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Finding the right photographer for your startup is similar to finding the right hairdresser or barber. There are cheap, expensive, lousy – and great. Unfortunately, there are no legal regulations, restrictions and licenses that photographers must have. This means that there is no guarantee of the quality of a photographer’s work. In a market where anyone can Joe Schmo pick up a camera and call themselves a photographer, you as a potential client are at risk of failure.
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1. Photo organizations can help.
Luckily, photographers realized that customers felt that way decades ago. They created self-imposed regulations and established formal organizations to monitor and regulate the quality of the images produced by photographers. Organizations such as the Professional Photographers of America (PPA) and Wedding and Portrait Photographers International (WPPI) hold annual conventions and trade shows to evaluate and improve the quality of photography in the industry. Both organizations have search boards available to find photographers who adhere to their code of ethics.
In addition to regulating these codes of ethics and the quality of photographs produced by photographers, PPA also offers liability insurance to photographers who are members of their organization. Remember that if you hire a freelance photographer to work on location or in your business, they should have liability insurance in case something breaks or is damaged during a photo shoot. Most freelance photographers should have liability insurance.
Also note that most photographers have a specific niche that they focus on, such as: Weddings, portraits, product photography, advertising photography, etc. You can then narrow down each of these categories to further specializations – similar to doctors. Some photographers specialize only in using natural light, while others use studio lighting exclusively.
Some photographers only shoot on film, while others only shoot digitally. Which photographer you choose should solely depend on your creative vision and the project you want to shoot.
For example, if you want to hire a photographer to shoot small products, you don’t necessarily want to contact a wedding photographer. Similarly, if your business sells high-end wedding dresses, you might decide to hire a fashion photographer to work with them to create quality editorial fashion photos. It’s really up to your creative vision.
As with most startups and small businesses, if your primary concern is budget, I would advise you to be open about it when speaking to a photographer for the first time. An accomplished/creative photographer knows how to work on a reasonable budget. Don’t expect miracles if you’re on a tight budget, but if you have reasonable expectations, any job is possible. At worst, a photographer should be able to advise you on your options to reduce production costs, but without sacrificing 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 commission work agreement, the photographer retains ownership of the images they shoot. Why? The Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988 clearly states that ownership of an image remains with the person who created it. Therefore, you do not own the images. You actually license the images.
Remember that a photographer’s job isn’t just about pulling the trigger. They use a combination of lighting, posing, and post-processing to bring your vision to life. You learn these techniques after years of trying. You hire a photographer for their expertise – not their ability to push a button.
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3. Expect unexpected costs when hiring a photographer.
Hiring a photographer is similar to buying a video game console. You pay for the hardware, but generally nothing else is included with the purchase. You are forced to buy games to make the system work. The same goes for most photographers. When inquiring about prices, you should ask if the following items are included in your estimate:
To press: While digital photography is the current standard of photography, many photographers still make a living from selling physical prints. That means you’re paying for your time on set and also for physical prints – unless that’s included in the photo package. Plan on hundreds if not thousands of dollars for physical prints, whether the photographer prints in-house or outsources the images to a print lab. Of course, since the photographer is selling a physical product, you should assume that there is a markup.
Most professional photographers print prices will never compete with express print centers like Walgreens, Wal-Mart, etc. However, the quality of the prints that a photographer makes or orders are generally better than that of the express printing centers. If price is the deciding factor as to where you want to print the images, find a photographer who doesn’t offer printing services.
As digital photography has taken over the print market, you will find photographers who simply do not offer any printing services. In these cases, you want to be sure that they will give you written permission to print your images. Most ethical express printers and print labs will not print professional quality images without a signed release from the photographer as they may be accused of copyright infringement.
Digital Rights: If you don’t need physical prints and prefer digital files, many photographers offer the digital files for an additional fee called a digital rights fee. Simply put, a digital rights fee covers the opportunity cost of walking out of their doors without charging you for printing. This does not mean that you own the copyright to the images.
The digital rights fee includes an explicit agreement setting out where and for how long an image may be used. For example, if you hire a photographer to take pictures of your employees for use on your website, most photographers will not charge you extra for this. However, if you hire a photographer to shoot an advertising campaign for your business, you will have to expect additional royalties.
The difference between these two examples is usage. Just as singers are paid more for national campaigns than for local performances, photographers will charge more depending on how the images are used. While this may be a bit confusing for some, remember that when you hire a photographer to shoot an ad campaign for you, their images are “selling” your product for you. Marketing images directly affect your potential income. That’s why advertising is so successful – and photographers are well aware of it.
If you want to buy a photographer’s copyright outright, plan on paying a premium. Most savvy photographers won’t sell their copyrights for less than a five to six figure investment.
Make-up, hair and wardrobe: Before you say, “Absolutely not happening!” — Let me finish. If you’re spending hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars on someone to photograph you, your co-workers, or your model, invest in a team to help get everyone ready.
This isn’t your high school yearbook. Nothing feels worse than spending the money to create beautiful images when your hair is half done, your shirt is wrinkled, your clothes are too big, or your forehead is greasy. Invest a few hundred dollars in a creative team. Remember, you are investing in your brand and your self-image. Every cent counts.
Most photographers have a makeup artist, hairstylist, and/or wardrobe stylist they recommend. While not the case, I have found many great artists just by searching the hashtags #makeupartist, #hairstylist, #wardrobestylist on Facebook and Instagram. In general, you can hire freelance makeup artists and hairstylists for around $100-$300 per person. Wardrobe stylists who shop at fashion houses can charge as much as $500 because they spend a few days pulling clothes for a photo shoot.
retouching: Professional retouching is one of the costs that most non-photographers overlook. Whether it’s removing minor blemishes, cleaning up backgrounds, or performing high-end digital manipulations, retouching is an art form in its own right. Not all photographers are great retouchers and many photographers don’t have the time to retouch hundreds of images – so they choose to outsource the work.
Outsourcing retouching can cost anywhere from $10 to over $75 per image, depending on the amount of retouching required. If you think your business needs more than 100 images, you can quickly calculate how quickly a retouch can add up. This is why the pre-production 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 hire a photographer to photograph the inside of your business, spend time cleaning up the place before they get there. While most photographers double-check your business, it would take ages to digitally fix those images if they accidentally overlooked your cluttered desk.
consulting fees: I find that most clients see photographers as freelance art directors. There is a crucial difference between an art director and a photographer. An Art Direct specializes in everything related to advertising, including but not limited to generating new ideas, creating designs, managing projects, etc. A photographer’s job is to turn that vision into reality .
That doesn’t mean photographers aren’t capable of being great art directors, but due to their limited time, most photographers charge consulting fees outside of a normal consultation. It’s a photographer’s way of being conscious of his time. This weeds out all the cold cues for a photographer, allowing them to spend their time making money like any other entrepreneur.
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