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  • Brian V. Berry

How to Select a Photographer

Updated: Aug 12, 2020

Because of advances in digital technology, mastering the use of digital cameras or creating digital images is easier than ever before; therefore, you should be wary of people claiming to be photographers - when they are really just "men or women with cameras!" While these folks might get the exposure right (sometimes by accident), there are tell-tale signs that indicate that they don't even rate among talented or competent amateurs - let alone professionals! Critically look at the images in their portfolios... While I'm clearly not the finest photographer/artist out there, I do have an opinion on the basic skills a photographer should have and the techniques they should know to use. Here are come common mistakes by beginner photographers you should look for...

Common Mistakes Made by Beginning Photographers

1) Focus. Are the subjects in their pictures in focus? Do they look soft? Is their soft appearance by design or by accident? Most often, you'll find that their camera was not focused properly (back-focused or foreground-focused) or has slight motion blur. And of course, it's simply stunning that they don't even try to correct blur (if they can) in post production. This, alone, should set off flags in your mind.

2) Incorrect Cropping. Look carefully for bad crops... Hands, finger tips, feet, and toes should not be cut off - but commonly are by beginners! Having your photographs incorrectly or accidentally cropped can bring about disturbing feelings to you and your friends. Unless unconventional crops were done for an artistic look and feel, there are specific rules for cropping. Most often than not, they are accidental. No need to say more... You'll know when you're looking at an improperly cropped photograph if it doesn't seem right to you or gives you the heebie jeebies!

3) Composition. A kin to cropping, good composition can be the difference between a good photograph or a "so so" photograph. Take a good look at their images... Are their images interesting? Do the subjects get lost in their images? These are composition issues and they are indicative of someone still learning portrait photography as a craft.

Does the photographer use the "Rule of Thirds?" Is the subject's head or whole body always centered in images. In general, having the subject's head and shoulders in the upper third of the image makes for a more interesting photograph. With whole bodies, sometimes placement in the first or last third, horizontally, makes for a more interesting image.

Do they make use of leading lines in the setting? Do objects in the foreground, running to the background, help lead you, as a viewer, to the subject? Typically, good photographers exploit walls, fences, train tracks and other features to create lines to their subject. If you see objects like these in their images, where they can be used to create leading lines and they're unused, that should clue you in that the photographer is still learning his/her craft. What about horizons? Are they straight? Are they where they're expected to be? These are common beginner mistakes... Unless the photographer is looking for a more artistic effect, horizons should run straight across the photograph and they should not run through the subject's head. Personally, I like them to run at or below the subject's shoulders. At the edges, check for upward curves... If you see these curves, they are due to lens distortion at wide-angle focal lengths. This kind of distortion can and should be corrected in post production. Was the image's distortion intentional for an artistic effect - or was it accidental? If this type of lens distortion occurs frequently in their portfolio, it's probably not for artistic style!

What about subject separation? This is the difference between a good photograph and a "snapshot." If the background is just as in-focused as the subject, you have a classic snap shot. No need to hire a photographer if anyone can produce the same quality image with their mobile phone - right? . Competent photographers try to separate their subjects by either blurring out (sometimes creating a bokeh effect) or subduing the background. Finally, in regard to composition, look at the background and foreground in the setting of images... Are there any distracting objects? A seasoned photographer will typically try to prevent this from happening while the image is being captured. However, if this happens, and sometime it does, distracting objects should be removed in post. This goes for rubbish and unwanted clutter in the background or foreground. If this type of distraction is a common occurrence in their portfolio, it's time to move on. 4) Images taken in Harsh Lighting Conditions. Not all lighting condition are perfect... But a seasoned photographer will know to either avoid them or compensate for them. Check to see if there subjects have unusual shadowing... Do they have raccoon eyes or look a little like Frankenstein? Is the background blown out or too bright with the subject shadowed? Are foreheads, arms, legs or other highlighted areas blown out? Hard to believe, but look around... You might find some of these in a portfolio! Also look for flat-appearing faces... Faces should have some shadowing to create the appearance of depth... Flat looking faces are unflattering and caused by the improper use of strobes or flashes. If this is consistent in their portfolio, they haven't mastered using light equipment and this could be important in your next shoot in order to compensate for less than ideal natural or artificial lighting conditions.

Experience in the Genre' or Work You Want Performed

Some photographers specialize in a specific genre' (fashion, boudoir, cosplay, etc.) or type of work such as weddings and events. And of course, some of them may have their own distinct style. It's important to chose the photographer who has experience in the work you want performed and a style consistent to your liking. Spend time looking at their portfolios and be sure to ask questions before booking or contracting with them. Hire the photographer you feel comfortable with or have confidence in. Happy Shopping!

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