I am a wedding photographer, and while self promotion is not allowed; advice is. I always hear, "What should I look for?" or "Who should I use?" The answer is simple. If you want the best photographer, then you have to do your homework and find the one that works for you. Everyone will have a different "best" photographer. These guides should help you find your perfect match:
1) Find someone with a style that matches yours. For example, do not pick a 70yr old photographer, if you are a 24yr old "hip" couple, as this will generally always end badly. Look for someone with your pop and appeal. Do not get a standard poser, if you want a photo-journalist to cover your whole day.
2) Make sure that your photographer uses professional, industry standard equipment. Ask them for their equipment specifics. They should be using a 20+ mega-pixel camera, with pro-grade lenses. On your wedding day, make sure your photographer uses the best, because you deserve it!
3) Make sure you get someone that does weddings with 2 shooters. It is just ridiculous to think that one person will get everything. All of the worlds top wedding photographers use a second shooter, even the ones that have been doing it for 20+ years and will not look at a wedding for less than $10,000. The best case scenario, is to find a man/woman team. Then she can be in the dressing room with you, and he can be with the groom, plus you will get the two different perspectives.
4) Do an engagement shoot. Get to know your photographer BEFORE they are in your face for 8-14hrs on your wedding day. It is stressful enough, and the last thing you want is to find out that you dislike them right before the most important day of your life. Personality is everything. See if they treat you like a friend or like a cash cow.
5) Never, never, NEVER look for a "discount" photographer. Do not mis-understand me. I have no problem with you or anyone having a budget. I had a strict one on the day that I got married. But if you are looking for a discount photographer, then you will usually (almost always) get subpar work. This is where most people make their mistake. Find a good, reputable and professional photographer that you identify with their work and it appeals to you. Then, ask them what their price is for what you want. Then start the negotiations. Give up some options or have some flexibility in your budget, and you can usually get your photographer. Explain to the photographer what your circumstances are, and they will usually find a way to work with you. There is a story of a now very famous photographer that let her photographer pick her wedding day, so that she could book him for half off. That is extreme, but you get the idea. Please remember, pictures are the most enduring thing from your wedding day, do not cut corners here, or you will be reminded of it every day when you look at your wall...
I am far from perfect, and our company's style is not for everyone. But this is how we look to do our weddings, as it is what we would like to have if we were planning for ourselves:
We are photo-journalistic style photographers, which means we cover the whole day and tell the whole story of your wedding. Make-up, Hair, Getting dressed, Pre wedding, Ceremony, Detail photography, All important events (cake cutting, dances, speeches, etc) Posed shots with party/family members, Reception, and Outro, and any other thing that is specifically requested. We send a minimum of 2 shooters, always (engagement too). We include an engagement shoot in our packages, and meet with our clients usually 1-2 times before the engagement shoot, during the engagement, once more after the engagement session, and we arrive early to the wedding - just to make sure that we are practically old friends before the main event. We use Canon 5d Mark II cameras (made specifically for weddings) for all photographers present, and they are equipped with only L-series image-stabilized lenses which are the best that Canon makes, flashes are used, but only when absolutely necessary as natural light always yields the best possible images. We take a sincere interest in each of our clients, get to know them, and we like to make friends. We believe in clients for life. We want to be there as your family grows to capture it all for you throughout the years.
That was very long winded, but I hope it helps all who read this post. Please feel free to contact me with any wedding related questions, as I truly enjoy helping others have the wedding that they have always dreamed of. Take care.