How To Find a Portrait Photographer

September 21, 2018

 

“What should I look for in a photographer?” Well, to make this super simple here are a few qualifications:

 

-6’1”

-male

-laughs at his own jokes

-goes by the name Josh Bodden.

 

Sorry. This is who I am. Once you realize I don’t take myself too seriously, we’ll get along great. 

But honestly, when you are looking for a photographer, what should you be looking for? Fear not, for I have compiled a list of qualifications I would give to a friend asking the same question.

 

Customer Service

Do you want to know the complaint I hear most often about photographers? It’s not the quality of their pictures or their prices. It’s their customer service, from how long it takes them to respond after first contact or how they acted during the photo session to the time it takes them to complete the final images. A first clue (other than looking for reviews) is to see how long it takes them to respond after you contact them (whether through a phone call, their website, e-mail, etc.). If they don’t get back to you within a couple days, something is wrong. Sure, they might be on vacation (hey, we all need them), and I respect people who follow a “no work on vacation” policy. But on the average week, responding to interested clients is key, and if you don’t feel the love, it spells bad things for what’s down the road.

 

If they do respond quickly, do they seem interested and eager or dispassionate and unmotivated? If you don’t get the impression they are out to serve you, I suggest moving along and finding a photographer who is.

 

Portfolio

Every photographer has a different style, and you want to go with one whose artistic leanings you enjoy. A photographer might consistently use a specific color tone or image type (from close-ups to distant scenery portraiture), for example. You have to know what type of work you’ll be getting from your photographer, so you won’t be surprised when all the photos come back with a “blue” cast, for example. Unless you like a blue cast. Then that photographer might just be the perfect one for you! My personal style is a natural environment-influenced art. So if you like the highly saturated and split tone filters of Instagram, I’m probably not the right photographer for you. But if you like portraits in real-life settings which show the real you, then we’d work well together.

 

As you’re considering what you like, also give some thought to looking for a style that is timeless. Remember, you will probably want to pass these pictures down to future generations. Because people don’t print their personal snapshots out like they used to, these might be among the few images your great-great-grandchildren have one day, so make sure they are not heavily influenced by passing fads. If you don’t like the style of the photographer, then keep searching!

 

Price

Photography services range widely in price, usually determined most by these factors: experience, whether this is a full-time or part-time career, overhead costs, and name recognition. I have been doing photography for a couple of decades as a hobby and stock photography for about five years. But when it comes to the business of portrait photography, I’m relatively new. So I intentionally keep the cost of my packages lower. Most newer photographers begin with a part-time career, but that doesn’t mean they are unprofessional. In fact, most part-time photographers have used other job and life experiences to help shape their photography.

 

Also, keep in mind that just because a photographer charges a lot of money doesn’t make them great. Some photography businesses constantly upgrade their cameras, lenses, strobe lights, etc. The truth is that most professional cameras made in the last five to ten years are far better than any film camera. Yes, photographers need to make sure their equipment is up to the task, but make sure you’re paying for the photographer and their skill and not funding their next unnecessary camera upgrade.

 

You might also consider whether the photographer has a studio. Many photographers, including myself, have done away with studios. Partially because of the ability of modern DSLR cameras with their ability to capture images in moderate to low light and partially because of the shift toward environmental portraits (rather than hanging backgrounds), expensive studio spaces have become less necessary. Some photographers still use them and in many cases need them. But be aware that will increase their costs.

 

Finally, as photographers make a name for themselves by providing consistent service and excellent portraits, their costs will generally go up. And many people are willing to pay for that because they know they can trust in the quality of the photographer. But not everyone is able or willing to pay higher prices.

 

So, how does price factor into your decision? First, determine your budget. Then look around at various photographers’ prices. Many photographers, including myself, put the actual and full costs you will pay on their sites so you don’t have to beg for a price list. Once you narrow down which photographers are in your price range, take some time browsing their portfolios to determine which most closely matches your vision for the images you want. You can get great images at a reasonable price if you are willing to look around. But look at portfolios to make sure a low price isn’t indicative of poor or amateur work.

 

Collaboration

I can’t emphasize this one enough. You might have a vision of what you want from your session (or maybe it’s just a vague impression). A good photographer is going to take the time to sit down with you and help define what you want. Yes, he will bring his own ideas and creativity, but he will also want your input. This is true in the planning stages as well as on the day of the session. Your photographer should ask often if there is something you want to try. Some things just won’t work, but a good photographer will at least try to get you the shot you want.

 

There have been times when I asked for input, and boy did I get it! Sometimes I was impressed by a person’s creativity and the images turned out great. Other times, I wasn’t sure if the idea would work, but I tried my best. Sometimes I was happily surprised. On a recent joint senior picture session, one of the teens asked me to photograph a specific idea they had. We had some fun taking the pictures, but when I got home and looked at those images, I just wasn’t thrilled. They were technically fine, but I just wasn’t feeling it the way I would have liked. Even so, I knew they would like to see those pictures, so I made sure to include them in the final images I shared with the client. And of course those images turned out to be some of the client’s  favorites because they were from her suggestion and our collaboration! Find a photographer who gets you and is willing to help you fulfill your vision to get the images you want.

 

Most importantly when looking for a photographer: look for someone you feel comfortable with. During a portrait session, you are asking the photographer to capture “you.” You need to feel comfortable enough to let your guard down and show the world the emotions behind your smile. Unless you feel comfortable with your photographer, that won’t happen.

 

If you have any other questions, please don’t hesitate to contact me. Or if you are in the Waukesha, WI, area and looking for a photographer, drop me a line! I would love to chat with you and see if we can make some beautiful images together.

 

 

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