You may have seen news recently about a woman posing as a newborn photographer, who drugged the baby's mother in her home with the intent of kidnapping the baby. While this is an extremely rare occurrence, it is a legitimate cause for concern and all parents should be diligent about who they invite into their homes.
I have put together some basic guidelines to follow when searching for a family photographer. While none of these are a guarantee, there is a much greater chance that individuals who meet these basic criteria are far more likely to be trustworthy than those who don't.
1. Make sure the person you are hiring is running a legal business.
Photographers aren't required to have a professional license per se (like cosmetologists, attorneys, physicians, etc), but anyone operating as a corporation, LLC, or partnership is required to have a federal EIN number and to register the business with the state in which they are located. Sole proprietors are not required to have an EIN, but if they operate under a fictitious name they are required to register it. You can check to see if a business entity is registered in Pennsylvania here, or check with the Department of State where you live.
2. Ask if they have business insurance.
Any legitimate business entity should have general liability insurance. This protects both you and the photographer in the event of property damage or bodily injury while he/she is in your home. You can ask to see a certificate of insurance coverage if you are unsure.
3. Ask to see clearances.
While not necessarily required for photographers, any professional who has direct contact with children would be wise to obtain a state police criminal history record check, child abuse history clearance, and an FBI criminal history background check. These clearances are mandatory to work or volunteer in schools and many other facilities.
4. Do they have a professional website?
These days it is extremely easy to create a website, and there are countless platforms on which to do it, and at no cost. Therefore, having a website is not an indication of legitimacy, and not having one certainly doesn't mean the person is not a professional. However, there are some things to look for that might be a red flag: not having a dedicated domain (i.e. tracy-miller.godaddy.com vs. tracy-miller.com), excessive grammatical errors, generic text, and lack of contact information are just a few signs that the person you are dealing with may not be a professional. Check the address bar in your browser - is there a little padlock next to the website address, and does it start with https and not just http? This indicates that the site is secure. Photographers who take their business seriously will take the time to build a proper website.
5. Ask for references & check reviews outside of their website.
This is a no-brainer. A good photographer will have plenty of satisfied clients and should be willing to let you speak with a few of them if you ask. You can also check Google and Facebook reviews. While positive reviews can be easily faked, someone who is not reputable may have an abundance of negative reviews as well.
6. Are they a member of any professional organizations?
Legitimate business owners look for opportunities to grow their businesses and network with other professionals. Ask your photographer if they are a member of their local Chamber of Commerce or other professional organization such as BNI: Business Networking International.
7. Do they give back to the community in which they do business?
Hiring someone who supports their local community and charity organizations is a win-win situation. By hiring them, you in turn help the community. Not to mention it speaks to the integrity of the person you are looking to hire. Support local!
8. Trust your gut.
Listen to your instincts. If you feel something just isn't right, don't ignore your intuition for the sake of being polite. The safety and security of your family is far more important.
None of these tips are a guarantee against getting scammed in and of themselves, but someone who meets most or all of these conditions will greatly improve your chances of finding a professional whom you can trust, and who will stand behind their work.
Tracy Miller is a family & newborn lifestyle photographer serving Pittsburgh & surrounding communities in Pennsylvania including:
Greensburg, North Huntingdon, Penn Township, Wexford, Murrysville, and beyond.
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