How to choose the right photographer for you

I’m a commercial, editorial, and documentary photographer, but I did a lot of weddings and portraits in the past. I often get asked how to choose the right photographer and since I have a lot experience in this arena, I thought I would share some of my best tips here on my blog.

Here’s some information consumers should know when hiring a photographer for things like family portraits, weddings, and events.

Anyone Can Be A “Pro”

There’s a low barrier of entry to a person marketing themself as a professional photographer. There are no licenses, certifications, or regulations in the industry.

These days all one needs is a camera and a Facebook page. This can be helpful to you as a consumer because there are a lot of options at different price points. However, you need to keep in mind that people who charge less money nearly always have less experience and skill.

Referrals, Referrals, Referrals

It’s so important I said it thrice. As a consumer, the most effective way to protect yourself from a terrible photography shoot is to ask for referrals from your own friends and family.

If someone you know well, whose opinion you trust, personally recommends a photographer, that is your best bet. Of course, if that person has terrible taste, or you didn’t love their photos, move on to the next referral.

Google Is Popular For A Reason

An old-fashioned Google search is a great way to find a photographer. Typically, photographers showing up at the top of a search are either well-established or are paying good money on advertising, which can mean they take their business seriously.

The number of photographers in a search can be overwhelming! Be as specific as possible to start. Instead of “Indianapolis Photographer” try “Carmel Indiana Wedding Photojournalist.” Describing a specific location, type of photography, and style will help you find more that you like right off the top.

If you find you’re TOO specific, then start expanding the geographic area of your search. Or if locality is more important, start there and be less specific about the style.

Photographers Need A REAL Website

If a photographer only has a Facebook page to promote their services, that’s not a great sign. They are likely either inexperienced or not great at running a business.

A clean, visually appealing, and easy to navigate website is a requirement for a professional photographer. The site should have a broad variety of images from multiple shoots. There should be ample evidence on their site, that they can photograph an event like the one you are hiring them to do.

Professionalism is important

A talented photographer who is not a good businessperson is usually a disappointment. If they’re disorganized or unprofessional, even if they get great photos, it’s not worth the risk. Take their clients’ reviews seriously!

They might not show up on time for your session, take months (or years!) to get your photos back to you, or cause any other number of problems that aren’t related to operating a camera. Your photos may be great, but if you never actually get them, it doesn’t really matter.

What To Look For On a Photographer’s Website

You can tell a lot from a photographer’s website. Here are some things to look for…
– Does it look like they’ve photographed a lot of different subjects? Or do you keep seeing the same people show up over and over again?
– Do you find yourself experiencing any emotions while looking at the photos? Are their images making you smile? Or feel excited about your own upcoming wedding, pregnancy, or family event?
– Is there a good variety of images, or are you seeing the same poses and locations from photo to photo?
– Do they include pricing on their site? Better photographers are more upfront about costs. It helps to cut down on leads that don’t go anywhere.
– Do they have information about what to expect before, during and after a session? This shows professionalism and experience.

Questions to ask before hiring a photographer

Here are a few questions to ask once you have your search narrowed to a few photographers whose work you like.

– Ask to see a full wedding/session/event. It’s easy to pull together a portfolio from dozens of shoots, but you only get one day. How many good shots do they get for one client?
– Make sure you know who your photographer is actually going to be. Seems like you should be getting the person whose name is out front, but you need to be sure. It can be okay to accept another photographer (especially if you’re speaking to a studio as opposed to a one-person-show), but make sure you know WHO it is and you’re seeing samples of THEIR work. They should also cost less than the lead photographer.
– If the information isn’t on their website already, ask how the process of the photo session works. What happens before, during, and after? What should you wear/not wear? How long until you get your finished photos? What exactly is included?

What If They’re Too Expensive?

If you speak with a photographer that you like and they turn out to be too expensive, don’t be afraid to ask them for a referral. Just say something like, “We love your work so much, but unfortunately we can’t afford to work with you. Do you know any photographers that might be willing to work with us in our price range?” A lot of times photographers will have assistants or friends who are newer to the game that they’re willing to refer.

Beware of discounts! I’ve had many people tell me, “Oh, he gave me a great deal!” about the same photographer. If the price on their website says $1000, but they only charge you $500, then their actual price is $500.

Deposits & Payment

It’s common for photographers to ask for a deposit. That isn’t a red flag, it’s actually a really smart way to run a business. It’s also common for photographers to require payment in full before an event. If you like the photographer and they have good reviews, you should feel comfortable with their policies.

When I photographed weddings, I required a $1000 deposit to reserve a date with the balance due 1 month prior to the wedding. This covered my out of pocket costs while I was working on the wedding day and in post-production the days following. This also ensured that both parties were equally committed to the contract.

Using Less Expensive Photographers

It’s okay to use an inexpensive photographer. Everyone deserves to have professional photos of important milestones in their lives. If you find someone you feel checks all the boxes (including your budget), that is all that matters.

There are talented photographers who do this as a side-hustle. You can ask them all the same questions I mentioned above so you know what you’re getting.

You cannot expect the same results or level of service as a photographer who charges 5x as much. As a consumer you need to either adjust your budget to match your expectations, or adjust your expectations to match your budget. However, once you’ve got that settled, there are sure to be many photographers to choose from in any price range.

Good luck! Don’t forget to have fun with your photo shoot!

Purposeful Design

Purposeful Design in Indianapolis, Indiana makes beautiful hand-crafted and custom furniture. That alone is impressive. Pair that with their mission to help individuals who have faced addiction and homelessness and you have an organization that is changing lives.


Most of the men who work at Purposeful Design have no experience woodworking. They receive training and work their way through the various machinery to be able to work on all aspects of furniture production.

They have also started a school that consists of 30 hours of coursework in the areas of woodworking, discipleship, and job readiness.


Ministry is at the foundation of Purposeful Design. Craftsmen participate in a discipleship program to become servant-leaders. Workers gather daily for a prayer and are open to share with the group and receive support.

Check out the Purposeful Design website to learn more about their services, request a quote on a custom piece of furniture, or donate to their mission.

Send a Referral

Do you know any organizations doing important work? What about craftsmen making cool stuff? Leave a comment or contact us to let us know!


I created a short video of some action around the shop. Click the link below to take a look.

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Relish Health

relish health md erica leazenby

Dr. Erica Leazenby of Relish Health is a trained chef and M.D. She states that her practice, “combines the joy and art of cooking with the science of food, nutrition and medicine.”

Dr. Leazenby takes a holistic approach to working with patients. She helps them find dietary and lifestyle practices that are suited to the individual.

Relish Health Wellness Studio

These images are from a “wellness studio” event. These are live cooking demonstrations where Dr. Leazenby talks about specific connections between food and wellness, shows how to cook her latest recipes, and answers questions about nutrition and health.

Be sure to check out her website for more information:

relish health md erica leazenby

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If you’re into health and fitness, check out this profile on personal trainer Tatum Perez.

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Advice for Student Photographers

I often receive emails from student photographers seeking advice about pursuing a career in photography.  I decided to compile the answers to the most frequently asked questions in a blog post.

Advice for Student Photographers - Find your voice as a photographer


The most important advice I have for student photographers is to find your own unique point of view. This is the key to differentiating yourself from the thousands of other people trying to make a career in photography.  Your voice is what you’re looking to convey with your work.  It’s not something you sit and try to define in words. It’s primarily driven by the work you create.

The best way to find your voice as a photographer is to get out and shoot as much as possible.   Think, “What am I interested in photographing?”  It doesn’t need to be limited to a narrow category (sports, music, fashion, news, etc.).  Try anything and everything that sounds compelling.  As you shoot more, devote more time to the subjects you find most interesting.  Here’s a good example of something I went out to shoot just because I found it interesting.


Don’t fall into the trap of chasing images you think other people might like or find impactful.  Shooting what you find interesting will make more compelling images than shooting on trend or trying to convey what you perceive to be an important statement.

As a student photographer, you have access to a wealth of subjects to photograph.  At any university there are many different departments and areas of study and any one of them would be thrilled to have someone taking their photo and highlighting the work they’re doing.  Plus, being a student photographer or working for a student publication can get you access to all types of different events or people outside of school that you might want to photograph.

Studying other topics you’re interested in will greatly inform your photography.  Learning about anything from sociology to dance can affect the direction you take with your work.  Like I said, follow what interests you and that will help you find your voice, which is key to being a great photographer.


School is also a great place for creating relationships.  Good professors can be life-long mentors.  Friendships will lead to all sorts of personal and professional opportunities you couldn’t even guess at this point.  A network of alumni will be thrilled to meet with you, advise you, and hire you from here on out.


I recommend starting to collect your contacts & grow a database now.  Use Apple or Google contacts and compile a list of everyone you know:  friends, family, acquaintances.  Get all of their email addresses and phone numbers in there at a minimum.

Go to events through your school and in the community that sound interesting to you.  When you meet someone, get their business card and put them in your database.  Ask people if you can add them to your email list.   Send out a monthly or bi-weekly email with 1 or 2 images and say something like, “To see my latest work, be sure to follow me on Instagram/Twitter/Blog (include links).”  Don’t ask people for work in these emails.  They should just be casual: “Hey, I wanted to share this with you.” You can use a service like MailChimp for free.

Advice for Student Photographers - Learn from others.


If  you want your passion for photography to be more than just a hobby, you’ll want to study business and marketing.  This will not only help you run your own company, it’ll help you know how to best serve your clients.  Even if you’re considering doing photography as art, and not commercially as I do, you still need at least basic business skills to know how to make a living at it.

I’ve been a full-time photographer for more than a decade and I can tell you that actually shooting and editing photos comprises less than half of my time.  A lot of my time is spent marketing and doing the actual work of running a business.  Here’s a partial list of my other regular tasks…

building & maintaining a database of contacts
networking opportunities (i.e. community events)
calling current & prospective clients
writing current & prospective clients
meeting with current & prospective clients
bidding/estimating for new jobs
writing contracts & licensing agreements
registering copyrights
budgeting/tracking expenses
creating email & print pieces to market my business
posting to social media
managing & maintaining equipment
reading & studying (continuing education classes, publications, blogs, etc.)
managing digital files (organizing, exporting, uploading, archiving)
hiring & managing contractors (assistants, stylists, etc.)

I could list more, but I think you get the idea.  I mention all of these things because I think it’s good to know what you’re getting into.  As your business grows, you can hire people to handle a lot of the tasks you might not care to do, but you’ll always oversee everything, and in the beginning it’s a one-man show.  That’s why I always tell students to take business classes.  I’ve seen many talented photographers struggle and fail because they can’t run a business and many average photographers succeed because they can run a business.  This is why taking business classes is important advice for student photographers.


It’s very tempting as a broke student photographer to borrow money in order to buy a nice camera and lenses and tell yourself that you need them. Debt severely limits your options in the future.  Buy what you can afford right now.  If you have $500, buy some used gear.  Then after you’ve had time to save up more, sell your old gear and put that money together with your savings to upgrade.

When you’re a young photographer and your shooting style is developing, the type of gear you want can change pretty quickly, so don’t put much money into it.  Borrow gear available at your school.  You can also rent specialty gear when you need it from places like BorrowLenses.

If you use the affiliate link below, it helps me keep doing what I do and connects you with a great service I use all the time…

Check out BorrowLenses!
Advice for Student Photographers - Get started now


So what can you do as a student photographer to get started now?

Shoot, shoot, shoot.  Then edit and see what you like and what you don’t like.  It can be good to get feedback from a trained eye, but don’t put much stock in likes and retweets.  Most photographers who receive thousands of likes on their Instagram photos are NOT making a living as a photographer.  I also know some professionals who generate hundreds of thousands of dollars each year and only have a few followers or aren’t on social media at all.

The style that plays well on Instagram often doesn’t translate to images that work on most other media.  I find that my most complex and layered images don’t play as well on social media as my simple and “pretty” images.­  But those complex photos work much better for print and full-page website images.  They’re also the preferred images of my clients.

When people start seeing your work and following you, they’ll start asking you to shoot things for them.  It will take a few years before you’re able to do it full time, but the sooner you start, the sooner you’ll get there.


Getting involved in your local community of photographers.  Professional organizations like the American Society of Media Photographers (ASMP) have gatherings where student photographers can meet pros with a lot of experience, hear them speak and ask them questions.  

When you get to know veteran photographers, you can ask them about assisting or shadowing them on a shoot, which is an excellent way to gain knowledge. 

Many cities also have vibrant Instagram communities, where photographers meet up to shoot different events together, or have some friendly competition photographing a theme.  In my area, two good examples would be Igers Indy and Igers Bloomington.

To sum it up, my advice for student photographers who would like to pursue a career in photography is to shoot all the time, share your images and build your network.  If you develop an audience online throughout your time in college, that will be a HUGE help by the time your graduate.

I hope this advice for student photographers helps a bit!  If you have any questions or feedback to give, please leave a comment below so everyone can benefit from the dialog.

Advice for Student Photographers - GO SHOOT!

Industrial and Warehousing Photography

Morales Group is a leading staffing agency in Indianapolis.  The Morales Group attributes their growth to their commitment to serve: their clients, associates, staff and the community at large.

Recently I had the opportunity to collaborate with them on a new photography catalog to be used on their new website and marketing materials.  I photographed their real employees, without the use of models or staging, working in their actual jobs.

The first few sets of images are screen shots from the website (designed by Willow Marketing) followed by the original images.  As an advertising photographer, I always have to be sure to shoot with space to provide room for type and to fit a digital layout. Utilizing my documentary photography approach makes this a unique challenge.

Indianapolis staffing - Morales Group - documentary commercial photography


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Now Hiring


We need an intelligent and motivated individual to manage client services and day-to-day operations of our commercial photography business.  This job is a great fit for someone who is detail oriented, likes to organize, and wants to help a business implement and manage practices and systems.

Some of the required tasks will include:

– Creating and delivering estimates, invoices, and contracts (we use Quickbooks)

– Managing client database and network interactions (our CRM is Insightly)

– Responding to and tracking new inquiries

– Paying bills and managing mail

– Scheduling and paying contractors and assistants

– Ordering and managing office supplies

– Managing the physical office space, implementing systems where necessary

We believe this job will require about 10-20 hours a week and can be completed with a flexible schedule. Pay is commensurate with experience.

Email résumé to

All-Star Veterinary Clinic

All-Star Veterinary Clinic in Westfield, Indiana is owned by Dr. Emily King and her husband Richard King.  With nearly 15 years in business, they’re known throughout the community for superior service and client care.  This spring they completed an expansion and renovation to the clinic and had me come in to update their photo library.


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Trade Show Photography

Trafic Design, is a Quebec company specializing in corporate design and branded environments for business.  Trafic contacted me to document their promotional exhibit design at the 2017 NTEA Work Truck Show, the largest event in association history.  It featured more than 500 vendors with nearly 12,000 attendees, occupying all 566,000 square feet of exhibit space in the Indiana Convention Center.
Trafic’s client, Ranger Design, is a commercial van outfit manufacturer for mobile professionals.  At the exhibit, attendees were able to view Ranger’s latest innovations in person and have questions answered in detail by knowledgeable staff. Ranger’s exhibit also employed touchscreen technology to digitally outfit trucks to fit their clients’ unique needs. Ranger Design had more than a dozen employees at the show and seven fully equipped trucks on site.Trafic’s goal for the shoot on was to feature the design, flow and functions of the booth. With that in mind, I aimed to highlight how Trafic’s design facilitated interactions between Ranger’s products and employees and their target customers visiting the show.Three hours were allocated for the shoot and we broke it into three segments:

1. Scouting – Due to situational constraints (the Truck Show & exhibits weren’t set up until the day of the event) a separate scouting trip wasn’t possible. I arrived before the convention floor opened to have a brief walk through with Trafic’s president to discuss a few of the key features and design elements of the exhibit.

2. Exhibit Design – Before the exhibit hall opened to the public I shot for about one and a half hours focusing on taking wide, medium and detail shots of the booth’s design, features and branding.3. Environment in Use – Once the doors opened to the public, I spent about an hour documenting how attendees moved through and experienced the space in order to really showcase how Trafic’s brand experience for Ranger Design and their clientele. 

I focused on attendees’ engagement with the products, Ranger employees and interactive elements of the exhibit.  I also briefly shadowed Ranger’s CEO to document his interactions with customers on the trade show floor.As with many of my shoots, this job required me to be able to move quickly and inconspicuously so as not to distract from the company at work.  I kept my gear to 2 camera bodies and 4 lenses, which I wore on me at all times. The Indiana Convention Center is properly lit and I knew from past experience that no additional lighting would be necessary.Trafic’s product and service shows best in real use. My approach is a practical solution provided in real time without the use of models or expensive staging, saving the company money and time while producing images that capture the full experience of a Trafic branded environment. Are you ready to show your business in action? Contact us now to schedule a consultation. 


Getting The Most Out Of Event Photography

Photos of conferences could easily become monotonous if they’re primarily focused on people talking on a stage.  As a business, you can create more interest and engagement with your brand by following this advice on the type of photography you can create from your events and conferences.  To illustrate my points, images center around one day of an event I did in Washington DC.

Images should capture unique perspectives and elements that give a sense of time and place.  Giving life, energy, and movement to images draws readers/viewers into your content, whether in print or online. There are typically great interactions before, between and after events.  Taking photos like this that can live past the specific event makes your marketing dollar go further as well. 

Photos with the title of the event that’s not simply a straight-on shot of a sign can work well as a title page highlighting the event in an annual report, or a cover photo for a web gallery.  These types of images can also stand alone on social media to draw people into a post to get more information.

These types of images can be beneficial for multiple reasons: The negative space can be used for graphic elements in design. An image that can be cropped into a strong horizontal is useful for web & social media banners. Photos that don’t highlight a particular person or event can be used to promote many types of future events.

This photo combines a number of elements that make an image both visually interesting and helpful to an organization:  the business name, strong lighting, personal interactions, negative space to allow for cropping or text overlay.

Watching for speakers outside of their time on stage gives additional opportunities to highlight featured speakers in a different background.  It’s also a great way to show VIPs interacting with each other and with conference-goers.  This photo features International Monetary Fund Managing Director Christine Lagarde (left) and Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen.  

While it is important to have a few tight, clear shots of speakers, it’s also helpful to step back and have a wider view of the room.  Being able to see the size of the crowd and the presence of media can illustrate the influence and reach of your events.

The bottom line is that there’s no reason marketing photos from events can’t have both content and an artistic aesthetic to them.  If photos aren’t drawing the viewer in and creating engagement with your brand, then they’re just filler.  Don’t settle for less!

“If people only knew…”

I bet you’ve started a sentence that way.  Most likely it was in regard to something you had strong feelings about: the work that you do or a cause you support, for example.

“If people only knew about our business and how we can help them, we’d easily meet our sales goals.”

“If people only knew how this issue is affecting our community, we would be able to raise enough funds to solve the problem.”

The problem might not be that people don’t know about your business or organization.  The problem might be that people only know about the product or service you provide, and don’t realize how you can help them solve their problems.


“Sell the problem you solve, not the product.” – foundr magazine

“Go from being a service provider to a solutions provider.” David Griffiths, K3-Cubed, Ltd. – Management Consulting

“If there was a problem, yo, I’ll solve it.” – Robert Matthew Van Winkle, multi-platinum recording artist


What does it mean to be a solutions provider?  In my mind, the difference between being a service provider and a solutions provider is the difference between a product and a result.  For my business, it’s saying, “I tell your story,” instead of “I take photos.”  I solve the problem of how a business connects with its clients and investors by telling their story.  In other words, I help my clients stop saying, “If people only knew…”

The first step in becoming a solutions provider is to, “Focus on the customer’s problem and build a message around the specific need your product addresses,” writes entrepreneurship consultant Rick Spence.  We business owners tend to talk a lot about ourselves and the work that we do.  I include myself in that statement.  Instead, we first must listen to our potential clients about what they perceive their problem to be.  Only then can we really frame our product/service as a solution.

As you move down this path of thinking, know that your potential customers might not even realize they have a problem they need solved.  In his Harvard Business Review article about mental models, Mark Bonchek writes, “Mental models are how the brain makes sense of the vast amount of information to be processed every moment of every day.  They are the lens through which we see the world.”

Bonchek uses cloud computing as an example.  Not long ago, “the cloud” was a concept not widely recognized.  If the solution you were selling involved cloud-based computing, you first needed to help potential buyers understand the “mental model” of cloud computing.

“We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.” – Albert Einstein


For my business, the “if people only knew…,” is that I can provide the solution to “if people only knew…”  What solutions do you provide your clients? How would this paradigm shift change your marketing and even your target market? Tell us about the solutions your business provides in the comments below.


Bonchek, Mark. “Don’t Sell a Product, Sell a Whole New Way of Thinking.” Harvard Business Review. web. 18 July 2014.

Spence, Rick. “How to Market to People Who Don’t Know They Need You.” Financial Post. web. 17 Dec. 2014.