Your vacation is coming up
and you want to capture some professional photos while you are here. So what do you do? You go to Facebook Groups and Google to find a photographer.
Once you have narrowed down the photographer(s) you are interested in, you should consider these questions and the information below.
While there are a ton of awesome established and trusted photographers in our area,
unfortunately, there are some people who take advantage of our tourist industry and frequently "come and go". Booking a Local photographer is always recommended.
Do you have your NPS Permit?
All photographers who are shooting in the park (this includes overlooks, the Foothills Parkway, and Cades Cove) are required to hold a Commercial Use Authorization Permit. This one isn't a deal-breaker but if you want to take your pictures in Cades Cove or another place in the National Park, you will need a permitted photographer.
Rangers can stop your session and check the photographer for their permit, business license, and insurance
Are you a local business?
Due to our area being a tourist location for many states, sometimes we get other photographers who travel here and advertise sessions. But those who come and go in our area don't have the same accountability as our local photographers do. If your travel photographer delivers a session that isn't great, who are they accountable to? Technically their clients live in another state, they were only here for a week, and they don't have to face any "bad" reviews in local groups for advertising.
But if a local photographer isn't delivering what they promised they are accountable to our immediate area. Past clients can share their experiences in our local groups (good and bad). There's nowhere for the local photographers to go because we live here. We put a lot of time and effort into making your picture experience great and we (most of us) already have the necessary permits to shoot in the national park and other locations.
What does your pricing include?
Everyone structures their business differently. Some photographers do a session fee + purchasing digitals and some are all-inclusive. Make sure you understand what you are getting for the price you pay.
It is common practice for photographers to require a non-refundable retainer to hold your session date.
Can they send you an example of a client gallery?
The tell of a true professional photographer is consistency. Whether they use flash or natural light, seeing consistency between several galleries is a clear way to see if they can recreate the look they are advertising. Compare galleries to their feed on social media and if it's consistent that's what you want!
Where are your shooting locations?
Most photographers in the area obtain their CUA permit to have access to a lot of locations within the park. Others may use private property under an agreement with an owner. And some use some public historical sites.
Take into consideration the mobility of your group and ask about the locations.
Would grandma or grandpa need flat even surfaces? Can they walk long distances for a great mountain view in Cades Cove?
There are plenty of handicap-accessible locations in our area and there is plenty of more adventurous locations too.
If you want to recreate a picture on top of a rock overlooking the mountains, consider how they got up there. Same with taking pictures in the middle of the river in Greenbrier, are you willing to get into the cold water for an amazing picture?
*A photographer cannot travel more than 1/4 a mile up a trail per the NPS and violation is subject to fines and more.*
If they ask you to pay them as a "Donation", "Gift", or "Friend" via Paypal, Venmo, or others.
This is a HUGE red flag! A legitimate business would NOT be asking for funds under the guise of donations, gifts, or friends.
But what if they say they don't want to pay the extra fees so it's easier to send it as a friend? DON'T DO IT. Paypal and Venmo process transactions a certain way and you lose rights to dispute a transaction you send to a "Friend".
Professionals do use Paypal, Venmo, and Other apps. But they do it legally. They can send an invoice or something similar as a receipt of the transaction. But never send money to a business as a friend, donation, or gift.
-They don't have a contract.
I know, I know, Contract is a big scary word. But what a contract really is, it's outlining expectations of the session and photos. This is your "product guarantee". A typical contract will outline their late policy, how long the session is, where the session will take place, and other information. You want a clear contract so that the photographer can be held accountable too.
-They don't have public pricing or they won't give you a standard price list.
Some photographers publicly display their prices but others choose to wait for you to inquire to receive their price list. If upon initial inquiry they won't give you much information after you have provided how many people are in your group and what background you might want, this may be a red flag.
All photographers run a standard price list. Some organize this list by location or number of people. But what you don't want is someone just willy-nilly whipping up prices and calling it "custom pricing"
If their prices aren't displayed publicly, you should receive a PDF or photo of their pricing structure.
It's the same way that Walmart charges the same for you and your neighbor. You don't want to go in and buy a TV one day, then your neighbor goes the same day and pays more, then maybe a friend goes the same exact day too and pays less than either of you!
Pricing should be fair, honest, across the board, and easily accessible.
-Lack of public information about their business.
Most photographers have a website or business social media channels where they tell you "About the Photographer" or a backstory into their profession or their education. These Channels should include the business owners' names, about them, and what services they offer.
If someone isn't willing to answer your questions publicly (in FB groups or comments) be cautious, especially if they are offering their services.
If their website or business page is bare, beware
Their website address should be something like "photographername.com" or "photographer.photo"
If the URL contains anything else weird, this could be a photographer who is not established yet or this could be a website that was put together quickly. Professionals spend hours on their site to personalize it and make it "theirs"
This isn't a complete red flag, because those who are just starting out could be using a free site, but Wix, Square, and other providers provide free websites, so anyone can make one. If there's any indication on the site that this is a "Free" version, beware. Website Domains are cheap, easy to purchase, and part of their business expenses. Most Professional Photographers will have a legitimate website URL and will not be using a "free" website.
-Private Facebook Groups
Most businesses have a Facebook page that is public where they post, get reviews, and more. But having a a private Facebook group just for their business is different. (Unless its boudoir)
A Private Facebook group lets the admin restrict anything that goes on in that group, even reviews. Someone leaves a bad review? Easy! The Admin just has to remove them from the group and delete the post.
The photographer you book should have readily available public information and reviews.
- Ask questions about the locations they use and if they have a permit to shoot in the GSMNP
- Ask to see client galleries to check for consistency
- What does their pricing include?
- Make sure you are sending money through the proper channels to secure your date
- Sign a contract with the photographer
- Search them on Google, Facebook, and other channels to vet them.
You should feel confident in your decision
If you feel the vibe is off at anytime during the inquiry stage, state your concerns and whats making it feel "off". Any professional will help ease any concerns you have.
Make sure to pick a photographer who seems to match your personality. Read about them and see if this is someone you want to spend 30+ minutes doing a session with.
This blog post is to help whoever needs it, whether you choose me or someone else for your photographer. Finding the RIGHT photographer for you is the most important part!