Let's face it, marriage is forever.

One time; one chance to get it all right.

And when it's over and the food is eaten, the flowers have wilted, the tuxes have been returned, and the wedding dress is boxed up and put away. All that's left are the memories and…

The photographs.

There are many wedding planning books that make recommendations on what percentage of your wedding budget should be spent on photography. I've heard anywhere from 7 - 14%. I've also seen some really silly suggestions like:

Have friends take pictures at your wedding

Get a family friend with a "really good camera" to do your wedding photography

In my many years in business I've had many couples not hire me because they thought they could get a cheaper alternative by following these suggestions or hiring someone less than a professional. I've also had a lot of customers come to me asking if I could work with the images they got from the cheaper alternative and make them into the beautiful samples they see in my studio. I've actually had brides who came in for consultations, decided not to hire me only to return later to tell me how sorry they were they didn't hire me because they had a horrible experience with a cheaper alternative. It happens all the time.

So, here are some tips to try and not become one of those who were sorry after the fact that they didn't hire a trusted professional to photograph their wedding.

The Consultation

When you're ready to consider photography for your wedding call a variety of photographers and schedule a consultation. Most photographers offer them at no charge. This will give you a chance to see a wide variety of their work and see how they handle a wedding from start to finish. The photographer will also be able provide you with pricing.

I look forward to meeting potential wedding couples! It gives me a chance to show off my services and get to know them a little better. I feel it's not always just about the prices and albums that a photographer offers. I like to see if I'm a match for the couple's personality. After all, you're going to be spending a lot of time with your wedding photographer; you should at least like him or her and enjoy spending time with them.

I usually end up taking a lot of photos and like it when the couple has left a lot of time in between the ceremony and the reception to take photographs. I'll shoot until I run out of ideas or run out of time! Usually I run out of time.

Here are few things you should ask of the photographer during your consultation:

Are the proofs included with every package?

Do you get to choose what pictures go in the albums that are in the package?

Does the photographer have a limit on the amount of photographs he takes at a wedding?

Are engagement portraits included with the wedding photography packages?

Is retouching included in all the prints or is it extra?

Does the photographer have any limitations on how many family and extended family portraits he takes at your wedding?

I'm sure there are a lot more questions, but these are the most practical ones. There are plenty of wedding planner books out there that have many silly questions to ask photographers. I can tell you with absolute certainty that these questions didn't come from a trained professional photographer and will not get you a better photographer.

The Package

Most photographers sell their wedding photography in package, or ensemble, form. That's the way I offer it to my clients.

Many choose the ala carté method, but this can run you many dollars in buying add ons after add ons. A lot of couples want to make their own images and albums, but the truth is they never end up having time. The images sit in a box somewhere waiting while the couple gets busy building their life together, their home and maybe their family. Before you know it you've forgotten all about your photographs.

The Style

Have a close look at the style of the photographers work. It will be the indicator of how your wedding will end up looking.

Some things to look for are:

How does the photographer handle light and shadows?

Do the images really convey a feeling and story?

Are the images lit all the same way making them flat and uninteresting?

Does he use shadow as well as light to show shape and form?

Is there a variety of candid or photo journalistic images as well as posed?

I rely on the ambient and natural light that is found in the room or outdoors. This brings shape and mood to the images like no other. Some photographers always shoot with flash that often lights the images smooth and even making them flat and lifeless. I allow the image to go soft giving them a painterly quality.

After all, you do want to capture the mood and the artistic merit of the images and have something that can hang on the wall in a timeless fashion that is like an art piece.

The Decision

Once you've see all the photographers work its time to book them!

Photographers will ask for a non-refundable retainer. This is applied to the finished package price.

Don't worry if your wedding is still two years away. I book weddings that early on a regular basis. Unfortunately many don't see it that way and often miss out on prime wedding dates.

Be sure that when you put a retainer down on wedding photography that you are not going to suffer from price increases if your wedding is still a year or two off. Others won't book two years in advance because they know they're going to have price changes and want to end up charging you more. With my clients, once they sign the contract with the retainer, I guarantee the prices. They're locked in.

The Wedding Day

On the day of your wedding you'll know you've chosen competent professionals to handle your affair. In order to get the best photos you should relax and let the photographer guide you through the process.

I like my couples and wedding parties to relax and have fun and let me capture that. It's a guaranteed good time and great photographs when that happens. Be themselves and let their personalities shine through.

If my couples follow this advice I guarantee them GREAT photographs!