With so many photographers out there, it can feel overwhelming to have to put extra work into choosing one. But not all photographers are alike – in fact, most of us like to think we’re one of a kind. 😉 Jokes aside, there are an almost infinite number of photographic and editing styles, and every photographer has their own personality and approach to their sessions – and those things might not align with your vision, so it’s important to ask questions up front to get a feel for who you’re working with and what you can expect from the session and your photos.
Here is a short list of questions I recommend you ask any prospective photographer before you sign any contracts or pay a retainer.
1) DO YOU SPECIALIZE IN MY NICHE?
This may be the most important question to ask – yes, even more important than cost – because if you’re looking for newborn photos and the first photographer you contact shoots only weddings, you’re wasting your time. And even if they agree to take the photos for you, do you really want to trust your brand new baby with someone who doesn’t specialize in photographing newborns?
2) WHAT'S YOUR STYLE OF PHOTOGRAPHY?
Think documentary, cinematic, traditional, etc. Each of us has a style, and some of us even blend styles to make something even more unique. If you like traditionally posed photos, then you want to make sure your photographer shoots that way. And if you have more of a lifestyle vibe, a traditional photographer can’t give you what you’re looking for.
TIP: check out the photographer’s website and socials and take note of whether or not they pose their clients, or if they seem to let their subject interact with each other (and not the camera). It’s also important to note their editing style because they’re going to edit your photos in a manner that’s consistent with their other work. If you want true to color and this photographer edits with warmer tones, you’re not going to love your pictures, no matter how great the composition.
3) WHAT'S YOUR PRICING STRUCTURE?
Some photographers’ pricing is all inclusive – meaning the cost covers the session and images – and some come in packages, or even a la carte. It’s important to ask before you sign & schedule because there’s nothing worse than getting a surprise invoice for your digitals when you thought you’d already paid for them.
4) WHAT'S YOUR PAYMENT STRUCTURE?
Some photographers want payment in full at the time of booking, some require half the cost as a retainer and the remainder due within a certain time frame prior to the session. And others may let you break up the fee into multiple payments. It’s important to ask that up front, so there are no surprises.
5) WHAT IS THE IMAGE ORDERING PROCESS?
Some photographers like to do in-person sales, meaning they meet with their clients to go over the images, at which time the client places an order. Other photographers simply deliver a gallery ready for immediate download, and others deliver what’s called a proof gallery, where you’d review the images uploaded by your photographer and select the ones you want to download or purchase. It’s important to know ahead of time what the process is, as it will save you time at the end so you don’t have to wait even longer for your photos.
6) WHAT PLANNING HELP DO YOU PROVIDE?
Even the simplest of sessions requires some planning, and it’s good to know going into things how much support your photographer offers along the way, whether that’s location scouting, styling guidance, or simply being available to answer any questions that might arise between scheduling and the day of your session.
7) HOW DO YOU APPROACH YOUR SESSIONS?
I know I sound like a broken record, but trust me – the more you know going into your photo session, the more comfortable you’ll feel. In this case, knowing ahead of time whether your photographer plans their poses, works on the fly, or somewhere in between will help you know what to expect. Going into a session with one expectation and finding out your photographer operates in a completely different way can throw the energy of your session completely off, and trust me: that will show in your pictures.
8) DO YOU HELP WITH POSING?
With the exception of a select few, most of us don’t know what to do with ourselves in front of the camera and need guidance. Your photographer should be able to easily guide you through poses or with prompts to ensure your photos look natural and flattering. If they can’t…well, keep looking until you find one that can.
9) HOW LONG WILL THE SESSION BE?
Most full sessions last around an hour, and mini sessions are anywhere from fifteen to thirty minutes. Some photographers are strict with time, while others just go with the flow, shooting until they feel they’ve gotten what they need. It’s important to know before you begin how long you can expect to be there and whether or not you’ll be kept to a strict timeline.
TIP: Be respectful of everyone’s time and don’t be late. Chances are, for every minute you’re late, you’ve cut into your session time, and that’s just going to stress everyone out. Plan to arrive at least ten minutes before your session start time.
10) HOW MUCH EDITING WILL YOU DO?
Aside from their overall aesthetic (i.e. light & airy, dark & moody, bold & colorful, etc.), how much touching up does this photographer do? Don’t expect them to remove every blemish and wrinkle – at least not for free. Find out what corrections they regularly do, and what extras they’d be willing to do and for how much.
In addition to asking the above questions, there are a few other things you can do to get an idea of who you will potentially be working with:
· Read their reviews (Google, Yelp, Facebook, etc.) – be judicious, though. One or two one-star reviews among a large number of four- and five-star reviews is normal. More bad reviews than good is a sign to keep searching.
· Ask to see some galleries of their work. Most photographers only put a small selection from each session on their website or social media – a gallery or album will give you a much clearer picture (no pun intended) of what their work looks like.
· Throughout your correspondence or conversations with this potential photographer, try to get a feel for their personality, and make sure it matches yours. If you’re exuberant and outgoing, but your photographer is serious and reserved, I don’t think anyone would enjoy themselves during a session. (Hint: Scope out their social media, too. Their captions, videos, and content will give you some clues about who they are)
It sounds like a lot of work, I know. But if you’re going to check out restaurant reviews before ordering a meal, why wouldn’t you look into someone who’s going to be sharing and photographing intimate moments with you? Photos are an investment (and to some, even a luxury), so make sure you’re getting your money’s worth by doing a little bit of work up front so on the day of your session, all you have to do is show up and have fun. 😊