Between Thanksgiving and spring is when most couples begin their search for wedding vendors. They are recently engaged, and are raring to go find their wedding coordinator, venue, cater, florist, DJ and of course their wedding photographer.

With most coupes, the venue is the first item they check off their list. After all, the availability of a venue often times determines a wedding date (especially this day and age when weddings are planned within a year versus the two years that were the norm a decade ago).

The next vendor is typically the photographer.

Photographers have an interesting dynamic in a wedding. Where your coordinator will be a big part of your planning, on the day of your wedding they will be behind the scenes ensuring the flowers arrive on time, the cake is placed, the table settings are perfect, and all the other vendors are where they need to be. But photographers, we’re the one vendor that you’ll be around most of the day. In fact, you’ll probably see your photographer more than you spouse on your wedding day in most cases.

This is why it’s extremely important to ensure you have picked a photographer who is a great fit for the wedding party, family and guests. You’ll also want someone who will collaborate with you and understand your expectation, not simply a photographer who will show up and take a bunch of pictures.

For couples on the hunt for a wedding photographer, a consultation is key to finding their ideal photographer.

Here are a few tips on how to approach a consultation with a wedding photographer.

1) Never book without a consultation

Even if their pricing is amazing, their offerings are just what you’re looking for, and their images are true pieces of art, you still want to set a consultation.

A photographer can make a wedding day experience amazing, or wreck it. It just takes a few choice words, interactions, personality conflicts and it can go from good to bad real quick.

Holding a consultation will allow the opportunity to talk, ask your questions, and get to know each other better. Chances are, you’re probably going to be working with your vendors over the course of the next year so before you sign a contract and hand over a deposit (many of which are non-refundable) make sure you can trust they’ll deliver what they’re promising. And if you can’t meet face-to-face consider an online session with Skype, FaceTime, Google Hangout or some other online video platform.

2) Write down your questions before arriving to your meeting

One thing I recommend my couples do is to take a night before our consultation to sit down together and write out a list of questions they’d like to ask before we meet.

I try to get everyone to understand that we’ll be covering a lot of information during our consultations (from booking to final product delivery) and I know how easy it can be to forget what you meant to say. Of course I have a flow to each of my consultations so I can touch on certain topics, and that may actually end up answering your questions before you have a chance to ask them. But each of my couples don’t fit into a specific box. They are all different (background, experiences, upbringing, expectations) and all have their own set of questions for me that my previous couple didn’t ask.

If you’re needing some kind of inspiration for what to ask there are a ton of resources out there to help get you started.

Here are a few resources that highlight the general questions you should ask:

The Knot
Wedding Wire
Real Simple

Those are preliminary list of topics to discuss. It’s always a great idea to think of some questions on your own. Your wedding is unique to you and your experience with your vendors shouldn’t be a one-size-fits-all approach.

3) Bring along anything you’d like your photographer to see

Having the chance to see what my couples are envisioning for their wedding is probably one of my most favorite parts of our consultation. Some of my couples have the fancy wedding planning binders full of checklists and places to hold print-outs and fabric swatches. Others have brought along file folders with magazine clippings that show me their wedding day inspiration. Whatever way you choose to stay organized is what you should bring. Having these items during the consultation (if you have them) will help your photographer to envision your dreams along with you. Plus, collaboration should be one of the main focuses of a wedding photographer’s relationship with a couple. Every wedding is different so having insight into what makes their wedding unique, and why they chose that venue, reception format, ceremony time, etc. helps the photographer tell your wedding day story more accurately.

4) Bring a notebook

I go over a packet of information with my couples during every single consultation I hold. This packet cover some topics we’ll talk about during our meeting, but they may also trigger some questions. While we’re talking about your planning, you may think of something you’d like to ask. Instead of blowing it off or forgetting about it in the middle of information-overload, you’ll have a chance to write it down before it slips away.

Taking notes during your consultation may also help you keep track of how each of your vendors answered the questions you asked them. You can use your notebook to keep track of wedding related expenses, ideas, important dates and contact information, or just about anything else you can think of that may need to be tracked.

5) Don’t underestimate technology

I have Moleskin notebooks and use them often. But, I also use my phone to jot down notes, calendar events and numbers when I’m not at my desk or somewhere I can write with an old school pen and paper. When it comes to the consultation, I’m all about a hands-on approach and allowing my clients the chance to physically flip through a wedding album or scroll through an online gallery. We’re constantly surrounded by social media and online access most couples (primarily the brides) already have a Pinterest board going. Why not pull that out to show your photographer?

Some couples have snapped photographs of their wedding venue on their phones and allowed me the opportunity to scroll through on my own so I can get a good idea of where they’re getting married. This is extremely helpful if I haven’t been there before. And it gives us a chance to make some initial discussion about important locations to revert back to when we do a site visit. So if you’ve already started your planning and you want to show off those venue photographs or you want to pull up your brand new wedding website to show your photographer, go for it. This background information helps show me who you are as a couple and what your expectations are for your wedding day.

6) Get your hands on their albums and prints

A lot of photographers offer tangible items like prints and album in their wedding collections. If you're meeting in-person, see what they look like and feel. Do they feel like Blurb or Shutterfly books, or are they thick archival pages? Is the cover materials high quality? And are the prints like the ones you get at Costco, or are they unique and have specialty finishes? If you're going to be paying top dollar for your wedding photography albums and prints, they better be high quality.

7) Ask to see a recent wedding gallery that's been delivered to a client

A photographer's website may be chocked full of great images. But how do you know those aren't the photographer's only good pictures. Any photographer worth their weight in this industry won't hesitate to show you a complete gallery of a recent wedding. This will give you the opportunity to see if they get lucky a few times, or if they are consistent. You can also see if the images are completely retouched and the colors all look great and consistent, or are they sort of edited and still look like they need work.

8) What about those files?

Ask about if you get digital files and find out if they are all full-resolution files, color corrected and retouched (blemishes removed, facial shine minimized, etc.). Sometimes photographers will offer images you can create a 4x6-inch print with, but offer high-quality wall displays and other printed products to order through them. Some will only do work on the images you select, and will leave the rest unedited and not color corrected for proper skin tones.

9) How long will it take?

Check what their turnaround time is to get your gallery for proofing and selecting, as well as the final delivery of the digital files/prints. Typically, three months after the wedding is good. Six is pushing it. Anything past that is crazy. If it's super fast, ask how they edit/retouch the images before delivery.

10) Find out what past couples think of their work and the experience they provide

Don't be afraid to ask for references if you can't find reviews online for your photographer or any vendor for that matter.

11) The money talk

Once you get to the time to talk about costs, ask them to build a quote so you can see what the total charges would be after photography services and product delivery. Ask what additional items costs like parent albums, save-the-date cards, thank you cards, big and small prints, etc.

The Wedding Photographer Consultation Wrap-Up

Holding a face-to-face consultation (or even an online meeting) is important for you and your fiancé to understand how a photographer will go about capturing wedding day. I set a consultation with every couple who wants to book me for their wedding day — even if they already have the money waiting to send me. It’s important to meet with them so I can get to know them better and hear all about their plans, ideas and expectations. And having the chance to talk about the experience I’m promising to provide them is also important. Whether you’re planning your upcoming consultation with a different photographer of your own, or you’re getting ready to meet me for the first time, these tips should help you prepare so you can make an educated decision after all your questions are answered.