You have a LOT of options!
1 – the school photographer. They do a good job, and some even offer outdoor packages with interesting backgrounds, etc. If you want to match something that was done years ago by another school photographer, even in a different area, this might be a good option for you.
2 – an outside professional. The “independent contractor” – which is where I fit in. But we are not all created equal, because some of #3, #4 and #5 blur the lines for folks these days.
3 – a friend with a camera. The “hobbyist” – literally a friend with a camera that doesn’t charge, doesn’t have a website, just wants to go out and have fun. I say yes- do this, but not JUST this. Have fun, run around town, sit in a shopping cart at Target, around the fake flowers at Michael’s or Hobby Lobby – literally, go to town. These images make for fun candids, but they most often are NOT the images you keep forever as your “senior photos”
4 – a friend or friend of a friend with a camera who is “just starting out” in their photography business – yup – this goes with #3. Go for it. You’ll probably get a great “deal” on a session. You will most likely pay something, and you might even get ALL the digital files they take. Why would they do that? Well, they are just starting out and need YOU to be their learning curve. So play, but again, these are most likely NOT your “senior photos”. This person might even have a website, a portfolio that makes they look like a professional. And of course, if they put a logo on their work they look professional, right?
5 – the advanced “hobbyist” that loves photography, has a great camera, and wants to make a “little money this summer” while home from college. (where they go to study and earn a degree in the field they will actually make their living in later). Again, a fun option, but can they produce the results a professional can? Or do they just take business away from a struggling small business owner while they play?
There isn’t a test you have to pass to be a professional photographer. No mandatory degrees you have to earn, no specific certifications you need to have. Anyone can get a website, create a logo…and voila- they are “in business”. But how “in business” are they? And does it matter to you?
So make your best decision – with all the facts. Ask each person how you will see the results, what options do you have for printing the results? Ask to see their PRINTED work – not just online, but how does their work print? Ask to see their business license – if they are charging you, they need to be on a level playing field with other small businesses and pay their fair share of taxes too. Question if they don’t charge sales tax – don’t take it as a gift, it’s taking away from your tax base in your state and locality – which impacts the funds for road improvements, school budgets and more (and yes, EVERYONE has to charge sales tax on both sessions and the products – even digital – that are produced as a result of a photography session). And ask if they have insurance in case you get hurt during the session. Playing in a field is fun – but between critters and buggers, it can also turn scary fast.
Who will you choose? And what results will you get?