Lately I’ve been hearing about a lot more photography scams. Maybe scammers are inspiring other scammers. That would be even more pathetic, but I wouldn’t be surprised. Or maybe I just hear about them more because I’m in the world of photography. Honestly though, I think a big part of it is because you, as a consumer, are not doing enough research or are choosing a photographer for the wrong reasons.
There’s nothing wrong with having a friend with a nice camera take your pictures. Heaven knows there isn’t enough money growing on trees to get professional images for every milestone or event. Occasionally though, there are very good reasons to hire a professional: weddings, births, annual family portraits, headshots…you get the idea.
So to avoid getting scammed and to know how to pick the right photographer, here are some tips to keep in mind:
1. Charges Sales-Tax
Yes, you hate this. It usually means more money out of your pocket, but it’s a HUGE indicator to whether a photographer is running a legitimate business. If they haven’t mentioned anything about sale-tax, ask if it is included in the price. If they say they don’t charge it at all: run. Run away. Every state is different, but here in Kansas, a photographer is required by law to charge tax on session fees. There is some debate about whether or not digitals have to have it, but if digitals are on the same invoice as any physical product or session fee, then it also must be included in taxable amount.
2. Has a website
A facebook business page is a good step in the right direction, but it’s nearly 2017 people. If a business doesn’t have a website, especially a business that thrives on the digital world, then what’s the chance they will be around in a year, or even a few months. Or maybe even the day you booked them for…
3. Charges prices that you might need to save up for
I’m biting myself in the hand here, but I’m going to say it anyways. Photography is a luxury, not a necessity. I enjoy this craft and I want to do it as more than just a hobby, so I value it highly. This value comes with a cost. The average photographer only stays in business for 5 years. That’s worse than the restaurant industry.
I’ll admit, everyone must start somewhere, even me, so prices for a beginner are not going to be the same as a veteran photographer, but none-the-less, ends still have to be met. As with any business, an owner must not only take into account all the tangible costs of doing business, but the time involved, and then there’s a living wage.
Let me repeat that: Then there is a living wage.
When photographers charge you $50, $100, or even $200 for both the session fee and ALL the digital files, they have no idea what they are doing. Either they are producing horrible inconsistent images, or they are losing money every single time. You might say, that’s their problem, I just want cheap pictures. It’s a free world, but don’t complain when they don’t deliver quality or don’t deliver at all…you get what you pay for.
4. Has a contract
I’ve had a few clients that this has caught by surprise. Like the sales tax, many people have gotten so used to fly by the night photographers that they’ve forgotten that this is a service industry (and a bit of retail). A contract protects both the photographer AND you. It the easiest way to come to the table and be able to walk away knowing what to expect. This includes things like:
cost and what is included
when money is due,
what happens if you need to reschedule
what happens if photographer cancels,
copyright & print release, model release
If a photographer sends you a contract, please please please please read through it. If they are like me, they’ll want to go skim through it to make sure you understand the terms, but I don’t want to have to read it word for word in our consultation.
Bringing us to our final point…
5. Has a consultation
Whether this is over the phone, Skype, or in person, a good photographer will take time to talk with you about your expectations. This will probably be where they go through the contract with you, but it will be more than that. It’s a time for us to clarify style of imagery, what to wear, choosing locations, pricing, and just overall getting to know you better. When you walk into the local shoot-em-thru portrait studio, you’re getting the same 15 minute experience as everyone else. A session with a photographer (unless a mini-session), should be individualized for your needs and family. I like the images I present to you to tell a story about who you are. I want you to feel something when you look at them (something warm and fuzzy, preferably).