You're newly engaged and you know great wedding photography is really important. Whether that's all you know at this point or you have a lot of very specific ideas, while you're looking over portfolios and interviewing potential photographers, I encourage you strongly to keep these three things in the back of your mind!
You're probably not comparing apples to apples
It's worth emphasizing: you really can't meaningfully compare photographers based on their price lists. We're taught from an early age to compare like things when making decisions about a purchase. For instance, a gallon of milk at one grocery store costs $2.59 while it costs $3.19 at another. While there are some variations (organic, etc.) federal regulations more or less ensure that a gallon of milk is pretty much a gallon of milk no matter where you buy it. So all else being equal, why not buy it at the grocery store that sells it for less?
The difficulty in evaluating a handful of price sheets is that you probably aren't comparing two like gallons of milk. Let's take a look at a common example:
Even amongst photographers with comparable portfolio styles and experience levels, "eight hours of coverage plus the disc" can entail some substantially different things. Maybe Photographer A provides all of the good images (hundreds or even a thousand or more) while Photographer B only provides 200 images. Photographer C may not even include any digital negatives; prints, albums or files all cost extra, and the eight hours is simply their "shooting fee." Photographer A may work with you proactively to answer your questions and to address unspoken assumptions you didn't even realize you were making, while Photographer B may be much less responsive.
Many of these questions aren't a matter of "right or wrong" or even "better or worse;" they may simply be a discussion of what you prefer. My point isn't to say that you can't make comparisons, but rather simply understanding that there are many variables, some of which are not readily obvious in a price list.
What, then, can you do to help yourself make a more informed decision? Find reviews of the photographer's work. Consider also starting with these questions as a basis for getting to know the photographers you would like to meet with.
Evaluate every photographer's full body of work
Given enough time and opportunity, just about anyone can put together a portfolio of a couple dozen good images. Consistency is vital. You want to be sure that a photographer can consistently deliver excellent work in the face of a wide variety of circumstances and challenges.
It is actually pretty difficult to screw up taking an amazing image of a pair of models on a Carribean beach. Can that photographer produce a great result in an indoor Ohio venue in February with a bride who isn't a size zero? Ask the photographers you interview for access to complete sets of images from multiple weddings. Look for work that may be more closely representative of you, your venue and your wedding.
The possible catch with "preferred," "recommended" or "featured" vendors
A significant number of bridal magazines, websites, venues and even vendors recommend, feature or prefer particular vendors for less than helpful or even borderline unethical reasons. Many websites feature vendors simply on the basis of that vendor paying a premium. A particular bridal coordinator may refer her friends to the exclusion of more qualified vendors.
The end result is that you are presented with a list of vendors who are selected not on their merits, but because of some mutually beneficial arrangement with the party recommending the vendor. And this fact may not be disclosed plainly or at all, leaving you to assume that a recommendation was made wholly in your best interests when it was not.
This is certainly not the case with many industry publications and professionals, but if you have any doubts, just ask. Please understand that there are countless professionals who are both very good at what they do and very ethical. I only want to reiterate that the distinction may not be obvious at first glance. :)
How can I help you?
Your choice in wedding photography is a very personal one and whether or not you elect to hire me, I want to help you make the decision that's best for you. I hope these three tips prove helpful and of course, I hope that you'll contact me today to set up a meeting over coffee or drinks, both to get to know each other and talk about what you're looking for in your photographer!