Earlier this year, I was sitting at a sandwich shop with a client who wanted help in ordering an enlargement from their family session on the beach. I had various samples with me, and we were going through her choices, when a couple from the next table leaned over and told my client she was very lucky to have her photographer provide all this service for her.
I was a little surprised - what we were doing wasn’t anything extraordinary. My client wanted to order wall art, and I was helping her with her options. Then the couple confided they had paid for their daughter’s wedding photographer, who had photographed the wedding, but not delivered the images or products. She had gone out of business after the wedding.
How horrible is that?! How can you make sure this doesn’t happen to you?
I’ll address that, but let’s start at the beginning.
When you come to the decision you would like to have professional family portraits taken, you most likely have googled your area’s photographers, only to find out there are approximately a hundred to choose from. How do you pick the right photographer?
One way is to ask your family and friends to find out for recommendations. But even if you do that, I encourage you to read on.
A few things are important when it comes to choosing a photographer; his/her style, experience, personality, communication, offer and price.
You’ll want to check his/her website to make sure you like their style, the composition and the way they process image, whether their style is consistent, and if it’s what you like and prefer. Some photographers tend to have darker, moodier images, others light and airy. Are people posed, or are the images candid - or something in between? Are the images from a studio session, or from an outdoor one? Remember, there are no right or wrong answers here, we are taking about art and what is your preference. You do want to make sure your style matches theirs - or that at least you like their work.
The photographer’s website and social media pages can offer a glimpse into their personality, especially a page “About me”. Do you feel like you connect with him/her? And when you reach out, is the communication prompt, professional, friendly and courteous?
On offer and price: I know this is an important factor, yet a very personal one. You want to be clear on what you are paying for, and I believe it should be easy to understand. There are two basic models out there: 1) All-inclusive pricing where you are choosing a package that includes the session fee and typically only high resolution digital images (check that the session fee isn’t separate), or 2) You pay for a session fee, which covers the photographer’s time for the session, then you pay for the actual images and/or products afterward. With this latter model, there is often a planning meeting and a reveal session where the photographer helps you select the best products for your family. Make sure there are no hidden costs and surprises later!
More experienced photographers have usually had their businesses long enough to survive the first years. Only 40% of new photography businesses make it through their first year, 25% make it through their second year, and only 15% make it through their third year of business. Pretty shocking, if you ask me!
But when you think about it, not really. The cost of running a business is high, and professional photographers need to factor that into running a successful business. If the photographer is offering $200 all-inclusive photo sessions, they’d have to be shooting most of their waking hours to make a living at it. The photographer still needs to edit the images, run their business, AND have time for their families.
If a low price is the most important factor for you, you might want to look for a beginner photographer. They often have portfolio building sessions available for free or low cost, where you give the photographer your permission to use your images for their marketing and the session for practice. This can be a win-win situation for all, as long as your expectations match the fact that you are working with someone who has very little experience, and who is still working on their skills.
If you’d rather work with a more experienced photographer, and price is an issue, you can always ask if they offer specials, or if they have a payment plan option.
If you know you will get your images printed yourself, and make them into a book or wall art, make sure the photographer will provide you with the high resolution digital images. If you know you’ll end up with images on a thumb drive in a drawer, or an online gallery for weeks and months, and you’ll be too busy to make anything from your digital images, you’ll want to find out about the products the photographer offers. Maybe you don’t need any high resolution digital images, only some for web resolution ones social media.
Professional photographers should use professional print labs for the products they sell, so ordering through your photographer will assure you get high quality prints and products which are guaranteed to last. Yes, these are pricier than your typical consumer print websites, but you are paying for quality. Professional print labs require photographers to show proof they have a business before they can use their print lab. Some professional photographers offer a service of making a book for you from your session, and if you have ever attempted to make one yourself, you know it’s hours of work. The options are more high-end with a professional photographer than from a consumer shop. Check with the photographer on your options.
Lastly, make sure your professional photographer will provide you with a contract for your session. This really is to protect both of you. You don’t want to hire a photographer for a session (or a wedding!) and not get the images you paid for. It is best to have an agreement on the services provided. What are you paying for? What will you receive? When? What happens if there is an emergency? Most of the time you don’t have to worry about this, but it is a good and responsible business practice, just in case.
I hope these tips have been helpful for you, and if you have any additional ideas or comments, please let me know! Have fun choosing the right photographer for you!