I'm no expert, the only camera I own is in my phone!
There's no shortage of information in the blogosphere about what to ask a potential wedding photographer; How many times have you done this? What if you come down with a new form of Asiatic flu on my wedding day? What the heck is ashoot and burn? (I don't know, but it sounds painful!) What about this one? "Ask them what kind of equipment they use." Right. That's like asking for directions in a foreign language when all you've learned in that language is how to ask for directions.
Unless you're a professional photographer, you'll probably skip right past that one. Yet it could be one of the most important questions you ask. When it comes down to it, there are really only two things that matter when taking any photograph, being in the right place at the right time and having the right equipment within reach of your right (or left) index finger. If you don't have what you need when you need it, you simply won't get the shot. No matter how creative, organized, experienced or hard working, it just won't happen.
That's good to know, but with so many different kinds of cameras, not to mention all the paraphernalia that go along with it, how do you, as a lay person, find out quickly if your photographer has the right stuff? The first telltale sign of a true professional is whether they use full-frame cameras. Full-frame means the sensor on the camera is equal to the size of a 35mm film camera. Why is this important? Because your run-of-the-mill consumer Nikon or Canon may look fancy, but it's cropped sensor is only half the size! That means lower quality and less photo in the frame. It also means the lenses, as well as the camera, are of lower quality. A full-frame camera is considered the baseline for professionals so the expectations are much higher.
And yes, you can take a decent photo with a consumer DSLR camera and lens. But if taking photos is what you do for a living, you will own at least one full-frame camera because the difference in quality is considerable. A cropped sensor will take a decent photo. That same decent photo taken with a full-frame sensor will become a brilliant photo with dazzling color and clarity! And what kind of professional would settle for decent when they could have dazzling?
Sounds good, but what do I ask?
Question one: "Do you use full-frame cameras and lenses?" See how easy this is? And if they respond by giving you a blank stare, keep looking.
There are a lot of other things you could ask, like "Do you use lenses with f-stops of at least 2.8?” (this is what creates that beautiful effect of a crisp subject with a blurred background). But if they've shelled out $2 to 4k for a camera, they have the right lenses. However, there is one other thing you really should ask for. I know there are photographers out there who will argue this point, but for wedding photography, I think it's a must. Artificial lighting.
With the popularity of the photojournalistic style, some photographers have decided to use limited or completely do away with artificial lighting. It sounds very romantic, but natural light through the eye of a camera will usually have unnatural looking consequences. You want your wedding recorded the way you and your guests see it: bright, vibrant and clear, not cloudy and grainy.
Of course, there are exceptions. Sometimes the sun is right where you want it, right when you need it. Hooray for Mother Nature! But I can tell you from years of experience, the last thing on a bride or groom's mind is how the lighting of a specific venue might affect their wedding photos, which is as it should be - that's what we're paid for! Or more precisely, it's your job to pick a venue, and it's our job to make it work. And that almost always means on and off camera flash. For most indoor receptions, you should expect to see at least two flashes either on light stands or attached to the camera.
Question two: "Do you use flash both on and off the camera when needed?" Unless your only location is outside, during the day (and it happens to be completely overcast that day), the answer should be yes.
So along with all of the important questions you've gathered in your quest to find the best photographer you can, don't skip the equipment. Add these two to the mix. When it comes to your memories, it could mean the difference between decent and dazzling.