Let’s start out with a profound statement you might find surprising!
“I LOVE competition as a photographer!”
Now many are probably thinking “are you crazy or what? Isn’t the competition what you are fighting to stay in business?”
The short answer is “no”, but the more complicated one is the reason I say “what you don’t know about that “cheap photographer” that CAN hurt you!”. It’s NOT meant to “drive away” the competition, but to actually make me become something much better that will give you complete and total satisfaction in what I deliver!
I don’t hide the fact I have been behind a camera lens for a long time. I have seen so many changes in the photography industry, I probably forgot more than I remember. Compared to today, we went from the Model T to the Space Shuttle in a few short years. Cameras are “smart” today compared to even 15 years ago. And even smarter ones are coming out every few months. So what does that mean for you?
It means that just about anyone can purchase a “new camera” and put it on “Auto” and start taking decent photographs inside of 10 minutes. What that DOESN’T mean is that they are capable of creating images that are much better than anyone else with a “new camera”. So what that means for ME is that I must be better than that every time I pick up my camera and create images that are astounding and ones you look at and go “WOW”!
Now where is the “I can get hurt” part in all of this?
Far too many of these “photographers” begin to look at their photos and get this idea that “I am doing professional photography now! Let me make some money doing it!”. Now don’t get me wrong, I am all for someone picking up a camera, getting so involved with becoming a professional and learning the craft. So much so, I often teach others much of what I know and guide them into the career the right way.
One thing I DO know is that a lot of becoming a true Professional Photographer is “trial and error”. You simply can’t pick up a book, read it, and know all there is to know about photography. It takes years or work and years of mistakes and years of study in specific areas to become a top notch professional photographer. I haven’t seen many “photography students” who just graduated from one of the many schools that teach photography, have the necessary skills needed to start “at the top”. Many go the route of interning with another photographer to learn HOW to apply what they were taught in a real-life situation, usually for a couple of years.
So my biggest concern for you is- “Why do you want to hire someone who is starting out, has little real life experience in photography, probably is part-time, and has no real education or training and is well, CHEAP?”
If you needed a medical doctor, would you go to the one who hasn’t quite graduated from medical school, works at the diner as a waiter full-time, and only does medicine on the weekends? Or are you going to want that Board Certified Medical Doctor who sees patients daily and has all the education, training and experience needed to practice medicine? Now ONE might charge you $10 and the other $100 for that visit, but is it worth it and one risk you are willing to take?
For the most part, when you make a purchasing decision, “cheap” doesn’t always translate to getting exactly what you want NOR does it translate in many cases to getting something that is going to be “good” either! Especially when it comes to something more service oriented as photographers are. So how can you avoid “getting hurt” when you decide you want that Family Portrait made or you are needing a Wedding Photographer or your Newborn photographed?
Here are a few recommendations:
1. Ask them if they actually have a Business License?
Those who have one have made a dedication to themselves and to clients to do things “the right way”. A Business License is a good first step to proving to you that they are legitimate. I’m sure your parents warned you that you’re not going to get a Rolex watch from the guy selling them from a suitcase for $49. But that jewelry store with a legitimate Business license is your best bet for the real thing.
2. Are you hiring a photographer based on PRICE alone?
Go see them. See their images and what they are showing you. If they are no better than something you have seen from an average person, chances are, they are not true professionals, but still learning. I can’t tell you the number of people who have spent money on “cheap” photographers, only to be disappointed when their photographs are viewed for the first time. Often times, even with seasoned pros, a photographers “style” of photography isn’t suited for you. Unless you SEE them face to face, look at a representative “body of work”, you could be hiring someone who’s style doesn’t match your vision of what you want.
3. Are they full-time professionals or is this a part-time “thing” they do?
Dedicated professionals are going to be full-time photographers. They didn’t always start out full-time, but have made a career decision that was based on dedication to the craft. Many full time professionals as myself, are always working to not just perfect the craft, but to promote it as well. We give back to our communities with our skills too. We do things for others that often don’t involve getting paid, but use our skills to help others outside of the photography field as well. We donate to charities of our time and efforts and do so gladly. Those efforts often become some of our best work.
4. Do they offer you a “disk of images” or are they providing you with a finished, professional printed product?
Yes, I get it that it’s a “digital world” these days and that many of you want “digital images” only. I’ve written extensively as to why this could be a huge mistake. If you hire someone to professionally produce images, then you should demand finished products. A “digital file” is far from being finished and is almost ALWAYS unsuitable for printing. There are many technical reasons for this I won’t get into, but if you want the full explanation, just ask and I’ll be happy to provide it for you. MOST of the photographers starting out have no interest in providing you with finished products- usually because they either don’t know how or don’t really want the “hassle” of having to give you 100% full service for the money you spend. Most of these are content with taking your money, doing a few basic edits, copying the files to a disc, telling you “go print all you want” and the results you get are FAR from professional quality. There is a skill and art to preparing a digital file that produces a professional quality print few beginners have.
5. Ask how long they have been photographing professionally?
Now, I will be the first to tell you that there are really some GREAT photographers that are out there that are “natural” talents for photography. They are generally few and far between. A professional photographer usually is TRAINED and EDUCATED and their skills are learned and don’t come naturally. Some are self-taught (some of those are the world’s best!) and have spend hours and hours studying and reading and going through “trial and error” over many years. Someone “new” is most likely NOT going to be able to take any lighting or setting situation and provide amazing images. Trained professionals do. A general “rule of thumb” is that you should look for someone with a couple of years “under their belt” of photographing professionally, especially for those really important life event photographs you are wanting to be produced.
6. Does that “cheap price” sound just too good to be true?
Chances are, it is. Many starting out to become professional photographers really have nothing to “compete with” other than a cheap price. They will do whatever they can to get someone to pay them to take photographs. If I ask you for $1500 for a professionally produced session and remarkable printed images- and other long time professionals are telling you something nearly that same price- and someone offers you that “same thing” for $150, BELLS should be going off- “warning, warning, danger, danger!” Far too often I see people “jumping” on these offers and usually these are the ones that come to me asking “can you fix my wedding photos and make them better?” Rarely do I see images from these photographers adorning people’s walls or bookcases or produced into keepsake albums or photo books. Usually, they are laying on a disc, it the desk drawer, someplace, I can’t seem to remember where they are that you stumble on 5 years down the road from today. What you might be doing is paying someone so you can be their “practice session”.
Now that you have a good idea of how you should actually “shop” for a photographer, I hope you now understand why I said “I LOVE competition”! They make ME become a better photographer and business person on a daily basis! They are not just “forcing” me to be better, but making me WANT to offer you the memories you desire and in ways that are exciting and fun to create and with a quality that you not just deserve, but are paying me to create! Unless I can do THAT, then you’re not going to be satisfied nor likely to use me again.
Far too often I see people wanting the “Mercedes-Benz” photographer at the “motor scooter” price. It rarely, if ever, is going to happen. If you are going to invest in the services of a professional photographer, at least you should ask the questions above and find one who you do invest with that can and will provide those memories that you’ll love and cherish for the rest of your life. I promise if you do, you won’t be regretting your decision later and that wallet won’t be hurting anywhere close to as much.
This is Memorial Day weekend and for many it marks the beginning of Summer! However, this Monday and this weekend, I do hope you will take a moment to say “Thank You” for the freedoms we have and the reason for those freedoms- those who gave the ultimate sacrifice that we celebrate this Memorial Day. And if you run into a veteran or someone active duty in our military, tell them “thank you” too. Their sacrifice is just as important. May God bless each and every one.