Eight Questions to Ask Before Hiring a Photographer

Anyone with a DSLR and a Web site can present themselves as a professional photographer today. So how can you, as a prospective photography client, separate the contenders from the pretenders?

Here are eight questions to ask yourself before hiring a photographer for an assignment — be it a corporate shoot, an editorial assignment, a portrait, a wedding or other event.

1. Does he present himself as a professional?

You don’t want a photographer showing up to your event looking like Animal from “Lou Grant.” A good photographer blends in and becomes part of the scenery. Someone who stands out like a sore thumb will make subjects uncomfortable. You want someone who has enough sense to show up dressed properly for the event he is covering.

2. Has she done a shoot like this before?

While it’s OK to hire a generalist rather than a specialist, make sure the photographer has a background in the type of work you need done. You don’t want to be a photographer’s first wedding, first CEO portrait, or first fashion shoot. No matter how talented the photographer, there is no substitute for experience.

3. Do you like his portfolio?

Even when a photographer has a strong reputation, if you do not like his portfolio you will probably not like the work he does for you. The photographer has a certain style he has developed over the years, which is reflected in his portfolio. Asking him to shoot a radically different style is a recipe for disaster. Can a capable photographer attempt to replicate any image you show him? Yes. Will it be as good as when the photographer shoots his preferred style? No.

4. Does she ask you questions that illustrate her preparedness?

A good photographer will usually ask you as many questions as you ask her. She should query you about the venue, the type of shoot, the kind of photographs you’re looking for. And she should ask to scout the location if she isn’t already familiar with it. She should be concerned about sunlight or available light at the location at the chosen time of day, among other issues.

5. Does he emphasize getting the shoot right — or his post-processing prowess instead?

Many photographers brush off legitimate concerns about a shoot by saying they can “fix it in post-processing.” The reality is, nothing can replace getting the image right at capture. Can the photographer deliver images that are color correct, with the background not shifting to a weird color cast or being totally black? Can he deliver images where the whites are not blown or the blacks blocked up? Probe him on his technical expertise to find out.

6. Does she have the proper equipment?

Does the photographer have backup cameras in the event one camera breaks? Does she have a backup for that, even if it means shooting film? I was covering the Peachtree Road race in Atlanta several years ago and had two Nikon bodies fail. I finished the shoot with my Leica and still had photos run on the front page of our paper and move on the national wires. Lenses break, too, and a true professional has a range of lenses that overlap in coverage so she can always get the shot. Does she have the necessary lighting equipment to get the look you need? Does she carry extra batteries and memory cards? Don’t be afraid to ask.

7. Do his references check out?

First of all, make sure he has references. And not just any references — clients who have hired him to do similar assignments. Then, call those references and ask questions: Were they happy with the work? Was it delivered on time? Was the photographer reliable, even when facing unexpected difficulties? Would they hire the photographer again? Don’t skip this due diligence, or you may end up regretting it.

8. Can you afford the price?

While we all operate within budgets, a photographer’s price doesn’t matter until you know he can get the job done. Then, hire the best photographer you can afford. In many cases when clients hire photographers, they are asking them to capture moments that will never take place again. Don’t shortchange yourself by hiring someone you’re not sure about.

34 Responses to “Eight Questions to Ask Before Hiring a Photographer”

  1. I stopped reading because of all the PC gender shifting.
    "Does She...", "Ask Him..." detracts from the point of the article.

  2. Good points made, especially #5. Once a client asked me if I would "photoshop" everything and I advised her that I do edit and retouch but I emphasize the shoot going well at the actual shoot. I even showed her images during the shoot so she could see that. That made her really happy and she wants to hire me again this year.

    Great article, thanks for sharing.

  3. good from the other side, as well. being a photographer, they are good points for how i should be representing myself, as well.

  4. Excellent information! My biggest problem is back up equipment. This is something I'm working on improving. It's costly, especially for people just breaking in. Thank you, Harrison!

  5. How much time will the photographer spend at my wedding?

  6. That's the problem with you old pro photographers, you don't let new photographers to rise and develop themselves, always cricticizing and trowing mud to their work. let them be, maybe they'll become much better photographers than you do, you are not the only ones in the scene.

  7. @Alan: +1

    Annoying and PC obsessive. What's wrong with "do they..."?

    @BSR: eg "2. Have they written an article like this before"

  8. Thank you for the post, Harrison. Is it a coincidence that the people who don't like the "PC" use of "she" are both male?

  9. Thanks for sharing this post; as a photographer starting out, I know a few things that I should strive towards.


  10. Very good points. Appreciate the article. As for the gender, stick with "he" or "she". It doesn't matter to me which one; just be consistent. That's all the unsolicited grammar advice I'll give. 🙂


  11. Great article which highlights the fact that anybody can call themselves a photographer but being able to use a DSLR is a long way from being a pro photographer and all that entails.

  12. I like the article a little bit, but I am a little disappointed in #2 "Has She done a shoot like this Before?". How in the world are photographers supposed to gain the experience needed to shoot weddings, CEO portraits, or fashion shoots, if older photographers advise people to pass over “non experienced” photographers? You have just told people that it is not ok to give fresh talent a try. At some point Harrison you had to have your first Wedding or Fashion shoot. What if you were passed over because you had no experience and no one wanted to give you a try, then you would not be the Photographer that you are today. Shoot, you would not be a Photographer at all. How would you feel if someone advised people to not go with you, just because you have yet to accomplish a specific shoot or event? I think that it is not right....not right at all. Instead you should put “Do they have the correct training in order to produce accurate images in the Situation and elements involved in that particular shoot.” Portfolios are great, but don't shoot new photographers down just because they are new to the business. Give them a Chance. Judge them by there work, not by how many shoots they have had in the past. I am not saying this because I am new to the business. I have shot Many events including my fair share of weddings. But everyone has to start somewhere, so why are older Photographers interfering with this? Let people make their own decisions. As long as the customer likes your work, and they understand it’s your first event, then… No worries.

  13. YES YES YES.

  14. All of the questions listed above are from my many years of experience dealing with clients and are part of almost every conversation before a shoot. I am not trying to “keep new people out of the field”.

    If, as a new photographer, you can not answer the questions. Or do not understand them them then you should take this as a learning point and find out what the answers are and how to address the situation properly.

    One response said that my advice about not having done a particular shoot before is far to negative. Well, if a client is looking for someone to do an industrial shoot and the person they are interviewing for the shoot has never done a shoot of this nature before then the client has a right to be leery of the photographer. However; if the photographer is able to demonstrate a firm grasp of the craft of photography. If he can answer questions as to how to approach the shoot. If he can detail how to over come obstacles, then the client can have more confidence in the photographer, even though they have not been in that exact type of situation before. For example say client X calls Sam the photographer. Sam has done only weddings and nice location environmental portraits. Sam has a complete grasp of light, creating it and matching color with his strobes and does this in his wedding and portraits. It is one thing that sets him apart from the others in his town. The client is detailing how they need a photo of a particular piece of machinery in a plant. The piece of machinery needs to stand out, but the plant must look color correct. Sam admits he has never done this kind of job before, but he details how he will approach the shoot. How he will check the light color and match his strobes to produce the desired effect. Sam just got the job, not because he had done industrial photography before, but because he demonstrated he is a capable photographer who knows how to problem solve.

    I am in no way against new talent in the field, however I do feel if one is going to call them-self a professional then they need to have a firm grasp on the craft of photography. If they don’t have this then they are a student, nothing wrong with being a student. We all were at one point. Get yourself on with a pro as his assistant, take classes and learn how to approach situations and that way you can be confident when you sell your talent that you can deliver the goods each and every time.

  15. This is a really useful piece of info. Retweeted it so hopefully clients and possible future clients will read and use the advice. Cheers

  16. Thank you Harrison for your response that is all I was trying to get across in my "Negative" response. It is all about Problem Solving and being trained properly to execute what the client wants. In your number 2, it sounded as if you were against Newbie’s. In your new Response, I now truly understand what you were really trying to put across. Just remember that people who are trying to pick a Photographer and are looking to you for help read all of this as fact. They are not reading that you are saying, it's good to have knowledge and the ability to shoot in area's which you have not shot before. What they are reading is "Has she done a shoot like this before" and "You don’t want to be a photographer’s first wedding, first CEO portrait, or first fashion shoot” or even "No matter how talented the photographer, there is no substitute for experience." I just wanted to make sure, that when others read this they are informed that it is ok to be a first wedding for a photographer. If you like their work and understand the risks …why not go with them?

    I am sorry Harrison, if you believed me rude or negative. I was just trying to encourage people not to pass by the new comers just because they have not done that particular event. That’s it.


  17. Some good point here. A few I would add are "How long will you stay at the wedding" which someone else mentioned. "How do you license your images?" If I want to use them on social networking sites. Any good professional should both, have a clear idea on why and how they would licence their images in our connected world. lastly Professional Liability insurance "Do you have it" Any good photographer will have this in place.

    Finally Harrison is not being tough on newcomers. As experienced photographers, we have all seen the heartache and damage done by unprofessionalism in the wedding industry

  18. Yup, screw the new guy! You should only hire someone if they have years and years of experience, are jaded, have inexplicably high prices, dozens of "assistants" no imaginatio left, and write articles like this.

    Forget about the young, hungry photographers who will bend over backwards to please you!

    Everyone has a first job, except apparently if you work for BlackStar!

  19. Ron Tele, Laguna or S.Gerath ... Black Star Rising would love to publish a post entitled, "How a New Photographer Can Win a Prospect's Trust and Earn Their Business." Email me at [email protected] if you have an interest in writing it.

  20. My husband and I started an advertising photography without the benefit of school, apprenticeship or even working with another photographer - so our first jobs sometimes entailed some re-shoots, or we didn't charge if the shots were not acceptable. (We went into advertising because, when he was still learning photography, he tried to be the photographer at his friend's wedding and that was a disaster - he set his camera on M instead of X, and nothing came out. There was no other photographer to save the situation. They're not friends anymore).

    We're now on our 37th year of doing advertising photography, and through the years have introduced many young photographers to our clients. We trained them first as assistants, allowed them to shoot for their portfolios, and when we finally got real jobs for them, we supervised as well as guaranteed their work. We would let them rehearse and practice until they were confident that they could do the job, and assigned the best assistants to assist them at the actual shoots.

    Sometimes, clients would only agree if my husband would be at the other studio, and if he could walk in and out of the young photographer's set up. I would tell our clients that if they're not happy with the young photographer who was on his first job, then my husband would re-shoot at no extra charge. Then I would talk to the newbie photographer and express my confidence in his or her ability to rise to the challenge. Of course, I also would warn them that if my husband would have to reshoot, then there is no way I could convince that client to trust them again. My husband never had to reshoot our young photographers' works, and many of them have risen to have their own studios.

    One of these photographers was actually a former client. She worked as an assistant for about a year, worked her way up to becoming the best female advertising photographer in the country (Philippines). She stayed with us 18 years and only recently left to try working abroad. Before she left, she won awards in Cannes, Singapore and the Philippines for a series of ads for Boysen Paint. We're proud of her.

    I say - give a chance to young photographers but do give them all the support they need to do a good job.

  21. I'm glad I read this. I have been speaking to a photographer who has no online portfolio to show me, just telling me he will show me on a digital photoframe when he sees me! Then he told me he doesn't even have an slr camera, just uses a normal 10 mp digital camera and does all the work post shoot on photoshop!!
    I think he must think I am a dumb model that will fall for it!
    Not that I needed to check out this site to know he wasn't for real. But is excellent advice for me to check out new photographers.

  22. I have to reiterate also on new photographers and experience... There are potential clients who would accept someone who's just starting out with little to no experience based on cost and the photographer would be able to build the portfolio at the same time. What I DO suggest to my fellow photographers is to attend weddings with friends and or faamily if you are able and take your own photographs as well while you're there. There's no rule against someone taking their own photos. ...and afterwards you can give them to the Newlyweds as a gift and build your portfoili. Attend fashion shows that will allow the public or attendees to photograph. Forget the no experience stuff!! Take the chance and be confident about you , your work and your professionalism! Do your 1 Thing!! Let's go!!

  23. Laura has it right, then go one step beyond and practice on your friends, and on your friends' parents if you have to. If CEO portraits are your interest, make Uncle Bill look like a CEO, etc. And keep tech notes so you can build on what works and learn from what doesn't. And you will build a portfolio. As O. Winston Link told me a few years back, "Theres's the light!" If you are still reading this you are missing photos. Go and get 'em!

  24. Will you allow us to post this on our blog, with full credits to you, of course, and link to your website?

  25. Harrison, you hit the photographic nail on the head! I wish more models would take time to research before hiring photographers. They'd find there is much more to creating a killer portfolio than just price.

    What's the saying? "Sometimes something that is worth less is actually 'worthless'."

    Keep the good coming!


  26. Thanks, appreciated the checklist. Reassuring 🙂

  27. Ron Tele said:
    February 20th, 2010 at 9:33 pm
    Yup, screw the new guy! You should only hire someone if they have years and years of experience, are jaded, have inexplicably high prices, dozens of "assistants" no imaginatio left, and write articles like this.


    Why not simply advise the clients to ask if the photographer has been in business for 20 years and be done with it. If you didn't shoot before digital, then clearly you are not a photographer worth hiring as per the attitude of a number of articles on this website.

  28. Response: Put your time in, work for others. get a degree. be an assistant... then call yourself a professional
    or you can go to walmart buy a digital camera and a computer and rip off clients and screw up their wedding pics. your choice

    "Ron Tele said:
    February 20th, 2010 at 9:33 pm

    Yup, screw the new guy! You should only hire someone if they have years and years of experience, are jaded, have inexplicably high prices, dozens of "assistants" no imaginatio left, and write articles like this.

    Forget about the young, hungry photographers who will bend over backwards to please you!

    Everyone has a first job, except apparently if you work for BlackStar!"

  29. Thanks I feel good that we always cover these points in our meetings!

  30. This is absolutely fantastic! I've been looking for something like this to be able to share with people inquiring about getting a photography.

    In part of an email responder, I'll need to mention this article and link to it.

    All points are perfect. Love the additional feedback throughout the comments here too.


  31. I think point 2 is the really important one when you are commissioning any type of photography. This is where the difference will show in the finished images as the little details that make a shoot run smoothly are gained by trail and error. This knowledge and expertise are what you are paying for. Grant

  32. I am female and i am sick of this PC, gender-aware, vag-power writing style. Most pro photographers, as a matter of fact, are male. Use "he" or "they" or for god's sake "s/he". I'd be fine with it, and so is everyone in his (or HER) right mind.

  33. hey, i would like to add, that i have just finished a 4 year art degree, I started on 120 B&W film, i have been learning about photography for 6 years all up, and have been offering my work for free to get the experience, i have taken photos of people for years, and was recently rejected for a shoot because my work was too "artistic" and the client later listed the job and was offering $400 to pay the photographer even though i said i would like to come along for free and she doesn't even have to use my photos that i would just like to give it a go seeing as my work is not very commercial.
    this article seems so unfair to me, i am poor, i can not afford three camera's i could hardly afford the DSLR i do have. i have pink hair, tattoos, and piercings, but have been told by all my models (i have shoot over 20 different people in my short time) and everyone (people i know and people i don't know, this includes nude photographs) has said i made them feel really comfortable and made it really fun. i handle all clients with great respect and professionally, there are many famous people these days that look as i do, and they do amazing commercial work. it sounds to me, that if everyone thought like you do then i would never get to do what i love, and i would do anything for a client, as long as they were happy with what i gave them in the end. i have been to weddings and i am often not noticed, you would have to be very close minded to be so judgmental. If i can provide what their after in the end isn't that all that matters?

    i have been rejected for a shoot just because i haven't had much work, not because of any of these tips... so please do tell, how am i meant to get a job and still be who i am?

  34. Your post contains a great analysis which should be adhered tobefore hiring a photographer. Special photography events such as family photography should always, where possible, be handed to experienced and professional photographers.

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