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Eight must-ask questions for your wedding photographer

'Tis the season. A lot of people get engaged during the period between Thanksgiving and Christmas.

Planning a wedding can be nerve-wracking, and hiring a photographer can be one of the most difficult things in wedding planning. How do you know you are getting the right photographer? You are paying someone to show up, take pictures, and you won't see those pictures until after the wedding.

Many wedding magazine offer lists of questions you should ask your photographer, but most of those lists do not deal with some "must-ask" questions. Every photographer should have a ready answer to the questions below.

1. Do you have insurance?
Photographers should have liability insurance. Most high-end wedding venues require it. You need a photographer with liability insurance for your sake as well. Whose name is on the contract with the venue? Right. Yours.

2. Do you use a contract?
Contracts are a must-have. A good contract also protects you, the client. It is your guarantee that you have a photographer for your wedding, and lays out the policies of the photographer and the studio.

3. Do you have back-up equipment?
This should be a deal breaker. No one, I repeat, no one, should ever shoot a wedding without backup equipment, and multiple backups if possible. Weddings happen once, and you can't just go back and reshoot. Backup equipment is a must.

4. How/when do you back up your files?
The most awful stories I hear involve the loss of files. The friend of one bride told me her photographer lost all of her files. She never saw a single photo from the wedding. While the photographer can refund your money, you will never get the images from your wedding day.

5. Do you keep the original files?
My friend Traci offered a story related to the question above. Her photographer changed the original files to black and white, when she wanted color photos. There was no way of changing them back. Changing the original digital file can also in a loss of image quality. The original files should always remained unchanged.

6. Can I see an entire wedding you have photographed?
Any photographer should be willing -- wait, no -- eager, to show you an entire wedding. This will give you an idea of how the photographer shoots, and let you know that they can create multiple great images from the wedding instead of just a few "portfolio" images. If you have time, ask to see more than one wedding. This will give you an idea of how much the photographer relies on a few standard posed shots, or whether you will be able to get original, candid images from your wedding.

Bonus tip: It is far more difficult for a photographer to get a good candid photo, than for a photographer to take a good photo when they have full control over almost every element in the photograph.

7. What happens if you can't be there?
This should be part of the contract. There is usually a clause that says the photographer is not required to find a replacement, but will make every effort to do so. Ask about their network of fellow photographers who might be able to come to the rescue.

8. Tell me how you shoot a wedding.
This is a tricky one. If you are interested in wedding photojournalism, chances are you don't want a photographer who is at your elbow telling you what to do all day long. But, there are (unfortunately) photographers who show "photojournalistic style" on their websites, who even pose those so-called candid shots. Ask the photographer how they approach a wedding. How many of the shots do they pose? Do they visibly direct the photos, or do they take a "fly on the wall" approach?