Updated: Aug 26, 2022
When it comes to choosing a photographer for your family portraits, your wedding, or other occasions, many people go straight to a person they know has a camera; Could be a family friend, a relative etc. Many people believe if someone has a camera, they must know how to use it or if you have a nice camera, it must automatically take great photos. They hire Aunt Jenny or Uncle Joe because they have a new camera, but then are disappointed when the photos are blurry, over exposed, horribly cropped, the battery died, or the many other issues that could happen. I have actually met people who have gone out and bought expensive cameras, one being a $3000.00 camera, and they expected amazing images as a result, but that is just not how it works. You can take great images with a low budget camera and you can take horrible images with an expensive camera. The key is not the camera, it is the user's ability and knowledge.
Understanding your camera's settings, knowing about lighting, exposure, exposure compensation, posing, composition and other factors are all key components to making a great photo, you notice I said making, not taking. There are many obstacles to overcome in dealing with each component and any professional photographer must know how to manually adjust a camera in order to deal with all of these issues. Auto mode might work under perfect conditions, but the moment, the lighting changes, or someone moves, it can be your worst enemy. I have found that it is very rare to have a perfect scenario for a great photo. Most of the time, in order to achieve quality images, even a skilled photographer needs to make many adjustments to both the scene and to the camera's settings.
One thing I have noticed is that many people are becoming "photographers" overnight and this is where the confusion begins for those who want to hire a quality, professional, photographer. People who do not know any better, might see a photo and think it is great, when in fact, to the trained eye, it has many flaws and mistakes. So how do you know? How do you know what you don't know? In this article, I will do my best to help you become better informed.
The best thing you can do before hiring any photographer is to ASK QUESTIONS.
Sounds simple right? Many people don't ask the right questions or any questions at all because well, they don't know what to ask. But don't worry, the questions can be simple and basic and any experienced photographer should be happy to sit down with you, confidently answer any questions you have, and educate you on things you may not be aware of. So here seven questions you may want to ask:
1 DO YOU HAVE A PORTFOLIO AND BUSINESS CARDS?
Chances are, if you contacted a photographer, you already know this answer, but if it is a friend, a referral, or someone you just met at a party etc., it is important to know for a few reasons. First of all and most importantly, if they have a web site or portfolio, you will be able to get a good look at their best work. Nobody puts anything on their portfolio unless it is some of their best. You may also have a chance to read testimonials from other clients. Secondly, it allows for other people in your family, wedding party, or group, to view their work, which will help you collectively decide. Thirdly, if they took the time to build a website/portfolio (not just an instagram or Facebook page) and have business cards printed up, it shows that they are serious about their photography and their business.
2 WHAT EXPERIENCE DO YOU HAVE?
You might be be surprised to know that there are plenty of people who are creating "photography" pages or who have expensive cameras, that really only have minimal and sometimes no real experience. They may have only been a photographer for a short time or maybe they have only done a few landscapes or a few portraits for family and friends. Maybe they have never been hired for an event or a session of any kind. There is a huge difference between landscape photography and wedding or portrait photography. If you don't ask, you may not know.
3 WHAT TYPE OF PHOTOGRAPHY DO YOU SPECIALIZE IN? This is touched on a bit above, but it's worth discussing in more detail. Many photographers are fantastic in several genres. They take amazing portraits, incredible landscapes and beautiful wedding images. But there are also photographers who focus on one genre and may not have spent time learning other genres. A photographer who mainly does landscapes, sports, or wildlife, may not have the necessary lenses, lighting, gear or experience for events or weddings. Just having a camera and knowing how to take photos will not cut it for every scenario. This brings me to the next question.
4 WHAT TYPE OF GEAR WILL YOU BE USING?
This is especially important for events, weddings and larger group portraits. Don't be afraid to ask this question even if you are clueless about cameras, photography or gear. This will be the opportunity for your photographer to reassure you. If the answer is something like, "well, I only do natural light photography", or "I don't use a lot of extra gear", or if they say "What do you mean by gear?" That might be a red flag. That being said, for some portraits, baby photos, or certain artistic shots, etc., sometimes natural light works best, but because many photographers do not want to learn about flash, light modifiers or flash exposure compensation, they choose to only shoot natural light which in many cases limits the ability to be more creative and may cause flatly lit or underexposed images. For most weddings, event's, etc., you are going to want someone who has lighting, stands, back ups, etc.
5 DO YOU HAVE BACK UP GEAR?
This is huge! This may be covered when you ask about gear in general, but if not, make sure to ask this question especially for weddings! I can't stress this enough!
Imagine hosting a family reunion with family members visiting from out of state. You scheduled a session because you rarely see each other and you have only one chance to get that overdue family portrait (which is common). You tell everyone where to go and what time to meet. The photographer arrives and in the middle of the session, he or she suddenly has an equipment failure (Yes, it happens). If hey have no back up gear, your session is done. Imagine the same scenario at a wedding, no do overs there.
The issue of back up gear is most important when it comes to weddings, family portraits, and corporate events because you may only have one opportunity to get it right. If you hire a photographer with one camera, one battery, one memory card, and no back up gear, you greatly risk missing out on very important photos if anything goes wrong.
6 HOW ARE PHOTOS EDITED AND HOW WILL THEY BE DELIVERED?
This may be another good question to help you determine the photographer's level of experience. Every photographer should be well versed in at leased one professional editing platform or have a professional editor who they send their work to. Most will be happy to educate you on their editing processes and skill levels. As for delivery of photos, again, your photographer should have a workable and efficient method other than just through email. High resolution images are just too large to be emailed.
7 WILL YOU BE THE PHOTOGRAPHER? This is an important question, especially if you are going to a studio or a company to find a photographer. Sometimes, you will sit down and build a great rapport, talk about the details, make a down payment and feel great, just to be surprised on your big day to see someone completely different has shown up, someone you have never spoken to. Not to say they won't be qualified, but a photographer should physically meet their clients and get to know them a little, learn their personalities, quirks, concerns etc. Your wedding day is not the time to wonder if this photographer has been given all of the proper information, special requests, or to wonder how much experience they actually have. I mention this because this is exactly what happened to me before I became a photographer.
OK, those are some of the basic questions that should help you get a good start in choosing a photographer. I hope they are helpful. You can email me anytime with any questions at firstname.lastname@example.org.