There is a myriad of blogs out there on how to choose your wedding photographer. This post is only based on my humble opinion and experiences being on both sides of the fence, and therefore please take the suggestions below with a grain of salt.
In choosing the person who will document your wedding day, after determining the photographer's availability for your date, it all boils down to these 3 things:
Check the photographer's work (on their blog, website, Facebook, etc.). Does the photography style (colour/tone, candid shots/traditional poses, overall 'ambiance' of the photos throughout the day, consistencies in editing style, etc.) appeal to you? Do you like the flash effects on almost every photos? Is the photographer good at capturing those candid, spontaneous moments and/or emotions (e.g. when your parents are shedding a tear, or your groom's jaw drops in awe as the bride walks down the aisle) and is this important for you? Are you the type of person who simply wants photos just for the sake of having photos, a person who likes heavy photoshop editing and special effects, or are you the type of person who wants her/his wedding photos tell a story of their wedding day in a beautifully curated, natural-looking photographs? Do they take extraordinary landscape photos but not so for weddings? Is the style timeless and would still be lovely years down the road or is it a fad, what is currently in fashion? No 2 persons are the same. Choose someone whose work you love. In my personal experience, when I found photographs that I loved, it's like love at first sight and I feel a strong connection with their work: "This is it! I want this person to photograph my wedding!"
Equally important: check the photographer's photos for an ENTIRE wedding day. Check if their style is consistent throughout the day and if they capture all the important candid moments. Weddings are full of dynamics; lighting change from outdoor to indoor in a matter of seconds, and lots of wedding receptions happen in low-light situations. Check if the photographer is able to consistently deliver high quality photos in any circumstances. If you only look at the pretty portrait photos, you may miss to see the photographer's ability to capture the unexpected, crazy moments (that most often than not occur on a wedding day).
Does the photographer reply to your emails within 24 hours? Is she/he punctual at meetings? Is she/he straightforward when answering your questions or do you feel it's ambiguous? When he/she promises you something, is it kept and delivered within the specified/a reasonable timeframe? Basically from the photographer's website and interactions with you, you should have a feel on his/her dependability and professionalism. You want a reliable photographer who won't go rogue on or after your wedding day (ever heard/read about a photographer who came late to the wedding day or worse, arrived in a completely unprofessional attire for your wedding? I saw a photographer in casual clothing at an elegant evening wedding at the gorgeous Mount Stephen Hall in Fairmont Banff Springs... and many guests were talking about it). If there is no contract involved, run!
Usually you would find this on top of most lists. So why do I put it here as the last point? It is because even when each couple has a budget for their wedding, they can always shuffle priorities to allocate their budgets differently. At the end of the day, when the cake is eaten and the champagne drunk, your photographs are the only tangible memories of your wedding day (I also believe that you should keep them in the form of a photo book/album that you can revisit down the road with your spouse, your children, and even your grandchildren).
A talented photographer can make even a low-budget DIY wedding look fabulous. I got inspired to write this after reading this blog post from an Austrian wedding photographer. You won't remember the taste of the food/cake/wine, nor would you probably remember the expensive centre pieces. Perhaps you can find beautiful French lace cathedral-style veil on Etsy (I know brides who did!) and save hundreds of $$$. You may splurge on that designer dress or top-of-the line Hummer limo (and you have every right to do so! After all, it's YOUR wedding!) but then if you are not happy with how your photos look like because you try to cut corners on the photography part of your budget, you will regret it, as these moments don't repeat themselves. Rethink your priorities and consider if the photographer you choose will document your wedding day that will put a smile on your face when you look at the photos in the years to come.
The bottom line is, you get what you pay for. When I first started, I barely charged anything it was almost free (did not even pay for the cost of lens rentals!), but because I was still in my practicing stage, some group photos ended up blurry (and I could not save them despite Photoshop) because of my lack of experience. We all start from somewhere. But as the bride/clients, you must also be aware of what the tradeoff is.
Remember, cheap is not the same as inexpensive. Cheap has a negative connotation and you wouldn't want your wedding photos to look cheap, would you? Read this post for more on cutting corners on your wedding photography.
Another comment on cheap wedding photographer: (and you can find lots of other horror stories! Whatever you decide on your wedding, set your priorities up and have no regrets! :))
"We tried to save money on a photographer for our wedding. We got a friend's friend who does this kind of thing on weekends to follow us around at the ceremony and the reception. In between the ceremony and the reception, we splurged for a real photographer and booked time in his studio because we wanted a backup plan in case of inclement weather.All we have now are those studio pictures. The other photographer f##ked up the other pictures. The negatives were over exposed and otherwise ruined to the point that every place we took them to to be developed told us it was hopeless. To top it off, the guy claimed he had a half dozen rolls of unspoiled pictures that he would give us for an additional price. He held our GD wedding photos hostage!In the end, I firmly believe you get what you pay for. You need to do your homework when picking a photographer. If you're prepared to cut corners and can live with the possibility of not having great photos of your wedding, then by all means take a chance and hire a "budget" photographer." ~ from CalgaryPuck.
Other links worthy to read:
Wrong Priority on Wedding Day - A Cautionary Tale
Hire Quality Now, Buy Products (Photo Album) Later