Ten Things to Ask When Hiring a Photographer

Where do you begin? Professional Photographers of America experts offer their advice.

Professional photographers do more than take pictures: they use their training and experience to consistently capture those once-in-a-lifetime moments. If you've ever used a professional photographer, you understand that.

But, how do you find a professional photographer that's right for you? The folks at Professional Photographers of America (PPA) have been around for 145 years and can tell you how to sort out good photographers from the not so good…faux-tographers. Here are the 10 most important questions they recommend you ask prospective photographers:

1. Are you insured?
If the answer is "yes," ask as many questions as you like to determine if the relationship is right for you. If the answer is "no," however, do not pass GO! Simply find another photographer. What happens if you hire a friend of a friend and he trips, injuring himself or breaking his brand new camera? When facing large medical bills, people sue easily! You need to be protected.

2. What's your background and credentials?
Pretend that you're on a job interview, but this time you're the one doing the hiring. Don't be shy about asking your photographer these questions:

1. How long have you been a professional photographer?
2. Where did you get your photography training?
3. What professional photographic associations do you belong to?
4. Are you a certified professional photographer (CPP)?
5. What photography degrees do you have?
6. Have you won any photographic competitions? If so, which ones and can you show me the winning photographs?

The pros have standards to uphold and membership in professional associations. When you choose someone who's certified or holds a degree in photography, you're starting with quality. Pros have unique skills and training in artistry and technology, so they know how to create beautiful images that reflect exactly the image you want to portray.

3. Can you provide references and may I see your portfolio?
A true professional will have no problem offering as many references as you need from previous clients, partners and even fellow photographers. Be sure to call the references and find out their take on the photographer. Here are some questions to ask:

1) What made you decide to hire this photographer?
2) Did the photographer capture the mood of your event in his or her photos?
3) Did the photographer give you photos that met your expectations?
4) How did you find this particular photographer?

Ask to see samples from an entire photography session or a collection of photographs from many different sessions to get a sense of the depth of a photographer's work. This will show you how creative the photographer is and tell you if he or she is consistently good…or just lucky every now and then.

4. What is your photographic style?
A photographer's style is reflected in their portfolio and asking them to shoot a radically different style is a recipe for disaster. Look for images that you can see yourself in. Tell the photographer why you're having images created and the story you want your photographs to tell. Think of three words that describe you and share those with your photographer. You're counting on their knowledge of art, lighting, posing and more to create images that fit your vision. The more comfortable you are with the person behind the camera, the more comfortable you'll be in front of it, allowing your photographer to capture more authentic, intimate and emotional images.

5. How many events like this do you photograph in a year?
While it's okay to hire a generalist rather than a specialist, make sure the photographer has experience with your type of event. If it's a large event like a wedding, you want to know how much wedding experience your photographer has. Why? Amateurs may become frustrated or anxious when dealing with fluctuating emotions. They might also get caught in the moment instead of capturing it on camera or they might be unprepared for rainy days. A professional photographer will stay calm and help you remain calm, no matter what situation pops up! They know they can give you the images you want no matter what happens.

6. Do you have an assistant and what does she/he do? How about a second photographer (for larger events)?
An assistant's job is to ensure that every shoot runs smoothly. He or she helps create a list of "must-haves" so that you don't have to think about what comes next. It is their job to prepare and check the set or location and make sure all equipment is available, clean and working. An assistant can also help with poses, change lenses, hold a reflector to create the best possible light and even keep children entertained during photo sessions.

Having a second photographer means you'll get twice as many photos and get those fun, unpredictable shots that the main photographer doesn't have time to get. A second photographer may also see something the main photographer missed. He or she can also continue to take fabulous shoots if the main photographer has equipment problems.

7. What does your fee include and what's the delivery timeline?
You'll want to understand what you're getting for your money: how much time, how many images, album types, the format for delivering proofs, what's included in your package. How much editing can be done? How long after your session will you have to wait to see something? How much time will you have to order after you see the proofs? Will you get images that you can quickly share on social media? Seriously, ask all these questions, because you would not believe how often people assume that they are getting something and end up in an icky situation because the expectations were mismatched.

8. Do you have a backup photographer?
It's your big day. The sky is clear, everything is on schedule, and then your photographer gets in an accident or doesn't show up for any reason. You've spent months planning your wedding and now this once-in-a-lifetime moment may be gone forever because your photographer's pickle is putting you in an even worse situation. What do you do? If you've hired a pro, he or she will have a list of trusted and experienced colleagues they will call to ensure your photo expectations are met regardless and that your event is photographed properly. That's why it's so important to ask prospective photographers what their backup plan is in case "something happens". Better yet, if the photographer is a PPA member, he or she will quickly find another talented photographer for your event.

9. Do you have backup equipment?
While it may be cheaper to hire someone who does this on the side or a family member, you risk not getting any guarantee of the quality of images and risk losing your day or event forever should their equipment fail. Because memory cards do fail. Lenses do break and batteries do, unfortunately die. All at the wrong time! A professional photographer will always show up early with one or two backup cameras, lenses or flashes and additional lighting equipment. Well-connected and experienced PPA photographers will always have contingency plans and backup equipment. Most of the time, things actually do happen in the background that photographers handle without anyone noticing, things like camera swaps, flash changes and extra lights. That's peace of mind you want to ensure your photographer will bring you.

10. Do you require a written contract?
A contract protects both you and the photographer and it's a must have for larger events. It should spell out the expectations of you and the photographer so that everyone knows what to expect. How will the photographer ensure your satisfaction, what are their backup plans in the event they're late or called away by an emergency? What happens if there's equipment failure or some other unforeseen issue? While it is common practice for smaller photography projects to take place without the signature of a contract, it should be your first big red flag for a larger event like a wedding or bar mitzvah.

Perhaps the most important thing to look for when hiring a photographer is to find one that you both trust professionally and like personally. If you don't, you risk losing those precious moments forever, won't have as much fun the day of, will waste money and all that will reflect in your photos. This is even more important for weddings since you are going to spend practically the whole day with your photographer.

The more at ease you are with your photographer, the better your pictures will be. So, pay close attention to your rapport with the photographer as you move through this list of questions. A skilled professional will ask you additional questions and offer creative ideas that an amateur would never think of.

Entrusting your photography to a professional means you'll get what you pay for! For example, PPA photographers abide to a strict code of ethics and have unique skills and training in the artistry and technology of creating beautiful images that reflect exactly the images you want to portray. A certified photographer will be an even greater assurance that you are in good professional hands and will get the images you are looking for, and most likely, love!

Remember, anyone can take a good picture every now and then. But when you've only got one chance to capture life's biggest moments, you better make sure the person behind the camera is a pro. See even more differences it can make and find the right photographer for you at:

PPA.com/WeddingPhotographer/ for wedding photography,
PPA.com/FamilyPhotographer/ for family and portrait photography and at
PPA.com/SeniorPhotographer/ for high school senior photography.

About PPA
Professional Photographers of America (PPA) is the largest international nonprofit association created by professional photographers, for professional photographers. Almost as long-lived as photography itself, PPA's roots date back to 1869. It now helps more than 27,000 photographers live their dreams profitably by providing more education, protection and community support than any other public or private group. PPA photographers bear an internationally recognized seal of approval for trusted and ethical professionals. See how PPA helps photographers at PPA.com.

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