Photographer Profile

My name is Melissa Howell and I specialize in custom portrait design for your home. You can visit my official photography website at to view more of my work and to contact me to set up a consultation.

Friday, September 9, 2011

How to Choose a Great Photographer

(This is a repost from last year, but I feel it's full of great information that bears repeating).

Pick me! Pick me! That's all you need to know.

O.K., seriously folks, I ran across the website of another photographer tonight, and I started thinking about how people pick someone to photograph their children and families. I realized that it may be difficult to separate the good photographers from the bad, and to be able to tell what really "good" photography is. You may have had a friend come to you, giving you glowing reports about a photographer and showing you the cute pictures of their smiling children. Cute smiling kids must equal a great photographer, right? Not necessarily. Please consider the following:

Most new photographers suffer from a terrible syndrome. It is called "I am so awesome that I can hardly believe I'm real." I admit that I suffered from this syndrome at one point. Even though I had seen photography from really, really great and famous photographers, I somehow could not see that my photography was woefully lacking compared to theirs. All I knew is that my friends said I was awesome, and that was good enough for me. Of course, this syndrome was also tempered by the "I'm so terrible I can't believe people would actually pay me money" syndrome. This is a good syndrome to have! It pushed me to learn and grow and increase my skills. Unfortunately, some photographers only have the first syndrome, and never the second. Here are the telltale signs:

1. They post all 247 pictures from a session on their website with no editing whatsoever. There are loads of blurry pictures, images of babies crawling out of the scene, and even pictures that are corrupted where most of the frame is green.

2. They do "selective color," and do it badly. Everybody loves the black and white pictures of the little girl where only the pink rose is in color. But watch out for abnormally-colored eyes and other wonky colors that look fake. It means they probably are. Selective color should be used sparingly and add to the feel of the picture. It shouldn't be done just because Photoshop makes it possible.

3. They charge too little for their sessions and prints. I once read a book about photography that gave the advice to avoid any photographer who charged less than $100 for a session. At the time, I charged less than $100, so I thought this was bad advice. Looking back, I can tell you that it is, in fact, very good advice. Good photography is an investment. If you only want to pay for cheap photography, you'll get cheap photography. I understand that not everybody can afford hundred-dollar sessions. In my mind, it's something worth saving up for. You want beautiful portraits that will stand the test of time and not be thrown in a drawer.

4. Good photography is all about the light. A tell-tale sign of an amateur photographer is little round pinpoints of white in the eyes of his subjects. This means he has used on-camera flash, which is a total mood-killer and makes the pictures look anything but professional. Good light should most often come from the side, and you should be able to see a catchlight in the eyes. It can be any shape and come from any direction (especially in natural-light situations) but it should rarely be right in the middle of the pupil! Good professional photographers can use flash and make it not look like flash, and it is used most often to enhance the light, not be the main light source. Many wedding photographers have to use flash because of the lighting situations they encounter, but they will diffuse it or bounce it, or do most anything not to aim it directly at their subjects. If you see a stark, very definite shadow cast by the subject, the photographer has used on-camera flash.

Whew! I could go on and on. But the next time you are considering a photographer, really look at their pictures and evaluate them for more than just whether or not the subject is smiling. Choose wisely, my friends!

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