top 4 tips to choose a great photographer
[senior pictures, tips & tricks]
What's up, FoCo?! I'm a local photographer who does senior portraits in the Fort Collins, Loveland, Longmont and Boulder areas. I've written this to help you find a photographer that doesn't suck. If you like what you see here, then be sure to send me a message for availability, or even just general questions about senior portraits. I'm happy to help regardless of whether or not you hire me. :-)
When I take senior portraits for teens, I collaborate with them to learn about their interests, hobbies and everything that matters to them. Some are more familiar with what they want than others, knowing that they are into video games or a specific sport, while others take pleasure in the more simple things in life. I try and get to know them, and I truly feel like what they want matters. I take on this approach, because I cannot stand senior portraits where students appear to be obviously uncomfortable or self-conscious because their photographer is bogarting the entire session with what's on their mind with no regard for what the teen wants because - well, they're teens! That means they know far less than a photographer that's been doing this for 40 years...
AND WHOSE WORK, STYLE & TECHNIQUE IS PROBABLY DATED AF.
It absolutely IS important to listen to teens, and typically I have found that they are far more intelligent than they are given credit for. They don't want to look like their pictures were taken to put into some 1930's archive of bad style...! They have great ideas, and they often times bring things to the table that I hadn't ever considered when I take their pictures. They are willing to share their ideas, and their pictures have NEVER turned out bad when I have worked with them because of this. They are, after all, graduating high school which is a major milestone in anyone's life and is proof enough that they know what they are talking about.
I cannot stress enough to other photographers, and to clients about how important it is to find a photographer who listens to what it is that the senior wants. So maybe they are a little punkrock and mom and dad don't approve - well, so what? That doesn't make them any less brilliant, and in a lot of cases I have found that parents and seniors are willing to meet halfway when designing a photoshoot. Meaning they take some pictures that mom and dad will be proud to order prints of and hang on the wall AND some that they can keep for themselves, and potentially use for their yearbook photo.
I encourage my clients, young and old, to simply be who they are and do what feels good and natural to make for pictures that don't exude total major suckage. I ask them to tell me what they want to be, what they enjoyed most about high school and what they imagine in their senior pictures or what ideas they have based off of things they may have seen from others or on Pinterest, Instagram and other apps.
Regardless of the senior's interest, I find ways to integrate their interests into their photoshoot so that their senior portraits are memorable and captivating. I work with students to help them determine outfits, location, props and much more - but only after really taking the time to listen.
how to decide on price
One of the first questions I am usually asked when setting up sessions is about price. I try and be as transparent as possible and offer multiple options when it comes to having my clients pay me. I make payment arrangements with them or suggest shared photo sessions which are sort of like mini-session events except not with a bunch of strangers.
If a photographer's prices are above your pay grade, but you REALLY want to hire him or her, then find out if they have other options that are less expensive, if they offer mini-sessions, group discounts or payment arrangements. If you could live without them, then you could hire someone down the street that isn't really all that experienced, but don't be surprised if you do not like the end result.
how to choose a location
Choosing a location can be a huge challenge in Fort Collins, because so many people are new to the area and aren't sure where the best spots are, the city is constantly facing changes and because there is such a wide variety of places to choose from! This is why photographers should assist their clients in choosing a place after carefully getting to know them. Seriously - your photographer isn't just being a weirdo when they ask about your hobbies, they are trying to figure out the best way to integrate those things into your photoshoot.
Still not sure where to go or what to do when you have your senior portraits taken?
how to choose an outfit for your senior pictures
So your favorite color is red. That's great! But how does that fit into your photoshoot? If red is your favorite color, then surely there are ways to add that into your photoshoot AND make it pop. Or perhaps red looks great for decorating your house, but it is not the best option for you to wear. A skilled photographer should be able to help you choose an outfit (or two or three!) AND take your pictures rather than expecting you to do all of the work.
Color theory, style and location are things that you should be asking your photographer with assistance for. If they aren't sure, then again - they may not be the best photographer for you.
how to choose a photographer
Choosing a photographer is even a bigger challenge than choosing a location, because the competition is tough and there are so many out there that have massive portfolios. Choosing a photographer presents its own challenges when also seeing how you vibe with them.
That said, find a photographer who you mesh with. Don't just choose some old lady with a camera or the dude down the street who just got his first DSLR - but can't take pictures that are in focus yet.
other ways to find photographers than basic searches
When you Google around for a photographer, no matter what you enter in, you are likely to get a few photographers at the top every time. This is because they have intentionally optimized their sites to be found easily and become recognizable. And that's great! It takes a lot of dedication and skill, or a massive investment in a marketing company to get that done. But perhaps they aren't quite what you are looking for.. There are a few ways to find more photographers however:
WORD OF MOUTH
ALTERNATIVE SEARCH ENGINES; E.G. DUCK DUCK GO
a special note to seniors and their parents:
If you find a photographer, make sure that you read their contract prior to paying any deposits, or at least find out their refund policy. Furthermore, make sure that you communicate the type of shoot that you are interested in prior to booking. I would go as far as to agree with other photographers that time is in fact money for us, however there is no reason that you should ever feel trapped when you hire a photographer. You should be able to ask questions and get concise answers. Senior portraits are expensive, and as many of us photographers put it: an investment. If you don't see pictures in your photographer's portfolio that stand out and that you truly love, but feel pressured into buying their services, give them the bird and move on to find someone better that you connect with.
Your photographer should show immediate interest in your photoshoot and offer their own ideas in conjunction with yours, and you should never feel dumb for whatever it is you have in mind - even if it is a dumb idea. A good photographer will take your ideas and run with them and make them a collaboration between both of you.
Don't be afraid to say no!
If you can't imagine hanging out with your photographer on a coffee date for an hour, then don't hire them. It means that you will not enjoy your session!
a special note to senior photographers:
In lieu of the advice that I gave to clients who are about to hire a senior photographer - don't be that guy. Don't be that guy that has all of these great ideas and won't hear anything that your client has to say. Don't be that guy that is stand-offish and impersonal and makes clients uncomfortable because you lack people skills.
When teaching photography classes, I have worked with amateurs as well as professionals.
First of all, there are so many professionals who I have worked with who have an, "I am better than you" attitude and who will not even hear their clients out. This is such a huge no-no. Even if they are demanding that you use the ideas that they found on Pinterest and you don't fancy yourself a pinterestographer - these are their pictures and they will probably be hanging up in their home for years to come.
Secondly, be approachable. Just because you have experience and people will pay for it, does not give you an excuse to be an asshole. Your clients' needs should always come first, and they should never feel uncomfortable. Unless you truly enjoy delivering pictures to people in which they appear constipated and frumpy..
Can you really expect someone to feel comfortable with you if you act fake with them, or make them feel like they aren't allowed to ask questions because you will have an insensitive answer? Sure, clients may have ideas sometimes that are - well, let's just say there are some ideas that we have all cringed about, but that doesn't mean that the idea isn't useful. Bend it and manipulate it into something original and awesome.
YOU CAN BE AWKWARD, AND STILL MAKE YOUR CLIENTS HAPPY!
-Believe me. I am quirky as all get out, and I am about as awkward and as shy as they come. I still tend to get on well with my clients and I have yet to be told that I make them uncomfortable. Perhaps a part of this is that I am unafraid to be my true self with them. This is a rarity in our industry, and there isn't a soul in the world who wouldn't appreciate some authenticity which proves that they too can be their genuine self with you.
And if being a know-it-all jerk with no interpersonal skills is your go-to in the biz - well then my advice is to either learn customer service skills or turn back now.