This is kind of a difficult post to write. I feel like I'm totally toeing the line between what I actually believe and what I'm supposed to say here about choosing a photographer for your family. Because I'm supposed to tell you to hire a licensed, insured professional photographer. I'm supposed to tell you that even though they're more expensive, that it's an investment, and that you get what you pay for when it comes to custom photography.
I understand why professional photographers get upset about people choosing non-pros to do their family photos. I understand why professional photographers are priced the way that they are, and I totally think it's fair. However, if I'm being honest, if I could choose anyone across the US to take my family's portraits, I'm pretty doggone sure that the top two people that I would choose aren't licensed or insured. So, I simply can't make that recommendation to you guys if it's not something I'd honestly do.
All that said, here's a few points that I think are worth considering when looking for a photographer to do your family portraits:
1. Use Who You Know/ Use Who Your Friends Recommend
Did you have a photographer that you LOVED for your wedding? Hire them again for your family portraits. You already have a relationship with them, know what to expect, and you will probably be more comfortable around them than a stranger, which will also make your kids more comfortable.
If hiring a photographer that you already know isn't an option for you, then start paying attention to your friends. Have you seen family photos that you love hanging on a friend's wall? Have you seen them posted on Facebook? If so, ask your friends for the name of their photographer, and whether or not they'd recommend them.
2. Do Your Research
Now that you have someone in mind, do some research. Check out their blog. Check out their website. Check out their Facebook page. You will probably see a particular style develop--vintage washes, desaturation, bright pops of color--nearly every photographer has a style. And your family portraits will be reflected in that style. Don't call someone whose blog is filled with black and white portraits and ask them if they can do portraits with vibrant pops of color--they probably can, but you'll probably get better results if you hire someone who does that naturally.
In the same vein, some photographers do more posing, while some shoot in a more photojournalistic smile. Think realistically about what you want for your family. Is the most important thing to you a photo where everyone is looking at the camera and smiling? Then look for that as you're looking through their website/Facebook/blog. If the most important thing to you is capturing the "real" moments, even if no one is looking at the camera, then look for THAT as you're looking through their website/blog/Facebook.
After looking through their blog/Facebook/website, if you would be happy to receive any of the sets that they've posted for other families, you're off to a great start in finding a match.
3. All Photographers Are Not the Same
Now that you've vetted a potential photographer a bit, keep in mind that there are a VERY wide range of people who call themselves "photographers." Some are full-time professionals. Some are part-time or semi-pro photographers who may work a day job and then do photography on the side. Some are hobbyists, who enjoy photography, but really have no desire to make a living at it.
Different groups of people will tell you that you should NEVER hire anyone who doesn't have a business license and full liability insurance. Conversely, some will tell you that hobbyists are better than pros because they're more flexible and less set in their ways. Everyone has an opinion. My personal opinion is simply that you need to realize that there are strengths and weaknesses to nearly every type of photographer out there, and decide which type of photographer YOU are comfortable with. For example, a hobbyist may be significantly less expensive than a pro (+), but they are probably also less experienced, and thus may not be as consistent with their end product (-).
4. Cost / Investment
You'll notice that in the last paragraph, I did NOT say that you need to decide which type of photographer you can afford. Still, I know that hiring a photographer comes down to money for a lot of people. As someone who lives on a shoestring budget, I really do get that. However, I also want to make a few things very clear.
1- You should never, never, NEVER choose someone whose style you don't care for just because they're the least expensive option.
2- You also should not ask the least expensive person if they can give you a shoot that looks like another more expensive photographer.
3- If you hire a pro-photographer and don't care for their work, you will likely have some sort of recourse (even if they are not willing to work with you) because they're an official business. If you hire a hobbyist and don't like then end product, you may not have that same recourse.
Also, it's important to understand what exactly the cost entails--does it include prints? Does it include a DVD of images where you'll make your own prints? How many photos can you expect? Do they charge for re-touching (especially in senior portraits, I've seen some photographers charge upwards of $50 to photoshop out a pimple)? Sometimes, you may find that a photographer who seems inexpensive, may not be once you include other factors.
5. It's All About Relationship
I mentioned earlier that it's a great idea to hire someone you already know because you already have a relationship with them. However, by this time in the process, you should have some sort of familiarity and/or relationship with your new potential photographer, and you should be comfortable with them.
If you really love a photographer's work, but are uncomfortable with the fact that they drop the f-bomb all over their blog and Facebook page, don't hire them. If you're an Atheist and it makes you uncomfortable that the photographer has Bible scripture all over their website, then don't hire them. Basically, if ANYTHING about the photographer makes you uncomfortable, don't hire them. If you're uncomfortable just in these non-personal situations, you'll likely be uncomfortable when you're face-to-face, which will show up in the photos...and that's something that NO amount of retouching can fix.
What about you guys? Any tips you'd like to share for hiring a photographer?