If you believe that a photographer’s gallery of photos and a couple of Google reviews is worth an investment, then you need to read this …
A few weeks ago, my cousin Amy (in my home town of Ottawa) reached out to me after hiring what she thought was the right photographer for her upcoming wedding. After all, the photographer’s website has a flashy portfolio of images, some positive reviews on Google and they said the right things, such as ‘listening to their clients’ and ‘meeting their needs’. However, when Amy and her fiancé Mike saw their engagement photos, they knew something was off. She sent the images to me for a second opinion and a recommendation as to what to do next. After looking at the full set of images, grinding my teeth the whole time, I told her the truth: the images were absolutely terrible. I then put her in touch with one of the many Ottawa area photographers I know, someone qualified and accredited by the Professional Photographers of Canada.
Now, before you think this is a shameless warm-and-fluffy promo piece for the PPOC, understand that it really isn’t. It’s about professionalism, experience and how a person can more accurately vet their photographer to ensure they’re hiring the right person for the job. You’ll find professional associations all over the world with the right tools and knowledge to qualify professional photographers, such as the certification program with the Professional Photographer’s of America, the qualification system with the British Institute of Professional Photography and the accreditation program with the Australian Institute of Professional Photography.
I introduced Amy to Jean Chartrand – a friend, fellow MPA and wedding photographer with years of experience – and the process of getting to know each other began. They met, talked about what she and Mike wanted, what Jean could do for them and set a date for the initial engagement session. Within a few days, I heard back from Amy with the news I’d been anticipating:
“He was great!“
“To go from a photographer who didn’t care to a photographer who really cared and took the time to work with us made a world of difference. We felt like we were worth the investment with Jean. After seeing the images, we’re comfortable spending the money with him. I know I wouldn’t have been with (the first photographer).“
“Jean was constantly communicating with us, helping with posing and taking deliberate care with each shot. He listened to us and gave us great feedback. With (the other photographer), there was no communication – they were standoffish and disinterested. They showed up with one camera in a little bag, no lighting or anything, and shot in ‘burst mode’ without giving any posing tips, and then put our images on a hand-written CD and dropped it in our mailbox! With Jean, we really felt like we had someone we could trust, who knew what they were doing.”
To be honest, I wasn’t surprised one bit. Over the past few years, I’ve personally seen a widening gulf between bonafide professional shooters and the overwhelming host of have-camera-will-travel types that are offering photography “services”, often for pennies on the dollar (and then there are the horror stories of people being completely ripped-off by straight up con artists). Far too often, these self-titled ‘professional photographers’ are displaying sharp websites populated just the right sentiments and beautiful imagery – sometimes “borrowed” from the internet, often just set up shots taken at workshops led by genuinely experienced pros – yet they’re incapable of delivering those same goods to their clients. Unfortunately, it can be difficult for the average person to see that gulf with there being more social media love being spread around than actual understanding of what it means to be a professional in this industry.
After the engagement session with Amy and Mike, I called Jean to thank him for a job well done and to ask him for his impression on the whole thing.
“I could tell after the first 10 or 15 minutes that it was going to be a good shoot. We really got along well.”
Y’know, if I’d been the other photographer, maybe I was having a bad day, but I would have been trying to make it up to them. The difference I see with accredited photographers in a professional association is that they have already proven themselves to (other) established photographers. They also make a commitment to a Code of Ethics, so clients at least have some assurance and then recourse if things go badly.“
There was a time when a person who was properly ready to offer professional services to the public would “hang out their shingle”, meaning that they were now open for business. They would set up shop and advertise with a sign hanging out front … their “shingle”. In this industry, there doesn’t exist any formal regulation or legislation required before someone can go into business as a photographer. You can, quite literally, buy a camera, register a business name and start offering services all in the same day. Fortunately for Amy and Mike, they had someone to go to for some professional advice before they went too far down the wrong road.
For those of you who don’t have the same resource, please do some research before you invest in a photographer. Hell, do a ton of research. Look past the pretty images and carefully worded ‘about’ section. Make sure they have real experience, the skills and ability to meet your needs, something that justifies the investment.
Make sure the shingle they’re hanging is actually slate, not a cheap plastic knock-off.