So you're looking for a photographer, and you're trying to figure out where to find one!
10 Things to Know Before Hiring a Photographer
1) You Get What You See!
Portfolio is everything! Do you like what they have done so far?
2) Make Sure They're Legit
I know this runs off of the "buyer beware" campaign more than anything, but here's what you need to ask. "Did you take these shots with the equipment you'll be shooting with?" "Did you have any help or did you take these shots by yourself?"
3) Where to Find a Photographer?
Word of mouth is the BEST way to find a photographer, however, just reference step 1 and make sure they have a good portfolio. There are other methods out there, like Adobe's Behance, upwork (formerly oDesk) and a less commonly known site, needto.com.
4) Money IS Magic
The honest truth is, if you really want a good photography experience, overcompensate with your pocketbook. People will refute what I'm saying, but I've seen it over and over again. Higher budgets honestly result in higher quality images and customer service. Smiles all around!
This is where the rubber hits the road. The big mystery that scares everyone away because they don't know how much a photographer is worth. Let me make it simple. It's all about usage.
- Commercial/Business: 5-20 skews for a business, because these photos will make the business A LOT OF MONEY, is worth 30k-70k dollars. This might only take the photographer a week or two. But because we know how much revenue is generated, we want to give you the best mind-blowing photos as possible, and get compensated for our work.
- Weddings: No photographer wants to do a wedding. Wedding photographers are ONLY in it for the money. My best friends and nicest people in the world turned a whole new level of evil when doing their wedding... for free. We might smile and say how nice it is to work with a beautiful couple in a beautiful venue, but so does a prostitute. You may think you can overcome being a Bridzilla, but the simple truth is, you won't. So if your wedding is NOT on a weekend, either you have no one coming to it, or you're rich enough to give everyone paid leave or something equivalent, at which point this shouldn't be relevant to you anyways because your daddy is a billionaire and you're hiring top photographers. If you're like the rest of the world and young couples getting married, the amount of weekends in a year are limited, which means it's simple math:
Wedding photographers don't get 165 days to work, but only 52 weekends. Divide the average salary of a professional photographer by 52 and you, as the client, need to cough up at least 769.00 before tax. But that's only if you want them to make 40k a year. A lot of photographers rent equipment, and that usually costs 3-4 hundred dollars. And then most photographers need a second shooter or assistant, (and if they don't have a second pair of hands... well... good luck.) And that usually costs 2-3 hundred. There's a reason competitive price points for wedding photography is $1200.00-$2000.00 But here's the catch. No one wants their weddings in the dead of winter or mid-summer. So the weekends a photographer actually get to shoot are cut in half... Don't be fooled, they don't make 2k in 2 days. Trust me, if they're lucky they can pull the 769.00 a week on average. The editing process is mundane, and time consuming.
Here's a trick though, with any photographer, if you pay them a portion up front, then that validates you as a client immediately, and also gives them the cash cushion to buy or rent better gear so that you get better photos! It really is in your interest to front some cash. In addition, most photographers (not all) but most, are strapped for cash. I know, you never would have guessed, how can someone who charges 75-125/hr on a regular be broke? My bank statements speak for themselves. Just know, that if you front a portion of the cash, the photographer feels more obligated to provide better work, sad, you think we would give the same A+ experience and effort to every customer, but it just doesn't happen. Last, but not least, there is a huge burden that is lifted off of a photographer's shoulders when he has that cash-cushion to work with for the shoot.
- Event Photography: Finally! Here's when you can get a break when it comes to pricing. You can finally actually understand how much you're paying for your photographer. It's essentially just an hourly rate. MAKE SURE know how much the end price will be after all is said and done. Make sure they know you only want to be charged for the 2-3 hours. At this time I personally charge less than I would recommend at 75/h (with a 2 hour minimum). You have to understand, if you're a business that will be using these images for promoting your business, you can't expect such a low price. This is the "Come photograph my birthday party" or "Housewarming party". Most of the time, with these hourly price points, we will charge extra for travel time. And remember, for every hour of photos, the editing process can be 2-5 hours. That's right! That 75/hr just turned into 12.50 an hour. Being a nice person can go a LONG way, because on the second full day of editing, we start to not really care so much about those little things we were fixing if we don't really care about you. This is almost subconscious.
6) Be Patient
Have you ever written a book? Or paper? Just like the several stages and several drafts of a paper, there are also several drafts of the editing process. I'll often go back with a fresh set of eyes to make sure I didn't miss anything. So I could have you those photos by tomorrow if you really wanted a rough draft, or you could wait a week and get flawless edits.
The same thing goes with on-sight processes, too. Light setup, location scouting, everything. If you're able to hold still for just a few more seconds, we might be able to adjust a few settings and get the shot that works! Pro photographers can see a scene, light setup, camera settings, poses, and post processing before their eye even glances through the viewfinder. With new photographers, you're going to spend twice the time before they even really start taking photos for real, and now you're already tired because you thought they were snapping away at your beautiful smile when they were actually just adjusting their settings.
7) Will you Enjoy the Photographer's Company?
If you're able to call up a previous client to ask them how they did with the photographer, or if they felt comfortable, or something to find a way to gauge if you and the photographer will click. Photography is chemistry. Even if you're a business owner looking to get photos, if you don't feel comfortable around the photographer then you might not be able to communicate well. If you're able to communicate what you want, or get a sneak peek at the shots before they go into post and genuinely work with the photographer to communicate what you want in a way that doesn't make the photographer confused or angry or uptight, this two-way street of relaxed, comfortable, work-relationship will result in better photos. This is especially important if you're getting photos taken, let's say, maternity shots, and the photographer is an old fart trying to lighten the mood by telling bad jokes, or being too flirtatious, and all you can think is "I'm paying this old fat guy to take photos of my naked self and I don't feel comfortable at all." Then it's probably too late! That's why you want to really vet your photographer, not everyone works well together, and it's important that you're comfortable while getting your shots taken, and that the photographer is comfortable. It's very much a too way street. And yes, the photos will reflect your thoughts and awkwardness if you're not careful.
8) Communication is Key
I know these titles seem straight out of a self-help manual, but I'll try to be as specific with what I'm talking about here. Rarely is it ok for you to beat around the bush trying to get at an answer without directly asking it. Just like when going to a hairstylist, if you bring a picture and say "Can I get something like this?" The obvious answer is "Yes, sit down, let's get started." But if you ask: "Do I have the bone structure for a hair style like this? And can you really get my hair to look this way?" They'll give you a more honest answer. The same way with photographers (and don't forget the example picture, that's important). Having a clear example of what you want done, and going over the example photos thoroughly will help. The "I really like this one..... and this one... and I don't like this one" Doesn't help the photographer at all. But "This photo looks good, but I have a double chin, the building looks like it's about to fall over, and I'd like to try again with a better pose" would help both of you out. And in reality, I often work with my models in a much similar fashion, I'd take a few photos, I'd show them the photos, they would gag and cry and then we'd shoot again after they composed themselves better. This way I don't have to say "You look really ugly because you don't know how to squinch, or smile." If your photographer isn't working with you on this level, try and initiate this type of trust and interaction. It will be better for both of you.
9) Myths About Photographers Debunked
After reading some other articles online, I was kind of disturbed with the amount of false-information and advertising, and even things to ask your photographer. One article stated that you should probe your photographer with technical questions and quiz them on certain aspects of photography. First of all, this will only create amnesty between you and the photographer, second, do you really know the answers to the questions that you're asking? If not, that's just time wasted. Anyone can fake a confident and smart-sounding answer if they know you don't know the answer yourself. And third, a lot of the example questions were arbitrary, photography is an art, it's about emotion and feeling. There are plenty of photographers that can explain every light law, and build a camera from inside out, but won't be able to deliver an amazing photography experience. Jeremy Cowart, one of the few photographers that I look up to and admire, admitted in one of his Kelby Training tutorials that he was struggling with light-metering and he found out from an assistant that there's an in-camera light meter. I'll never forget how he was still able to get amazing images even without using a light meter, at the same time, I'll go into Dury's, a high-end photography store, and the behind the counter hourly-paid photographers know EVERYTHING there is to know about photography, yet can't produce the emotion behind the images like someone who had never gone to school for it can. I say this with reluctance because I tend to fall on the technical side of the spectrum, I'll know, in theory, how an image was capture, yet not be able to go out and do it! Many say that I am naturally gifted, however, I constantly see my flaws and try to learn from them as I go, yet I see other people younger than me take much better images that, like Jeremy Cowart, have no idea, really, how to use a camera. Besides point and shoot. And there's something magical about that, because they don't focus on technicality, they focus on the emotion and subject. Something that a lot of photographers will never know.
10) Other Photographers are a Resource!
Are you thinking about hiring a photographer? Truth is, the professional photography circles are smaller than you think. There's a lot of amateurs that are around, but open shoots, models, jobs, I've run into people I've interned with on job locations and worked side by side. We really do know each other, and so if you ask us, more often than not we can give you our honest feedback. In Nashville TN, we typically don't like to diss each other, you'll find that more in NY or LA, but we like to keep it lighthearted, but if you ask for an honest opinion and recommendation, budget, and other shenanigans, we know the field pretty well, and can more than likely just shoot you a quick response. Don't go too deep, we're pretty busy people and usually have multiple projects at hand, and you have to ask right otherwise we'll think you're crazy for not asking us directly, we are pretty narcissistic. But usually we each have our own niche, and don't mind. For example, although I would like to do fast cars, honestly, I do much better with motorcycles.