Hiring the right corporate photographer is like finding the right book in a cavernous library. It is not easy.
After spending 8 years in corporate photography, I understand the pain that clients go through. After all, hiring a wrong photographer could potentially do irreparable damage to one’s career or tarnish one’s professional image as a manager.
Over the years, we have learnt from our clients how they choose their photography service provider. Our clientele include banks, financial institutions, commodity traders, property developers, universities, and government agencies. Even though they hire photographers for diverse reasons, there are common factors they consider when hiring photographers. Here are the 3 main things most clients consider:
Can the Photographer Deliver?
Is the Photographer Affordable?
Does the Photographer Reflect Well on Me?
#1: Can The Photographer Deliver?
Deadlines, deadlines, deadlines. It’s one of the dreaded words of the corporate world. Some of these deadlines are not within our control. Often, the deadlines are impossibly tight - usually a result of procrastination or delays from multiple stakeholders. By the time the tasks lands in your lap, you have little time to put everything together.
When faced with a tight deadline to deliver high-quality photographs, getting the right photographer is crucial. The photographer needs to understand your constraints and work with you to deliver the best possible results - within the deadline.
Do you need photos of the CEO and the guest-of-honour within one hour of the new product launch? Do you need to update your company’s social media photo album before 2pm, so that you are faster than your competitor who has set up a booth in the same expo? Does your board of directors need their portraits updated for the annual report, and the printing deadline is just three days away?
Good photographers understand your deadlines and work with you to save the day.
To do that, they turn up on time for pre-shoot meetings to help you plan a realistic production schedule to beat the deadline. They are ready at least 15 minutes before your event starts in case the VIP decides to arrive early. They arrive an hour earlier to set up the lights for your CEO’s portrait shoot, so that the lighting is perfectly tuned when your big boss arrives. These are hallmarks of a reliable photographer who will deliver what you need.
Here’s another point to consider - your deliverables. Does the photographer understand what you need from the assignment, and indicated these clearly in the quotation or agreement? How many retouched photos should be sent to you immediately after the event, or by the end of the day? When should you expect the archival media to be delivered to you? How is the copyright of the images assigned, and for how long? Does it cost you anything to call up the archives to be retouched three months after the shoot?
Lastly, one often overlooked consideration: how are the final deliverables selected? After an event shoot, I usually take 15-30 minutes to run through the raw takes with my client and come up with a quick shortlist of 10-20 images. This overview helps the client visualise the final outcome of the event coverage. Are the key moments covered? Do we have a visually diverse batch of photos that don’t look repetitive? Do the VIPs look their best? At the end, it should be teamwork - a combination of the aesthetic decisions of the photographer and the practical sensibilities of the client.
The same consultative process can be applied to portrait shoots. What are the 5 best shots out of the 50 takes? Does the subject agree with the photographer on which are the best shots? I usually like to get the opinion of the subject immediately after the session, just to get a sense of his or her personal preferences. After all, one man’s meat is another man’s poison. It is always safer to calibrate and synchronise the way we make final selections. This way, I can ensure that the photographs I deliver are not only the “best” from my professional perspective, but also the photographs that the client is most satisfied with.
#2: Is the Photographer Affordable?
As a general rule, a good photographer costs more because he or she has accumulated relevant experience over the years, and has proven to be creative, consistent, and most of all, reliable. After all, a photographer is only able to charge what most of his clients are willing to pay.
If you are unsure of your requirements, ask for a rate card. Every reputable photographer has a rate card indicating the prices of different services. This will help you gauge if the photographer’s services are within your budget.
Before you decide on who to hire, it is always a good idea to lay out the scope of the assignment and its deliverables, so that you can obtain an accurate official quotation from the photographer. Sometimes, your deliverables may require services you didn’t foresee. For instance, some photographers charge a retouching fee of more advanced post-processing. Some assignments may require more assistants, or more pre-production time, thus adding to the actual cost.
So, what is the market rate? This is notoriously hard to pin down, since photography is such a fragmented and unregulated industry. The charges also depend on the nature of the work. In event photography, an average photographer with 2-3 years’ experience should cost around $150/ hour. Photographers with more than 3 years’ experience can usually command $200/hour or higher. Highly qualified photographers with 5 or more years’ experience, decorated by editorial credentials and international accolades, usually cost more than $300/hour. Also, photographers represented by agencies or collectives usually cost more than solo freelancers, since they have a team to support their services.
For portraiture and corporate reportage, the rates are more varied, as the process can involve many more variables. Does the shoot require a makeup artist or a stylist? Does the photographer need to set up coloured backdrops? How many locations is the shoot going to span? Are the locations indoor or outdoor? Is the photographer involved in art direction and pre-production meetings? Remember that photography is a services business - the costs get higher as more professionals are involved and more man-hours are poured into the production.
Let’s take for example, you require a portrait shoot for the annual report. Your key deliverables are half body shots of the Board of Directors against white backdrops. You also require a group shot for the Board, as well as more casually styled environmental portraits of the CEO, COO and CFO. Such a shoot requires booking of schedules of important people, may span several days because it is impossible to get everyone to come on the same day, and will definitely require a makeup artist and even a stylist to make sure they all look their best.
Discuss your requirements with the potential photographer so that he can give you an accurate costing. If time allows, try to get at least 3 quotes, and make sure each photographer understands your deliverables and requirements so that the quotes are comparable. That way, you will be able to find the most affordable photographer which suits your budget.
#3: Does the Photographer Reflect Well On Me?
The last point which is often overlooked: does hiring this photographer reflect well on you? Since you are the one who decided to engage the photographer, everything he or she does - and doesn’t - comes back to you like a boomerang. When colleagues send you feedback after the shoot, you want them to say good things.
When does good feedback come about? It is not simply about capturing great angles or moments. More often, it is how the photographer carries himself. Does the photographer dress appropriately? In my 14-year career as a photographer, I have encountered photographers who turn up at a VIP events in polo tee-shirts and berms. There are also those who overdress - for instance, lounge suits at a Sunday marathon. The key is that a photographer needs to understand the proper dress code for the specific assignment so that he or she does not stick out like a sore thumb. When in doubt, I ask the client.
Is the photographer friendly? Is he well-mannered and polite? Does the photographer take the initiative to get the best shots from an event? Has he examined the programme and planned how to optimise his shoot time? When it is not possible to tick all the checkboxes, does the photographer take the initiative to offer alternative images? Does the photographer cue the group shots at the right time, without interrupting the event flow? Sometimes, I would spot a photographer helping himself to the alcohol a little too early, or focusing on his mobile phone instead of the photographing the event. Of course, every photographer deserves a break, especially during longer engagements, but the best photographers observe discretion and always behave in a professional manner.
Another point to consider: does the photographer have the sensibility and people skills to handle the assignment? One of my long-time client absolutely abhors photos of employees doing the “thumbs up”. So I am always mindful - I will make them wave, make them smile, but never a thumbs up.
A good photographer understands his client’s company culture, and works around the practical limitations to produce the best photos possible.
At photo shoots of important people, hiring a photographer with the right personality and temperament is tantamount to success or failure. Sure, the photographer may have a stellar portfolio, but is he or she a diva or a team player? Does the photographer communicate well? Does he or she know when to talk, and more importantly, when to stop talking? Does the photographer have the skills to make subjects feel comfortable, and hence make the shoot relatively “painless”, even enjoyable? In the real world, many people, including high-ranking executives and officials, are camera-shy and find themselves awkward when put in front of the camera. Does the photographer you hire have what it takes to deal with the diverse mix of debutants and divas within your institution?
When I do my portraitures, I often try to make some time to invite my subject to look at the work-in-progress. This way, I make sure that they are working with me towards the perfect photo. They should never feel that the session is a one-way process. I always compare photography with dance - it takes two to tango. Ultimately, a photograph is a collaboration between the subject and the photographer. To succeed, the photographer needs to have the skills and experience to bring out the best in his subject.