Obviously the photos need to be of good quality, but even modern smartphones have amazing cameras, so how can you tell what’s good quality and what isn’t?
Most people can tell the difference between a professionally taken photo, and a ‘snap’ if put side by side. You could bring up a professional headshot or portrait image, (or whatever type/style of photography you’re looking for,) as a comparison. Just type in “Good (x) photography into Google and pick a few interesting images you like. You could maybe even make a mood board, (Pinterest is greatfor this,) and have it open in another browser while you search.
Also: Make sure you check out where the creator of those images is too – they might be close by!
+ Are the sample images on the photographer’s site good quality?
Remember, The Camera Is Just A Tool
Just like a pencil doesn’t create a great drawing, a good camera does not make a good photograph.
I used to watch a show on YouTube where they gave professional photographers the worst cameras they could find, (like a Barbie digital camera,) and asked them to shoot with it. It was pretty entertaining, but the most interesting thing was that invariably, the pro photographer would come back with at least one or two genuinely good shots.
With good gear and some knowledge of editing, photographers can create works of art. Ask them what mode they like to shoot in. They don’t have to shoot manual, but if they answer with, “Auto”, run for the hills.
+ When choosing a photographer, good gear is a lot less important than things like skill set, experience and ‘eye’. They should use a mode like ‘Aperture priority’ or manual to shoot in. You don’t need to know what this means, but they will if they know what they’re doing.
Do you like the style of the images shown on the photographer’s site?
Some photographers do a lot of post processing, some keep it plain and simple. Some use effects, some prefer not to.
Also the amount of ‘Photoshopping’ they do can be a factor. For example: I will generally remove a blemish on someone’s skin, because it just so happened that it was there on the day of the shoot, and is temporary. However, I wouldn’t remove say, a mole unless specifically requested to, because that is a more permanent part of them.
+ Discuss their style with your potential photographer(s), as well as the amount of Photoshopping they do. Don’t expect a photographer to ’ape’ another style you’ve seen online though, so choose one whose style you like.
This is actually a really important test and goes hand in hand with style. Are the photos of a consistent quality? I’ve seen several cases of supposed photographers using images from genuine photographers’ websites, without permission and passing them off as their own. Usually these people are found out pretty quickly, mostly because there is no consistency between the images they display – because they steal from multiple photographers.
+ If the sample images look like they were taken by different photographers, go back to Google.
Is the photographer offering to photograph anything under the sun? Generally professional photographers offer no more than a handful of subjects they photograph, because that’s what they specialise in. For example, you won’t see wedding or pet photography on this site because I specialise in family portraits, headshots and commercial photography.
+ If they have pictures of landscapes next to portraits, alongside weddings, maternity and newborn photography, that’s a huge red flag. Keep searching.
Value – Not Price
Although price is always a factor, I think value is a better gauge of professionalism. You can always find someone cheaper to do any job, but the value you will get will vary drastically. As Red Adair is credited with saying,
“If you think it’s expensive hiring a professional, wait until you hire an amateur.”
It’s perfectly ok to ask a photographer what you’re getting for your money. Do you get any prints with the session or is it digital delivery only? Do you get a secure, online gallery, or are the images delivered on a USB stick? Is it possible to buy images later? How many images should I expect to get from the session?
Almost all professional photographers will decline to give original RAW files, for the same reason a baker wouldn’t sell you the ingredients to make a cake. The RAW files are really for editing only and will not look as nice as the finished images. Your photographer will have worked very hard to establish both their brand and style, and giving out RAW files runs the risk of damage to that brand. Offering RAW files would be a red flag. Not shooting in RAW would be another, unless it’s for journalism.
+ Ask what you get for your money, but beware of photographers that offer the original RAW files. Also ask if they shoot in RAW – they should.
Professionals don’t just have more experience, or better kit – they treat photography as a professional service. That means things like turning up with additional kit – just in case something goes wrong. Good wedding photographers may bring along a small sewing kit – just in case.
Professional photographers will also have the foresight to have insurance, so if something gets damaged, it’s covered.
More than that though, it means treating you as a valued customer. That doesn’t mean they’ll be formal or ’stiff’, but you should get things like an invoice or receipt as well as excellent customer service. You may be asked to sign a contract or pay a deposit and there will be things in place if the shoot cannot go ahead for some reason.
Also, how can you pay them? Pro’s will usually accept cards, bank transfers, and cheques as well as cash.
+ You’re definitely more protected with a professional, business-owning photographer than you are with an amateur.
Friendliness and approachability
I highly encourage you to talk to your prospective photographers – either on the phone or face to face. There’s only so much you can get from email or text messages. Talking to them will let you see more of what they are like as a person and most pro’s will be happy to meet up for coffee and a chat. A conversation can’t be edited either, so if they’re not a good fit for you, it should come across pretty quickly. You’ll know within the space of a short call if they are flexible, accommodating, friendly etc, but please remember that they have other clients too, so may not be available on the date you would like, and the ideal solution is the one that works for you both.
Good photographers are looking for good clients to work with too, so don’t be offended if they refer you to someone else – that’s actually good customer service. It shows they are more concerned with you working with someone that suits you rather than just taking money from anyone who comes along.
+ Talk to your prospective photographer to see if they’re a good fit for you. They will be doing the same and may refer you to someone more suitable if they don’t think they’re the best option for you.