4 Questions to Avoid the Wrong Photographer

You glance at your last family portrait as you walk through the living room and you notice that it isn't your family anymore. Yes, it is your children, your spouse and even your dog, but the children in the portrait are now teens, the vibrant young dog is now a little slower and your spouse is sporting some grey around the edges. You decide it is time to hire a professional photographer and update your portraits, but how do you know if the person you hire is truly a professional photographer?


Photography is one of the easiest careers for someone to get started in. Let's face it, all you have to do is go down to a big box store and buy a box that has a camera and a lens in it, go home log onto Vistaprint and order a set of business cards. Hey, you are now a professional photographer! You have to be not only do you have a camera, you have the card that says "Skinky Dink Photography". The next step is to click the Facebook button to start your very own business page and invite all of your friends to "like" your page.

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The problem with this scenario is, I'm not making it up. You can find oodles and oodles of these "pro" photographers at the drop of a hat. The problem for you is, how do you evaluate if they are truly a professional or not? You can't just judge the images they post on a page, it is a common practice for people who portray themselves as pros, to post other photographers images as their own. You have to evaluate them through your interview with them. You have to know what questions to ask, and know what answers they should give.

4 Questions to Ask Your Photographer

  • What kind of file do you shoot? With a digital camera you have the option to shoot in jpeg or RAW. Your pro, should always, always, always tell you they shoot in RAW. There are a couple of reasons why a pro will shoot in jpeg and not RAW, but they are normally when they are shooting against a deadline for a local newspaper (for example). If they are shooting your family portraits, your child's senior session, your wedding, your baby pictures they should be in RAW. The reason why is, a RAW file contains all of the information the camera gathered for the image. The photographer has more control over the color correction, white balance and exposure with a RAW file. A jpeg file does not contain all of the data so he is limited on the edits he can make to your finished image.
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  • Do you shoot only natural light, or do you use strobes? When you hear a photographer saying they only shoot natural light, that is a secret code for you. They are telling you they do not know how to use the tools that should be in their tool box. Would you trust a mechanic to work on your car that said he didn't need wrenches? When a photographer tells you he doesn't need strobes or a flash, he is saying he has not learned to make the light work for him.
  • What brand of presets do you use? Presets are actions that other photographers have created for Lightroom and Photoshop. They will sell a bundle of their presets to anyone that will pay for them. If your pro edits with bundled presets, his finished images will have the same look, feel, textures and tones as dozens of other photographers in your area. If you settle for someone that is going to put the picture they take of your family and slap a generic preset on it, you should go back to 1988 and pay Olan Mills for your session. A real professional will use his own actions in his editing, to enhance his style that separates him from the flood of other photographers.

           The first church picture is edited with a preset, while the second is not.                                                           

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  • What do you shoot in your free time? A true professional photographer started as someone that loved photography. Every professional has a genre of photography they shoot, simply for the love of capturing the image. These sessions are not bringing in a paycheck or awards, they are simply filling the desire the photographer has to feel his camera in his hand and to look through the view finder. These are the times the true professional grows in his talent, he learns new techniques and expands his limits. This is the photographer you want to pay to make your images for you. A photographer never takes a picture, he makes it.

While this isn't an exhausted list of questions,  it is a foundation for you to learn how to save money by not paying for a bad photographer. Leave me a comment if you have any questions. Follow me on Facebook.

Tutorial on Shooting Fireworks Photography

I know the smoke has cleared from the 4th, and most people won't think about fireworks again until New Year's Eve. I decided to do this post, when I read a question on a Facebook group, asking how to shoot fireworks. I read that question on July 3. If you are wanting great firework pictures you do not start your planning on the day before the firework show.

I had planned to shoot at Mt. Rushmore this year, but had to change my plans since they have cancelled their fireworks for the next few years. I know I have 3 or 4 years to scout out my locations for Mt. Rushmore and to plan where I will set my tripod when they decide to light the next fuse. In the meantime, I shot at our local firework show this year and used the same setup I have used for years on fireworks.

The first thing I do when I scout my spots, is I look for what will be in the background. At my local show, the fireworks are shot over a lake so I don't have much of a background to worry about. When I make it to Mt. Rushmore, I will have to find a spot to put the carving in focus and in the right place of the frame. I will also find out the wind direction and set up so the smoke will be cleared of the fireworks.

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When you get to the show, mount your camera on your tripod and aim it to where you think the fireworks will be. Set your focus to manual focus and turn off any Image Stabilizers. Set your focus ring to infinity, your ISO to 100 (I used to start with ISO 400 but the newer fireworks are a lot brighter now) your fstop on between 6.3 and 11.0. You can adjust the fstop as needed. Set your shutter to BULB. With these settings you will open your shutter with a cable release and hold it open until you see the fireworks that you want in the picture. Then you will release the shutter and get ready for the next exposure.

When I am shooting, I am counting seconds while I am watching what is in the sky. When I feel too much light is entering the camera I close the shutter. If I feel like there hasn't been enough light enter the camera I will leave the shutter open, but will cover the lens with my hat. That will keep any ambient light out of my lens and off of my sensor. When a new rocket is fired I remove my hat and get the shot. This method will allow you to have very long exposures to stack multiple bursts in a single frame, without increasing the amount of grain in your image.

When I feel like I have gotten some good wide-angle shots, I will experiment with different angles. I will turn the camera and shoot some horizontal shots, or I will zoom in tighter to fill the frame with burst.

I have also recommend shooting in RAW, this will give you the most control over the final exposure and colors of the images. It will also give you a large enough file, in case you decide to enlarge a few of your shots.

So, get out there and be ready when they light the next fuse, shoot and have fun.

Why I Entered The Weather Channel's Photo Contest

I will never forget the day of our first football game of my Junior year of high school. We had to do our time in the film room as soon as school was over, then we had 2 hours of "free time" before we had to report back to the field house. We would use that time to grab something to eat, and relax before "quiet time" started. That was the couple of hours you spent in the locker room mentally preparing yourself for the game, or as it was often referred to The 60 Minute Battle. I will never forget that someone came back to the school parking lot with a local newspaper, although we were told at the beginning of each season, not to read the paper. The coaches would tell us, the only thing it would do is "mess with our heads". The player that had bought the paper began to read a quote from our head coach, he was asked about his thoughts for the season. His answer made us (or at least me) feel like we had been kicked in the gut, he said "We are just a team of No Names". How could our coach say that? Say that when he knew it would be printed on that Friday? Say that when he knew we would see it, just a couple of hours before we were to take the field? When it came time for the "pep talk" our coach walked into the middle of the circle, and said this "I know you read the paper, and yes we are a team of no names. The names of the past few years that struck fear in the hearts of these others schools, have graduated and they are not walking onto that field tonight... You are, and tonight is when you start making YOUR name."

For some reason, that pep talk has always stayed in the back of my mind. I have lived my life as the no name, that had to make his name. I started photography by accident, while I was healing from a bull riding wreck. I started as a "no name" rodeo photographer, but soon found myself in the same arenas with the top rodeo photographers in Georgia. I branched out into other sports and areas of photography, and I was always the no name that had to make his name.

So here I am, a No Name storm photographer, with a picture entered in a national photo contest, sponsored by The Weather Channel, and Toyota. I'll admit when I entered the contest I never believed I would still be in the chase, but I am. On that afternoon last July, when that wall cloud set "it's sights on me", I told myself it was time to leave. when the lightning got directly over my head, and the cloud was only yards from me, I told myself I needed to bail on that storm and get to safety.

But, as I turned to head to my truck, I stopped and told myself... It Is Time To Make Your Name.

That is why I entered, to see if I would still be a No Name at the end of the contest, or would I make my name.

I still need your help, I can't get to the final round without your help. I need your votes! You can cast your daily Here.

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