It happened to me again. A client told me a horror story of their experience with another photographer that they hired as a gift for their sister’s newborn session in another area….and you guys, it’s the same story I have heard time and time again!!!!
“I hired this photographer who seemed like a professional and their social media account showed lots of beautiful photos, but then I hired them and they were not good/took my money and ghosted me/didn’t deliver my photos for 13 weeks!”.
Has this ever happened to you?
Do you know why?
It is because as a whole, the photography industry is an unaccredited profession. It does not require a college degree, a business license (if you’re operating under your counties income limits you can get by without one), a certification, or any other kind of regulation to perform photography services. That means there are a WHOLE LOT of people picking up a camera and becoming “professional” photographers every day… because the only thing required to do it is a camera.
What that means for you as a client is that there are a whole world of different photographers to choose from, with different styles and price points! It’s like Goldilocks and the 1,000 Photographers!!!! You as the consumer get to pick the pro with the price point and style that is “just right” for you!
Sadly, what that also means is that if you are not looking for the red flags, you might hire someone who professes to be a professional photographer but really has just taken a few great photos with their borrowed aunt’s camera (that happened to me once, true story!). They might take your money and even take your photos but not deliver the final product you expected.
So how can you, as the client, wade through all the posturing and pretty images to find the photographers who are guaranteed to give you a quality experience and photos you will love? It’s actually more simple than you might think! Keep reading to learn 5 questions you should ask to find out if your heart’s desire is a legit photographer.
- Do you require a contract?
I know, filling out contracts and questionnaires are a drag… but they are a really great clue as to the experience level and legitimacy of your photographer’s business. New photographers often have not hashed out the business side of their shop and may not have contracts in place to protect themselves and you as the client (I know- I didn’t have contracts for the first couple years of my business!). If your photographer does not ask you to sign a contract that is a huge red flag and should give you pause, especially since it leaves you hanging out to dry if they take your money and run! Make sure to have a legal contract with your photographer stating important things like image use rights, what is included in the fees you are paying, what your rights are if the photographer does not deliver your images, etc. If your photographer does not require a contract, it might be time to consider other options.
RED FLAG: No contracts
2. What is your image turnaround time?
This, my friends, is a great question to ask any photographer you are considering hiring. It may not seem important beforehand, but it will be really important to you when 13 weeks have gone by and you still have not received your images. Any photographer worth their salt will be able to give you an expected delivery timeline and will be open and upfront with you if they think your photos might be delayed. A professional photographer worth hiring should be able to deliver your photos within 6 weeks of your session and should be closer to under 3 weeks if they are good about planning and spacing their sessions properly, and dependent on the type of session. It is expected that wedding photos will take longer to process than family portraits.
RED FLAG: No specified delivery timeline
3. Do you have a business license?
Again, a great question to ask and I admit freely that I did not have a business license for the first few years I was a photographer. Granted, you do not need a license to operate a small photography business if your annual income is below the required amount set by your city and county. The professionals who have gone to the trouble of securing a business license are more likely to be running a more professional and legitimate business and not scam you. A business license will not guarantee you good images as anyone can secure a license and talent/experience is not a qualifying factor to receive one, but having a business license is a way for you as the client to identify if your photographer takes their profession seriously. If your photographer has a business license and does not perform the services you paid them for, you have the ability to report them and have their business license revoked.
RED FLAG: No business license
4. Can I see an example gallery with one client so I know what I can expect from a session with you?
So you cruise through their images on Instagram or Facebook or their online portfolio and love their style…and then you hire them and the images you receive don’t look anything like the photos they showcased. That can feel like a huge bait and switch! One I have sadly fallen prey to as well. It’s easy for photographers to post only their best work online- that single lucky image from 20 different photo shoots in the last few months. Also, sadly there are instances of photo theft that happen all the time and con artist “fauxtographers” can steal images off the internet and present them as their own. It’s rare but it does happen.
So how can you as the client avoid being blinded by the stellar images they choose to show and see what you can actually expect out of your final image gallery if you hire them? Ask them to see an example gallery that is the same type of session you are hiring them for. This is a very reasonable request and one any legit photographer should be able to provide you with. This should give you a good idea of the variety and types of images you can expect to see in your own gallery with that photographer and if they are consistent in their work. Of course, location and lighting might change the exact images you will receive but the bones of their style and work should still be there to judge.
RED FLAG: Will not show you a full image gallery from one client session
5. Are they prompt and detailed in their correspondence with you?
One of the main pitfalls as a photographer is learning to balance the administrative side of the business with the artistic and client side of the business. Most photographers jump in with a love of creating images and have to take on the administrative parts of running a photography business out of necessity. So while they might be a great photographer, they might overload their plate with sessions and not be great at the other parts like answering emails. This doesn’t inherently mean that they won’t take great photos for you, it just means that it could be a beast trying to get a hold of them for anything- to ask questions, reschedule your shoot, find out when your photos will be ready, editing requests, etc. A photographer that is not prompt and courteous in answering emails or other messages from you might be giving you a warning sign that your experience working with them could be a frustrating one and you might have to chase them down often to get what you paid for.
That being said, don’t expect responses back within the course of one or two business days every time. Photographers can work odd days and hours and you might have caught them in the middle of a shooting marathon or their days off. Be patient but also watch out for weeks between responses or vague responses all the time.
RED FLAG: Frequently unresponsive and/or vague responses to messages
Hopefully by asking these 5 questions you can weed through the oodles of talented photographers out there and pick one that not only will give you images and an experience that you love, but will also help you rest easy knowing you put your money and trust in someone who will take care of you and your memories!
Happy photographer hunting you guys!