What Are the Worst Red Flags When Hiring a Photographer?

What Are the Worst Red Flags When Hiring a Photographer?

Whether you're hiring a photographer for your wedding, getting a headshot, or even hiring a second shooter as a photographer yourself, it can be daunting. So, what are the worst red flags you ought to be wary of when hiring a photographer?

Photography can feel like an incredibly unimportant job at times. Sometimes, as I'm framing a shot, I do wonder if I should be doing something more impactful, but then I'll refocus my attention. Yes, most shoots won't change the world, and some shoots aren't going to make much of a difference to anyone, but plenty of shoots will yield results that will be cherished long after you've shuffled off the mortal coil. In fact, the most common reasons the average person will hire a photographer all fit nicely in that camp of memories. But, whether you're hiring your wedding photographer or hiring a photographer to work with on a wedding, we all need to look out for warning signs.

Photography as a craft is more accessible than it has ever been, which is a double-edged sword. On the one hand, that means there are far more people to choose from. On the other, there is less effort required to get started and it's cheaper than it has ever been, too!

A Lack of a Professional Portfolio

Now, a photographer doesn't need to have an award-winning website with cutting-edge design, but they do need something. If we take a wedding photographer as an example, generally, I would expect to see a selection of their best images with a logo, some galleries with past work, an "about" section of some description, and a contact page.

I have very occasionally seen photographers with no digital portfolio, which is archaic. The more common red flag is a dreadful portfolio without much information, no reviews or testimonials (if it's relevant to have them), no wedding galleries, and so on. It doesn't mean they can't be trusted, but it isn't difficult to put together a decent portfolio even if you are not remotely "techy." It worries me when a photographer hasn't bothered to do the basics, and that's before I look at the quality of the images.

Poor Communication

It doesn't matter what industry I'm working in, whether I'm the client or the business, or how skewed the "power" dynamic between me and another person is, poor communication is something I cannot stand. If you're looking to hire a photographer and the responses take far too long, lack clarity, or don't answer all of your questions, perhaps it's worth moving on. If communication is difficult when things are easy, they'll be a nightmare if there are any problems.

A Lack of Transparency

This is a related point to "poor communication" in many ways. Sometimes, poor communication is merely a result of carelessness, or something similar. But, on occasion, it's a sign of something more sinister. If you are asking clear, well-structured questions (I usually put them in a numbered list), and the photographer is dodging some of them — particularly around the topic of prices — it could be a large red flag. Not only could it indicate that they are trying to bury fees until you're in a position where you feel you don't have a choice but to pay them, but it could also mean they treat their prices as somewhat dynamic and want to gauge your situation.

In the same vein, be careful of a lack of contracts, terms and conditions, clear deliverables, explanations of image ownership, timelines, and so on.

No Obvious Areas of Specialty

As far as professional photographers go, I am less of a one-track guy than most. In fact, I have been criticized over this before because I make my money in photography in two distinct genres (that share some overlap). Nevertheless, if I was looking for a photographer for something specific — let's stick with weddings — and their portfolio had product photography, macro, automotive, pets, and so on, then even if they seemed a strong wedding photographer, I'd have doubts.

With regards to this being a red flag, it's the least red on the list, but it can be indicative that who you're hiring isn't as experienced as you'd like with the task you're going to set for them.

They Advertise as a 'Natural Light Photographer'

A "natural light and reflector" photographer is a different story...

I am sure there are "natural light photographers" out there who are incredible, put most other 'togs to shame, and don't even own a strobe. The issue is, they're unicorns, and you're probably not looking at one. There's an argument, perhaps, that it depends on what you're hiring them for. If we're still staying with weddings, then I suggest you flee.

A High Percentage of Negative Reviews

It is important to start this section with the following caveat: a negative review or two does not mean a photographer cannot be trusted. The more clients a photographer has, the more likely they will meet someone where it all goes wrong, whether that's poor luck or because the client is a Karen/Kevin.

Nevertheless, if a photographer has 100 reviews and 20 of them are negative, I would consider that a large warning sign. The average person is pretty reluctant to leave a negative review on a small business — at least here in the U.K. — and if a sizable portion of clients are, I would at least check their grievances for trends and fairness.

They Use a Nikon Camera

The Nikon brand is synonymous with poor photographers and—

Relax, I'm almost certainly joking.

Final Thoughts

Perhaps seeing this many red flags listed in a row has made you more apprehensive about hiring a photographer than before you opened the article, but I should add that these red flags are far less common than you might think. Generally speaking, as long as a photographer has a good body of work and is transparent, you'll likely be in safe hands. Nevertheless, it's important to do a few routine checks to ensure there isn't any glaring concern hiding somewhere!

If you hire photographers or have worked with enough to have a good sense of some red flags, why not share your advice in the comments section below? You never know who you might be saving from a mistake!

Robert K Baggs's picture

Robert K Baggs is a professional portrait and commercial photographer, educator, and consultant from England. Robert has a First-Class degree in Philosophy and a Master's by Research. In 2015 Robert's work on plagiarism in photography was published as part of several universities' photography degree syllabuses.

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rings = macro, dress = product, dress details = macro again, preparation = beauty/editorial/documentary with some nice, proper portrait mixed in, wedding party/groups with direction = studio/commercial, this fancy Bentley/RR couple paid good money for = automotive/product/macro (depending on ideas), church = nature/wild life (quiet, from distance), outdoor session = environmental portrait/landscape/sport (for movement photos), reception = event/editorial/portrait/sport (for dancing), depending on families involved, couple's interests, wedding themes, there might be pets, children, cosplay, stage performances etc. = any additional experience will be helpful. Why wouldn't I, as a customer want the most versatile photographer I can get? And why wouldn't I advertise/show my versatility as a wedding photographer.

“almost certainly joking” says the Canon user 😀

almost. Key word...

I avoided doing weddings back in the day but shot daughters of friends. Turns out their posting the photos I shot on social media was the best advertising ever.

For me, a red flag is the photographer who is going to shoot with entry level gear. Prosumer gear can get by for some functions, but if someone says their camera is a Canon Rebel and they'll will be using an all-in-one zoom, that would be a no thanks for me. For important functions, I would be looking for professional gear, The problem is, unlike many of us that have a general knowledge of bodies and lenses even for brands we don't shoot, most folks wouldn't know the difference between a $6k body and an $800 body, or a $3k lens and a $400 lens. I just shoot as a hobby, so I don't know how the business works. So, my question is, do people even ask photographers what camera gear will be used?