24 Mistakes to Avoid Choosing Your Costa Rica Wedding Photographer

24 Mistakes to Avoid Choosing Your Costa Rica Wedding Photographer

Introduction

Whether planning a local or destination wedding, it can be an overwhelming and intimidating experience, as well as one full of surprises and happiness.  There’s shopping for the dress and shoes, choosing the sites for your ceremony, reception, and honeymoon, the decorations, the flowers, the food, the invitations, the . . .  It’s also the first time many couples will hire a wedding photographer, which can make or break your wedding day memories and quite possibly your wedding day. 

When searching for a photographer for your destination wedding in Costa Rica, avoid the following mistakes so your wedding day experience and wedding pictures will be amazing and memorable. 

1. Avoid Underestimating the Importance of Wedding Photography

After you say your vows, seal it with a kiss, cut and have your cake, enjoy your dinner and wine, and dance your first and last dance, one of the few things left to remind you of you of the sundry moments of your wedding day will be the pictures.  Choosing the right wedding photographer is just as or more important than any of the other choices you will make when planning your wedding.  The value of your wedding photos in the years to come will not be quantifiable, not only for you, but also for your family.

2. Avoid Basing Your Decision Solely On Cost

Most couples do not have an unlimited budget.  Regardless, choosing a photographer based on cost is a mistake many couples regret dearly on their wedding and when they receive their photos. 

As the old adage goes, you get what you pay for.  To go to a BWW dealership with sufficient funds to purchase a Toyota Corola and  expect to leave with a new 328 is unreasonable.  The same applies to wedding photographers.  Hiring a professional in any field is more expensive for a reason.

When planning your wedding, consider eliminating or reducing costs in other areas if high quality wedding photography and a professional experience are important to you.  Having a nice wedding cake and great wedding pictures instead of a marvelous cake and mediocre or horrible wedding photos is a worthy compromise.  

3. Avoid Not Researching Potential Photographers

Thoroughly reviewing the photos and articles on photographer’s website is a good start.  Suggestions may help, but you should conduct your own research.  Always look for other sources of information where the photographer has less or no control over the content, such as on sites where clients have written detailed reviews and post images they received from the photographer.  Google Business listing, Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter page, as well as sites like Wedding Wire are all good sources. 

When reviewing portfolios, look for:

1. Unique and Creative Photos

Avoid cookie cutter photographers.  If photos of people and details look the same – as if the photographer basically just exchanged the people and details for different people and details – in a photographer’s portfolio, that is how your photos will look.  Every couple and every wedding is unique, and so should the photos.

2. Natural-looking and consistent skin tones H3

Are skin tones too orange, or red, or green or blue?  Is the skin tone of the same person different from photo to photo even in the same lighting conditions?  Some photographers like photos warmer or cooler, leaving skin tones a bit more orange or blue, but they still look natural and are consistent from photo to photo. 

3. Properly Exposed Photos

Are many photos overexposed (is there too much light)?  Overexposure results in the partial or complete loss of detail in light-colored objects – think your wedding dress.  Pay close attention to photos of wedding dresses.  Are details are easily visible?  In most photos, they should be.  See our Saving Your Wedding Dress's Details article for more information.

4. Photographs, not Snapshots

Think of the photo a friend takes of you and your love on a Friday night out on the town.  That’s a snapshot.  Photograph literally means “writing with light”.  A photograph has good lighting and shadows and the people or details will be posed or arranged to make it aesthetically appealing, especially in portraits. 

5. Natural-Looking Photos

Good wedding photographers take the best possible picture in camera and then polish it in postproduction.  Photographers who cannot attempt to achieve the same results via photo editing software, resulting in unnatural-looking photos.  Look for overly soft skin that lacks all texture and images that look more like graphic art than photography. 

6. Height of Camera in Relation to Subjects

Are the majority of photos taken from the same height?  Such photographers just stand still, point and shoot.  Creating artistic and unique images requires photographers to vary the height of the camera in relation to the subject – people and objects – frequently during weddings.     

4. Avoid Not Signing a Detailed Contract

No contract no deal.  You must sign a contract.  Make sure the contract specifies in detail: the number of hours of coverage, when coverage starts and ends, which events are covered (have an outline of the wedding day schedule), a range of how many photos you will receive, the file format, resolution, and quality of the photos, how they will be delivered, when they will be delivered, your rights regarding ownership of your photos, total costs and payment schedule with due dates and amounts, what happens if you cancel, the photographer is a no show, or there in case of force majeure, who your photographer(s) will be, how long the photographer keeps your photos, which image file format the photographer shoots in, where legal disputes are heard, the full name, identification number, and address of the photographer or company, and any other points you feel pertinent to ensure each party to the contract clearly understands their obligations. 

5. Avoid Not Settling On A Photography Style

There are various wedding photography styles – traditional, fine art, documentary or photojournalist, fashion, lifestyle, classic, artistic, and more.  A photographer may stay within one style or vary between them depending on their artistic vision.  Find which style best suits your tastes and look for photographers with that style.  Also, avoid trends.  They may be groovy today, but when looking at your photos in 2 years, you might feel differently.  

7. Avoid not Meeting With Your Photographer

Personality matters.  If you do not like or have misgiving about a photographer on either a professional or personal level, move on.  This person will be in your and your family’s intimate space for the entirety of your wedding, and you will have to work with them afterwards regarding your photos and photo book.  Schedule 1-2 30-45 minute meetings with each photographer on your short list to make sure your personalities are compatible and that you respect them professionally. 

6. Avoid Not Hiring a Professional Photographer

What is a professional?  Is it necessary to have a degree?  Ansel Adams did not.  Few trained photographers are capable of reaching the same heights.  Hire a wedding photographer who has years of experience, who has taken it mastered their profession, continues developing professionally, produces high-quality photography.  We have interviewed photographers with formal training who did not know how to correctly hold a camera or stand to maximize stability, let alone know how to use off camera flash.      

* A note on hiring a wedding photographer in Costa Rica.  Everyone in Costa Rica is a professional at something.  It’s cultural.  All it takes to be a professional photographer in Costa Rica is a camera and a lens. 

8. avoid Photographers Who Do Not Use Professional Equipment

Equipment matters.  Don't let anyone tell you otherwise.  Sure, a good photographer can take great pictures with any camera, but when it comes to image quality, prints, and dependability on your wedding day, professional equipment is the winner hands down.  If a photographer charges professional prices they should be using current professional equipment.  Ask potential photographers to send you a list of their photography equipment.  If they refuse, keep looking.

* This is particularly important when hiring a Costa Rica wedding photographer.  Many "professional" photographers in Costa Rica are just people with a camera who charge professional prices and use amateur, outdated equipment when photographing wedding on the weekend      

9. avoid Photographers Who Do Not Have An Assistant

For an elopement or a small, intimate wedding, an assistant is not as vital as they are for larger weddings.  In this case, they are essential, especially when organizing groups for portraits and using off-camera flash and reflectors, as well as moving equipment and arranging spaces for a shoot.  Loosing 10 minutes during a wedding can result in not having time for bride and groom portraits. 

10. Avoid Not Considering a Second Photographer

Two photographers are better than one.  It’s not possible to be in two places at once.  When photographing the cake cutting, for example, the second photographer can capture the expression of family and friends.  Or, during your first kiss, the main photographer can focus on you and your love from one angle and the second shooter from a different angle to give two completely different images, or on the reaction of parents, bridesmaids, groomsmen, and guests for more memories.  Also, if there is an equipment failure, you are guaranteed photos. 

11. Avoid Photographers Who Don't Uses a Shot List

Winging a client's wedding is irresponsible.  Look for photographers who use a shot list - a list of all the must-have photos a client should have and wants - they develop in collaboration with you, as well as a portrait shot list - a list of the family and friends you want portraits of organized by groups - so you have the portraits of your loved ones you want.  Shot lists also prevent chaos from ensuing after your ceremony and greatly reduce stress for couples and photographers. 

12. Avoid Photographers Who Don't Visit Wedding Day Event Locations Beforehand

A good photographer will visit wedding day event sites either the day before or at least a few hours before the session starts.  This helps photographers determine the type of light sources and which lighting equipment to use, the best locations for portraits – 2-3 in case Plan A is not viable – taking into consideration the lighting, background, and scenery, the bride and groom’s preparation areas and path they take to and from the altar, the location of guests during the ceremony, and the reception area.

13. Avoid Photographers Who Don't Take Portraits

Portraiture has been a high art form for more than a millennia.  For some photographers, however, taking wedding portraits is beneath their artistic dignity.  When looking for a photographer for our wedding, we encountered a Costa Rican wedding photographer who refused to take portraits because he was an artist and required us to hire an additional photographer just for portraits, despite wanting to charge $1,200.00 for just a two-hour session.  We hired someone else. 

14. Avoid Unresponsive Photographers

If a photographer takes more than two days to respond to a potential client, keep looking. 

15. Avoid Photographers Included In An All-Inclusive Wedding Package Like the Plague

All-inclusive wedding packages include a photographer chose by the wedding planner.  Don’t do it.  You most likely will not have any contact with them before your wedding day or see their portfolio.  They are usually not professionals, are not paid well, don’t use professional equipment, are not privy to your wedding photography expectations, and are accountable to the organizer, not you.    

16. Be Weary of “Natural Light” Photographers

We love natural lighting.  It makes for great photography.  There are always situations during a wedding when the natural lighting is far from ideal or non-existent.  In these cases, alternate light sources are necessary.  When having to take portraits outside with the sun overhead it is necessary to use flash or reflectors to prevent heavy shadows in the eyes and under the chin.  At night, there is no natural lighting, which is when most receptions take place.  Flash is a must for receptions. 

17. Avoid Photographers who Rely on Gimmicks

Gimmicks abound in every market.  Wedding photography is no exception.  Do not be in awe the photographer who advertises their tilt lens or antique camera as some sort of panacea guaranteeing great wedding photography.  They are just gimmicks.      

18. Avoid Photographer Who Focus on Quantity, Not Quality

Taking hundreds of pictures per hour is a breeze.  How many of those pictures will be great or even good? It takes time, patience, and experience to take quality photos.  Chose a wedding photographer who is concerned with the quality of your wedding pictures, not how many they take.

19. avoid Unlicensed and Uninsured Photographers

A wedding photographer who has taken the time to obtain a license to conduct business as a wedding photographer, and who carries liability insurance is a photographer who takes their profession and clients seriously.  Ask potential clients for their business license and proof of liability insurance.   

20. Avoid Photographers Who Do Not Shoot With Two Cameras

If charging professional prices, a photographer should deliver professional service.  Although professional-grade cameras, memory cards, and hard drives are unlikely to fail, it happens.  We’ve had top of the line memory card fail (our primary cameras have two memory card slots preventing a loss of files if one fails).  Moreover, having two cameras each with a different lens makes photographers flexible and efficient.

21. Avoid Photographers Who do Not Shoot RAW Files

A RAW image file contains all of the information a camera’s sensor is capable of capturing, usually has a bit depth of 12 or 14 depending on the camera, and undergoes either no or some minor processing in camera.  When set to JPEG, a camera takes the RAW file and applies a number of predetermined edits to white balance, contrast, sharpening, saturation, among others and then compresses the file to an 8-bit JPEG file.  A 14-bit RAW file contains 4.4 trillion possible tones per pixel whereas an 8-bit JPEG file contains 16.8 million.  What does this mean for wedding pictures?

Think of RAW files as dough ready to be made into whatever you want and JPEG files as the finished product whose outcome was predetermined by the camera.  When editing RAW files, there is much more latitude due to is exponentially greater number of tones per pixel, resulting in much smother tonal gradations and depth especially in shadows and blacks.  RAW files also allow for precisely correcting white balance and recovering lost details in whites and darks if a photo is over or underexposed, within limits, among others important benefits, such as the ability to perform advanced editing to skin and removing distractions from a photo.  This is not possible with JPEGs.

RAW files can be 3-4 times larger that the largest JPEG, requiring more storage space.  Editing RAW files also requires the use of complex photo editing software and the knowledge and experience of how to use it.  A professional wedding photographer will have both. 

21. Avoid Photographers Who Do Not Permanently Archives Your Photos 

In the digital age, it’s much easier and much more possible to loose your digital files that it was to loose negatives before the advent of digital cameras.  Ask potential photographers if they permanently store your original RAW files.

22. Avoid Not Asking About Your Rights Regarding Your Wedding Pictures

Generally, a photographer will stipulate in the contract who owns the rights to all your wedding photos, who has the right to reproduce them, and how and how many can be reproduced and for what purposes.  It’s common practice the photographer owns the rights, allowing the photographer to use photos for promotional and competitive purposes. 

As for your rights, find out what they are beforehand and make sure they are stipulated in the contract.  Some photographers do not give clients the right to reproduce or print their photos or create a photo book, making clients purchase prints and a photo book from them.  In this case, it is also common that the photographer will limit or prohibit you from sharing your photos among family and friends and from posting them on social media unless the photos have a watermark giving the photographer credit.

22. Avoid Waiting Too Long To Book Your Photographer

The good photographers and the popular photographers (who are not necessarily good photographers) are usually booked well in advance.  If you find a photographer whose style and personality you like and who meets the criteria in this article, hire them.

23. Avoid Confirming Your Actual Photographer

Some photography studios have multiple photographers and the studio’s portfolio may be a compilation of the work of all their photographers, past and present.  The person you speak with may not be your photographer.  Some companies will even subcontract independent photographers.  Find out who will be your photographer and then do your research.  If you cannot find any information on that photographer, keep looking.

24. Avoid Not Paying With a Credit Card

If a photographer does not accept credit cards, move on.  This is for your protection.  If the photographer disappears or does not fulfill their contractual obligations, you will have recourse through your credit card company, which is much easier and cost-free solution when compared to litigation.

 

A wedding is a once in a lifetime event.  A destination wedding in Costa Rica is even more unique.  When all is said and done, all you will have after your wedding day are your memories, your dress, and your wedding pictures.  Avoid these mistakes to help you choose the best Costa Rica wedding photographer for your dream destination wedding. 


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