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What to look for when choosing a professional photographer
When I was a kid having your family’s portrait made or your senior pictures taken was a fairly straight forward endeavor. You’d pick up the phone book (remember those?) look up photographers and give a call to the 6 or 7 professional studios in your area. How times have changed, do an online search for photographers in your area now and be prepared for the seemingly endless number of results you get back. It seems like everyone with a camera or cell phone today is calling him or herself a photographer and diving into the portrait and wedding market as a side job. As a consumer these increased number of choices may seem ideal however with all the choices how to you go about choosing a professional photographer that’s right for you? Well, it just so happens that I have a few thoughts on that exact subject. Here’s a few things to consider when choosing a professional photographer.
Does the photographer’s style match your own?
Photography’s an art form and photographers, regardless of the subject, are artists. As with any form of art each individual artist has their specialty style within the medium, such as Picasso with cubism or Monet as an impressionist. The same is true with photographers. There are many different styles of photography within the portrait and wedding fields that you may be familiar with such as classically posed images (usually taken in a studio setting), non-posed photo-journalistic images, environmental portraits (taken outdoors), lifestyle portraits and a few others. It’s important to choose a photographer that creates images in a style that you enjoy. So, if you’d really like a beautiful tradition indoor family portrait to hang in your formal living room it’s probably better to work with a photographer that has an indoor studio and a strong portfolio of studio images.
Do they have a large portfolio of great images.
After you have an idea of the style of portrait you may want it’s time to start looking at each photographer’s portfolio with a more discerning eye. This is where the internet has made our lives so much easier. Today virtually everyone has a website, blog or at least a Facebook page and most photographers have all of the above and more, I know I do. Before contacting any photographer you should make a point to visit their website in order to get a feel for the quality of images they create. Look at as many images as possible and pay special attention to things such as the quality of light within the image, the poses used, the background within the images and the uniqueness of their pictures. You’ll probably soon realize that a small group of photographers stand out from the pack and before you know it that endless list of photographers will be cut down to just a handful. Not sure what exactly to look for when viewing images? Here’s a few tips.
- Lighting: Photography is all about light and a good photographer should understand how to use it well. A well lit portrait shouldn’t look like you took it yourself (no offense) with your little on-camera flash. Harsh, straight on light and washed out skins tones that may have a blue/cyan tint to them are a sign that the person taking the images likes to use the flash right on their camera in complete auto mode, which is something you can do so why pay someone else? Another big no-no are deep, dark shadows where a person’s eyes should be. This is a sign that the person with the camera doesn’t understand fill lighting. I personally like to use warm, soft, directional light in my portraits as it give a beautiful warm glow and a sense of dimension to the images helping to create a portrait that allows the people within it to look their best.
- Posing: Posing is itself an art form, with countless books, articles, seminars and workshops devoted to posing individuals, couples, groups, babies, even pets. I think the best poses allow the person being photographed to look comfortable and natural in their surroundings. When viewing a photographer’s portfolio ask yourself if the people within the images look natural for the given situation, do they look comfortable and loose or are they stiff with strange expressions on their faces? If so you can bet your pictures will look stiff and awkward too. Also, pay attention to hands and feet, are they cut off or are they positioned naturally. A cropped hand can make the person look like their an amputee and goes against most sound posing ideals.
- Backgrounds: I’m not necessarily talking about a studio background here however those can be something to think about as well, I’ll get back to that. What I’m really referring to is what’s in the background of outdoor portraits. Are there distracting elements like people walking in the background or does it look like branches or poles are sticking out of people’s heads? Many of these things can be fixed at the time the image is made by simply waiting a few seconds for someone to walk through the scene or by moving a couple feet to the left or right in order to get a slightly different angle. At the very least they can be fixed back at the studio with a bit of image editing. If you notice these things in a photographer’s sample images it may be a sign that they aren’t paying much attention to the image as a whole and there’s a pretty good chance you’ll see similar distractions in your pictures.
- Regarding backgrounds in studio portraits remember that backgrounds should appear smooth and seamless. If it looks like the photographer used an old wrinkled bed sheet, they probably did.
- Uniqueness: This one’s pretty self explanatory. Is the photographer’s work fresh and unique or does it look like something you’d see hanging in your grandparent’s house? Not to slight grandma but styles change and while some type of images do remain timeless even those “classic” images that stand the test of time can be updated to set themselves apart from the crowd a bit.
- This sense of uniqueness however can also go to the extreme as many photographers today try to be so “trendy” that their images will look extremely dated in just a few years. #hipsterfingermustache
Above all remember you should really like the images your seeing from other sessions as those are the type of images you’ll be receiving from your session.
Once you’ve picked a photographer with a strong portfolio of images that match the style you’d like for your portrait session you should ask to meet for a consultation. Consultations are an important part of building a relationship between you and your photographer and are something I do with each new client to my studio. The consultation not only gives me an opportunity to discuss portrait styles, clothing, locations and investment with someone but it also gives us an opportunity to get to know each other a little bit. I feel having this opportunity to meet during the consultation goes a long way in building a friendly and successful relationship with each one of my clients, many of whom I consider friends and continue to work with for years. This is important because I think the best images are made when you feel comfortable with someone, enjoy being around them and feel a bit more free to be yourself. The fact is, through no fault of your own or the other person, you just don’t “click” (pun intended) with everyone you meet and without a consultation there’s no way to know how you get along with your photographer until you realize it (for better or worse) during the session. It’s important to note that many, if not most, photographers don’t do consultations for portrait sessions I think this is a disservice to both you and them. If they don’t offer a consultation don’t be afraid to ask for one.
I’m not going to dwell of this but it really is something to consider. You’re investing your hard earned dollars to have beautiful professional portraits made, the least you should ask is that you’re not paying to help someone “learn on the job”. Just as in most professionals, more goes into being a professional photographer than most people realize, and having a “nice” camera has virtually nothing to do with how well your final images look. Knowledge of natural and artificial lighting, posing, shooting angles, exposure, aperture and much more are all major aspects of creating images you’ll be happy with. When a photographer has a formal education and degree in photography you can be sure they understand all of the above which allows them to focus on creating the best images possible of you and your family while also giving them the knowledge to adapt to unexpected situations when they occur (which is pretty much all the time). Just something to consider.
It’s important to realize that not all photographers are created equal, far from it in fact. Choosing someone to photograph your wedding or newborn baby isn’t like shopping for a sweater where you find a brand and style you like at Macy’s and then head over to Wal-Mart to see if you can find the exact same sweater for less. Photography is a creative process that requires both technical and aesthetic expertise. Your portraits are a custom product that a particular artist is creating specifically for you and your home and no two photographers are going to create that product the same. For the most part the old adage “You get what you pay for” is very true when it comes to photography. If you notice a photographer or photographers that are much less expensive than others it’s probably for a reason.
I’d encourage you to not let price be the deciding factor when choosing a photographer as a beautifully crafted portrait that you love and will hang in your home for decades is worth much more in the long run than the poorly lit and badly printed portrait you received on a disk and had printed at Costco when it starts to fade in a few years. At my studio I want each person that comes in to have pictures, prints and albums that they’ll absolutely love and cherish for the rest of their lives so I do everything I can to make them as affordable as possible. To that end myself and many professional studios offer ways to make having the images you want possible. Some of these include monthly or quarterly payment plans, wedding and portrait registries, gift cards, occasional sales and much more. I try to work with every client to make sure they can have the portrait or wedding images they want and if there’s an options I don’t offer I’m always open to new ideas, all you have to do is ask.
Choosing a professional photographer in a nutshell.
There you have it, some of the more important things I think you should be looking at when choosing a professional photographer that’s right for you. Whether it’s for your wedding photography, newborn or children portraits, high school senior pictures or family portraits choosing the right professional photographer will be a decision you’ll be happy with for a very long time and following the tips above will make the decision a much simpler one.
Are you looking for a professional photographer? Great, I just so happen to be a one. Check out some of our awesome images at www.edwardmendes.com or give me a call, (209) 541-1815 or drop me an email to ask questions or schedule your consultation.