AKA, How to Spot a Faux-tographer
1. Professionals charge a rate that allows them to work full-time as a photographer. I know weddings are expensive, and skimping on photographers might seem reasonable for a cost-conscious couple. But a client of mine summed it up best after seeing my prices for the first time: “Wow! We pay a lot less, and our photos are just OK. I guess you get what you pay for?!”
Caveat: Many incredibly talented photographers also have day jobs. I’m not saying they HAVE to shoot full-time to be considered professionals, only that they COULD given their rates. In Denver, I’d be at least somewhat concerned if someone was charging less than 2500.00 for a wedding. I’d feel very secure if they were charging 4000.00 or more.
2. Perhaps an obvious one, but you’d be surprised how many people will compromise here to get a lower price. Don’t do it! Experienced photographers have shot many, many weddings as LEAD shooters (rather than/in addition to second-shooters or assistants). Professional photographers can be highly adaptive and spontaneous when appropriate, but they are often not making things up as they go along. They’ve put in the time, seen about everything you can see, and can handle whatever comes up at your wedding. Weddings can be wonderfully unpredictable and you want a calm and seasoned pro taking your photos.
3. They have a process. Wedding photography is not a science, but there is an immense amount of planning that goes into preparing for your big day. Pros ask the right questions at the right time and come prepared with the contracts, questionnaires and pricing guides you need.
4. They come recommended from another professional you respect. Real recognize real. The best recommendations come from pros who have known a peer for years in a professional capacity and have worked with them in the past, maybe even multiple times. Another reliable source? A friend or family member who has hired a professional in the past and can personally vouch for their services. They would know!
5. They will show you an entire wedding gallery. This is so important! Almost anyone can manage a few decent or even beautiful shots outside when the lighting is perfect. Camera technology is freaking awesome! If you’re willing to invest tens of thousands of dollars for the equipment, you’re bound to get some amazing shots (even a broken camera is right twice a day, right?). Unfortunately for amateurs, however, expensive equipment alone cannot shoot weddings. Don’t be fooled by a photographer’s few decent shots out of the SEVERAL THOUSAND they shot that day. You want to see a full gallery – especially when it’s dark out. A professional can handle any lighting situation; they know how to use which equipment in what setting. This technical skill will show in their galleries.
6. They share photos with permission of their clients. Find out how does this photographer treats their other clients because that’s exactly how they will treat you. If you don’t want your entire gallery floating around in cyberspace, it shouldn’t be. Amateur photographers sometimes don’t even know the right questions to ask regarding privacy and consent, let alone the ethics of respecting client wishes. A professional will put you at ease with issues surrounding photo-sharing.
7. Given a little prompting, they will nerd out about the awesomeness of their gear. Seriously, don’t get me started.
8. Given a little prompting, they will nerd out about their continuing education. A pro is ALWAYS learning something new and is secure enough in their skill to let you know it.
9. You know how to easily reach them AND they get back to you quickly! Sure, during a rash of long shoots it may take a minute, but they always get back to you ASAP with answers to your questions. If you find yourself frustrated by the inaccessibility of your photographer, you might question their professionalism and be totally justified.
10. This is not some hobby or side hustle. IT’S WHO THEY ARE. Let’s face it, photography is one of those professions that attracts people for all sorts of reasons – fame, prestige, fun, etc. But the best ones do it simply because they love it and couldn’t imagine doing anything else. Professionals photographers are EXCITED to shoot and this should show from your first meeting to the final reveal.
11. Bonus obvious one: Professionals maintain highly-polished websites and social media channels featuring their work and personality. While these platforms are easy to create, the difference in quality and overall aesthetic can be staggering. Get a sense of the landscape and see if you can tell the difference!
The other side:
I’m trained as a philosopher, so you know I’ll always look at the other side.
This post is for couples who are planning their wedding and lost in a sea of websites, recommendations, confusing articles on wedding blogs, etc. It’s for couples who don’t know what to ask, and are considering hiring a newbie even though that may not be a financial necessity.
There are many, MANY couples in the world who are not in this situation. They may not find this article so helpful.
Also, all photographers start somewhere. It’s not a photographer’s fault if they don’t have experience – every photographer on earth had that first client who trusted them despite their lack of experience. All the love and encouragement in the world to the newbies who do things the right way – they’re up front about their resume and charge a fair price.
Melissa Hirsch Photography specializes in unique, artistic wedding photographer in Denver, CO and worldwide.