Digital imagery has become more accessible. Almost everyone can get okay images with minimal effort. This is the good news. The bad news is that more people think this means they are a photographer. Perhaps some are. But a digital device alone does not make you a photographer. For people shopping around to select a photographer, I am here to give you an inside scoop on what to look for, and what kinds of questions to ask.
There are so many kinds of photographers out there. It is overwhelming. But once you focus on the KIND of photographer you are looking for, the numbers whittle down quickly. There is a reason you are looking for a photographer. It may be to cover an event, like a wedding. Or to get portraits or to document a life event like pregnancy, graduation, engagement. The list goes on. Do not expect every photographer to be able to do all photography well. Find someone who specializes.
There is a big difference taking portraits of teens and taking portraits of children aged 5-9. It takes different skills to shoot in a studio or on location. So before you get too far in your search, ask yourself “Why do I want a photographer?”, “Where do I want my photos made?”, “Who is going to be the main subject of these photos”? Knowing this will help you select a photographer.
When you select a photographer, is not like hiring a plumber where the lines of “good plumbing” are clear. What makes “good photography” is not so clear. Some photographers sell their images for you put on your wall. You could interview 5 photographers and absolutely love the work of one or two and hate the work of others.
This does not mean that any are better or worse than the other. (Granted, there are basic standards of knowing how to use a camera as a tool, how to use light effectively and so on). What it means is that you prefer the style of one photographer to that of others. When you are looking at the galleries of photographers, focus on what patterns in style you see, and less on the details of the photographer. What is it that you like or dislike? Colors, lack of colors? lighting? drama? The feelings the image evokes in you?
Be sure to ask what the photographer’s policies are about ordering prints and other products. Photographers make their living by selling products using images they made. So do not be surprised if your photographer requires you to order directly through them. There are definite advantages to this.
Professional photographers have access to a much higher standard of printing. You can expect products you order through your photographer to be over the top good. And if for some reason the product is less than great, your photographer can demand a reprint.
Pro photographers have some ability to negotiate prices of products through the lab they use. The odds are you can get super-high-quality products at lower prices than a regular person could get on their own (if it is even possible).
A pro photographer can advise you about what kind of canvas to get, or whether a particular image will look good on metal, or wood, or as a mosaic. In spite of services such as ShutterFly who make it seem like all you need to to is “upload and done”, there are many small details that go into creating the best display for your image(s).
Use the free initial consultation most photographers offer. Meeting is not only for the client. I’ll tell you a secret…photographers want to meet potential clients first too. The reason is about being on the same page. It’s about personality, artistic interest and a lot of intangible things. When you describe what you want for your images, does the photographer seem like they understand your priorities? Do they seem interested? These are the two big elements that MUST be there for a successful shoot. Additionally, there are a lot of legal things a photographer has to go over with you. It takes time. Pay attention and ask questions.
Photography is an art. It depends on so many variables (the weather, the attitude of the subjects, the number of subjects, the behavior of kids, babies and dogs and a million other little things). You may find photographers waffle a bit when you try to get exact numbers like “How much do you charge to ……?” or “How many images will I get”? Know that a photographer cannot always answer these questions exactly. They will have to ask you many questions to get an idea about what you are looking for, how long the job is and so on.
Most photographers do not just “point and shoot”. They plan, process, retouch, and look over hundreds of images to create the best representation of the event or celebration you asked them to document. It takes time, artistry and patience. Of course, before you give any money, you will sign a contract with an agreed upon price. But what I want you to understand is that photography pricing is not like buying a McMeal somewhere. Be patient with photographers you are interviewing.