John DeMato

By John DeMato

5 Questions To Qualify Photographers Beyond Their Portfolio And Price Tag

5 Questions To Qualify Photographers Beyond Their Portfolio And Price Tag 150 150 John DeMato

One of the biggest misconceptions about choosing the photographer that’s best for your needs is that you base that decision solely on the photographers price tag and portfolio.

In one sense, this line of thinking makes sense considering the level of work that you want from a photographer must aptly represent the style and presentation you’re looking to get from your image content, while living comfortably within your budget.

But, be warned.

If you do that, you’re setting yourself up to potentially waste your investment of time and money.

How come?

A successful and valuable portrait session is not solely dictated by the skill of the photographer behind the camera and how comfortable you are with paying for this skill.

Yes, these are absolutely important factors to consider, but, the work that they’ve created in the past does not mean they’ll necessarily be able to produce the same results by working with you.

There are many more variables to consider when hiring a photographer that’s right for you.

First, is there a natural rapport and connection between you two? Second, are they ready to help define and support your objectives and goals that you have for your portrait session?

In order to answer these questions, you must do some digging when you have these potential photographers on the phone by asking them the right questions that will clearly illustrate whether or not they are a good fit to work with you.

When you feel energized and confident after getting off the phone with them because you now have a clear understanding of who they are, how they work AND how good they are in producing magazine-quality portraits that present you as the expert you are, you’ll be in a much better place to make your decision.

After all, you don’t just want to hire a button pusher with a fancy camera – it’s essential to work with a collaborator in your success – and that’s what you really need in order to get the image content that’s required for your website, social posts, blog articles, speaker submissions, ads, and everything else associated with marketing your business online and in print.

With that in mind, what are the questions that you need to ask?

I’m glad you inquired, 🙂

Let’s go through some important ones…

How do you make your clients comfortable in front of the camera?

This is huge.


When you fake it in front of the camera, it will show all over your face.

You want to work with a photographer who has the type of personality that will inspire you to drop your guard, get you out of your head thinking about every perceived blemish on your appearance and into the moment so that your body language and expressions on your face are natural to who you are.

When you’re on the phone with this potential photographer, pay close attention to how they answer this question, and think to yourself whether or not this person will inspire comfort and confidence out of you. Is their voice soothing? Does the tone they use resonate with me? Do they make me laugh? Will I be comfortable being open and honest with him/her during the session?

It doesn’t matter how amazing the photographer’s portfolio is – if you don’t feel comfortable with this person in the same room with you – you’ll never get the photos that your business requires.

How do you direct during a session? Are you quiet or very talkative? Technically driven? How do you do your thing?

This question is along the same lines as the one above, although it allows you to get in the weeds a little bit more with respect to their process, giving you the opportunity to see if their directing style meshes well with your sensibilities.

Do you prefer someone to talk non-stop throughout the session in order for you to stay focused on the present moment? Or, are you super confident in front of the camera, have done this a million times and need minimal direction in order to produce the types of portraits you need to promote yourself?

That needs to be answered by you and you alone.

Once you know what you need in order to maximize the results of the session, ask the photographer how he/she works, and you’ll know immediately whether or not this particular photographer is a good fit for you.

Have you worked with a (your specialization) in the past? How did it go?

One of the primary issues with image content within the speaker, author, coach and high-level entrepreneur communities is that the portraits they post are not quite what they need to truly resonate with their audiences.

Yes, there’s a lot of beautiful work out there, and these thought leaders look as spectacular in their photos as they do when they’re on stage presenting, but, there’s something missing…

…it’s not enough to simply look your best in your images – that’s just a stud in the foundation.

You also need your image content to visually punctuate the sentiments and emotion of every story that you share with your audience in order to truly gain their attention and advocacy.

Remember – the primary goal of leveraging image content is to build connection and rapport with your audience

As a result, you need images that not only flatter and accentuate your appearance, but they also need to clearly illustrate who you are, who you serve, and why you do what you do.  

How do you achieve this?

Don’t just stare into the camera and look pretty!

Create lifestyle portraits that show your audience how you work, how you work with clients (virtually, in person, etc), and how do you brainstorm your thought leadership.

(Side note – it’s also important to present powerful images of you speaking from the stage, but, that’s a separate component that I’ll elaborate on in future articles.)

These types of portraits de-mystify your process, breaks down the fourth wall and allows for your audience to envision what working with you looks like, which goes a long way to establishing trust.

When you pose this question to a potential photographer, it will generate an answer that will let you know whether or not this photographer understands what you need or is just focused on making you look good in front of the camera. 

And believe me, I don’t know one photographer that doesn’t want their clients to look good, 🙂

Do you provide a pre-session strategy call, and if so, what do we go over specifically?

If the answer is no, then this is your cue to politely end the call.


If you work with a photographer who opts to “wing it,” then they are not going to get you what you need. They are not truly collaborating in your success. How are they supposed to know what you need? Telepathy? Magic?

You’re an established pro and it’s essential that you receive that same level of professionalism and investment from your photographer in order to produce the images are required for your business.

Good photographers who provide excellent results want to know the finer points of what makes you unique and special, and that doesn’t happen without a lengthy conversation.

For example, when I was starting out my photography business, I conducted private portrait session without a call, and the results varied wildly to say the least.

Now, I interview my clients with a slew of questions meant to bring light to their short-term and long range business goals, what offers they plan on enacting within the next year, what books inspire their thought leadership, their tools of their trades, what types of outfits they wear when working alone or are with clients, questions about their personal hobbies and interests, among many other related topics of interest.

These unique tidbits translate directly into image content that we will capture during their sessions, making it a more personalized and optimized experience.

It’s not a nice to have – it’s a prerequisite.

“Talk to me about the image selection process – will you help me, am I at it alone or is it a combination of the two?”

Some clients have expressed to me that in their past portrait sessions, the scariest part was not the session itself, but afterwards, when the photographer would send them a link to a gallery filled to the brim with images and left it up to them to figure out which ones they wanted to purchase.

Um, yeah – that’s overwhelming for many people, and not a lot of fun to work through alone.

With regard to my process, I love sitting down and reviewing every single image I capture with my clients – it’s like Christmas morning and I’m a grandmother watching the joy on their faces as they “unwrap” these portraits one-by-one and see themselves in a way that they’ve never seen before. We talk about how each photo could be best leveraged in their business (social post, website, profile pic, etc), and toss the ones that miss the mark.

My clients appreciate the hand holding, advising and added value to their photo session experience.

Understand what your ideal experience is with respect to selecting images and ask the question to see if the photographer on the phone is prepared to provide you with the help and guidance that you require.

Engaging in a portrait session is an extremely intimate experience, make no mistake about it.

You’re putting yourself under a microscope for several hours, sharing your vulnerabilities with a person photographing them non-stop.

It’s a scary, or, at the very least, time-consuming proposition, but, if you seek to create a memorable and referable online presence, it’s absolutely essential that you get this part right.

By qualifying the people behind the camera before you set one foot in front of the camera, you’re setting yourself up for a wildly successful and beneficial session.

John DeMato is a NYC-based lifestyle portrait photographer and content creation expert who serves speakers, authors, coaches and high-level entrepreneurs across the country. He also has a 3x weekly blog that shares a variety of strategies, insights and tactics related to presenting yourself memorably and powerfully through your online presence.