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How to Choose a Photographer

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Capture the moment

Paul Wilkinson, award-winning photographer and our resident expert helps us to capture the moment with advice on how to choose the right photographer for those all-important family shots...

So, here's the thing (as some of my clients in the U.S. might put it). You've decided that you'd like some beautiful images of you and your family to hang on the newly decorated lounge wall. You've always wanted to do it and, as the new paint is slowly drying, you figure that now is the time.

Fantastic! This is the kind of moment that every portrait photographer loves to hear about - when someone sits down and decides they're going to engage in one of the most special things with their family: a photography session.

However, I'm also acutely aware that there are a vast number of photographers and studios out there with different styles and price points to suit every taste and pocket, so how do you go about choosing the right one to ensure you get beautiful pictures that you'll love for the rest of your life?

In the first of our articles for, I'll try to provide a little guidance on how to go about it and what to look for. Those perfect pictures are just within reach!

Well, the good news is that there has never been a better time to buy photography. There are more photographers than ever before and prices are hugely competitive, studios are running promotions and camera technology (i.e. image quality) is better than it's ever been.

However, having more photographers out there can make it hard to sift through and find the really great from the not-so-great photographers who may have a good eye for an image but are unlikely to be insured and may not produce the quality you expect.

We regularly hear from people who've had a bad experience with a photographer and feel that they've been somewhat short-changed. Sometimes it's simply the experience, sometimes the images, sometimes the inexplicable hidden charges.

Whatever the reason, as a full-time professional photographer, it always saddens me when a new client arrives at our studio and explains that the last time they plucked up the courage to have a photography session (and let's face it, most average people don't relish the idea of being photographed) the outcome wasn't a good one.

However, by doing just a little homework before making a booking and departing with your deposit, you can ensure that you have a great experience and get stunning images.
Factors that influence a love of the finished image
Over the years we have listened to the feedback from clients and the following seem to be the major factors for loving their finished images:

  • They enjoyed the experience of being photographed (‛we never expected to it enjoy it so much!')
  • They look great and relaxed in the images
  • They love the style of the finished images
  • The presentation of the images compliments the images and their surroundings perfectly
  • The quality of the product, whether it's an album or a framed print, is beautiful and reflects the time that has been put in
  • They knew the prices up front and their were no hidden extras that caught them out

So given this list of factors, how do you go about choosing a photographer who will ultimately provide images that you will love for a great many years to come?

Work out what broadly you will want to purchase
In some ways, this is can be a little tricky as, without actually seeing your final finished images, how can you know if you're going to want an album? Or maybe a frame? Or a set of three frames? Or how about a multi-image acrylic or possibly a canvas? You get my drift.

What is probably easier to piece together is whether you would like studio images or all location shots. Do you want just group shots or would you like shots of each individual or maybe siblings? Again, add these thoughts to your notes.

Even if is just a quick list of ideas, it is still worth the effort as it will help eliminate anyone who doesn't offer what you might like to buy. You can also talk this through with your final chosen photographer ahead of your session - this will help him or her as they piece together the images they're going to shoot with you.

Where to look for a photographer:
So with your shortlist prepared, where do you start looking for your photographer?

Ask around
It doesn't hurt to ask. I don't think I can stress this enough: the best possible route to finding a photographer (or any supplier for that matter) is undoubtedly through a recommendation from someone you know and trust who has first-hand experience of their service and end product. That isn't to say that just because your best friend says that a photographer is good ("he made me look ten years younger!" etc.) that their taste is going to be the same as yours ("yes but the photos are still naff"). It is, without doubt, however, the best place to start.

The World Wide Web
Get yourself a nice hot mug of tea (or possibly something stronger if the kids are in bed and you've a moment's peace!), power up the old laptop and have a look on t'InterWeb. Use the many and various search engines (Google, Yahoo, MSN, and many others).

Most photographers these days have a significant (though sadly not always stylish) web presence: a website is an almost perfect platform on which to show photographic images.

Of course, it does have to be said that it is all too easy for a studio to show only their best images, images taken during a training course or, worst of all, someone else's images (seriously, it has been known) but, on the whole, this should give you a good feel for their style, personality and photography.

Professional Organisations
Like most industries, the photographic industry has plenty of professional organisations - and many of them have searchable databases of their members.

Choosing a photographer who has qualified through one of these organisations can offer a degree of reassurance as they will usually have set minimum levels of photographic competence and some - as in the case of the Master Photographers Association (MPA) - will even set other criteria such as proper insurance.

Most of the professional organisations have searchable directories broken down into regions through which you can find someone near to you. They usually also have details of why you should book one of their members which are worth a read. As a staring point try the following:

  • MPA
  • BIPP
  • SWPP

What to look for:

Beautiful images in their portfolio
Throughout the process of finding a photographer, the most important consideration is that you love their images! I realise that this may be stating the obvious but there is absolutely no point in having a shoot with a photographer whose images you don't absolutely love.

And don't think that you'll persuade a photographer, through the means of cash or other dubious enticement, to adopt a different style just for you. It rarely works and you will almost certainly be disappointed.

Most photographers can offer a degree of variety whether it's studio or on-location, but it is unlikely that they will easily adapt to photographing in a style that is fundamentally different from their own inimitable one. Just as there are a plethora of photographers, so there are myriad styles - you should be able to find one that you love.

Try to find out what experiences those clients before you have had with a photographer and get a feel for what it's going to be like for you. Read any biographies the photographer may have and listen to the tone of the language they use on their website and marketing material. Does it fit with your personality and that of your family? Can you picture them taking your photograph and can you picture yourself enjoying the experience?

You should also drop them an email or give them a call. Remember that our experience suggests one of the biggest factors in getting beautiful images is the relationship you strike with the photographer. There is nothing quite like having a chat to work out if you're dealing with someone you'd like to work with and is going to be able to get the best out of people!

Track record
Look for a variety of images and clients - particularly recent images. This is not always easy to do without asking the photographer directly but make sure you're happy that they consistently produce beautiful images and that what they're showing in the portfolio is truly representative of their body of work. If the photographer has a blog then flick through and see what kinds of images they've been producing of late as these will be the most current and a much better indication of what you can expect than images that were shot 2 years ago.


So, finally, we come to the thorny issue of price.

There is no getting away from the fact that, if you want beautiful images that you will get a great deal of pleasure from for a long time to come, you will need to consider your budget.

When it comes to price, the photography market is just like any other. Only with more lighting! With prices for a session and some images in a frame ranging from a few hundred pounds to the cost of a small car, photographers come in all shapes and prices from the ridiculously cheap to the eye-wateringly expensive. However, it is generally the case that you do get what you pay for so don't expect top-quality hand-crafted bespoke albums for a tenner! Low prices mean high volumes and the quality of service cannot be the same as an outfit that only takes one job a day. It is all a balancing act.

So do some homework and compare the different packages from the different photographers you've identified. Ring them if you need to and check what you will get for your money. Make sure there is nothing that they haven't told you about. If they cannot give you straight answers then consider removing them from the list.

Try to strike the right balance between the quality and your budget. If you think you want more than you can afford to pay in the immediate term, it is worth checking how long a studio will keep your images for you. Most studios are using digital cameras now and so there is no reason why they aren't archiving the images for at least a few months if not a few years. That way you can place further orders at a later date, effectively spreading the cost over a longer period of time.

One thing that is certainly true is the old adage that it is better to spend a little more than you had intended than to leave with less than you had wished for. Clearly I may be biased in that regard!

So there you have it. If you're looking to book a photographer in the near future then hopefully you've found this article useful.

Feel free to email me with comments and suggestions and if I can help I will!

If you have any questions for Paul, get in touch

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