As you can imagine, often in my career as a planner, I'd have to recommend the best wedding photographers I work with. And there I'd sit, having worked with about 200 or so wedding photographers - and knowing even more - and only sending out the same few names. I'd say there are about 15-20 I regularly recommend, and a few more that fellow planners have worked with that swear by that I also hold in high regard.
Since digital photography became the standard, the wedding photography market became glutted. Since people didn't need to buy costly film and spend hours in a darkroom, there was a lower barrier to entry in this segment of the wedding industry.
And what happens then? The pool of talent becomes very wide and shallow. How then to choose the best photographer for you?
Don't be dazzled by just a few photos.
You'll see this advice a lot - look at ALL their photos from a few weddings, not just a handful. In the old days, this was easy - you could check out their work in cohesive albums. Now, they can just post a few photos per wedding on their website and show off the most beautiful. But, pro photographers will still have albums made (not just to show off their talents, but to let you see and feel an album in case you want to purchase one).
Yes, just about anyone can pick up a professional camera these days and start snapping away with little risk - photo didn't turn out right? Just delete it! - so you need to make sure they have experience. This doesn't mean someone 1-2 years into their business is not a good candidate- I've worked with a lot of newbies who had years of formal training and second shooting for other photographers before going solo, and can talk shop with expertise. I'd rather work with someone with less years of experience but better instinct than photographers who have had years of experience, but still can't follow a timeline.
They must be familiar with timelines.
It's not just getting pretty pictures. If they cannot manage a timeline, the photographer is going to back up and delay your entire day. This is 90% of what makes a wedding photographer a good one - being able to get just about everything on the shot list (and making sure it's a reasonable list) while hitting deadlines throughout the day. I've had lots of stories about this that I could share all day long about this.
How can you tell if they know how to manage a timeline? ask for a couple coordinators' references and ask them directly if the photographer was able to manage the timeline without significant assistance from the coordinator's team.
A photographer with a gruff or wishy-washy personality will not serve you well. Someone upbeat, authoritative without being bossy, with a sheen of calm, is exactly what you want. This comes out in the interview, and also via references from their past clients.