There’s a lot of things to consider before you book a photographer. If you’ve been here for a minute, you might remember my post about the problems photography has with inclusion, so this is a set of problems I myself am well familiar with; I understand the issues from both sides: as a photographer who wants to deliver good family photos that will be treasured for a long time, and a mum who would like family photos to treasure for a long time. Today, I’m here to run down some considerations to make before you book a photographer.
Finding A Photographer
Sometimes this can be the hardest part. Where do you start? The Google? Referrals from friends and family? Social media? Let’s run down some of the pros and cons of each:
- Helps you narrow down photographers in your immediate area
- Links you right away to their website and general internet presence
- Can read reviews from previous clients
- Can directly email them to build a rapport
- Google sorts based on perceived authority, so you’re not seeing everyone and may in fact be missing the perfect photographer for you
- Sites can be hard to navigate or not give you enough information to really make an informed decision
- Personal experience with the photographer (we as people tend to value personal stories/experiences from people we trust when making decisions)
- May be a long-standing relationship
- The friend/family member may like a different style of photography than you (e.g. studio vs lifestyle), leading you to have either mismatched expectations or a less-than-great experience
- Can see more of the photographer’s work and possibly know them a little better
- Can directly message them to ask questions
- Doesn’t necessarily tell you much about how they work, only shows you the finished product
- Can’t read reviews on every platform
- Follower count can inflate perceptions of popularity/being in demand (are they insta famous? are they just starting out? etc)
As we can see, there are pros and cons with each method. The good news is that if we combine all of them, we get a better idea of what the photographer is like! Which leads me to our next point:
Evaluating A Photographer
When I started grad school for Korea Studies, one of the first things I learned was the idea of the elevator pitch: everyone needed an elevator pitch for their work. What do you study? Can you describe it in a couple sentences? If no, you need to work on it and have one or you’ll never get anywhere.
The same is true for photographers. Every photographer needs to have an elevator pitch to tell potential clients what it is they do and how they do it.
Because photography is a visual medium, this is also expressed by the images they produce. Your photographer should have a consistent portfolio. This will give you as a client an idea of what you can expect them to deliver. Lots of photographers like bright and airy posed shots in studios. Others shoot weddings in a style that is dark and moody. Some do sepia-toned budoir photos in urban lofts.
Me? I’m a family photographer who uses bright colours and big landscapes to tell the stories of playful and adventurous families in a true-to-life style.
That’s it; that’s my elevator pitch in words. My photography across all platforms reflects this: when I post on social media or blog about a session or update my portfolio, I choose the images that are most consistent with my brand and the type of client with whom I want to work. When I advertise, I emphasize these points in greater detail to let people know what it is I do and how.
Why do I need this? Because every photographer is out there looking for their ideal client — or at least they should be. The mistake a lot of photographers who are just starting out make is that they try to be everything to everyone; I definitely fell into this trap. But what a good one should have is a consistent body of work for you to evaluate before you book a photographer.
Think about that referral from your friend: do you like the photos that photographer took? What types of photos does your friend like? Are they an “everyone looking at the camera and smiling” kind of person? Are you? Part of my problem finding a photographer for so many years was finding one who shot in a style consistent with what I wanted in my photos and who could reflect my family in a way that felt true to us. There was little on anyone’s site that gave me any idea of what they did or how they worked to know they would work well with us.
Which brings us to our next point:
Contacting A Photographer
Every photographer revels in getting that little ping from their email that they’ve got a new client inquiry. It means someone is interested in what we do, but beyond that, it’s the chance for a new relationship — one we take very seriously.
Sending an email or writing a little about yourself in the booking form before you book a photographer is huge for you and for us. It gives us all a chance to build rapport and start to set expectations. I’m a big believer in contacting the photographer before you book them.
Why? Because, again, not every photographer is the one for you. I’m absolutely certain I’m not the photographer for everyone and I keep a list of other local photographers I know to whom I refer people when it becomes clear I am absolutely not the photographer for them. Every photographer wants their clients to go away happy (and also to come back happy, we love nothing like we love repeat clients and seeing families grow and change over time). If a client is looking for a style we can’t or don’t necessarily provide, then that’s going to lead to everyone having a bad time.
See, as photographers, every single one of us is a brand. It’s us; we’re the brand. The art we produce with the images we take is our brand that we then put back into the world to meet more people who like that brand and so on. Just like your favourite director has a style and form throughout their oeuvre, a photographer has the same. We want to ensure you, potential client, understand what it is we do before we do it. The worst feeling in the world is when someone goes away unhappy. This means that somewhere there was a disconnect between expectations and reality. No one likes having a bad time; we hate when you have a bad time! We put a lot of work into making sure you do not have a bad time!
As a lifestyle photographer, I understand that word means a lot of different things to a lot of different people; there are basically as many definitions as there are photographers who photograph in that style. This is part of why it’s so important for me when I advertise to let families know — with my elevator pitch, with some elaboration, and with the images I choose — what it is I do and how it is I do it.
It’s equally important for you as a client to understand what your photographer does and how they do it. They should either have a questionnaire for you to fill out before the session that helps set expectations, or they might have you jump on a call or meet for coffee to discuss the same (sometimes both!). This helps clear up any misconceptions and make sure everyone is on the same page.
So much of photography is subjective: everyone likes what they like. What I like may not be what you like, and that’s okay! The beauty of photography is that there are so many wonderful photographers out there that everyone is bound to find someone they love who can provide the experience they want. For example, I always ask clients if they’ve done a photo shoot before and what they did and didn’t like about it. This helps me understand where they’re coming from and have an idea of their expectations. It also gets you, potential client, to think about how you like to be photographed and what was less than fun for you the last time around. Me? I hate looking at the camera. Never know what my face is doing or how my eyes look (I have a bit of a complex around them). My photographer friend who did my branding photos specifically asked me questions like I ask my clients so she could understand how to pose me in a way that made me feel good on camera. Your photographer should do the same.
In conclusion: research is so important. You wouldn’t buy a car sight-unseen; don’t book a photographer sight-unseen, either. Look through their portfolio, read reviews, chat with them, understand what it is they do. If at any point in the process you’re feeling like this may not be the person for you, it’s always okay to say “thanks, but no thanks!” Even with all the research in the world, sometimes we get to talking with someone and think eh, maybe this isn’t for me. That’s okay! I’m genuinely always more happy when a potential client says “thanks, but no thanks” than if they were to do their session and not have fun. I always much prefer they find someone else whose vision matches up with their own than feel an obligation to stick with me just because I answered their message and was free that day.
Booking a photographer isn’t just about finding someone who has a fancy camera and knows how to use Lightroom. It’s about finding someone whose brand and style of art reflects how you want to see your family 5, 10, 50 years from now. How do you want to look back on your life now and what do you want to remember? What was precious to you at this time? When someone comes to me and says “I want nice family photos,” that tells me very little. I, too, would like nice family photos. Do you want to remember your little newborn’s tiny toes? Do you want to remember your teenager’s wry little smile before they left for college? Knowing what it is you want and how you want to be photographed is essential before you book a photographer.
Before You Go…
I genuinely hope this primer helped you sort out what it is you as a client can do to find the right photographer for you and how I, as your photographer, work to ensure I’m the right person for you. And if you’re local to the Pacific Northwest or Western Montana and would like to book a session with me, you can head on over here to do that. I’m so excited to work with you (or refer you to someone who would be perfect for you)!