1. Check out portfolios! While word of mouth is great on getting you headed in the right direction, don’t hire someone just because a friend or neighbor says they are great. Make sure their work is consistent in quality and that their style fits what you need. Anyone can get a lucky shot if they take enough shots. You don’t want to rely on luck when you are investing in photos. A professional has consistent quality and can handle many different lighting and location situations. Look for diversity in lighting, indoors, outdoors, natural light, flash, points of view, etc. Also, make sure your potential photographer specializes in what you need. A wedding photographer may not have the skills or background to produce advertising photos, etc.
2. Ask about insurance. Does your potential photographer have a business license and INSURANCE? Having liability insurance protects you as a client. Bad things can and do happen and having insurance is an indication that your photographer is prepared for all types of situations. Very few hobbyists have liability insurance (some claim it’s covered under their homeowner policy, that usually only covers their own equipment). Most professionals carry a minimum of 1 million dollars in liability insurance. Having a business license and insurance also indicates that a photographer is responsible and takes his/her business seriously.
3. How long have they been in business? If a photographer has a short history with their photography business this might be a side job or a hobby. There are many talented photographers that do photography as a side job and do a great job! But, be cautious about people that don’t have a history or references. Don’t pay big deposits or advances unless you are sure your photographer is going to be around long enough to finish the job.
4. Is your photographer a member of a professional organization? All organizations are not equal. Don’t be impressed by just any photography organization memberships. PPA, WPPI and several other organizations will let anyone who pays their fees be a member! Although these organizations are great resources, they are not an indicator that your photographer is truly a professional.
ASMP (American Society of Media Photographers), AIAP (Association of Independent Architectural Photographers), REPAI (Real Estate Photographers of America & International ) and NPS (Nikon Pro Services) all have strict standards to qualify as a professional member and include a screening process to separate pros from non-pros so you can take their memberships more seriously.
5. REFERRALS? Don’t be embarrassed to ask for referrals! Ask your photographer for referrals for the type of photography you desire. If you are hiring him or her for a wedding ask for WEDDING client referrals. If it’s for commercial photography ask for COMMERCIAL referrals….and CALL them! Talk to the referrals. Ask about their experience. Were their photos what they expected? Did they receive them in a timely manner? Was the photographer easy to work with? Most people are apprehensive about asking for referrals but it is one of the best things you can do in choosing a photographer, so do it!
6. How much does he / she charge? You generally get what you pay for and if the photographer is super cheap your coverage or quality of the products you receive will most likely be reflected in that price. Also, unusually low prices can indicate inexperience in pricing their photography. Keep in mind that it goes both ways …. just because someone is expensive it’s not a guarantee of professionalism or quality either. In general don’t expect “filet mignon on a burger budget”.
7. PERSONALITY? Does the photographer’s personality seem like a good fit for you? All of the qualifications in the world don’t mean a thing if you won’t be comfortable working with him and collaborating on a project. If your shy child will be totally uncomfortable with an energetic, loud, playful person trying to take his portrait then you might want to take that into consideration. Go with your gut on this one. Relaxed, happy people communicate well and foster creativity…making great photos possible.
In summary, look at all of the Photographer’s qualifications, portfolio, pricing, personality and references and make a decision based on all of the information. Haha…yeah, I know …easier said than done! Good luck!