By Nancy Mattia

After you've whittled down the list of potential wedding photographers, it's time to meet each of the finalists. The "winner" should be skilled and personable-maybe not your new bestie but definitely someone you'd feel comfortable being with for your entire wedding day. Ask a lot of questions, including these essentials:

Is my wedding date available? Obviously, if the photographer's already booked and you don't want to change the date, move on. Keep in mind that if your I dos fall during Houston's most popular marrying months-March to May and September to October-you'll want to start your photographer search as early as possible, even more than a year ahead.

Will you be my actual photographer? Sometimes a studio's owner will meet with a bride but then assign an associate to shoot your big day. If so, set up a meeting with the associate to evaluate their style and personality. If you want to make a switch, speak up! Also, ask about the backup plan: If your shooter has an emergency and can't work your wedding, what happens? Bad answer: "Ummm....." Good answer: "We have a photographer on call."

What's your style? All wedding photos have their own individual look - traditional, artistic, photojournalistic or documentary. Before meeting with a pro, check out their website to see if you like the approach and then talk more about it in person.

Can I see complete weddings you've shot? Look at several weddings from start to finish, rather than the best photos from many weddings, says Laura Burlton, a Houston photographer who's shot almost 200 weddings in the area. "A lot of photographers will just show you beautiful outdoor photos that really anyone can take," she says. "What's really challenging is when there's a nighttime setting or a beautiful space with no natural light like the Westin Galleria."

Have you ever shot in my wedding venues? "The photographer should be familiar with the venues so she knows where to take the best photos," says Tamara Cox, a Houston photographer who counts Las Velas and the Bell Tower on 34th as two of her favorite locations to shoot. "I know of one photographer who shot a wedding at Chateau Cocomar, and he took a lot of shots in the ceremony room and none by the waterfall!"

How many weddings have you done? You'll want a pro who's accomplished at shooting weddings, which is very different from shooting, say, portraits or ad campaigns. "You need people skills to deal with lots of different personalities," says Cox, who's been shooting Houston weddings since 2003. "People are extra edgy and brides are emotional, so you have to have patience and know how to rally a crowd while keeping to a timeline."

Can I give you a short shot list? "Short" is the operative word. You're hiring the photographer for their expertise so trust them to get the important shots. "If I have a long list I have to check off, I may miss some spontaneous moments," says Burlton, who loves shooting at Station 3 and River Oaks Country Club. "But do tell me if there are special family shots you want or if you're planning a surprise dance. I shouldn't be surprised too!"

Do you have a contract? If the answer is no, run! A contract is protection for both you and the photographer and lists all the details you discussed, such as the deposit, total fee, the number of shooting hours, overtime charge and proof and print delivery dates. It should be signed and countersigned before the wedding day.

What kind of packages do you offer? Find out if proofs, prints and albums are included and whether you can customize (for example, switching out an engagement shot for an extra parents' album).

Can I post your photos of my wedding on social media? There may be some gorgeous shots taken in Hermann Park, and you'd love to post them on Instagram. Since your photographer most likely owns the photos, ask permission first. "I don't restrict it, but I do like to be tagged and acknowledged," says Cox.


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