Every other artist begins with a blank canvas, a piece of paper. The photographer begins with the finished product. —Edward Steichen
A lot of people are clueless when it comes to knowing how to hire a photographer. Some just go to the nearest commercial studio, sit down, pay the fees, and try to enjoy the results. It’s easier that way. Those who need something specific, though, and especially corporate entities that need product and marketing imagery, need more than can be found at the Photos-R-Us booth at the mall.
A source on social media led me to this article on Libris: How To Hire A Professional Photographer. The article is well written and covers the major topics one might want to consider before hiring a professional photographer for corporate imagery. The same recommendations wouldn’t necessarily apply to someone hiring a portrait photographer, though. Similarly, there’s a very different set of questions to ask before hiring a wedding photographer, or someone who can adequately capture your four-year-old’s birthday. Hiring a good photographer can be challenging.
At the same time, however, photographers are plagued by would-be customers who don’t have a clue what they’re doing. Most of the time, we can help and guide them toward exactly what they need. For example, if you ask me about wedding photos, I’m going to guide you toward a number of colleagues who do nothing but weddings. They’re good at that. Weddings just drive me nuts. Still, there are always those who get it so wrong we just walk away.
Here’s a humorous list of ways to NOT hire a professional photographer.
Start with “How much would you charge …”
I don’t want to hear any more. If all you are interested in is the cost, then you’re not interested in the professionalism and quality of my work, which is a large part of how my price is determined. If you’re shopping based on price, go to the mall. I, on the other hand, am likely to give you my sarcastic (and very poor) Groucho Marx impression:
“How much do I charge? How much do you have? Here, show me your wallet. We’ll just take all those credit cards there and max ’em out and call it even. That works for me, doesn’t it? By the way, who did you say you are?”
Don’t have a clue what you want
“We need someone to take pictures for our company’s website.” comes the typical request.
“Wonderful, what kind of pictures do you want?” we’ll ask. “Headshots of company leadership? Pictures of your products? Photos of your employees pretending to work together?”
“I don’t know. Just stuff around the office or something.”
Uhm, yeah. You need to find someone who has to patience to stand around and twiddle their thumbs all day while you make up your mind. This never works because, regardless of what pictures might ultimately be taken, they’re never the “right ones,” because no one has a freaking clue what the “right ones” are. Call me when you know what you want.
Think anything under $500 is a budget
Sure, you can always find a photographer willing to work for next to nothing, or maybe even nothing. They’re out there. You get what you pay for. This applies in double doses to corporate imagery. We apply a formula when calculating the value of corporate photographs. That formula includes various forms of media and how many people are likely to view the image(s). The pictures going into a $3 million global ad campaign are going to cost a lost more than the pictures we shoot for Uncle Fester’s Bait Shop.
Photographers often feel a lot of pressure here and too many companies are willing to take advantage of us. We want the job, especially if the client carries some name recognition. However, we also know the value of our work. If you’re a corporation, it’s beyond rude to ask for anyone to take a shot of your company headquarters for less than $1,500. Try to understand the value of our work and give us a budget that is reasonable.
Balk at paying for my staff
You want me to take your pictures. You’ve looked at my portfolio and like what you see. But when I mention the cost of my staff, you don’t want to pay for them? Seriously? How the fuck do you think I took those great pictures in my portfolio? There was a makeup artist, a hair stylist, a wardrobe stylist, possibly an art director, certainly an assistant or two, and quite possibly someone whose job is to make sure I don’t fall down too much (it happens). Granted, the size of the staff fluctuates with the difficulty and particular needs of the project. Still, there is almost always going to be at least one other person with me, even if we’re just taking pictures of the grass growing on your front lawn.
Wanting to hire a professional photographer and not pay the staff is like buying a new car and not wanting to pay for the engine. You want them. You need them. They’re professionals as well. Don’t be the ass who doesn’t want to pay them. I’ll just wrap their costs into my fee, plus an extra 20% for the trouble.
Diss pictures in my portfolio
Let me expand on that. Don’t diss the pictures, nor the models in the picture, nor the products in the pictures, nor the clients for whom the pictures were taken, nor where the pictures were taken, or anything else involving the pictures in a photographer’s portfolio. If you don’t like our pictures, then why the fuck are you asking us to take yours? You’re not impressing me with your alleged “knowledge of photography” or “commitment to quality.” You’re just being a gripey old bitch who is probably not going to be pleased with anything we do.
I don’t like working with/for negative people. I have better things to do with my time. Plus, it’s really difficult to be creative and artistic when there’s someone on set who just isn’t going to be pleased. You keep that bad attitude up and I’m stopping and making everyone do the chicken dance.
Do ya’ want to take pictures or do you want to start a fight? Hmm? Or do you want me to take pictures of the fight? I add a hazardous duty surcharge for getting that close to the action. I’m unapologetically liberal, but even if we agree on most issues, the photo set isn’t the place or time for political discussions, even if what we’re shooting is inherently political. Let the photographer do his work, take the pictures you need, and then you can discuss the political ramifications of electing a toad for president.
Distractions on the set are a problem. I know sometimes they can’t be avoided, but, by all means, don’t intentionally introduce them where they’re not needed.
Cancel last minute then expect us to rebook for free
Sure, we’re willing to consider special circumstances outside anyone’s control, such as natural disaster, death, severe illness, or sudden IRS audit (it’s happened). However, if you’re cancelling within 48 hours of a scheduled shoot simply because it’s not “convenient” for someone, we’re charging a rebooking fee and it’s probably not going to be small.
Here’s the thing: we create our schedules well in advance. When someone cancels last-minute, we can’t just turn around and take the next client standing in line. That cancellation removes our ability to make money during that time block. You’re effectively costing us money. Your photographer is going to be reluctant to reschedule under those circumstances because if it’s “inconvenient” once, it’s likely to be “inconvenient” again and someone obviously doesn’t value our time. We may not tell you we won’t rebook, but a smart photographer charges a fee for doing so.
And other stupid shit
There are plenty of other things I could add to this list but time and your lack of interest prevent me from making this article too terribly much longer. Know that most photographers don’t give a damn about your opinions on anything, don’t want anyone second-guessing their work, and yes, we do mind that your second-cousin with an “interest in photography” is shooting right behind us. If that same person had an “interest in medicine,” would you take them to your next OB/GYN exam? Hmm?
As I said, I’m trying to treat the topic humorously. The issues are real, though, and might cause you to miss out on the best pictures you could have had. I’m not the only photographer who is a bit picky about his clients. Not by a long shot.
So, get your ducks in a row, have a reasonable budget, and let us do our job without interference. If you can do that, hiring a professional photographer is easy.