What a Photographer Looks For in a Photographer (6 Tips for Choosing a Portrait Photographer)

Having high-quality maternity portraits was important to me when I was pregnant with our son, for both sentimental and professional reasons. Out of the masses, I picked Rachel Williams, Owner of Photographic Designs in Tulsa, OK and couldn’t be happier with the results, sprinkled throughout this post.

Like everywhere else today, there are thousands of portrait photographers in Oklahoma; further, I know many of them personally through industry events and forums. Consequently, the process of choosing one was a bit daunting. I imagine it is equally overwhelming, or more so, for non-photographers. So, I thought I’d pass along some tips to those of you that are shopping for a portrait photographer based on my own criteria.

  1. On-Location Experience.  I looked for a portfolio that demonstrated solid on-location results because I was on hospital bed rest when we shot our maternity portraits and knew we’d have to shoot our maternity session at the hospital. Rachel regularly shoots in outdoor settings around Oklahoma, so I trusted her to make the most of a difficult location. Additionally, we only had about 20-25 minutes to shoot (because of my bed rest restrictions), so I needed a photographer that could move quickly because they had already mastered their camera, lighting, and posing. Incredibly, Rachel managed to get a couple dozen poses in several different areas of us in 25 minutes! (If this sounds easy…try it sometime. :))
  2. Post-Production Skills. I knew Rachel would get good results in camera, but because we shot in a small garden on hospital grounds, I knew the images would need significant editing. No one would ever guess these were taken at a hospital!
  3. An Established Studio.  I choose a photographer that owns and operates a studio as well as shoots a location, because I knew I’d want studio portraits for our newborn photos. I planned to hire the same photographer for both shoots to ensure a consistent look. Rachel has a beautiful portfolio of in-studio newborn portraits. 
  4. A Master of Off-Camera Lighting.  “Natural Light Photographers” are abundant. They are generally those that do not use lighting because they do not know how. There is nothing wrong with that – I am certainly not a master of lighting (yet). But if you know you’ll need off-camera light to achieve the look you want then hiring a photographer with lighting expertise is a must. For example, if you want a sunset background, you need off-camera light. Otherwise, you get flare (which for some reason is a crazy popular trend right now) and/or a silhouetted foreground. Rachel uses off-camera light both on-location and in-studio. She understands speed lights and strobes. She also partners with her extremely talented husband Joe Glyda in this area. Can you say “power couple?” Joe has a long career in commercial (food) photography and has been one of my mentors since moving to OK.
  5. High Quality Products.  I knew I wanted heirloom-quality prints for our son – and his children – to have decades from now; not just flimsy Snapfish albums or Facebook profile photos. All it takes to destroy digital photos is a surge or a virus or a break-in. The print is still king! So I looked for a photographer that could offer archival prints, and made the investment.
  6. Restricted Use of Digital Images. You read that right. I wanted a photographer to restrict my use of our digital files! Unlimited usage of digital files for a low price is usually indicative of a beginner or hobbyist photographer (i.e. “all-of-your-files-on-CD for $100”) and I wanted a seasoned pro. More experienced photographers either charge a high rate for digital files with print release, or provide watermarked, web-quality files for each pose ordered in print form for two main reasons: 1) they understand the industry standards around copyright and usage and 2) they’ve developed a sustainable business model over time. This is not meant to be critical of beginners, but rather, be illustrative of the signs of a more experienced photographer if experience is important to you.

While prioritizing the above factors when photographer shopping will most likely require a greater financial investment, it will also surely generate better results for you and your family to enjoy for generations to come.

Thank you to Rachel (and Joe!) for your excellent work, for elevating our profession every day, and for absolutely nailing this shoot under very challenging circumstances. See you soon with our Rawley in your studio!

– HBA

P.S. Special thanks to Tina Mosier and Cyndi Taylor-Black for hair and makeup, respectively. I highly recommend all three of these ladies!  Dress-Motherhood Maternity; shoes-Rocket Dogs; Necklace-found on Etsy.

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About Holly Baumann Photography

I am Holly Baumann Ambuehl, a commercial and portrait photographer based in Central Illinois. My blog posts feature client work, but I just love to write, so I also write about owning a business, food and drink, travel, and my personal life! I am always honored when clients trust me to capture their vision, and equally so when my readers converse with me about what I've photographed or expressed here. I hope we'll have an opportunity to collaborate professionally and/or become friends. I'd love to hear what you think! - Holly
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