7 Tips for Choosing a Senior Photographer
Well, here it is, over-simplified in three lesson-filled words -
CHEAP IS EXPENSIVE!..
I find ZERO satisfaction in sharing the horror stories of important sessions-gone-awry. In fact I feel completely helpless when I hear them, but it just happened again. A client calls, books a session, cancels a session to say “a friend of my husband…” (usually a neighbor or “friend with a nice camera”), and on the story goes.
They spend a few hours taking a bajillion photos, all to say either “good enough”, or “well the one I don’t hate entirely…”
Every time I have the honor of that person returning to share their story, my gut binds with the frustration that there is no real way to prevent it. We all have to learn that a sports action photographer does not have an eye for sunsets. That a scenic shooter may not know how to direct you for the right expression, nevermind put you at ease before the camera.
While I could easily name a dozen others, and extrapolate on all, this quick read should help you to prevent repeating the errors that in NO WAY vindicate me, they drive me to create information to help you make the right choice. (regardless of who it is - as you’ll see on #6 - Style)
1 - CAMERA = TOOL. The camera does not take the photo. The camera is a only a tool. A professional photographer is proficient with that tool enough to concentrate on all of the other elements that the camera store didn’t sell your friend. (lighting, composition, posing practice, blending fill lights, putting one at ease in front of the camera, proper lighting - oops, did I mention lighting three times?)
2 - iPHONOGRAPHY. Phone photos look GREAT on that little piece of glass, but think ahead to when it breaks. When technology and social media move on to yet-another NEXT BIG THING… It will happen. It never stops happening. I feel too young for my “back-in-the-day” stories, because it was only a BLINK ago that you were nobody without a MySpace page, I mean Facebook, I mean Instagram, I mean Snap, I mean TikTok, I mean AHHHH!!!
Think beyond today. Will you (or your student) one day have kids? Do you expect to keep physical albums or wall portraits of this chapter of their life - or allow them to be the next generation of spinal degradation and screen addiction? (not excluding myself - I LOATHE how addictive mine has become, but my kids will be captured in RAW file formats!
3 - RAW v JPG. - Think this is getting to technical, I think not! Your phone captures millions of colors through the lens, but the processor spits out/disposes of all except what will look good on your display, and “not too bad” when printing.
On a scale of GREAT, Good and not-too-bad, which would you rather have hanging on your wall for that monumental senior portrait, or that family portrait before they’re all grown-and-gone? (you know, the one they’re kids will all gaze at 20 years from now in awe of the heirloom they hope to have one day)
Though I was a die-hard JPG shooter in the early days of digital, I discovered the truth of “Once you go RAW, you won’t go back” I won’t even shoot family vacation pics in jpg, having seen the difference. MORE DATA, MORE COLOR, MORE SIZE… (yes, more storage too, but that’s the cost of doing business right - nevermind our redundant cloud backups.)
I must humble myself and confess that my Canon 5d does not make phone calls - I still have to pack a phone.
4 - STORAGE & BACKUP - I’m not going to deny being a bit geekier than most on this, but EVERY single time I think - my clients don’t care about, or likely expect that I pay to store all of their negatives, digital files etc., so why should I? Sorry, but I have to call #bullsh*t on that.
If you are a professional photographer, capturing KEY, can’t-go-back-in-time moments for a client that has not done their due diligence on these things - you owe it to them to have backups, backup of your backup and to keep the original RAW files of at LEAST the favorite dozen.
Last month I had the mother of a 2005 baby session (that had to leave an abusive situation) search me out. “My 14 yr. old daughter finally just asked me why she’s the only one she knows without baby pictures. Is there any chance you’ve still got them?”
Not only DID I have them, but editing software has advanced so much since I captured them, that I re-edited them with the most recent upgrade of Adobe Lightroom to assure I showed her the best possible images. Still living out-of-country, we’ve used our Fundy software to import photos of her home walls, so that I can digitally place them to assure she orders the right sizes.
Should your photographer back up your photos? I say HELL YA! I am, in essence, a visual historian. Having photographed 20 of the last Portland Rose Festival Queens (and courts), the Oregon Historic Society is already in my contact list to make sure that my nearly quarter-century of Portland history is preserved for future generations.
5 - COMFORTING THE CAMERA SHY - Despite being the smartphone natives that they are, even our fish-lipped, selfie-junkie teens cannot see themselves when staring at a REAL camera. It is up to a professional photographer to pose (in complimentary fashion) light, compose and expose without even THINKING about it.
I’ve been that young, shutterbug photographer in my highschool. I was better (enough) than most people at what I did photographically. That meant NOTHING, however, until I learned to put my models or clients at ease.
The technical aptitude is a HUGE part, but to quote Malcolm Gladwell’s 10,000 hour rule, I am no prodigy. I’ve failed enough to succeed as a habit. I’ve long-since surpassed my 10,000 hours (40hrs x 50+ weeks x 5 years) at all of my portrait specialties. High school seniors - more than 20 years, and I NEVER get tired of exploring new trends.
6 - STYLE - None of us will appeal to everyone. Many girls, for instance, like to go where they hear “all the girls go”. [photographer laughs] If “all of them go…” then how is it there are more photographers than realtors?
Look at style. KNOW who’s behind the camera, because if they cannot “get you”, you are investing precious time on their practice, all in hope of saving a few bucks. Were it not for people like that, I would’ve never gotten started. But if you are looking for certainty? Hire a professional that has more than a few good shots. A great photographer can shoot amazing images consistently.
White sky (not blue) images are very common for photographers that only take a camera, and occasionally reflector on a shoot. This happens when we don’t add-in enough fill light to equate to match nature. With our naked eye (an OVER-THE-TOP tool of nature that has a dynamic range FAR in excess of a camera) we can see details in shadows. A camera cannot, so we expose for those shadowy areas. In doing so, many people will blast out the sky - turning it white instead of the blue ideal we all crave in the NW.
I’m personally not a fan of white-sky photos. I love vibrant colors (or contrasty black & whites). I love discovering what makes my seniors tick, then to bring that out of them with a fun, memorable experience in the process.
My point is, find the style that suits your end needs. If you’re going to hang something on the wall, would this photogs style match your vision?
7 - DELIVERY & EXPECATIONS
Hire a professional that will FINISH the job (and meet your yearbook deadline) in a timely manner. I’ve heard this complaint FAR too many times, usually not with pro photogs, but side-hustlers that have a primary job that has to come first.
FINISH: To cull out the blinkers, redundant images. To process the RAW files. (color and exposure corrections, visual treatments or HDR effects). We typically have ready for viewing within 24 hrs (sometimes two biz days) because this IS our full-time work.
RETOUCHING: I am not a fan of fake, plasticized images that undermine the dimension of a persons face. That said, NOTHING leaves the studio without removal of incidentals. (blemishes, stray hair, dark lines under eyes, eye and teeth whitening within reason) This adds one to three days to your order, depending on how much art you like. (the occasional dude that wads up his button-down shirt to a backpack - digital retouching!)
FILE PREP: Every file we prepare, is set to produce a WYSIWYG print. (What you see is what you get from our professional lab). We feature every new product trend when they come into market, and it is the premium version of whatever you see on the counter at Costco or other retail labs.
FILES or PRINTS: Because we have many people that want to buy the image-files, we always keep recent prints from Costco (one of the better retail/non-pro labs) of the exact same image-file produced by our lab. If you still prefer the files to print unlimited, they are exported in the proper sRGB format needed to get the best results.
PRINT STYLES: Currently, our number one selling wall portrait surface is Metal. I see acrylic sliding up to rival it, but in either case it could be because of my style. These formats LOVE BOLD COLOR.
I believe that if you start with the end in mind - what do I really want? Do I want pampered with hair and make-up, or would you rather keep your trusted stylists and forgo the risk of a stranger’s perception of how I’ll look on these milestone photos?
Do I want soft, muted country colors, or would I rather express fun vibrant, urbanesque art? We’re all different, and this year, YOU GET TO CHOOSE!!!
I may not be the right photographer for you, but I do hope that you will at least know these things before you decide where to go. This is your year to choose. Your year to spend more than three seconds on a stool for a substandard photo that will make even a “friend with a camera” look better.
My goal, is to help you find something beyond good and better, so you can look your BEST on that nametag at your 20-year class reunion, or hanging for eternity in your parent’s home.
HAPPY GRAD YEAR, and I do hope we get to meet a few of you!