Choosing a PR Photographer – Pick a Peach Not a Lemon
It doesn’t matter if you’re a Wedding Photographer NYC looking for a photographer to take pictures to accompany the latest press release, or an established public relations and branding outfit looking for fresh ideas – choosing the right photographer is key to put the right message across in the right way.
In the following article I intend to outline some of the things that I consider important when selecting a photographer. As a disclaimer – I will say that as a photographer myself I am in no way saying that I tick all these boxes as to be honest, certain photographers will inevitably suit certain clients better than others. But PR professionals may appreciate the view from the other side of the fence.
Where to look:
Referrals and contacts.
As with most staff and consultancy sourcing, referrals are a very useful way to scout the talent you’re after. If you want to commission a photographer to work in an area where you have no existing contacts, why not call someone who does? It’s often seen as poaching people’s staff, but bearing in mind that most photographers are freelance then why not speak to another PR professional in that area and get the information you need. It is worth keeping in mind however, that just because someone has been using a photographer for twenty years, doesn’t mean that they are necessarily the best choice for you. Avoid the inevitable referrals from friends and family unless you’re sure they have a proven track record.
The ‘local paper’ technique.
I have known many PR companies that have contacted the local paper to query if there are any photographers in that area who they can recommend. Press photographers tend to work with a minimum amount of equipment and this is provided by the newspaper they work for. Due to the woeful lack of investment in newspapers and their staff, this means they may not be willing or able to use creative light set-ups and may have quite dated and worn equipment. It’s for this reason that the local paper strategy can be successful if you’re only after a photographer to cover a simple job such as an event or a cheque presentation. The chances are that one of the staff photographers on the newspaper will do the job efficiently and cheaply. It’s worth bearing in mind that, in my experience at least, press photographers are generally of a high standard and used to working to deadlines, but often have their own ideas about how a brief should be covered so clear communication is needed. If you require something a bit more special, then maybe this is not the right approach.
Use Google for what you want (PR photographer [your area]) and have a look at the websites on offer. You’ll probably have lots of sites coming up for wedding photographers and such so look out for relevant keywords in the listing such as ‘commercial’, ‘advertising’, ‘PR’, ‘public relations’ or ‘editorial’. If you struggle to find anything, then ‘freelance’ is quite a good catch-all search term.
Ideally you want to see a nice website with lots of info about the person/people. Some kind of info showing a proven track record, such as a client list or blog is great. Most importantly there should be an online portfolio that displays the kind of work that you would happily put on your website and present to your client/customers. Having a photo of the photographer on the website is useful. I’m not saying they have to be Brad Pitt or Angelina Jolie but they should look presentable and in some way vaguely human.
Ideally you should now have a short list of photographers to choose from. If you are struggling to find a few in your particular target area then try a wider geographical search. I’ve worked from South London to Inverness in the last year so it just goes to show that if the photographer can do you a good deal on travel expenses you can choose someone from a little further afield.
Email enquiries are the easy way but there is no substitute for a phone call. Don’t dismiss photographers who don’t pick up – would you want a photographer talking to other clients when he’s meant to be working for you? Do leave a message and number though, and the conscientious will call back. Speaking to someone will straight away give you an impression of the person and give you an opportunity to ask all the questions you need.
What is your availability on the relevant date?
What are your rates, per hour, or part of day? (Don’t confuse price with value!)
How far do you travel and what do you charge per mile/flat fee?
What is your policy on copyright?
How quickly can we get the pictures?
How do you deliver the pictures?
How do you accept payment?
These are all pretty obvious but the best questions are often the ones that put the photographer on the spot. These could be something like: ‘We want some portraits of the Managing Director of a logistics company in a city centre location….what would your ideas for that shoot be?’
A good photographer would say: ‘We could have them stationary with blurred crowds of people rushing around them, or have them on a traffic island with traffic zooming around them or sat in a nice coffee shop reading the FT……etc’.
What I’m trying to say is that a photographer should be able to add to the brief as well as fulfill it. As a photographer I know only too well that a client can come up with an idea for a photograph which they think is wonderful, which in reality may be difficult or impractical to achieve. It’s worth getting the photographer involved at the concept stage for a shoot and bouncing ideas around.
Make sure you get an agreed quote in writing. If it’s agreed over the phone then send a confirmation email too. This is for you and the photographer and it saves any misunderstanding later.
The Brief: What to include?
The brief is an essential part of any given job. It sets down in writing what you expect from that person. Even if you’re with the photographer on the day it’s still really good to work together from the same brief so everyone’s expectations are met.
+ Job Information: What, where, when, who….. info and relevant telephone numbers. The usual pitfall is getting to reception and being told that there are twelve Bobs in the factory. Full names and job titles are always useful, along with any relevant schedule or timing details. Be specific about how you expect the photographer to be dressed. Is it smart casual or suited and booted?
+ Must Have: Have a specific shot list of ‘must have’ things that you definitely need to have recorded as they happen and/or set-up.
+ Additional: Have an extra list of ‘bonus’ photographs you would like if possible allowing for time, conditions etc.
+ Style: Detail the overall look and feel of the image in terms of style. Do you want newsy pictures for the papers or more of a features brochure style?
+ Deliverables: Explain how you would the pictures sent or emailed.
+ Additional info: This may detail photography consent or parking.
+ Press Release: This may not always be possible, but if relevant do try and show a planned press release to a photographer so that they can work to take relevant accompanying photographs.
+ Plan B: Always try and make provision for poor weather or the person being photographed not to turn up because they’ve forgotten it’s happening!. You can’t plan for all eventualities, but having a plan B for the obvious ones may be wise.
This is just the bare bones. I was sent a brilliant 4000 word, 19 page brief recently from one of my regular clients. It was detailing the visit of a celebrity to the region to promote the 2010 Olympics. It contained concise instructions, all the places they would be visiting that day, exactly what was hoped to be achieved in each area and a preliminary press release that will be sent with the images. It contained a lot of background information that will be very useful on the day.
Feedback and organic growth.
All regular business relationships are about constructive communication. Although some jobs will occasionally be one-off type arrangements, it’s always nice to know that once you have found someone you trust, you could use them again. If for some reason you are unhappy with a photographer’s work, it’s important to be clear why and give them the opportunity to receive that feedback and comment on it. We’re not talking about an ‘eBay’ system of starred reviews, but do say what you liked most and least about commissioned work