Updated: Feb 4, 2019
It seems like every Tom, Dick, and Harry is a photographer these days. The market is so saturated with someone in our lives that claims to know how to take decent phots that we struggle to differentiate a photographer we should hire and ones with whom we should encourage to keep practicing with their chosen subjects.
As a photographer I've also hired others to take photos, coached my friends on hiring photographers for their weddings (bridesmaid duties I never thought I'd take on), and collected a plethora of #photographerfail stories for my arsenal.
As one who spends time behind (and sometimes in front of) the lens, here is my tried and true checklist for hiring out your photos. If you're a soon-to-be bride, here's a more expanded post for you.
What is your goal?
If you're looking to have casual snapshots taken at a family cookout and you're on a tight budget, maybe you have different expectations than celebrating a milestone anniversary. Based on your goal, here's what I'd suggest.
"I want these images to be inexpensive."
A photographer who has taken a leap of faith to have a legitimate business has overhead costs. In turn, their work will likely be more expensive. Keep in mind that if you also want your images to look like they're from a magazine, you'll have to splurge.
If you're on a budget for your session or event, perhaps look where you can cut other costs to afford the photos that you want. Keep in mind that naturally lit settings can give a photographer much more to work with than building rental with high ceilings, tungsten/florescent/mixed lighting, and bold floors/ceilings/walls.
Remember that not every event needs a photographer! You'll do yourself AND the photographer a huge service if you're honest about your budget and needs. Ask those attending your event to take photos with their chosen device and put them onto a shared drive (like Google or Dropbox) to peruse later.
If you're not hung up on quality and your budget is important, save that photographer hire for when it does matter versus trying to talk your photographer down to your budget.
"I want these images to be framable, suitable for a canvas, or given to others."
This is a time to splurge. Aunt Marge's iPhone X photos are great, but they have limitations when it comes to printing.
I'm going to use Aunt Marge's iPhone X as an example. This phone has a dual-lens 12-megapixel rear camera with dual optical image stabilization, consisting up of a wide-angle f/1.8 aperture lens and a telephoto f/2.4 aperture lens. The 7-megapixel front camera has auto image stabilization and exposure control.
Let me unbox that for you. Aunt Marge's iPhone X is amazing, but has technical attributes of a "fancy photographer camera" from sometime at or before 2007. Although handy, the iPhone (and comparable) camera phones cannot meet resolution requirements that will be necessary to have quality framed or mounted prints.
Other goals you'll align to this answer are:
"I want these images to accurately and gracefully capture my [insert event]."
"Photos of this moment are incredibly important to me."
"I'll need to remember and reflect on these moments forever."
What are your expectations?
Simply put, are you hoping to have an intimate, one-on-one type of session with your photographer who only has attention for you? Or, are you hoping to get as little attention as possible and hopefully avoid being photographed at all?
If you're waiving your arm to the latter like an impatient child at a school desk who needs to use the bathroom, you should revisit the first question and determine if a photographer is really what you want or whether you feel it's socially expected.
The photographer can tell when they weren't really wanted in the first place. Be sure that those being photographed, even if it's just you, are truly ready to work with someone on your goal, expectations, and vision.
If you are hiring a photographer, ask questions that define your expectations such as:
How long are your sessions?
What does your pricing encompass beyond photographing, editing, and sharing the photos?
What are your payment plans, options for payment, and perks for cash payment?
How do you share your photos?
What is your average turnaround time on sharing photos?
Do you have a contract I could review?*
Do you carry insurance?"
*A contract is a simple way to tell how seasoned your photographer is. If they don't have a legally binding agreement it's time to move on down your list. * Depending where your session is to be held, insurance may be required. Even if it isn't, what if the photographer visited your property and got hurt? Insurance in my opinion, is non-negotiable.
Did the photographer come referred?
If someone you know and trust used a photographer, start by checking on their availability. If they're not free you have two options:
Ask more friends for more referrals.
Ask the photographer if they have someone in their community they trust and would send you to as a referral. Photographers hire photographers too! And if a photographer IS willing to refer you elsewhere, that's a strong indicator that they're someone you'd want to try and schedule sooner for your next photography need.
In the good/bad/indifferent words of Mark Zuckerberg (CEO of Facebook),
"People influence people."
Think Long Term
Building a good relationship with a photographer is like looking for a life-long mechanic. It takes time to find a good one, but when you do, you'll know that they'll give it to you straight.
When you reuse a photographer they get to know you, your family members, your preferences, styles, nuances, your best side, pet's name, payment preference, and best outfit colors. They can curate experiences, sessions, and settings that will be best for your goals even when they crop up and aren't planned.
Imagine if your photographer could text or call you randomly because they got a wild offer to host mini sessions at a pet store and wanted to invite you to bring your dog. See what I mean?
If you serial date photographers because your goal is to keep photography costs low and you're always looking for mini sessions or last minute openings, you're missing out on tons of perks. You'll also miss a cohesiveness to your images when you look back because you'll have many photography styles (think styling, filters, composition, etc.) that could make it hard to display all of the images together on a wall or in a book.
Being vulnerable isn't the same as offering waaaay too much information about how your husband's job is straining your marriage, the vet found legos in your dog's stool, and your mother is struggling to let you raise your children without her input.
Dr. Brené Brown is an American research professor in The Graduate College of Social Work at the University of Houston who says it perfectly,
"Vulnerability is the birthplace of innovation, creativity, and change."
It's when your photographer remains warm, helpful, and mindful if you say things like:
"I had a very bad car wreck in college. Most of the left side of my face was scarred and although you can't always tell, I notice in photos. If you could try and be conscious of showing the right side of my face in photos, I'd be more likely to love them."
"Our little boy is camera shy. If you could spend some time warming up to him before you start photographing, we think our photos will be better."
"We aren't perfect and don't expect to appear to be. We just want photos that show how much we love each other, live by grace, and treasure everyday moments."
As you get to know your photographer with vulnerability statements, you can relax enough to laugh about things like legos in your dog's stool when your children can't keep it to themselves.
Once you're comfortable you can better share your vision - be it an overlying vibe you hope is portrayed or how you want your hair to look.
Continue reading more checklists or explore additional posts.