As the busy fall season for family photography approaches, I’ve decided to do a series of blog posts on things you may want consider when choosing a family photographer! If you’re looking at hiring a photographer for the first time, I’m sure the options can be daunting. How does this all work? Why does it cost so much? How do you know you can trust them to do a good job? Whether you’re reading this here in Fort Collins or far away in another state, I want to share some thoughts that might be helpful as you make this decision. This isn’t meant to be a black and white list of dos and don’ts, just some food for thought! I want to start by talking a bit about some things that I think are important to look for when you’re checking out potential photographers’ websites.
1. Lots of photos! First of all, you probably want to be able to see lots of photos from a variety of sessions. It should be safe to assume you’ll be happy with their photos if you can look at their blog and find 5 family photo sessions that you love. If they just have a gallery on their website with 15 or 20 family photos, those are probably the very best family photos they’ve ever taken. Maybe all of their photos are that good, but maybe they aren’t actually producing that quality of work consistently. If they don’t have a lot of work on their blog, you may want to ask to see a sample of a whole session. I put almost every session up on my blog as long as I have the client’s permission. Part of why I do this is for visibility and advertising, but another reason is that I want happy clients! I want you to see not only my very best work, but ALL of my work so that the photos I give you will meet (or hopefully exceed!) the expectations that you have for me. I think it’s important for you to be able to see how I shoot on sunny days as well as cloudy days and how I pose a wide variety of families.
Side note: In preparing to write this post, I looked up some articles written for photographers about how to make your website stand out. Many of them said the opposite of what I said here: that I should display ONLY my best work- quality over quantity. From a photographer’s perspective of getting you in the door and making the sale, sure. But from a potential client’s perspective, I don’t feel that it would benefit you to see only my best work!
2. Lots of photos of the specific type of session that you want to book. Another thing you might want to consider is that although your wedding photographer may have done a fantastic job on your wedding photos, that doesn’t mean she’ll be any good at taking posed photos of your newborn baby. It’s a totally different skill set! Similarly, if you’re thinking about using your newborn photographer for family photos, you may want to check out her family sessions and make sure you like her style. She probably won’t be having you all squish up into a bucket and pretend to sleep, so her family photo style could look quite a bit different from her newborn style. If you have young kids, make sure they’ve got a lot of experience working with busy little ones. If you’re looking for senior portraits, make sure they know how to pose teens in a flattering way. These are all things that we as photographers study and we’ve all chosen to specialize in different areas.
3. Evidence of happy clients. You can probably see this in two forms. One is through reviews or testimonials on their website… I don’t actually have any of these on my website yet! Eek! I’m working on adding some though (along with some other website updates), and you CAN find reviews and kind words from clients all over my facebook page. 😉 Another way to see that they have happy clients is to see if people seem to come back to them year after year. If you scroll through their blog, it’s probably a good sign if you see many of the same families more than once (at least I have this one going for me!)
4. Can you really afford them? Not all photographers list their complete pricing (or any pricing at all) on their website. There’s nothing wrong with this, it just means they want to chat with you a bit before they tell you what they charge. You’ll just want to make sure that before you book, you understand what your final cost will be. If their website says “Session fee of $150, prints and digital images sold separately,” you’ll probably want to think about what you want and make sure you know what it will cost before you book. We’ll talk about some of this in greater detail in my next post!
5. Consider some technical details. There are photos I took 5 years ago that I thought were amazing at the time and now realize they were out of focus, or my editing made the people look purple, or the highlights were blown out. If you (like a normal person) haven’t spent a lot of time poring over tons of professional photos with a discerning eye, you may not really know what to look for. Maybe some of these finer technical points wouldn’t bother you, or maybe the photographer you can afford isn’t quite as technically proficient as the photographer who charges $500 more. That’s okay, these are just a few things to consider. First let’s talk about focus. Often, the best way to tell if a photo is properly focused is to look at the eyes. In the two photos below, you can see a lot more detail in her eyes on the left than on the right. I missed the focus on the second image, so that one was not given to my clients.
Another mark of a good photographer is proper white balance. Instagram filters a cool and all, but a photographer should be able to edit in a way that makes skin look skin-colored. Photographers tend to have different preferences on white balance and sometimes make an artistic choice to alter it a bit (I tend to lean toward the warm side of things), but people probably should not look like smurfs or oompa loomplas. White balance can be a part of a photographer’s style, so just make sure you like what you see. Here’s an example:
One last thing to look for is that they know how to use light. Outdoor photography can be difficult when the sun is out. One thing you might want to watch for is to make sure that people don’t have harsh shadows on their faces. The light should fall softly on their faces in a flattering way. Part what makes this difference is time of day (that’s why most photographers like to do outdoor sessions in the evening), but there are a lot of other little tricks for getting the lighting just right. In the examples below, the photo on the left is a test shot that I took in harsh midday light just to show my client what the location looked like. See the dark shadows and blown out hot spots on my (super enthusiastic) son’s face? Then on the right, you see a family posing in the same spot with soft light that is much more flattering.
If a photographer’s website doesn’t have any of the things I’ve listed here, you don’t need to count them out- they may still be an amazing photographer and just not the best website designer. These are just a few things that you may want to think about looking for if you’re lost in a sea of options.
I hope this has been helpful! Stay tuned in the next couple of weeks for more posts on choosing a photographer including “What are You Paying For?” and “Photography Styles.”