Session Planner Series: How to Pick Your Perfect Photographer

blank google boxThere you are. Sitting at your computer, looking at that blank google bar. You know it needs to happen, but you have no idea where to even start. You break out into a small sweat. Fingers poised over the keyboard you think “What the heck do I even search for? How do you pick your perfect photographer”?

Ok. Pause. Timeout. Deep Breath.

I’m here to take your hand and guide you step by step through the process of picking a photographer. We’ll start with a little prep work, and make our way to the final step of signing your contract. I’ve even created a set of free worksheets to help you through this process. You can click here to download them and print them out. Follow along with this post and you’ll be booking your perfect photographer in no time!

Prep Work:

Determine your session type.

What are you looking for? Newborn? Engagement? Family portraits? Mini Sessions that last 15 minutes? Full-service session complete with hair, makeup, and wardrobe? It’s best to know what you’re hoping for in terms of your session type before you begin to search since it will help you narrow down the type of photographer you need.

Determine your session style.

Do you like posed images? More candid lifestyle images? Would you rather be in a studio, or on location? Do you like bright, bold images? Soft, neutral images? Black and white? Digital or film (it’s a thing again!) Knowing your style will help you rapidly knock photographers off your list. That photographer whose images you love only shoots in a controlled studio, and you are dying for a family session on the beach. You’ve got two options: scratch them off your list, or head into the studio. It’s up to you to decide what is most important to you.

Determine what you want to do with the images from your session.

Do you want a gorgeous wall gallery of canvases or framed art, or would you prefer a custom birth announcement created? Do you want an heirloom album or would facebook photos be more your style? Not all photographers offer these services, so knowing what you want for an end product will help you shorten your list.

Determine your budget.

This is one of the fastest ways to knock photographers off of your list. Everyone has a different budget for photography and there is nothing wrong with whatever number you choose. It all depends on how much you value photography, and what you are able to put aside for your session. There are photographers to cover literally every budget option, so don’t worry about being able to find someone within your price range!

Ok. So now you’ve done your prep work. You know what type of session you are looking for, you know what you want to do with your images, and you know your budget. It’s time to start searching!

Step One: Where to look

One of the best places to search is within your friend group. Odds are that someone has had professional photos taken, and you’ve probably seen them on facebook or Instagram. Check with the friends who have pictures that you love. Find out who their photographer was and if they had a great experience with them. What did they like about the photographer in particular? Was it how they interacted with them? Was it the studio space?

Next, hop online. Go back to that blank google bar – except this time you’re armed with what you need to search for. Make sure to get really specific. Search for things like “Newborn Photographer Santa Monica CA” or “Lifestyle Family Photographer Los Angeles CA”. Make sure to include the type of photographer (Back to the prep work!) and the location you would like to have your session done.

Another place that is full of great options is Instagram. Use those hashtags! Try #familyphotographersantamonica or #weddingphotographyseattle. Again, be really specific with type and location. You’re going to be amazed at what you find, and since Instagram is so visual, you’ll be able to see if the photographer has a style you like right off the bat!

A couple of other places to check (depending on the type of photography) are PPA (The Professional Photographers of America)’s Find A Photographer site, NAPCP (National Association of Professional Child Photographers) Photographer Locator site. You can also look at places like The Knot (wedding/engagement) or The Bump (maternity/newborn).

Step Two: Narrow It Down

So now you have about 6578392 results. Time to go back to that prep work you did!

Start at the top of your list and very quickly look at the photographers’ websites/blogs and ask yourself the following questions:

  • Do they offer the type of session I am looking for?
  • Do they have a style that matches mine or my vision?
  • Do they shoot in studio or on location?
  • Do they show/tell what they typically do with their images?
  • Do they show pricing, and if so are they in your budget? If not, do you like their work enough to contact them for pricing.

I’ll admit, the tough part is the budget issue. Many photographers don’t list their pricing. I’m not going to go into all the reasons why today, but what it comes down to, is do you like them enough to send that email and ask for their pricing. If you don’t, kick them off your list and move on. Some photographers will list a starting price, or a session fee. Keep in mind that this might not include those final printed products that you might be hoping for, so be prepared for those to be an additional expense.

Next up – are they available when you’d like to do your session?

This one is really key for very date specific events such as newborn or wedding photography. Make sure to contact photographers early, some wedding photographers book up over a year in advance, and newborn photographers typically need advanced notice so they can clear their schedule around your baby’s due date!

Another time of year to be aware of is the holidays. Lots of people want those family photos on their holiday cards and start booking photographers as early as July or August to make sure they get in with their favorites!

Bride

Hopefully, by this point you’ve found someone in your area whose style you love, who is in your budget, and who is available on your date- but now what?

If you haven’t already – get in touch! Photographers are always happy to chat with potential clients about their sessions and what they offer. Usually, you can book a phone call or meet up for coffee with them. Be prepared with a list of questions such as

  • How long do your sessions last?
  • How much is the deposit/retainer to book you for my date?
  • What do I get if I book you (number of images, products, hours of coverage etc).
  • What is your turnaround time? (Does it take them a week or a month to get your images back to you?)
  • What is your policy on sharing images? Do you post them on a blog/Instagram/facebook etc and what if I am not comfortable with my images being shared?
  • Have you ever worked with _______ before? (dogs, twins, a family of 14, whatever your specific situation is, now’s the time to ask!)

If you have any special needs, now is the time to mention them. For example – some newborn photographers are phenomenal at working with multiples, some have only ever worked with one baby at a time. While this shouldn’t make or break your decision to hire a photographer, you can gauge their comfort with taking on your particular needs.

Be expecting them to ask you a bunch of questions too! It helps the photographer determine if they can meet your needs. Lucky you- you have these answers from your prep work! You might expect to be asked

  • What do you want to do with your images?
  • Why do you want images taken?
  • What about my images made you choose me (Go back to your style answers!)
  • Do you have a particular location in mind?

This whole meeting/phone call can be beneficial in so many ways. You can determine pretty quickly if your personalities mesh and if they can offer what you are looking for.

At this point, you’ve hopefully narrowed your search down to that one magical person who you’ve clicked with, loved their work, is in your budget, and is available for your date.

Corgi with a bowtie

Don’t wait! Book them!

You can usually do this by simply sending an email, or giving them a call. From that point, they should send you a contract (if there is no contract, RUN – don’t walk- in the other direction!) with a model release to sign. The contract should state the date of the session, the amount you are paying, what you are getting, and the location. Make sure you look at the cancellation/rescheduling policy before you sign. Many photographers have a non-refundable deposit or retainer. The reason for this is that they can’t double book, so should you cancel, they have lost the ability to book work for that date and time and will make no money. No money = no dinner. No dinner = hungry photographer. Don’t be the reason your photographer starves!

Also, take a look at the model release. This is a legally binding document that allows your photographer to use your images for future marketing, submission of your images into competitions, and other forms of displaying your images. If anything makes you uncomfortable, talk with your photographer about it.

Finally, get that contract signed and returned to your photographer. It’s the only way to make sure you are truly booked and ready to go.

So there you go!

You’ve made it from that terrifying blank google bar all the way to a signed contract. There is a lot to think about, but if you put the time in and prepare in advance, it should be a breeze and you should come out of it with a session that is enjoyable and produces images that you will be proud to share and show off to your family and friends!

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