Choosing a photographer who meets your needs
Photography is a form of art. And though many technical aspects are the same across the board, photographs are very a subjective art form. Some people prefer traditional posing, lighting, and processing, while others prefer an edgier, high-fashion look, with heavy post-processing. Either way, when those people show up for a scheduled portrait session, 99.9% of them have an idea in their mind of how they want the end result to look.
The first step in achieving the photos you want begins with YOU, the Client. After all, you are the one who will choose which photographer to spend your hard-earned money on. When you contact a perspective photographer, he or she is going to assume you're calling because you have looked through their galleries and like what you've seen. Henceforth, you also want photographs like the ones you've seen. After all, you wouldn't go to a vegan restaurant and expect to see BBQ ribs on the menu, or buy tickets for a rock concert, expecting to hear country music, right?
As much as I want every person who looks at my gallery to fall in love with my work and hire me on the spot, I'll be honest: If they have expectations completely different from what I offer, I would prefer they choose another photographer. That's right! You heard it here - I would WANT them to choose someone else. Why? Because I would never want to disappoint anyone, and I want everyone out there - whether they choose Monson Photography or not - to end up thrilled with the photos they pay for.
Here are a few tips for you that will help you select the photographer who can help you achieve those photos you're dreaming of:
1. Know what look you want.
If you have joined Pinterest, this is a great place to start! Create a "mood board" and pin photos that appeal to you. HOWEVER, instead of pinning the images with comments from random strangers, customize the comments. If you like the the processing of the image, comment, "processing". If you like the pose, say so. If you like the way a particular part of the image is lit, comment "lighting". This is also a great place to pin wardrobe inspiration for your shoot. After you've pinned a couple dozen images, the vision you're after will begin to emerge.
Here are some various ideas that you are free to pin! Images in my galleries are also pin-able. I will try not to go overboard, but here are a some images that might get you started on your way to finding what sort of setting you're after.
Beach - shots on the water
Beach - shots in the sand/grass/etc
2. Look through the galleries of photographers in your area.
If you have already decided that you want your session to have a "lifestyle" look, which is a more candid, unposed look (i.e. images of Mom, Dad & children playing on a blanket in a field, possibly not looking at the camera), do you see anything like that in the photographer's gallery? If not, perhaps they're not the right fit for you.
3. Ask around to see which photographers your friends and family recommend.
Talk to your friends and family. Who have they used, and what was their experience? Was the photographer friendly and have good skills and communication? Was the session fun? Did they get what they expected to? Did any problems occur? Would they recommend this photographer?
Take the above with a grain of salt, though. Maybe you like the style of a photographer that none of your friends or family have used yet. This happens with me quite a bit, actually, because Ludington is a fairly small town and I did not grow up here. A lot of people might recommend Jane Doe Photography because they've been friends/neighbors/co-workers for years and Jane is super nice, but that might not make her the best fit for you.
4. Look into pricing.
Before you contact any photographer, check out their pricing online. Most will, at the very least, list the price of their session fee. If you love Jane Doe's work but know she is WAY out of your price range, unfortunately, not much can be done about that, aside from waiting a little longer and saving up the money for your shoot. It doesn't hurt to be wary of the overly affordable photographer, either. As the saying goes, sometimes you get what you pay for. (But that goes back to reviewing the quality of a person's work before you hire them, too.)
Many people get a bit of sticker shock when they find out the cost of a professional photographer, and it is beyond them how a person could charge so much to 'click a button'. What they may not realize is that a true professional photographer has invested not only hundreds of hours in learning, but thousands of dollars in equipment. They will have professional grade gear and backups of all said gear in case of equipment failure. They will pay sales tax, claim this income on their taxes, and continue to invest in their business. They have many expenses beyond the button they click, so please bear that in mind.
If you are extremely interested in a particular photographer, it doesn't hurt to ask to see their portrait pricing as well. I know many photographers who would disagree with me on this, but my portrait pricing is posted on my website for the world to see. I honestly do not want any client of mine to be surprised when it comes time to place their order, and I want them to be able to budget for their photos ahead of time.
5. Start looking & calling EARLY.
I have had a lot of folks call me up in mid-July to say they're going to be vacationing in Ludington next week, and could I take their family photos? As much as I hate to disappoint people and turn down business, more often than not, I am unfortunately unable to accommodate these requests.
Most photographers have a busy (or busier!) season. For me, it's the end of June - end of October, and I accept clients on a first come, first served basis. I currently also have a full-time "day job" (as many photographers do), a husband and children, and also want to enjoy a bit of the (too short!) summer myself. I not only schedule sessions, but oftentimes "rain dates" for out-of-town clients, as well as leaving myself time to edit and post those images on time, as promised to my clients. So, as you can imagine, my available dates fill up rather quickly.
If you have a specific date or venue in mind, your best bet is to start calling early. If you know you want beach photos, don't wait to call until the photographer is booking into November. If you have your heart set on photos with fall leaves, it is a very short window of opportunity here in Michigan.
Another upside to early scheduling is that your photographer has more time to prepare for your session! He or she will be able to assist you in finding the right wardrobe, and maybe even customize some props for you.
If at all possible, when you call, have an idea in your mind of certain dates/times that will or won't work for you. If you know that it must be on a weekday evening or a Saturday morning, this is good information to have on hand.
6. Know what you are getting and what will be expected of you.
Are any prints or digital images included in your purchase price? Does the photographer offer wardrobe consultation? How much are "extras" - extra time, extra location, additional people, extensive retouching, etc. - as it may apply to your requests. How long after your session until your images are ready to view? Do you have to order within a certain time frame after your proofs are ready? What is a good estimate of proofs to expect? (Of course, there are a 1,000 more questions related to wedding photography, but that's another post altogether!)
Any professional photographer should have a portrait session contract that addresses expectations and legality between the client and photographer. Again, I know there are pros out there who would disagree with me on this, but I would have absolutely no problem sharing my contract (it's linked above, by they way!) with a potential client. Why? Because I want them to know exactly what we both agreeing to. And perhaps it will open the door to other questions they might have.
7. Be clear in your communication with your photographer.
If you are price shopping or calling to check availability, it doesn't hurt to let the photographer know that as well.
Sometimes after speaking with potential clients on the phone and promising to email them additional details, I am not sure if they are scheduling, or if they are simply shopping. Was this a booking, or an inquiry? This may sound silly, but trust me, it is not uncommon, when potential clients call and ask a few questions.
I do realize that I could ask, yes, but I honestly hate to be that "pushy lady"! If someone is just checking to see if I have available dates and what my session fees are, I don't want to back them into a corner and make them feel as though they're on the schedule and need to mail a check.
So, if you would be so kind, when you call, be clear on your intent. If you are still in the data-gathering process, let them know! If they don't treat you with priority like they would any potential client, it's best to take your money elsewhere anyway.
On the flip side, if you have already done all your homework and know you MUST have this photographer, tell them! Let them know you've already reviewed their gallery and pricing and simply want to schedule. If you have already made your decision, skip the "sales pitch"!
Another important note here is, if you have a specific vision in mind, share it with your photographer. Let them know what you like or dislike. If you made a Pinterest board, let them look at it. Or, if you are open to suggestions on location, wardrobe, etc and are just looking for beautiful portraits, say so! I absolutely LOVE when clients let me help stylize a session for them.
Once you schedule with a photographer, another good piece of information to give them is if you are wanting a specific product. For instance, if you know you want a very large family portrait to hang above the couch and you know you want it to be landscape (horizontal) orientation, this is quite helpful in getting what you want.
8. Speak with the photographer either in person or on the phone.
Although many of my clients schedule and communicate with me strictly via email, I would really recommend that they at least call and chat with me (or any photographer) for a moment or two just to hear my voice and see if we 'click' (no pun intended). Of course, the ideal way to find this would would be to meet the would-be photographer in person. Unfortunately in this day and age, not many people have the luxury of time on their hands. I also realize some folks are more comfortable with written communication.
9. Use this handy checklist!
Here's a little checklist I've created to help you in your decision making! Best of luck in finding a photographer that will create beautiful, timeless images that you'll enjoy the rest of your life! (If you're reading this, I hope it's me! :) )
Keywords: Child Photography, FAQ, HS Senior Photography, Other Stuff, Wedding & Engagement Photography
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