How to Choose a Portrait Photographer

How to Choose a Portrait Photographer

Conducting a search for a portrait photographer in the 21st century will return thousands of results, so how do you navigate this minefield? Having your portrait taken is an extremely personal experience, and should also be considered as an investment. So it’s important to get it right.  This article is here to help you with how to choose a portrait photographer.

Portfolio

This is without doubt the most important point to consider before hiring a portrait photographer.  It’s where you should look to figure out if you like the style and standard of work that portrait photographer is producing.

There are so many options available that make it very easy for portrait photographers to create an online portfolio so there’s no excuse for not having one.  Although try to look past the quality of the website and focus on the quality of the content.  Just because it’s easy to create a website, that doesn’t mean it’s easy to create a ‘good’ website. Some people are more tech savvy than others. That doesn’t make them a bad portrait photographer.

Style

If you’re simply looking for some new professional headshots, your needs are very different to a musician needing images for their latest album cover (for example), so it’s important to consider what you want from your shoot.

When studying a portfolio, take time to consider what you like and what you don’t like about the images on display.  Here’s some useful questions you may wish to ask yourself:

  • Are they shot in a studio or at an outside location? Or maybe a mix of both?
  • Are the images bright and airy or dark and moody?
  • Does this portrait photographer opt for an artistic look and feel, or are they more like photos for the family album?
  • Is the portfolio specialised or is there a mix of everything?

There is, of course, an in between for all of the above mentioned points but consider how far along that sliding scale you wish to go and which side of it you want your portrait to be on.

your gut feeling will pick up on it if something doesn’t feel quite right to you

Quality

There’s a reason I’ve put quality after style.  Although choosing a technically competent photographer is important for obvious reasons, how a portrait photographers portfolio looks and feels TO YOU should be the most important element.  Within reason!

Here’s some things to look out for though that may be red flags:

Sharpness

This means how in focus the image is.  If it’s obviously intentionally blurry then that’s what we may refer to as ‘artistic intent’.  But it’s important to consider if you like it, and that those feelings are communicated to your chosen portrait photographer. More on that later.

Exposure level

How bright or dark an image is plays a big part in projecting the overall feel to the viewer.

Colour balance

Colour balance means how blue or yellow (or neutral) the image is.  Again, this can be used with artistic intent to create a feeling of warmth (yellow) or cold (blue).

Composition

Even if you have zero knowledge of composition, your gut feeling will pick up on it if something doesn’t feel quite right to you.  A well composed photo should feel easy to look at.

Don’t make a decision until at least the day after meeting with the final photographer on your shortlist

Meeting

After you have finished browsing some portrait photographers portfolios, narrow it down to your favourite three.  Make contact with them and arrange a meeting.  This should always be free with no obligation to book.

This next point will be controversial but you may also wish to take a voice recorder with you.  There are free apps available that will allow you to record your conversation directly to your phone.

Recording your conversation will make it easy to accurately recall what you discussed and help with the decision making process later on.  However, ALWAYS get permission before doing this.  I like to record client conversations to make sure I deliver on what I’ve promised.  But I’d always check first.

What you should tell

Before you start asking your portrait photographer how they operate, make sure you are making your needs clear. Tell them the things that you like about their portfolio and what you don’t like. This will help the photographer build an idea of what to include and what to leave out.

Another way that you can help your portrait photographer deliver images that you love is to let them know if there’s anything you feel particularly self-conscious about. It will feel uncomfortable to do this with someone you’ve just met so you you may wish to leave this until you have made your choice, which means you’ll only need to say it once. You could also let them know via email if it’s easier for you.

Make sure you know what rights you have over the use of your images

What you should ask

During your meeting with a photographer, there are some important points that you should get clarification on to avoid any awkwardness due to a misunderstanding later down the line.  Here’s a few things you should ask your portrait photographer about.

Price

Just as there was a reason for me placing quality after style above, there’s also a reason why price has come so far down this list.  There are some who think price shouldn’t matter to get the images you want. I believe that there’s an element of truth in this.  However, it only works up to a point.  We all have budgets limiting what we can reasonably spend.  The only person that can decide what your images are worth is you.  Which is why it’s so important to get it right when considering style and quality mentioned at the start of this article.

Storage

Ask your portrait photographer how the digital copies of your images will be delivered and how long they will be available to download for.  I use an online file transfer service called WeTransfer.  It’s entirely free to download your images and you will be emailed a download link as soon as the files are ready.  WeTransfer puts a 2 week limit on that link before it expires.

Copyright

Make sure you know what rights you have over the use of your images.  This may seem like a strange point.  It would be reasonable for you to assume that you can use your photos how you wish if you’re paying for them.  Personally I agree and will always provide my images royalty free, which means you can use them without limitation.

The only exception to this, which will apply to all photographers, is altering the look of the image.  If you’ve hired the right photographer, you shouldn’t need to alter anything.

Insurance

If something goes wrong or you get hurt and it’s the photographers fault, are they covered to compensate you.  I’m covered with up to £5 million of public liability insurance and am happy to show my insurance certificate to anyone that requests it.  I’ve never known of something ever happening that has resulted in public liability insurance being needed, but it’s good to have that peace of mind.

When to Choose a Portrait Photographer

Don’t make a decision until at least the day after meeting with the final photographer on your shortlist.  This gives you a proper chance to sleep on it and consider all the options, weigh up the pros and cons and likes and dislikes.

The most important point to consider after meeting with a photographer is whether or not you click.  If you feel awkward around each other, it’ll show in your photos.  It’s very important that you feel relaxed when having your portrait taken as that will bring out your true personality.

Gut feeling

I touched on this earlier when discussing how well an image is composed, but I wanted to mention it again as its importance should not be underestimated when knowing how to choose a portrait photographer.  If something doesn’t feel right to you, it probably isn’t.  Or to put it another way, if it’s not a ‘HELL YES’, it should probably be a ‘no’.

If you’d like to discuss your next portrait shoot with me, get in touch using this link

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