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Tips for choosing a professional portrait photographer.

We often rely on our own basic photography skills, or that of our family and friends, to capture special moments such as a family portrait, childhood milestones or a graduation ceremony.  But occasionally there are times when you decide that a professional is needed to ensure the job is done just right.
Choosing a photographer to capture a special portrait can be a daunting task.  Photos generally create the longest lasting impressions you will have of any special occasion, therefore it is important to make a well-informed decision when selecting a photographer.
But when there are so many photographers out there, how do you decide which photographer is better, or which one is right for you?  For many people, price is often the main determining factor but this is not necessarily the best decision.

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The following lists a few tips on choosing a portrait photographer that’s right for you.   

Personal referrals:
A good place to start is with family and friends who may be able to provide you with names of photographers they can personally recommend.  If you know of someone who has used a particular photographer, ask them if their overall experience was good or bad.  People who have had positive experiences are often happy to recommend their photographer and may also be able to show you a sample of their photos.  This can provide you with a starting list of photographers you may wish to contact.

Photographer websites:
The majority of photographers have a website which showcases their work.  Visiting their site allows you to view their previous work and can help you decide if their style of work matches your tastes.  Look through the portrait galleries and view the portfolios.  Does the work appeal to your senses?  Does their style of photography match your personality?

Viewing websites can often save you time and hassle by identifying potential photographers you would like to investigate further and eliminating others that do not match your requirements.

Initial contact:
A quick phone call or email to each photographer on your list can provide you with a few important pieces of information and can rule out photographers before you even leave your house.  For example:
  • Is the photographer available on the particular day that you need them, e.g. on a graduation day?
  • What pricing structures or packages do they offer?  What do you actually receive for your money?
  • What style of photography do they use e.g. film, digital, black and white, traditional or modern contemporary images, etc.
A phone call or email may also give you an indication as to the photographer’s personality.  Remember that you need to choose someone you can get along with and feel comfortable with.

Meet the photographer:
Once you have narrowed your list, make an appointment to meet face-to-face with each photographer.  This will enable you to view their portfolios, discuss packages and prices, and to ask any questions you may have.  Remember that you are employing the photographer to do work for you.  Therefore, the more questions you ask the more confident you will feel when making the final decision on which photographer to choose.

The photographer should be willing to take the time to answer your questions and discuss your needs.  This is also an opportunity for the photographer to find out about the subject/s of the portrait, to understand their personality and their story, which will enable them to capture the subject in the best way possible.

Also ask the photographer for references.  It is often useful and reassuring to find out from past clients if the photographer was punctual, friendly, enjoyable to work with, etc.

Viewing portfolios:
Whether on the photographer’s website or in person, when viewing portfolios it’s important to carefully consider the images you are seeing. 
  • Are the pictures well composed?  Is the lighting right?  Are the images crisp and clear?
  • Do the images evoke emotion?  Do the images look artificial and composed or are they natural?  Do the photos capture detail well e.g. facial expressions?
  • Do you like the samples of work you are seeing?  Do they suit your personal style and taste?  Is this the kind of portrait you would like to see hanging in your house?

Feel comfortable:
When you meet with photographers, trust your initial reaction.  If you are uncomfortable with the photographer, it will show in the final images.
  • Do you have a good rapport with the photographer?  Do you like him/her?
  • Do they have a clear understanding of your expectations?
  • Can you see yourself/your family spending a lengthy amount of time in their company? 
  • Will he/she be able to set the subject/s at ease enough to make for a wonderful portrait?
  • Will your children feel comfortable in their presence?

Personal style:
Everyone is unique and has different styles and tastes.  A good portrait photographer is one that is keen to get to know you and understands your personality and visions of the portrait.
What style of portrait do you envision?  Is it traditional, candid or romantic, or do you prefer an image that is more photojournalistic?  What style would best capture your personality?  Is the photographer flexible enough to experiment with lighting, poses, locations, etc?  It’s important to let the photographer know what you have in mind.

The photography shoot:

Do you have a specific location or setting in mind, i.e. a studio shoot or an off-site location such as a church or the beach?  Not all photographers will travel off-site for the shoot, or will charge an additional fee to do so, therefore it is important to clarify this prior to hiring the photographer.

Is the location conveniently located near your home or will you need to travel a long distance to get there for the shoot?  Regardless of the location, it is likely the portrait subjects will be dressed ready for the shoot prior to travelling there.  The longer the travelling time, the more chance there are of wrinkles, spills, stains, etc, appearing on clothing which will adversely affect your portrait!

If in a studio, is the room physically large enough to fit all subjects of the portrait?  When meeting with the photographer, ask to see the area where the portrait will be taken.  Is the lighting professional?  Do you feel comfortable in the space?

The specifics: common questions:
There are many possible questions you can ask your photographer.  Experienced professional photographers will generally cover the questions you were planning to ask during the course of the meeting.  In addition to the topics discussed above, below is a list of questions you may like to consider when meeting each photographer:

  1.  Experience level - Has the person photographed other portraits?  Do they do this for a living or as a hobby?  How long have they been in the portrait photography business?
  2. Photography style – Are their shots traditional, formal, classic, candid, photo-journalistic, mixed, contemporary?  It’s important to choose a photographer that suits your personal style.
  3. Clothing – What does the photographer recommend everyone wea

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