One of the questions I get asked most often is if I would endorse another photographer as a good photographer. The instinctive reaction is to say “No” to everyone who asks this. It isn’t because I am jealous or want their business, but more that I don’t know them and I am unfamiliar with their work. Upon asking more information, I usually find out that the person is a friend who bought a camera in the past few months (or was given one), and who now thinks they are a photographer. Prodding more, I find out that they will shoot for an afternoon for $50 and then burn all the images to disk and give them to them. I then am asked if I would do the same thing as this other photographer. The answer is usually “no” but once in a while, I do match a competitor that I see is a real photographer. How do I make that judgement?
Anyone with any type of a camera can capture images. The question you need to ask yourself is if you want to pay a professional to take the images. A professional will be the one who has a business license, has insurance, and pays their taxes. They will let you see big printed images that they have taken, and not just images on the computer. They offer you a service to help you capture the best images you can get without cheating you out of your money. They also have an education in photography and work hard to keep up on their skills. Because of being in the industry learning, you will see they have spent some time capturing images and been a photographer for some time. They will have a decent portfolio of work and plenty of sample images for you to see. Let us look at each of these a little closer.
When you have images taken for money, you should ask yourself if the individual is a “real” photographer. Do they have a business license? Are they paying taxes? Are they insured? Why is this important, you ask. For starters, you shouldn’t be doing business with people who aren’t authorized to do business unless it is a one off type sale – a garage sale or vehicle sale. Next, taxes are something that makes the government work. If they aren’t reporting and paying their taxes, that means we all pay more taxes. The last part of this is the insurance coverage, and answers the question of what happens if something happens to you while you are shooting? The simple answer without insurance: you have to pay out of your own pocket and sue them for the money. With insurance, you file a claim with their insurance and they pay you. It is that simple. Frequently, with this minimum met, you will find that these people who are licensed, pay their taxes, and have insurance all contribute to the community. Another indicator, though less likely, is if they have a studio location. These all usually indicate the individual isn’t trying for the quick buck.
Another thing to evaluate is the images that are taken. Do you like the images that are taken? Are they of a good quality? Can you see LARGE printed images that they have taken? This will tell you how good they really are and where you will see the biggest difference. Look at the skin of the subjects: is it smoothed beyond recognition? Can you see their edit marks? It is very easy to create good looking images and post them on the Internet. They are smaller and lower resolution. Large prints, on the other hand, are a completely different story. Most of what I see from people who I am asked to endorse are just images I have seen on the Internet – the very low resolution images. How are you supposed to endorse them solely on them? You can’t.
Another criteria to look at is the service they give you. Do they meet with you prior to the shoot and advise you on making this shoot the best it can be? How about afterward to help you select the images you want to purchase? Do they even edit the images and colour correct the images? All of this adds up to service. The company or person you choose should be helping you through the whole process. Why? If you are paying for images, shouldn’t they be the best that can be captured? You shouldn’t be cattle and you shouldn’t be taken advantage of, either. For instance, one of the tactics that some people do is to classify the best images as “elite” images for whatever reason. These are images that will cost 50% or more than all the other images. If there is a special or discount deal, it rarely includes any of the images selected to be in the “elite” category.
Yet another is to look at how long they have been a photographer and taking images of people. Are they here today, and gone tomorrow? One thing that stands out with most professional photographers is that they have been trained to be photographers. They have a solid education and are constantly updating their skills with the latest technology. This also means belonging to organizations and clubs where they help others to learn the craft of photography.
If you look at most of the people who I am asked to endorse, they are just people with a modern DSLR camera usually set to full automatic and who just click away. Rarely do they offer any kind of service or help in capturing the best image that can be. They don’t have a real business and aren’t doing their job of paying the community for their income that they make, and if something happens to you while shooting, then you have to pick up the expense yourself even if it was the photographer’s fault. They more than likely won’t have any education to know what they are doing. When you see their low price, realize this is part of what you are seeing. The real pro photographers do their best to make you the best possible image they can, these other people are there to only get money from you and let you be on your way. Wouldn’t you want your images captured by a professional and for them to last a lifetime?