It’s a crude way of putting things I know but does your photographer suck?
If you are paying a photographer you should be getting quality for your money. That quality is however dependent upon how much you are paying. If you are not paying much they you shouldn’t expect much – nor are you likely to get much. If you are paying a respectable fee then you need to expect and receive reasonable performance.
What I’m going to do here is give you some ideas about how to asses the performance of your photographer.
1. Does the photographer use the on camera flash for every photograph? Even where there is good lighting available? This person may be a flash monkey who has no idea how to take photos without flash. A photographer who doesn’t have any skill in using ambient light doesn’t have much of a photography background. Beware.
Counter point: You as the subject or as a non-photographer may not be in the best position to determine and judge the quality of ambient light. There are valid reasons why a photographer would use a flash for all the shots. Your situation might be one of those.
2. Does the photographer take every photograph from the standing position? Never bending over, never kneeling, never lying on the ground, never climbing on an object, never going up stairs, never shooting from above or below. Your photos are all going to look very alike. A good photographer is going to vary the angle from which she shoots the subject. Expect a photographer to be moving up and down, shooting from above and below, moving around the subject and catching various angles.
It is often true that a person will not look flattering from one angle – and the good photographer will avoid shooting from that angle – but no one looks bad from every angle other than head height, straight on. Your photographer should be working multiple angles excepting the one least flattering of the subject.
3. How does the photographer interact with the subject and others (if there are others) on the set? The interactions between photographer and subject depends on circumstances of the shoot over all and the particulars of the moment.
For a portrait shoot with one person the photographer should be engaging the subject most of the time. The photographer should be providing direction, conversing to help the subject feel at ease or having the subject engage with a prop or other things of that nature. Not listening to his iPod.
If it’s a group or family portrait or similar situation the photographer should spend time interacting with the subjects and a significant amount of time encouraging the subjects to interact with each other.
When shooting a wedding there are times for the photographer to be invisible and times for the photographer to orchestrate the action. You can probably figure out which should be happening when.
4. In all circumstances a photographer should be dressed appropriate to the situation. It’s pretty hard to go wrong on this one yet it still happens. How can your photographer go wrong here? Showing up for a wedding wearing a Jack Daniels t-shirt might do it. Or not – depending on the wedding. Or a t-shirt that says “69 is fine” might be out of line at a business or family session.
Some people would suggest a photographer at a wedding should be wearing a suit. If that’s your thing then go for it. I’m against it for this reason: It’s hard to move around quickly and easily in a suit. You want your wedding photographer to not look out of place but at the same time the photographer is not a wedding participant and needs to be able to move quickly and easily in order to get the best photographs of this important event. That should be the number one concern of your wedding photographer.
When I do a portrait for fashion or modeling shoot it’s usually in jeans or shorts and t-shirt (sans obnoxious content) depending on weather. For weddings it’s blacks. Pants, shirt, shoes, socks – all black – and hair pulled back into a ponytail.
5. Did your photographer just drop the f-bomb? Bad language, politically incorrect jokes and comments, sexual comments. Some people would say these are never appropriate. I never say never. It does depend on the circumstances. If I’m doing a shoot with models that I know I behave as I should for the specific models. Some require that I keep things clean – so I do. Others have minds more dirty than mine (hard to believe but true) and it’s all I can do to keep up with ’em. We get rowdy, out of control and have fun with it. It’s not for everyone and I don’t act like it is.
Whatever is going on the photographer should be interacting according to the needs and comfort levels of the client and others on set.
6. Are you looking into the sun while your photograph is being taken? If you have to squint your eyes while the picture is being taken you are going to have to squint your eyes when you look at the final result. Because it’s going to be bad. Contrary to what you have heard one doesn’t take photographs of people in direct sunlight unless you are going for a very specific final result.
7. Look down at yourself while you photograph is being taken. Is part of your body in the sun and part in the shade? If the photographer is taking full body portraits and you are half sun, half shade you are in trouble.
I’ve lived this one. I was part of a wedding. The photographer (a friend of the bride working at a discount) was taking the formals. Our upper bodies were in the sun. Our lower bodies in the shade. When I saw the final results she had also cropped our feet off at the ankles. Massive, massive fail.
Those are some easy ones you can pick up on quickly. If the person or people you are paying to take your photographs are screwing those up then it’s likely some other things are going to go wrong along the way as well. You should spend your money on a photographer and you should get the value you pay for. Do both and you will be rewarded in the end.
This is part 4 in a series for people about how to choose a photographer. You can find all the posts by going to the categories tab above and clicking on “selecting a photographer”.