It’s no secret that everyone’s a photographer these days. And I mean that literally, or at least, almost.
After all, most people have a camera in their pocket at all times, thanks to the ubiquity of cell phones and other mobile devices. Not to mention, taking pictures of the people, places, and things we encounter in life is just plain FUN for many of us. We are a very visual species, after all.
As technology continues to improve, the barrier-to-entry has become much less than it once was, and more people discover an affinity and talent for photography every day.
In terms of megapixels and processing power, even an entry-level point-and-shoot or DSLR camera can do things today that are beyond what many professional cameras could do a decade ago. So it’s no surprise, then, that more and more people are also trying their hand at professional photography.
However, as most people know, a professional photographer is MUCH more than just a person who pushes the shutter button on a piece of equipment. (The camera, does not, the photographer make – and even the best camera can’t make up for someone who doesn’t know what they’re doing.)
Likewise, even if someone is a skilled photographer, he/she still might not be right for you if other factors don’t click.
So, how do you know who the right one is for you?
This is not an all-inclusive list, but it’s a great place to start, if you’re staring at a sea of names and feeling overwhelmed.
Things to consider before hiring a photographer
Do you like them as a human?
This seems super basic, but it’s really important. Someone can be the best photographer in the world, but if you don’t like who they are as a person, or don’t mesh well personality-wise, it’s a no-go.
Think about it this way – you are going to be spending a fair amount of time with them, and if you don’t “click”, no one’s going to have a good time, and it will come out in your photos.
Are they a legal business, and do they conduct themselves professionally?
This also seems really basic, but you’d be surprised how many aren’t, especially those who are just starting out. Even if they are newer on the photography scene, if they are taking ANY amount of payment for their services, they need to be doing so legally. This means being set up as a legal business entity (whether as a DBA, LLC, etc.), paying sales tax, claiming photography revenue on income taxes, etc.
Also, do not ever hire someone for a professional service without a written contract signed by both parties. You may think that it’s “no big deal”, especially if you know them personally, but contracts are there so that both parties have a clear understanding of expectations and to protect BOTH of you in the event something goes awry.
Lastly, their overall demeanor should be professional and trustworthy. If they seem even a little bit sketchy, RUN!
Are they insured?
If, God forbid, something bad or unexpected were to happen during the course of their services, do they have business liability insurance? No one wants those things to happen, but it’s better to be safe than sorry, and know that they and you would be covered in the event something goes wrong.
Does their photography style and mood fit the style you are looking for?
Right now, there are at least a few different photography styles that are popular. “Light and airy”, “dark and moody”, “natural”, “looks like film”, etc.
If you are keen on a particular style, it’s important to know and note that when doing your research and when inquiring. It’s also important to consider that current photography fads and trends may or may not hold up in the long run, so choose wisely.
Also, if someone’s portfolio reflects trends that are out-of-date (ex: selective color), that could be a sign that they are out of touch with current photography standards, and you may not be happy with what they deliver.
Do they have experience photographing the type of subjects and/or events you are hiring for?
A photographer should have plenty of examples on their website and in their portfolio that show the kind of work they do, and their photos should be supported by other knowledge that comes with that photography niche.
If they have no examples showing that type of work, or can’t answer basic questions about it, I would not recommend hiring them.
If, for example, someone was a pet or newborn photographer with no wedding experience, I wouldn’t hire them to photograph my wedding. Nor would I hire a product photographer to take pictures of my cat. To each his/her own.
And while there are a number of photographers who generalize (“I’ll take pictures of anything!”), it’s typically better to go with someone who specializes in what you’re looking for, as their experience has been honed specifically around that subject.
Is their work of a consistent and professional quality?
If some of their photos are great, while others are “meh”, or if there is a wide variation in editing style, etc., this could be a big red flag – either that they aren’t producing work that is consistently of a professional quality, or worse, the portfolio images on their website may not be theirs. (Yes, image thieves do exist.)
If you are in doubt, ask to see a full gallery as opposed to a few images out of context, which will be more telling.
And in terms of physical products, ask to see samples so that you know exactly what you’ll be getting and how they’ll turn out.
Do they have any reviews or testimonials?
It’s not a deal-breaker, in my opinion, if they don’t have many reviews, as many photographers forget to ask for them and clients don’t always give them, even if they’ve had a good experience. However, it’s always a good thing to see when they do, and the more the merrier. (Bonus if they have also worked with people you know.)
If you see negative reviews, that definitely is a sign to watch for. One or two negative reviews isn’t necessarily a deal-breaker, as sometimes things that are outside a photographer’s control can result in a negative review. If this looks like a trend rather than the exception, though, or if their responses to negative reviews are not professional, I would definitely look elsewhere.
Do you know what you’ll get as a result of working with them, and do you want what they want to provide?
This comes down to expectations being communicated clearly, and whether they are compatible or not with yours. The photographer should be clear about what they provide, so that you can decide whether or not they’re a good fit. This is true when it comes to process, products, and pricing.
For example, if they provide a highly-personalized service, where they guide you through every step of the process, but you want to do everything yourself, without much help or guidance, this wouldn’t be a good fit.
If they only provide digital images, but you’re interested in tangible keepsakes that you can hold in your hands, display on your walls, and pass down through generations, then they will likely disappoint you.
Likewise, if you only want the digitals, but their whole business philosophy is built on the belief that tangible products are the way to go, then this would be a mis-match of expectations, and you will likely both be disappointed.
Or, simply, if the products they offer are not appealing to your aesthetic, this would also be a mis-match.
And when it comes to price, they should give you at least a basic idea of starting prices for each service they offer, so that you can discern whether or not you are in the same ballpark.
Do their rates seem appropriate given their skills, experience, service, and location?
In general, photographers who are more skilled, experienced, and who provide a higher level of service tend to charge a higher rate than those who are just starting out.
Also, rates may trend higher or lower depending on your geographic area. You can usually get a pretty good idea of what is typical for your area by doing a search of local photographer’s websites, however there are exceptions.
Cheaper isn’t necessarily better, because when rates are too low, you tend to get what you pay for.
And if a photographer is charging premium rates, the quality of what they provide should match.
Do they have options within or near your budget, and are you happy paying that for what you’ll get?
This is important because at the end of the day, you have to be able to hire them if you like them!
However, I would suggest taking this one with a grain of salt, as people also tend to “find” the budget and save for what they truly value.
(That is, your initial budget may be lower, but after doing some research and talking with photographers, you may realize you are actually willing to pay more for a better product and experience.)
So really, this one is just as much about what you value as it is about any particular dollar amount.
Are they local or willing to travel to your location?
I am a big advocate of looking to local businesses first, as these are literally your neighbors – people who know and are invested in your community. Investing in them will keep your dollars local, which will have a positive impact on many others in the surrounding area, as more local investments are made.
They are also more likely to be familiar with local venues and have relationships with other vendors which may be helpful if you are looking for recommendations.
If you are in a remote area with few local options, you may instead need to consider those who are willing to come to you. However, if there are good local options available, you should always start there before looking elsewhere.
Not only will it work better logistically, but more often than not, you will end up with a better overall experience.
Are they available on your date?
Again, this seems like a no-brainer, but it’s worth mentioning.
Photographers’ schedules can fill up fast, and it’s important to not assume that someone is available for your date if you’ve not actually asked, or that they’ll stay available for very long. That’s why it’s essential to reach out as soon as you can, to ensure that you can book the photographer you want on the day that you want.
Or, if you know that only a particular photographer will do, consider setting your date based on when they are available. (That’s what I did for my upcoming wedding!)
There are probably many more questions you could ask, but I hope these questions were helpful and gave you a good framework for evaluating whether or not a photographer is right for you. Just as we are each individuals on a personal level, photography is not a cookie-cutter or one-size-fits-all kind of service, and asking the right questions at the beginning can save you a big headache later. And when you find the right fit, it makes all the difference.