Hiring a Photographer: Questions to Ask

Throughout my many years as a professional photographer, I have been asked many questions by models. While I agree that questions are always a good thing, some of the questions are misdirected and fearful. So I have compiled a list of what I feel are “Right” and “Wrong” questions to ask possible photographers that you are considering spending your money and time with.

The RIGHT Questions:
1. What are your rates/packages?
Seems like a no brainer, but you would be surprised how many models don’t ask this question first. Knowing how much a photographer charges not only lets you know if you can even afford to get your hopes up about them, but also how much they value their work. Getting 7 looks for $150.00 may be good for your pocket but chances are your images will not be worth the time and money you will invest in them. Study the going rates for looks in your genre and region, and be willing to spend good money for good work.

2. Do you have a team that you generally work with?
Generally photographers should work with any makeup artist, hair stylist, and wardrobe stylist that they come across for any client to get the job done. However, if a photographer has a specific team, chances are they have developed a personal bond that allows their work to come together more efficiently and with more passion than bringing in an outside element. Not to mention those photographers with teams usually offer packages where the deals can be unbeatable when compared to attempting to hire talent individually

3. Do you have a website?
Anyone with 30 minutes of time can develop a Modelmayhem, Facebook, or Flickr account full of images, because they’re free to the public. Someone who invests time and money into their own “.com” website is providing you an idea of not only their professionalism and an idea of how seriously they take the presentation of their work. While on the site, look for images that are similar to the genre of work you are looking to shoot. If you see they only have a modelmayhem site full of ass shots and you’re a fashion model looking to develop more work for your book, you may need to look elsewhere.

4. Do you have a speciality?
Some photographers are specifically suited to one type of photography and others can bounce around multiple fields. This question can also give you negotiating power, especially if a photographer has less experience in the genre you are looking to have your work in. Even better, is that photographers who specialize in your genre may have contacts in that industry that they can share with you… especially if they like your personality *hint hint*

5. Do you have professional references?
They are a must have in business, so don’t be afraid to ask for them. Having a list of 5-10 previous models that you can talk to in detail about the photographers work ethic, attitude on set, turnaround time, and professionalism can give you more information than a price list or sales pitch. Bonus points can be given to the photographer if the models they give you to speak with are in the same genre as you, because this also means you can as more specific genre related questions and increase your network.

6. Can I see your release form?
Every photographer is going to require that you sign a release form before working with you, even when you are paying for a shoot. Knowing the detailsof what you are signing well before hand is a must, especially when signing the wrong kind of release form gives you no power over your own images. Study the different types of image rights so that you don’t sign your life away with a smile and a wad of $$$ :)

The WRONG Questions:
1. What popular models/celebrities have you worked with?
It’s easy to get relatively caught up in popular culture, but beware bringing the ideals of that culture to the set. A photographers ability to shoot celebrity clients may not translate into images that work for you, and vice versa. You, Melyssa Ford, and Chanel Iman all have very different needs for the usage of images, remember that. Look more at the quality of their work versus the quantity of their celebrity clients.

2. Do you have a studio?
Many photographers specialize in on-location work, which requires little to no studio time at all. Having a studio does not mean a photographers work is better or more valid, but just that their work load is more suited to needing one. Many photographers rent studio time on a case by case basis to save both them and you money in the long run. However if they bring you to a small wooden shack with no indoor plumbing… be prepared to run :)

3. What type of equipment do you use?
Equipment is a tool, it doesn’t make the photographer and their work any more or less valid. Just because a photographer owns and utilizes a $35,000 system does not mean that your images will help sell you to your prospective clients. However if the photographer shows up on set with a disposable camera then you certainly have a right to request a refund.

In Conclusion
Obviously, no list is absolute. There are many different photographers out here with many different ways of doing what we do. Research and patience will definitely pay off for you, study the sphere of your specific genre and learn what will and will not work for your set career path. Taking risks is a genius approach, so long as they are informed risks :)

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Andrew Thomas Clifton is a Chicago based wedding, fine art, and fashion photojournalist

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Author: Andrew Thomas Clifton

Andrew Thomas Clifton served as the Photography Director at KISS Magazine from 2008-2012. He is a Chicago based fine art photojournalist and author whose clients include President Barack Obama, Pepsi, The Birmingham Civil Rights Institute, and Ebony Magazine.

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