When searching for a portrait photographer, choosing who to hire can be daunting. As you’ve probably already figured out, a search of “Sonoma county portrait photographer” will paralyze you with the number of results. So if you don’t have a friend’s recommendation, how do you choose who to go with?
As a local portrait photographer, I’d like to share some quick tips to help you find the best person for your intended session. If that photographer happens to be me, that’s fantastic! If my style or approach isn’t your cup of tea, that’s okay too! My goal with this post is to give you some industry insider tips to help you choose the best person for you.
Finding the best photographer for your intended session comes down to four things:
- What type of portraits you want.
- Choosing a style.
- Finding a person you like.
- Deciding how much you’re willing to spend.
Once you know what to consider, it’s not that hard to choose a photographer you’ll be happy with. That said there are also some sneaky tricks some photographers use make themselves appear more enticing then they actually are. By showing you what to be skeptical about, this post will also help you avoid hucksters.
Some shady tactics photographers use include:
What Type of Portraits Are you Looking for?
The first thing you need to think about is what type of portraits you want. Genres include things like milestone portraits, children’s portraits, engagement photos, maternity portraits, business headshots, wedding photos, etc.
It’s important to hire a photographer with a portfolio you love and let them guide you through their process. Remember that photographers are creative people. Creative people always have a unique process that allows them to craft images like they show in their portfolios.
For example, if a portfolio doesn’t show headshots, that photographer likely wouldn’t be well suited to capture yours. Similarly, if you ask a photographer to create portraits in a different style then they show, that would also be unrealistic.
To illustrate this point, in my portfolio I show portraits, headshots and weddings. The overarching theme of my portfolio is that I capture people. You’ll notice that I don’t show product photography in my galleries. Thus, I would probably be a poor choice to photograph your company’s product.
A photographer’s portfolio reflects what they’ve practiced most and the service they want to provide for you. It also shows what you can expect your images to look like when you hire them. A photographer’s portfolio is basically their visual resume. It’s arguably the most powerful tool you have to help decide on the best person hire.
What Style Portraits Do You Want Your Photographer to Capture?
If you are unsure what makes a good portrait, this post articulates the 5 elements all great portraits consider. Once you know these elements, it then becomes super easy identify good portraits, and what you like stylistically.
Style is something very personal, and just because a photographer creates great work, doesn’t mean you’ll like it. I don’t like Pink Floyd, but I recognize that the band has created some of the most iconic art of their generation. Pink Floyd is a great band, and I don’t like them.
The same is true when choosing a photographer. It’s possible for a person to create great portraits and for some to not like the style of their work. It doesn’t necessarily mean it’s bad, it might just mean it’s not your cup of tea.
In my portfolio you’ll notice that my images are classically posed, low key, images with dramatic, precise lighting. If you prefer openly lit, candid photography with VSCO toning, I probably wouldn’t be a good person to create the photos you want.
In short, it’s important to understand what fundamentally makes a great photo. Once you understand those elements, choosing the best photographer for you simply comes down to choosing a photographer who’s style you love.
Finding a Sonoma County Portrait Photographer You like
Finding a Sonoma county portrait photographer who’s work you love is only half the battle. If you love the person’s work, but can’t stand the person, getting portraits like they show becomes much harder. This is because getting good portraits is mostly about connection and communication between subject and photographer.
Once you find a photographer who’s work you love, it’s not a bad idea to jump on a video or audio call with them to discuss your intended session.
This is important not only to discuss specifics of your photoshoot but also to see whether or not you get along with them. If you like the photographer, their style and they specialize in the type of portraits you need, you’ll likely love what they create for you.
How Much Does A Professional Portrait Cost In Sonoma County?
The short answer is it depends on who you hire. Some photographers charge hundreds while others charge significantly more. There are two main business models photographers use to charge for their services. The first is called “shoot and burn” and the other is “shoot and order.”
Shoot and Burn
Less expensive photographers tend to use the “shoot and burn” model. This model also generally produces lower quality images.
In this model the photographer charges for a fixed amount of session time and provides a full online gallery of images from the photo shoot. The term shoot and burn harkens back to a few years ago when photographers would shoot the session and then burn the images to a CD or USB drive.
Today photographers use this same model but deliver the images via an online gallery. The concept is basically the same, but technologically superior now that everything is delivered via an online gallery.
Shoot and burners charge anywhere from $300 – $1000 depending on how long you want to be photographed, the number of outfit changes, etc.
The shoot and burn model tends to produce lower quality final photos out of necessity to meet the lower price point. To create images this cheaply, the photographer can only quickly edit the portraits using filters and presets.
In this model skin is also edited using facetune like filters. These filters basically blur skin texture to remove imperfections. Filters can look passible to the untrained eye when viewed small on a phone. They can also quickly make you cringe if you view them on anything larger such as wall art or in an album.
Shoot and Order
More expensive photographers use a model called “shoot and order.” This model produces the highest quality portraits because the photographer is paid based on how many photos you love rather than how long the photo shoot is.
In this model the photographer generally charges a small session fee and for any images you choose to purchase from the session. This model financially incentivized the photographer to create the best set of images for you, so that you want to buy them all at the ordering session.
Photographers that use the shoot and order model tend to spend significantly more time on their client’s images which is why they are more expensive. Since these images are crafted to be displayed larger in albums or as wall art, every image delivered is meticulously retouched by hand rather than by a filter or preset.
Shoot and order is the model I use because I want to create the highest quality images I can for my clients. I also don’t limit photo shoot durations because shoot and order compensates me based on the quality and quantity of images I deliver.
For example, a session with me starts at $1,770 and can settle out to be many times this amount. As a reference point, most of my clients spend somewhere between 3k–6K for their collections. You can check out my price menu here if you’d like to see an a la carte breakdown of my fees.
Things To Watch Out For When Hiring a Sonoma County Portrait Photographer
Now that you know what to consider when hiring a Sonoma county portrait photographer, it’s important to discuss a few things to be skeptical about. Some of these things are perfectly fine in the right context and used car salesman slimy in others.
Things like garbage photography awards, models implied as clients, and bait and switch editing are all common. The following are a few things everyone should be aware of when searching for a portrait photographer.
Meaningless Awards for Portrait Photographers
Ever visited a car dealership and walked by some salesman’s office with a million glass awards sitting on a shelf. Well photographers do that same garbage by putting different awards on their websites in an attempt to look more impressive. Awards are stupid. Call me crazy, but I’m more impressed by a beautiful portfolio using my own judgement then some circle of service bullshit award.
For example, some websites supposedly curate the “best” photographers of the year for particular regions. They claim that consumers nominate these photographers for the award. These organizations then email the photographer and ask them to display their award badges on their website. Photographers do this with the promise of getting access to the organizations leads and back links to their web pages. The award badge to the right (below on mobile) is one of many examples of this.
I’ve “won” these “awards” before. My favorite part about one of these organizations is that after “winning,” they told me I could purchase a trophy. That’s right for only $100 you can buy yourself a physical “award” to remind everyone how awesome you are. This is without entering into any contest via a cold email mind you.
I spit my coffee all over my computer and couldn’t stop laughing when I first read that email. Even funnier is that there are Sonoma county photographers doing everything mentioned above right now.
Awards With Clout
If you care about peer recognition, there are some awards with clout in the portrait and wedding community. The portrait masters for example is a newer organization well regarded among the contemporary portrait crowd.
WPPI is an annual conference that also gives awards for portrait and wedding photographers. WPPI is generally also well thought of in the photography community and has also been around longer than the portrait masters.
Awards for art has always struck me as a silly idea. At any rate, there are a handful of respected organizations, like those mentioned, that you can look to for guidance while you learn what to look for.
With that knowledge you can then rely on your own judgment rather than someone else’s when evaluating a photographer’s skill level.
Models Implied as Clients in Photographer’s Portfolios
Another thing you should be aware of when commissioning a portrait photographer is that most photographers feature models in their portfolios. This is absolutely legitimate in some instances because models sometimes commission photographers for headshots and portraits for their own portfolios. I even feature a few models in mine. The vast majority of the people I feature in my portfolio however are everyday people I direct to look like they do.
This is important because most people aren’t comfortable in front of the camera. If someone is selling themselves as able to direct anyone towards confidence in their photos they should demonstrate that truthfully. Instead some feature models who know how to work their angles and then imply they are ordinary people they directed.
A common manifestation of this scenario is among wedding photographers. This usually happens when photographers collaborate with other vendors to create promotional images. Photographers, models, dress designers, florists, and venues work together to create these images. The portraits then make their way into the photographer’s portfolio and are used as promotional images to attract clients for real weddings.
If you suspect this scenario and are nervous about it, a simple check is to ask the photographer to show some finished wedding albums from past clients. The promotional images mentioned above will never be in a finished wedding album.
The reason for this is because nobody ever stages all parts of a wedding for a promotional photo shoot. Usually only formal and creative portraits are staged. To fake a whole wedding album would require vendors to stage getting ready photos, a ceremony and reception. Since most of these promotional photo shoots are done on a shoe string budget, this never happens.
Low Quality Bait and Switch Photo Editing
I actually didn’t realize this was a thing until I attended a photo workshops a few years back. In the workshop the photographer was talking about their process with their clients. When the topic of image editing came up the photographer stated.
“If an image is good enough for our portfolio, we edit it ourselves. All other edits are outsourced to save us time.”
I was blown away when I heard this. First, the photographer was basically telling us was that outsourced editing wasn’t high enough quality to be displayed in their portfolios. Second, this also meant the work the photographer showed in their portfolio wasn’t the same as what the client would receive. This is literally a bait and switch scenario.
If you are worried about this, I would ask the photographer two questions. First, I would ask them who edited the photos in their portfolio. Second, I’d ask a follow up and make sure that the same person would be editing my photos.
In conclusion, when choosing which Sonoma county portrait photographer to hire, you basically need to consider three main things. The types of portraits you want, the style you want them captured in, and how much you want to spend. It’s also critically important to make sure you like the person you hire, and beware of a few deceptive tactics some use.
I hope this post helped answer the question of how to choose the right Sonoma county portrait photographer for you. If you like my philosophy and would like to book a photo shoot with me, feel free to reach out and I’d be happy to make that happen for you!
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