Hiring a Professional Photographer? Consider These 3 Things First.
Finding the right photographer for your startup is a lot like finding the right hairstylist or barber. There are cheap ones, expensive ones, lousy ones -- and great ones. Unfortunately, there are no legal regulations, restrictions and licenses that photographers need to hold. That means there isn’t a guarantee on the quality of work that a photographer will produce. In a market where any Joe Schmo can pickup a camera and call themselves a photographer, that leaves you, the potential client at risk for failure.
1. Photography organizations can help.
Fortunately, photographers realized that clients felt this way decades ago. They created self-imposed regulations and established formal organizations to monitor and regulate the quality of imagery photographers were producing. Organizations like the Professional Photographers of America (PPA) and the Wedding and Portrait Photographers International (WPPI) hold annual conventions and trade shows to assess and advance the industry standard quality of photography. Both of these organizations have search boards available to find photographers who abide by their code of ethics.
In addition to regulating these code of ethics and the quality of the photography photographers will produce, PPA also provides liability insurance for photographers who are members of their organization. Remember that if you’re hiring a freelance photographer to work on location or in your business, they should have some form of liability insurance in case anything is broken or damaged during a photo shoot. Most freelance photographers should have some form of liability insurance.
Also note that most photographers have a specific niche that they focus on such as weddings, portraits, product photography, commercial photography, etc. You can then narrow down each of these categories into further specializations -- much like medical doctors. Some photographers will only specialize in using natural light, while other are strictly use studio lighting.
Some photographers will only shoot film, while other will only shoot digital. Which photographer you choose should solely depend on your creative vision and the project that you are looking to photograph.
For example, if you want to hire a photographer to photograph small products, you don’t necessarily want to contact a wedding photographer. In that same respect, if your business was selling high end wedding dresses, you could choose to hire a fashion photographer to create high end editorial fashion photos with them. It really is up to your creative vision.
As with most startups and small businesses, if your primary concern is budget, I’d advise being open about that when speaking with a photographer for the first time. A savvy / creative photographer will know how to work within a reasonable budget. Don’t expect miracles if you’re on a shoe-string budget, but if you have reasonable expectations, any job is possible. At worst, a photographer should be able to advise you on what options you have to cut the cost of production but not decrease the quality of the final images.
2. Copyright 101 -- who owns the images?
One of the most confusing aspects of hiring a photographer can be figuring out who owns the copyright to the images. To be clear, unless you have a written and signed work-for-hire agreement, the photographer will retain the ownership of the images they photography. Why? The Copyright, Designs and Patents Act of 1988 clearly states that the ownership of an image is retained by the person who created it. Therefore, you do not own the images. You are in fact licensing the images.
Remember that a photographer’s job isn’t just pressing the shutter button. They’re using a combination of lighting, posing and post-processing to make your vision a reality. They learn these techniques after years of trial and error. You’re hiring a photographer for their expertise -- not their ability to push a button.
3. Expect unexpected costs when hiring a photographer.
Hiring a photographer is a lot like buying a video game console. You pay for the hardware, but generally speaking, there is nothing else included when you buy it. You’re forced to buy games in order to make the system work. The same can be said for most photographers. When inquiring about rates, you should ask if the following items are covered in their estimate:
Printing: While digital photography is the current standard of photography, many photographers still make a living by selling physical prints. That means you’re paying for your time on set and also paying for physical prints -- unless that’s included in the photography package. Plan to spend hundreds if not thousands of dollars on physical prints, regardless if the photographer prints in-house or outsources the images to a print lab. Because the photographer is selling a physical product, you should obviously assume there is a markup for profit.
The printing rates of most professional photographers will never compete with express print centers, like Walgreens, Wal-Mart, etc. However, the quality of the prints a photographer will create or order will generally be better than that of the express print centers. If price is the deciding factor of where you’d like to print the images, find a photographer who does not offer print services.
As digital photography has taken over the print market, you will find photographers who simply do not offer print services. In these cases, you want to be sure they provide you with a written consent form to print your images. Most ethical express printers and print labs will not print professional quality images without a signed release from the photographer, because they can be accused of copyright infringement.
Digital rights: If you don’t require physical prints and prefer digital files, many photographers will offer the digital files at an additional cost, called a Digital Rights Fee. Simply put, a digital rights fee covers the opportunity cost of having you walk out of their doors without charging you for print work. This does not mean that you own the copyright of the images.
The Digital Rights Fee will include an explicit agreement which will outline where and for how long an image may be used. For example, if you’re hiring a photographer to take images of your staff for use on your website, most photographers will not bill you anything extra for doing so. However, if you are hiring a photographer to photograph an advertising campaign for your business, expect to shell out extra for licensing fees.
The difference between those two examples is usage. In the same way that singers are paid more for national campaigns than they are for local gigs, photographers will charge more depending on how the images are being used. While this can be a little confusing for some, remember that if you’re hiring a photographer to shoot an ad campaign for you, their images are “selling” your product for you. Marketing images will have a direct impact on your potential income. It’s the reason that advertising is so successful -- and photographers are well aware of that.
In the even you want to buy out a photographer’s copyright outright, plan to pay a premium. Most savvy photographers will not sell their copyrights for anything under a five to six-figure investment.
Makeup, hair and wardrobe: Before you say, “Absolutely not happening!” -- hear me out. If you’re going to spend hundreds if not thousands of dollars on someone to photograph you, your staff or model, then invest in a team to help primp everyone.
This isn’t your high school yearbook. Nothing feels worse than spending the money to create beautiful images when your hair is halfway done, your shirt is wrinkled, your clothes are too big or your forehead is greasy. Invest a couple of hundred dollars on a creative team. Remember that you’re investing in your brand and your self image. Every penny counts.
Most photographers will have a makeup artist, hairstylist and or wardrobe stylist they recommend. In the even that they do not, I’ve found plenty of great artists by simply searching the hashtags #makeupartist, #hairstylist, #wardrobestylist on Facebook and Instagram. You can generally hire freelance makeup artists and hairstylists for around $100 to $300 per person. Wardrobe stylists who pull from fashion houses can charge anywhere upwards of $500, because they spend a couple of days pulling clothes for a photo shoot.
Retouching: Professional retouching is one of those costs that most non-photographers overlook. Whether it’s removing small blemishes, cleaning up backgrounds or high-end digital manipulation, retouching is its own art form. Not all photographers are great retouchers and many photographers don’t have the time to spend retouching hundreds of images -- so they will opt to outsource the work.
Outsourcing retouching can cost anywhere from $10 to $75-plus per image depending on the amount of retouching needed. If you think that your business will require 100+-plusimages, you can quickly calculate how retouching can quickly add up. This is why the preproduction process is so important.
It’s much easier -- and cheaper -- to fix hair, makeup, wardrobe, backgrounds, etc. in person than it is digitally. A little extra elbow grease can save you a ton of money in the long run. For example, if you’re hiring a photographer to photograph the interior of your business, spend time cleaning up the place before they get there. While most photographers will give your business a once over, if they miss that cluttered desk of yours by accident, it would take ages to fix those images digitally.
Consultation fees: I find that most clients see photographers as freelance art directors. There’s a definitive difference between an art director and a photographer. An art direct specializes in everything surrounding advertising, including but not limited to generating new ideas, creating designs, managing projects, etc. A photographer’s job is to take that vision and make it into a reality.
That doesn’t mean that photographers aren’t capable of being great art directors, but because of their limited time, most photographers will charge consultation fees outside of a normal consultation. It’s a photographer’s way of being mindful of their time. This weeds out any cold leads for a photographer, so that they can spend their time making money just like any other entrepreneur.
Jeff Rojas is an American Photographer, Educator and Author based in New York City. His primary body of work includes portrait and fashion photography which has been featured in both Elle and Esquire.