Questions To Ask Before Hiring A Photographer

At some point everyone hires a photographer or knows someone who will. In many cases it is a portrait or wedding photographer. At other times you may need a photographer to shoot images for anything from real estate to advertising. So how do you know which one is right for your needs?


Most people start out by asking friends, family members or colleagues. You are looking for references and that is the first question you should ask. Does he/she have references? Every professional should have references, especially photographers. But let’s be honest, if you ask me for references I am not going to give you a clients name where we didn’t get along. I am going to give you 3 – 5 names that I think were my best combination of results and compatibility. I want to put my best impression out there after all.


When seeking references, don’t just go by what the photographer says. Before you even ask them for references, look at their website. Do they have a client list on the site? Wedding photographer usually don’t but most commercial photographers should. By looking up those clients and making only a few phone calls you will learn more about the photographer than contacting all the ‘best’ clients he/she uses as references. When you call the clients just ask for the person that handles the advertising. Make sure though that you mention that you are looking for a reference and not looking to sell them advertising! Otherwise you may end up in someone’s voicemail and never actually talk to anyone.


Another question to ask is one for yourself. Do you like their work?  Is the quality of work up to what you want and need? Is the look and feel of the images in the portfolio what you want for your images? I know that I love the work of Joe McNally, Chase Jarvis and Michael Grecco. I think their portraits are outstanding. But if I need images of the corporate tower my company just built or the complex I just designed they may not be the photographer that I need. Make sure the portfolio has the types of images you need. If you need portraits, look at portrait photographers, wedding photographers for weddings, or architectural photographers for structures.


That leads me to the next question. Where can you find the photographers that do the work you want them to do? Of course the first thing many people do is Google “Photographer”. If you just search on ‘photographer’ you will get over 84,000,000 hits. That is not narrowing down the field. Architectural photographer and wedding photographer get 531,000 and 5,070,000 hits respectively. Of course adding your city is going to narrow those results dramatically but you are still going to end up with hundreds, if not thousands of names. If you only look at the first page of each search, you will have only 10 to choose from, but are they the best?  Well they are the best at search engine placement, but are they the best photographers?


The best place to find a photographer is where they hang out. Serious photographers like to hang out with other photographers and many are listed in the associations for photographers. Some of the larger associations have a “Find A Photographer” search engine on their sites. Here is a list of just a few of these groups and their websites.


Association Web Address
Professional Photographers of America (PPA)
American Society of Picture Professionals (ASPP)
American Society of Media Photographers (ASMP)
Advertising Photographers of America  (APA)
The Association of Photographers (AOP) UK
Australian Commercial and Media Photographers (ACMP) AU


Does the photographer you have selected have the equipment needed to do the job correctly? Different types of photography require different tools. Professional equipment comes in all sizes shapes and colors. I can get great results when I use a point-and-shoot consumer camera but will that image transfer to the a billboard sized image as well as it will to the internet? Does the photographer have the ability and tools to control the light properly? Do they have access to a studio appropriate for the shoot?  Shooting toy cars requires much less space than shooting a real car.  Are they going to get the image right at the shoot or do they tell you, “I’ll fix it in Photoshop later.” Post production is a requirement for almost every image, don’t get me wrong; however, post production is the refinement of color and style, not the solution to all problems.


Professionalism is also a very important. Almost every photographer has gotten into the business of photography because of their love of the art. I don’t know any business people that became photographers because it was ‘a great business venture’.  The photographer may be well equipped, they may be able to capture the exact image you need; but that is all irrelevant if the image is delivered late or unprofessionally. You need a photographer who understands your needs and appreciates your business. They have to be willing to listen to you and your needs and translate them into the imagery you want.


Last, but definitely not least is how much should you pay for a good photographer?  Photographers can range in price from a few hundred dollars an hour to tens of thousands. Experience, talent, knowledge and vision all are parts of the cost. These are the intangibles. The tangible is the cost of the studio, the models, the actual products, etc. Add them together and you have your cost, not your expense. The expense is almost irrelevant if you do an advertising campaign that doubles or triples your bottom line. Yet if the same campaign costs you your loyal customers or has little or no return, the expense can be huge.  Put out the wrong image and it can cost you your entire business. For portrait and wedding photographers it comes down to the value of your memories. What is the value of an image if that is the last image ever captured of you and [fill in the blank]? That image is priceless.


The question then is not what you should pay but what can you afford? The images you receive back are investments plain and simple. Just like any other investment they should be planned for and budgeted for. A poor investment results in a poor return. A wise investment can change your world in a positive way. Can you put a price on that?


Until next time…

6 replies
  1. Ross Woodhall
    Ross Woodhall says:

    Hi Michael,
    I’ve just read your entry which I found via linked in. Just thought I’d let you know I think you are absolutely spot on with your comments.


  2. Peter Stevenson
    Peter Stevenson says:

    Very helpful advice a lot of which translates to almost any profession and the research needed to make an informed decision.
    Things can still go wrong after all that effort, so my contribution is to say you should check the photographer has, as a minimum, Professional Indemnity to cover professional mistakes and Public Liability insurance to cover injury to subjects, models or anyone else involved and property damage

  3. Sonya Sanchez Arias
    Sonya Sanchez Arias says:

    Love your blog Michael, educating clients is one of the most important jobs I do for my business.
    Educated clients are great clients, they are more appreciative of everything you do.

    I try my best to educate clients about the importance of hiring professional photographers by posting blogs with tips and advice on my sites. Below is one such blog. This was specifically written to educate clients looking to hire a good Jewelry Photographer, but it really pertains to all professional photographers.


    Should have plenty of experience.
    Should have an excellent reputation.
    Should have a great portfolio of images from satisfied clients.
    Should be ethical, enthusiastic, hard working, and creative.
    Should deliver on time, every time, always meeting deadlines.
    Should care about each and every job regardless of the budget.
    Should be conscientious and extremely detail oriented.
    Should ask jewelers lots of questions about how they see their jewelry.
    Should listen to clients’ priorities and try to focus on capturing the kind of images they envision.
    Should produce work that is priceless to the client, so they will recommend the photographer without reservation.
    Should consider their jewelry photography to be “art”– and through creativity and professionalism, it becomes art.

    There maybe jewelers who feel they get overcharged for their jewelry photography. And there maybe retailers who feel their competitors get better jewelry photography than what they got from the photographer they hired.
    There may even be designers who do not particularly enjoy the wait it takes to get their jewelry photographed by a professional jewelry photographer.
    But there are far more jewelry professionals who regret not having hired a professional jewelry photographer to attend their needs, or regret not researching their photographer’s reputation and referrals more carefully.

    Professional jewelry photography perhaps does not fit every jeweler’s budget, circumstance, and priority– but it can be a truly wonderful and priceless service when handled by a true professional!

    In closing, let me pass on a message I have found to be true from past experience.

    Associate with those who have both the know-how and the integrity.
    I think this applies to all professional services, not just photography.

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