How do I pick my Senior photographer?

Hey guys,

Happy Summer! It's that time again when next years Seniors will be looking to find someone who will fit with them to take their Senior photo. Laura and I, as photographers and neighbors in your community, wanted to share with you some tips and some of our experiences in order to guide you along this process. Laura, before we had been registered with the schools to do photos, had gone through this very process with her own daughter who graduated two years ago. There's a whole bunch of questions that come up and still seem to never really be fully answered just by looking at somebody's website, or seeing they have great photos. And, it's important that a potential client ask the RIGHT questions of their prospective photographer in order to get the right answers! What questions do you have? Maybe these sound familiar:

Who do we pick? Who's the best? Who's in our budget that we like? What do we get? When do we do it? What do I wear? How much do they charge and for what? 

So, let's break this down a little. You can look at 10 different photographers and your gut will tell you which one you like best, whose photos you really want to have yourself look like. So, your gut and personal taster has a lot to do with the decision. Laura and I like to use the analogy of ourselves and other photographers as kind of the ice cream of photography. We're like pecan praline,  yet another photographer is like rocky road. Or, one being like Ben & Jerry's and one being like Haagen-Daz. They both taste yummy and they're both high quality. But, you don't like rocky road. You look at it and it just isn't your flavor. Lots of photographers can look quite the same, except just a little different. There are those that are really good at what they do and are really talented. There are those that are pretty good. And, there are those that, humbly, look just a little better than photos you take with your phone.

First and foremost, establish what your criteria is in this selection. Quality, price point, and personality is what Laura and I believe are the three most important aspects. 

Go with your gut. It usually leads you straight. Whatever the decision you make for your photographer is right for you. You pick the person whose photos really speak to your heart. Or, you go with someone whose more cost-effective and easier on the budget. Or, last but not least, you find a happy medium. To do that, you need to take the time to speak to each photographer, get a sense of their personality and style. point out which of their photos you like. And, most importantly, ask them the right questions.

So, let's get to the brass tax: Money. What is your budget? Is quality a higher criteria than expense? Is the most expensive mean they're the best? 

They could be the most expensive, and their photos rock, however, you don't mesh with their personality. They could be in your budget, they're funny and cool, but their photos aren't up to you standards. They're more economical that most other photographers, but they don't fit the other important aspects of your criteria.

And, you probably ask yourself; why are photographers SO EXPENSIVE? 

Here's a little peek into our industry; we're not just rolling up to the location, taking some photos and then BOOM! the pictures are downloaded and done in ten minutes. There's a whole bunch of behind the scenes and back-end work that is done in our industry. So, we spend time taking the photo, yet every photographer has to also spend time making the photo.  There's a lot of expense, energy, and time invested in gear, post-processing, insurance, web presence, utilities and supplies, research, honing our crafts, and a myriad of other facets that ALL photographers strive to maintain and utilize in order to get in front of you with their camera to take that one great photo. All legitimate and professional photographers are in the business of photography, not just the photography business. 

Now, back to what you, the client, is probably wondering what this all means and what you're supposed to ask about and what you get. Let's go back to what Laura went through as a client and the questions she wished she asked in her experience:

What's comes with the Portrait Session? Do you have packages or is everything a la carte? So, even though we paid you for the photoshoot, the actual photos are a separate charge and we have to buy the pictures from you? Do we get to choose our own pictures? What if we don't want some of the stuff in your designed packages? 

Some photographers offer packages that include all sorts of stuff!  Prints, a canvas, an image box, or grad cards. They will try to sell you something like "2 8x10's and 20 wallet sizes with a 4 foot canvas and an album for only...." You get the picture.

Get a clear idea of what you want, what you feel is what you want to pay for, and if you'll actually use it. Does your grad want a 4 foot canvas of themselves hanging over the mantle? Do you really want or need 20 wallet size photos? Does anyone even carry a wallet around with photos in it anymore? You want to be able to afford it and want it at the same time. Do you just want digital downloads for Facebook and Instagram, or to send to grandma in Michigan for her to have a screensaver? Does family just want a couple prints for the wall and one for the desk at the office? Aim for what you want and like. Some photographers offer several types of packages, with some things you want and others you may not. Remember, some photographer may charge you for ONLY the photo session, then when they show you the photos, say "now what package do you want to buy?" 

Make sure you know what you're getting, and have it in writing. With your initial payment and investment, is it just for taking the photos? Or, is it for the photos and a package of photo products? Does their studio offer a la carte online catalog of stuff, so you get to pick only what you like? Or, will they compromise and cater a uniquely designed package for you? 

Just because there's an expensive price tag on something, doesn't make it the best. Ever buy an expensive steak at a fancy restaurant and you get a piece of leather? How about a really pricey dress that you put on that doesn't feel good, and you end up never wearing it? Or, the dress that is inexpensive, that looks good, feels good, is your favorite, and you wear all the time. What about the movie with big stars in it, a huge budget, that someone saw and says if the best movie this year, then you see it, and you think it stunk? The "best" is a very subjective thing. You know what you like. 

Here's our last take on what we think you should look for and consider in your decision:

Their Code of Ethics and their resource toolkit.

A professional photographer has a duty to be your guide through the process, your trusted advisor, and to look out for your best interests. A great photographer should and will tell you what colors and outfits will look best for you to wear at the session. They should be excited and stoked to take awesome photos of you, but cover the different scenarios that may arise. For instance, they should tell you that even though you may love the beach and want your session done there, they've checked the weather (yes, they should be checking the weather conditions on the day of your shoot) and it calls for your favorite beach to be cold, foggy or windy. That means wind whipping hair around may be a factor. That means you in your cute summer outfit in the cold means you may be uncomfortable and not really happy about smiling. That means the fog will not let that beautiful "golden hour" or golden light happen at the beach. Yet, a great photographer will know it's happening a few miles away at another location they know about. And, that they have in their resources to be able to adapt, switch it up, and make decisions on the fly in order to provide you with the best and most fun experience they can. They should know light and have the capability to use lighting tools and modifiers if necessary, other than just being at the mercy of natural light all the time. They should know how to create the best photo, even if your shoot is in the middle of the day, or if the natural light conditions isn't ideal. They should know how to pose you in the way that's most complimentary to whether you're a girl or a guy, or whether you're a little shorter or taller. You have the right to ask them if they know these things! Good luck. Congratulations to you for making it through high school! (Or, if you're the parent reading this, good luck surviving getting your kid through high school!) And, BE AWESOME! 

Your friendly neighborhood photo duo,

Jason & Laura