At some point everyone hires a photographer or knows someone who will. In many cases it is a portrait or wedding photographer. At other times you may need a photographer to shoot images for anything from real estate to advertising. So how do you know which one is right for your needs?
Most people start out by asking friends, family members or colleagues. You are looking for references and that is the first question you should ask. Does he/she have references? Every professional should have references, especially photographers. But let’s be honest, if you ask me for references I am not going to give you a clients name where we didn’t get along. I am going to give you 3 – 5 names that I think were my best combination of results and compatibility. I want to put my best impression out there after all.
When seeking references, don’t just go by what the photographer says. Before you even ask them for references, look at their website. Do they have a client list on the site? Wedding photographer usually don’t but most commercial photographers should. By looking up those clients and making only a few phone calls you will learn more about the photographer than contacting all the ‘best’ clients he/she uses as references. When you call the clients just ask for the person that handles the advertising. Make sure though that you mention that you are looking for a reference and not looking to sell them advertising! Otherwise you may end up in someone’s voicemail and never actually talk to anyone.
Another question to ask is one for yourself. Do you like their work? Is the quality of work up to what you want and need? Is the look and feel of the images in the portfolio what you want for your images? I know that I love the work of Joe McNally, Chase Jarvis and Michael Grecco. I think their portraits are outstanding. But if I need images of the corporate tower my company just built or the complex I just designed they may not be the photographer that I need. Make sure the portfolio has the types of images you need. If you need portraits, look at portrait photographers, wedding photographers for weddings, or architectural photographers for structures.
That leads me to the next question. Where can you find the photographers that do the work you want them to do? Of course the first thing many people do is Google “Photographer”. If you just search on ‘photographer’ you will get over 84,000,000 hits. That is not narrowing down the field. Architectural photographer and wedding photographer get 531,000 and 5,070,000 hits respectively. Of course adding your city is going to narrow those results dramatically but you are still going to end up with hundreds, if not thousands of names. If you only look at the first page of each search, you will have only 10 to choose from, but are they the best? Well they are the best at search engine placement, but are they the best photographers?
The best place to find a photographer is where they hang out. Serious photographers like to hang out with other photographers and many are listed in the associations for photographers. Some of the larger associations have a “Find A Photographer” search engine on their sites. Here is a list of just a few of these groups and their websites.
Does the photographer you have selected have the equipment needed to do the job correctly? Different types of photography require different tools. Professional equipment comes in all sizes shapes and colors. I can get great results when I use a point-and-shoot consumer camera but will that image transfer to the a billboard sized image as well as it will to the internet? Does the photographer have the ability and tools to control the light properly? Do they have access to a studio appropriate for the shoot? Shooting toy cars requires much less space than shooting a real car. Are they going to get the image right at the shoot or do they tell you, “I’ll fix it in Photoshop later.” Post production is a requirement for almost every image, don’t get me wrong; however, post production is the refinement of color and style, not the solution to all problems.
Professionalism is also a very important. Almost every photographer has gotten into the business of photography because of their love of the art. I don’t know any business people that became photographers because it was ‘a great business venture’. The photographer may be well equipped, they may be able to capture the exact image you need; but that is all irrelevant if the image is delivered late or unprofessionally. You need a photographer who understands your needs and appreciates your business. They have to be willing to listen to you and your needs and translate them into the imagery you want.
Last, but definitely not least is how much should you pay for a good photographer? Photographers can range in price from a few hundred dollars an hour to tens of thousands. Experience, talent, knowledge and vision all are parts of the cost. These are the intangibles. The tangible is the cost of the studio, the models, the actual products, etc. Add them together and you have your cost, not your expense. The expense is almost irrelevant if you do an advertising campaign that doubles or triples your bottom line. Yet if the same campaign costs you your loyal customers or has little or no return, the expense can be huge. Put out the wrong image and it can cost you your entire business. For portrait and wedding photographers it comes down to the value of your memories. What is the value of an image if that is the last image ever captured of you and [fill in the blank]? That image is priceless.
The question then is not what you should pay but what can you afford? The images you receive back are investments plain and simple. Just like any other investment they should be planned for and budgeted for. A poor investment results in a poor return. A wise investment can change your world in a positive way. Can you put a price on that?
Until next time…