Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Hiring a Photographer (and keeping your hair)-Part One

The economy is a bear. Your client is demanding more and wanting to spend less. Cash flow seems to be headed in only one direction, and unfortunately, it’s not the direction you need it to be flowing. Now, more than ever, having strong relationships with your vendors is important to the reputation of your work and for getting the job done with a minimum amount of stress and maximum amount of creativity.

Don’t be fooled...though everyone is going through some tough times,better times are sure to follow and you will be remembered for your creative problem solving when the money becomes available again and the purse strings are loosened. Short change your client now, when it seems that “good enough” is the flavor of the day, and you could find yourself outside looking in down the road.

As a professional photographer, I’d like to offer a little advice on the best way to procure your photographer and create a win-win relationship that will last. Here are some thoughts...

Try treating your photographer as a partner, not a vendor. You will find that professionals like to be involved and be aware of the very REAL obstacles you face. We can offer solutions to problems, but need to be aware of the full story. Transparency in your business dealings with your shooter will go a long way in getting the most bang for your buck. Sure you can find a cheaper shooter. In fact...if you look long and hard enough you probably wouldn’t have too much trouble getting the shooter to pay YOU to shoot your job. I don’t recommend this, but be my guest....Just be sure to have an understanding banker, client, and cardiologist on stand by, because you are guaranteed to need them.  An experienced pro brings value to your assignment and should never be considered a liability or unnecessary expense. If they are, you need to keep shopping.

Hire the photographer who is suited for the assignment. Not someone whom you know will give you the price you want. When an assignment is matched correctly to the proper photographer, you will be amazed at the loops shooters will jump through to work with you.
Some of the loops, involve the cost to produce the assignment. If you have a budget it, share it. Instead of milking every last drop out of the budget, do a great job and then get more follow up work from your client who has fallen in love with your talent to bring home a creative job, solve problems, and stay within budget. Pros build their reputations with tomorrow in mind and do not rely on a “get what you can today” attitude. Make the photographer aware of the money on the table and let him/her figure out how to produce/shoot/deliver for what there is to work with. It is possible that you will find your concept is simply too expensive to produce. If so, great...It’s better to find out before hand than to be halfway through an poorly produced job that LOOKS like there was no money available to shoot it. The old saying: “KISS”-Keep It Simple Stupid says it all.

Hiring the right photographer means using shooters who have extra talent in the area you are looking for. It seems obvious, but I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had calls to estimate jobs for food, still life, and hospital work, none of which are to be found in my portfolio! I wonder what the person on the other end of the phone line is thinking?  We all know that for every job, there are 100 competent photographers to shoot it, and within that number probably ten photographers will knock the assignment out of the park! Again, stick to a specialized photographer, and you’ll reap the rewards of a great job and someone who is EXCITED to be working with you.

OK...so we’ve narrowed down who you should be calling. Now what?

First, don’t assume a photographer costs too much for the job or will be booked. This is a very crazy business and we WANT to work. We do not enjoy telling you that you can’t afford us or that you should have called 4 months ago to get on our calendar. Now sometimes we MIGHT have to tell you that, but believe me we HATE doing it.  When phoning, start with some niceties.Telling us what your name is, your company, and position is the considerate thing to do instead of starting the conversation off saying, “What is your day rate?”. You are looking for expertise, experience, equipment, and enthusiasm. You are NOT buying a pound of peaches. We also appreciate knowing where you heard of us because we like to thank people who referred us and we also like knowing how are hard earned marketing dollars are working.

A brief description of the job you have in mind, time frame it needs to be completed in, and who the client is helps us determine if we should get more info from you or perhaps refer you to someone who might be better suited for the job. Time is valuable and we do not want to waste yours nor waste our own. If there seems to be a connection, then the job can be discussed further. Preferably by meeting or phone supplemented by an emailed shot list and/or layout. Without a shot list, or at least a concept, it will be impossible for the photographer to provide an accurate cost estimate. What you don’t want is someone blurting out, “I’ll do the job for x-dollars” before they even hear all the details. My advice is to RUN from this photographer, because they are setting themselves and YOU up for problems down the line. Estimating photo shoots is an art in itself, you will know how experienced and professional the photographer is just by looking at the estimate he/she provides. And by the way, don’t just look at the last number at the bottom of the page. All of the stuff that comes before and after that number is important. It shows you how well the photographer has thought through your job and can show an approach that you might not have thought of.

In any event, the estimate should be thought of as a starting point, open for discussion and an excellent opportunity to reevaluate your concept and the logistics of doing a professional shoot. If you have a problem with ANY part of the estimate, you MUST bring it to the attention of the photographer or rep. Don’t wait till after the job begins or even after the job is completed to start asking questions that needed to be asked before the job was awarded. Good photographers don’t like surprises when it comes to business and you shouldn’t either.

Stay tuned to my next blog entry where I’ll discuss specific ways to save money on your photography project and bring home an amazing job for your client.  As always, I encourage your comments, questions, suggestions, or topics you’d like me to cover!

Stay focused...

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