Finding a wedding photographer is easy, right? You simply get online and search for “wedding photographer.” Seconds later you have a mere 9,346 Google pages of camera-wielding, bona fide wedding photographers in your area, all eager for your business.

Since they all have websites, it’s just a matter of minutes before you are guaranteed to find “The One,” right? It has to be easier than finding your hair stylist – you know, the person you consider your hair soul mate and trust their opinion on all-things-hair. And when they suddenly move out of state, your fear of being “ruined” by some “unknown” actually makes you contemplate shaving your head. Been there. Done that.

I was a bride in the golden age of film cameras. Before you start imagining dinosaurs roaming the earth or Ansel Adams photographing my bridal party casually posing on Yosemite’s Half Dome, rest assured – I’m not out of touch with all things wedding 10 years later. Back then, DSLR cameras were relatively new. A better way to describe it is that your phone’s picture resolution is higher than the hottest digital camera back then. Since I didn’t want to be stuck with grainy, low resolution wedding pictures for the rest of my life, I went with the most popular medium. So, film it was. I spent days scouring every single wedding photographer website I could find, searching for the one site which would resonate with me and give me that gut feeling of “I LOVE these pictures…I want this person to be MY photographer…I feel like I can trust this person to capture the biggest day of my life!” Keep in mind, at this point, I had already been a professional wedding photographer for over four years and I was on the quest to find nothing short of perfection. I didn’t just skim through a hundred sites, oh no! I critiqued every image I found – lighting, composition, attention to detail, spontaneity, creativity, and the overall “WOW” factor. I needed a photographer’s photographer and I wasn’t having any success finding one. That was until my best friend said, “Hey, I have a photographer friend in Los Angeles who you might like.” End of story! I visited Kimberlee Miller’s website and it was love at first sight (cue romantic music). My search was over. Without even meeting her in person, just from reading her website bio, viewing her image galleries, and talking to her on the phone, I knew my wedding day photography was going to be fantastic.

Kimberlee and I used the same equipment as professional photographers, which was a bonus, but that wasn’t the deciding factor. In reality, I could have loaned my “fancy camera” and “expensive lenses” to a relative or friend and saved a lot of money without compromising image quality. And if you take this thought process one step further, one usually concludes that all you need is a nice camera in “Uncle Bob’s” hands to create fantastic wedding day pictures. This is not true. Thankfully, this disastrous scenario never crossed my mind because when my fiancé and I made up our wedding budget, we agreed that our photographer was the most important expense. We were on a tight budget, so we skimped on the flowers, food, and decorations, since neither of those things would last more than 24 hours. The photography and videography was where the largest portion of our budget was spent because those two things are the visual memories that we would be left with for the rest of our lives.  Ten years later, we’ve never regretted our decision.

In some markets, it seems like there’s a so-called photographer on every street corner. Some charge nothing because they need experience, while some charge enough to warrant you selling both kidneys and maybe a cornea just to get their cheapest package, and then there are the rest of us who just want to do what we love because we’re passionate about our craft while still being able to pay the bills and mange a thriving business. In this heavily-saturated industry there is no shortage of photographers eager for work, no matter your budget. So, if the options seem endless, how do you pick “The One”? And what are you really paying for when you hire your photographer? I believe it comes down to something far more important than the price tag. The bottom line is experience. You aren’t paying your photographer for their “fancy equipment,” since anyone with some extra cash can buy the latest and greatest, but what you pay for is what’s inside their head – knowledge. Knowledge which comes from experience. Knowledge about how to use their equipment the way it was intended to be used, lighting, composition, posing, creativity, digital image processing, album design and creation, and so on. And in turn, the photographic experience which the photographer creates for you, your bridal party, and guests. Let’s take this one step further and agree that no two photographers are exactly the same, even if they have identical equipment and similar photographic styles. Put aside their equipment list and skill set, and you are left with their personality. Your photographer should be someone with whom you feel comfortable and happy to spend the most important day of your life. On your big day, you’ll spend more time with your photographer than you will with your new spouse. That’s what you’re paying for…a new friend who will bend over backwards for you while capturing it all just the way you envisioned.

The saying goes, “You get what you pay for,” and I couldn’t agree more. My sage advice to happy couples searching for “The One” is to narrow down the photographers you like based on their website bios and picture galleries, and then meet them in person. You may not be able to verbalize what you love about them or their work, but trust your gut. Determining compatibility, creating trust through commonalities – style, personality, and communication – ensures your wedding day experience is off to a great start, and you can’t put a price tag on that. I got exactly what I paid for – a beautiful day surrounded by family and friends and a most memorable and enjoyable experience created by a true professional. Experience is truly priceless.