If you’re reading this I’m willing to bet you’ve never had to hire a professional photographer before. And when the occasion is special – finding the perfect photographer is crucial!
If you’re in the hunt then today is your lucky day as I’m going give you an inside perspective on what it means to be a “professional” as nowadays the term is used loosely. I’ll also give you a few questions to ask in order to sniff out the pros from the Joes.
For the most part I’m going to use wedding photography as the main example as its the hardest genre any photographer can ever endeavor to shoot (which is why we get paid the big bucks). And before we begin keep in mind these tips can be applied to any genre of photography.
THE SNIFF TEST
If you really want to gauge the proficiency of a photographer ask if they use external lights. If a photographer replies by saying they “only use natural light” that’s code for they haven’t done all their homework.
Photography is all about light. And when there’s either not enough (usually the case) or too much we have to adapt and use lights to get the best quality photos.
Aside from working with large groups of emotional people, wedding photography is hard because throughout the course of the day a we’re faced with many challenging shooting conditions. In Leysi and Alex’s wedding I’d say I used lights 80% of the time.
In the first image my flash didn’t recycle fast enough as my batteries were dying. But you can see what it would have looked like if I didn’t use lights…
The key is to use lights in such a way that it looks natural.
I don’t want to say it’d be impossible to shoot a wedding without using external lights – but a photographer’s options would be limited without them. Heck even the night won’t stop a photographer from getting the shot!
Did you know that even on bright sunny days using lights can still be still necessary? Mainly for 2 reasons. The first is to fill in the shadows when the sun is behind the subject…
The second reason is if we want to preserve the background of an image we’ll need to match the intensity of the sun. If we didn’t use lights the background would be overexposed and unrecognizable. In this case I didn’t use lights so I had to over expose the image – as a result you can see the Brooklyn Bridge but not Manhattan.
So the question at hand is why doesn’t every photographer use lighting? I think it comes down to being intimidated by the high learning curve. There’s a lot to absorb but it’s not impossible. It just takes takes time and most importantly a willingness to learn.
The other factor is the high cost. Perhaps some photographers aren’t willing to make the investment and feel they can get away without using lights. As an example, did you know just one Nikon spdeedlight (flash) costs around $550? If someone uses the brand the Profoto, the A1 Flash costs $1,000! Yes $1,000 just for one.
And any responsible photographer wouldn’t just have 1 of anything. We’ll need at least 2 speedlights (or more) to have backups and be safe.
Whatever the case is I guarantee every professional photographer (not just wedding) use external lights.
BONUS SNIFF TEST QUESTION
“Why would someone need to use ND filters with external lights?” If the photographer can answer this question, it’d be safe to say they know their stuff! I’ll give the answer below just in case you’re a photographer and want some time to think this scenario through.
DOES HAVING THE BEST GEAR MAKE SOMEONE A PROFESSIONAL?
This is a loaded question as the answer is yes and no.
The reality is “professional” gear won’t automatically help us make better photos. For example in my article “Top 10 reasons you should consider a destination wedding” I spoke about how…
Just because someone has a “professional” camera doesn’t mean they truly know what they’re doing or are super passionate about their craft. Put me in Gordon Ramsay’s professional kitchen and task me with making a 5 star meal and and I’d be lost! The same can be said with photography – give a professional chef professional camera gear they’d be lost too.
As I’ll get into shortly – photography is a people person business (at least when it comes to taking portraits). So check this this video titled “Pro Photographer, Cheap Camera Challenge – Paul John Bayfield” as it’s a lot of fun!
At the end of the day it’s how you use the tools you have and interact with people. But sometimes there are tools that can help us make better photos. Here’s a real world case scenario…
For several years I’d get asked if I owned a drone and I had to reply “no”. There are several reasons that I didn’t initially jump on the bandwagon but I won’t get into here (but if you’re curious you can read about it by clicking here).
I eventually did purchase but did it make me a better photographer? No. However it did give me a new tool in my arsenal and something extra to offer clients.
ITS A PEOPLE PERSON BUSINESS
Aside from having the tools – what most people don’t realize is photography is not only an art but it’s a people person business. Sure one can have all of the technical know-how but what if they’re a jerk? Would you want to work with someone you just don’t vibe with for 8+ hours on your wedding day? I’m thinking the answer is no.
And this scenario goes both ways (at least in my case). As crazy as it sounds sometimes I’ll turn down wedding jobs if I get the feeling the wedding is going to be hoity toity (yes that’s a real word hoi·ty-toi·ty adjective: haughty or snobbish). My perspective on weddings is that it should be one giant party. And in life I like to have fun – especially when it comes to taking wedding photos. Why do a job that’s not fun?
To get “fun” pictures requires a lot of trust. That’s why I do my best to earn the trust of those in the bridal party, family and friends so I can make some wacky requests and they’ll go along with it.
In this case they thought I was joking when I asked to pick up the father of the bride! Check out their expressions…
During Gabby and Tommy’s wedding I had a vision for two shots in particular. But the problem was it was raining during the reception. Truth be told they didn’t want to go outside, but because of their trust in me we went out in the rain. And these two photos are some of their favorites from their wedding day.
Once there’s enough trust I can say jump and people will say “how high?”.
Sure I may not be the “best” photographer in New York City – but you’ll be hard pressed to find a friendlier photographer!
So all that being said when looking for a photographer be sure that you like their s personality! You’re going to have to work with this guy or gal for at least 5-8 hours on one of the biggest days of your life: your wedding day.
If you’re the conservative type, find a photographer that’s laid back and in line with your personality. Conversely if you’re the party type – be sure to hire a photographer that’s outgoing, fun loving and easy going (ahem Mikey Colon).
TO BE FAIR
But to be fair I have to say some of the most famous and elite photographers can be major league a-holes. But that doesn’t take anything away from their work. I typically won’t call anyone out as I’m not a drama queen but in this case I will as it’s the perfect real world example I can share.
Without question the most famous landscape photographers in our time is Peter Lik. Even if you don’t like photography go to one of his galleries throughout the world – and you’ll be blown away! His work is simply stunning and I have to tip my cap to him. He even shattered two world records for the most expensive photos ever sold, 4.3 and 6.5 million.
But sometimes you have to separate the art from the artist as there are tons of stories of how he’s simply not nice to people and he’s not someone you’d want to hang out with.
So to be fair – looking for someone you feel comfortable with doesn’t always apply. If you need someone to take real estate photos or something that doesn’t require interacting with them much I’d say make your decision based on other factors (like turnaround time or price).
JACK OF ALL TRADES
If you have a problem with your foot are you going to go to a podiatrist or a heart doctor? How about if you’re getting married – would you go to someone that specializes shooting food?
There are photographers out there that specialize in very specific niches. But just because they’re world famous for taking photos of landscapes – doesn’t mean it’ll translate well into taking studio headshots.
Aside from the people person aspect (as I discussed earlier) the other thing to consider is equipment (yes back to the gear thing again). Taking photos of mountains will require different equipment as opposed to shooting indoor studio headshots.
Specialized niches require particular tools. For example a studio photographer will invest heavily on different studio equipment. Such as lights, lenses, backdrops, umbrellas, etc. Whereas a landscape photographer won’t need lights as they’ll be shooting outdoors. They’ll invest in tripods, camera bags etc.
To get this stunning photo of Lake Mcdonald in Glacier National Park I essentially needed a camera, a lens and tripod.
Now in order to get this shot…
I needed a whole lotta of gear!
Gear aside – people that specialize in particular fields also spend their career mastering their chosen niche. Landscape photographers will spend their time studying, researching and attending conferences geared toward outdoor landscape photography. Whereas professional headshot photographers will spend their time learning about indoor lighting and posing techniques.
But as Robert De Niro said in the movie Heat “There’s a flip side of that coin.” I’m sure we all know the saying “A jack of all trades is a master of none”. But most of us don’t know that’s not the full quote! The full quote is:
“A jack of all trades is a master of none, but oftentimes better than a master of one.”
Sometimes one genre does transfer well to another. When it comes to shooting headshots we don’t have the luxury of spending an entire day and evening with the same people. We may only have a few minutes at best to get the best possible photo.
Any competent portrait photographer should be able to get professional results in a wedding as the fundamentals of photography and lighting are essentially the same. If you factor in awesome people person skills then you have a winning formula!
WHAT STYLES DO THEY SPECIALIZE IN?
Back to the wedding theme – another thing to consider is style. Essentially they’re two and that’s traditional and photojournalistic.
Traditional or classic wedding photography means time is taken to create images (think posing).
Photojournalistic (or lazy) is more of a candid style. Instead of taking time to pose people the photographer takes pictures as the action happens without intervening; much like a journalist would do (think candid).
I was semi joking as shooing journalistically is way less work than having to interact with people and teach them how to pose.
If you hire me to shoot your wedding you’ll get the best of both worlds as I feel both styles are necessary. Plus candid photos are great as you’ll catch people off guard and those tend to be the best photos.
However formal photos are great (and necessary) as those are the ones that typically get printed large and get hung on the living room wall. So don’t hire a lazy photographer – lol.
CONSIDER EDITING STYLE AS WELL!
I can take 1 image and come up with several looks. Do you like warm looking images?
Or do you prefer cooler images?
How about black and white?
What do you think of adding a vignette?
How about sepia?
As you can see another thing to consider is editing style as there are several ways to skin a cat! Styles are a matter of taste and if you like a particular look ask your photographer if they can pull off that style off. Or you can decide to hire someone mostly due to their editing style.
PHOTOGRAPHY IS AN ART
Last year I decided to film behind the scenes photography videos. One of the main reasons was to show how photography isn’t easy and there’s a lot that can go into just one photo. Especially if the endgame is making an image with the intention of hanging on a wall.
For this one photo it probably took me about an hour to get the lighting just right. Then I had to edit the photo in Lightroom then Photoshop to clean things up a bit.
To make this photo I had to drive to Maine. I didn’t want any people in the photo so I had to take several photos and merge them into Photoshop.
In this case I had to “work the scene” until I got what I was looking for (in this case light streaks).
I don’t know if you noticed me using the word “make” as opposed to using the word “take” as I hope you can see that photography isn’t about “taking” photos but rather “making” photos.
CONSIDER YOURSELF AN EDUCATED CONSUMER
If you’re looking for a professional photographer you now know where to begin!
If price is an issue you can find cheap photography on Craigslist. Heck you can even find people willing to shoot an entire wedding for $500.
But if you’re looking for something special be sure to hire a professional. Remember what you just learned and you’ll be on the road toward finding your perfect match.
THE ANSWER TO THE SNIFF TEST
You thought I forgot huh? So why would someone need to use an ND (neutral density) filter while using external lights? Answer: in order to get a photo with shallow depth of field (you’re going to have to use a large aperture value) but you you’ll have to use an ND filter to keep under (or at) the flash sync speed. I know this was geeky, but there’s a lot of science that goes into photography!
That’s if for now and stay tuned for the next episode…