Top 5 Criteria in Choosing Your Photographer

I'm pretty sure that the whole process of planning, booking, taking, and ordering portraits is heaven for some and absolutely hell for others.  I totally understand--a portrait is vulnerable and intimate, and I'm not always down for that, either.  Also, dealing so closely with a single professional is a risk--what if you don't get along?  What if they botch your photos?  How do you know you're not getting ripped off?

It's stressful.  I get it.

But, as with most of life, it doesn't have to be stressful.

With a few criteria in mind, any of us can just put our heads down and TAKE CARE OF BUSINESS!  We all know how vital it is to keep a pictorial history of our families, our children, the major events in our lives--let's collect the tools we need in order to, again, take care of business.  The biggest hurdle is selecting a photographer.  If you make a good choice for yourself and/or your family, the photographer should be able to help you along the rest of the journey without much, if any, pain at all!

1. STYLE. 

Do you like natural light?  Studio?  High-fashion, highly-styled?  Shabby chic with lots of props?  Pinterest imitations?  Light, airy edits?  High-contrast, dark blacks?  All that is GREAT, but the odds of finding a jack-of-all-trades photographer who can do everything you want at the drop of a hat are slim.  Instead, dig through blogs, instagram posts, and websites to make sure the photographer of your choice shoots in your favorite style CONSISTENTLY.  If they shoot in your preferred style 30% of the time, you can expect no more than 30% of your photos to come back the way you hope.

Kambri digs my natural-light, comfortable, natural style.  And I dig her.  So that's a good fit.

Kambri digs my natural-light, comfortable, natural style.  And I dig her.  So that's a good fit.

2. PERSONALITY AND BRANDING

With the ease and frugality of social media at our fingertips, photographers can gain popularity and a following with little to no financial investment at all.  So, with GOBS of photographers coming up in every search, what separates one from the next?

Read their blog entries.  Read their "about me" sections.  Are they funny?  Witty?  Sarcastic?  Sticky sweet?  Check and see how often they post on Instagram.  Rarely, overload, or just right (according to you)?  What does their logo look like?  Do they communicate quickly when you email them?  How do they respond to your questions?  If they have to tell you "no," are they tactful or blunt?

By examining these elements (and whatever else you stumble upon!  Put suggestions in the comments, please!), you can get a picture of your photographer's personality and make sure that you'll work well together.  There's a LOT to be said for genuine photos taken by someone you genuinely feel comfortable with.

It takes a special person to climb over curbs and climb hills for shots like this--and Cat is that special person.

It takes a special person to climb over curbs and climb hills for shots like this--and Cat is that special person.

3. PRICE

I don't care for the term "reasonably priced," though I hear it quite often.  The phrase implies that artists are unreasonable for asking a high price for their products, which I don't think is fair.  I cannot assume to know the overhead a photographer incurs, the value of their equipment, the cost of their babysitter, the wear and tear on their vehicle, the value of the family time they'll be missing out on to be with me--you get the drift.  However, I think what most of us really mean when we say "reasonably priced" is AFFORDABLE, which is completely legitimate!  Every photographer understands, when setting their prices, that not every person in the world is going to be able to afford to hire them.  I'd love to hire Jose Villa to document my daily life, but that's just not affordable for our lifestyle.  For that matter, I'd love to hire a professional photographer a couple times a year for family photos, but that's just not affordable either.  So, take the time to figure out how much you can afford to spend, and maximize your money by balancing cost out with all these other criteria!

Also, don't be afraid to ask your photographer if they'll meet you in the middle.  Are you a yoga instructor?  Offer a trade!  Do you clean houses?  CALL ME.  An exchange of services is usually pretty tempting to the self-employed.  

4. PRODUCTS AND VALUE

Prioritize what's important for you.  Do you want a couple hundred photos to choose from?  Do you just want a handful of beautiful shots?  Do you want a disk or download of every edited photo, or do you really just need a big, beautiful print to give to your grandparents?  Do you want your photographer to order your prints and products for you, or do you want to do it yourself?

Photographers tend to have strong convictions about the products we offer.  There's a reason behind our packages, and we'll probably stick to our guns.  However, you have every right to do the same!  Make sure you're getting what you want.

Abigail and her mom wanted to be able to print on their own schedule--perfect fit for my type of packages!

Abigail and her mom wanted to be able to print on their own schedule--perfect fit for my type of packages!

5. AVAILABILITY

If you're a planner, you can probably have your pick of photographers.  Simple as that.  Call or email a few months out (even earlier for events and weddings--as SOON as you have a date!) and you're good.  Boom.

BUT.  If you're not.  Or if something pops up suddenly...here's the plan.

Be nice.  And ask for flexibility.  And be flexible.  Be willing to drive to a strange place, pay a little extra, and/or accept slow turn-around time.  You may have to be inconvenienced.  Take a half-day off of work so you can work with your photographer's schedule.  Show up early. Feed your kids (a clean snack ;) before.  Smile.  Offer a tip if it's deserved.

If your favorite photographer just isn't available, go ahead and ask if you can book them for next season/year/whatever.  Get in the books, so you don't have to be in this boat again!

We had to time Zak's photos carefully--he wanted to take photos in his team's new jerseys, but they hadn't been "revealed" to the team yet--so we got special permission and kept his photos under wraps until the uniforms were public information.

We had to time Zak's photos carefully--he wanted to take photos in his team's new jerseys, but they hadn't been "revealed" to the team yet--so we got special permission and kept his photos under wraps until the uniforms were public information.

 

Whew!!  That's all I can think of, folks.  What'd I miss?!  Leave me more ideas in the comments!