What you need to know when you are hiring a professional or a hobbyist photographer for those special images. A professional photographer earns his living from photography, a hobbyist does not. That could be the only difference. Do not assume that you will get better quality, talent or more professional training and experience by hiring a professional, and do not assume that the hobbyist will charge you cheaper rates. Many hobbyists have had formal education in photography, meaning degrees or diplomas in photography, years of experience, and may work with upwards of $20,000 worth of equipment, editing programs and computer set ups, just as the professional does. Check out the websites of both, and judge for yourself if this is the style and quality you want for the price you are paying.
How much should you expect to pay? This depends entirely on the photographer and what you need. Rates may vary between $100 for an hour on location shoot without lighting set up or assistants, to $5,000 for a full day wedding. Prices will vary according to how long the shoot will take, if lighting set ups are required, if the photographer needs to hire assistants, second shooters, where the location is, more than one location, if the photographer has to rent the location space, how many prints are required, photo books, etc. So, by now, you must think all photographers live in million dollar homes and drive BMWs. Not so.
So why does it cost so much? Paying $100 for an hour's work seems like a lot. Not exactly. Ideally, before the shoot, you should meet with the photographer or at least communicate exactly what it is that you need. This will help the photographer decide what will be required. You should also create a contract at that time and possibly make a deposit. This way you are both very clear on what you both can expect. Then the photographer will go ahead and rent the location for you, such as a studio, or hire assistants or second shooters, or purchase special equipment, if needed. Then the photographer will take a trip out to the location and check out the lighting conditions before the shoot, pick up equipment, organize assistants, etc. The photographer will also develop some concepts for the shoot and may discuss these with you, Then there will be time taken to prepare his equipment, travel time, gas, set up, the actual shoot, take down, then editing time and delivery. Depending on the photographer, you can expect that for every hour of shooting, two hours or more are taken with the post-processing of the images and putting them in a format to deliver to you. Then he will meet with you or communicate with you to deliver your images and receive his payment. So, for your $100, you are getting around 6 hours of work. That's why photographers aren't millionaires, unless they're doing something else on the side.
It's just a picture, right? Not really. Your friends can take pictures for you, your photographer will create a photograph for you. Photographers are creative by nature, study lighting techniques, they know how to use a camera to get the effects they want, they understand posing techniques, they know what lenses are required for the situation, they compose the images, develop concepts, and are aware of backgrounds, leading lines, composition rules, and how to bring the viewer's eye to the subject, they know when to use tripods, ND filters, gels, strobes to create images and work with changing lighting conditions. They know how to use editing software, how to create jpgs or composites, and how to distribute the images to you by DVD, prints, or photo books. They adhere to photography laws.
What should you expect? Whether you are hiring a photographer who has a business, or a hobbyist, check out their websites or social media posts. Know their qualifications. Referrals from friends are great, but may not be what you are really looking for. Expect to communicate exactly what you need, expect to pay for what you are asking for, expect to agree on a written or verbal contract, expect a penalty fee if cancelled, expect to show up on time and ready to go, expect to get satisfying results. If not, tell the photographer, and give him a chance to correct the situation rather than destroy his reputation. Technology is amazing and many things can be corrected, if they're not quite right.
What does the photographer expect? The photographer expects to be treated with professional respect. He is a creative artist with technical knowledge and skills. He expects to understand what you want. He expects you to respect that he knows what he is doing and does not need Aunt Mary's help. He expects his time to be valued, and that you honour your commitment to hiring him for your photo shoot. He has used his own funds to organize your shoot and expects to be paid at the delivery of your images. He expects you to tell him if you are not happy with the results and given an opportunity to correct them.
So, next time you ask your friend, who just happens to be a photographer, to take a picture for you, realize he may be your friend, but he's also a photographer. :)