When Nick Kelble proposed to his then-girlfriend Hayley back in 2017 at the Cincinnati Zoo, they both had no idea of the wedding day shock they were in for…

With her wedding day upon her, Hayley was now in the market for a wedding photographer, so she took to Facebook to ask around her friends’ group. One of her friends tagged a photographer who said she studied photography at Kent State. Hayley checked the photographer’s Instagram, and they were able to settle on a price under $800 for the photos. The rest is history. And not a bright one.

Watch Out for Red Flags When Hiring a Wedding Photographer

One big piece of advice we have for anyone on the hunt for a wedding photographer: ALWAYS SIGN A CONTRACT!

Any wedding photographer worth their salt will want to get the scope of the job in writing. If this crucial step doesn’t happen, then walk away. Somewhere in Hayley’s mind, she knew this was a red flag, but went with it because… well, $800 is an attractive price for a wedding photographer.

When the wedding day arrived, Hayley knew something was off when the wedding photographer wasn’t providing any direction to her guests and failed to use her flash in the dim lighting of the church. She also left before some key wedding events.

“We moved things around so that she could get pictures of us cutting the cake…” Hayley told Insider. “She stayed for like 20 minutes of the reception and left.”

It was too late to get a refund, though, as the check had been cashed almost immediately, even before Hayley and her husband had gotten most of the wedding photos back! The ones the photographer had sent looked decent… but the remaining photos Hayley received were definitely far below top-notch.

A terrible wedding photo of the groom, groomsmen, and bride.

“Even with editing, they couldn’t be fixed,” said Hayley. “The images were so underexposed that they were just grainy and blurry. I didn’t know what to do. I was like, ‘I don’t want to pay for these.’”

To put things into perspective, Kelbel’s mother took photos at the wedding too… and they came out better… from her iPhone!

Wedding photo taken on an iPhone.

Hayley and Nick had to go back to the drawing board post-wedding to look for another wedding photographer to take new photos. And “Luckily, they turned out great.”

The Right Steps to Hiring a Wedding Photographer

Insider was able to get in touch with Amy Shey of Chandelier Events to ask her advice on how to hire a wedding photographer. Here’s what she had to say:

1. Research

Sure, ask your friends for recommendations, but go beyond that. Do your own research into wedding photographers with the style you’re looking for. “Even if you trust who’s referring, make sure you research reviews on websites like TheKnot.com, WeddingWire.com, and Yelp,” says Jacobs.

2. Meet-and-Greet

Meet with your wedding photographers, whether in person or over Skype/FaceTime. “So much of the photography relationship is based on chemistry and personality. Ask lots of questions to gauge if their style meets your wants.”

3. Contracts!

Make sure EVERYTHING is in writing. If the photographer says it’s unnecessary, then their services are unnecessary to you. “Contracts are the only sure bet that your vendor can be held accountable for your agreement. Make sure your expectations and package are clearly spelled out: number of hours, number of shooters, number of images and prints, albums, and what happens in the event there is a dispute.”

4. Engagement Shoots

“An engagement shoot is fun!” says Jacobs. “But it’s also a great opportunity to test the waters with your photographer beforehand.”

Though Kelble is happy with the new wedding photos she received, she only hopes that others won’t make the same mistake she did when hiring a wedding photographer. The important lesson here is that you get what you pay for.

Sometimes, it’s worth paying a steeper price for one of the biggest days of your life.

“Do your research and spend more than you think you should, because that’s all you’re going to have of memories of that day. It doesn’t matter how much you spent on the actual day, you’re not going to have memories of it if you don’t spend good money to hire someone to take those pictures.” ~ Hayley Kelble

The right way to take a wedding photo.

*Shared with permission from Hayley Kelble