Hey Photo Fans!
Over the next few weeks, or more, I'll be posting an informative series on what you need to know from this side of the camera. This won't be a tutorial on how to use your camera or my camera, but why professional photographers make the choices they do concerning gear, workflow, contracts, and more. You can't be expected to make informed decisions if no one ever actually informs you in a way that you can understand and later apply to your situation.
To kick this shindig off, we'll start with the fact that there are specializations within the large umbrella of photography. I know this is something people are aware of, but it's not something that's considered when selecting a photographer. Where the disconnect happens, I'm not so sure, but I've heard some really terrible (and preventable) tales of people choosing the wrong photographer because it was someone they already knew, or a photographer trying something new so their price was low, but was so beyond their wheelhouse. (Even I once had a mental lapse when I suggested the wonderful lady who took my high school senior pictures to photograph our wedding. I mean, I loved those photos (and still do years later), but luckily a wiser party redirected the trainwreck-that-would-be and we found a wedding photographer. And I love those photos too. See it really can happen to anyone of us.)
For example, not every photographer, regardless of professional level, can successfully photograph everything. There are some professionals who list a wide variety, perhaps, but not everything is listed. If it is, then the term 'successfully' may not be defined the same way. I, myself, enjoy photographing practically anything, however I would never feel comfortable charging for services in something like pet photography. It's just not my thing to do a whole session of a pet, unless it's my pet and I just got a new toy. Then I have lots of pictures of just my cat sun bathing or just annoyed. Okay, mostly she's annoyed.
Maybe it's a matter of personality. Some photographers don't work well under pressure and are more suited for a studio setting where they can control all the factors, others get bored with a staged backdrop and have to think on their feet to turn out a successful portfolio. It's really more about what makes the photographer tick and not about right or wrong. Be mindful of what kind of services you're looking for when selecting a photographer. A lacking portfolio in what you need may mean that it's easier to budget, but you could be disappointed with the results. Even if there isn't a selection of work in the exact specialty that you're looking for, if the rest of their portfolio is stellar and there are strong similarities between what they have and what you want (i.e. architectural photography and commercial photography), they may make the jump. If they have their degree in photography, odds are that jump will be easier than if they didn't. Most self-taught photographers who are successful went through many workshops and tutorials and mentors to get where they are today. The problem with them making the leap into another category is that all those learning experiences they paid for were highly specialized to the area they were focusing on instead of an art emphasis in the application of photography. University programs teach through the study of art where you create your own work through a chosen technique, like photography or painting, which makes switching from one subject to another easier when you understand the root of it all. A weekend workshop in Adobe won't get you there.
Next time you're in the market for a photographer, be mindful of what your needs are and that a photographer is not a photographer is not a photographer.
(side note: if you're the photographer, be sure that you know exactly who you are in your craft before you take on something new. Culling for a client is not the moment to realize that you were not cut out to do whatever new thing they asked you to do. I can ice a mean cupcake, but don't ask me to pipe a whole cake. Let's acknowledge our limitations people.)
To read a little be about who I am as a photographer, check out this page.