People take quick snap shots of their kids constantly. So why pay a professional? Well, we have a nicer camera that can blur out the background. Blurring out the background suddenly adds a touch of professionalism to your photographs. It makes your subject matter stand out and gets rid of unwanted distractions. But now there are even phone cameras that can create a shallow depth of field (background blur).
Well, photographers should have some sort of basic training with getting the appropriate exposure without using automatic mode, have a sense of composition and an idea of how to use white balance. Due to the suddenly affordability of bottom of the line SLRs (those big cameras with big detachable lenses) about a decade ago, many people were drawn to the idea of starting up a fun, creative business without having any prior education and can immediately call themselves a professional. Those basic photography skills mentioned above can be learnt by reading posts off pinterest and through much trial and error. Unfortunately those photography posts were made by other "self taught" photographers and are missing pretty major key elements and a huge understanding of more complex variables.
What can we take from this? Be careful in choosing a photographer. You can't even base your decision on how expensive they are because some un-skilled photographers can still charge a bundle due to having lots of recommendations from family and friends. Truth is that many people don't even recognize a good portrait from an average one unless they see a side by side comparison. So what should you do?
1 - Make sure you check out their portfolio very carefully.
Keep in mind that a photographer only displays their best work. They may have lots of really bad photos they have sold their clients that they are not displaying. Do they have lots of examples? Do they have a lot of different models? If you are seeing the same people again and again, either they haven't done many photo sessions or have only done a few good photo sessions. Look for different categories. If there is just one category for "Family" and there are about 30 pictures in it that means they don't have enough good photos to create other categories such as "Siblings" or "Children".
2 - Are the poses creative or static?
Like I stated earlier, its pretty easy to create a basic professional photo by simply blurring out the background. Are they simply posing their subject "static like" in front of the camera and snapping a photograph letting their camera do all the work? Look for poses that show off the subject's personality. What are they doing with their hands? How are their feet positioned?
3 - Look for the sun
An inexperienced photographer will ALWAYS pose their subjects in the shade. An even less experienced photographer will pose someone is full sun light. Full sun light is bad, really bad. Shade is safe. A experienced and well educated photographer will use both shade and sunlight but never direct full on sunlight. It takes a lot of education, understanding and experience to really understand sunlight and how to use it for portrait photography. Its pretty easy to do sun wrong. So look to see how the photographer is using the sun. Is the sun low in the horizon? If yes, that's good.
Now, there are times when a photographer cannot avoid the direct sun due to the time of day or location that the client insists upon. I would, however, never use those photos as examples. If you are choosing an experience photographer, listen to them about location and time because its extremely important.
4 - What is their education or background?
Look for a photographer that has both years of experience and an education in photography or art. If a photographer has these things, they will also have an "about page" to let you know. If they don't have an "about" page then that means they don't have anything to brag about to help sell themselves. While a photography education is not completely necessary it does take YEARS off the "trail and error" phase and are taught correct principals from other successful professionals. They'll have a much deeper understanding of how to create a great portrait and have more knowledgeable tools to be more creative in their work.
5 - Do they own a domain?
If they only have a blog, please don't take them seriously. A serious photographer will invest in a proper domain and email address. You can pretty well disregard anyone who uses a Hotmail, Gmail or other email account as a business email.
6 - Ask them "What is the purpose of a grey card?"
If they don't know the answer to this then they haven't had enough educational background to understand exposure which is pretty well the first thing a photographer should understand. They definitely do not need to carry a grey card around but they should have had to use one at one point. A simple answer: a grey card is a "middle grey" or "zone 5" board that you place near your subject. You then go right up and "meter" the grey board to figure out the correct exposure for your subject matter. Once you have the correct settings on your camera, you then go and take the photograph and your subject will be properly exposed. Most photographers now just take a photo with their digital camera, look at it and make adjustments. Its actually quicker when doing portraits but a grey card is a primary thing you need to understand before you can choose not to use it.
I hope this helps you make a better educated decisions when choosing a Family photographer.