iLOVE: step by step "how to" instructions
Whether you are shopping for child, family, wedding, boudoir, pet or some other kind of creative portraiture, it is easy to get overwhelmed with the number of choices and options available to us, especially when every other site is handing out advice that ranges from the irrelevant (their individual interpretation of what a professionally taken picture looks like which is really nothing more than sharing their opinion) to outright emotional blackmail (threatening that if you can't or won't afford them your memories are forever lost.) I'm all about instilling confidence and common sense in the general public instead of misinformation and fear. So, without further ado, I offer step-by-step instructions on how to find a photographer. I'm hoping to make it into a flow chart one day lol...
Photographer Shopping in Eight Easy Steps:
1.) Review their work. Anyone can pay for a membership or enter a contest or write up something nice about themselves (I have a friend who wrote her own testimonials when she first started up because she was too shy to ask, silly girl...) And maybe your best friend waxes poetic about how much they LOVE their photographer which if you trust your friend is valuable information. If she tells you you'd be stupid not to love them, too, but you have very different aesthetic preferences, you don't have to feel bad not liking your friend's beloved photographer's work. Ignore the professional memberships, the awards, the testimonials, the pressure from friends, and all the other distractions and just actually look at pictures. You don't get to take home the photographer's awards and memberships and admiring fans, just the pictures they took of you and your loved ones. You know what you like when you see it, so look. Do you love their pictures? Does their style jive with yours? Do you love how the pictures make you feel? Do you love how they are post-processed? If you do not like what you see, keep looking. If your answer is yes, move to step 2.
2.) Check prices AFTER checking portfolio - you never want to hire a photographer because they are the cheapest or you just might get what you pay for. We all know a good photographer is invaluable and a beautiful photograph is priceless, but it's a wise idea to check if you can (or want to) afford them. Every photographer out there has a different pricing strategy and different packages. Price is set according to what they feel their time, skill, and talent are worth after covering overhead expenses. While you are welcome to put in a reasonable offer, you should not negotiate price, lowball them, badger them, or tell them another photographer offers a better deal in the hopes they will make themselves more affordable - you will just make them feel unhappy and unappreciated. If they seem a little too eager and keep dropping their price or throwing in extras, or engage in emotional blackmail by trying to convince you that your memories of your wedding or children will be forever lost by not paying their price, RUN. If you cannot (or do not want to) pay their asking price, thank them politely for their time and go back to step 1. If you LOVE the pictures and are both willing and able to pay their asking price, congratulations - you are on to step 3!
3.) Make sure you love the photographer. This is the most important thing because if you don't love your photographer, even the most beautiful pictures will be ugly when you look at them. Get to know the photographer as much as you need to get a handle on it. This can start with you reading their blog or personal profile on their website - it might give you a bit of a gauge on their personality and background - and after that it's on to conversations, either via email or phone (or both.) Maybe even coffees and a dinner date... Generally, the more time you need to spend with them, the more time you should spend getting to know them. While a few emails might be ideal for setting up a headshot for your business card, you might need a little more time to determine if you can spend an entire week with them on your destination wedding. Are they easy to talk to or do they seem abrupt or cold? Are you OK with them dropping the f-bomb in the middle of your conversation because you drop it all the time, too? Think you would be OK spending time with them while they point a camera in your general direction? Personality clicks well with yours? If you feel like you'd rather hit the photobooth at the food court than let this person take your picture, go back to step 1. If you feel like you've just met a kindred spirit or reconnected with an old friend, proceed to step 4.
4.) While it is a good idea to be aware of legalities, it is your photographer's responsibility to ensure they have obtained any necessary business licenses, remit any taxes they have collected, insure their studio and equipment, etc. If something sets off red flags for you, don't be afraid to ask about it but don't be surprised if they don't answer. Often there are logical explanations. For example, if your photographer insists on being paid cash at their business address only, while it's possible they are working under the table or laundering money or something, in some cases this will be because you have asked them to shoot in a city they do not want to have to purchase an additional license (in some jurisdictions as long as they accept money at their business address they do not need additional licenses), and don't like having the bank put 5-day holds put on personal cheques. If something seems really off and it makes you feel uncomfortable, go back to step 1. If it's all good, their portfolio and references are solid, they can easily explain their business practice, proceed to step 5 with gusto. If something is a little off but you're considering risking it anyways, proceed to step 5 with extreme caution and fair warning - THIS is the photographer that everyone has good reason be afraid of because they are too good to be true... they may be consciously undercutting the competition, extremely inexperienced and unprepared, a pepper and pray hack, and/or operating illegally. THIS is the person who you do not want to entrust your precious memories to, if nothing else because it's not worth being asked to take the stand when they get incarcerated for something lol.
5.) Regardless of what you are hiring your photographer to shoot, there's probably going to be some kind of binding contract with all kinds of fine print about copyright, inclusions, exclusions, licensing, printing, deposits, delivery times, etc. Find out about your photographer's copyright and licensing policies. Will you be expected to sign a model release or does your photographer use a digital download or broken seal release? If so, are you protected by the model release or just the photographer? How long do you have to wait for delivery of your proofs or prints? Do you have to sign a minimum purchase contract and if so, for how much? Do you have permission to post some or all of the images on social networking sites? Do THEY? Is your deposit or retainer refundable, and if so, under what conditions? If you are going to a specific venue that requires rentals or admission, who pays? Your photographer will usually have a pamphlet, web page, or verbal spiel - pay attention and ask for clarification so you know what you're signing up for! If you feel reassured that the fine print makes sense and protects both you and your photographer, proceed to Step 6.
6.) Set up a date, time, and location. This may take a bit of work - most photography happens on the weekends and occasionally in the evenings, when everyone's not at work, which can make finding a mutually agreeable time a challenge. Be considerate of your photographer's schedule - they are in high demand and while Saturday afternoon might be perfect for YOU, it might be your photographer's only time to spend time with their own family, or they may reserve Saturdays for weddings only, or the venue you want may not be open to photographers on Saturdays. If you cannot, after a reasonable number of tries, find a time that works for everyone, it's back to step 1 with no hard feelings. If you are able to pick a time, date, and location that works for everyone, move along to step 7.
7.) Go get some pictures done! At this point you have no doubt done everything in your power to ensure that you and your loved ones are going to have a fun, amazing portrait session that results in fun amazing pictures that you love AND can afford. Enjoy! Now, your photographer might move, raise their prices, or retire, and sometimes you receive pictures that aren't 100% what you thought they would be (you DID review their portfolio and talk to referrals, so you can't blame the photographer at this point) which might send you reluctantly back to step 1, but on the other hand, you may never have to look for a photographer again. Either way means that you are on to the last step!
8.) The best and only correct reason to ever refer your photographer to your friends and family is because you LOVE them. They provided an exceptional experience and you'd hire them again in a heartbeat. If you were lucky enough to get a phenomenal deal by taking a risk on some new talent, it's tempting to feel like rejoicing publicly about it, but it's damaging to your beloved photographer's growth as a business. We love referrals, but it's very discouraging to learn that we've been chosen because we were the cheapest, especially if we gave you a special, introductory, or personal favour price and have to explain that our prices have gone up. Alternately, if you invested a fair amount of money and believe your photographer was worth every penny, you don't want to scare people off by blurting out something like, "Yeah, for what we paid they BETTER be nice pictures!" When your friend says, "I love your pictures!" the first thing out of your mouth regardless of how little or how much you paid should be, "I love my photographer!"