Before you consider the next two keys, make sure this one is a match. Do not evaluate pricing, value, personality, how much you like them, availability, reputation or prestige until you decide that your styles match. True story: A Bride hired a pretty very well known and prestigious photographer for her wedding. He had shot many local celebrities and was very expensive and hard to get a booking with, he was usually book out for almost two seasons. She hired him based on his prestigious reputation and past clients, and paid a pretty hefty price, but after all it was her one and only wedding so she felt it was worth it! She was so excited, telling her friends and family that she had booked this amazing famous wedding photographer that all the local celebrities used. They didn't discuss her needs, desires, or what style she preferred; since he was so well know and such a highly paid professional she just left all that creative stuff up to this great artist. When she got her wedding gallery, let's say she was beyond disappointed. This photographers style was to shoot as if he was in the crowd, not romantic or intimate or candid. Most of the photos of the ceremony were partially blocked by people in front of the camera, or shot from angles where maybe only the back of the couple was visible, or even at odd angles like someone holding their iPhone above their head and taking a snap of a celebrity in a huge crowd. He shot no venue or detail shots of the rings, shoes, or decorations she paid so much for and had planned for so long for her dream wedding. All of the photos were exposed beautifully, in focus, technically "correct", and edited in a very artistic style...although not many actually captured the emotions of the day or the actual scene.
The big lesson here is two things: First, make sure the photographer's work matches what you are hoping for. Does their vision for photography match yours? Do you know what you want, and can they deliver? Secondly, make sure you TALK to them, in person or at least on the phone/video, about what you want and what they like to shoot.
My personal style that I love to shoot is very candid, intimate, and documentary. I love to capture the joy and tears and smiles. Yes, I shoot group photos, although I also like to have some fun with those. I prefer to tell the amazing and beautiful story of the day. I love to mix artist impressions with real emotions while setting the scene. I want you to look at your photos and be transported back to the beautiful moments from that day. Make sure your photographer has the same vision for photography that you do!
Once you have looked at their work and decided you really like their style, make sure you TALK to them. I cannot stress this enough. Shot lists and timelines, and plans are all great, but make sure that you can communicate with the photographer. Make sure that you know what you want, voice your desires, and that they fully understand. For instance, although yes I do shoot family formals and all the group pictures, I prefer to shoot candid, intimate, romantic documentation of your day. Secondly, there should not be the initial "sales call", contract signing, deposit paid, and then the next time you hear from them is an email the day before to confirm the time. Although yes, there will be a period of very little communication because most brides book up to a year in advance, I send a few emails and/or call starting at about 6 months before the wedding. They should be checking in, exchanging ideas, lists, updating things that may have changed like guest that will be there that are important to you to get pictures of, any venue changes, or time changes, etc. Make sure you have a photographer that is responsive to communications, returns phone calls, emails, etc. You have to have a photographer you can communicate freely and effectively with. This is one reason I suggest the face to face (or at least video) meeting. You should be totally at ease that everything is covered, the day is not about photography, it is about your wedding, your photographer should enhance your experience and capture your memories, not run the day or put more stress on you!
This is the hardest thing to actually explain or quantify. Pricing is so diverse, wedding photography can be as inexpensive at a couple hundred dollars up to tens of thousands...and yes you read that right! The greatest value is that you pay for and get exactly what you want, and possibly a little more. It is your overall experience that actually out weighs the products sometimes. Is your photographer excited about capturing your memories, is that their focus? Do they put you at ease and enhance your big day more than just taking nice pictures? One very important thing to remember is that after your wedding, the ONLY physical thing that you will have from that day is the photos. I am not talking about your ring, your enduring love, your dress preserved, or those things...but the photos you will share with friends, family, your children and grandchildren for many years is the photos. You have to determine the value of that, no one can for you. That said, most likely you will not tell your children ten years later that you had prime rib at the most exclusive country club with the most expensive floral arrangements, but you will most definitely show them photos of one of the most important days of your life. I always see it as a privilege and honor to capture the emotions, memories, and candid intimate moments of the wedding day...and the photographer you choose should too!