This is by far some of the more controversial subjects among most photographers. I for one, cringe each time i hear people say "i found a good one" because not every photographer is fitted for that specific event or venue. Most do not know what to look for, some assume they picked the right photographer cause the individual pops up on every single search engine..or were referred by others, which in some cases is a good thing, but at times may not be! They also tend to pick friends, or the upcoming photographer that just purchased a DSLR and knows how to point and shoot. there is a difference between taking "pictures" and "Photographs".
I will start off by saying you need to educate yourself first and foremost. See what most photographers use...what gear they primarily use, why they use it. Some photographers state they only use "natural lighting"...this to me is a red flag! a photographer should be able to utilize and adapt to just about any scenario so they can be prepared when its your time to shine, if it be rain, sleet, or snow! Need to make sure you capture your moment.
Second i would ask the photographer how did they learn! what credentials do they have? how long have they been shooting such event or venue! do they have any references or customers who they can contact to make sure they are getting what they paid for? Do not judge only what you see on their website! Look outside..and what i mean by look outside, have they been published? are their previous customers satisfied with their work?
Third..What will the photographer do with YOUR photos? What rights do you have? A good photographer will have you sign release forms, this is not only for the photographers protection, but for YOURS as well! The last thing you want is your wedding photo posted on a HIV ad! Trust me...it has happened! You also don't want your Daughter's or Son's photo plastered on random websites...Trust me, it has happened!
Fourth... Editing!...ask the photographer how do they edit their photos! MOST don't even spend 3 seconds per image...most don't even edit their photos period! Back in the film days you had things called "Dark Rooms" where the photographers spent a majority of their time completing the finished product. I will say, this is the longest part of developing photographs, yes it actually takes more time than taking the pictures. In todays environment, digital has taken over, not only is it great for sending and receiving photographs, but its also great for editing! You can make a nice photograph into a great one by editing photographs, this is today's dark room. Some severely alter the image, and some enhance the image...there is a fine line, as you either want to look like a porcelain doll or a human being! ask away! Also many photographers charge per photograph the customer wants edited..so please keep this in mind as well.
Fifth (no need to plead the fifth here)...Time during the actual shoot...some ask if they can get some elaborate setting..waterfalls in the background, animals, mountains in the background, flying in the air..you need to remember some of these settings may take some time..may take time to go to that actual setting..a barn, desert, river..you also have to keep in mind it takes more time to prepare for the shoot than to actually hit the shutter release button. A good photographer should be honest if their skills can accommodate such setting..and if they said "sure" ask them how! A photographer also needs to be a great planner!
Sixth...(wedding planner?) if you hire a photographer to come out and take photos during a wedding, engagement, senior shoot...and they never discussed any type of plan or scenario...Red Flag! A photographer needs to make sure EVERYBODY is on the same page...the DJ, Priest, bride and groom, family, coordinator, host, event locator..everything will play part! The DJ can give you a heads up for the last song..when they are cutting the cake! for senior photos..when will the senior actually graduate, what color will their hair be, will it be cut? don't want that year book picture to differ their senior photos too much you think? or do you?
These are all just SOME examples why it is very important to conduct the proper research, and just don't judge by what you see on google! There are plenty of people taking pictures out there for instagram or facebook, you need photographs to hang on your wall and share with your family and friends! Hope some of these tips will help, and hopefully you will have luck finding that photographer that could potentially remain as your personal family photographer!