Wednesday, May 15, 2019

Questions to ask when hiring a professional photographer all my years of blogging, this is the first time that I have written about this subject. I can not tell you how many times I am already booked and the clients have asked me the question "What should we be looking for when hiring a professional photographer?"

The other day I was at a car dealership to drop off my car for service and my service manager mentioned that she was getting married and looking for a photographer. I ended up spending a lot of time giving her advice on the questions she should be asking her possible photographers and what she should be requiring. This made me think that this is information I should be sharing with all of you.

1. What is their shooting style and is it the style you want?

First and foremost, the most important factor when choosing a photographer is to make sure they shoot in the style you are looking for. When people contact me about shooting for them, some of the first questions I ask them is "Have you looked at my web site? And does my style match what you are looking for?" Let's face it, some people want a photographer who shoots all high-key shots or puts an Instagram filter on all the photos. That is not me! My goal is to photograph all my clients to show who they are, not who I am. Most of the images on my web site capture the essence of my subjects and show my journalistic style. My goal is to attract those clients who like high-quality candid photos.

2. Does their personality match yours?

Most people don't think about the personality of the photographer, but I always tell people that this is critical. Remember, if you are hiring a photographer to shoot your wedding or other big event, you will likely be spending 8 or more hours with them. You want to hire someone who compliments you. If you are easy going and informal, you will likely want to hire someone who mirrors that attitude. I insert myself into each family as I am shooting their event. It lets me get to know them really well, determine who they are, have fun with them, and share the passion for photography.

3. How much does it cost for the photographer and the end products?

Once people determine that the photographer is capable of delivering high quality images in the preferred style, and they have a good rapport with the photographer, the next question is usually about cost.

In my opinion, there are some factors which might influence the pricing:

* Geography - the cost would likely be more in higher-cost cities
* Experience - the more experienced (& higher quality) a photographer, the higher the price might be
* Duration of the photography - you need to know how many hours of coverage you are getting
* Deliverables - are these included in a package or are you paying separately for digital, prints and an album? * If you are paying a la carte, how much do these options cost?

And having been a professional photographer for 15 years, I know that pricing can be all over the map. There are photographers that can be found on Craigslist and other web sites who will shoot an all-day event for $300, and there are some high-end photographers who might charge $50k for their team to capture a full day.

4. Are the photos that you order going to be fully retouched?

Typically photographers will deliver images in one of following categories:

1. Not retouched at all (just exported to a JPEG format and handed to the client)
2. Minor retouching (usually batch processed in Lightroom)
3. Full retouching (fully completing each image)

Next month I will be presenting at B&H Photo in New York, and I will be talking about what it takes to take a good photo from the camera and retouch it to make it great. It is my belief that a good photographer should strive to capture an image that gets us 90% to the final deliverable. But this is still not a finished product. I fully retouch every photo that my clients order. Typically this means making adjustments to the exposure levels, shadows, highlights, white balance and then remove fly-away hairs, acne, exit signs, and other distractions.

You need to be aware of this before hiring a photographer, because your expectations of a finished product and theirs may differ.

5. How long will your photographer spend with you?

Most photographers I know set their pricing based on their hourly commitment, and this is totally understandable. I base my pricing on hours when I am shooting portraits or corporate jobs.  When I shoot an all day event, I generally charge a day rate, and unless the event is unusually long, I charge a fixed fee and stay until the event is over. I do this because I want my clients to know that capturing their event in its entirety is more important than the money I am making. But either way, you will want to know what your photographer is committing to.

6. Will there be a second photographer?

Not all events need a second photographer, but I usually recommend a second shooter for weddings and large events. Here is why:

* There is a lot going on at most weddings, it can be difficult for one photographer to cover everything. This is especially true before the wedding when the ladies are getting ready at one location and the gentlemen at another venue. Unless the day is choreographed just right, it takes more than one photographer to capture both sets of the wedding party getting ready. And during the wedding and reception, it is helpful to have a second person getting photos from different angles. Can it be done with one photographer? Yes, I have done it numerous times. But life is much easier with a second photographer.

* For events with more than 300 people, it is difficult for one person to adequately cover all the attendees. And it is not just the coverage of all the people, there will likely be certain scenarios that happen during the course of the event that will be missed.

7. What is their turn around time? And how long are the proofs posted?

I already mentioned the large disparity in pricing between photographers, but will also find a vast difference in how quickly photographers will promise to get proof images to their clients. I have heard wedding photographers say that they can deliver proof images within 3 weeks of the event, and I have also heard others who take 3 months to deliver their proofs. I almost always deliver my proof images the day after the event, and I leave the gallery up for 6 months. I also extend my client's galleries for no charge if they need more time. But I am not saying that this is the norm in our industry. You want to make sure to get your proofs within a week or two of your event, and when you order prints, digitals, and even albums, I think that the turn around time should be less than 2 weeks.

8. What unique services do they offer?

Along with providing beautiful photos to the client, there are many other options offered by photographers. Some still photographers will offer videography or photo booths, while others might provide same-day slideshows. It doesn't hurt to ask what other services the photographer might offer. I personally do not offer videography or photo booths, but am happy to recommend other vendors who do a great job with these services.

9. What equipment do they use?

This is a tricky one, because great equipment does not make a great photographer. BUT, I have seen some "photographers" show up to events with really old cameras, cheap lenses and consumer level gear that just can't get the job done correctly. You want to make sure that your photographer has reasonably up-to-date gear and backups of key equipment. I would never photograph an event with just one camera body, one flash, or one lens. Things can go wrong, and they do. I usually show up to an event with the following gear:

* Canon 1D X Mark II camera
* Canon 5D Mark IV camera
* Canon 70-200mm 2.8 lens
* Canon 24-70mm II lens
* Canon 16-35mm III lens
* Canon 8-15 fish eye lens
* At least 6 of the Canon 600 EX-RT flash units
* Lots of Pro Grade Digital memory cards
* At least 4 extra sets of fully charged Powerex Pro AA batteries for the flashes

And I ALWAYS shoot redundantly to two memory cards in each camera. I spent 12 years in the memory card business and know that things can go wrong with these cards, so I write RAW files to both cards. The last thing I want is to have data corruption and no record of a client's event.

10. How long do they keep the images?

My wedding was 28 years ago and I am pretty sure that our photographer trashed our negatives more than a decade ago. Heck...maybe even 20 years ago. I pride myself on keeping every digital image I have shot since 1998, and having those images in different locations in case of a catastrophe. (You can read about my backup system in this blog post). Last year I even had a client from 2008 place an order for their images. I am not saying that every photographer should keep their images for a lifetime, but you should know what the life of your images are, especially if you are one of those clients that procrastinates in selecting your final images.

11. Does your photographer offer albums and album design?

Believe it or not, there are plenty of photographers who shoot the photos, deliver digital images and that's it. And we all know what happens to our photos when we get them and don't have the time or talent to put them in an album. I remember cleaning out my parent's house and finding shoe boxes full of those long forgotten images.

Check to see if your photographer can create a finished album or book for you. Typically these days, that means a high-quality press printed keepsake. You also want to ask how many photos and pages are included in the layout and price of the album or book.

Events may come and go, but the photos will stay forever

I take my profession really seriously, and I treat every photo shoot as a once in a lifetime event. Whether it is the Olympic Games or a family portrait, I am still capturing photos that tell a story and capture that moment in time. As I always say, "I don't think of myself as a photographer, I think of myself as a historian". This is a job that just can't be taken lightly.

I am sure that I am missing some more criteria here, but I hope that this helps you to make a more informed decision as you search for a professional photographer. If you have a friend looking for a photographer, feel free to pass this blog post along to them.

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