First of all, the single most important thing about the photographer you hire is just how well you as the client and he / she as the service provider get along. Its important that both parties be able to communicate comfortably, the reason why I say so is because if both parties get along then the quality of communication between them is sufficient for both parties to understand their needs, fears and desires. This goes without saying if you're a photographer, especially if you're a photographer who makes their living out of photography people. If I were an animal or pet photographer, it'd be most important that I get along with animals …
The next most important thing is, obviously, the quality of the photographers work, and this is a very subjective topic. What one person regards as good photography, is not necessarily what everyone else would consider good, this explains why there are so many wedding photographers who are quite frankly bad photographers (or not real photographers at all) but still seem to make boat loads of cash doing it. If you're happy hiring someone who creates mediocre imagery by over-photoshopping their pictures, by all means hire them. On the other hand if its important to you that you continue to admire your wedding photographs years later, then try to look for someone who creates work that really impresses you.
In order to spot someone who claims to be a wedding photographer but is actually just a poser, or not experienced enough, there are a few things to look for in their work that are tolling signs. These are a few of them:
- Look for pictures that were taken with head on flash. In other words, a picture taken with the flash while the flash is attached directly to the top of the camera. What this does is create unflattering light because the light from the flash is coming from the same direction from where the picture is being taken from. It requires quite a bit of experience with a TTL enabled flash to bounce the light from the flash off of walls and ceilings effectively because creating a more flattering appearance of those photographed.
- Look for pictures that look as if the wedding took place in dark room. It requires experience to balance the light coming out of the flash with the ambient light in the room. An amateur will underexpose the ambient light in their exposure making the background in the image pitch black, which is very ugly.
- Poor cropping is another sign of inexperience. If you're not a photographer this might be a little difficult to spot, but if the important elements in the image are not arranged in a nice way in the picture, the photographer is probably not experienced.
- The Decisive Moment. This is an obvious one, if a lot of the pictures have people in them that were half way through blinking their eyes at the moment the picture was taken, do not hire this person. Being able to see a moment in which a good photo can be taken and then taking the picture at that exact moment, is a skill someone is born with, if this person does not have this skill, do not hire them.
To finish off, the most important factor in photography is, LIGHT. If the photographer can prove a beautiful and flattering style in their use of light, you will most likely end up with wedding photographs that you'd want to brag about. And as a photographer I can tell you, that it is very satisfying if you find out through the grapevine that a former client of yours was bragging about their wedding photos.
Keep your wits about you and do not just sign with the first photographer you meet with.