Nick Carver Photography Blog

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8 Tips for Hiring a Professional Photographer

Photographer For Hire Car Window Decal

I can't tell you how many times I've heard this story: Unsuspecting customer needs a photographer for their wedding/family photos/maternity photos. Customer goes to the web, finds a local photographer with a great website and a great portfolio. Customer hires photographer. Photographer sounds like he/she knows what he/she is doing. Photographer produces horrible photos. Customer is unhappy.

Ask anybody if they liked their wedding photographer. The answer is almost never "Yes! He was fantastic! We loved the photos!"

This is such a common story because we live in a weird age that is over-saturated with unskilled and inexperienced "professional" photographers that have access to the same web designers, logo makers, and advertising that a true, experience professional has. Both have flashy websites and advertise in the same places, so how can you sort out the pros who will deliver from the pros who barely know how to turn on their camera?

That's where I come in. In this post, I will give you 8 pointers on how to find a good professional photographer for your wedding, portraits, etc. Now keep in mind that I don't do "for hire" work anymore. I strictly teach photography and sell fine art prints. So I don't have a dog in this fight - I'm not trying to get you to hire me for your next engagement. And I have unique perspective on this because I talk to professional, aspiring professional, and amateur photographers all day, everyday. I know the red flags.

So let's get started!

1. Judge their work, not their marketing

We live in the golden age of marketing. Cheap, professional-looking advertising is available to anyone with the money. A photographer with 30 years experience looks no different to Google than one with 6 months experience. Anyone can take out an ad in a wedding magazine and anyone can get really high-quality glossy sample cards made up. Flashy business cards are inexpensive.

So marketing doesn't mean anything. Don't think a photographer is trustworthy just because they ranked first on Google or had the biggest ad in a magazine. There are so many photographers out there that are excellent at marketing, but horrible at delivering good photos under pressure. One referral is worth a thousand ads or website links, and testimonials from an unbiased website like Yelp are generally very indicative of what you can expect from the photographer in question.

And by the way, beware of photographers who plaster the rear window of their car with a big sticker advertising their photography business. No "real" professional wants or needs to do that. Great professionals who deliver the best quality have no problem getting clients. They are booked weeks or months out based purely on referrals. A big "Awesome Photographer for Hire" decal on the back of their SUV would only embarrass them.

2. Beware of heavy editing

Lots of Photoshop work and Lightroom plugins are often used by photographers to make up for a lame photo. They pass it off as a "style", but really it's because they can't get a good shot without the help of Adobe's software engineers. For a guy like me, I can see a heavily edited photo a mile away, but the average consumer doesn't have that trained eye. So how can you tell if they heavily manipulate their photos? Simple. Ask to see the unedited versions from a shoot compared to the edited versions. A photographer who is confident in what they do and who actually does use Photoshop to create a unique style - not to cover up shoddy mistakes - will gladly show you the unedited shots. If the photographer is too hesitant or straight up turns you down, just move on.

But don't get me wrong. There's nothing wrong with software editing, so long as you are okay with it and so long as it's used to enhance an already great photo, not fix a bad photo. The photographer's unedited shots should be tack sharp, well-composed, and capturing the right moment. Those things can't be fixed in Photoshop. It they then throw on a stylized vignette and smooth out some skin, that's fine so long as you like that style. But the key is that the unedited shots should be able to stand on their own as great photos.

3. 50 good photos isn't enough

That's great if the photographer has 50 excellent photos on their website, but that doesn't mean they'll deliver for your shoot. They could have taken 10,000 photos just to get those lucky 50. You need a photographer who delivers quality on every single shoot.

So ask to see more photos. Ask to see all of the final edits delivered to clients for their 3 most recent shoots. If they delivered a good crop of photos 3 shoots in a row, they'll probably do it again.

4. Anyone can get a flashy website

Flashy, template websites are available to anyone with $39.99 a month to spend on it. It's nice if the photographer has an inviting website that showcases their work nicely, but don't let that be any deciding factor in hiring them. Someone else is most likely designing the website for them anyway. What matters is their photos, not their website. Besides, most professionals with experience know that a website should be clean, easy to navigate, and not overly animated. Beginners like their websites to have lots of animated menus, background music, and other distracting crap that really just makes up for the mediocre photos.

5. A logo doesn't mean anything

You wouldn't believe how cheap and easy it is to get a professional logo made these days. You can hire some talented artist in Brazil for $100 to make up a top notch design for you. So don't be fooled by a logo. It doesn't mean anything. And truthfully, if I was hiring a photographer, I personally would shy away from anyone with a real fancy logo. Most experienced pros just use their name, maybe in a specific font, but minus the ornate designs and cutesy graphics. But again, don't get me wrong. A flashy logo isn't a definite red flag that the photographer is an amateur. There are plenty of very experienced, talented pros with ornate logos. But just don't let it play a factor in hiring them.

And by the way, I've said it before and I'll say it again, if aspiring professional photographers spent as much time honing their craft as they do designing their logo and shopping for equipment, we'd be surrounded by talented photographers. 

6. Equipment doesn't mean anything

A professional needs to have the necessary equipment to deliver a product, but really, it's not as vital as you think. A DSLR from any manufacturer along with a couple lenses is enough. It doesn't matter if they have the latest Canon 5D Mark Whatever or if they have that one lens that all portrait photographers must have. In fact, a true professional is running a business, not a hobby supported by a day job. So a true professional doesn't look forward to spending $3500 on a new camera that won't really make them a better photographer. It's an expense and it means less money to pay the mortgage, insurance, etc. Unless this new piece of equipment will actually make them more money, then it doesn't make sense to buy it - that's how a business person thinks and that's how a real pro thinks.

Also, if the photographer has all of their equipment proudly listed on their website, that's a red flag to me. Newbies like to show off to the world what equipment they use. Believe me, I know. I used to have a section on my website devoted to my equipment. It was when I was 15. But experienced pros care more about showcasing their work, pleasing clients, and keeping the business profitable. They know it's not about the equipment and, really, they want people hiring them on the merits of their photos, not for the price-tag of their equipment. They'll only bring up their equipment if you push them on the matter.

7. Experience is most important

New photographers are like new drivers - they may know how to operate the equipment, but they get distracted easily and make a lot of mistakes. Experience is the only thing that can train that out of a person. When it comes to a wedding, the photographer has to be 110% in the moment without a single ounce of energy spent trying to remember what f-stop will give them a faster shutter speed. They need to be calm, collected, and they have to be able to anticipate important moments before they happen. Newbies can't do that. They are too caught up in the settings on their camera and they simply haven't attended enough weddings to know where to point the lens.

I personally wouldn't hire a photographer with less than 5 years experience. So ask your photographer how long they have been shooting. Ask them when they first picked up an SLR camera. Ask them if they shot film previously. Ask them how long ago they opened their business and whether or not they have a business license (they should). And expect them to add 6 months to a year to their answers.

8. You usually get what you pay for (but not always)

High prices don't mean they are good or that they will deliver, but generally speaking, only photographers who know they can deliver will confidently request high prices. Really good professionals have to raise their prices again and again because their schedule is filling up too far out. And they'll have no problems asking for those high prices. They know they are worth it and they know you will be happy with the results. If they seem uneasy about their fees, then they are uneasy about their skills.

And if you are able to talk them down, don't hire them. Professionals with experience and those who aren't begging for clients aren't willing to budge much on their pricing. They might throw in some prints for you, but they won't lower their service prices very much if at all. In fact, they'll usually try to get rid of people who talk them down. They have clients lining up around the block and don't have time to negotiate. Might sound arrogant, but it's not. It's literally that they don't have time to negotiate with you because they have other clients willing to pay the stated rate and they are booked solid for weeks or months.


So there you go. 8 tips to help you hire a professional photographer. Just remember that these aren't hard, fast rules, but good guidelines. Feel the photographer out. You can tell when someone knows what they're doing and when they don't. Trust your instinct and trust referrals.

Photography Tips: Backlighting with Plants

Skill Level: Beginner

When beginners set out to photograph things like flowers and leaves, the natural inclination is to approach the subject from the front, in sunlight, with the sun hitting the front of your subject. It makes sense after all - you need some light on your subject in order for the camera to take a picture. There's even the old adage in photography to shoot with the sun to your back.

But this approach to photographing a subject tends to yield boring results. Front lighting (that is, when the light is hitting the front of your subject) just isn't interesting. Front lighting flattens out your subject, squashing depth. Think of deer in headlights or on-camera flash. It may get the job done in terms of being able to see your subject, but it definitely isn't pretty.

You could, of course, utilize side lighting to rake across your subject and create depth. You could also opt for overhead lighting which, depending on how strong the light source is, may or may not be flattering. Better yet, you could utilize soft lighting like that of an overcast day. But one really fun and really interesting use of light in photographing plants is backlighting.

Backlighting (that is, when the light is coming towards you from behind your subject) gives semi-translucent subjects like leaves, flower petals, and ice crystals a sort of glowing effect that adds a nice bit of "pop" to your photo. With brightly colors flowers and fall leaves, backlighting can be a great way to accentuate the color, making the pigment glow like a neon sign. It's also a great way to bring out all the little veins and texture in a leaf.

And if you can position yourself so that the backlit plant has a dark, shadowed background, those leaves or flower petals will glow like fireworks on the fourth of July. Check out these examples to see what I mean:

Finding backlighting is easy. Just head outside on sunny afternoon or morning and find yourself a leaf or flower in direct sunlight. But instead of approaching the subject from the front (where the light is hitting), move around to the back of it so that the sunlight is coming towards you. This works best when the sun is lower in the sky. So avoid high noon and stick to morning or afternoon. But don't worry, this doesn't have to be done right at sunrise or sunset.

Working with backlighting can be a little tricky. To make it easier on yourself, keep these points in mind:

  • You don't want the sunlight actually hitting the front of your lens. Your lens needs to be shaded by a tree, overhang, lens hood, or a carefully placed free hand. If the sunlight does hit the front of your lens, you'll get lens flare - that's those little semi-translucent circles of red, orange, green or purple spread across your picture.
  • You don't need to have the sun directly in front of you to get backlighting. The sun can be quite a bit higher or to the left or right of the picture. But if you get the glow on your subject, all is good.
  • Unless you're shooting in manual, your camera may want to make the picture too dark as a result of the backlighting. Camera's don't do very well with backlighting. Make sure you stay in control of the brightness by using the exposure compensation tool on your camera.
  • Try the picture at different brightnesses using the exposure compensation tool. A much darker or lighter version may look really cool.
  • Your camera may have a hard time focusing when working with backlighting. You may need to manually focus your lens.

When winter rolls around, try backlighting on icicles or frost-covered plants to get a great sparkly effect. Like this:

Backlighting can keep you busy for hours when photographing flowers and leaves. So the next time you're out enjoying nature's beauty, give backlighting a try.

Photography Tips: Off-Site Image Backup

Skill Level: Intermediate

I want you to imagine something for a moment. Imagine that your computer's hard drive fails. It just dies. You go to turn on your computer one day and...nothing. Every last file and photo on your computer has been wiped clean simply because your system's hard drive decided to up and die on you. There's no explanation why it died, it just died. After all, it's not if your hard drive will fail, it's when. All hard drives will fail eventually.

So imagine losing every single thing on your computer. All your work documents, all your music and, of course, all your thousands of photos. The documents and music might not be a huge issue in the grand scheme of things. But the photos...that would be devastating.

This is why a regular system backup is not only wise, it's just plain stupid not to do it.

Ah, but wait. You do a regular system backup. In fact, you back up your computer to an external drive every night. Actually no, every hour. And it's to 3 different backup drives. And a server in another part of the building. So you're covered, right?

Well, what if the building burns down? Or what if there is a flood, or an earthquake, or a hurricane, or a tornado? Or what if someone just breaks into the building and snatches all the computers and hard drives? If, God forbid, any of those things were to happen, all the backups in the world won't do you any good so long as all the backups are under the same roof.

This is why having an off-site backup drive is such a good idea. And in this post, I'll show you how I do it.

Off-Site System Backup Box

On-Site Backups

In addition to the original, I have a total of 4 backups of all of my photos and 2 backups of the rest of my computer (work documents, music, videos, etc.). This is on a total of 5 hard drives - most of them external drives. All of these backups are on-site. In other words, they are in the same room as my main computer.

Time MachineMy main system backup is performed automatically every hour. This is done through Apple's built-in backup software called "Time Machine." It comes on every Mac and it is truly awesome. It backs up your system in the background every 60 minutes, allowing you to continue working uninterrupted. It also allows to "go back in time" to specific dates and recover individual files from that date. This has saved my bacon many times from accidentally overwriting a file I didn't mean to. With Time Machine, I can simply go back to before I overwrote it, and recover the original file like it never happened. You can learn more about Time Machine here.

I'm not a PC guy, so I'm not real savvy on the backup offerings for Windows, but here is a list of the Top 10 Backup Apps for Your PC by

As for my image backups, I do those at the beginning and end of any photo-editing session. So anytime I load new photos in to my computer, make adjustments or move images around on my hard drive, I run a backup of my images. I use Aperture (by Apple), which has a great built-in image backup tool called "Vaults." A Vault is basically a backup of your entire Aperture library, including all its settings, keywords, adjustments and everything else. With the click of a button, the backup starts and writes all your new files and changes to the backup vault. This is an excellent feature and is one of the many reasons I'm an Aperture user. You can learn more about Aperture here.

Aperture Vaults

I know Lightroom allows you to backup up the catalog, but I don't believe it has a built-in backup tool for the images themselves. I may be wrong on this, but you can always just back up your images with a regular backup tool like the ones here.

Off-Site Backup

Now for the absolute worst case scenario: a fire or earthquake destroys my computer, both my system backups and all 4 of my image backups. After all, they are all in the same room. This is where an off-site backup drive saves the day.

The key to a good off-site backup drive is that it's kept very far away and it's well-protected against damage. You take it home/to the office every week or so, run the backup software, then take it right back to its remote, off-site location for safe-keeping. For me, I keep my drive at my girlfriend's place about 20-30 miles away and just take it back to my place to run a backup every week or two.

If you have a computer at home and at the office, keep an office backup at home and a home backup at the office. Or keep your backup at a friend's house, at work or in a climate-controlled storage unit. Just get it far away from the original drive, but still convenient enough to fetch it every week.

My hard drive of choice for this is a LaCie 500GB Rugged Triple-Interface portable hard drive. I've had a few of these over the years and I love them. They are reliable, fast and are built to withstand drops better than most hard drives. It has USB, FireWire 400 and FireWire 800 connections, too, which means it can connect to pretty much every computer around.

For added protection against dropping, jostling and water damage, I keep this hard drive in a Pelican 1120 case. Makes for easier transport and gives me a little more peace of mind against damage from being dropped accidentally. Using Pelican's customizable foam insert, I created a space for the hard drive and its cable. The whole package is solid, sealed and very well-protected from potential damage.

Off-Site System Backup Box

Off-Site System Backup Box

Off-Site System Backup Box

ChronoSyncThe backup software I use for this off-site external drive is called ChronoSync. It's a really extensive backup application with lots of customizable options. I don't use Mac's Time Machine for this off-site backup because Time Machine can only be used on one external drive (which I already have set up). So every week when I take this drive back to my workstation, I just plug it in, run ChronoSync and voila! My system is backed up and ready to return to its secure off-site location.

Online Backup

Just as a quick note, there are online backup services like Carbonite, which back up your system to a remote server and allow you to access your files from anywhere. It's a really great idea and isn't very expensive, but I tried it once and it just took too damn long to backup my 275+ GB. The initial backup would have taken weeks or months with my computer running 24 hours a day. But they offer a free trial, so give a try if you like.