How to recognise a quality photographer
Need help choosing from the thousands of photographers offering their services? These are my tips that will help you find the right quality photographer for you.
Recently, I got to thinking about the insane range of photographers offering their services. It must be difficult for brands or really anyone looking for a photographer to pick from the vast amount of options. This article provides some guidelines that will help clients find a quality photographer. It could also help fellow photographers get their game together. Please note that I’ve included some of my own work with this article, but I’ll leave the question of whether or not I’m worthy of the label of a quality photographer to the reader. In order to refrain from any potential boasting, I’ll mostly be referring to the work of some other photographers.
Their portfolio (website) shows a coherent theme
Quite possibly the biggest red flag of lack of quality and professionalism is for a photographer to display a large range of themes in his portfolio. The old saying of jack of all trades, master of none comes to mind.
I’ve seen dozens of photographers’ portfolio websites displaying albums for family photos, cars, architecture, newborn photography and yes, even nudes, all on one page. Of course it’s perfectly fine to try shooting a large range of subjects. However, focusing only on one subject or niche will enable a photographer to become very familiar with it. If you’re looking for a quality photographer to shoot a specific subject, then look for someone whose portfolio displays loads of that subject. It sounds almost too logical, but is easy to forget.
One example that comes to mind is my colleague Jerome Wassenaar, who shoots cars. His website displays only cars, though he does approach the subject from a number of different angles. There’s your detail shots, driving shots but also lifestyle shots showing people interacting with the car. His website even shows some travel shots with people taking their car for an adventure. The single common denominator is always cars. Through displaying a number of different approaches on the subject, Jerome showcases his extreme familiarity with cars.
Their work shows a consistent editing style
When visiting other photographers’ portfolios, I love seeing a super consistent editing style. Of course, different projects can call for a different treatment in post-processing, but it’s still nice to see some form of continuity. This tells me the photographer is not still in the phase of experimenting and trying different styles, but has instead fully matured.
To show this concept in practice, I invite you to visit the website of my fellow quality photographer Jurian Kriebel. Jurian has actually helped me out with the retouching of my recent shoot for Qurrent. However, he focuses mainly on doing photography himself. When I look at his images I see a very consistent editing style. His images are clean and often minimalist or slightly abstract, oftentimes shot in a studio environment. A fair bit of retouching has been done, but the subject always retains its natural look. No extensive creative effects are added, instead Jurian relies on the cleanliness and simplicity of his images. Through presenting this consistent editing style, Jurian is basically telling potential clients: I can deliver this quality and style every single time.
They don’t show virtually duplicate photos
Part of the job description of photographers is selecting the best images. I sometimes see photographers post large albums with many shots that are pretty much the same, Oftentimes they were taken within seconds of each other. To me, this just screams amateur. It means this photographer can’t objectively judge his own work and has a hard time picking their best images. Of course, from a client perspective, it may sound nice to receive a large set of images. In the end though, this only means the photographer can’t spend as much time editing each image. Had the selection been smaller, he could’ve crafted each image to perfection. Naturally, this doesn’t mean photographers shouldn’t allow their clients to pick their final images from a large set of unedited photos.
One photographer that has really inspired me in this and many other respects is Jeremy Snell. The color, light and mood of his images is stellar. While Jeremy ticks all the boxes mentioned in the previous two points, he also managed to only display truly unique images on his portfolio website. While the images present a coherent body of work, no two images are alike.
Their work doesn’t show weird faces or suboptimal body positions
The human body, and specifically the face, are a very dynamic thing. They are nearly constantly in motion and their appearance is ever changing. Part of the curse of photography is that it’s able to capture a facial expression or bodily position at one specific instance. Even in the case of the most athletic and pretty models imaginable, some of these instances will look, let’s say, suboptimal. A person’s mouth may be opened in an awkward manner or their eyes could be closed. When people start running it gets even more interesting. Nine times out of ten, a photo of a person running won’t show them as powerful and fast as they really were. This is all due to the exact position of their legs, and whether both feet are on the floor or suspended mid air. A quality photographer will always keep shooting until they’ve shot a perfect frame. He’ll also absolutely only display the ones where the subjects look their very best, be it in their facial expressions or the position of their body.
Their images are clean from visual distractions, or purposefully ‘messy’
Photographers should take full responsibility for what’s visible in their frames. This could be through changing the actual environment they’re shooting in. It can also be accomplished by choosing where to point their cameras, and through retouching. Every element that’s visible in the frame has to be there for a reason. Other infamous examples include lamp posts, fire extinguishers and electrical sockets. On a more general level, pretty much any element that doesn’t add to the story or feel of the image should be excluded.
My biggest inspiration of all time in photography has got to be Joey L. This Canadian born photographer has managed to produce extremely high quality images with the utmost respect for his subjects. He’s often shooting in difficult conditions and approaches the subject in his own distinct way. Many of his images show a neat and clean frame. Yet sometimes, Joey will place an out of focus object in the foreground, in a sense making the frame a bit messy. This always feels entirely purposeful though, and never like a mistake. What’s more, this gives the image some additional depth and visual interest.
A quality photographer is flexible and assertive
This one’s a bit different from the previous points. I feel that in the end, clients should look for photographers that are flexible and show an assertive attitude. You’re looking for someone to fix your problem. At its core, your problem is to obtain a set of images that will somehow help you accomplish something. The road to accomplishing that thing is not always clear from the outset. You want your photographer to be part of the team that will help you get there. When you have to take a different route, you want your photographer to be flexible. Of course I’m not saying you can be a diva and pressure your photographer into meeting unrealistic and ever changing demands. What I am saying is that you need to find a photographer that is easy to work with.
You may be interested in this piece: 5 ways I try to make life easier for my clients
What’s more, your ideal photographer should be assertive and easy to communicate with.
It may be hard to gauge these things before having actually worked with them. However, how photographers deal with your initial inquiry can give a very good impression of what it’ll be like to work with them. Ideally, the response shouldn’t take too long, and a genuine interest in getting to know you and what you’re looking for should be shown.