I get it, choosing a photographer isn’t easy and booking a session or for your wedding is a big investment. You want someone talented who can deliver high quality photos within an acceptable time frame in a style that you love.
The best way to get a feel for a photographer’s work is by looking at their portfolio; which can be daunting if you have zero photographic experience- how do you know if their work is good?
Before You Start
The biggest trap anyone can fall for when looking at a photographers work is focusing on the subject matter and not the photo itself. You may not like the bride’s dress or their flower choice, or the baby in the photo is distractingly cute. Subject matter doesn’t always matter! Use the following guide to help pick apart a photographer’s portfolio to see if they’re up to the standard you want.
When it comes to equipment, the latest and greatest isn’t always the best. A 15 year old compact camera with less megapixels than you phone can produce award winning images in the right hands, just as the latest DSLR in the hands of an amateur will leave you disappointed with lackluster snapshots. Rather focus on the work produced than on the tools producing it.
Exposure: Whether light and airy, or dark and moody; there’s a vast difference between the distinct use of lighting to create these stylised looks, and a poorly exposed photo. A properly exposed photo won’t have near white or unnaturally dark highlights in the skin tones.
Lighting: It’s not just essential to create a photo, but needs to be carefully utilised to create a quality image. Your photographer should have a good grasp on how to use the light available to them and at least a basic grasp of working with artificial light when needed, especially for your wedding where lighting conditions are unpredictable and ever changing.
Bokeh: That blurry background effect in photos? That’s bokeh. It’s intentionally achieved by using high quality lenses to isolate the main subject of a photo from their background. It’s also a hallmark of professional lifestyle, portrait and wedding photographers.
Focus: This is a big one, especially if you consider how big you want to print your photos. Is what should be in focus sharp and clear?
Lenses: Fun fact, it’s more down to the lens and lighting, than the camera that determines the look of a photo. A good photographer knows how to choose the right lens for the creative vision they have in mind. If you’re looking at portraits and the people have an almost alien-like look, it’s down to using the wrong type of lens.
Composition: This is something that really sets professionals and amateurs apart. A well composed photo will be balanced and simply put, will just ‘look right’. If a photo is jarring for a reason that you can’t quite put your finger on, odds are the composition is unbalanced.
Edit, Edit, Edit
This is one area that is highly subjective. Just as tastes vary in almost all other areas of life, so it goes for the finished look of a photo too. However there’s one thing that shouldn’t be in any professional photographer’s portfolio- bad retouching.
If the skin has been erased of all pores, the eye whites and teeth look unnaturally bright and the eye irises say ‘vampire contacts’- that’s bad retouching. A well retouched photo makes the subject look like themselves on their absolute best day. Their skin has texture but no blemishes, their eyes have a natural sparkle and there’s smooth gradients between the shadows, midtones and highlights of the skin.
One final note on editing. Think back 10-15 years ago and a black and white photo with one element staying in colour was a hot trend. Other editing trends have come and gone since then and while you may love them when they’re hot, they end up making your photos look dated when they’ve fallen from grace. Remember that when booking a photographer, especially if you want your photos to look timeless.
Je ne sais quoi
It’s that something extra, that element of a photo that you can’t quite put your finger on but speaks to you on a deeper level. What those extra elements often are, are the following:
Emotion & Mood: A photo should make you feel something; it should stir something within you and light a little spark. That’s down to capturing real emotions or using creative elements to create a mood.
Story: If you look at a photo and think, I want to see or know more, then that means there’s an element of story telling there. It’s a photo that gets you to pause and wonder.
Pose: If a person looks unnatural, awkward or uncomfortable in a photo, it’s basic human psychology that on some level, you’ll notice it. A good photographer knows how to pose a wide range of body shapes so that their clients feel confident and look great in their photos.
Consistency: It’s something that us humans pick up on pretty quickly when it’s lacking. A photographer’s portfolio should be consistent in the quality and editing style throughout- it shows that when you book, you can expect the same in your photos.
Creativity vs Cliche: Some ideas have been done over and over again, however there’s always a way to put a fresh spin on an old idea. If you’re looking for something standard, great, however if you want something different be sure that it’s in a photographer’s portfolio before you book them.
Styled vs Real Clients: Real talk, there’s a chasm of difference between working with real clients who are not used to being in front of the camera, and professional models in a styled shoot setting. If a photographer’s portfolio is mostly styled shoots with models, or created in a workshop setting under a mentor; you can’t always be guaranteed that you will receive the same quality if you’re just your average Jane or Joe.
A Final Note
Choosing a photographer is not just down to their work, especially for a wedding. You’re also having to choose someone who you ‘click’ with and can have confidence in to capture your memories. However, with all the info shared above, you should at least feel more confident in being able to choose someone who’s work you now know is of a standard that meets your own.