How to Select a Photographer: 5 Things You Need to Know

Digital imagery has become more accessible. With all the billions of devices around, almost everyone can get good images with minimal effort. This is the good news. The bad news is that more people than probably should, think this means they are a photographer. Perhaps some are, but more just simply  are not. For people shopping around to find a photographer, I am here to give you an inside scoop on what to look for, and what kinds of questions to ask.

1. Photography as a discipline is H U G E. There are so many kinds of photographers out there it may seem 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 it may be to get portraits. Or, it may be to document a life event, such as pregnancy, graduation, engagement…the list goes on.  Do not expect every photographer to be able to do all of these kinds of photography well. Find someone who specializes. Believe me when I tell you that there is a big difference taking portraits of teens and taking those of children aged 5-9. Further still, there is a big difference in needed 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”?

2. Photographers are artists. Hiring a photographer is not like hiring a plumber where  the lines of “good plumbing” are quite clear. What makes “good photography” is not so clear. 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 likely means is that you prefer the style of one photographer to that of others. Thus, when you are looking at the galleries of photographers, focus on what patterns in style you see, and less on the details of the photograph per se. What is it that you like or dislike? Colors, lack of colors? lighting? drama? The feelings the image evokes in you?

3. Printing and Digital Images:  Be sure to ask outright what the photographer’s policies are about ordering prints and other products. Generally, 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. (a) Superior print quality. Professional photographers have access to a much higher standard of printing than most. 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. (b) Price negotiation: 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). (c) selecting the best product for the image. 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).

4. Meet and Greet: 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. It’s about artistic interest. It’s about 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.

5. Be Prepared for Some Gray Areas: As I mentioned earlier, or implied at least, photography is an art. Not only this, 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). Thus, 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 try an get an idea about what you are looking for, how long the job is and so on. Remember, 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.