Who’s the best photographer? For YOU?

A couple times a month, I’m inevitably tagged on Facebook in postings asking, “Who’s the best photographer?” Or my personal favorite, “Who’s the cheapest photographer?”  That one always makes me cringe a little!  While I totally appreciate and love the fact folks think highly enough of my work to tag me in posts like this, it also makes me realize I have a completely different view on hiring a photographer.  As a professional photographer and also as a consumer of  photography (taking pictures of your own children is like herding cats), I thought I’d share my own top ten list of things I personally look for when hiring a photographer and what I recommend to friends.  

What’s their style?  Look through their galleries and really “see” how they shoot and edit their pictures.   Are they more of a storyteller –  meaning the subjects are not posed and more candid-type shots are offered?  Or, do they like traditional posing with candid poses thrown in for good measure?  Are the pictures vibrant and true to life or do they have an artistic flair?  Remember, you’re going to have these photos forever – probably hanging on your walls for years.  What may be a popular trend one year doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll love it ten years down the road.  A photographer’s style is very personal and their own look – but it should always be consistent within their gallery.  There is absolutely no right or wrong when it comes to style – especially if you, as a consumer, love it.  By looking through a photographer’s galleries, you get a good idea of what you’re purchasing and how your family will be represented through their lens.  

Are they legit?  There is nothing more irritating to me than someone who refuses to do the right thing.  If you claim to be a business and accept money, you need to be in the right with your paperwork.  Does your photographer have a business license?  Are they registered with the BOE?  Do they have insurance?  Are they claiming their income and supplying you with contracts to protect both parties?  I know you can argue being a legit business does not always affect the quality of a photographer’s work, however, it potentially can place the consumer in a bad situation – especially if something happens during the shoot or purchased items are not delivered in a timely or satisfactory manner.  I loathe paying taxes but it makes me proud to know I’m doing the right thing and contributing to our business community.  Support small business whenever you can – we appreciate it!

How are they spending your money?  I love a good mystery but not when it comes to my photo packages!  It’s super important to know what you’re getting with the money you’re paying out.  If you don’t understand – ask!  In the photography world, it’s really split as to how photographers provide their goods to clients.  Some only provide digital files, allowing you to print on your own, while some will charge you a session fee and then allow you to buy their prints.  And even after those options, you’ll find a bunch more ways photographers supply their goods.   Every photographer does it differently and it’s up to you as the client, to find one that works within your budget while giving you the products best suited for your needs.  A good photographer can be expensive but it’s one of those memories you’ll forever treasure if it’s done right.  You can’t go back and repeat newborn photos or a wedding, or some other special event – so be prepared to pay a photographer to do the job right the first time.  

Do you like them?  I admit, that’s a weird statement.  But think of it this way,  you’re about to pay someone to make you look comfortable, natural and hopefully happy in photos you’re going to place on the walls of your home and office.  Is the photographer you’re hiring capable of making you feel that way?  Will your kids and husband get along with them?   Not everyone “clicks” with each other and when you have uncomfortable people, it truly shows in a photo.  Have a conversation with your potential photographer and make sure that they are the right person for the job.  When my very photo loathing hubby and I got married, my photographer’s personality was seriously something I considered foremost.  It made the whole process a lot smoother in that he “got” us and didn’t push my husband into shots he wasn’t comfortable with (which was most of them!).

What are they shootin’ with?  As a consumer of photography, I don’t expect for a minute you should know everything there is to know about camera equipment – but I do expect your photographer to be well-versed.  Based on their portfolio and your talks with them, does it appear they know their equipment?  Are their portfolio pictures properly exposed and in focus?  Do they use artificial lighting or have access to a studio in case the weather becomes unruly?  These are all questions your photographer should be able to easily answer and better yet, demonstrate with their quality and consistent work.  By no means does having a studio make a person a better photographer, but it’s just one more style of photography they can offer and you can benefit from.  Also, something to consider is that an experienced  photographer who works well with their equipment will also strive to get their photo right in camera.  This will greatly reduce the amount of time for editing and culling during the post processing time period and hopefully equate for a faster turnaround time to get your products.

Are they too good to be true?  Photography is a very expensive business to be involved in.  Personally, I have redundant camera systems – in that if one goes down I have a complete backup so I can carry on.  Needless to say, I am constantly re-investing in my business to ensure I can provide the best experience for my clients.  If a photographer is offering up the steak dinner entree on a hamburger price, pay attention to what you’re getting and look through their portfolio.  We’ve recently seen a trend in the photography world where photographers are using other people’s images to advertise their sessions.  Not only is this unethical, it’s stealing and a complete misrepresentation of their product(s) to the consumer.  Be an educated consumer and hold your photographer accountable to what their portfolio shows.  

Is safety #1?  Safety is important everywhere but especially when dealing with kids – specifically babies.  Newborns are the toughest and most scariest little creatures to photograph.  I’m well past the point for needing a newborn photographer, but several of my friends have been in the baby producin’ market recently and I’ve offered them advice.  I always recommend friends to look at potential photographer’s portfolios and ask lots of questions. Newborn photography is one of those areas that you truly get what you pay for and you should never, ever skimp on.   

Not everyone is good at everything.  I have yet to find a photographer who is great at every type of photography.  Personally, I completely suck at landscape photography.  I can’t make a mountain look amazing to save my life.  However, I love photographing kids and can usually get super cute smiles and laughs.  I know my limitations and keep those in mind when offering services to clients.   Ask questions and find out what your photographer specializes in. If they’ve been doing it awhile, it should be an easy answer with a portfolio to back it up.

It’s all about the Benjamins!  Photography can be very expensive but it’s only a portion of what the photographer has spent in order to produce the amazing products you’ll be receiving in return.  I completely understand this but I also realize I have three kiddos, with one being in college.  I watch my pennies very closely – especially when it comes to luxury products like photography.  Does your photographer offer payment plans?  Do they offer specials?  I know there are photographers for every budget, but I personally would rather pick one based on talent and then make it work within my budget.  Conversely, if the photographer is offering super cheap packages – are you aware of their experience level or lack thereof?  It’s not your responsibility to decide whether or not they are making living wages, however, it is your responsibility to ask questions and become fully aware of their capabilities – especially before shooting an event that can’t be replicated.  Brand new photographers deserve a chance to hone and practice their skills – but they need to be honest from the get-go.

The talk about town.  Have your friends or family worked with this photographer?  Did they enjoy the process or have any issues?  I’ll be honest, I’d take personal word of mouth any day over a Yelp or FB review.  Social media is not always the best way to get a solid opinion on someone , as people aren’t always honest when they can post anonymously.  I truly value what friends or family have to say and I readily seek out advice when I’m looking for referrals.

Remember, it truly shouldn’t be about who’s the perceived “best” or who’s the “cheapest” photographer, based on someone else’s opinion or research – it’s about who’s “perfect” for you.  Do your research and have confidence knowing you picked the right person to capture your memories.  

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