Finding a photographer is quite easy. I could probably throw a rock from my window right now and hit one. With cameras in our pockets, everyone is technically a photographer these days. However, because of the sheer number of photographers out there, finding the right one for your commercial photo project can be extremely difficult.
This article will discuss the best places to find a professional photographer and what to ask them to ensure they have the proper level of experience for your project.
Where to Look – A Refined Choice
Google is great and all, but if you want to save a little time in verifying that the photographer you’re hiring is a professional, I would suggest using one of the photo industry trade organization websites. The photographers on these sites have been vetted and confirmed to follow best business practices.
Photo Trade Organizations
ASMP – www.findaphotographer.org
AIAP – www.aiap.net (for finding architectural photographers)
Another resource is source-book sites. Photographers pay significant money to be listed on these websites and are only allowed to join if they meet the high-quality criteria dictated by the site. These sites are highly reputable and have upheld the industry standards for a long time. While there are a number of such sites out there, I believe the ones I advertise with cater best to art buyers:
On each of these sites, all you have to do is type in your specialty and/or location, and you’ll get a list of quality professional photographers that can serve the needs of your project.
When in Doubt, Just Ask
At the end of the day, the best way to find a photographer is often through a referral. A referral can come from any trusted source: a client, a colleague, or even another photographer. I’ve personally referred plenty of other photographers to my clients if their projects weren’t a great fit for me.
Searching the Wild Wild Web
If you still can’t find anyone on these sites and the referrals are coming up empty, your next step would be to search on Google. Here’s my main tip for finding the right kind of photographer on Google: Be specific and use “quotes”. Don’t generically search for “Photographer.” Make sure to include the specialty and location you need for your shoot. For example:
“Architectural Photographer Virginia”
“Food Photographer San Diego”
“Fashion Photographer Brooklyn”
Now, it’s important to be particularly careful when reading the results. Contrary to customary wisdom, the photographers that come up first may not be your best fit. The first 3 will be paid ads, and it’s very likely they’ve not optimized their ads for your area. Personally, I would skip past the ads and read the other results on the first page. The photographers there are usually much more relevant to your search. If location is important, go to their contact page before anything else to make sure they’re listed in your area.
Portfolio is Important, but so are Words
Once you find a photographer, definitely head straight to their about page or blog if they have one. You can get a great read on someone’s personality just by seeing how they talk about themselves and their work. Are they humble or braggy? Are they quiet or boisterous? Are they confident or conflicted? Would you want this photographer to meet your parents? Do they seem like someone you can know, like, and – most importantly – trust?
Ask The Photographer These 5 Questions
Hopefully by now you’ve found a photographer or two you like and want to inquire about their availability. But how do you know if they’re as good as they say they are? Here are some fundamental questions you ask:
1. Hey photographer, can I see a complete job (proofs and finals gallery)?
When you visit a photographer’s website, you will usually only see the best of the best. A well-edited portfolio is probably what motivated you to reach out to this photographer. This is great! Next ask the photographer if you can see a complete shoot that includes the proofs and the final images.
This will give you two important things:
- You can see how consistent they are across the entire shoot. Getting one shot is easy. Getting 10 consistently good shots separates the pros from the amateurs.
- You can see how well they shoot in camera and how much retouching they do. This will help you understand their creative process and know what to expect for deliverables.
Here is one of my client galleries you can see as an example: https://go.lbpho.to/client-gallery
2. Hey photographer, can I see a full resolution image?
Megapixels and camera brands, though important, don’t matter much if the shot is not in focus or the retouching is inferior.
On the web, images are sized down and many technical errors are masked by the reduction.
Ask the photographer for a full resolution photograph from their website that closely matches your needs. Open that file in Photoshop and view it at 100% (Cmd-Opt-0 Mac or Ctrl-Opt-0 PC). Review the photo closely and look for sharpness, detail, focus, color fringing, dust, and poor retouching techniques like repeating patterns. Then print the image as you would print it for your own needs.
If it looks good to you, then great! You’ve found a photographer who knows how to handle their files.
Here is one of my high-resolution photographs as an example. https://go.lbpho.to/high-rez
3. Hey photographer, do you shoot RAW?
A RAW image is a digital negative and is the industry standard.
It contains the maximum amount of color and uncompressed detail from the camera’s sensor. It allows greater flexibility for coloring and toning than a standard JPEG. You are able to save highlights and boost shadows. A RAW image provides total control for the highest quality output.
And it’s non-destructive, which means any changes you make to the file can be undone anytime, forever.
Here is one of my RAW files: https://go.lbpho.to/raw
(Note, you will need Adobe Camera RAW 7.1 or later to read this file)
4. Hey photographer, how will I review photos during our shoot?
When you’re working with a photographer on set and it’s critical that you review the shots he or she is getting. You don’t want to be viewing them on the back of the camera. It’s just too small and too hard to judge sharpness, composition, detail, etc on that tiny little screen.
A photographer can tell what they need from the camera’s screen, but you need to see it big.
You should be looking at the shots on a large screen such as a laptop, external monitor, an iMac, or at the very least, a tablet.
5. Hey photographer, how will you backup the files from the shoot?
It’s not if the hard drive will fail, it’s when. There is a golden rule for backup of digital assets called the 3-2-1 Rule: 3 Backups, 2 Types of Media, 1 Off-site. I typically shoot to a card and a laptop simultaneously and then automatically backup to an external drive. My assistant will take the backup drive home and there we have the 3-2-1.
But that’s not secure enough for me…
After the shoot, all media is downloaded to a RAID hard drive and uploaded for cloud storage (RAW Files and all). After a shoot is delivered, final images, edit files, and RAW selects are placed in long term cloud storage and backed up on my studio hard drives.
At the very least, your photographer should be following the 3-2-1 Rule. If not, I’d request a copy of the files immediately after the shoot so you can back it up yourself.
I learned a lot about Digital Asset Management from Peter Krogh’s great book, The DAM Book (in its third printing). If you or one of your team members is in charge of media assets, I highly recommend it.
Here is a link to it on Amazon: https://amzn.to/2N7TMQg
Thanks for Reading!
I really hope this article helps you find a great photographer for your next project. This is just an overview of some fundamental validations you can use to vet any photographer you hire. Definitely add your own to get a complete picture of who you’re about to work with.