So this is an interesting area, and I thought I’d give a few observations which are aimed at helping businesses to engage the right professional photographer and also to help photographers who are starting out to focus on the core areas and skills needed to be successful. As a professional commercial photographer in Shropshire I’ve worked with a range of businesses, from startups through to well established names and I treat them all equally, with the same attention to giving them an outstanding result.
I’ve come across quite a few horror stories from clients where they’ve previously engaged a “professional” – these include a photographer turning up at the wrong location and missing the start of an event, a headshot photographer with no backdrop or lighting (wow!) and a photographer with woefully inadequate equipment to cope with the conditions (a dimly lit interior). One of the pitfalls when engaging a photographer is that the barrier to entry is very low – let’s face it, anyone can buy a camera and market themselves as a “professional” or a “semi professional”.
What should I look for?
To avoid disappointment, wasted time and the cost of getting images reshot, I’d suggest that when engaging a photographer (or a videographer for that matter) businesses should always:
- Ask for a portfolio – a good photographer should have relevant material that reflects the requirement to the extent that a confident match with the work can be made.
- Take some time out to have a look through their website (they do have a website don’t they?).
- Ask for a client list – a good professional will have a strong list of previous and current clients where they’ve delivered similar work.
- Check that the photographer has some valid references from other clients – for example google reviews which demonstrate the quality of their work and their approach.
- If photos are intended to fit in with existing ones, send some examples over so the photographer understands the style and framing.
- Consider the price – a very low price can of course be a photographer coming in cheap to undercut the competition and secure a client, but in general professional photographers have a pricing structure that reflects their own skills and their successful business. In my experience taking on a photographer based on price alone is likely to disappoint. Good experience, technical skills and equipment doesn’t come cheap and there are other overheads that a professional has to manage (just like any other business) such as maintenance, web hosting, marketing and training.
- Go for a few quotes, a professional photographer should come back quickly with a clear breakdown of the work and the price and ask you questions to help refine the requirement.
- And finally – check insurance. Do you really want someone on your premises with no public liability insurance?
Does experience matter?
Yes it does. I’m often asked “how long have you been a photographer?” The answer is of course “a long time” but time behind the lens isn’t everything. Alongside the list above, the most important things to demonstrate are being able to consistently apply the techniques to capture what’s needed (often quickly) and having great people skills to be personable, adaptable and flexible enough to build an understanding of the requirement and of course deliver it. Clients sometimes want the photographer to help generate ideas using their experience and put their trust in them to do that – it’s a creative profession after all!
Advice for new professionals
So for photographers who are starting out and aspire to being professional, here’s my advice which incidentally I always give to work experience students who are considering choosing photography as a profession:
- Make sure you have the correct insurances to work with clients, whether they’re businesses or individuals. This is absolutely a priority.
- Have a good website and portfolio that demonstrates your work across all the categories that you offer services for.
- Make sure you fully understand the requirement before offering your services and send a detailed estimate or quotation which clearly outlines what you’ll deliver.
- Don’t disappoint a client by taking on work that you’ve never done before. Areas such as headshot, product photography and green screen (chromakey) may look easy but they can often involve very complex lighting and need a lot of practice to perfect.
- Have the right equipment for the job. A lot of the time having fast lenses and a range of flash and continuous lighting is essential. One camera and a kit lens isn’t going to be enough……and of course:
- Have two of everything. There’s an old saying “one is none and two is one”. We have backup equipment for everything and do sometimes have to use it as well – things can break down. So that’s two identical camera bodies, two lenses at least, two sets of lighting, two printers etc. Turning up for a shoot and having to postpone it if something doesn’t work isn’t going to go down well and will waste your client’s time.
- Don’t expect you can “fix it in post”. The images you capture should be usable with minimal editing.
- Work quickly. Clients expect 100% attention and a fast turnaround.
- Be punctual, polite and listen carefully.
A Decent Exposure have worked across the Midlands successfully for commercial photography and video for over eight years (previously in London and the South East). I’m pleased to say that because we tick all of the items I’ve listed, we’ve built a vast and diverse range of very satisfied clients (you can see them on our “about us” page). Your photos and videos are the first impression for your business – make sure when booking a photographer that you’re getting a real professional!