So, you've picked out your dream venue, perhaps even in the SF Bay Area (so many to choose from here!). And now it's time to find a wedding photographer - but how important is it to hire someone who is already familiar with your venue? If your venue doesn't have a preferred vendor list that they require you to use, you may be asking around to see who has shot there before. Or maybe you're only looking at their portfolio and not minding at all if they've been to the venue before or not.
Well, we're here to discuss this very thing. Is it ok to hire someone who has never photographed a wedding at your venue? Short answer: Yes, it's absolutely fine to hire someone inexperienced with your venue if you're confident with their work. However, you may get better photos by hiring a photographer with experience at your venue - and it depends on the venue itself.
Sorry if that sounds contradictory, but this can get complicated since it depends on so many factors.
When do you absolutely need a photographer experienced with the venue?
There is one location where we 100% believe experience matters: San Francisco City Hall. The majority of weddings at SF City Hall are civil ceremonies, which are very fast. The whole experience can feel like a whirlwind, and an experienced photographer is necessary for a smooth experience.
Many weddings we shoot at City Hall are elopements, or very small since only six guests are permitted. We often act as the couples' witness, and are pros at navigating every moment and providing a beautiful experience from beginning to end.
Experienced SF City Hall wedding photographers know the building inside and out. They know every aspect of every type of city hall wedding, where the best locations are, how to use natural light, and so much more. If you want photos outside the building or locally in San Francisco, an experienced photographer knows exactly where to go.
What about for big weddings?
If you are in love with the style of a wedding photographer, and see that the photos are consistent across venues, then it doesn't really matter if they have shot at your venue before. Professional photographers know how to use lighting, weather, and other unforeseen factors to their advantage. Our goal is consistency, to achieve the same photo style no matter what the day throws at us.
Even if it's a venue we've been to several times, the weather could completely change from one day to the next, or even from hour to hour. You need a pro who is completely comfortable adapting to any situation.
However, your venue may emphasize that they have certain factors that only photographers experienced with the venue can manage. For example, maybe their location makes getting a sunset shot really difficult. Or the layout is tricky to navigate for some reason. Honestly this is unusual, but it happens. So ask the venue what their opinion is if they haven't already provided their thoughts on the matter.
How to Find a Photographer Experienced with the Venue
If you're looking for a photographer experienced with San Francisco City Hall, congrats - you found us! We've photographed several hundred weddings there since 2010.
If you're looking for a photographer experienced with your venue for your larger wedding, we have photographed weddings all over the Bay Area and very likely have been to your venue. We also are preferred vendors with many local venues. View our wedding portfolio to see our consistent style across a variety of locations.
Assuming you're still on the hunt, how do you even find a photographer who has shot at your venue before?
Preferred Vendor List
Your venue may have a preferred vendor list (here's ours) - ask for one if they didn't already provide it. Look up the photographers on the list and review their portfolios. If you want to see more examples of their work at the venue, reach out to them directly to ask for additional wedding galleries.
Keep in mind that venues often limit the size of their preferred vendor list and only permit a couple per category. Often they have a long or personal relationship with the vendors. There are likely photographers out there who have loads of experience at the venue, with portfolios that you'll love - you just have to find them.
With or without a preferred vendor list, you may want to broaden your search.
Do an online search for "(name of venue) photo gallery" or other similar queries. Try "(name of venue) wedding photos." If any photographers near you have a gallery on their website from your venue, it's sure to pop up. You may have to go to the third page of search results to find them, and that's ok! It's well worth it.
If you're the organized type, create a simple spreadsheet with the photographers you've found, their websites or links to galleries, package information, and any brief notes about your impression of their portfolios. You have a busy life, and being able to refer back to this simple list will save you lots of time.
You absolutely could (and should) do this for all the other vendors you need to hire. Of course, we're biased, and truly believe that wedding photography is the #1 priority!
What to Look For
When reviewing galleries and portfolios, here are some things to look for:
- Number of wedding galleries the photographer provides from the venue, both on their website and directly. The more there are, the more comfortable the photographer will be with the location.
- Your initial impression of the style of the photos and how you feel about them. Are they moodier? Lighter? Natural? Candid? Staged? You'll know when looking through them if they speak to you and your personal style or not.
- How they use lighting at the venue. Perhaps your venue let you know that sunset is an incredible photo opportunity at their location - do you see examples of this in the galleries you're reviewing?
- Indoor lighting. Is your venue indoors and a bit darker? How does the photographer take photos inside of this area? Are you happy with how the photos look at the different locations around the venue space?
- Consistent style. If you love the style of the photographer, make sure that the style is consistent across their work. Look at multiple wedding galleries, even from other venues. This will ensure that you'll be happy with the photos that you get, as the photographer has experience capturing the light in a consistent way no matter what the venue is.
An Inexperienced Photographer - Three Things to Consider
There are three things to consider if you are leaning toward hiring a photographer who is not familiar with your venue:
1. Do you love their portfolio more than others with experience at the venue? If the answer is yes, then it completely makes sense why you want to choose them. It's so important to have photos that you love and a photographer whose style vibes with your own. A professional photographer that you love will capture beautiful photos for you, no matter the location.
2. Discuss with your venue. Ask them how important they think it is to have a photographer who has shot there before. It is possible that they encourage couples to hire someone with experience at their venue. It could be due to the lighting during certain times of day, or a greater intimacy with unusual locations.
3. Ask the photographer how they would scope out the venue ahead of time. Would they arrive earlier in the day, or on a separate day? A professional photographer will know how to be flexible and creative, and it may not matter if they check out the venue in advance or not. If it makes you more comfortable to visit the venue ahead of time with the photographer, talk to them about it. Guaranteed, this is a conversation they've had many times and they know exactly how to navigate this situation.
4. Has the photographer shot weddings at multiple different venues in the area? Is the style consistent throughout? Look through their portfolio. If you're still unsure, ask them directly about the venues they've been to and if any are similar to your venue.
Either Way, Be Flexible
Let's say you're determined to work with a photographer with experience at your venue. Consider why you're choosing them. Is it because they know the location inside and out and all the unusual spots that someone experienced may not know about? That certainly is beneficial. They are likely very familiar with being flexible at the venue and changing things up depending on the situation.
But if you're choosing an experienced photographer because you want photos exactly like the ones you see in a wedding gallery - prepare for disappointment. The unknown factors of your day can limit what your photographer can do with a particular shot. Be flexible and trust your photographer to be flexible. They will use the spots they know - and the spots that they've perhaps never used before - to be creative and get you photos that you'll love.
In the end, what matters is that your photographer captures your day with a style that you love, that perfectly represents the emotions and memories of the day.
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