Are you looking for a Photographer for those Family or Christmas Portraits? I have seen many posts from a lot of you looking to get Family and/or Christmas portraits/photos done this year. And while not everyone has a budget for a professional photographer, hiring an amateur photographer can work as long as you know what we are getting; and this includes the photographer that says their a “professional” when they are not. For this post, what I am calling an “amateur” is a photographer that does NOT make a significant part of their yearly income from photography.
As a professional photographer myself for more than 20 years, I have seen more than my fair share of bad experiences. So here are my top 4 essential things to consider that should help you find someone that will get the job done as you expect:
1. Always ask for at least three recent session examples.
A blind squirrel will get a nut every once in a while. How sure that is in the photography business! This is going to give you an array of different scenarios that the photographer managed and how well the shoot went. It can also give you some ideas that you may not have thought of. Make sure they were taken in the past 12-18 months to see their current skills.
Are the images sharp?
Look from front to back in group photos. Is EVERYONE in focus? There is nothing worse than having the grand-babies (upfront) sharp as a tack, but Grandpa Joe (in back) so out of focus he just looks like a blob of goo!
Is the lighting good?
Whether inside or out, look at the lighting and shadows. Are they harsh, hard edges (bad) or soft, smooth transition (excellent). Look at things like the eyes, are they dark and look like they belong to a heroin addict (bad) or can you see soft shadows that accent the face (excellent). Is there a lot of contrast – very bright whites and very dark blacks (bad) or is the lighting consistent where you can see details in the bright & dark areas?
Is everything in place?
Are the clothes each person is wearing complementary to one another (excellent) or does they look like a Goodwill Garage Sale exploded (bad).
Is everyone smiling, have their eyes open and looking at the camera?
Don’t forget about the backgrounds, I have actually seen a backyard family portrait posted online with Dog Poop in the photo! Look past the “people” and see what’s all in the composition.
2. Ask for an equipment list.
This is more for you to see if they are serious about their craft but is not a show-stopper. A professional photographer can shoot great photos with just about any camera. But an amateur shooting with amateurish equipment is already struggling, and if they don’t know how to work within the equipment limitations, the results will be disastrous. Serious photographers will have various different lenses and in some cases, different camera bodies to accommodate a broad range of shooting scenarios.
So what to look for?
More than one camera with one lens to start. If they have different lenses, ask them what is the “f-stop” of their primary shooting lens and if it is fixed or variable? First, this will show them that you have done some homework, but most importantly, it will tell you how serious they are about their craft.
All you need to know is that lenses with a smaller f-stop, like 1.4, 2.8 or even 4 are what you are looking for. These are more expensive because they let in more light (VERY GOOD) and are typically much sharper than consumer-grade lenses.
Fixed f-stop is what you are hoping to hear, this just means that the number (2.8) is the same at all zoom ranges. A lens with a variable f-stop (like 3.5-5.6) means that as the photog zooms in, they lose more light (very bad). Variable f-stops are also typical of consumer-grade lenses and are rarely as sharp as a fixed lens.
3. Know what the “whole” shoot is going to cost up-front and get it in writing.
Ask the photographer, what am I getting (exactly) and what is it going to cost (exactly). It’s really that simple – then, have them put it all in writing!
You’ll want to know how many of the images will be fully post-processed and ready to print (on or offline). A lot of photographers will shoot 10 or even 50 shots and only produce 1 or 2 “final” print-ready images, and require for a fee for them to edit any more. The key here is to know what and how many poses do you want and make sure each will be “print-ready” when delivered.
You’ll want to know if you get the full resolution digital copies w/o watermarks. I’m surprised how many photographers will deliver low-res/web versions with watermarks (their name/logo on the image somewhere) and ask for a few for the full resolution w/o watermarks – and sometimes this fee is huge.
You’ll want to know if you’ll have full “rights” to use the photos any way you want. Some photographer restricts usage to just basic prints and a small version for social sharing. But their your photos, if you’re going to send them to Ante Sue or print them on t-shirts for that reunion coming up – you should be able to!
4. How long after the photoshoot will I have my images?
This is an important question, and this also NEEDS TO BE IN WRITING! You will not believe how many times I have heard that a photographer took weeks even months to get the images edited and back to the client! A typical scenario would be to get the images back within a week. You really don’t want your Christmas photos delivered sometime in January – do you?