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When hiring a photographer one will obviously take a look at their work, but before even doing that what kind of questions can I ask to gauge there skill, knowledge, performance etc

Some questions already have some general answers to help one choose a photographer- How do I choose a professional photographer for my wedding or newborn? and What makes a client choose a professional photographer?

One of the purposes/benefits of this question is from the photographers point of view- what questions might i have to answer to and what questions do I ask myself in order to see what areas i can improve in.

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When I hired a pro photographer, the only thing I asked was "have you done this kind of events before?" and his answer "yes, quite a few of them" was good enough for me. He got the job. –  Esa Paulasto May 9 '13 at 14:35
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I'd suggest that choosing a good photographer is more than just asking questions. I'd say what they ask you is probably more important. If they really know what they are doing, they are going to have questions about your event that you don't even know to mention. If they just sit there answering your questions and don't have any questions for you, you have either done an exceptional job of telling them everything they need to know (unlikely) or they don't know what details you forgot to mention. If you intentionally leave out key details you can see if they ask about them. –  AJ Henderson May 9 '13 at 14:50
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Matt Grum already answered this question beautifully in your linked to question - photo.stackexchange.com/a/3705/4892 What do you think this is missing? I don't see the need for this question as well as is. –  dpollitt May 9 '13 at 14:57
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@dpollitt all of these Q&As tell you to look at the portfolio & check out references etc but since i dont have unlimited web access its hard for me to just take a look at their portfolios so 1st im looking for preliminary Qs to ask & then ill take a look at their work (probably not online) –  Pastel May 9 '13 at 15:03
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What, specifically, do you need to know that is not addressed in the other questions? There is no way to tell how competent a photographer is by talking to them - you have to let the work speak for itself. That is unless your top priority is more along the lines of hiring a photographer who fits in at the party than it is hiring a photographer who captures creative, high quality images. –  Michael Clark May 9 '13 at 15:56

2 Answers 2

up vote 6 down vote accepted

In my opinion you are asking the wrong question. First of all, you shouldn't ask questions of a professional that you would like to hire before taking a look at their portfolio. That is the complete opposite of what I would do. This is a rule, steadfast, true:

Let the work speak for itself¹

Does the photographer have an excellent portfolio full of the type of work you adore and find exceptional? Then match this with someone who fits into your budget and you have yourself a perfect hire. You can spend all day asking questions, but nothing will ever come close to seeing the finished product, and knowing that the photographer is capable of producing work that you are pleased with.

Once you have identified a photographer with work that most closely aligns with your desires, then you can get into questioning to ensure the match will make sense.

Some questions I would advise would include:

  • Pricing, including sitting fee, print fees, packages, inclusions and exclusions
  • What to expect at each stage of the process, prior to the shoot, during, and post shoot
  • Insurance coverage and professional associations
  • How many photographers and assistants will be part of the shoot
  • Time allowance and rates for additional time
  • Copyright or ability to print images, and the count
  • Website presentation, sharing, proofing, access to final images
  • Time required to turn around proofs and final images
  • Number of venues or "looks" included, if limited
  • Access to complete past similar event collections
  • Use of backup equipment and "disaster" processes
  • Who will actually be shooting, the owner or associates
  • Who photographs the engagement session, and will it be the same person(for weddings)

Of course you will want to see, read, and sign a contract to set all items in stone. Make sure to ask any questions on items you do not understand or need clarification on. A proper contract protects the photographer, client, and guests from a variety of issues. As a client it is just as important to demand one as a photographer to use one.

Based on a comment to the original question, if you are interested in the photographers personality(which you should be), I would advise a 1 on 1 in person meeting over coffee before any shoots take place. The reasoning for my tip above around asking who will photograph the engagement session, stems from my belief that for a very critical "once in a lifetime" type event such as a wedding - it is best to have grown comfortable with the same photographer during at least one previous shoot. The engagement session for a wedding is a great time to get accustomed to each other, from both sides of the camera. If your personalities are completely incompatible, this is when you will find out with some certainty. Leaving this determination until the day of your wedding is not advised if at all possible. I also believe that to come to a solid conclusion, the only way to do this is by trial, with a real photo shoot or at a minimum an in person meeting. If the shoot is somewhat less crucial and could be reproduced such as a business headshot, these steps are not nearly as crucial.

You will find a theme throughout this response. Photography is a visual form of art, so seeing the results is of utmost importance. The questions are really only secondary to finding a photographer who is a perfect match for your needs.

¹One great image in 10,000 shots does not constitute "work", see details further in answer.

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What rights do they give for photos?

Rights can be a tricky and costly thing depending on how they have their pricing structured. It's often possible to end up spending more on getting copies of photos after the event than you spend on having the photographer at the event.

What is provided with the cost?

Similar to the previous question. Make sure you clearly understand what you are being sold in detail. Know what is included and what is extra to avoid surprises after the event.

What services have additional cost?

Often additional services are available for an extra fee. What are they and how much are they?

What equipment will you be using?

This one is a little more useful if you know a bit about camera gear, but you certainly want at least a few good lenses and at least two camera bodies. Also, note that the gear doesn't necessarily have to be the best, but they should be able to speak with confidence about their gear and have very solid knowledge of their tools. You'd likely be better off with a guy with a point and shoot that knows exactly what it can and can't do and how to get great shots with it than someone with a $20k kit that doesn't know which end to point at the subject.

What backup equipment and measures do you take?

For events backup gear is critical. It doesn't have to be as good as the main gear, but in the unlikely event that something goes wrong, they need a backup. They need at least one extra camera body, extra batteries, extra memory cards and multiple lenses that can handle the core duty for the event.

How long have you been doing this?

Knowing someone's experience is always helpful. Even if they have the best eye on the planet, experience is the only way to get good at dealing with problems on the fly without it causing a loss in quality.

Will you have additional shooters working with you? How many photographers are you getting? This is important because even the best photographer may miss some shots and can only shoot from one angle at a time. Multiple photographers gives more options, more angles and more redundancy.

What formal background, if any, do you have in photography? If no formal background, how did you learn the field?

This is similar to how long they have been doing it. Knowing how they were trained and if it is something they just picked up on their own or if it is something they have additional study in is good to know. There are still some educated "pros" that are not as good as a really skilled person that just picked it up and started shooting and learned as they went, but it does give an idea of background.

For extra credit I'll throw in a few things you can try doing to see if the photographer is paying attention and knows their stuff.

Don't mention where the event is. In particular, indoor vs outdoor weddings have vastly different requirements. Also, the layout of the space matters for figuring out what lenses and how many photographers would be needed to cover it effectively.

For weddings specifically, don't mention photos of getting ready. This is an easy one for inexperienced photographers to overlook, but an experienced photographer should ask about if you want photos while getting ready the day of the wedding.

Again for weddings, Don't mention the rehearsal. It isn't necessarily critical, but it is certainly highly beneficial for the photographer to see the space prior to the event if they have not seen it before. If they don't ask about it, ask if they've shot at that location before. It still doesn't hurt for them to know about the order of things, but knowing the space is the most critical.

See how generally helpful they are. This isn't a guarantee that they don't know what they are doing if they don't do it, but if they have a lot of experience in the event space that you are working with, chances are good that they'll have general commentary and advise on your event in general. When you work event's you learn about more than just your own role and you know what works well and what doesn't.

If they don't volunteer information, you could try asking them more specifically for their thoughts about things related to your type of event. On the one hand they aren't your event planner, but if they know the type of event well, it shouldn't be a hard conversation for them to participate in.

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I personally wouldn't touch a "shoot and burn" photographer (someone who would give high-rez digital files and reproduction rights before the event "ages out" without a substantial extra license fee); it indicates that they don't care very much about the presentation of their work, and that's a pretty good proxy for quality concerns overall. –  user2719 May 9 '13 at 19:26
    
@Dpollitt - if they are good with low end equipment, they'll be able to back up why they use that gear when asked. It's more about seeing how well they know their gear. –  AJ Henderson May 9 '13 at 19:58
    
@StanRogers - I can see an argument going either way with this one. The flip side of it is that they may see themselves as a contractor providing a service to an individual and thus the individual should have access to the whole body of work. I actually have a package where I give rights and digital images to the client because I see myself as acting as a contractor in that regard, but I still have a very high degree of care about the presentation of my work. I just don't mind if they make what I would consider a derivative of my work. –  AJ Henderson May 9 '13 at 20:05
    
@dpollitt - I just edited it in response to your first comment. :) –  AJ Henderson May 9 '13 at 20:06
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@Regmi - I don't think anyone would argue that good gear isn't a good idea to have. I think the stronger point is that good gear doesn't make a good photographer, but good photographers can make up for ok but not the greatest gear. A cheap SLR is going to take very good photos, it's just a whole heck of a lot harder to work with than the professional gear and not as durable. It also doesn't take quite as good of images, but the price is not justified by the difference in image quality, but the dependability and ease of use (for someone that knows their craft). –  AJ Henderson May 9 '13 at 22:10

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