How to hire a great wedding photographer when you're on a budget

If you do your research and ask the right questions, you can find an awesome, affordable photographer to capture your special day.

Stephen M. Katz/The Virginian-Pilot/AP/File
Wedding cake toppers collected by Sue Wilson in Norfolk, Va.

When your wedding is over, you want to be headed for your honeymoon or starting a new life with your sweetie. You definitely don't want to be caught off guard by a photographer's invoice that's full of overtime fees, or receiving a bunch of absolutely disastrous pictures.

These tips can help you find a reputable wedding photographer, even if money's tight.

Explore Your Options

Word of mouth is the best form of advertisement, but it's also a great way to find a reputable wedding photographer. For starters, you'll be able to see proof of the photog's work, and not a ton of images plastered on his or her website. Plus, the individual providing the recommendation can vouch for the photographer's professionalism and attention to detail, which are essential throughout the process.

Conduct an Online Search
Use The Knot's online marketplace to search for options in your area. This database allows you to locate wedding photographers throughout the nation if you're planning a destination wedding. While it's not a must that you use local talent, it'll probably save you a wad of cash.

Check Reviews
Peruse online reviews to see what others are saying. Hopefully, you'll get a pretty good idea of what you could be getting yourself into. But if the reviews seem over the top or downright fictitious, you may want to ax the photographer from your list of prospects.

Ask the Right Questions

Prior to making a decision, have an in-depth discussion with at least two to three prospects. Here are some questions to ask:

  • What photography styles do you offer?
  • Are you familiar with the type of venue where the wedding will be held?
  • Do you have additional examples of your work beyond what's offered on your website? (A seasoned photographer should have a ton of clips on hand for you to review.)
  • Will you be the one shooting the wedding? (Larger studios may have photography assistants.)
  • Is a deposit required to make the reservation?
  • Can you provide a list of professional references?
  • Who retains rights to the images once the balance has been paid in full?
  • What's your cancellation policy?
  • How soon will the proofs be delivered?

During the conversation, pay close attention to the photographer's facial expressions and body language. Does he or she seem enthusiastic about the opportunity to work with you? Or is the person a bit standoffish or defensive? If the latter applies, the photographer is clearly not concerned about making a great first impression, and you shouldn't be concerned with hiring them.

Run the Numbers

If you decide the prospect may be a good fit, it's time to talk numbers. Wedding photography services can range from three to five figures, so now's not the time to get comfortable. The price point depends on several factors, including the location and duration of wedding festivities.

Look Over the Package Deals
Most wedding photographers offer package deals, so you can start the discussion by requesting those prices and going from there. And don't feel obligated to make a spur-of-the-moment decision. Instead, take some time to evaluate the packages and decide on the one that best suits your needs and budget.

Remember That Cheapest isn't Always Best
Selecting the cheapest option without doing your homework could be a recipe for disaster. Remember, the photos are one of the few keepsakes you'll have to reflect on your special day. And unless you're cool with looking at faded pictures that don't complement your wedding attire, proceed with caution.

If You're Really Strapped for Cash...

Change Your Wedding Date
This only applies if you haven't already booked the venue. The reasoning? Off-peak and weekday weddings usually mean photographers aren't in high-demand and may be willing to cut you a deal to get the gig.

Ask for Donations
Yes, you read that correctly. Consider crowdfunding using Honeyfund or flat-out asking for donations from your closest friends and relatives to cover the cost of the wedding photographer. You may be surprised to find that some of your guests would prefer to contribute to the fund in lieu of giving a gift.

Outsource the Printing
Select the most affordable package that comes with a DVD and find an independent printer. Just keep in mind that you'll only be able to do this if you own the rights to the images.

Don't Drag Your Feet
Early bookings are music to a wedding photographer's ears and could possibly land you a lower rate. Also, if you're dealing with a talented newbie, take advantage of the low rates before this person is in high demand.

Try to Snag a Referral Discount
The more weddings, the merrier for the photographer. So, why not offer to spread the word to your network in exchange for a referral discount?

This story originally appeared on DealNews.

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