- So how do you choose?
- Where do you start?
- What should you ask so that you can get a glimpse into who this person you're considering is?
I've compiled a handful of things to consider throughout the process of finding the right professional photographer.
Ask the Right Questions
- Check out the info on their blog or website--looking for "About" or "FAQ" Sections
- Are they licensed in their city/county if required?
- Do they charge sales tax? (I.E. Are they registered to pay sales tax to the state if required?)
- Do they belong to any professional organizations, the BBB or your local area Chamber of Commerce?
- What is their training? Do they hold (or are they working on) any professional degrees or certifications?
- How many years of experience do they have in photography?
- How many years have they been in business?
- If hiring for a wedding, how many weddings have they done as primary shooter or second shooter?
The Big Picture
Consider asking to see a complete session or complete wedding. Or several of each.
Nearly all photographers will choose the best of their work to include in print or online portfolios, so to truly get an idea of what they really can deliver from a single session or wedding, it is helpful to view a complete project.
Otherwise, you might be seeing the best 40 images they've made over the past ten years...they may not be able to deliver a great session or great wedding consistently.
This is a also great way to gauge their style and creativity (in addition to technical skill) as well.
Check for Technical Mastery, Even if You're Not an Expert.
It might be difficult for a lay-person to gauge the technical quality of a photographer's work, but in an age where too many people are producing substandard work and "fixing" it in Photoshop with actions and special treatments, it's important to be able to determine whether or not the photographer you're considering is technically competant to produce consistently good work.
Be aware of color, contrast and clarity in the images. If the faces have a blue tone in one image, a green tone in the next and a yellow tone in the next, there's a problem. This photographer has not mastered white balance and color management.
Look for images that are clear, sharp and not overly saturated or contrasty. Look for "light" in the eyes; irises and eye sockets shouldn't be dark. Too much contrast or sharpening is a bad sign...images should be clear and glossy-looking on screen but not oversharpened, heavy or hazy (with the exception of intentional haze, usually appropriate in outdoor, sunset/backlit portraits).
Skin that is overly smoothed (no texture at all) or eyes that are obviously overly processed (i.e. "unreal" looking) can be warning signs.
Harsh shadows, splotchiness, dappling and bright white spots in important areas (like on the face and the front of the body) are things to avoid.
Are the skintones consistent in similar images of the same subject? If viewing an entire session, do the colors of the skin, clothing and other elements "match?" Is the contrast similar in each image? Are they all of similar sharpness? Images begin to lose detail when being "saved" in editing. A possible sign of over-manipulation is images that are not consistent within the same session.
Look for Connection
- Do you feel/see connection when viewing images?
- When you look at the eyes, do you feel like you are looking into their eyes through the photographer?
- Does the image convey something about the person or their personality?
- Does it invoke any feeling or emotion?
- Or are you simply viewing a picture of a person?
Inquire About Longevity
One concern prospective clients often share with me is, will I be available to photograph their family long-term, as their children change and grow? Since a high percentage of portrait and wedding photographers go out of business in their first two years, this is certainly a legitimate concern, especially as "momtographers" pop in and out of business so frequently.
- How long has the photographer been a registered business owner?
- Does the photographer have any dedicated space for his/her business, whether it be in his home or a commercial setting? Dedicated space won't necessarily always be for shooting; many on-location photographers have dedicated office or meeting space (home or retail) in lieu of a studio.
- Through your conversations, do you get the feeling that the photographer is very invested in the business (emotionally and otherwise)?
- Is the photographer passionate about creating art, rather than just clicking a shutter and collecting a fee?
- Does the photographer seem excited about talking to you and genuinely interested in getting to know you and your family?
- Are there any *legitimate* and *verifiable* complaints online, such as at the BBB Online or Angie's List? Message boards and other sites (such as Google, Yelp, Yahoo, etc.) that allow anonymous posting often aren't trustworthy because anyone can say anything without revealing their identity, but services such as the BBB Online and Angie's List require participants to share their identities and this discourages false negative reviews.
Making a Choice
When faced with so much choice and so much good photography out there, it can be difficult to decide. While there is no fool-proof way to pick the perfect family photographer on the first try, I think considering some of these things will assist in your search.