So you've decided it's time for some nice family photographs, or maybe your daughter needs her senior high school portraits, or you want to capture the beauty of your new baby boy. It's time to find a photographer that will give you the images you want at a price you can afford.
Relax: there's lots of good news here! You can get a top-notch photographer for surprisingly reasonable amount of money. And since each photographer has his or her own style, you should be able to find someone whose images you admire.
Unfortunately, many people don't put a lot of thought into choosing a photographer, which will usually lead to disappointment and frustration. But by following a few simple steps and spending just a few minutes online, you will greatly increase your chances of finding a photographer you like at a good price.
First: be aware that there are too many people who bought a big, black camera and started advertising professional photography services on Craig's List. Ownership of a big camera (otherwise known as a Digital Single-Lens Reflex camera, or DSLR) does not make someone a professional photographer. The advent of digital photography, combined with the relatively low prices of DSLRs in the last 5-10 years, has spawned a generation of "wannabe" photographers. There are two major drawbacks to this situation: clients have been increasingly frustrated with the quality of images they get from these novice photographers, and the photography profession's reputation has suffered. True professional photographers cringe at the proliferation of inexperienced, unqualified novices.
Fortunately there are a few simple ways to spot someone masquerading as a professional:
1. First and foremost, look at the image portfolio/gallery they display on their webpage or advertisements. If there are no images, beware! This is a huge red flag. If there is an image portfolio, examine the portraits closely. There should be many images, not just three or four - many images will give you a more accurate idea of the photographer's style and consistency. There should be a variety of poses and types of images - this demonstrates experience and creativity. No two images in the portfolio should be of the same person - this indicates the photographer has no experience and just had a friend model for him/her to establish a portfolio.
2. Do the photographer's images look similar to the pictures you take with your camera at home? If so, this person is not a true professional. Images taken by an experienced photographer with proper lenses and lighting will look dramatically different than anything you can do with a small point & shoot camera. The backgrounds should be very blurry, so the subject of the portrait stands out in sharp relief. There should be plenty of light in the subjects' eyes to avoid the "raccoon eyes" created by overhead sun. Tip: if the subject's face is in direct sunlight, there is a good chance the photographer is not an experienced professional. Very few pros will ever photograph a subject's face in direct, full sunlight.
3. Does the photographer have a webpage? What's the web address? A proper professional will invest the relatively small amount of money necessary to purchase and host his or her own domain name. For example, www. photographersname.com or www. businessname.com. If the person has a web address that includes the words "freewebs" or "blogspot" or "wordpress", then the person has a free site and was not willing to spend even the minimal amount required to have a professional domain name and webpage. What does that say about the person's attitude towards their business and equipment?
4. What does the photographer charge? When searching for a good portrait photographer, the most important thing is not price. You can spend $50 on a portrait session but hate all the resulting images. And you can spend $200 on a session and love all the pictures, use them as Christmas pictures, and display them in your house for years. Between these two scenarios, which was most cost effective? To a certain extent in photography, you get what you pay for. True professionals will charge according to their experience and level of equipment. If you see an advertisement for free portraits, or a portrait session for $50, or a $100 session that includes a $50 credit towards prints, this is a hint that the photographer is not experienced or in demand.
5. What type of photography does the person claim to do? Generally speaking, you want a photographer who somewhat specializes in portraiture. It is common for portrait photographers to also shoot weddings. But I would be wary of someone who says they do portraits, weddings, corporate headshots, architectural photography, events, commercial photography, fashion, sports, fine art, and wildlife photography!
Once you've used these tips to make a list of legitimate photographers, focus on style. This is the most important part of selecting a portrait photographer. Photography style is a very personal thing. Someone who is considered to be the best photographer in the world might take portraits of your family that you hate, depending on their style. Some photographers shoot exclusively black and white, or use a tilt/shift lens to blur large portions of the image, or use PhotoShop to significantly alter the original look of the image. Others might take close-up shots of your child's shoe or hair ribbon instead of focusing on the face. Some might only shoot in their studio with formal backgrounds, while others shoot outdoors or at your house. This is all a matter of style and is crucial to finding a photographer you'll be happy with.
Now it's time to contact the photographers to get more information. How long have they been a professional photographer? Do they attend seminars, take classes, read photography books, and otherwise constantly seek to improve? Do they teach classes, publish articles, or are they otherwise demonstrably admired by their peers?
More practically, must you shoot the portraits in their studio, or will they come to your house with all their equipment? How many changes of clothing will they allow? What prices do they charge for the package you want? These details will help you make a final decision.
Once you've decided on a photographer and agreed upon the details of the shoot, you should expect to sign a contract and pay a deposit to reserve the photographer's time.