So, you're getting hitched! Congratulations! You've got the date set, the venue booked, and the guest list sorted. But hold your bouquet, there's still one crucial element left: finding the right wedding photographer. Cue the dramatic music and the faded lights because this, my friends, is the ultimate quest.

Step 1: The Google Odyssey

Armed with determination and a strong Wi-Fi signal, you embark on your Google expedition. "Wedding photographers near me" becomes your mantra as you scroll through pages and pages of search results. You stumble upon websites that look like they were designed in the '90s, complete with clip art and neon colors. You quickly exit those tabs, fearing for your retinas.

Pro tip: google is an endless whirlpool of answers, start with something a little more specialized: The knot and wedding wire. There, you can sort and filter what you are looking for in a photographer and enter your budget to narrow down your results. tk and ww are wedding specific websites catering to engaged couples looking for local vendors for their big day. vendors pay these companies to advertise their businesses and market to their ideal audience. It is a great way to at least make a strong list of CONTENDERS.

Step 2: The Social Media Safari

Next stop: social media. You dive headfirst into the murky waters of wedding photography hashtags on Instagram. You're greeted by an endless sea of perfectly curated feeds featuring couples frolicking in fields, staring dreamily into each other's eyes. "We want that," you declare to your partner, as you realize you've just set the bar impossibly high.

Pro tip: take a look at your venue's social medias- who they have tagged in photos, who have tagged them in photos, even search the hashtag of your venue to see what photographers may have shot there before. you can also search hashtags for the location of your venue and the surrounding areas to ensure no travel fees.

Step 3: The Reviews Rodeo

You wrangle your way through a stampede of online reviews, trying to separate the authentic praise from the suspiciously glowing testimonials written by the photographer's mom. You're convinced that some of these reviews were penned by distant relatives of Ansel freakin' Adams.

pro tip: don't just view the reviews on the photographers' websites, but also google reviews and facebook reviews so that you know they are legit. and remember that having a good experience with your photographer goes both ways, some people may have been a little difficult and tainted the experience. so if there is one 1-star review out of 50, keep in mind that it may not necessarily reflect how they usually do their business. now if you see 10 1-star reviews out of 50, i'd probably move on because that is certainly a red flag.

Step 4: The Consultation Conundrum

After hours of research, you compile a shortlist of potential candidates and schedule consultations. You meet with Photographer A, who shows up wearing a fedora and insists on referring to themselves as a "visual storyteller." Photographer B arrives late, spills coffee on your carpet, and spends the entire meeting talking about their pet chinchilla. Photographer C seems promising until they casually drop the bomb that they only shoot in black and white because "color is so passé."

pro tip: make a list of the top three most important things to you that you want in a wedding photographer and keep it in front of you when doing consultations. you can keep a mental tally of the ones who check all your boxes and then you can track what all the other perks may be of them. pro and con charts are always helpful. if the photographer doesn't ask you any questions; red flag. if they respond to QUESTIONS with one-word answers; red flag. move on. if their name is morgan, has hazel eyes, is super funny, adorable, has a freckle on her left middle finger; she' probably a good fit and you should book her immediatly. ;)

Step 5: The Budget Battle

Just when you think you've found The One, reality comes crashing down in the form of a jaw-dropping price quote. You attempt to negotiate, but the photographer remains firm, citing their unparalleled skill and artistic vision. You consider selling a kidney on the black market to fund your wedding photography dreams but ultimately decide against it.

pro tip: photographers have taken so much time calculating what their prices should be to cover overheads, equipment, time, and (maybe, possibly, sometimes) even have some money leftover as profit so they can keep doing what they are good at and love. If you have a strict budget, be very transparent about it first thing so you aren't wasting your time or anyone else's. If you are a little flexible, maybe discuss a payment plan (i know lots of photographers who are absolutely down for payment plans, including myself) so that you don't have so much strain on your wallet at once. if you plan on tipping after your wedding, don't forget to factor that into your budget! tips for photographers and definitely less common nowadays, and are always appreciated but never expected. photography tips can vary from around $50-$500. Base your tip on your experience with your photographer when the time comes around to show your appreciation.

Step 6: The Eureka Moment

After countless hours of frustration, you experience a moment of clarity. You realize that the perfect wedding photographer isn't the one with the fanciest equipment or the trendiest editing style. It's the one who makes you feel comfortable, captures genuine moments, and doesn't charge an arm and a leg (or a kidney).

pro tip: don't just sign any contract because you feel like you have found your match! be sure to review it carefully so you can know exactly what they guarantee and also what is expected of you. a lot of photographers build their contract around protecting themselves. but the best photographers are the ones who base their contracts around protecting both them and you. be transparent if something doesn't settle right or you don't understand somethings. you can have a phone CONSULTATION to go over the agreement, but email and text messages ensure you have everything in "writing" and can always refer back to.

before signing, make sure you have all information you need to feel comfortable in your decision. REITERATE your date and location so there is no chance of misunderstanding on that front. Check that you have a copy of the invoice with every package or product listed that you are purchasing.

In the end, you find your wedding photographer not through an epic saga of Google searches and Instagram scrolls, but through a recommendation from a friend who got married last year. And as you flip through your wedding album years later, you'll laugh at the absurdity of your quest for the perfect photographer, grateful for the memories captured in all their beautifully imperfect glory. Cheers to love, laughter, and the occasional chinchilla enthusiast with a camera (not me)!

xoxo, Gossip Girl

ahem ahem... i mean..