of the beautiful wedding portraits that artist will be providing to you!

As a former wedding and current portrait photographer in Northern VA, we expect you’ll be pleased with your choice if you use this 3+1 Method of choosing your wedding photographer!


Family and Engagement Photographer

Ever After Portraits is comprised of Mindy Belcher and Joriana Belcher Anderson, a mother-daughter portrait photography team located in Sterling, VA in Northern Virginia. We specialize in timeless and emotive fine art family portraits.


Family means everything and capturing those precious moments to preserve forever will mean family heirlooms for you to share for years to come.



Mindy & Joriana – Contact Us!


Professional Photographer