Tuesday, February 9, 2010

How to choose a professional photographer

This last week I made the mistake of offering my photography services to a family that was asking me a lot of questions and seemed interested. The second the words "when do you want to schedule an appointment?" came out of my mouth (note I don't ask this question randomly) she defensively answered "Oh no, I have a photographer, she's a friend of a friend I go to church with. My friend says she's wonderful." I honestly do not get offended normally when someone tells me they happen to have another photographer. I'm well aware of how saturated the market is and I'm not threatened by the fact that everyone and their dog all own digital cameras now. What threw me off is the fact that she wasn't even willing to review my work despite the fact that she has yet to see the work of her chosen photographer!

I will be the first one to say there is room in my industry for all kinds. I don't take it personal when someone isn't in love with my work. My self worth isn't based on the opinions of others so I'm pretty hard to annoy.

Truth is: my biggest pet peeve is ignorance and since the collision of digital photography and the 10% unemployment rate, stupidity has become contagious! There are so many photographers now that consumers are now being hunted like injured gazelle on the Serengeti. Informed customers are the best kind. They get what they want at fair market value. The problem isn't too many photographers, it's not enough buyers have taken the time to understand what they are getting. Thus a large number of photographers creating sub par images are providing work at bargain basement prices. It's the Walmart business model applied to a skilled art and it spells trouble.

So consumers listen up! Here's the things you should look for when choosing a photographer.

1. Don't ask what equipment they have. It doesn't matter. What matters is how they use it. I own a toothbrush and whitening strips but that doesn't make me a dentist. The years of experience, a quality portfolio that shows my results, and an education in the use of all kinds of lighting, subject matters, and business practices is what makes me a professional.

2. Do ask to talk to past customers. The referral should provide you with information about the photographers personal demeanor, skill set, and customer service style (or lack their of). Photography is a art but portraiture is a business, so make sure you photographer knows how to act like a professional as well as shoot like one.

3. Visit their studio or have an in home consultation before the shoot. If you are not comfortable with chatting with your photographer then, how easy will it be to work with them? Not every photographer is right for every person. Shop around until you find one that understands you and your family.

4.Visit their website and compare portfolios first. The fatal mistake many people make is they go directly to the pricing page and never even click farther then that. Price is an important factor but it isn't the right way to select the person who will capture timeless memories for you. Think in terms of quality to help you establish value. Then if you have something different in mind then the specific packages offered on a website, ask about custom packages. I am in no way suggesting you haggle for a better deal. Just inquire about all of your options.

5. Do not ask a photographer to copy an image you saw on someone else's website. Not only is this copyright infringement, but it's in bad taste. You should hire a photographer for their skill and creativity. If you really love an image and want something similar for your own portrait, go to the photographer who created it in the first place! You'll be happier with the quality long term.

6. Never forget that the things we want to photograph in our lives are always life changing events. A birth, marriage, graduation, or a new phase in a child's development. The person you ask to capture these moments should be someone you trust and who knows how the world looks through your eyes. Nothing less should be substituted.

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