Hiring An Event Photographer

Recently on one of the lists I belong to there were some questions on hiring an Event Photographer. I offered some suggestions that I thought would be appropriate for a more permanent home here on my blog.  Take a moment to read my response and let me know your thoughts or questions.


Dear S,


I am a professional photographer and have been shooting events professionally for over 8 years. I wanted to take a moment to address your questions about finding an event photographer.


I read one reply that someone said they paid $1500 for a 3 day event. I can tell you right away that although she got a heck of a deal, she was not dealing with an experienced professional. At that price the photographer in question is going to have problems replacing their equipment when the time comes and that doesn’t take into consideration their operating expenses.
Event photography is very similar to wedding photography with a little less pressure on the photographer. The reduction of pressure comes from not having to capture shots of Aunt Sally and Uncle Bill, who haven’t spoken for 30 years, actually dancing together. At the same time there is a pressure to get all the shots that will represent the event correctly and positively. The day to day shooting though is similar in the number of shots taken and processed each day. This can total literally thousands of shots over a 2.5 day event. Each shot has to be color corrected and then determined if it is worth final editing and presentation to you, the client. This can take longer than the actual event – sometimes as much as 3 times longer. So for your 2.5 day event, a good professional photographer can spend over a week prepping the images for delivery.


It is true that you can hire a photographer who is not a full time shooter or one who is new to the business that will cost you less, however at the same time that person may cost you more money in the long run if they don’t have the experience to capture the event correctly. If they are of the artistic mindset it is not unusual for them to capture the event in such a way that none of the images are useful to you at all. So if this person only charges you $1500 but few if any of the images are useful what is the true cost? If you are planning to use the images for marketing the cost can be astronomical.


My suggestion is to look at the responses from your RFP and look into the portfolio of each photographer. This can be done very quickly and it will save you huge headaches in the long run. Things you should look for are varied but below is a short list that applies across the board.


•             Make sure that any online presence is hosted by the photographer. Sites host by Flickr, SmugMug, Zenfolio, or any other third party will show either a lack of commitment and/or experience. Eliminate these bidders first.

•             Look at the style of work and that you like that style!

•             Make sure that they have events on their website. If they don’t but they have an overall style you like ask for a sample of event work. Some photogs shoot events but don’t specialize in events. My site for example shows the work I specialize in, architectural and portrait. I do shoot events and I have thousands of images to show my abilities but I don’t advertise them on my site because that is not the main focus of my business.

•             Ask for references. Testimonials will be a good quick view but remember: if there is a testimonial on a photogs site they are showing the best of the best. References will be more honest when you contact them directly.

•             Ask for an insurance rider. Professionals will already have liability for at least $1million and getting a rider in your name should be an easy task for them. If they don’t have insurance don’t walk, but run away.

•             Spend 5-10 minutes on the phone with them (more if you have time) and make sure that they ask the right questions and more importantly that you like them! My father said when I was young that “you don’t go fishing with a captain that you don’t like because you won’t catch any fish.” The same is true for your service providers.  If you don’t get along the chances are reduced that they will work with and for you to get you the results you need.


Now you may be asking: why is this guy from Philadelphia writing and telling me all of this? There is no way you are going to hire him. He is just too far away if nothing else. There are many reasons but the main reason is that clients like you are being taken advantage of by inexperienced ‘wannabees’. These inexperienced shooters are trashing the reputation of my industry and I feel it is my job to assist anyone who has questions about hiring a professional photographer.

Always feel free to call me with any questions you may have.

6 replies
  1. J
    J says:

    Nice article,
    but I have been shooting for 8 years also specializing in events and there are a few things I disagree with on your post.

    The first one is saying to run away from people that have a flickr account. This is not solid advice, this is advice from someone who does not use flickr or never has. Flickr has actually brought me many gigs. It is a photographer community that pros and non pros alike. I could see how if a photographer only has a flickr account and nothing else this would be the case, but if a photographer has a flickr account to supplement their site then its a win situation. As for SmugMug, Zenfolio, or any other third party site, you can run from those as that shows lack of professionalism.

    The second thing I would have to disagree about is the insurance. There is no need for this on most gigs as tours have their own insurance that will cover the photographer and or anyone working for them. That or the photographer signs a waiver that holds the company harmless. Insurance is a thing of the past.

    everything else you have said is pretty much spot on.

    Also I would have to add, that photographers that have a facebook account for their photography is a solid sign to run away from that photographer. Photographers should know better for one to post their work onto facebook, having a account to promote photography on facebook just makes you look like all of the other wannabes as you call them.

    that is all.

  2. Michael
    Michael says:

    J – To respond to your objections, First I am speaking about using a sub domain as your main website. Using Flickr is not the issue but using flickr as your main business site is an issue to which you agree. As an alternative way to get your images out, sure, but not an exclusive way. As for Facebook, I use it but I have a very limited number of images there; 3 to be exact and two of them are promo cards. Hosting images there is not my goal, driving followers to this site is the goal and FB, LinkedIn and Twitter are part of the tools I use to do that. I also have a zenfolio site but it is used exclusively as a fulfillment site. I drive no traffic there and I could care less if it is ever visited. It is strictly a convenient way for my clients to view and download their images. In fact I tell them that if they want prints I will supply them via another service provider (usually Black River Imaging) because I prefer the quality and service.

    As for insurance, I totally disagree with you. Insurance is a must for any business. Each job may cover you partially but partially is the best you will get. Most of the work I do requires it, events and architectural. To leave my ass hanging in the breeze without it is just silly. The expense is miniscule compared to the coverage and assurance I get from it. If you mess up the client will sue you and not themselves. Perhaps you are not in the USA and the laws where you are are different but here insurance is a business expense that should be, and in many cases is, required.

    And just for the record, at the time of writing this I have received 8 messages saying the advice in the article is spot on. Not important but you do seem to be in the minority at the moment. Only time will tell if that remains to be.

  3. Tim Palmer
    Tim Palmer says:

    As a photographer of 31 years I only disagree with you on one point — the insurance. I’ve argued this point on other sites, but the reality of it is it all depends on where you live at. I live in the southern United States… down here any event taking place MUST have insurance to cover the guest and professionals that work the event. Therefore there is no reason for me to spend my hard earned money for something that would never be used… the primary insurance company would be the host’s. Also, in 31 years I have never once needed insurance. While I am a commercial shooter by trade, we do a lot of location work and I’ve done my fair share of weddings and events too.

    Other than the insurance I agree with your assessment.

  4. Terence
    Terence says:

    It seems to me that what you have portrayed is an ‘elitist’ industry in the US, in that if anyone charges less than you do, or uses marketing tools which you choose not to use, you are implying that they are amateurs, and there is nothing further from the truth in that. Exorbitant prices can always be ‘justified’, but they remain exorbitant. Competition is good for an industry, and in the deepest recession the world has seen, invariably and justifiably so prices will and are plummeting. To suggest that using Smugmug displays amateurism beggars belief. Don’t you know that if you have a Domain Name and point it to Smugmug it shows as your own website? What is amateurish about having a hosted website where a complete technical support group is available? What is amateurish about offering either a ‘download’ facility at low resolution for comping, or offering a complete Print on Demand service. Perhaps you prefer to put your client to the trouble of emailing you a few times – that to me is amateurism in a world of high technology.

    People or companies today are not interested in ‘elitism’ or being ripped off – they are however interested in getting a quality product at a far lower price, and price does not determine quality. I have seen many an amateur put a professional to shame with quality.

    With regard to pricing, here is a case in point – I was asked at the start of this year by an Insurance Company to quote for photographing 300 paintings they have in their collection. I estimated it would take approximately 3 weeks to shoot including editing. The price I quoted was $15,000. A competitor quoted THREE times that amount and was taking 5 weeks to complete the job. They sent in a ‘sales’ pitch which really served no other purpose than to justify the amount quoted and boost their ego. Guess who got the job – and it was completed in 2.5 weeks.

    The most unprofessional thing a professional can do, is to be unprofessional, by demeaning other professionals to potential clients. Those are the ones I would run from, because their hyped-ego is bigger than what they can produce and totally unprofessional.

  5. John Grow
    John Grow says:

    I have been shooting professionally for about 11 years. The requirement for insurance is simply a matter for fact. Most of the needs i have had for insurance is not for something I have done, but the actions of others with my equipment. I had a huge event that I was covering for a large publishing company. They did not ask for insurance up front. But when one of their drunken employees lost their balance and grabbed on to one of my light stands tipping it over into a glass display case, I was deemed liable by the hotel and it was my insurance that covered the $2800 dollars damage. I didn’t cause it, my stuff was not faulty, but I was liable. I did get my client to finally cover half, but it was not done voluntarily.

    Nearly every other corporate event I have photographed has asked for an insurance rider. Most are satisfied with a million coverage, but I have had two that required 3 million. I figure an insurance rider into nearly every location shoot I contract with. It is simply part of doing business. You don’t want to wait for the day that a clients 4 year old runs by your tripod and trips over a leg of it. Without insurance, they will own your equipment and quite possibly your business.

  6. Michael
    Michael says:

    Terrance – First the SmugMug thing. I have no problems with SmugMug or any of the other hosting services. I have a problem with NOT spending $9.95 to get your own domain. If you want to host there go for it but at least use a personalized domain.

    Also, as a former mid-level manager of a fortune 500 company, Email addresses that don’t show your domain (me@aol, me@yahoo, etc.) are a similar business faux pas and I wouldn’t do business with people who do that. In my opinion it is unprofessional.

    To address elitism; I disagree with you. $1500 for a 3 day event is below expense levels. It shows a lack of long term thinking or planning. At prices like that the person shooting the event is not doing themselves or the industry any favors and they aren’t even covering their long term costs if they do all events at that level.

    As to $15k for a 3 week (estimated) job, that is reasonable depending on the level of work involved. Depending on where I was shooting and what conditions I had to work with, such as are they delivering the artwork to me, how many hours a day to shoot, what lighting was needed, etc. I probably would have bid between $15k & $25k. But even at the price of $15k you are making $1000 a day based on a 5 day work week. That isn’t killing you or the industry, that IS being competitive. Also you are spending more time with each shot so you get the shot in 1-5 takes. When shooting an event it is not unusual to blast through 1000 shots a day. What about editing time or are they handing the images over as is? If so that isn’t shooting and event that is work for hire.

    I am not demeaning other professionals; I am pointing out that this industry contains many people that claim to be professionals that don’t know what professional means.

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