What to look for (and look out for) when choosing a photographer.

While a point-and-shoot or entry-level camera often signifies a non-pro, conversely a good professional camera does not always signify a professional photographer. Anyone can buy the nicest camera available, but anyone can also buy a scalpel. That doesn’t mean they should perform brain surgery. Okay, that’s an extreme example. But to put it simply, tools don’t make the mechanic. Don’t be afraid to ask for professional references.

Make sure your photographer has a business licence, tax ID, and insurance. Not having a business licence or tax ID means they are operating ILLEGALLY. Working with insurance means if someone breaks a leg because they told you where to stand, someone trips over equipment, your dress tears because they were posing you, or a camera lens comes up missing, it’s covered.

Ask how long they’ve been in business. Choose someone with experience and didn’t just become a photographer because they think it’s an easy way to make money.

A membership to the PPA (Professional Photographer’s Association) does not guarantee professional results. Anyone can become a member; all it takes is a completed entry form and your annual dues. They don’t look at a photographer’s portfolio or verify their work or anything. What the PPA does do is provide legal assistance, workshops, and insurance to photographers. They are a GREAT support system, but don’t use a PPA membership as the basis of your selection.

Don’t use photographers who advertise themselves on Craigslist. They will be cheap, and I’m not talking about cost. They usually charge $50 to $75 for their portrait sessions and about $1000 for weddings, and give you all the images on a disc. And the majority of those images, if not all of them, will be snapshots.

Don’t use a self-proclaimed “Man/Dude With A Camera”. No self-respecting photographer describes himself with that derogatory term. Most of these types just want to see you bending around in a bikini, if nothing else. Back in the film days, these guys wouldn’t even put film in the camera as they pretended to snap away. If you do need nude, bikini, or boudoir types of photos, find a reputable photographer with professional references.

Beware of photographers who post everything they shoot without post-processing or culling. Professionals cull their images; we delete duplicates and unfavourable shots.

Beware of the ones who OVER post-process their photos, often with selective colouring, superimposition, and fonts plastered on the image.

Look at the photographer’s portfolio – in person. Are the images blurry or sharp? Are they all in black and white or do they have colour as well? Are heads cropped off? Do the subjects look their best or were they captured talking or making faces? Is the photographer shooting up at the subject creating an unflattering angle? Are there images where you can see the wrinkles in the backdrop, edges of the backdrop on the sides/top/floor, or subjects casting shadows? It is also important to check the quality of the print. Real professionals won’t compromise the integrity of the print by using Wal-Mart, Wolf Camera, or Walgreens, etc, and instead use a professional printer.

Make sure they have a website. Not a facebook, not a blog, not a SmugMug, not a flickr, not a free Wix site… a WEBSITE. A professional photographer will invest in themselves as much in their marketing as they do their equipment.

Lastly, beware of those whom claim themselves as “natural light” photographers. You want a professional who knows how to work with a flash, diffusers, reflectors, and lightboxes… for those moments when they are necessary.

For a list of questions to ask when interviewing your potential photographer, click here.

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