Choosing a photographer for your portrait session or event can be a daunting task. I will try to break down some things to be on the lookout for to help you feel comfortable making a good choice.
First, check websites. Most photographers will have a ‘teaser’ gallery that serves as an online portfolio. Do they seem well-versed in the type of photography you are looking for? Check to see if there is updated pricing information or a contact form to request an estimate. This will give you a good idea of the quality of their work, and will give you an idea of the relative costs compared to other photographers in your area so you can allocate your budget accordingly. Once you have a few contenders, make appointments to meet with them after checking their availability for your date, unless of course, you are flexible. While you’re waiting for the appointment day to arrive, jot down any questions you’d like to ask. For example, how long they’ve been taking pictures professionally; do they provide prints, enlargements, or negatives, and if so how much they cost; what their services usually cover. Bring your questions with you to the meeting.
Second, at the meeting, ask the following two questions: if they are insured—and the answer needs to be yes, or else you should not hire them—and to see a portfolio. Here you will be able to get an idea, not just of the quality of the photos but the quality of prints you will likely receive. Are the photos impressive? Were they all taken by the same photographer, preferably the one you are meeting with, or are they a collection of photographers employed by the company? Do they strike you as the type of pictures you would like to have? Does it look like there are pictures from more than one event? Ask about shots or locations that intrigue you if you are looking for places for a photo shoot. Check out the type of photo albums and frames they use, if applicable. Be sure you are happy with the quality of any samples. You can also ask for references. If they aren’t willing to provide them, run.
Third, be sure that you “click” with the photographer. It may seem silly because you may love their work or they are in your price range, but this is someone you need to be comfortable with. They will be interacting with you, your family, friends, or children. If they are photographing your wedding, they may be seeing you only partway dressed! If they are rude or unprofessional, it will likely come up again the day of your session. You don’t need to feel like you’ve found a long lost BFF, but you have to choose someone that you will be able to tolerate following you around very closely—sometimes for hours! You want to feel at ease with their personality and professionalism, and walk away feeling like the photographer both understands your needs and has the ability to deliver on it.
Fourth, if you think you have found the “one,” read the contract and understand the logistics. Most professional photographers will have a contract for you to sign. It protects you as the client just as much as it protects us. Be sure you are comfortable with all of the terms. Also, understand what the cancellation fee is, and what your rights are to the images that will be taken. Some photographers will make you wait for a release or for negatives so that you will purchase prints and enlargements directly from them so find out how long it will take to receive your photos and whether you will be receiving digital prints or physical copies. Discuss how long the photographer plans to be present at your event, or how many hours they think your session will take, and put it in the contract. Know whether or not there will be an assistant photographer present, and what their responsibilities will be for your event. Ask about any staff qualifications also. Find out if they have a backup in case of illness or other emergencies. These things may seem bothersome now, but will help you rest assured that you will be getting what you pay for on the day of your session.
Good luck on your search, and I hope this helps!