Ok, I'm prejudiced.
I'm a professional photographer who has been available for hire since 1996.
Over those years, I have seen people keenly disappointed by amateur photographers who would LOVE to shoot their weddings - then either forget their camera, or do such a lousy job that the couple has no good photos to remember their day.
I have seen business people try to take their own portrait for business cards or magazine ads. Those images look more like the photos taken at police stations.
Product photography done by an amateur can actually drive people away from your business....
When you hire (or take advantage of) an amateur, you get whatever you get. There is no recourse, no second chance, and no professional ethics to come back to.
This is not to say that there are not many talented amateurs - there are, but can you be certain that the individual you are talking to is one of those talented ones??
I have a simple guaranty, which is that you will be delighted with your experience and your photography. (I don't do "satisfied".) In 14 years as a pro, I have had only one unhappy client, and I really went to the wall to correct that situation. Before we completed our relationship, she really WAS delighted.
Here is the bottom line. You can tell, almost at a glance, the difference between a professional and an amateur photograph. The pro image will be crafted. It will be an image that is cared for, selected, enhanced and formatted for its intended use. The amateur image will be shot and delivered. Usually for cash, under the table. If the pro image is not acceptable, there is usually a contract or agreement for the purchaser to fall back on. If the amateur image is unacceptable, you're SOL.
So here are a few things to look for.
How long has your photographer been in business? Usually, more than 3 years is good. The universe weeds out the poor ones, or they get better. New pro photographers are usually enthusiastic, and have some real talent, but be cautious. Look at a portfolio of their images before going with them.
Are they members of professional organizations? I am a member of the Professional Photographers of America (PPA), Professional Photographers Society of New York State (PPSNYS), National Association of Photoshop Professionals (NAPP) and the Tompkins County Chamber of Commerce.
A great benefit of your photographer being in a professional organization is the network of photographers that they are plugged in to. If (God forbid) I became ill and could not fulfill my obligation, I have a large network of pros that I TRUST who can take over for me. There is also a code of ethics that the members have to agree to as a condition of membership. More on that later.
Do they do charity work? Believe it or not, this is very important. I volunteer for Tompkins County 4-H, the Lansing CDC Auction, YMCA, NILMDTS.org (look it up), the Cancer Resource Center and a number of others. I find that the photographers I have the best relationship with (and the ones I want to photograph MY family) also do charity work. This is because they see a need, and it's what they can do. I can't donate lots of money, but I have a skill that these organizations can use, and I'm happy to help.
Do they have a studio, or do they work out of the back of their car? I know many, really good photographers who work out of their homes and carry their equipment with them in their cars, so don't make it a deal breaker, but it is a piece of the puzzle.
Are they bound by professional ethics? This is critical. As a member of the executive council of PPSNYS, we examine every reported instance of ethics violations regarding our members. In the 5 years I have been involved with this group, I am unaware of any ethics issues that have come up. We HAVE however, been made aware of a number of ethical issues outside of our organization, and have filed briefs as a professional organization regarding industry best practices.
Do they require a contract or agreement? This protects you as well as the photographer, and gives you recourse if the photographer does not perform as agreed. I hate misunderstandings, don't you? Contracts keep everyone understanding each other.
Here is the bottom BOTTOM line. Every image you use in every contact you have with the public says something about you. Does it say "I care about my image. I care about myself, and I will care about you if you become my client."...
...or do your images say "I'm cheap."?