How to Pick the Perfect Photographer for You
There’s one question that potential clients almost always ask me: How much will photos cost? Sometimes that’s all they ask.
Budget is certainly an important aspect for you to consider when you’re looking for a photographer (after all, you don’t want to have your photos taken and then realize you can’t afford to buy any), but it isn’t the only thing to think about. When searching for the perfect photographer, there are a few things that you should keep in mind.
Here is an email that I get way more often than I should: “I am looking for someone to photograph my [fill in the blank]. I had hired another photographer but she isn’t returning any of my calls or emails, and the session is supposed to be tomorrow.”
How does the saying go? “If you think it’s expensive to hire a professional, wait until you hire an amateur”?
Many “professional photographers” are nothing more than hobbyists, looking for something to do or some extra money. While there’s absolutely nothing wrong with going to an amateur for photos (and you will certainly save some money), you should be aware of what you’re getting into.
The primary disadvantage to using amateurs for your photos is that you take the risk of not getting what you paid for. Your best friend’s neighbor’s daughter might have a Facebook page full of beautiful photos, but if she isn’t running a legitimate photography business, you may not be her priority. Maybe she got busy, or sick, or simply lost interest in being a photographer. She has your money, and now she’s avoiding you, and you have no photos and no recourse.
Before handing over any money, please make sure that the photographer that you choose is a legitimate professional! Does the photographer have a website, insurance, and a solid reputation? Is he or she operating a legal business? Take the time to check. The process varies from state to state, but in Connecticut you can easily check to see if an LLC, Corporation or LP is licensed. Look carefully through the photographer’s portfolio. Are the images properly exposed, is the focus sharp, and is the editing consistent? If the answer to any of these questions is no, it may be a sign of a lack of skill, legality or professionalism.
Of course being an amateur is not synonymous with shady business practices! Many hobbyists and start-ups are perfectly legitimate. However, starting a new business can be tough, especially in an over-saturated market such as photography, and many don’t last long. If you are looking to build a long-term relationship with a photographer as your family grows, and you would prefer to stick with a consistent image style and range of product options, an established business would be a better fit for you.
Clients often narrow down their photographer search based on location, as they would prefer not to travel long distances to have their photos taken. However, consider widening your search outside of your local area, even if you aren’t willing to drive. Many photographers will come to you (often for a fee, though it may be relatively small) or meet with you in a more central location. If you find a promising photographer, but he or she is a bit too far away, simply ask if there are any options for out-of-town clients.
Perhaps the most important aspect of picking a photographer is choosing one whose style is compatible with your own. I can’t stress this enough.
Photographers are not interchangeable. Don’t just throw a general search term into Google and send pricing inquiries to the first five names that come up. Define what you’re looking for, and be specific. If you are looking for a newborn photographer, and simply search for “photographer”, you will end up with an overwhelming number of wide-ranging results. You don’t want to hire a corporate headshot photographer to photograph your newborn! A more precise search term, such as “natural light newborn photographer”, will narrow the results to photographers that specialize in that field and that style.
Once you’ve narrowed down your choices, take the time to look through each website carefully. When you’re looking at a photographer’s portfolio, ask yourself what about the photos you like or dislike. Do you like the use of props, like baskets, hats, or costumes? Do you like bright, bold colors? Neutral tones? Natural light? Outdoor photos? Vintage photos? Are the photos overly posed or do they have a more candid or relaxed feel to them? Are they trendy or classic? Does the photographer offer products that are well suited with the decor in your home?
If only a few photos in a photographer’s portfolio really catch your eye, they probably aren’t the right photographer for you. There’s no sense in, for instance, going to a photographer who loves pops of color if you’re looking for neutral colors and natural light. Make sure that your photographer and you have similar tastes, and you’re much more likely to come home with photos that you love.
The least exciting aspect to think about is your budget. Unfortunately, if you’re on a fairly tight budget, you might have to rule out photographers that otherwise seem perfect for you. You must be realistic in order to have wiggle room to actually buy the photos you love.
However, if you have your heart set on a photographer who’s out of your price range, there are a few things you can do.
First, many photographers (especially the ones in the higher price range) offer payment plans so that you can pay for your photos in smaller, regularly spaced increments. Like paying off a loan over time, this can help manage the cost and allow you to afford the style, skill level and expertise that you’re looking for .
Secondly, some photographers offer a registry program, so that guests at your wedding/bridal shower/baby shower can gift you with a portion of the photo cost. For many clients, this can lower the cost of the photos enough to make it doable, or sometimes even take care of the cost entirely!
Remember, you are purchasing something that you will hold onto forever. If paying hundreds of dollars for a crib or a stroller seems reasonable to you, but you balk at paying the same for a photo album, ask yourself which of these items will be in the “tag sale” pile in a few years!
With these things kept in mind, you’ll greatly increase your chances of finding an excellent photographer for you and your family. Happy hunting!