Category Business

You’ve Hired Us. Now What?

 

Beach Path
© Brian Fitzgerald

If you’ve made the decision to hire a professional commercial photographer for your brand, company or organization, you’re likely wondering: what happens now? At Fitzgerald Photo, our goal is to showcase your brand and make your products, people and services shine. In order to do so, we follow a well-defined path that we know leads to great results.

Onboarding
As soon as the ink is dried on your contract and terms, planning starts in earnest on your project. From your perspective as the client, you can expect to receive regular and clear communication from your visuals team. If you’ve never worked with us before, you’ll get a welcome packet with information about our company, the services you’ll be using and our workflow. We use specific software and other tools to collaborate on projects and this is where you’ll find out how that all works. You’ll also discover the answers to many of the logistical questions you might have; everything from the size and type of image files you’ll receive to our post-production process and the protection and long-term storage of your image assets.

Planning
Planning for success includes meetings to discuss expectations, goals and logistics (whether in-person or, these days, online or over the phone).  We’ve found that the more work and care put in at this stage, the smoother (and better) things are when it counts—on shoot day.  These meetings don’t have to be a huge time commitment; we have no love for unneeded meetings and can guess you don’t either.  Depending on the project, this may simply be a series of detailed emails outlining and getting consensus on the shoot day plan.  At no point should you be wondering why you haven’t heard a word from your photographer a few days before a big shoot.

Scouting
Site visits are an important part of the planning process. There’s nothing like seeing the spaces we’ll be shooting in to prepare us for the possible hitches we may encounter or the opportunities we can take advantage of.  In cases where an in-person visit isn’t possible, we may request phone snapshots of the site(s), which in combination with Google street view images help form as complete a picture of the location as possible.

Useful Communication
We believe in clear and appropriate communication. This means that you’ll know when and if anything changes that might affect you, from the weather on shoot day to unanticipated changes that affect delivery schedules (unlikely, but it can happen). You’ll get confirmation every step of the way, including the shoot day schedule, the specific team members you’ll be dealing with, as well as arrival, setup, breakdown and departure times. While we can’t keep surprises from occurring, we can minimize the amount that occur just through regular communication.

Shoot Day
Shoot day often involves last-minute, unexpected and unanticipated events. These can be as minor as a model getting delayed in traffic by five minutes or as dramatic as a power failure that shuts down the site an hour before shoot time. Most are somewhere in between. You’ll be prepared because we will have outlined what to expect should many of these minor or major events occur, ahead of time. You can trust that we have the experience to roll with whatever changes come;  in fact, we welcome changes and believe that flexibility leads to more creativity and better results. The last thing we want to do is be so rigid in our planning that we stick to the schedule no matter what, instead of taking advantage of a better visual opportunity—or a serendipitous need—that arises on the fly.

Having a solid plan, but being flexible to changing the plan as needed, enables shoots to proceed and be successful no matter the circumstances. Unplanned changes often mask new visual opportunities that may end up showcasing your brand in ways we hadn’t imagined, but end up being far more interesting, genuine and authentic.

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Want to know more about our process? You might be interested in our post on what to do when looking to hire a photographer.

Before hiring a photographer, interview yourself

 

Tough Guy
©Brian Fitzgerald

Hiring a photographer can be a challenge. For those who don’t go through the process very often, it usually means spending hours on Google or social media to find qualified professional photographers; having multiple discussions; then vetting estimates that (hopefully) come in under budget and on time. That’s in addition to whatever work is already on your plate.

Things change quickly  in the photography world. If you don’t regularly work with a preferred photographer, you might find that the one you last relied on is no longer in business, or is too busy to take on new work. You’re soon typing terms like “best commercial photographers” into your search bar and scratching your head at results that include everything from weddings to pet portraits to products for catalogs.

Sorting all of this out takes time, and then once you’ve connected with a likely short list of photographers, the process of outlining goals and requirements begins. This is followed by evaluating the estimates, which can vary wildly between photographers due to their varying backgrounds, experience and preferred ways of doing business.

I’ve written before about the questions to ask when hiring a professional photographer. Before your initial conversation, here are a few tips to better prepare you for the process of determining the “best” photography professional for your needs. Doing just a little prep work before you make that call or send that email will reduce your effort, frustration and will maximize good results.

Where are your photographer leads coming from?
You can make some quick assumptions depending on where your leads are coming from.  Referrals from a trusted colleague or other source are great because you can assume the photographer is a known quantity, and move on from that basis. Referrals from a professional photography association or paid listing website (ASMP, APA National, NPPA,
, and others) allow you to view photographers by specialty and portfolio. You can assume these are experienced pros that have the experience to guide you through the requirements process and will ask questions you might never have considered. The most common referral source, Google and social media, is great but requires a bigger investment of time to sort, weed out and establish fit. I’d recommend it as a supplement to the first two sources.

What is your brand all about?
How would you describe your brand and brand mission? What key adjectives best describe your brand? What are your long-term brand goals and objectives?

What are your goals for this project?
Is this photography project a quick one-off or are you building a brand-consistent visual library that you’ll use for years to come? If you’re after a quick hit, you can always pivot if it doesn’t work as you’d like, or if the photographer isn’t the best fit. If it’s the latter, choosing a photographer for a long-term relationship is a better approach.

What is your budget?
Photographers will always ask—or should. Knowing your numbers isn’t a license for the photographer to charge the maximum fees they can while hitting strategically below your top line. What it does is put you in the driver’s seat. Of all the variables that comprise a good estimate—time, money and quality—a photographer needs to have a sense of your limits and expectations for all three in order to come up with an estimate that works best for you. A budget helps orient your photographer and gives them necessary information. Is the budget close to what they feel the job is worth, requiring a little negotiation or adjustment of services to meet? Or is the gulf between the two so vast that it’s a waste of your time and theirs to proceed? It’s helpful to know this fairly early in the process. It doesn’t have to be uncomfortable; for professional photographers it’s a routine and necessary question and they’ll respect you for having defined what you can spend ahead of time.

What are the ideal outcomes from doing this project?
Do you hae specific outcomes in mind (selling a service or product), or more general (creating brand awareness)?

How long do you plan on using the images?
Will these images really be useful to you in a couple of years? What about after 10 years, when (perhaps) many of the team members in the images are no longer with the company and the clothing/hair styles start to look a bit dated? Depending on your brand and industry, images may age very quickly or very slowly.  Knowing the answers to this question can save you money, since in most cases the longer you use an image (i.e., the more value you derive from it over time), the more it can cost. 

How do you plan to use the images?
Are the images going to be used for a specific print or online campaign? Will they be part of a display ad? Or will they be added to your library, to be used in less specific and more numerous ways for years to come?  Will they be part of local or regional advertising or will they be used nationally or world-wide?  


Who are your target audience/clients/customers? Why are you reaching out to them?
Who are you trying to reach?  When they see these images or video, how do you want them to feel?  Do you want them to take specific action (buy something) or to emotionally connect with you and your message, building a long-term relationship?

What problems can the photographer help you to solve?
Professional photographers are more than just button pushers. We are masters of organization and logistics. We help hire models, makeup stylists, arrange for locations, art direct, and can help strategize with you on the creative direction a shoot should go in. We can be a straight service provider, creating images to a pre-defined specification, or we can be a creative partner using their vision to create something unique. What is helpful to you, your brand and your organization at this time?


These are the types of questions that you can expect your photographer candidates, in one form or another, to ask to you. Knowing what photographers are looking for and the information they most need will help you to be prepared to make decisions based on your brand values and goals, and will lead to a much better process and estimates, too.

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Images Matter, Now More than Ever

 

image library
The visuals that represent your brand can easily communicate your values, your assets, and what you offer. In the case of a community health clinic, it’s quality, human-centered healthcare where patients (no matter their age) feel empowered.

 

Building an image library is a top priority for any brand that wants to tell their story effectively and connect with their target audience.

You likely already know that quality, relevant, custom images are no longer a ‘nice to have’. Your content—specifically, your visual content—is your advertising.

In short: Your visuals are your brand.

The gatekeepers are gone and you—the independent businessperson, the marketing professional—are in charge of your own media channels.

Remember Spider-Man: With great power comes great responsibility.

All of the digital tools, many free or nearly so, are at your fingertips. Are you purposefully telling the story of your brand: what you do, why you do it, what sets you apart?  Or are you hoping that your haphazard efforts will cause others to automatically ‘get’ you?

If you’re using someone else’s images, words or campaigns, then you’re not telling your own unique story. You’re in the best position to do so.

Cutting through the Noise
People react and connect with authenticity. A stock image isn’t likely to make anyone sit up and take notice, but a real moment, whether shot on an iPhone or a Hasselblad that costs more than your car.

What you Need When you Need it
Content marketing is built on consistently delivering targeted content that is on-brand and on-message. Having an image library means you’ve always got good content that can work for your purposes. Without one, your marketing is going to be less consistent, less frequent and less impactful.

image library
A custom stock image, taken with your people and at your place of business, is specific to your brand.

Gives Structure and Meaning
Having a plan for your visuals and keeping your brand story in mind automatically provides a structure and gives purpose to your photo shoots. Instead of floundering you’ll be producing relevant content that’s meaningful to your brand and useful for the forseeable future.

What are your Seasons?
Every business has seasons. Periods of high or low volume. Cycles of growth and cycles of maintenance. Holidays. When are your seasons? When do you tend to get new clients, and why? When do you tend to be focused on new initiatives and what external events can you build content to match?

image library
Having a plan that extends for months or a year is helpful when targeting activities and processes to photograph before you miss them. Harvest only comes once a year.

Evergreen Content
A good image library has a mix of content which may include video as well as still images. Some is very specific for a campaign, a product, a season, or a person or team. Other images are more ‘evergreen’, meaning they can be used any time of year or perhaps for years to come. They are classic and timeless. Chief among these are……

….Details
Get lots of details. These are the visual metaphors that may punctuate a blog post or marketing piece in a more powerful way than can otherwise be done. These give a sense of your point but allow the audience to fill in the blanks. They aren’t specific to a person, a time, or a location and designers (web and print) love them because of their versatility and timelessness.
image library

Imperfect Shots and Unscripted Moments
I’m not suggesting that the only way you can build an image library is by hiring a professional photographer (like me or my ilk) or spending all of your time producing elaborate photo shoots. A carefully-managed, well thought-out campaign will include professionally-produced content where appropriate and will have a place for less-scripted, less technically perfect images taken by you, your staff, others in your organization, clients, or the public. Depending on your brand, this may be necessary. There should be a place for both.

Less is More
I love crafted, long-form films and videos. The reality is, even if Martin Scorcese produced your video, if it’s longer than three minutes I’d have a hard time watching it. One minute would be better. In fact, video snippets are sometimes the best of all. These short blurbs may get more engagement than longer ones and can be easily done, leading to more consistent content over time. So do video…but keep it super short, as in this behind-the-scenes clip that shows one of the hazards in making custom wooden baseball bats:

 

Behind the Scenes
Show us visuals that takes us places we wouldn’t normally go.  Show us the secret sauce that makes it all work in your organization:  the team members, the interactions, the tools, the back warehouse.  Show us how the sausage is made, showing the care and the humanity that go into a great product or service.

image library
Another image from a custom baseball bat maker’s shop, where custom wooden ‘blanks’ line the walls, with hand-written notes on each one. This kind of detail tells a lot about the quality and care that goes into each finished product.

Faces, People!
People love to see other people. Show them faces. If you make a product or sell a service, show us the faces and lives of the people whose lives are improved by your brand. Show us what your brand means reflected in the faces of your fans, customers, clients, or even your team members.

image library

Keep it Real
If your job is to promote your brand or company, then you can get caught up in your product or service features. Instead, let your visuals show your people, your products, your brand, out in the real world. That’s the one the rest of us inhabit. Some brands seem to lend themselves to this sort of approach, like Nike, but even law firms, hospitals, and others can do this. They just may have to be a bit more creative and less obvious–exactly the criteria needed to create interest and connection.

Why professional photography isn’t cheap

maine commercial photographer

There’s a question I hear more than almost any other, in a few variations:  why do photographers charge so much?

The implied statement is that photography, and professional photographers, are prohibitively expensive.

It’s easy to dismiss the questioner as being cheap, and unwilling to see the value in professional photography.   Instead, I think it indicates a lack of clarity around what photography costs and the reasoning behind it.   In other words, it’s a very appropriate question to ask.   Photographers are sometimes their own worst enemy when it comes to pricing their photography, and it’s no surprise that to the casual outside observer it looks like voodoo trickery.

Being a professional photographer is expensive.  It costs money to pay for equipment, insurance, professional fees and development, marketing and everything else that goes into a photo business.  When they hire assistants, producers and others to help those contractors are getting paid out of pocket, up front.  Things add up, quickly.

When you figure in all of the costs and divide that number by the number of full days per year that a professional photographer might expect to actually create images for clients, you get the Cost of Doing Business (COBD) number. For example, if a photographer has total costs and expenses of $60,000 per year and plans to photograph 60 days per year, their CODB would be $1000 per shooting day, on average.   This is their nut—the number they must make each day they shoot in order to break even. Anything less, and they are losing money.

Photographers who charge less than their COBD fall into one of three categories:  1) They don’t know their ‘numbers’, 2) They are purposefully (strategically) low-balling to get the work or 3) They don’t rely on photography as the main source of their income and livelihood.

Photographers in the former two categories need to adjust their approach if they want to stay in business long-term.

At the same time, images have never been cheaper. There is a glut of relatively high-quality stock imagery on the market, available for free or close to free (and I’m not counting the photos that are ‘borrowed’ and illegally used, a common practice).

For sake of discussion, I’m leaving out the discussion of stock photography.   I’m writing primarily about “custom photography”—that is, when a photographer is hired to create specific, high-quality images of for a brand or company that are completely unique and exist nowhere else.

In a world of endless choice and imitation, ‘unique’ takes effort. ‘Unique’ has value. Effort plus value equals fair compensation. Clients can expect to pay a higher fee—higher, at least, when compared to the almost-free price of images freely available on the internet—because you’re getting so much more. It’s not necessarily expensive….it’s comparatively expensive.

So there are two things, really, that clients are paying for when they purchase ‘custom’ photography.  One is the creativity, experience, vision and effort of the photographer. Let’s call this the ‘service’ component. The second is the value that they get out of the images they receive—i.e.,what they actually use the images for, whether it’s advertising, general marketing on a company website, printed brochures or to hang on public display.  These are all different uses, spelled out with a license agreement, and come with different price points. Let’s call this factor, ‘value’. The more value you need (the more the images are going to be used), the higher the price.

Photographers are all different.  Some will package both their service and the usage together, while others will line-item every single use.  Whichever way they choose to do it, it should make sense and fill two needs: their need to charge enough to keep their business going and the client’s need to get the best quality for the best possible price.   In most cases, quality comes with a price, but also with the peace of mind in knowing your work is being handled by a pro.

The good news is that, in this world of endless choice, there is a photographer—and a quality—to match every budget.