Sharing a video my assistant Charlie Widdis eBand I did B.C. (Before the Pandemic) here in the studio. I had some new gear and it seemed like a more creative and fun way to test it out. Enjoy!
Sharing a video my assistant Charlie Widdis eBand I did B.C. (Before the Pandemic) here in the studio. I had some new gear and it seemed like a more creative and fun way to test it out. Enjoy!
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.
Want to know more about our process? You might be interested in our posts on what to expect once you’ve hired a professional photographer, what happens when shoot day arrives or about our process once the shoot is complete.
The last few months have been a long, strange trip indeed. My teenage daughter came upstairs last weekend and asked when I was going to work, then seemed confused when I told her, “It’s Saturday.” 2020—since March, at least—has been that kind of year. It’s hard to know when one day begins and another ends, with the actual day of the week ceasing to be relevant. As my filmmaker friend Jonathan puts it, “Every day is Blursday”.
I’d like to share what I’m listening to this week in the studio: call it my Blursday Playlist. Five things I’m listening to, reading and watching that inspire and inform and serve to remind me that I’m actually connected to a bigger world out there. I may not always know what day it is, but I can still use my time well.
“1619“, New York Times (Podcast)
Hands down the favorite thing I’ve listened to in a while. The six-episode series takes us back to the very beginning of slavery in America, when a pirate ship called the White Lion landed at the British Jamestown Colony near present-day Hampton Roads, Virgina and traded between 20 and 30 African prisoners for supplies. This small group of Angolans were the first of the multitude of African slaves to follow. 1619 is long-form audio journalism at its best.
“The Jordan Harbinger Show” (Podcast)
I’m sure I’m late to this particular party, but I only started listening to Jordan’s podcast post-pandemic, when I was looking for something I could do while taking walks. His long-running show (currently with 378 episodes) consists of interviews from interesting and inspiring people as varied as Bill Nye (the Science Guy) and Frank Abignale Sr. (the real-life subject of the movie Catch Me if You Can). Very entertaining and always interesting–you’ll definitely learn a thing or two.
My daughter Maggie is the source of this lo-fi playlist, available on Youtube and Spotify. The creator, ChilledCow, started a 24/7 livestream on Youtube featuring this music back in 2017 and just…never stopped. By the time Youtube mistakenly shut it down temporarily earlier this year, it had chugged on for some 13,000 hours, churning out mellow hip hop beats that somehow are that perfect white noise when you have to study or chill.
“Shadow Country” by Peter Matthiessen (Novel)
Matthiessen’s sprawling historical epic is actually three books in one: “Killing Mr. Watson” (1990), “Lost Man’s River” (1997) and “Bone by Bone” (1999). At over 900 pages, it’s perfect for these socially isolating days. Set in the lawless wilds the Florida frontier at the turn of the 20th century, Shadow Country is a portrait of an American outlaw and sugar planter who meets a violent end amid a landscape of racism and exploitation.
“I am Not Your Negro” (Documentary)
A searing essay by Raoul Peck based on author James Baldwin’s unfinished book that NYTimes critic A.O. Scott calls “an advanced seminar in racial politics.” My daughter chose this one for movie night, which lead to a deep discussion about race, history, and equality. A few months ago, my daughter was perfecting the dance to “Renegade” on TikTok and today she’s deeply passionate about the state of our world. Watch it, but be prepared to really see.
As a professional commercial photographer, my job is to protect my client’s images as well as their image. This entails safely archiving their digital files so they can found months or years after a shoot, but it also means that I safeguard how those images are used and who gains access to my clients’ images in the future.
Depending on my specific contracts and releases, I often have the legal right to reuse images for multiple purposes after they are first used. Aside from incorporating some of the images into my blog and portfolio, I almost never do so, especially if the images were taken on assignment for a client (rather than taken as part of a self-assigned project). Why? Because once I photograph someone, I take on the responsibility—sometimes legally, always ethically—to safeguard their images so they aren’t used in ways my clients wouldn’t be comfortable with.
The most obvious example might involving selling images I’d taken for a corporate client as ‘stock’ images through a stock agency like Getty. Imagine my client’s surprise when they see a billboard advertising a competitor across town using an image of their staff or clients that they paid me to take a year before. In very short order, I’d be looking for another line of work.
The number one job of a professional photographer is to serve our clients and their interests first, not our own. In effect, we’re a member of their team and need to be careful to make sure their images are not used in off-brand or unapproved ways.
A less obvious example occurred this past April. It appeared in the form of an email sent by a photographer agency to its member photographers including me, requesting we submit gritty portraits of workers on the front lines of the pandemic: rescue personnel, healthcare providers, delivery drivers and others. A national (and unnamed) insurance agency wanted to use these images in a 6 month national ad campaign. They’d pay $3000 per image used, split evenly between photographer and the agency.
I considered the request. I have a large library of images of front line workers, mostly created not for clients but as part of personal editorial projects. Technically, I have the copyright and releases allowing me to reuse and resell these images. Back in April, with the pandemic shut-downs in full swing and uncertainty about future income, it was a tempting offer.
I could imagine the result of the campaign—a video depicting grave-faced police officers, firemen and nurses with a dramatic voiceover and swelling background music. At the end, the logo of some national insurance company would appear, and the unwritten message would be: we want to associate our brand with these popular heroes so you’ll think we’re special too.
Then I imagined the surprise of my portrait subjects in seeing their image being used to shill for a company that they’ve never heard of for a service they’ve never received. I thought of them, essentially being used to confer their heroic status to a large insurance company that doesn’t care about them personally but just want them for the uniforms they wear and the trust they confer.
I declined to participate. Just because I can legally do something doesn’t mean that I should. Whether a paying client or not, anyone who ends up in front of my camera are relying on me to protect their single most valuable asset—their image—and make good choices on their behalf.
I can’t judge photographers who chose to participate, either because of their financial situation or due to agreements negotiated between them and their subjects beforehand.
This anecdote highlight the importance of having discussions about future image use between photographers and their clients and subjects, with clear expectations written into a contract. In absence of such an explicit agreement, photographers should always remember that image, and reputation, is worth more than a quick hit of cash. Protect your brand and your images and make sure your photographer does, too.
The past three months of constraint and restraint have underscored how important it is to a have a deep content library. My clients have been unable to commission new shoots due to the pandemic, but for those with a deep image library it isn’t a problem. We’ve gone back over their images and realized that many are still usable and relevant.
That brings up another issue: storage and archiving of your image library and other digital assets. If you had to access images and videos taken months or years ago, would you be able to find them easily….or at all?
I’ve written before about how important it is to archive your images and other digital assets. For most brands, their image and video libraries–compiled through time-consuming and costly shoots, purchases of stock assets, and contributions by staff–represents a huge value and investment in time and money.
Yet, they don’t have a central area where these images are stored. Their assets are spread out over multiple local computers and perhaps online, making them far less useful. If they are in one place, that one place is often a single computer or drive with no backup, no redundancy and no options in case of drive failure.
As certain as the sun rising tomorrow, your computer drives will fail. I recommend all of my clients have at least one extra copy of their digital assets that everyone in their organization has access to.
Several times a year, clients email me with requests to locate images taken in the past—some more than a decade ago—that they’ve misplaced or lost. No problem, I tell them. I’ve got it.
Our simple policy is the 3-2-1 backup rule evangelized by Peter Krough, digital asset management “DAM” guru to protect against any failure scenario: Store at least three copies of your data using at least two different types of storage media with one of them located ‘offsite’, or off premises.
We store a minimum of 3 copies of all digital files, whether it’s the original, raw, unprocessed images taken with the camera or the final ‘derivative’ versions delivered to our clients and pressed into use. One is stored on local external drives. Another is backed up to external drives located offsite. The third is stored on the cloud (which has its own redundant backup). For the ‘final’ delivered images, I also store these in a fourth location: an online digital archive that I can give clients direct access to as needed. Some of my clients depend on this digital archive as one of their copies.
So if you work with a professional photographer, ask them about their archiving procedures and standards. They should be able to clearly explain what happens to your images, how they are backed up and protected, and if you ever need to retrieve images you’ve lost, they will be able to quickly provide you with copies of the originals.
Over the past month, we’ve been busy here at the studio preparing for a safe and responsible return to business. I can’t predict what’s going to happen in the foreseeable future, but it’s clear that COVID-19 will continue to impact our families, our clients and our daily life in ways small and large.
As Maine enters the second phase of business reopenings, we’ve posted our COVID plan along with a Q&A section on our website. In the plan we detail the efforts we’re taking per state and federal guidelines to mitigate any spread of the Coronavirus as we take on limited shoots here at the studio and on location.
We’re also working with clients in other ways, from utilizing their existing imagery where possible, to scheduling shoots outdoors and even doing planning, production and image review sessions virtually. I will expand in future blog posts on how some of these new processes and workflows work for us and how they could be adapted for use by our clients and others.
Please read more about our COVID-19 plan here. Continue to stay safe.
I’m fortunate that I get to meet a lot of very interesting and very cool people in the course of my daily work as a commercial photographer in Maine. Every person has their own unique story and are fascinating in their own special way.
Some just happen to work in environments that take ‘interesting’ to another level. The Portland Boxing Club, a 1900s-era former wood-drying kiln set tucked behind Morrell’s Corner in Portland, is one such place. It’s there, enclosed by thick brick walls and floors of concrete, sweltering in the summer and freezing in winter, that Head Coach and owner Bob Russo has honed fighters of all ages and sexes for almost 30 years. On concrete and on the canvas, they strengthen their bodies and toughen their minds.
I’m excited to release this short video profile of Coach Russo. This was originally done as part of a larger piece on the gym for Inspire Maine several years ago but edited recently. Enjoy!
As we await the reopening of services, businesses and schools, I’m passing along five great resources that fellow photographers, creatives and others might find useful. Many of these listed below are free during this timeframe and will hopefully help you weather the storm.
1) Yale Science of Wellbeing course
Looking to be happier and more productive? This is a great course offered free by one of the world’s premiere universities.
2) Covid-19 Freelance Artist Resource
From playwrights to visual artists, composers to stage managers, actors to art patrons, there is something here for you in this list of mostly free opportunities to support your art (or your artist).
3) 198 Free tools to help you through the pandemic (Entrepreneur.com)
We’ve all heard of Zoom by now…but there are 197 other tools on this list you may not be aware of and should.
4)Covid Resources for Photographers
This comprehensive list of ideas, resources, and initiatives from lenscultures is meant to support the global photography community. Check it out or forward it to a photographer you know.
5) Pixel computer glasses
Last but not least, something to ease the strain of looking at a screen for hours-long Zoom calls (not free, but a nice discount)
We hear so much these days about the ‘pivot’. Faced with unprecedented health and economic crises, small businesses and freelancers are hunkering down to weather the storm. Many are panicking, understandably. Those who can are using the opportunity to shift their focus to the things they can do: becoming more useful, more disciplined and more prepared to safely get back to work when it’s time to do so.
I’m most grateful that I’m healthy and that my very large, far-flung family is as well. Number one priority for me has been to stay healthy and to keep my business healthy as possible.
I’ve had more family time than I’m used to, and it’s been both challenging and rewarding. My daughter Maggie is 13 and in seventh grade. She’s not the World’s Biggest Fan of online learning and misses her friends, but by now she’s turned into a bit of a corporate lawyer: from waking up at 5:30 to get work done before her school day starts, to pausing her earbuds, forefinger raised, to tell her parents that “I’ve got back to back Zooms from 9:30 to noon; I’ll catch up with you for lunch before my 1 o’clock.”
I’ve been using my time to brush up on skills—taking a handwriting course, of all things, and studying Russian again—and to work on new ones, like shooting video and editing in Premiere Pro. That’s been fun and I’ll have more work to show soon.
It’s also been a welcome opportunity to re-edit my work and website. I’m embarrassed to say how long it’s been since my last major website portfolio update, but it’s not for lack of new work. Finally I’m incorporating personal and client images from the past couple of years and can’t wait to reveal those soon. As I refocus my marketing and other business systems, I’m streamlining things to make my workflows easier and my client experience better.
My studio is clean, organized and prepped for reopening. I’ve even done a few no-contact and social-distancing client shoots this week, following the state guidelines as service businesses like mine reopen.
In this time of social distancing, the most surprising and unexpected benefit has been connecting (and reconnecting) with friends and family sadly too long neglected (by me, usually, not by them): a high school friend now serving in the Navy in Spain (a nurse, no less); my octogenarian Uncle Michael in Washington State who proudly wears a ponytail; former newspaper colleagues around the country. I love Virtual Happy Hours….a bit too much. I’ve learned not to schedule more than two of these in a weekend.
In April, I helped to form a group of fellow creatives located around the world. We meet weekly to discuss marketing, how to elevate our work and our value, and to hold each other accountable. The group includes a photographer from Montreal; a Florida filmmaker; a podcaster and a designer, both from Portugal; a Budapest furniture designer and a German copywriter. After just one month, it’s become a hugely valuable part of my week and one positive outcome of this strange time that I plan to continue long after the pandemic ends.
I’ve realized that just because the world slows down, there is work to be done: maintaining health, relationships, and working hard to pivot your business, your career and your skills. I’m adjusting my hustle, though more work needs to be done.
Now if I can just wean myself off of these happy hours, I think I’ll be in good shape.