Alright, you’re ready to commit and hire a photographer; you want new portraits or headshots – wonderful. You open up a browser tab and search for Atlanta Portrait Photographer and, “Holy shitake mushrooms, where do I start?!” Yeah, there are A LOT of us. So how do you sift through the noise?
Hiring the right photographer for you is difficult because you’re placing your trust in a stranger. You want your images to be excellent and have a great experience at the same time. You want a photographer who understands your fears, will keep an eye out for that cowlick that won’t behave, and will let you relax and have such a good time that taking pictures is a blast! It’s also essential that the deliverables and process to get your photos are what you want and more.
So. Much. Pressure.
Well, hopefully, I can help you narrow down the field. Below are a series of questions that I would ask every potential photographer I want to hire to make sure they’re the best one for me.
Questions to Ask A Photographer Before Hiring Them
1. Do they specialize in your desired niche?
Find a photographer who spends most of their time photographing what you need. A pet photographer is not the best option for human headshots, and a product photographer may not be the best senior portrait photographer. Just because a photographer can take pretty pictures doesn’t mean they’re the best for you. You should work with someone who knows all the quirks and specific tricks of your specialized photographic need rather than a generalist who might have vague knowledge or experience in an unfamiliar field.
2. What’s their style of photography?
Some photographers like bright and airy, and others like dark and moody photos. You also have photographers who direct all the poses and are very specific with how their subjects look. Other photographers are more free-flowing, editorial, and capture images as they happen with minimal input. You’ll want to find a photographer who not only edits their photos in a way you like but also manages the shoot in a way that matches how you like to work.
3. Read their reviews!
Not so much a direct question, but this is research you should absolutely do. Reviews will tell you a lot about the little things a photographer does that they won’t say outright to you, the client. For instance, they may bring coffee to a shoot, they may be super punctual, they helped with posing, are super fun and friendly, and other small quirky things. You’ll also get social proof from their past clients to validate your photographer’s promised skills and capabilities.
4. Do your personalities match?
As human beings, we like spending time with people similar to ourselves. Working with a photographer fits this trend as well. If you’re worried about feeling relaxed in your images, then working with a high energy extrovert when you’re a reserved introvert isn’t going to help. Try to get a sense of who they are when asking them questions to gauge if you would like to work with them.
5. What’s the pricing structure?
Many photographers have different pricing structures and the ways they conduct business. Make sure you understand how you will be billed and what is included with your payments. Some photographers do package pricing, where you’ll pay for the session fee and delivered digital image files all in one price. Other photographers charge just for the session upfront (their time to conduct the shoot), and then you will have to pay later for any deliverable you want to take home (prints, albums, digital files, etc.). Both are entirely valid business methods, and you need to know which one to expect.
6. What’s the payment structure?
This is how much you pay and when. Most photographers require a deposit upon signing a contract. This reserves the session date. The balance will be due around the time of the session. Different photographers ask for different amounts and a different times so be sure to know the schedule and totals.
7. Check a few albums or galleries.
Ever heard the saying, “Even a broken watch is right twice a day?” Photographers take thousands of images over a single year. That’s why I recommend asking to see a couple of full session galleries so you can determine if they are a broken watch or consistently good across the board. You wanna have difficulty picking your favorite image because they’re all so good, not because there aren’t enough good ones.
- Ask for the difficult situations. If your photo concepts require shooting at night or in a dark venue with poor lighting, you’ll want to hire a photographer that’s comfortable with that. Shooting in near darkness is very difficult. Check that the photographer who can shoot in the middle of the day can also handle the evening.
- Make sure the images are sharp!
- Check for composition, and how people are posed and staged.
- Check the subjects’ mood. Do people look happy, relaxed, and comfortable?
- Look for minor, out-of-place details. Did the photographer catch the stray water bottle, exit sign, or tree branch sticking out of someone’s head?
8. What planning help do they provide?
Ask your photographer if they can help you with picking clothes, locations, parking, posing, etc. This is also a moment for vulnerability. If you’re worried about your jawline, a cowlick, the shape of your nose, or some other feature – bring it up and ask how that photographer will assuage those fears during the shoot.
9. Do they help with Posing?
I know, I know. We all want to look candid and natural and free. Well, you need some direction to get started and you’ll want a photographer who provides that. Otherwise, your free and natural pose may not match the composition and lighting the photographer is using. Check that your photographer is good with giving the level of the direction you want or need to feel comfortable. You may want a photographer to tell you exactly how far apart your fingers should be spread and at what angle to hold your wrist. Ask your photographer about their posing style to see if it works for you.
10. Do they have backups?
- For birth or wedding photography, you’ll want to ask your photographer if they bring backup gear to the shoot: cameras, memory cards, lights, etc. For other types of photography, it’s helpful but not mandatory for your photographer to have backup gear because most photography niches can be rescheduled and reshot. It’s a pain and it’s annoying, but that’s the reality. Still, it’s nice to know that they have backup gear just in case.
- Ask a photographer if they back up your images and for how long. I always download and copy all session images to two separate hard drives before I even start editing the images just in case something happens to my memory cards or computer. The other benefit is if you lose your digital images because of a computer crash or your prints because of an emergency at your house, you can possibly contact your photographer and get your images again. I hold onto all delivered photographs forever because computers fail or Apple has eliminated that port from their latest machines. Make sure your photographer has your back.
11. Do they have contracts?
- Not every venture ends well. It’s a sad fact of life. To ensure that you and the photographer are protected and you get what you paid for, ask your photographer for the services contract. You’ll also learn small details of things your photographer will and won’t do that you would never consider to ask (like if they charge for travel and at what rate). If they don’t use a contract, I would not recommend working with that photographer.
- Additionally, ask if they have a model release. This may be part of the services contract or a completely separate contract. Effectively, this allows the photographer to use any images from your session for their marketing materials and social media. I have clients who work in government and want a minimal footprint online. If you don’t feel comfortable with it, don’t sign it or ask that the language be removed from the contract. Your privacy and comfort should be respected completely.
12. Do they have insurance?
I hate sounding like a downer, but things happen. Ask your photogapher if they have insurance to cover their gear and you, should anything happen during the session. This is also a subtle indicator that a photographer is a legitimate business and professional.
13. What’s the image turnaround time?
Yay! The session is complete and you had a great time. Now, when do you see your images? Ask that photographer when you should expect to see your images after the session is complete. Portraits and headshotos may take a few days to a few weeks, but a wedding may take a few months. Be clear up front so you have defined expectations and aren’t surprised later.
14. What’s the image editing process?
This ties into the question above. Some photographers will deliver fully edited, complete images the first time you see them. Others may show you lightly edited proof images so you can pick which ones you want to order before they do the remaining edits. It all depends on the photographer’s business set up. Again, make sure you understand how their editing and sales process work so you know what to expect as this will affect what you have to pay and when, and also the overall timing for getting your final images delivered.
15. What’s the image ordering process?
Linked to the two questions above, you’ll want to know how you’ll get your final images. Does the photographer put all the images on an online gallery that you download the images from? Are those images finished and completely edited? Is there an ordering appointment where you view the lightly editing proofs and select which ones to get as prints? These two options will affect how much you pay and when and also the turnaround time for when your final portraits will be delivered.
16. How long are images available for purchase?
If your photographer uses an online gallery for delivering and ordering images, you’ll want to know how long the gallery will be live. Also, can they re-open the gallery later? Even if they don’t use an online gallery, can you call them two years after the session and order more prints?
17. Image Ownership & Permissions
- Fun fact, when a picture is taken by a photographer (or you with your iPhone) that image belongs to the person who took the image. Full stop. Just because you paid the photographer to take the images, does not mean you have any ownership or copyright claim to those pictures. This is why contracts are super important so you know who maintains the copyright to the photos. Now, understanding the legal background here, let’s dig into what questions you need to ask!
- Will the images be watermarked?
- A watermark is effectively a logo or signature on the final image. Some photographers may require their watermark be used and others won’t care. Ask about it.
- Can I print the images on my own?
- There are photographers who will require that you only print images through them. This is to guarantee the quality of the prints delivered (professional printing lab products are significantly better than CVS or Walgreens prints). Other photographers will offer specialty products that can’t be purchased at regular labs but will let you print a standard 5×7” through them or your local lab. Make sure you ask about it! Also, some labs will not print photographs taken by someone that isn’t you. You’ll need a print release from the photographer that gives you permission to print the images.
- Can I post the images on my social media?
- Photographers want you to share your images. That’s free marketing for them! Typically, 95% of photographers will ask that you tag them or caption the images with “Photos taken by Jane Doe Photography.” Some may also request that images posted on social media use their watermark. Ask what their “requirements” are for posting the images on social media so that everyone is happy. Oh and never, ever put a filter on the images.
Hopefully, a few of these were helpful and made you go, “huh, never even considered that.” I want my clients to be fully informed, and if they aren’t my client – then fully informed to make sound decisions. Regardless of who you hire to be your photographer – me or someone else, I want everyone to get the images they want and have a great experience as well.
If you think I missed something or have further questions, then shoot me an email and let’s talk about it!