Hiring a photographer can be challenging: on one hand there are so many photographers to choose from, but on the other it can be difficult to find someone who does exactly what you need. I’m here to help you make an informed decision and avoid any potential pitfalls by hiring the wrong type of photographer for you.
I have chosen not to focus upon the technical aspects of photography—such as the camera settings the photographer uses, or the equipment and type of cameras they have—for two reasons: 1. If you do your homework and work with a reputable photographer, this should never be an issue. 2. Camera settings and types are among the least important factors when choosing a photographer.
Here’s everything you need to know about hiring a photographer for your brand.
Finding a photographer
Understanding photographer specialties
Before you can start your search to find a photographer, you need to understand your own needs so you can find someone who specializes in the type of photography you’re looking for.
Many photographers specialize not only in a particular type of photography—e.g. portrait photographer or product photographer—but also go further and specialize in working with a particular type of product or client.
Common types of photographer specialties:
- Event photographers take photos of events (like your conference or party). Some common sub-specialties include: wedding photographer, concert photographer, behind-the-scenes movie or theater photographer.
- Product photographers take pictures of objects, usually for companies that are trying to sell them. They can further specialize by type of product (e.g. food, glass, clothing)
- Portrait photographers take photos of people. Specialities include headshots, family photos, baby or maternity portraits, and graduating senior portraits.
- Documentary photographers or photojournalists take photos of historical or newsworthy events.
- Scientific photographers assist scientists by taking photos that aid their research.
- Nature photographers shoot outdoors. They can specialize in landscapes and/or wildlife.
- Architecture photographers take photos of buildings.
- Editorial photographers shoot posed images for publications. This can be anything from glamorous fashion shoots to portraits that tell a story.
- Sports photographers shoot sports.
- Advertising photographers are similar to editorial photographers, except they shoot for advertisements.
If you need product photography, you’ll want to hire a product photographer. If you require event photography, hire an event photographer. Bear in mind that photographing certain subjects—for example glassware, ceramics, jewellery or printed materials with foiled finishes—can be more technically challenging. If you’re not sure how difficult your subjects are to shoot, start by looking more narrowly; you can always expand your search.
Taking the time to determine what kind of photographer you need will help you speed up the research phase.
Searching for and researching photographers
Searching for the ideal photographer is like searching for any other product or service: you need to do your research before contacting anyone.
Once you know the type of photographer you need, it’s helpful to ask:
- Is there a photographer that is the go-to in your particular field or niche?
- Who do your competitors or contemporaries use?
- Is there a trade association or organization that heads up your own field? If so, they would be a good starting point. They might have trade shows with photographers as vendors, or a section on their website with recommended photographers.
If you’ve just started your business, or there aren’t any relevant trade shows or organizations, the next port of call is to search Google (or your search engine of choice). You could add search descriptors to narrow your search, such as location, specialty, and any information relating to your own type of business/field. For example ‘food photography los angeles’ or ‘food photography studio’ would be good starting points for a Hollywood restaurant looking to get photography for their website.
You can check online marketplaces such as Fiverr, where you can compare various photographers. Bear in mind that you really do get what you pay for and if you want to work with an established photographer/studio they are unlikely to be listed on there. They could however be listed on Bidvine, Bark, Freelancer, People Per Hour or Thumbtack.
Choosing the right photographer
Once you’ve got the long list of photographers that might be a fit, it’s time to start narrowing things down to choose the right photographer to hire.
Evaluate their work
There are a couple things you’ll want to review when choosing a photographer:
- Their past work
- Their reputation
Looking at this photographer’s homepage, you can see she really does focus on one specialty: food. If that’s what you need, the previous experience that this photographer has would be invaluable, not to mention that they may already have props and backgrounds all relevant to this type of work. However, if you also needed headshots for your chefs, she might not be your number one choice.
You also want to read the content photographers include on their sites. This photographer quite clearly focuses upon business and corporate work, in particular headshots and portraits, within workplaces.
In addition to providing sample images, she also writes on her page, “All my shoots are fun and relaxed – even the most nervous clients enjoy the session and become comfortable in front of the camera! You will receive a pre-shoot consultation and I will direct you and help you throughout the session so that your true personality shines through and is captured on camera.”
This sort of content can help you understand the photographer’s working style, and decide if it matches your needs.
Finally, evaluate the style of the images. Choosing a photographer because you like their style is a perfectly valid reason, and is one of the most important aspects of portraying your products or services in a manner that fits your brand. There are several aspects of style that could be considered: framing, composition, lighting, color, depth of field and even—in terms of product photography—the choice of elements within the photographs, such as surfaces, backdrops and props.
These two images are of similar subjects—a flower in a glass vase—but are in completely different styles. The overall feel of the images is different, one is more focussed toward selling an item, and one is perhaps more focussed on creating a theme or feeling. They both appear to have been shot in a studio, but one focuses more upon light, and the other focuses more on shadow and limiting light. Some portfolios really separate themselves out in this simple way, of light or dark. Others focus upon different aspects such as use of depth of field.
Both are beautifully shot by their respective photographers, but one may resonate more with your brand identity.
After you’ve looked at what the photographer says about themselves (through words and images) it’s good to get an outside opinion.
Check them out on social media, check their website reviews, testimonials, Google reviews, LinkedIn reviews, Facebook reviews, etc. If possible, check out images on their client’s pages, or on social media. Photographers will select their very best images to be placed in their portfolio. You’ll get a better idea of their standard work if you look for images outside of their curated portfolio.
Narrow down the list based on your needs
At this point, you should be down to a short list of qualified candidates. Here are a few other things to consider:
Local vs remote
If you live in London or Los Angeles, or indeed any large city, you’ll have a choice of specialist product photographers on your doorstep. But for other areas, you may need to choose a photographer that works remotely.
They will work from their own studio with you sending your items to them. The shoot is then carried out remotely in a studio before your products are returned to you. This also has the advantage of you not needing to spend your own time at the shoot, as well as paying for the photographers time.
Of course in any location there are general photographers that may produce portraits, photograph weddings and produce a certain amount of commercial work too. These sorts of photographers don’t specialise and may be very good, but as mentioned earlier, it makes more sense to work with a specialised photographer for the additional experience and benefits they bring to the shoot.
Does the photographer have access to, or work from their own studio? If the answer to this is no, and you require product photography it’s unlikely that they will be the right photographer for you, as it’s an indication that they won’t have the necessary equipment to photograph products. This can include studio strobe (flash) lighting, diffusion sheets, and even simple items such as clamps for securely holding products and props in position.
Many photographers choose not to focus on their equipment, but more on their studio space as a whole (which is what I do). But if you check further, such as within the photographers’ social media account—they’ll no doubt have lots of behind the scenes images where you’ll see some of the equipment they use.
Photographic equipment and technique
Does it matter what camera the photographer uses? Obviously it’s important that they have a professional camera, but I don’t believe as a client you need to go into great lengths to find out about what camera they have.
Many articles on the subject of hiring a photographer focus on the technical aspects of photography, such as does the photographer use manual mode? This really isn’t that relevant to you as a client. The difference between an amateur and professional photographer can more often focus upon getting the result that’s right for you.
One good way to understand a photographer’s technical skill is to see if they can replicate a shot. If you’re working to build a consistent brand, you want to make sure that your website or product photography has a consistent and cohesive appearance. If your photographer can’t consistently replicate the lighting, post-processing, and overall “feel” of an image, they might not be the right choice.
Check this by comparing the photographer shots, and whether you can see overall cohesion and style.
If a client comes to me most shots can be shot matched from shoot to shoot ensuring continuity and consistency for you and your brand.
A professional photographer will generally ask more questions than an amateur, as they have gone through the process of curating a shoot many times before and can’t afford to get things wrong. So don’t be surprised if there’s quite a few questions at the quotation stage, or in the run up to the shoot.
Hiring the photographer
At this point you should have your photographer picked out (or maybe have two to three options you want to get quotes from.) There are a few details you want to make sure you finalize before you sign any contracts:
What price should I pay?
This can be a difficult question to answer, especially when trying to compare two or more photographers, as they often work in different ways. Many photographers offer a day rate, from there you need to get some sort of rough idea of what the photographer feels they can achieve in that day. Think about what is included with that day rate, and ask what areas may include additional fees. Other, larger studios tend to charge a fee per product on a sliding scale, beware this does generally seem to be more pack-shot type photographers.
Regardless, you need to know how their fee structure works and what you’ll get at the end of the day.
- Do they charge per product? Do they charge a flat day rate fee? Hourly?
- Are there additional charges for different sizes or crops of images? Such as a version that could be used online, and is optimised for this.
- Will you pay a deposit up front?
- What other extra charges may you be liable for as the shoot proceeds?
What do I need to know about copyright restrictions?
All photographers will license you to use their images, you likely won’t own the images outright, and this will be reflected by the usage rights in question. For example, you may be limited to using them online, and need to pay for a separate license for print use.
So please remember you will not own the images unless you have specifically organised this with them and expressly agreed. And you need to check how their copyright policy will affect your use of their images. Usually the photographer will have a copyright policy on their website or terms and conditions, but if they don’t you can always ask to see it.
This is an excerpt from my own copyright policy
“I retain the copyright of the images for resale, but grant you complete usage rights to use the full high resolution imagery in whatever way you see fit, whether that be on your website, or in print in posters, leaflets, brochures etc.”
This is a very ‘easy-going’ copyright policy, many photographers will have much more detail in terms of where you cannot use the images without paying additional fees.
What’s the process (and what do you need from me)?
All of your requirements, thoughts and feelings about your product, brand and your particular shoot need to be communicated to the photographer. Most photographers will ask for a written brief, which is an outline of all of these things. Subsequently a shot list can be prepared and give more precise detail for each of the shots. Both are a good idea as they protect you and photographer from going off ‘spec’ and you receiving images that you’re not happy with.
It’s important to gather your thoughts, and feelings about your brand and products and to put this into a ‘brief’ which is a standard outline for the shoot to commence.
How prescriptive should you be when commissioning a photographer?
This is actually a very important question, and an important aspect of the photographer-client relationship. This will depend on the type of photography in question. If it’s purely product images, you may need to point out certain aspects of your product and mention which angles you need throughout your shot list. For example if its a greeting card and you definitely want the envelope photographed too, that would need mentioning, otherwise the photographer may decide for themselves whether it needs to be in the photograph.
If the photography is more about creating a brand style, or perhaps covering an event, then it would be more about the feeling and less about specifics. If it were for an event, again you may want to ask for certain people to be captured, but leave the rest to the photographer so they can capture the essence of the event for you.
I believe it’s important to be prescriptive but only to a point, just enough to ensure you get what you require whilst allowing the photographer a certain amount of freedom to be creative and create some images that really allow your product/service to stand out. It is certainly possible to be too prescriptive, at which point you reduce the photographers options and as such get a more narrowly defined approach and uninspiring images.
What does the client need to prepare?
Taking the time to prepare before the shoot is very important and can avoid any delays or additional charges from the photographer.
Things you would need to ascertain beforehand would be:
- How much preparation will you need to do prior to the shoot?
- What would you need to supply, other than perhaps the products themselves.
- Will the products themselves need any additional preparation prior to the shoot?
- Do they supply the props, other items needed for the shoot, or would you need to send those / bring them to the shoot.
- Don’t forget to ensure your products (or yourself if you’re having a business portrait done!) are all clean and have no visible damage.
- Will you need to be there during the shoot?
Many sites will have a services page to show you what type of photography they provide. Some, like mine, will also show the process of a photography shoot in a timeline, as below…
Consider hiring for a small job first
It’s impossible to know how you’ll work with someone until you do it.
I offer introductory shoots for new and existing clients. That way you can have a small shoot and we can decide if we work well together. Perhaps before having a photographer shoot your entire catalogue, or do every headshot for your 500-person company, it’s better to setup a small test shoot.
About the author
Richard Jackson, runs the Forever Creative Photography studio and specializes in creating product and lifestyle imagery for brands, creatives and designer-makers across the UK. He set up his photography studio in Scarborough on the North Yorkshire coast of England in 2014 and now works with creative clients across the UK, producing beautiful, detailed images that have been published in magazines and journals.