How to Choose a Photographer

Consumers:  This is not yet another whine as to why you should hire a professional over an amateur photographer.  This is not another plea from a photographer to understand the expenses of a professional photographer – you are a customer, a photographer’s business management is not a concern of yours.  What IS a concern of yours is finding out who you are hiring and if you are going to be satisfied with your purchase.

 

newborn-photographerWhat Happened to Photography?  From a Business Standpoint

(If not interested in the business background, skip this section).

 

When the digital SLR advanced to the point where it could compete with film, a wave crashed over the photography industry – the numbers crept up until an oversaturation of photographers hit the market.  Wielding brand new cameras usually right after Christmas, the masses became photographers.  Mix this with social media where anyone can “market” themselves with the click of a status update, nearly everyone who owned a camera became a “business.”  If you know anything about economics and business, this was the perfect storm for supply exceeding demand, which drove down quality and cost of custom photography.

harford-county-newborn-photographerTo the Consumer – BE AWARE.

Everyone has a budget, and as a photography business owner, I know that your budget should be respected.   Can you believe that if  you were interested in purchasing custom photography in the Baltimore/DC area 20 years ago,  you would expect to pay between $5,000 and $20,000; that is why many consumers took advantage of inexpensive chain studios such as Sears and JC Penney.  With the shear volume of photographers in today’s market,  you no longer have to spend $10,000 for beautiful art of your family, you now have many more options.  However, weeding through the many Facebook pages and websites, how do you know who you are purchasing from or the quality you are purchasing?

How do you know you are going to be satisfied with your images?  

Don’t Waste Your Money!

While shopping for a photographer, you should concern yourself with the following.

WHEN TO HIRE AN AMATEUR OR NON-PROFESSIONAL  – This can turn into an ugly debate among photographers, and I know I’m touching a sore spot.  There are more amateur photographers than professionals these days.   I could get absolutely chewed out for saying this, but there is nothing wrong with hiring an amateur photographer once in a while.  You do not have to purchase the best of the best every single time.  *Gasp* – yes, this professional said it!   Hire an amateur just to have quick simple pictures that capture the moment of what your child looks like, but doesn’t have to be an award-winning piece of art.

WHEN TO HIRE A PROFESSIONAL –  Hire a professional when you wish to have a milestone captured or are interested in enlarging images as wall art or archival quality that will be a treasure, an heirloom to pass down generation to generation.   You truly get what you pay for, and there is always a time for cheap and a time for expensive.

 

ALWAYS hire a professional when there are NO DO-OVERs.   Weddings, births, newborn (when a week does make a difference).  Hire a professional when you cannot go back in time for a redo.   This is the time when photography is a careful investment.

mushroom

This is a PhotoShop composite – baby was never lying atop this mushroom in this way. Professionals with many years of experience know how to produce images in this way with no safety issues.

ALWAYS hire a professional when SAFETY is involved and experience is important.  For example, years-of-experience is absolutely a must when entrusting your newborn with a photographer.   Many amateurs are attempting dangerous poses and props with babies and are actually putting them in extreme danger.  There are amateurs stuffing babies in cheap, thin craft-store glass bowls that can break, suspending babies in unsafe situations – we’ve even seen photographers balance babies on motorcycle seats or on top of a horse without a care.  It is frightening.  Babies are not props.  Babies have been dropped and injured from unsafe positioning.  Recently, THIS IMAGE went viral after a live Easter rabbit bit a little one.

How Do You Know?

Let’s face it, social media and the thousands of photos with XYZ Photography in the corner – where do you start?  Here is a guide, a comparison of Non-Professional vs. Professional (remember, this is a GUIDE, and will not always apply).

Non-Professional

  • Has a Facebook page, but no established website
  • Always offering sales and discounts or calling out for models for free shoots
  • May have an inconsistent portfolio (see below – “Ugliness”)  May have a portfolio full of their own children
  • Doesn’t carry insurance outside of what they can get through the PPA which is not full proper coverage for a business owner
  • Presentation – shows up with a camera and no other professional gear
  • May shy away from certain lighting situations because they are unaware how to handle them (“I only work in natural light, that location won’t work.”)
  • If a website does exist, the about section does not contain actual experience and accomplishments in photography, but instead talks about their passion for photography and/or their children and/or what they like to eat or drink
  • Cheap prices  (Non-Professionals do not have the expenses involved in running a legitimate business, nor do they pay taxes)

That said, read the first few paragraphs above again, you absolutely can still hire an amateur, just know what you are paying for so you can be satisfied with your decision.

cameraProfessional Business Owner

  • Has a Website first, may or may not be all over social media
  • Has consistent professional work throughout their portfolio – sharp and focused images, beautiful lighting, beautiful colors – the images feel and look complete
  • Carries quality equipment.   You won’t see all your professional’s equipment at your local Best Buy.  (Although, a great photographer can take amazing images with any equipment.)
  • Holds insurance and will be happy to share that information with you (also has a tax ID number) and won’t get snippy if you ask about policies, procedures, and what you are getting for your money because your satisfaction is important.
  • Is most concerned with your family’s well being and what YOU want out of the session, not just excited about getting “fresh meat” to photograph
  • Typically has no hesitation regarding certain locations – photographer is fully confident that beautiful pictures can be achieved anywhere
  • Guarantees the work in some way, shape, or form – money back?  reshoot?  Make sure this is crystal clear – don’t waste your money!
  • Has policies, procedures, and contracts that protect you and them
  • The About/Bio section of their website describes years of experience, accomplishments related to photography, and doesn’t simply state “I have a passion for photography” with needless personal information that has nothing to do with photography
  • Not Cheap – A true professional cannot be cheap as they only take home, as a salary, about one-quarter to one-third of what they charge due to the expenses involved in being a professional business owner.

 

Ugliness – Don’t believe everything you See Online

erynn_otteTHEFT – Theft is a huge problem online.  Check out www.stopstealingphotos.com as for whatever reason, people think it is okay to steal professional images and put their name on them or on their websites or social media and claim them as their own in order to hook clients in.  The problem is, you then contract this photographer, who cannot produce the same quality.

FAKE PHOTO SHOOTS & Pinterest Overload – Sometimes we all get caught up looking at the beautiful images all over Pinterest and “I want images exactly like that!”  The problem is, some of these photos you see on websites are not real photo sessions.  With so many photographers competing to gain your attention, there are some that are going to workshops or setting up “styled shoots”.  Styled shoots are great for photographers to share their talent, but are many times unrealistic.  One photograph may take four hours to shoot from setup to finish and have paid models, not your every day real people – this is not realistic or a reasonable expectation for your photo session.

MEMBER OF FAKE ORGANIZATIONS – If you see “award winning” that does not mean your photographer has actually won an award.  This can mean that they joined “Best Newborn Photographer” or whatever other fake organization is out there and won an online photo contest in a given month.  This is not a real award.  These fake organizations have popped up to make money off of the multitude of photographers.   Unfortunately, we cannot even look to the PPA (Professional Photographers of America) anymore to define amateur or professional because the PPA needs money too, and they are catering to amateurs to pay their own bills.

Conclusion

Research your photographer in depth.  Take all the information you can find and make a purchase based on what you personally need and want.  Make a list of priorities and what you want to place your value on.  Whether you choose an amateur, non-professional, or professional photographer, the best decisions are made with your gut.  Ultimately, if you feel uneasy about any photographer, that is your gut instinct telling you something.  This is your money, your purchase, your family.  Protect yourself from disappointment or buyer’s remorse.  Invest in what fits YOUR needs.

newborn_workshop_book

The question I am going to be asked by all professional photographers —- so I’m going to answer it now.

I cannot believe that you are a professional who has actually told your clients it’s okay to hire an amateur – why would you do that?  I’m being realistic.  Photography is no longer a luxury product only available to the select few.  Photography is a commodity available to anyone at all price points.  If a consumer can buy good enough for their needs for cheap, why argue that?  but that’s not my clientele.  I have positioned my business to where I offer the best price I can to my clients that reflects my years of experience, my talent, and the time involved, and provides a living wage.  When a client values my work and books a session,  I do my absolute best to produce the highest quality images with a full guarantee – I give them absolutely what THEY want because I want them to be thrilled with their purchase.  Consumers should not come to me for yearly pictures just documenting their child’s growth but only for a special milestone, a special occasion, or for actual art that they will cherish for a lifetime.  I only run my business with full disclosure and honesty.

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