Hiring A Professional Photographer : Portrait Edition

Today I’m going to talk a little about  importance of hiring a professional photographer, and seeing the value in quality photos.

Aside from our weddings, we do a lot of family portraits. And when I say a lot, I mean A LOT. At the end of every season I’m always blown away with our final session count and so very thankful that so many families put their trust in me to capture their memories. Feeling a little nostalgic today, as last night we had our first beach session of the 2014 season!

I’d like to share with you an email I received from one of the families I photographed last season. It was one of the deciding factors that compelled me to blog about this subject today:

Courtney, we cannot even being to thank you for our photos! Every year we vacation on the Outer Banks, and every year we try to take our own photos. It’s always a frustrating experience – deciding where to take them, getting everyone arranged, and keeping the kids even in the picture. We normally grab a stranger off the beach to take our group shot, and then take turns taking snapshots of each family. This year my sister suggested that we look into hiring a professional to do our photos and gave me the job of finding someone.

The day of our photos we were a little stressed out, and not sure how the kids would behave or if we would have wasted money. From the moment you arrived, everything just ran like clockwork. Your ability to interact and engage the kids was nothing short of amazing with such a large group of little ones. You kept everything moving, and you knew exactly how and where to pose us. When our session ended everyone commented after you left at how easy that was – we were expecting the worst!

When we got our final gallery I actually cried. The photos of you got of our family are priceless. Not only was the whole group nicely arrange but you managed to get everyone looking AND smiling. The time you spent with the kids letting them play and capturing the candid shots are some of my favorite. Our only regret is that we didn’t do this sooner. Thank you so much for all of your hard work!

Emails like those make me smile, and remind me that while I have a love of photography it has a whole different meaning to others. I see those families on the beach.  They’re all lined up and the kids are going wild on the beach while my clients walk by. 🙂 I giggle when I see it, because SO many of my families were just like them. For years they tried to take their own photos, or they had a friend do it. The results, while great memories, just didn’t yield the same emotions as when they received their gallery of custom family portraits.

When seeking out a professional, carefully look over their portfolio. Email or call and chat with them about their style, and how they run their sessions. Look to see that they have a large variety of images in their portfolio, and not just several of the same subject or family. Look for consistent editing, where everything looks cohesive and not “all over the place”. And finally, look at the price. If it’s too low, that could be a red flag – and often means that the photographer is new and/or inexperienced. Photography is an expensive business to run and every true professional should have professional equipment, extra backup, insurance, and a solid portfolio to reflect that.

For comparison sake, I did a little exercise specifically for this blog. I took a non-photographer friend out into her own backyard – one she looks at every day – to play our “amateur photographer”. We used the same model (shout-out to my sister – who gets tortured like this regularly!), the same camera, the same lens, the same location, the same lighting environment, and the same amount of time. The difference? She shot the camera on Automatic and her images are not edited. I shot the camera on Manual (where I control the settings) and my images are edited in my usual style. We each did our own posing without advice or input from the other.

Her images are on the left (or top), mine are one the right:

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As a photographer, our goal is to always continue to grow and develop our craft. It’s one of the reasons we spent countless hours in continuing education, workshops, meeting with other industry professionals, and investing back into our business.

Every professional started at the same place – a camera and a love of photography. Having a friend who is just starting out in photography can be a great thing – as you can often volunteer to the be models. That being said, I challenge everyone to hire a professional at least every couple of years for updated family photos. And Moms : Get in those photos!!!!! The biggest regret I hear from mom’s of my high school seniors? They wished that they were in more photos with their kids. Mom is always the one behind the camera, and one day your kids will love the fact that they have photos with you!

Courtney Hathaway is an Outer Banks based wedding and portrait photographer. For more information please visit the website at www.courtneyhathaway.com or send an email to info@courtneyhathaway.com

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