Coordinating photo shoots has been one of my favorite hobbies for years. It all started in high school when I began trading babysitting my neighbor’s daughter for photo shoots with my friends (having a photographer as a next door neighbor definitely had its perks!). I loved having professional photos so much that I did a little modeling and even dated a photographer for a couple of years (we broke up which was for the best). Though I don’t prioritize reaching out to photographers and coordinating concepts the way I used to I think 10 years of working with dozens of photographers has taught me about how to choose a compatible photographer and furthermore, how to communicate my own vision.
Jordan and I were out at dinner with another couple last weekend and the subject of their engagement photos came up. They were both a little intimidated by the process of choosing a photographer and weren’t sure what to expect. Since Jordan has agreed to participate in yearly photos with me (see last year’s photos here and here) he has a few sets of professional photos under his belt as well. We both excitedly shared our advice about choosing a photographer and I realized it could be useful information for you guys too. Honestly most of the advice works for choosing a photographer for any occasion (not just couple photos) but a bit of this post is tailored towards couples photos specifically (feel free to gloss over those portions if you’re looking for headshot, senior portraits, etc), I think the post is still applicable!
What to look for when choosing a photographer:
This first feature is pretty self explanatory and perhaps a bit obvious but important nonetheless. Check out social media to discover photographers in your area. Most photographers at least have an Instagram page nowadays, which can be a great way to find their most current work (not everyone updates their websites frequently). A photographer’s body of work will showcase his or her style and whether or not that style appears to be consistent. If a photographer has a few photos you like but many that don’t meet the quality or taste level you prefer it is a good indication that the photographer isn’t consistent. Find a photographer who you can be sure will deliver the style and quality you expect (many websites offer testimonials which can be a useful tool too).
I am all for working with photographers of all experience levels, that being said you want to find a photographer who will make you and your partner comfortable in front of the camera. The best photographers know how to make their clients feel at ease no matter how much time the client has spent in front of the camera-maybe that means giving verbal encouragement throughout the shoot, maybe it means meeting for coffee for 15 minutes before shooting to chat and help everyone relax, whatever works.
This is not a post about wedding photographers necessarily but as many couples first get photos together to commemorate their engagement it is important to note that experience shooting couples and experience shooting weddings is a different game entirely! A photographer may feel comfortable grabbing intimate (albeit staged) moments between you and your significant other but have trouble grabbing aesthetically pleasing spontaneous moments amongst the chaos of a busy day. Check the photographer’s portfolio for photos of weddings not just photos of cute couples!
Even if you aren’t looking for a wedding photographer it is important to consider whether you want your couple photos to be spontaneous glimpses of natural moments or staged portraits. Natural light is different than studio lights and shooting at a busy park is different than shooting in an empty photo studio. Choose a photographer who has experience in the arena you are looking to shoot.
Personally I like photos that feel like a genuine look into a couple’s lifestyle (ie. natural moments captured), so if I were to work with a photographer who works in a studio and poses couples in prom-like positions facing the camera I would be uncomfortable and probably a bit disappointed with the results. Photography is both a technical skill and an art meaning it is crucial to choose a professional whose experience highlights the style and technical skills you prefer.
Remember you’re a big part of the photos as a subject! You want to work with someone that makes you feel comfortable and photogenic. The best photographer will leave you feeling like “Woah this modeling stuff is easy” by the end of the shoot, while a photographer you don’t click with might unintentionally enhance insecurities.
Do what you can to determine how comfortable your photographer is giving direction to subjects in front of the camera. Photographers that shoot couples/senior portraits/familes should be used to telling his/her subjects what to do and have a few default poses and suggestions in mind. I don’t think it is rude to ask before booking if a photographer is able to give you and your partner a little direction on the day of the shoot. Likewise, if you have a friend who has used the photographer before ask how the photographer was at giving direction during the shoot. A photographer may share breathtaking photos of agency models but turn out awkward, unnatural looking photos of couples and families. Trained models often don’t need direction whereas the average person can use a few tips.
Personally I like working with a photographer who isn’t afraid to say “lift up your chin, don’t squash your arm against the side of your body, tilt your head slightly to the right, etc”. At the beginning of a shoot it doesn’t hurt to say “tell me if I start to have a double chin” or “let me know if you notice my hair extensions peeking through” or whatever it is that you know bothers you in photos. Good photographers want you to LOVE their work, so helping them to understand what it is you dislike in photos is generally appreciated as long as you don’t show up with a diva sized attitude and list of demands.
As someone who has received more than her fair share of free photo shoots I am a huge advocate for paying photographers fairly for their work. I think a lot of people assume they can skimp on photography without noticing, I hate to disappoint you but this is generally not the case. As cliche as it sounds, you really do get what you pay for. Initially, $400-$500 for an hour or two photoshoot can seem absurd. You’re breaking it down in your head like “Jane the photographer must be loaded she’s getting $250 an hour to snap pictures of me holding hands with my boyfriend in the park“. In actuality much of the photographer’s time is spent selecting and editing photos behind the scenes. All photographers have a different editing process but even the most photogenic couple will need the exposure/lighting adjusted and light photoshop here and there (removing the fleck of dirt on your forehead or the lint on your dress, etc). Those hours of post work add up meaning much of the photographer’s job is done long after your shoot has ended.
If you choose to use your “sister’s boyfriend’s friend” who is willing to cut you a deal and give you photos for free or cheap do so with your eyes open. You cannot necessarily expect the same quality or quantity of photos as when you are paying someone for their profession. Honestly if you’re just staging a couple photo shoot for fun (or as I do for cute blog photos and prints for around my apartment) it probably doesn’t matter all that much if your photos don’t turn out as well as you expected (especially if you paid next to nothing). And hey, if you find a photographer who wants to work with you for fun to build his/her portfolio and you want a few high quality photos out of it, I say go for it! I’m all for experimenting when it comes to “just for fun photoshoots” but if you are looking for photos to use for your engagement announcements or to hang on your mantle for years or you just aren’t someone that has time to pose for photos every weekend…you might just want to spend the money and help support a photographer whose talent you admire.
Based on how important the photos are to you, you can decide if it is worth it to take the risk. However, I have known a plethora of people who have allowed a friend (or in most cases a friend of a friend) to shoot their wedding and unfortunately found themselves disappointed with the photos they received. My advice is to always take engagement photos/couple photos with a photographer before booking him/her for your wedding. If you are disappointed with the results you may be out a couple hundred dollars but it is worth realizing before your big day (you may even be able to have a conversation with your photographer about what it is you didn’t like and resolve the issue so you can continue working together).
Moral of the story: Pay your photographer! Photography is not just a hobby but a skill, an art and a profession. I have worked with bad photographers and good photographers so let me save you from learning this lesson the hard way…good photographers are worth the investment!
Jordan REALLY wanted a photo looking through the bookshelves at me. He told Aleigh, the photographer, and she made sure to get a shot that worked.
How can you help your photographer?
Photographers may have fancy cameras and high tech lighting equipment but they aren’t mind readers. For the best photo shoot results take the time to do a little research and most importantly COMMUNICATE with your photographer before hand. Every photographer I have worked with has been thrilled when I present photos/concepts and ideas (or at least they have pretended to be). Just like in a relationship you can’t expect to get what you want without communication. Sharing your vision and ideas is the best route towards getting your dream photos.
Share photos you like and/or a Mood Board.
Prior to your shoot look for photos of couples that you like to compile and share with your photographer, this is where Pinterest comes in handy (literally just search “couple photos” and be ready for a billion cute ideas). Be mindful of why you like a specific photo. Are you drawn to the poses? The photography style? The concept? Or are the people in the photo just pretty? Incredibly attractive people can make pushing a grocery cart through Whole Foods look romantic (this photo is proof,ha).
If you send your photographer dozens of photos all with different color palettes, locations, wardrobe styles andposes and he/she likely won’t understand your vision. Once again, COMMUNICATE. Be specific by pointing out that you like the photography style in one set of images, the poses/editorial concept in another set and the angles or shot set up of another image. Your specificity will help your photographer understand what you like. Keep in mind that you chose your photographer for their individual style and artistry. While you definitely should share your vision don’t expect your photographer to change their aesthetic to suit your vision. If the photographer you chose specializes in moody, desaturated, conceptual images don’t ask him/her to give you playful and bright photos, find a photographer whose aesthetic works with the images you want.
Be upfront about what you are looking for!
Aside from sending a mood board you should verbally communicate what you expect out of a photo shoot (note: this does not mean demand, never demand). Before I hire a photographer I generally send a basic email introducing myself and outlining what I am looking for. My emails generally contain the following information:
- I am looking for couple photos with my boyfriend and I. This identifies who will be involved in the shoot.
- I want to shoot at 2 locations with 2 outfits. This is important because some photographers charge more based on the number of locations you want to shoot at and the number of looks you intend to shoot. Some photographers charge based on the amount of time a shoot takes and don’t really care how many looks you shoot as long as you fit within the allotted time (2 hours, etc). I would suggest disclosing your location ideas if you have planned them already as a photographer may charge a traveling fee. If you don’t know where you want to take photos, ask! Most photographers have locations they like to shoot at.
- Ideally I want digital photos as I want to be able to use them for social media/my blog. This is important because every photographer’s packages are a little different. Since I generally use photos for blogging/social media I prefer to shoot with a photographer who agrees to send me a number of edited photos for my use (that I may print later on my own). Some photographers want you to pay a separate fee for digital photos which is important to know upfront.
This step seems obvious but I like to put in writing what it is I want and receive a financial quote from a photographer. Many photographers don’t list their prices on their websites and even if they do I like to make sure that price includes what it is I want. I would rather know up front if I’m going to pay an additional $75 per outfit change or another fee for the digital images so I can add that into the total. Furthermore, I like to respect my photographer’s schedule. By sharing from the beginning that I want X number of locations and Y number of outfits he/she can schedule our shoot accordingly so no one feels like they are being rushed or not being paid properly for their services.
Another Tip: I have a scar smack dab in the middle of my forehead. It doesn’t bother me anymore but as a teenager I always hoped photographers would photoshop it out, some did and some didn’t. I should have brought it up and communicated whether or not I wanted photos with or without my scar. If you have a birthmark, mole, scar, etc. be upfront about if you want it photoshopped or left alone otherwise the photographer will assume one way or the other.
There you go-you’re all ready for your close up (; Photo shoots are so much fun, especially when working with a photographer you truly click with. If you have any questions about choosing the best photographer for you feel free to comment and I’ll be sure to get back to you. Happy posing!
P.S. You can see more photos from this same shoot in the post Picnics & Love Languages and I will be sharing the final batch of photos from this shoot soon.