I think I heard a collective gasp from people across the country. Yes, I said it…I may not be the right photographer for you.
If you did a quick search of photographers in your area, you’d probably find at least 25 photographers within a 25 mile range. There’s every location, niche, specialty, and product to choose from. The client experience varies. We’ve all heard horror stories of “professionals” who produced horrendous images and clients who never received their images. Many times, though, families end up with the photographs of their dreams. Which such a large investment going into your portrait experience, you want to know you find the right photographer. Exactly how do you know which photographer is right for you?
The answer is simple—Educate yourself.
Everything you need to know about your portrait experience can be found by conducting a little research.
Number 1: Research the photographer’s portfolio and work.
Spend time on Facebook, the photographer’s website, and any other place where photographers may post images. Most photographers will select an image or two from each session to “preview” on Facebook. These are usually the photographer’s favorites. Visit the photographer’s website. Most likely you’ll find a gallery of images (or portfolio) with the work that the photographer feels best reflects his work. You may even luck up and find client galleries…complete edited sessions. Spend some time looking at the overall style, of the photographer’s images—consider the coloring, finish, location, styling, etc. The overall style you see in the images is most likely the style you’ll get. How does that style look in your home? How does that style suit your family?
Number 2: Investigate the Total Investment Cost
Plan to invest your session fee plus two to three times the session fee. For my studio, you should expect a total investment of about $200-$250. Photographers charge a session fee, experience fee, or location fee—basically a sitting fee—starting around $75 on up into the hundreds of dollars. Sometimes that fee includes prints, sometimes it doesn’t. If it isn’t clear what’s included, ask the photographer BEFORE you book your session.
And don’t forget that you have to pay for your prints. Professional prints aren’t cheap. Ask your prospective photographer for a price list. Professionals will charge at least $5 for a 4×6 and $20 for an 8×10. But (fill in the blank with your favorite store) can print a 4×6 for 10 cents! Yes, chain stores print cheaper, but the quality isn’t better or consistent. I found this out the hard way before I become a photographer. Pros use professional photo labs. Every print that goes through a pro lab is completely inspected and insured for quality. Your printed photograph will look the same as the digital image. The colors will “pop” and the image will be sharp and clear.
Images disks are expensive. When a photographer allows you to purchase an image disk or digital downloads, she is waiving her rights to ensure the quality of your prints. If you print your photos at “Cheap Mart” and they don’t look good, it reflects poorly on the photographer.
You could always copy your session images off Facebook and the photographer’s website and print them yourself, but that’s stealing. No, the copyright police won’t come to your house and investigate or arrest you. But keep in mind, you are hurting a small business owner when you do.
Number 3: Ask Around
Ask your friends, family, and coworkers who they would recommend. Be nosy and ask about their total investment. Ask if they would use that photographer again. They will be real and honest with their experiences.
Number 4: Pro vs Faux
As I said earlier, there is a photographer on every street corner…more likely there is a “Fauxtographer” on every street corner. A “Fauxtographer” usually claims to be a professional but is considered to have basic photography skills. How do you know the difference between a pro and faux?
Ask the photographer what gear she uses. A fauxtographer usually uses an entry level DSLR camera & lens (i.e. Canon Rebel or Nikon D3100). Both of these cameras are great cameras, but they aren’t professional quality and can’t produce the clarity/quality of a professional line camera. Pros will use professional cameras and lenses.
Disclaimer: Keep in mind that a bad photographer can have a great camera and a great photographer may use a cheap camera. Every pro started with an entry level camera. Research the photographer’s work to be sure it is professional in quality.
Pros usually charge a lot for their services. That’s why they are pros. When you pay for a pro’s work, you are paying for a quality guarantee. Most pros will guarantee your satisfaction with the images or else they will redo your session.
Fauxtographers and usually charge in the range of $50 and give you a disk of all your images. We call these “Shoot and Burn” photographers.
Another disclaimer—Beginning photographers trying to build their portfolios and will “shoot and burn” just to get their names out there. They usually have great quality images, but they just don’t have a large client base to choose from yet. Again, research their work.
If a photographer’s website address is something like wix.com/allsmilesphoto or prettysmiles.shutterfly.com she probably isn’t a professional. If the photographer ONLY has a Facebook page and no business website, she most likely isn’t a professional. Steer clear of “Under Construction” sites too.
Licensing, Taxes, & Insurance
Pros are usually licensed. Most have obtained an LLC status. Some chose to stay away from LLC’s for tax purposes but do have liability insurance.
Pros are insured.
Pros file & pay business taxes.
Education & Memberships
A professional has an education in photography. She may not have a completed a degree of study from a university, but she has participated in workshops, seminars, and conferences. She studies the work of other great photographers, strives to learn more about the industry, and is consistently modifying her business to provide the best experience possible. She is probably a blog “lurker” and can’t learn enough about photography.
A professional is a member of a professional photography organization such as Professional Photographers of America, Wedding and Portrait Photographers International, and National Association of Professional Child Photographers, to name a few.
Pros collaborate with other pros. They work together to provide amazing services and events. They realize they must work together in order to be successful.
A fauxtographer’s images will be inconsistent. Your child’s eye color should be the same in every image (unless it’s a black and white photo). There shouldn’t be unnecessary background distractions (people, power cords, cars, etc).
A fauxtographer’s images will be over-edited. Colors should appear the way they would with your own eyes. Blue skies should look like blue skies. Skin should look like skin. Eyes should look like eyes. And your child’s eyes should look like a natural human’s eyes, not alien eyes. Skin should look like real skin and not look airbrushed.
A fauxtographer’s images will often be blurry or out of focus. This happens either because the gear isn’t good quality or the photographer didn’t take the image correctly.
The bottom line? Educate yourself. With so many photographers to choose from, you’ve got to do your research. Ask questions. Go with your gut. If a deal looks too good to be true, it very well may be. You may be sacrificing quality for the bottom dollar. Yes, a cheaper photographer may be cheaper up front, but for those once in a lifetime occasions, investing a few more dollars could guarantee beautiful photographs you can cherish forever. Choose a photographer that is compatible with your family and your portrait goals. That photographer may be me, but it may also be someone else who is a better fit for you. In the end, I want you to have the best photographic experience and beautiful portraits regardless of the photographer you choose.