I went to a wedding last Spring (as a guest), and was close with the bride. I had just made the decision to jump head-long into wedding photography, and asked her if she would mind me tagging along early in the day to get some shots of her getting ready. "Sure, I don't mind." I told her to let the photographer know I wasn't there to step on his feet, and I would stay well out of his way.
The day of the wedding, I was shocked. I was there while she was putting on makeup. No photographer. I was there when she got zipped into her gown. No photographer. He FINALLY showed up (15 min before the ceremony), ready to start taking pictures. It's a good thing I was there to get some of those pictures for her.
The ceremony took place, he took them outside to do more intimate formal photos of the couple, and we (the guests) headed to cocktail hour. About 45 minutes into it, I see him and his second shoot bopping around the reception hall taking random photos of people eating. NOTE: I never do that to guests, it's weird and uncomfortable for everyone, plus the bride doesn't care about seeing the bruschetta you just shoved in your mouth.
Dinner started, there they are.... still snapping away. The guests are still eating and the couple cuts the cake. They jump right into dances. About 10 minutes after the formal first dances are over and people are starting to hit the dance floor, the photographer pulls the bride aside and says he's leaving. He's done. I think I counted a total of 3-1/2 hours of him snapping pics. I asked my friend what she thought of that situation, and she admitted, "He wasn't great, but it was part of the package we picked (all inclusive), so we just went with it." The even funnier part was she showed me her engagement pictures and they were ok, but some were just awkward. She told me before her wedding day, "I'm not really a fan of him, but he's part of the package."
Inspiration struck. Yes. This is what I am missing. It makes perfect sense. Who buys a car without test driving it first? Who buys living room furniture without actually sitting on it? NO ONE. So why would selecting someone to take photos on the most important day of your life be any different?
Going forward, I have asked every couple I have met with if they want an engagement session as a get-to-know-me. Most couples I have met with have already been engaged for some time and don't want it, but they all agree it is a great idea.
To pick the photographer for you, I highly recommend you add this to your list of to-do's during your engagement. Even if you don't want a full-on engagement session, most photographers will do something called a "mini session" it may only be 30 minutes, but it will give you (and your photographer) a chance to feel each other out, get a sense of how they work, and if it's a good fit.
If you do go with a wedding planner or an all-inclusive wedding/reception venue that includes photography, always ask about potentially picking your own photographer. If your all-inclusive engagement photographer doesn't give you good vibes, chances are, you won't be thrilled with the outcome of your wedding photos either.