1) "How many Maternity/Newborn/Cake Smash/Family Shoots Have You Done?"
Your photographer doesn't have to be educated at the finest university or have worked next to Annie Liebowitz to be an AMAZING photographer, but they DO need to have a lot of experience (and experience that they can visually SHOW you) in their field. There is nothing that teaches a photographer more than having shot a lot, a whole lot, of sessions! Ask your photographer for multiple galleries similar to what you're hoping to create so that you can see that they have consistently understood the type of shoot that you're looking for and that their work is more broad than the 10 or so shots on their website. A well experienced photographer should be able to say that they've shot hundreds of sessions like yours and be able to show you at least 5 galleries similar to what you're asking them to do.
Not only that, but if you're selecting a newborn photographer you need to know that this person knows how to handle a newborn, 5 or 6 day old baby, with confidence and EXPERIENCE. Would you want a brand new Doctor handling your baby? No way! Experience cannot be over-stated in the way of importance for baby or child photography.
2) "Are You A Part Time or Full Time Photographer?"
This is an easy one to overlook as there are many, many websites out there claiming to be professional, but in reality these photographers shoot 1-2 sessions per month and call themselves professional. THAT is not a professional photographer. That is a hobbyist photographer or an amateur that wants to make some money on the side and does not understand the full range of needs of a client - particularly when it comes to maternity and newborn photography. This goes back to experience in a way...someone that is shooting 40 sessions a month and someone that is shooting 4 sessions a month are not the same level of photographer. Knowing the right questions to ask makes ALL the difference.
3) "Have You Been Vaccinated?"
This one might be of some controversy to some people that are anti-vaccinations, but when it comes to your 5-day old vulnerable newborn baby, trust me - you want a vaccinated photographer that has vaccinated staff! This is another question that almost never gets asked, but is definitely one that you want to consider when choosing your child's photographer.
4) "What Is Your Process and Timeline of the Shoot to Delivery?"
This will give you a very clear idea of who is a professional or not, and it's going to be a little bit counterintuitive when I say it. IF you find a photographer that says they can have your images back to you in the same day or in a few days, they are likely not a full-time photographer and are doing very few shoots and have the time to return things quickly to you because they don't have a lot of other clients - which goes back to what?
A sought after and professional photographer will have to divide their time between shooting, editing, reviewing, consulting, retouching and delivering their photos to multiple clients per week. This leaves their schedule with less capacity to turn things around quickly, but is actually a BENEFIT to you in that they are much more experienced and their end result will likely be better than someone that guarantees quick turn around times.
5) "Is Retouching Included?"
This one is huge and too many times, is not included in the right way to meet the final expectations of a client. Many photographers say that "retouching" is included, but the word "Retouching" gets confused with "editing" many times. There are three processes to a professional photographers work: 1) Shoot 2) Edit 3) Retouch. Retouching is what sets a good photo apart from a GREAT photo. If a photographer has perfect conditions, perfectly behaved and on-time clients including their children/babies and an unlimited amount of time - you MIGHT get a photo that needs literally nothing. But this isn't reality. Especially when photographing newborns or children. In fact, it's the OPPOSITE of the situation a photographer has to work with - and need to succeed with!
Retouching is the bridge in that gap. I cannot tell you how many times I literally have the perfect shot on my camera and then when I download the images, there is a piece of food on the baby's face, or a slightly closed eye or a person that entered the background JUST at the perfect moment. Retouching PERFECTS the images. Editing is not retouching. Editing is doing basic lighting and tone changes or cropping a photo. Editing doesn't change the actual content of the image itself. It doesn't touch the pixels. Retouching does.
6) "Can I Print The Images Anywhere I Want?"
Again, this answer might sound counterintuitive to you - because most people WANT to be able to print anywhere they want and feel that they should be given this right. HOWEVER, a PROFESSIONAL photographer will NOT allow this for two critical reasons:
1) To protect the quality of your images
2) To protect their reputation as a professional photographer
I cannot stress this enough. Professional print labs are the ONLY way to print the images you've invested in. It's like spending $200,000 on a sports car to get a 100-horsepower engine put in it. Looks good on the outside - but doesn't work like it's supposed to.
A professional photographer SHOULD have their own professional print lab that they work with to ensure the quality of your images are being printed in a way that shows the image in the best possible color and quality. Discount printers such as Costco, Walgreens or Kodak print quick and print cheap yes, but also print INCORRECT color, tone and quality of the image because they are using discount printers and paper.
Professional print labs print with printers that use hundreds of colors instead of 3-5 colors that a discount print lab uses. If you print from Costco, your prints will come out with a reddish tone versus a blue tone at Walgreens. This is not what you paid all of that money on professional photography for! Additionally, the paper that a professional print lab prints on retains the color of your images and won't fade with sunlight over time.
A professional photographer cares about quality over anything else and their reputation depends on that quality being consistent from client to client. If they let printing be done anywhere, where quality is NOT a top priority, it diminishes and waters down the quality of their own work and therefore the reputation that they have as a quality photographer. If your photographer does not have a professional print lab they work with, you can be assured they are not a true professional photographer.
7) Are You a Natural Light or Studio Light Photographer or Both?
A professional photographer understands lighting. Period. Not only studio lighting and not ONLY natural lighting. A professional photographer can shoot you in studio just as well as they can shoot you outdoors. There are always certain limitations where lighting is concerned, so when booking your photographer, be sure to ask if they know how to shoot outdoor as well as indoor. This will tell you a TON about the level of professionalism your photographer has. Also, listen for THEIR questions to you about what time your shoot is. If they don't direct you to a certain time of day or ask what available light there is indoor at your location - they likely have no clue what they're doing and are "winging it".
8) Do you use Professional Quality Lenses, Cameras and Lighting?
While I have to say that this is the least important thing on the list, I am going to include it because equipment does absolutely affect the quality of the final images. That doesn't mean that someone can't be a true professional with less than professional quality cameras and lenses, but certainly they help! Here in this studio, we use the top of the line studio lighting, cameras and equipment.
9) Do You Provide a Consultation Prior to the Shoot?
While this doesn't necessarily guarantee a professional and lack of a consultation doesn't mean someone is an amateur, I feel that it is certainly an important addition to the "best quality photographer" checklist. A professional will want to know as much as they can and help YOU know as much as you can about them, their work and their studio so that you can together have the best relationship and understanding moving forward with your desired shoot. We offer a complimentary consultation either via phone or in person to any of our full session clients as a way to help you understand the quality of the work that we do. Professional photography is certainly an investment and as such, we give our time to it in a way that helps you feel like you're going to get the best experience possible.
We hope this post helps you when considering how to select a photographer. Keep in mind that as with most things that need to last a lifetime - you get what you pay for!