When you're booking a photographer to capture an important part of your life - you will likely find an overwhelming amount of options in your community. You may know of a friend of a friend who takes good pictures, but when you're paying for a service, you deserve to know you're getting the appropriate service for the appropriate price. A deal isn't a deal if the end product doesn't have you telling all your friends who shot your gorgeous family portraits hanging on your walls.
Here's a brief guide of what to ask your photographer before you send in that non-refundable retainer.
1. Where can I see a body of your work?
Most photographers have an online presence of some sort. They may have afacebook page, an instagram page, a pinterest account, a web page or a blog. Often times, when you find one - you will be able to click through to each one of these. It's important to look at a variety of images taken by your photographer in order to pick out a few important things.
Is there a consistency with their images? Do you see a similar style threading its way through their portfolio? Are there overly trendy edits that will quickly grow tired and look dated on your walls?
Quality and consistency are paramount when choosing your photographer - images that are exposed correctly, that are sharply focused, that tell a story with composition, setting and posing - these are things to look for.
2. How comfortable do I feel talking about and sharing the vision I have for my session with my photographer?
Ultimately, when you have a conversation with your potential photographer, you will be able to discuss the options available to you. Location, how to dress for your session, what feelings you want conveyed in your final images. Your photographer should be skilled enough to know that dreamy photographs filled with loads of warm light filled images won't be possible mid-day. Or that a busy park, filled with families won't necessarily work for a private romantic shoot.
Your photographer should be confident enough in their abilities that they should have no problem directing you to the best final images, based on your combined vision for your shoot. A photographer who listens and knows their craft will be able to work with you to create gorgeous images that reflect their body of work and that incorporate some of your ideas. Keep in mind that although online sources like pinterest are great - photographers are artists - and no two photographers will create the same image.
3. Do you use a professional lab when producing prints and products?
Your photographer should be utilizing a professional lab in order to deliver high quality images and products to you. My goal is to offer a full service to my clients. I use professional equipment to take the images, use professional software for post processing, and have done research on various labs in order to find the one that produces prints that reflect this effort.
After investing in a professional photoshoot (time, energy and money) - doesn't it make sense that you would also want to have an end result that reflects this investment? The longevity of your prints should be as important as making the time for your session in the first place. A professional lab uses quality papers and inks in order to ensure your prints last a lifetime.
4. Do you offer digital files?
Every photographer will have a different answer to this question. We do offer digital images for certain sessions, but don't advise them for others. Here are a few thoughts to consider.
Although we do live in a digital age - you will find that in five years, even less - the method of storage will have completely changed. Floppy disks turned into cds, turned into flash drives, turned into the cloud. What's next? Will your images be lost on an outdated, inaccessible form of storage down the line?
My question is this - how often do you pull out your cds of images out of the drawer and sit around as a family looking at them on your tv or computer? Not very often. Do you remember pulling out old photo albums as a child asking your parents or grandparents who was in the images, where they were taken and laughing at the dated clothing and hairstyles. Perhaps someone you loved passed away and you have an image of them taped to the inside of your armoire or one that you carry with you in your wallet. Would you do the same with a flash drive? Probably not. Photographs are as much of a tangible family experience down the line as they are a decorative option for your home.
As a full service - you hire someone who will walk with you as an expert from the beginning to the end, and that should mean helping you choose your prints, product and albums.
Which leads me to the next question you should ask.
5. How many images will come from our time together, and how do you help me choose the ones I want to have printed?
Every photographer has a different answer to this question. It depends on the type of session, the style of the images and the length of the session.
As a rule of thumb, anything over 30 images for a posed family session will become overwhelming in the little details. A head tilt left instead of right, or a slight shift of an arm. You are likely to get stuck trying to pick between these subtleties if presented with too many images.
For a casual lifestyle session, where everyone is moving and interacting garnering 60-80 images isn't unheard of. A lifestyle session tends to focus more on the interaction and feelings between the subjects so these sessions tend to produce more of a storytelling across multiple images as opposed to one static story in a posed image.
Sessions that have a good mix of posed and lifestyle will fall somewhere in the middle of these two. As a photographer, it is my responsibility to only show you the best of the best from your session. It is my job to use my discerning eye to remove the images that aren't top notch. As a mom, I know that choosing images is a difficult process because you end up loving all of them - and it is my job to make your selection process as simple and instinctive as possible for you.
And finally, number six.
6. What if my kids are sick, or it rains, or the kids don't co-operate?
There should be policies set up in a contract that both the photographer and the client sign that cover these types of situations. Weather isn't controllable, illnesses can't be avoided and cranky kids, well, that happens. A photographer that works with children will have tricks up their sleeves for dealing with uncooperative kids.
I tell my clients that good behaviour is often left at the door for real behaviour - and I prefer this. You want to have a good time with your session, and worrying about your kids being on their best will only stress you (and them) out. The best part of my job is hearing that the parents really didn't know what to expect after their session, but were moved to tears at how I really 'got' their kids personalities.
Looking back at your family photos in years to come, you'll want to remember that silly face your youngest made, and the way that no matter how hard you tried, your son's shirt always came untucked. Your kids sticking their tongue out at me so I can get that big belly laugh on film - that's your reward, that's my job and that's what I aim for.
So, to summarize - make sure your photographer knows their stuff, look at their work, ask your friends who've worked with them for references, be open about expectations and trust their opinions in order to get the most bang for your buck!
I always welcome questions - and love to hear from you!