How to choose a Professional Photographer

Years ago it was simple to choose a good pro photographer, most had store front studios with huge, beautiful images displayed in their large picture windows. They used film and most did their own darkroom, processing of film and prints. Your proofs were paper with the word ‘Proof’ imprinted across the front, and in most cases, not many to choose from. Selling negatives was a big’ no no’, it just wasn’t done. They knew the ins and outs of lighting and you were always guaranteed a good print. And you paid a hefty price for them too.

Than came along what we call ‘cookie cutter’ studios, I won’t mention any names. But you could tell, they all had solid white backgrounds and some odd looking props. You took your kids into the studio, set them in place, told them to be quiet and smile pretty, the ‘photographer’ (and I use the term loosely) hits the shutter button and the already set into place lighting used for everyone that day would fire. You could choose their package deals, which were cheaper then pro photographers and not all that great, but good enough for you.

Today, we live in the digital world, where everyone and their brother owns a digital camera of some sort. Their prices are cheaper, they give away high resolution digital files so you can print your own at Walgreens or Rite Aid and they shoot about 300 shots in about 2 hours, maybe even up to 4 hours. You have a million shots to choose from but they all look pretty much the same.  The backgrounds chosen are usually outdoors and have been chosen with such care because they have now become a major part of your image, so much in fact, the subject itself hardly matters anymore, at least for the newbies.

Some are too dark, some too light, some out of focus, some with eyes closed, some with snotty noses, harsh shadows, fingers or toes  cut off, hand cut off at the wrist or elbow and squinting eyes. But hell, you only paid $75 for the whole thing and your thrilled you saved all that money. Wow, you think you did a great thing.

Now go to your parents or grandparents and ask to see some of their old images. Do you see any of those ‘errors’, unless they were taken at home by mom or pop on a Instamatic made in the ’60’s’, which are now hazed over from old age, probably not.

Now look back at the ones you paid $75 for, are you willing to leave your ancestors crap? It might be good enough for you right now, but trust me, 20 or 30 years from now when the grandkids are looking at those images, you realize they suck and you also realize you don’t have one good image done by a pro in your whole life, except the ones your mom took of you years ago when you about 3 years old.

Don’t fall for the cheap shooter today, those images will become your legacy, treat them as such.

So how do you choose a good photographer?

Look closely at their samples, make sure they have a decent website, easily navigated and look for the things I mentioned above. Too dark, too light, out of focus, harsh shadows, etc. THEN go check their prices, if their prices are still a bit steep for your wallet, look for some other photographers in your area who are actually on the same level and a competitor to the first one you found. If you really have your heart set on that first pro photographer, give him/her a call, maybe you can work something out. But, whatever you do, do not settle for the cheap, I am just learning and shoot in auto mode photographer, you will be sorry.

Talk to your new potential professional photographer, ask them questions.

1. What type of equipment do you use?

2. Do you have a studio? You do not need a photographer with a studio, but if they do own one, it tells you they must know something about lighting, which is the most important part of an image.

3. Do you use strobes? If they use strobes, it’s another sign they know something about lighting.

4. How long have you been in business?

5. How long have you been involved with photography? If this is less then 2 years then their answer in #4, shop elsewhere or understand you are dealing with someone who is still learning and you are one of their guinea pigs.

6. Check their website and take time reviewing their portfolio. Inspect the images as I mentioned above.

7. Get together about 4 or 5 professional photographers in your area before choosing. Determine which one has a style AND price to suit your needs. One of those 4 or 5 may be willing to ‘work with you’ on pricing, it never hurts to ask. Even a payment plan may be available.

Shopping by price alone will get you exactly what you pay for. Don’t do this to your future family or your kids. I can not tell you how much I treasure the great images from my ancestors and how much I truly miss all the professionally done images of myself that have been lost over the years, which means I have nothing to share with my own grandkids. Payback is a bitch!