So you’re looking for a photographer for a traditional Indian wedding. Where to start? There are so many options to choose from. How do you interview a wedding photographer? What’s important to know? Considering that 85% of brides and grooms have never had to hire a photographer before, this search can be challenging. Here are a few tips to get you pointed in the right direction.
There’s already plenty of good advice about how to choose the right wedding photographer for you. In fact, I thought this topic was SO crucial that I dedicated an entire page of my wedding photography portfolio website to this question.
But how does the advice differ if you’re planning an Indian wedding? After all, Indian weddings are unique. Instead of a white dress and a first kiss and bouquets, we’re talking gold and red and mandaps and mehndi. South Asian weddings are bigger (more guests on average), longer and look entirely different than other weddings. It’s a whole different ball game.
Here are seven questions to ask before hiring a photographer for your Indian wedding:
1) CAN WE SEE AN ENTIRE WEDDING GALLERY?
This is a good opportunity to get past portfolios and rhetoric (which can be misleading) and really understand:
- How many pictures will I be getting?
- What is the caliber of these photos?
- Do I like the style of this photographers images?
Speaking of style. All the jargon around style can get pretty confusing. Do you like cinematic wedding pictures? Are you looking for a photojournalist? And what’s the deal with nebulous terms like editorial and modern? Here’s the chance to get past verbiage and just look at real wedding photography coverage. Make sure this person can take the kind of pictures YOU want.
Last year, I got a call from a bride looking for a photographer with a “creative, photojournalistic feel.” Her very first question for me: would you mind sharing an entire wedding you shot? She wanted to see all of the proofs from a single wedding shoot, not just my 30 all-time “greatest hits.” I was impressed.
She explained that she was looking for far more candid shots than posed ones, and looking at proofs had been quite illuminating. Her exact words were:
“We saw some nice portfolios, but we’re not shopping for a portfolio – we’re shopping for an entire wedding album.” I wanted to high-five her.
LOOK FOR A DECISIVE MOMENT
What should you be looking for once you have an entire wedding gallery in front of you? Prospective clients are often concerned with technical issues. For example, one bride wanted to see a wedding I had photographed with an outdoor reception – because she is having an outdoor reception, and she was concerned about lighting and flash photography.
Another bride was concerned about balancing skin tones between her and her fiance. She told me that her fair skin was too washed out in pictures and he appeared normal, or else she looked fine and he appeared too dark. So she wanted to see a wedding of mine where the bride and groom also had a contrast in dark/light skin tone.
Those are definitely important concerns. But technical challenges like lighting and exposing for contrasting skin tones is pretty basic stuff. Any professional photographer will be able to handle challenges like that.
What you really need to be looking for, however, is what photojournalists call a “decisive moment”. This is a term coined by Henri Cartier-Bresson, the father of photojournalism. It’s a moment, caught in time. A candid – unposed – image that captures something fleeting.
For a photojournalist, decisive moments are the holy grail. Because for one, this is an extremely difficult skill to master. It takes many years of practice to hone. And secondly, unposed moments tell the true story of a person. They capture authentic emotion. You can imagine how this skill comes into play in a wedding, which is a long series of once-in-a-lifetime moments. The thrill is to capture them in photographs that will serve as pieces of art for years to come.
2. IF OUR EVENT RUNS LATE, WILL YOU BE ABLE TO STAY?
Perhaps you’ve heard of Indian Standard Time? Then I don’t need to explain this one…
I suggest asking your photographer about what happens if your sangeet/mehndi/reception/etc. goes later than expected. Will they be available to stay an extra hour or two? What will it cost you? Are you going to want both photographers to stay or just one?
Having a wedding planner is going to help you a lot with staying on your timeline. But if you don’t have a planner (or even if you do), being prepared for this scenario is a good idea.
3. WHAT OPTIONS DO YOU HAVE FOR PARENT ALBUMS?
Who do you think is even more thrilled than you are about your upcoming wedding? YOUR PARENTS.
Giving your South Asian parents a duplicate of your wedding album is the best birthday/holiday gift idea ever (other than finally getting married that is!) You already know how excited they are going to be to show off your recent wedding to all of their friends. So here’s your chance to give them visual bragging rights.
An artfully designed and printed album filled with professional photos of you will give them YEARS worth dinner party fodder.
By the way, grandparents love these books too.
Ask your photographer about options for printing duplicate albums. Your own album is probably a flush mount, but flush mount wedding albums can get pretty pricey, so ask to see some options for duplicates. Look for a book with high quality printing at a lower price point. And check out your styling options – like what cover upgrades are offered.
4. HOW EASY WILL IT BE FOR ME TO SHARE MY WEDDING PICTURES?
Speaking of parents and grandparents, how easy or hard will it be to get your entire collection of wedding pictures distributed to everyone who wants them?
Thanks to cloud storage, the days burning DVDs are over.
Be sure that your photographer is giving you an online gallery. That way, you and your grandparents in India can download your photos. Instantly. No waiting on DVDs. No hassling with software.
Also find out if your gallery is mobile-friendly, so you can view your wedding photos on a phone or tablet. That way, your wedding pictures are always with you. Life is pretty sweet when you can order professional prints from your phone and have them sent right to your door!
Imagine how your parents will adore this. Your mom and her iPad mini can be standing in line at the store, showing off your wedding photos to the person in line behind her!
Bottom line, once you have a collection of professional, gorgeous wedding photographs – make super easy for everyone to see them. And share them. And print them. Make SURE you’re getting an online gallery. That way you and your family can view and share the photos from anywhere. Plus, your photos are stored safely in the cloud. So you don’t have to worry about the DVD getting lost or scratched.
Don’t you love technology?
5. WHO IS YOUR SECOND PHOTOGRAPHER?
Having a second photographer documenting everything that goes down on your wedding day is a smart idea. After all, you’re only going to have one first dance, and you’re only going to cut your wedding cake once. Having two unique perspectives on these once-in-a-lifetime moments is an opportunity to get two entirely different angles from the same beautiful moment. It’s also insurance in case something unexpected happens to one of the two photographers (like being blocked by a guest who pops up to get their own shot at the last second, or combating a flash from a guest photographer).
With the bride getting ready in one location, and the groom getting ready at a different location, having two photographers becomes a necessity. I find that the behind-the-scenes moments that happen at the start of the wedding day make for some of the very best moments. So that second photographer must be good enough to stand completely on their own and make creative images by themselves.
Photo by Cooper Neill for Studio Uma
As it turns out, second photographers are even more important at Indian weddings. Why? In addition to the “getting ready” photos, it’s likely that the second shooter will be on their own for an entire ceremony. For example, in a recent traditional Hindu wedding I photographed, the Sehra Bandhi ceremony with the groom and his family was taking place at one hotel while I was photographing the girls getting ready at a different hotel twenty miles away. Out of necessity I had to leave this part of the day to the talents and experience of my second photographer.
Photo by Meg Vogel for Studio Uma
In a few weeks we’ll be photographing a Muslim wedding where with two different mehndi ceremonies happening at the same time – one for the bride, and one for the groom. So you see how important it is to ask about the credentials of your second photographer? If you can look at examples of their work, that would be best. Having not just one but TWO awesome photographers at your Indian wedding isn’t simply a luxury – it is a necessity.
6. WILL TWO PHOTOGRAPHERS BE ENOUGH?
If you are planning on entertaining over than 400 wedding guests, consider asking for a third photographer. You may or may not need this – but definitely ask your photographer for their advice; they’ll be able to help you make a decision.
It depends on what kind of photographs you want. If you’re more interested in focusing on you, your fiance and your immediate families, then two photographers is probably fine. But if you (or your parents) want all of your 400+ wedding guests to be photographed at some point, think about adding one more shooter to the team. That will free up the other two shooters to make creative, beautiful and one-of-a-kind photographs of you and your love.
And last but not least….
7. HAVE YOU SHOT AN INDIAN WEDDING BEFORE?
This one sounds like a no-brainer. But why? The answer may surprise you.
You may think that a photographer might miss out on capturing the major moments of your wedding ceremony if they’re not familiar with a particular set of rituals.
I tend to disagree. I think any talented photographer can document any kind of wedding and come away with amazing photographs. Even if they’ve never seen that particular set of ceremonies before. Being a good photographer means capturing fleeting moments, and being ready for anything. It’s just part of the skill set. I won’t deny – having lots of experience helps – but it’s not as critical as you may think.
So why even ask this question? It’s because of all the other things you learn with experience. The intangibles. Like how to hustle for three days straight and still be the same calm, focused (sane) photographer by night three! Photographers used to one-day weddings are going to be facing an entirely new challenge.
And consider all the time your wedding photographer will spend with your immediate family. She is going to be there for some of the most intimate moments of the day, when you’re getting dressed and when your grandmother comes by to give you a teary hug. And then your photographer will be stepping into the spotlight to play “director” during the family photo session. “Wedding photographer” is a role that requires balancing sensitivity with assertiveness.
This person is going to be interacting a lot with your family and friends; their presence is widely felt. There are differences between each generation of an Indian family. For example, you may be looking for a more modern and creative kind of photographer. But your parents want lots of traditional (posed) family group photos.
It is wonderful having someone around who is at ease with all of these cultural and generational differences – and who understands what everyone needs. I think that is just as important as taking beautiful photographs.
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At the end of the day, the best advice is simple advice.
When we are faced with making decisions, the voice of the heart is a true guide — Annie B. Bond
So whatever you do, follow your instincts. Your instincts are smarter than you know. All you have to do is listen to them.
If you’d like to find out more about Studio Uma, please click here to visit our wedding photography portfolio website. We are based in gorgeous Austin, Texas and specialize in unique, modern and creative Indian wedding photography.
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