Here's the inside scoop crew! >> No photographer is perfect but the right photographer for YOU is out there. Keep reading to learn what you should be looking for and asking about before signing the dotted line.
Check Out a Full Gallery
We all can create the dream, curated Instagram. Even your toddler can get a fantastic photo 1 out of 1000 times. But you want to be sure that you aren't just looking at the best of the best. Odds are, the right photographer for you can produce great images again and again. Jump on their website to see if they have full blogs available, poke around to see if they have albums from weddings and shoots. If they don't have any galleries that have full sessions and/or weddings, just ask to see a few! They should be happy to share since it shows you truly care about quality. (Jump HERE for my own full galleries!)
If you have a particular circumstance you want to be sure is photographed at it's best, ask for specific galleries. E.g. older children, dark reception halls, multiple skin tones, or family members with special needs, etc. It is totally valid for you to ask for examples of their experience. Whether you're taking family photos or finding a wedding photographer, this day and these images will be so memorable. Be sure they are equipped to accomplish the task. That being said, just because they don't have experience in your specific circumstance doesn't mean they aren't the right fit. Trust your gut. If they seem genuine and open with you about their experience and are willing to grow, this might be the perfect fit!
Don’t Get Dazzled
Flashy locations and stunning people go a long way in curating an amazing portfolio. And if you too are a model and are ready to hike up a mountain with the people you love, then pretty much any photographer is good for you. But most of us are living that sweet, feet on the ground life 90% of the time ;) Look through their website/social media and check out what they've done in real-life locations with real-life people. Cause let me tell you, from experience, there is a HUGE difference between photographing a 20-something couple in the Appalachians and handful of toddlers in their backyard :)
Just because they have a strong pretty-location and pretty-people portfolio doesn't mean they aren't the right fit, but don't confuse those perfect situations for a perfect photographer.
What You Wear is ALMOST as Important as Who You Hire
I hate to say it, but a lot of people's happiness in their final photos depends more on what they wear than almost any other factor. As you're dreaming about your session/wedding look at all the images you're drawn to. What are the subjects wearing? What are the color tones? Style? How fitted or flowy is it? How formal? What kind of accessories? All these factors make a huge huge difference. You want bright and light kind of images? Yes, hire someone who specializes in that, but also wear clothing that fits within that styles.
Get to Know Them
DO NOT hire your wedding photographer before you talk to them either in person or over the phone. You are spending one of the most important days of your life with this person. They can either make or break it.
Even if you're hiring a family or engagement photographer, be sure you jive with their style and personality. Check out their social media and "about" page. It'll be really uncomfortable for everyone if they totally rub you the wrong way.
Notice Their Strong Points
You want your goals to align with their strengths. If they have amazing candid photos of big families with lots of little kids and you want THAT, this is the photographer for you. Their couples portraits are oriented around minimalist architecture and a fine art style and you LOVE that? There you go! Not every photographer does everything well. It doesn't hurt to see if they'll try something new though! :)
How Do They Edit?
All photographers have at least an unspoken editing philosophy. They may be super-duper minimal edits (a little cropping and just a touch of color correcting) or heavy-handed edits (take 10 lbs off all the adults and whiten every smile). Somewhere in between is where most photographers land. Know what you want and be sure you aren't expecting something different.
For example, I will swap heads without asking of anyone blinking if it's possible, but I won't remove birthmarks unless asked. You can see a full expose on my editing philosophy HERE.
Understand the Market
Do a little research about your budget and where it fits in the market. If you're wanting the world on a string, it will cost a lot more than if you're happy with a step above a cell phone picture! Just because your cousin can do it for free doesn't mean other's work is worth less. Check the sites of other comparable photographers in the area. If they seem unusually high or unusually low, there may be something else going on under the surface.
A friend of mine didn't realize a few years ago that the payment she initially made for her session only covered the other photographer's sitting fee and that getting the images would cost 4x the original amount. The photographer seemed like SUCH a great deal upfront but not so much later. Know the terms and find the right fit.