One of the reasons that I became a photographer was that I just really didn’t like what was out there, locally anyway. So as we started building our business we tried to form it so that we were using the best ideas that we could think of (or “borrow”) in terms of service, pricing, products etc. Now, almost everything here can be, and has been, debated and I’m not silly enough to think that I’m about to end the arguments “once & for all”. But after all is said and done, you’re the customer and what matters most to YOU is what matters most to you. What do I mean about that? Well, just this. Cameras, lights, professional affiliations, etc. …All that stuff that we use to lure you in. Ask yourself, ” Do I really care?” Do I really care how expensive this guys camera is? Do I really care who he knows? Do I really care about anything other than, “Does he take good photographs?”.
Well, the answer is yes, but let’s try to narrow the list down to things that really matter.
Depending on what you are looking for some of these may be more important than others. I suggest prioritizing based on what you are looking for and of course add other stuff that you feel is important.
- Decide why you need a photographer and what kind of pictures will be taken. There are photographers that specialize in weddings and other major events. There are studio photographers if you want to have family portraits done or glamour shots of yourself. Perhaps you want nature photography to create artwork for your home. Will you need a photographer to help you make a portfolio or family album? Knowing what kind of pictures you need should help you narrow down the photographer who can best deliver what you want. Beware of guys who claim to “specialize” in everything photographic.
Start by building a list of several photographers. Asking friends and relatives for recommendations is a great way to begin. People who’ve had positive experiences with photographers are always happy to share their photographers names with you, and when you meet with the photographer, you’ll both have an immediate frame of reference from which to proceed.
- Visit each photographer’s website. Carefully review his or her portfolio. Try to concentrate on photos and not on website design. Today anyone can get a beautiful template flash website for a few hundred bucks. Good photographers usually show plenty of their work online. Create a list of those photographers. Most important is – see if photographer’s work looks appealing to you. Keep in mind that an image on the computer looks completely different in print. More on that later.
- Call or email each photographer on your list. A quick phone call or short email will give you a number of key pieces of information, such as the photographer’s schedule, type of photography specialties and a rough idea as to how much they’ll charge you and what you’ll receive for that fee. It will also tell you a bit about the photographer’s personality. Remember, if you’re uncomfortable, it will show in the photos of you, so be sure you choose someone you feel good about.
- Make appointments with the photographers who sound promising so you can view their printed portfolios and discuss details. These meetings should include anyone else who will either be paying for the work or working closely with the photographer. Write down all your questions before you meet, and take notes during the meetings. The more questions you ask up front, the more confident and relaxed you’ll feel on and after your shoot. If in doubt, ask! And remember, there is no such thing as a dumb question!
Here are some questions you may consider to ask:
How will you show me pictures for selection (e.g., electronic, proofs, contact sheets, online gallery, etc.)? Will you help me choose the final pictures? How will you make it easy for friends and family to order reprints? How long do I have to make up my mind as to which pictures I want and how many? What kind of guarantee comes with my hiring you? What do you plan to do to make my photographs unique and personal to me? Will you be shooting my pictures personally? Will you use film or digital? Who will I be dealing with after the session? What’s your payment policy?
There is huge number of possible questions you can ask your photographer. Most professional photographers will provide you with clear explanations about their services prior to any questions even being asked. Many of them have full packages that include certain number of prints, digital files, enlargements, etc., so it is very clear what level of service and final products you should expect.
Do the pictures capture people’s feelings, or are they just pictures of people standing around looking self-conscious. Do they look natural?
- Can they meet your schedule? We all know how hard it can be to fit everything in, so you’ll want to choose a photographer who is flexible enough to match your particular schedule. And it’s important to know that your photographer won’t keep you waiting and will be ready for you as soon as you arrive, especially if you have kids. You know how quickly those little guys can mess up their hair or clothes. At the same time, you don’t want to ever feel rushed. So it’s best to select a photographer who leaves plenty of time for your session and doesn’t take a revolving door approach to their subjects. Getting that ideal photograph often takes time. This is especially true with newborns and toddlers who sometimes need a break from the lights and camera. Choose a photographer that’s willing to spend the time it takes to get the results you want.
- Does the studio offer lots of choice? When selecting a studio or photographer, make sure they provide a range of packages to choose from. Also, check to see that they offer both standard and custom prints sizes. When ordering prints, you’ll want to be able to select from a number of poses. Having a variety to choose from will help you reach a final decision. Unfortunately I have found that many photography studios have a set number of poses or shots available to choose from, which really limits your options. The more choices you have, the better your chances of finding the perfect images and sizes for you home.
- It’s important to know what you will be getting from your photographer. Are they going to shoot you a bunch of images, plop them onto a CD and send you on your way? That might sound really nice, but not if the images you get back are blurry, over or under exposed, or unflattering images. Does your photographer know how to shoot in manual or automatic mode only? Do they do any retouching or editing of the images after? Do they use a professional photo lab or the local chain store down the street? Make sure you know specifically what you are getting.
- Do they have references? Client references can often give you the most reliable information about a photographer, because they come from first-hand experience with the photographer’s entire process. Ask your photographer to share references with you and follow up on them.
At this stage, if you’ve taken the time to ask good questions, you’ll know whether this photographer is for you. By now you’ve probably spent a good deal of time communicating with your photographer. Go to your meeting prepared to leave a deposit to reserve the date. If the photographer is right for you, if the photographer is available, and if you’re convinced that it’s worth the price, then make the commitment and relax.
Good luck with your quest to find your next photographer and we hope this information has been helpful.