Creative Portrait Photography

How NOT to Choose a Photographer

You’re getting married next spring, or maybe next week. You want photos of your new baby, a headshot for your business website, for your fashion line. You want coverage of your family reunion, your father’s 70th birthday, your bridal shower. You want a good photographer at a price you can afford, but a search on Google, through the Yellow Pages, and through craigslist.org reveals an overwhelming selection in a vast range of styles, quality, and rates. How do you choose a photographer? That’s largely up to you: your budget, your aesthetic preferences and needs, and your personality. But let me share some tips on how NOT to choose a photographer:

  • Find one with specific gear. You read an article in a bridal magazine that told you that you should never hire a photographer who doesn’t shoot with a full format camera. Do you know what that is and why it matters? And are you now confused because you can’t find a photographer with a full format camera willing to shoot your wedding for under $1000? Full format cameras are expensive, and photographers working with good gear will charge more. Rather than looking for photogs with specific types of cameras, focus on the images they are making–do you like their photos? Are they good quality? Do they have good reviews from previous clients? Then what do you care what they are shooting, so long as they deliver a quality product?

    This is a $5000 camera. Nice, but not essential to taking good photographs

  • Find one who will work for free or very little. Your wedding dress cost you $2000, so you don’t have much left to spend on a photographer. $150 for a day’s worth of work is not bad, and anyone should be glad to get that much in this economy. People who pay thousands of dollars for a photographer are suckers! Nope. They’re smart. Think of it this way: you are going to wear that dress one day, then it goes into a closet for the next several decades. Your photos will be viewed over and over again. You’ll show them to your children, your friends, your relatives, and eventually you’ll hand them down to the next generation. It’s my opinion that you should budget as much or more for the photographer than you do for the dress. Good photographers are expensive because photography is hard work. Following a bride and groom around for 10-12 hours while carrying 30 lbs and $20,000 in gear is stressful and exhausting. Wrangling people into poses, competing with guests who are jockeying to beat you to the good shot, working with bad light, squatting, stretching, bending, and constantly thinking, thinking, thinking–it’s a ton of work to get those gorgeous wedding photos you crave for your album. Then, after the big day, processing and retouching the photos can take weeks. It’s not worth anyone’s time to take photos for less than $1000, and realistically it’s not worth it for most photographers unless it’s much more than that. Some people try to justify paying less by saying things like “this will be good for photographers looking to build their portfolios” or “this would be a good gig for a photography student” but no, it still isn’t, not for them or for you.
  • Hire your friend’s roommate. After all, he has a camera that costs $500! And he takes nice photos. So, he’ll be able to take all the photos you need at a fraction of the price. Right? Not necessarily. Again, the gear is not really a big deal, but good photography is hard work, especially weddings. It takes experience and really quick thinking. Can your friend’s roommate make an instant decision on how to deal with the low light in the church so he doesn’t miss those important walking down the aisle shots? Does he know the industry well enough to get all the shots you’re going to want later? Does he know how to process the images afterward so you have files or prints you can actually use? That being said, sometimes your friend’s roommate is a really good photographer who would be a photography star if someone would just give him that first gig, so a risk could really pay off. Look at his images and learn whether he can work well and quickly under intense and fast-paced conditions.
  • Hire the first photographer you find in your price range. Then, the day of your wedding or portrait session, discover that things are really awkward between you and the photographer, you don’t seem able to communicate clearly to each other, and the whole day feels off. When the images come back, they aren’t anything like you wanted. It’s so important to really examine the photographer’s work. Everyone has a different style and aesthetic. Find someone who produces photos you like. Meet with the photographer first over coffee and chat about what you are looking for. You want to find a photographer you are comfortable talking to, someone whose personality meshes well with yours. It will make the shoot much more enjoyable for everyone, and the images will be better for it.
  • Wait until the last minute to book a photographer. This is a sure-fire way to ensure you end up with someone you are not happy with. There is a chance of getting a good photographer at a good rate just days before the wedding/party/day you want to shoot, but it’s not likely. Most photographers book weeks to months in advance, and many wedding photographers are booked full a year or more in advance. Book as soon as you can.
  • Declare you will edit the photos yourself, thereby justifying the low rate you want to pay. Rather than attracting photographers, this will end up scaring them away. A photograph is a photographer’s bread and butter, and also her reputation and her advertising. Maybe you’re really good at editing photos, but most photographer’s aren’t going to take the chance you aren’t. If you take her photos and edit them until they are unrecognizable as her work, she’s not going to want her name near them. Most photographers want to control the editing of their own work simply because it is vital that the final image is something they can stand by–it could be the death of their career otherwise.
  • Justify not paying a photographer because you are really attractive. I actually saw this once. It’s nice that you’re pretty, but you still need to pay for services received. Photographers see pretty people all the time, and while it is so nice of you to share your pretty with the photographer so generously, he still needs to pay rent and buy a new lens, so pay up.

Finding a good photographer who is right for you and your event takes time and a little research, but it’s well worth it. It’s also worth it to pay your photographer well–most photographers are not living the high life, and you’re not seeing the cost in time after the event, the cost of insurance, equipment purchase and repair, and so on. Do your research, make good choices. Best of luck!

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