I want to get into evaluating photographs in this second part of my blog series. Image aesthetics is very subjective. What one person likes, someone else may dislike. So how do you tell the difference between an ok picture and a good photograph? It helps to start with understanding basic techniques of photography. Exposure and focus are the first two ESSENTIAL elements. If the photo is too dark or light, it's no good. Likewise, if it's not in focus, it's no good. (Of course there are exceptions to this, but they are very rare for portrait/family photos.) If a photographer can't expose correctly or focus accurately, are they even really a "photographer"? Here are a few examples of over/under exposure and lack of focus:
It's obvious that these examples are unacceptable in terms of technique. The underexposed image is not extreme and with careful post processing, can be salvaged. The overexposed image, however, is so "blown out" that there is no detail in those parts whatsoever, and can not be salvaged. The focus image is a little bit more subtle and requires close examination to see. The focus is a little off (toward the back of the head, as you can tell by the hair). It's not that noticeable for web size and can sometimes be salvaged with careful post processing for print enlargements.
Obviously, most photographers won't have images like these on their web sites, because that wouldn't bring in much business. A lot of the time, you don't find out you picked an inexperienced photographer until you get the photos, so it wouldn't hurt to get some higher resolution samples from your prospective photographers. I know I would be happy to give a prospective client samples to help them feel more at ease with the quality of my images.
I could go on for pages about technical aspects of a quality photograph, but will just stick to the basics, listed above. Many of the other aspects can be debated as "creative vision". The photographer's vision is what you will get, and if you've been browsing their web sites, you know that one photographer's vision can vary greatly from the next. I don't know any portrait photographer that would show you an under or overexposed and out of focus photograph and say that is their creative vision.
These principles should not be ignored by any photographer. I know that these are simply explained and should go unsaid, but you would be surprised at what some "photographers" try to get away with. I hope I have helped you in your quest to find a great photographer.