Choosing a photographer

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Choosing a photographer.

Note I have used the term "them or they" in place of him or her,

Choosing a professional photographer in New Zealand for a portrait or a wedding or any other type of photographic assignment is not an easy process.

I will attempt to list the things I would look for based on my 50 years involvement in the professional photography industry.

First I would make the comment, which will become very obvious, that not all photographers are equal, just like any other business or profession there are good ones, bad ones and excellent ones.

Usually price is the first indication as to the type of photographer you are considering however as photography is an art form and often photographers are artists this does not always apply.  If you do strike a good photographer that undervalues their work you may find they paid little attention to things like arriving on time, delivering the work on time and attention to detail of all of the above.  You may also find that they consider the opportunity to photograph a blue crested quail on the mid summer full moon on White Island far more important than the delivery of your wedding proofs.

So how do you find a photographer and who should you consider and what should you expect.

The main street photographer these photographers are usually more businesslike and are usually easier to contact having retail premises.  Their photographs are usually on display so you can usually see the type of work that they do without any upfront commitment.  Usually they have their best work on display and sometimes more than one photographer is involved so that factor must be taken into consideration when you're looking at their work.

If you decide they are worth consideration you will need to make an appointment to see them and discuss your requirements and needs to see if they are worthy of consideration.

The full-time photographer operating from home usually to see the work of these photographers you'll need to make an appointment to see them and visit their studio at their home.  Usually they are available at a time to suit you.

The part-time photographer you'll have to make an appointment to see these people and often this means seeing them out of normal business hours and often these meetings will take place in their lounge and a family environment.

Their Premises

 Besides their photography the premises that the photographer operates out of will give you an indication as to the type of person you are dealing with.

Are their premises clean and tidy, are they tastefully decorated, is that modern or old-fashioned, are their premises on your wavelength, do you feel comfortable in these premises.

The Photographer

Your first impression of the photographer often is the best, sometimes you do not get to meet the photographer but you have to dealt with the salesperson.

This is not necessarily good from your point of view as you need to measure how you relate to the photographer and how the photographer relates to you.

The salesperson has been employed because often they are good at what the word implies “selling” and you do not easily want to be sold into any situation.

I would have no objections to the photographer meeting you when you arrive, having a chat with you find out what you want, and then later handing you're on to a detailed person to collect all of the minor details which are necessary for the assignment.

When you meet the photographer, what you see is what you get!  If they are dressed in an untidy manner do not assume when they turned up at your wedding they will be any different.

How interested are they in what you want?  Or are they more interested in selling you package number 24?

Do you find you can relate to the photographer?  Do they have nice personality and would you like to spend a whole day with them?  Because if you book them to cover your wedding you will be spending a whole day with them so you better get on as people.  If you find them difficult to chat with at the meeting that difficulty will not disappear like magic on the day.

How long have they been doing the type of photography you are interested in?  They may tell you that they have been taking photographs since they were seven, but maybe you are the first wedding that they are going to attempt to photograph.

The type of photography that they are showing you, how long have they been doing that type of photography?  May be the sample that they are showing you is just that a sample and yours will be the first real assignment in that style of photography.

If you are booking a portrait sitting where you will have to remove some of your clothes, is the photographer professional enough for you to be happy in this situation, willtheyhave a female assistant who will be present at all times?  Is the changing room secure?

Qualifications

How qualified are they?  They may advertise that they have won 15 international awards, but if you are booking a wedding or a portrait that cuts no ice if those awards were for fantasy landscapes or photographing rare fungi.

A person can do incredible landscapes or travel photography but maybe totally hopeless at photographing a portrait or wedding.  Just because they have a camera does not make them a photographer, just like having a stethoscope does not make a person a doctor.

Awards from a New Zealand national professional photography association or institute however do require more serious consideration.

The qualification of “qualified wedding photographer” means that they have passed a submission of 20 prints and they have been found to be of professional quality.

The letters ANZPPI or MNZPPI or FNZPPI mean that they have won national awards over a period of time and had been awarded these letters to show photographic excellence.  However a minor word of caution should be mentioned at this point because often these prints that have won these awards are what you could call experimental work and may or may not be too your taste.

So in all cases when you are looking at the photographer's awards, like...

Pictorial/Illustrative Photographer of the Year - Awards
Industrial/Architectural Photographer of the Year Awards
Finalist - Corporate Category of the ProPhoto Awards
4rd place - International Black & White Awards
Landscape & Travel Photographer of the Year Awards

all they do show is that this person has been very active in competitions and that his peers consider his prints to be of excellence, however sometimes a person like this can be a pain in the butt and sometimes it may have no bearing on what they do on a daily basis.

What you nee to look for is Consistency of work, along the lines of a prize is great but consistency is paramount, when you are not a supermodel, will you still have beautiful photographs. Can they shoot every wedding well? How do you know?

The Kodak Professional Gold Awards, these are possibly a more useful yardstick than say the NZIPP awards as the winning photographs tend to be less experimental, more mainstream wedding & portrait photography, i.e. the sort of work that customers actually request and want for themselves.

What if the photographer has no qualifications and no awards? 

Well you should not remove them from your list of consideration, some people are not interested in competitions or awards, some people consider themselves to be as good as their last photograph, some people have no need to have their egos massaged by their peers and they just do their day-to-day work which is sometimes brilliant.

 

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Price

First of all is unwise to shop solely on price. There is almost nothing on this earth that somebody cannot produce for less money. 

It you choose a photographer at the bottom of the price range, because they are cheap, and will supply you a CD with all the photos on the CD, all for a bargain price, it may seem all too good to be true and it possibly is.

The photographer at the bottom of the price range, is often interested in just photographing your wedding, burning all of the photographs onto a CD, giving you the CD, (which is often the only record of the Wedding) cleaning his digital cards and getting ready for the next wedding. 

They do not want to be bothered with any after sales service because this eats into their working time (as perhaps a plumber) and their weekend time.

You should not expect any help from this type of photographer in how to order your photographs, how to frame them, where to find a beautiful wedding Album, and for goodness sake do not lose your CD and make sure it does not get damaged, because often that is the only record of your wedding.

The way photographers can save money in photographing a wedding and supplying lots of photographs, is to use a domestic digital camera, (not a professional) and to shoot the images in a low quality JPEG so they do not run out of room on their Digital card in the camera and places all of these on a CD.

By shooting low quality JPEG’s they fit all of the images onto a CD and does not have to pay the extra money for a DVD.  Remember they have to work with the low budget they have quoted you.

If they cut these corners it will be you that suffers at the quality of the JPEG files that are on the CD are of such a low quality you cannot get good quality photographs from them and if this happens there is absolutely nothing you can do.

If they accept less money than normal to do your work, maybe their dress will be inappropriate for the occasion, they will turn up late because of other bookings, or you may be short-changed in some other manner, they will just say “ what do you expect for what you paid ” and possibly they will be correct.

So you should never shop on price but you should shop for quality.

Make sure what you are shown is what you are being offered, make sure what you are being shown is done by the photographer that you are booking.

Do not book and pay any photographer unless there is a written contract with everything that you have discussed and requested recorded on the contract.  Sometimes there is a misunderstanding on what was discussed and agreed on, some days or months later…unless it is in writing you only have a unpleasant situation with no possible resolve!

To get the best will cost more than normal, just like in the rest of the world, a Ferrari will always cost more than a Mazda

The mid-priced photographer, will probably give you a reasonable service, and possibly reasonable results.  If they operate from home on a part-time basis, you will have to fit in with their leisure time, and naturally their full-time job will come first and with all of your dealings with them you must make allowances for this.

The statistics for New Zealand suggest that a large percentage of the population moved house on a regular basis, so if your photographer is part-time, operating from home, they may not be there when you next want to see them.

The photographer that has invested in a shopfront and operates from a retail area is usually more professional in their approach to their work.  You'll find that these photographers are extremely interested in getting all the details of your wedding before the event so they can make sure that they give you what you want because their reputation depends on them doing a good job.

You will normally find that they offer a full range of after sales service covering enlargement's, Photo Albums, framed enlargements and anything else that you may wish.

Usually, with a retail studio, they are there for a long period of time, and so will always be available for extra photographs on any of your all future anniversaries, or when somebody who was at the wedding tragically dies and their loved ones wants special artwork done, work that can only be done by a real professional photographer.

However I am aware of many very high-class photographers operate from a home studio, often they are every bit as professional as the main Street photographer, but normally these photographers are not part-time and operate on a full-time basis as a photographer.

Negatives or Digital files

Often the question is asked if the client will be given the negatives or digital files.

The answer to this should give you an indication as to the type of photographer you are dealing with.  Often the photographer who is doing weddings on a part-time basis is only too happy to give away its film or digital negatives.  This frees him up from all of the work that is done after the wedding.

However the true professional usually does not supply film or digital negatives to his clients, they are there to supply after sales service, to control the quality of the work produced off their negatives, after all their reputation rides on the quality of the work they produces, their reputation revolved around the after sales service and happy clients.

Often the real professional wedding photographer will be photographing their weddings with a format called RAW.  This is so they can produce the ultimate quality from their images and they do this by personally converting each raw image and adjusting them for colour, contrast, density, sometimes doing two conversions and blending those two conversions in Photoshop to form one incredible image. 

The amount of work that can be done by a real professional on a raw image could take several pages to list, but it is now there is the incredible difference between the digital images that uncle Harry may take and a real professional photographer.

How would I choose a photographer

What is the value of a personal referral by someone that has used that photographer, it is worth considering, as long as you and the person who has given the personal referral have the same tastes, same likes & dislikes.... which of course would have meant you both wanted to marry the same guy!   

One of my X Staff photographers would do a incredible job if the Bride was pretty, I just did not send him on a job of a plainer bride, don’t worry about striking him… he now lived in Canada.   So what would a referral be worth from that pretty bride for the…… Canadian …. If you were not pretty!   Assume nothing is good advice.

First of all I would visit as many photographers as I could and make extensive notes on them after each visit.  I would then make up a shortlist and from that shortlist I would request that those photographers give me a list of their last ten weddings. (Note most photographers I have spoken to will NOT do this) If they were "switched on" you might find they would make it easy for you by having samples of all their weddings as I suggest below... then you could miss the step below... somehow they should be able to show you the results on more than one wedding or their SAMPLE album of their best work.

I would select some names from the list and telephone the people concerned.  I would want to hear the reaction the people that had been photographed by this particular photographer, I would want to see how they felt they preformed before, during, and after the wedding.

Once I had my list down to two names I would then look at the finished results that they presented to their clients and at everything else stacked up I would make my selection at this point.

Some other ideas about choosing a photographer can be found at this address while he is working in the business of Bridal Photography most of his points move almost in the same direction as those here.

Note to photographers

If you feel that you do not want to bother your past customers with phone calls from future customers, perhaps you should do a short video of each wedding album you produce along with a video interview of the bridal couple, or a letter from them talking of their experiences, nothing to stop you giving them the format you want the letter in so that it covers all of the points.

Then your prospective clients can look through this collection of samples and referals then you can be seen as giving one extra service to your clients, and it will not do your business any harm either.

I like the idea of having a pile of 50 CD'Ss for the prospective clients to look thro.... I would say select ANY number of CD's and see what the weddings I have done look like and read the letter from the Bride!

The CD's could be labeled with the Season, the Venue, the type of wedding eg Formal, Casual, Documentary etc