I’m thinking of hiring a photographer to do our family images this January while we are in Lancaster. Why? Well, so I can be included, instead of behind the camera – and because I want someone with a different style & perspective to capture us. The trouble is, I don’t really know anyone there. So I’m starting to do a litttle homework to find the perfect match for us.
Let’s face it – the advent of affordable advanced consumer digital cameras, combined with a sluggish economy, has resulted in a huge influx of photographers looking to turn their hobby into a career or at least a means to supplement their income. Everyone knows someone who has their own photography business, or at least will do your pictures for fun. And of course that means a wide range of talent and prices. How can you sort it all out? How can you be sure that you are getting images that you will treasure as much in the future as you do now? How do you know that the images you get are actually professional quality, not just taken with “a really good camera” ?
I’m not going to talk about deciding based upon price. That is something you have to think about yourself. We all want to get the best quality of whatever we buy at the best price – the problem is, most people have a hard time discerning quality in photography. We all tend to have “mommy goggles” on when we see pictures of our kids. We just see our beautiful children, and don’t really notice if the image is perfectly focused and well-lit and well exposed. Sort of like some of the family photos that you see posted on Facebook that people rave about, but aren’t really very good. Great quality may not be important to you, if you are using a photographer who is just starting out or is a friend and doesn’t charge much; the images may be acceptable for that price! But if you want more – if you are looking to hire someone who will really capture the essence of your family – how do you choose? What are some things to look for that distinguish good images?
1. Check out their previous work. It should consist of more than just images of their own kids or family. Anyone can take great pictures of their own kids, given that they can pick and choose times and locations when their child is in the right mood. It is TOTALLY different trying to photograph clients at a different location and at a prescheduled time, when the kids may not be at their most cooperative, or at their lake house where the light is harsh.
2. Look at more than their website galleries, which of course are selected from their very best work. Look at a single client session. This will give you an idea of the consistency of their style and work. After all, it does no good to have 50 images if only 2 or 3 are great and the rest are mediocre. Also, look at a session with a child the same age as yours. It also is MUCH easier to get great pictures of a senior girl who poses and cooperates than a busy two-year-old.
3. Look at the basics. I can’t believe how many shots I see that are out of focus, overexposed (faces look washed out like ghosts), underexposed and dull. Also look at the black & whites; they should not be muddy, but clear and crisp with good contrast. The whites should be WHITE, and the blacks should be BLACK – everything should not be varying shades of gray. There should not be “hot spots” on the face, or too many in the background. The colors should look vibrant but not crazy-neon. People should not look plastic because Photoshop got overused.
4. Beware of the overuse of actions – special effects applied to photographs that give them a trendy look. We have all seen cool images processed in a vintage style, and right now there are a few trends that wash out the images with a blue or yellow tint and apply textures. All are fine, and can greatly enhance the right image, but beware of those who do this to EVERY SINGLE image regardless…they may be relying on Photoshop more than skill. And – you may not love them as much in the future. There was a reason that Polaroid images went out of favor. They faded and yellowed. That is sort of a “cool” look today, but I personally want to remember my granddaughter’s very blue eyes years from now, and the clarity and smoothness of her skin.
5. Don’t confuse good location with good images. Just because you capture an image of a kid on a railroad track or in front of a graffiti wall doesn’t make it good. Ditto for posing – there should be plenty of images with good eye contact, which is especially hard with toddlers. Beware if you see too many images of the kids walking or running away (after all, even you can get plenty of shots like that yourself, lol).
6. Look at the quality of the products they offer. Sure, you can buy a disk of images, but then what? Printing them at a drug store is not the same as a pro lab. Shutterfly books are not the same quality as professionally designed and printed albums. If you go to the trouble of hiring a professional because your family deserves custom photography, you probably want the result of that session – your beautiful images – displayed in a solid, upscale, professional and stylish manner. Your photographer should be able to provide you with quality prints, slideshows, canvases and albums as well as provide assistance with choosing wall displays. If I’m going to take the time & effort to coordinate clothing, get everyone there on time, and work with the photographer to get good images – well, then those images of my beautiful family deserve to be displayed well!