Because even the camera on our smartphones these days are so advanced, it's easy to get lost in a sea of "fauxtographers," or people who have no business calling themselves photographers. There's much debate in the photography community over what constitutes a professional, an expert, or a "real" photographer. For me, the answer seems simple: if you take and create a photograph, you're a photographer. It's a great time to be alive, people. Everyone has the potential to be an artist and it's literally magical.
Now, that doesn't mean that everyone should be charging for their services, however. If the person you hired to take your family portraits rolls up with their new iPhone to take your photos and a reassurance that they "totally have sweet editing apps, brah," maybe don't hold your breath on memorable images that day.
So, what's one to do when services are being offered everywhere, and you're not sure which way to turn or who to trust? Here are some things to look for when perusing portfolios and deciding which artist to hire to help you preserve your precious memories.
1. Blown Out Skies
This is absolutely my biggest pet peeve for any image. If the sky is blown out, the image was not exposed correctly, and honestly, that's a Day One kinda thing. Bush League, rookie, amateur, lame. Not good. The rest of the image might be just lovely, but a blown out sky is going to draw focus really fast, and rightly so. Besides, is there anything in the world more vast and wonderful than the sky? Why, oh why, would anyone want to leave all that lovely detail out? Sure, some days are gray and dreary, but it's the job of the artist to pull the beauty from it. Rarely is the sky actually just WHITE.
Saving the sky should happen in camera and not in editing in most cases, as properly adjusting the exposure for the scene is a huge part of what photography entails. Photography literally means "painting with light" and knowing how to use light as your tool is the hallmark of anyone who has any business charging for their services.
Sometimes, just sometimes, I allow my skies to remain a little detail-less. If there's a lot of trees or detail drawing attention and the sky will overcrowd the image, I'll let it be.
2. Missed Focus
Speaking of drawing focus, sometimes it gets missed entirely. What does missed focus look like? It can sometimes be hard to catch, but it's the difference between a standard photo and a fantastic image. Ideally, for portraits, focus should be on the eyes.
When a photographer misses focus, it could be due to a number of things: a moving subject, a sudden hand spasm, simple miscalculation of depth of field. Unfortunately, this is something that cannot be fixed in post processing. Of course, mistakes happen, and quite often a photographer will get a few shots with missed focus in the bunch and those photos will get culled, not delivered to the client, no biggie. However, if you're seeing images on a portfolio with clearly missed focus, be wary.
Don't be too quick to judge, though; sometimes focus is deliberately placed on an object other than that in the foreground for artistic effect.
3. Overlooking Distracting Details
Sometimes, it's not possible to pose your clients in a perfect, distraction-free spot. Occasionally you'll find a magical location with just one or two tiny flaws, and you convince yourself that everyone else will be so excited about the images you created that they'll be happy to overlook them. Look for a photographer who pays attention to the details (I'm told it's where the devil resides, you know) and is excited to provide you with the most magical photos possible.
Of course, the caveat here is that portrait photography is different from event photography. The candids from a wedding, for example, generally won't be edited this nitpickily because that won't accurately represent your happy day! The portraits, on the other hand, should be lovely and meticulously crafted. But for an all day event, you're going to want to remember the day as close to reality as possible.
All that being said, there are some amazing photographers in northern Michigan (and I mean really, really phenomenal). Some are true to life, some are strictly newborn and family, some are more whimsical, and some are entirely photo manipulation, There are so many ways to create and appreciate art, and there's someone out there for every style and approach. Go forth, and support the arts!