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.