How to Choose a Professional Photographer
Those of you choosing a family, senior, or headshot photographer in the Twin Cities metro have quite a task ahead of you! I know there are a LOT of us out there, and it can be almost overwhelming to find someone perfect for the job.
I won’t be the person for every client session, I know. And that’s okay - great, even. I think that finding the best fit is crucial to client happiness. A few times someone has asked me to take on a project that’s not in my area of expertise. Because I feel that the moment a person contacts me, he or she becomes a client (even if I don’t take on the session!), I always do my best to help that person get his or her needs met by the right photographer. Even if that photographer isn’t me. Everybody wins that way.
My goal in writing this article isn't to get you to hire me (though, of course I would love that), but to help anyone looking for a Minnesota photographer find the right one. Our market is one of the biggest in the country right now!
So, here are my top ten things to consider when shopping for a portrait photographer in the Minneapolis-St. Paul area:
1) Are the images beautiful to look at, with lovely color and light, great exposure and clarity, and emotional impact? Are the images shot with pro-level gear?
How does the portfolio look? Is it beautiful? Is it consistent? Has this person mastered his or her craft? Is there variety in lighting, location and subject?
2) Does this person know how to find - or create - good lighting?
I know, natural light is all the rage right now. I use plenty of natural light, too! I love natural light. But… there are times when we need to shoot in a space with no windows. Or indoors on a cloudy or rainy day. Or after dark. And sometimes the natural light just doesn’t look good by itself. That’s where your photographer needs to know what to do, and create a solution for the lighting problem.
Did you know that the four images below were shot with studio lights? Could you tell? Do you even care? Probably not! All you saw is that the light looks nice, and soft, and flattering to the subjects’ faces and eyes. A professional photographer will know how to use or create lots of different kinds of lighting for the right effect.
3) Does the photographer specialize in portraiture? Do the people in his/her photographs look relaxed, natural, and posed nicely? Can I picture myself in those images? Do the images make me feel something?
I always suggest using a photographer that specializes in portraiture if you want pictures of, well… people! A professional portrait photographer should know how to pose people, talk to them, help them all relax and enjoy their photo shoot - all while reading light and adjusting camera settings for perfect exposure and focus. And consider the photographer’s style, and how people look in his or her photographs. Can you picture yourself in similar images? There are so many different styles out there, so look for the one that feels most like “you.”
4) Does he or she seem like a genuinely nice person who would be good to work with? Can I expect great customer service and care? Are there good reviews available to read?
Portrait photography is a “people business.” It’s good to be comfortable with your photographer! And it’s good when your photographer takes excellent care of you and your needs. The entire process of a photo shoot should make you feel wonderful, from start to finish.
5) Does the photographer appear to run a legitimate business, pay taxes, charge sales tax, and have business and liability insurance? Does he or she have a contract for you to sign, and policies in place?
It is important to work with a person who runs a legal business. Not just in photography, but in anything! It protects you and your investment, and creates assurance that the job will be done well and professionally.
6) Does this person have a physical studio space?
Even if he or she shoots all sessions on-location, and in natural light, it may still be a good idea to have a dedicated office space for client meetings. And if you are looking for someone who knows how to utilize off-camera lighting, or a photographer that can provide a place to shoot your session when it’s pouring out, a studio space is crucial. I have had clients tell me that one of the most important things they looked for when hiring a photographer was a studio - even if we didn’t use it much. It said to the client, “I am a professional.”
7) Does he or she have a professional-looking website?
Nowadays, a web presence is necessary for all legitimate businesses. Nearly everything you need to know should be easily found on your photographer's website. Personally, I award bonus points if everything is well-written, using good grammar, spelling, and punctuation.
8) Does he or she seem to be actively working? Is her blog fairly up-to-date? Does he post recent sessions on social media from time to time?
Some of us get REALLY busy and it’s hard to keep up with blogging and social media. But you can usually tell if someone is shooting and working regularly during the busy season. Personally, when it’s a little quieter, like in January and February, I take that time to shoot sessions with my own kids and share those on my blog and social media. I’m always shooting and working and sharing. I love to keep my skills up and I love to keep in contact with clients and followers.
9) Is the photographer within my budget? Does he or she seem worth what they charge?
This is such a sensitive subject, I know! Budget is important. I’m not going to get into all the reasons why professional photographers charge what they do. Those of us who take our photography businesses seriously have thought that out in great detail and made strong business plans, and we work at every aspect of our businesses every single day. So I will just say this: usually, you get what you pay for. If you are hiring a professional, with all the skills and attributes and amenities of a professional, and everything about their work and business seems to be of excellent quality, then… that’s something to consider when planning out your budget for a photo shoot. Many people save up for family or senior photos. Be wary of a deal that’s “too good to be true” - it probably is.
10) Does the photographer sell what I want to buy?
Some photographers sell only digital images, some sell only print products, and some sell everything! Figure out what you want as a result of your work with a photographer, and make sure, up front, that you will be able to get it. Your photographer should be able to answer your questions about digital files, print products, sizing, wall displays, and more.