Why Hire a Photographer?
In an era when nearly everyone has a camera in their pocket, why hire a photographer at all? There are so many reasons!
Smartphones are amazing. Let’s just get that out of the way. The camera in my iPhone X outpaces every point and shoot camera I ever owned in the pre-smartphone era! In fact, with the correct technique, you can produce some truly professional images with a smartphone. So what makes a professional photographer better than a friend with a smartphone?
Well the first thing to consider is the lens. Smartphones generally use a lens that is wider than the ideal focal length for portraiture. This means that smartphones will often make your face appear distorted and wider than a professional photographer’s lens of choice. Those photographers who do use wider lenses for portraits have experience while minimizing distortion to the body and face. But no matter what, one lens will not suit every scene. This is the biggest drawback of smartphones and point and shoot cameras. Some images will require a wide angle or hyper wide angle lens while others will require a telephoto lens. You can certainly capture great images with any lens, but you may not capture the image you want without the right lens.
Next there is lighting. Everyone hates the look of flash photography, right? Well, not so much! What people hate is the small direct flash on point and shoot cameras and smartphones. They lead to dark rooms and brilliantly lit discolored subjects with harsh shadows and red eyes. Who likes that??? But by controlling the relative intensity, size, and direction of different light sources in the scene, a photographer can create shape and contrast. Used properly, off-camera lighting can be slimming and flattering to any subject. Lighting dictates shape and depth while simultaneously controlling the viewer’s attention. The benefit of good lighting should never be underestimated!
Next there’s posing and composition. We all know how to take a selfie (admittedly it took me a few tries since I refused to use the rear-facing camera on my older iphones for years…but I got it now!). But there is a huge difference between an awkward pose in which everyone squishes together and a pleasing composition and pose in a portrait. Even those who spend all their time taking selfies often find that they don’t know what to do in front of the lens. This is completely normal! A professional photographer will be able to coach you through your session. My personal approach is to first get my clients talking and put them at ease (we all tense up a bit in front of a camera). I then direct my clients to make very minor adjustments from one shot to the next - moving a hand here, shifting a gaze there. No two photographers will take exactly the same approach, but any good photographer will help to put you at ease in front of the camera and then help to pose you in the most flattering manner and location.
Finally there’s experience. A professional photographer will know that the same pose won’t work for every person. They’ll know that that lighting should be adjusted relative to the subject, the ambient lighting, and sometimes even the shape and color of the room. They’ll know when to shoot a low angle shot and when to shoot a high angle shot. Professional photographers know these things because we’ve been around the block and made all the same mistakes as everybody else - we’ve just been making them a lot longer and more frequently. Over time, we learn what works and what doesn’t. We take classes and share experiences. We grow not only individually, but as a community. As equipment improves and new photographers join the field, new techniques evolve and new opportunities for creativity present themselves. The images captured today are infinitely more dynamic than those that were on display when I first picked up a camera.
There’s an extent to which smartphones are trying to take the experience out of the equation. You may not know what settings to adjust in order to get a properly exposed subject and background in a given scene, but your phone can analyze the entire image and make adjustments on your behalf. The issue here is that your camera is only as good as its programming. It won’t innovate on its own. It may realize that your subject is very slightly underexposed compared to your background and apply some in-camera edits to resolve this. What it won’t do is look at the whole scene and adjust your subject’s position and pose relative to the environment in order to reflect more light and draw attention to your subject. It won’t bring in an off-camera flash in order to fill just the areas that need a bit of extra light. In short, it will manipulate the image it has been given, but it won’t create the image for you.
The benefit of a professional photographer lies at the junction of the correct equipment, settings, lighting, pose, composition, and the knowledge of how to use each of these to capture each image. When you hire a professional, you aren’t just getting their gear, but also their experience manipulating lighting, poses, and composition in order to create the best possible image in any scenario.