5 Things to Consider When Choosing a Portrait Photographer

Look for the Good and Bad Signs When Selecting an Artist for Your Photos

Last Updated: February 10th, 2016

CONSIDER: A Photography Style You Love

Family Photos - 2 Boys in Stamford Connecticut in the Fall

A sample of a more painterly, textured style I prefer for some of my favorite scenes from a family session in Stamford, Connecticut.

First things first: If you don’t like the portrait photographer’s style, there’s no reason to continue. It’s no different than if you’ve decided to eat French Cuisine for dinner, you’re not going to bother looking at a list of American steakhouses. As artists, working on our styles, signature looks, and favorite poses takes a lot of time to develop, and it should be apparent in our portfolios. Our styles may change over time as we explore our craft, but you should see a skill level, and definitely a clear vision on our sites. Do you like studio posed setups or prefer the outdoors with candid photos?

WARNING SIGNS:

  • Photographers who say they’ll match any style for the job
  • Photographers with no clear look and style, making you the experiment, but charging you for being a guinea pig. We all start somewhere, and you can be ok with that IF they are up front about it.


BEWARE: Limited-Skill Photographers Hiding Skill Level (e.g. “Natural Light Only”)

Engagement Photo: Couple's Romantic Kiss with the New York Skyline

Natural light, on purpose, since the goal was a wonderful silhouette of a couple’s kiss with the New York Skyline in the background.

These kinds of phrases are red flags. Would you hire a chef who only knows how to use a stove top when an oven is a better choice for a situation? Would you hire a contractor that only uses a hammer when a screwdriver is needed? Dedicated, professional photographers use all the tools available to create the photo they see in their heads. Most experts in their fields have gone through all of the training of a generalist before narrowing down their specialties, not the the other way around.

Of course, there is nothing wrong with using only natural light for photos, if it’s appropriate to get the concept down. The issue is that people who typically use phrases like this really mean “I haven’t trained enough to know how to shoot more than 1 situation.” I’ve been there, we all have, but I was honest with clients as to what stage of my career I was at, and didn’t hide it. That honesty was rewarded and helped build my career. It’s wonderful if someone in any field becomes a specialist and can really do it well, but more often than not, it’s merely because the photographer does not want to learn. Photography is about controlled light, regardless of the source and a professional uses the right tools for the job.

Lastly, even chefs dress their plates for presentation, so I believe all photographers should edit their photos for their final touch and style. Also, even “candid” photographers should know poses that help their clients look their best and guide them into natural positions that also flatter. When photographers try to brag about doing neither, be warned.

WARNING SIGNS:

  • Phrases like “natural light only”, “never use Photoshop or edit”, “never pose”
  • Photos in the portfolio where their is junk/garbage in the image, the subjects are dim compared to the backgrounds, etc.
  • Some images in their portfolio don’t match their typical session elsewhere. Careful, they may have stolen other photographer’s images to show off as their own. Yes, sadly, this happens more than you know.


CONSIDER: Personalized Photo Sessions

Family Photos - Chester NJ - Ice Cream Shop - Toasting to Ice Cream

This was the ice cream shop she took her granddaughter to over 20 years ago, so we decided to ask the store to bring back some old memories. This is personalized.

Though we create images for many people, I believe that photographers should be sure this session is about you and tells your story. Be sure to take the time to discuss ideas up front before reserving a session. I offer no-obligation chats beforehand to make sure I understand you and your family’s personalities, style, and come up with preliminary ideas for how this can be special for you, all before you reserve a session. You shouldn’t be ignored or forced into a scene/clothing that just doesn’t work for you, and even worse, not even spoken with ahead of time. It means you’re just a prop, and when you’re investing so much into custom artwork, don’t you want to make sure it’s you? The best luxury services are personal, and they make sure the experience is truly your own, and these photos help you remember it.

WARNING SIGNS:

  • Every photo session is the same in their portfolio. (Keep in mind there is a difference in styles being similar for each session)
  • You’re not even asked about you and/or your family in the first chat/contact.


BEWARE: Digital-Only, CD-Burning-Only Photographers

Fine Art Paper: Hoboken Couple During a Maternity Session

Testing various media like fine art papers and canvas is just as important as the photo in order to stand the test of time. I select fine art papers for this reason, lasting 100+ years and creating heirlooms to hand down.

Almost always a sign of a beginning photographer, this will probably make them angry, but as a potential client looking for the best for your family, please consider it a warning sign. I started out this way trying to navigate the world, but it’s half-ass artistry. It’s also sometimes a sign of an push-you-in-and-out mass-producing photographer or someone looking to get their training wheels off. You’re hiring a professional artist to create something special for your family, and the skill in selecting the final viewing medium is as important as setting up the photo itself. Even in a “digital age”, the viewing longevity is dropping in digital, and it’s all about physical artwork.

You may not think it, but my business in wall art has done nothing but increase over the years as the flood of forgotten digital files has overwhelmed families. It’s not just limited to older families either. Even more younger families are realizing its importance. Seriously, how can you not smile at your family when you walk in the door and see them smiling back on the wall? And why go 99% of the way with a pro to just want to print it at a crappy drugstore that knows nothing about proper color management for artwork? You’re being handed the ingredients and told to bake it yourself. If you’re interested in a longer viewpoint on this, check out my other article on Printing is Longevity.


CONSIDER: If Your Personalities Click

Toasting to Their Anniversary

I love when clients come back, and that’s my goal every time, to capture different important moments in a couple’s/family’s life. This was from an anniversary session a couple of years after their engagement session.

This adds partially to the personalized sessions above. If you’re going to spend time together with your photographer, the person who will pull out your best emotions, get the looks and naturalness of your portraits, shouldn’t you like them? If you don’t trust or click with the person, it’ll be harder to follow posing tips and take advice from them. Even worse, if they haven’t taken the time to get comfortable with your kids, it’s opening a can of worms. I meet with your children ahead of time to remove the stranger danger, and to gauge all of your personalities so by the time the session comes, we’re basically friends (or hey, your children will at least want to work with me!).

WARNING SIGNS:

  • Photographers who demand a fee before you even chat with them. You don’t know if you want them, so why are you handing over anything without talking with them first.
  • Any gut feeling that they’re not a people person. Trust your instincts!


In the end, this is a special occasion for you and should be treated as such. Otherwise, you would just do it yourself. Anytime you take the time to invest a lot in something important in your life, I’m sure you take the time to research it to make sure you’ll have no regrets. I know I do. If you’d like, feel free to contact me to set up a time to see if we’re a fit.



3 Responses to 5 Things to Consider When Choosing a Portrait Photographer

  1. I really think it is great that one of the things that the article recommends looking for in a photographer is their personality. This is important because personality can come through a lot in photographs, so you want to make sure that the photographer has one that you can get along with. It will also make posing and moving around much easier if you get along with, and like, the photographer.

  2. Anna says:

    “CONSIDER: If Your Personalities Click”

    I wish I had read this before booking and going to my photo shoot. I had a video chat with the photographer and I knew by the end of the call that we might not click. It was so obvious to me that we have different visions of what being a woman means. However, I wanted to underline this life milestone and she is the only one where I live who seems to know how to reproduce the kind of lightning I was looking for so I ignored my gut feeling. Since she is a good photographer who has earned a couple of awards, I thought: “Well, I’m just gonna suck it up. It’s only a 3-HR session and I just want my picture at the end of it. Then, we’ll go our separate ways.”

    I went to the shoot and the minute, I told her before signing the contract that I was against any reuse or reproduction of my pictures for any usage, she sulked. She became defensive telling me that she was the owner of the pictures. Sure, you are but I’m the owner of my face as per the law so I definitely have my say in what you can or cannot do with those pictures: we both have a certain range of rights. I didn’t tell that point blank, I just said softly that I still retain the right to my likeness and that I don’t agree with any reuse of my pictures. She was pissed, I could see it on her face, I could hear it in her voice especially when she asked: “So… None of your pictures… at all? OK.” I kept my cool but was thinking:”Hello? Am I your prop or your slave? I am the one who is footing the bill. Why couldn’t you ever have the idea of hiring a model and then take the specific kind of pictures I’m interested in? If you then want to use them for a photo competition, do as you please but you can’t expect your customers to act like “models” for you.” She was mildly passive-aggressive for the rest of the session and thank God, I was determined that day not to let anyone ruin it for me. Still yikes and very unprofessional! I was ready to be more flexible about my right to control my image and likeness but her attitude was so off-putting that I think I’m not gonna change my stance, especially for the money I’m gonna spend in total for the whole shoot and printing of the pictures.

    I understand that whereas for the client, it might just be “a picture”, to the photographer, we’re talking about a work that s/he expressed her/himself in it so it might not have the same “value” at one’s eyes. However, customers shouldn’t be viewed or used as instruments for an artist. I mean, there are people named “models” that you can hire and pay for that. I’m not paying for a photo shoot so that you might ultimately use my pictures to showcase your talent. I’m buying for a product, for a service so please, act like a provider: the only thing I owe you in return in my courtesy and my money, not my commitment to becoming your prop or your free model.

    • Anthony S. Torres says:

      Hi, I wanted to come thank you for your comment. I didn’t notice it for a while, and usually I get spam. This was an amazing comment for me, and it really does mean so much that you took the time to write such a reply about it. I got into this to make a difference. Making money at a previous job was set, but to create things that make people so happy, and continue to make them happy years from now is something more rare.

      I felt so bad that you weren’t able to experience that too. Our job first and foremost is to make our clients experience something grand, something where our photos are merely just a reminder of that experience. And as you said, it’s a partnership. While I love if my clients say it’s ok to show off the images, it’s not the primary thing and it shouldn’t be an issue that makes you uncomfortable. Hell, I’ve had parents not want their kids online and I have to immediately respect that, no questions asked. You’re right, if we want portfolio, we can do that ourselves and not burden you with that goal.

      It’s a shame. And skills and awards doesn’t justify behavior to make a client uncomfortable. Nothing does. I hope you are someday able to do it again and really walk away with a story of celebration. I don’t know where you are relative to me, and maybe too far, but if not me, I would love to help find someone for you. In any case, I can’t thank you enough for this and all the best to you.

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