While you can get away with photographing many events on smartphones these days, you probably want to entrust your wedding to a professional photographer with a professional-level camera. Here are some tips to ensure you get the best bang for your buck.

Getting married is obviously a milestone life event, so you want to be sure the day is captured properly. Smartphone cameras have improved exponentially over the last few years, but there are certain tasks they’ll struggle with; auto focus is still a bit slow, and the titchy lenses struggle to create pro depth of field effects in portraits, or get detailed shots in low light.

For any camera novices out there, “depth of field” refers to those cool portraits you see in magazines, where the subject is very sharp but the background is nicely thrown out of focus, like so:

Most smartphones and compact cameras can’t record images in the raw format, either, so you’re simply not getting the same levels of detail and resolution as you would from a conventional DSLR. Another reason to choose a pro for your wedding is to liberate you to enjoy the actual day.

Your wedding day goes past in a blur, especially when the champagne starts to flow, and there are enough things to worry about without having to take the photos. (There will probably be a camera enthusiast among your guests, but they shouldn’t have to worry about it either.) So how do you about choosing a wedding photographer? Here are some pointers.

Be careful of ‘helpful’ friends and relatives

Enthusiast and pro-spec digital SLRs have plunged in price in the last few years, so there’s a good chance your dad/uncle/mate has a decent camera, and may be able to take an OK shot. They may well offer to take the photos on the day to save you some money, but make sure it’s not a false economy. A powerful camera per se will not produce great shots, it’s more about how well the photographer can use it.

Photographing a wedding is a big responsibility and many things can go wrong, so be wary if your friend/dad/uncle has never shot a wedding before. If they have, and you’re happy with the results, make sure they have a back-up camera and plenty of memory cards! If they haven’t done a wedding before, but you don’t want to hurt their feelings, maybe suggest they assist the professional you book. Most pros will be happy for a bit of help, so long as said mate or relative doesn’t muscle-in on the best shots, get in the way, or get drunk!

Work out your budget

Wedding photographers cater for every end of the market, so work out how much you can spend first. Again, be careful of false economies here. While you can probably find somebody on Gumtree or in the local newspaper who will shoot your wedding for a few hundred bucks, you’re taking a risk. They might not have shot a wedding before, they might not be particularly creative photographers, and you have to wonder why they are offering their services so cheaply to begin with. At the other end of the scale, booking a top society wedding photographer can easily blow your budget for the entire wedding, including the honeymoon!

As a ballpark figure, a skilled, mainstream wedding photographer will charge anything between $2000 to $6000 and this would also include a pre-wedding shoot. Booking a pair of shooters for the day will take you to the higher end of this scale, but you’ve got some extra peace of mind.

Know what you want

Wedding photography has come a long away since the ‘firing squad’ approach that your parents or grandparents endured (usually the happy couple and the in-laws stiffly posed by the church door). There’s traditional style, documentary, fine-art… the list goes on. “Story telling” or journalistic wedding photography has become more popular in the last decade or so, and there are plenty of pros who specialise in this relaxed and candid style.

Make sure it’s really what you want though – you can’t complain there are few formal shots if you book a photographer who specialises in candid, street-photo images in grainy black and white. If you want high-end lighting effects, like something from Vogue, this will also cost you more.

Draw up a shortlist

When it comes to actually finding a photographer, word of mouth and recommendations go a long way. Anyone can set themselves up as a wedding photographer (there is no official regulatory body) and build a snazzy website; you can’t even be sure that they took the actual pictures, as ‘cloning’ the sites of top wedding pros is, sadly, a common practice. So, talk to friends, family and colleagues. Contact local florists and wedding venues too to see if they can recommend somebody.

If you are choosing a wedding photographer blind, key considerations are obviously how long they have been in business and how many weddings they have shot. While you can get less experienced photographers at a lower price, you are again taking more of a risk. Membership of a professional organisation is also a good sign, but look for a photographer who has a distinction award. Anyone can join the Wedding Photojournalist Association, but getting a Licentiateship, Associateship or Fellowship distinction takes real skill. Graduating from a well-regarded wedding photography school is another good sign. Ask if they have been published in wedding photography magazines or blogs, too.

Meet the photographer

Once you have your shortlist, meet your candidates – this is really important. You can ask them more in-depth questions and see whether you and your partner ‘gel’ with them; you want somebody who is going to fit in on the day, and be able to take control of the photography without annoying other guests or spoiling the atmosphere. Meeting a few prospective pros will give you a good idea of what you can expect for your budget.

It’s well worth booking a pro who will also do a pre-wedding shoot, as this gives everyone the chance to get used to each other, and the pro can also scout out good spots at the venue. You can also draw up a photographic timetable for the actual day and agree how long they will stick around for. Wedding photography is a competitive business, so shop around and you should be able to find somebody who will do a pre-wedding shoot, arrive early on the day to shoot the bride getting ready, capture the ceremony and speeches, and stay until the first dance at the reception.

And finally…

Check your photographer has got proper insurance, to protect yourself (and the venue) from mishaps and unforeseen bills. Ask to see the certificate, and if they prevaricate, take your business elsewhere…

This story originally appeared on Lifehacker UK