Hiring Professional Photographers

We were recently asked by a client how they should advise their field offices when it comes to directing and managing professional photographers. They wanted an informal memo, with thoughts and direction, to help keep the process on track and on budget. What follows are some of our notes, which we thought useful enough to share.

1. Define your “Big Idea.” When you get to the point of evaluating and hiring photographers, you will need to ensure they understand your unique positioning concept that is to be visually communicated. Having it clearly defined will also ensure the creative process stays on message.

2. Define your tone. Let your brand guidelines be your roadmap as you clearly articulate the desired tone and feel for the images — positive, empowering, friendly, and so forth. Regardless of what you are communicating, be emotive.

3. Make images that feel fresh and authentic. Your visuals should feel fresh and new, while the people and their environments should be authentic. Nothing should ever look like a stock image. To ensure this happens, encourage photographers to make use of available natural light as much as possible, avoid stale and cluttered environments, and include people of various ethnicities, ages and groupings to create settings that are emotive and humanistic. This doesn’t mean that you need to be politically correct. Just honest.

Young man looking out of car window

Candid portrait of young woman with eyes closed

4. Plan ahead. Make sure your photographer understands the first three points before the day of the shoot. This will help ensure they bring the proper lighting, equipment and support staff.

5. Get the right talent. If you are using models, opt for experience models from reputable agencies. Don’t just pick pretty faces unless you are shooting fashion. If you are using employees or other “real” people, expect the shots to take more time. Have model release forms completed ahead of time. And here’s a lesson learned the hard way: if you are shooting a variety of people, have them hold up a card with their name and pertinent contact information — and shoot it. It’s a simple reference tool to help identify people if your portfolio of images is large.


6. Share sample images. Find a few images that are representative of what you want — in terms of environment, feel, tone, perspective and technology. Photographers are visual thinkers. GettyImages and Corbis are good resources. You can also reference work in their online portfolios.

7. Define your deliverables. Photographers may take hundreds of digital images even during a short photo session. As a result, you need to define the final deliverables ahead of time. Some photographers will offer you every image taken while others will require that you select a predetermined number of their curated images from a PDF contact sheet or online gallery. They may also want to retouch and enhance your chosen images, which can take additional time and money. This is why it is important to discuss these options ahead of time, and define your desired deliverables on their scope of work (project estimate). There should be no surprises.

contact sheet

8. Provide a fixed budget. Costs for photography vary wildly by location, session length, image usage, etc. It is best to provide a fixed budget — to include all of the photographer’s associated costs (makeup, food, travel, processing, retouching, and so forth). Moreover, be sure to ensure that you retain unrestricted use of all provided digital images.

9. Choose the best photographer you can afford — that clearly listens. With your budget in place, select the very best photographer available. (Consider the Workbook to locate photographers in your area and review portfolios.) Look for images in their portfolio that have the style and feel that you need. Above all, make sure the photographer is listening to your needs, and is open to your direction and input. The time to discover that your photographer is a prima donna is not at the photo shoot.

10. Provide creative direction. Be on-site for the photo session and offer your input during the photo shoot. Ask to see select digital images during the shoot to ensure their achieving your goals. Don’t be afraid to voice your opinion. Remember, you’re the client.

By Mark Abrials CMO + Creative Director Follow me on LinkedIn and Twitter