Over the years, and recently with increasing frequency, I’ve received phone calls from people who are interested in my portrait photography but who have not even seen my website.
I must stress to you, if you don’t already know, that every photographer has a different style and a different eye for lighting, styling, perspective and photography products. Yet, too many people choose a photographer based solely on location and price. But those are probably the variables you should consider last. I am quite flattered that I have very many clients who travel by plane or car for hours to get to me from all corners of the globe. Many of those clients have returned to me several times.
When I first talk with potential clients I ask them if they like my style of photography. They often are confused by the question. “Style?”, they sometimes ask, “What do you mean?” Well, I have my own unique vision of what I want to see in a photograph. The photographer down the street has a different one. And individual style and personal vision matter are immensely important in the photography world.
I was recently talking with a client and mentioned that a photographer does not have to be certified or have a degree to conduct a photography business. They must simply have a business license. But I guarantee that many do not even have that – – ask them. I have often talked with young photographers who have never worked in the business, never had a degree, never even went to a photography convention, never took any photography classes and yet they have a website saying that they can service a client. As shocking as it may seem, you don’t need to have any experience at all to start a business or website. And unlike, say a doctor, a person who simply owns a camera can represent themselves as a photographer (if they don’t have a conscience) to any potential client.
I am a dinosaur in this business. I’ve been a photographer for over 25 years which means I entered into it working with negative and slide film. That takes a precise training. I’ve been a portrait photographer for over 17 years (that doesn’t include the 3 years working for a huge portrait studio chain when I was 18). I have seen so many would be photographers come and go because they don’t apply themselves, because they don’t actually believe in customer service or, most commonly, because they never developed their skills or a unique professional style.
To be a professional photographer you must wear many, many hats at the same time. Most importantly, you must have good people skills. You must be feel comfortable in talking quite a bit with your clients to distract them from their uncomfortableness. You have to be honest because you must let a photographic subject know if their outfit won’t work or they have food in their teeth. You have to multi-task to make sure that your photo gear is working or what your light meter says. You must make toddlers safe and content while they are in the unusual situation of being photographed and you must direct your subjects’ wardrobe and posing. You have to be flexible enough to be able to move at a moment’s notice to another setup, an outfit that you don’t care for, or another angle or perspective.
To my great pleasure, and dismay, you must perfect great computer skills to be proficient professional photographer. You have to have passion about photography to sustain you through the countless tangential tasks required of a business owner. And most of all, you have to have a vision…a definite idea of what you know looks good and what you want to see in your finished photography product.
A final esoteric necessity is consistency. All photographers have those magical moments when the client, the clothes, the lighting all comes together for that amazing image that seems to come from the heavens. We all do. But can a photographer repeat it? And do they know how and why to do so? A true professional photographer knows how to analyze their photography. They know what questions to ask. They know from experience and, if they are lucky, from natural instinct. But experience…it’s the key. Hang on newbies for many years and then you’ll know. You’ll know how to fine tune your business or even whether you should continue it or not.
There is a reason why many “photographers” simply hand over a CD of all the images…because they don’t want to face the rejection they must endure if you dislike what they did and they figure that bulk over quality will make up for it. Those are the photographers who leave their businesses after a few years…or they actually try to make money teaching wannabe photographers claiming their expertise. I’m very fortunate to have made all those mistakes in my first 5 years of business. I stuck it out to chase my vision. I now sit together with my clients after our portrait session to help them decide. Luckily they usually have the problem of liking too many images so that it takes a while to choose the portraits they wish to purchase. I help them part with the mediocre images and teach them about art and photography. Otherwise they would be so overwhelmed that they would never make a decision.
So when you’re choosing a photographer to create images of you, your children or your family consider vision and experience. Too many of your potential choices are “photographers” who picked up a camera yesterday. Consider style. Consider service. Consider time. Consider consistency. Consider experience. And most of all consider quality.