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Guest Blog by P2 Photography: Hiring a Commercial Photographer

06.21.2011Your brand is an important investment.  As Meryl Streep once said, “How you first meet the public is how the industry sees you.  You cannot argue with them.  That’s their perception.” Once you are ready for custom imagery, hiring the right commercial photographer to illustrate that brand can be overwhelming.  An experienced professional photographer will be able to walk you through the process and assess possible challenges, but knowing what to expect and what kinds of questions to ask can make the experience less complicated.

Phase One: Determining the Details of the Project
Before beginning your search for the right photographer, iron out as many project details as you can.  The photographer will need as much information as possible in order to properly estimate the job.

A few things to consider:

  • How many products or people do you need photographed?
  • Would you like the products or people photographed in a natural environment, such as an office or factory, or on a studio background?
  • If using a studio background, what color would you prefer (grey, black and white are standard, but other colors may be available)?
  • If shooting in a factory or office building, when is the least invasive time to do so?
  • What kind of post-production will you require (facial retouching, removing dust and scratches from equipment, adding skies or sunset…there’s no limit to what you can request)?
  • What will you be using the images for?  Be as detailed as possible.  For example: second page of website, print brochure with a distribution of 5,000, 1/4 page advertisement in national magazine running for 4 months.
  • What are your preferred shooting days and what is your deadline?
  • What is your budget?  Many photographers will ask you for a project budget range, so be prepared to discuss this with them.

Phase Two: Finding the Right Photographer
A google search for “San Diego corporate photographer”, “San Diego commercial photographer”, etc will bring up many options.  Another resource is the American Society of Media Photographers (ASMP) Find A Photographer listing (http://asmp.org/find-a-photographer), which allows you to search by city or specialty.  Everyone listed on the site is a professional who makes their living shooting images.  Take some time to look at the portfolios and find a style that fits your brand.

Phase Three: Understanding the Photographer’s Fee Structure
Commercial photographers consider two factors when pricing a job.  The first is their creative fee which, as the name implies, is the fee for their services as a creative visual communicator.  Second is the licensing fee.  This fee is based on your intended use of the images.  Because photographers create intellectual property, legally they own the copyright and must license the images to you for use.  This system protects both you and the photographer in the event of infringement or misrepresentation.  Licenses can be tailored to fit your exact needs or include broader rights to cover possible future use.  For example, if you only need the images for your website, the usage fee will be less than if you want to use them for a trade show and a billboard.  Be prepared to have a detailed conversation with the photographer about your current and future licensing needs.

Other fees may include post-production, file transfer or an assistant to help coordinate the shoot.  These will be listed clearly on the estimate.  Expenses may be asked for up front if they are considerable, and mileage fees are calculated at the current government mileage rate.  Most payment schedules are Net:30, so be sure and let the photographer know right away if your company is on a different pay schedule.  Lastly, take a close look at all estimate line items and don’t be afraid to come back to the photographer with questions or ask him or her to revise their estimate.

Phase Four: Sealing the Deal
Once an estimate has been agreed upon, the photographer will send you a contract.  This must be signed and returned to the photographer before any shooting can take place.  If a change to the project occurs while the shoot is underway, the photographer will ask you to sign a Change Order.  If you cannot be responsible for signing the Change Order, they will request that you fax it to the appropriate person before going ahead with the rest of the shoot.

As commercial photographers, part of our job is to make this process easy for you.  Keep open communication, clearly state your needs and have as many conversations as you need to in order to feel comfortable.  Then sit back and watch your new, custom images work for you.

About the Author
Jenna Close, along with partner Jon Held, own and operate P2 Photography.  They are commercial photographers who specialize in the corporate marketplace, in particular the alternative energy industry.  Their assignments include photographing everything from factories to portraits to products in the United States and abroad.  P2 Photography also provides low angle aerial images using their remotely controlled helicopter.  The company was voted 2008 San Diego Photographer of the Year by the American Society of Media Photographers (ASMP), and Jenna currently serves as a director on the National Board of ASMP.  P2 Photography’s work can be found online at http://www.p2photography.net.