How to hire a photographer

Freelance photographers play an important part in your online business. Find out what to look for when hiring a photographer.
Aug 3, 2020 • 12 minute read
Kym Dunbar @whiteshepherd
Technical Co-pilot
Cover photo for How to hire a photographer

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How a photographer can help you sell more products

Freelance photographers play an important part in your online business, even during a worldwide pandemic. While few weddings and other events can go ahead during social isolation, online shopping is more important than ever. It is a good time to ensure you maximize your product photography to capture more of the online market. You can also hire freelance photographers for all your projects, from ebooks, online courses to how-to articles. They all need illustrating to add value and make them more appealing.

Product, branding and marketing photography

Good online photos of products help to sell them. Having no photos means consumers can overlook what your business offers. Few people will buy a product they cannot see. And, the more photos there are of each product, the better. Most consumers want to see at least three photos of a product to help them decide to buy.

There are many times you will want to hire a photographer. Not just for product shots but to brand your business. You also need them for social media marketing and marketing materials as well as for your website.

While you can take the photos yourself, poor quality photos can be worse than no photos at all. Hiring a freelance photographer is an investment in your business. It can cost a lot of money depending on how many products you need photographed. This is why it is important to hire a good freelance photographer who can get the right photos the first time.

In an age where anyone thinks they can professional take photos using only a cell phone, many may call themselves a professional photographer. However, despite the manufacturers' marketing hype, cell phone cameras have serious limitations for such work, e.g. lens quality, flexibility, limited sensor size, image formats, inability to communicate with professional studio lighting, and you should look for a photographer that uses professional equipment.  Furthermore professional photographers will carry the requisite commercial insurance cover and comply with health and safety legislation along with complying with a raft of other legal obligations.  Many freelance photographers carry no such insurance cover.

You need to do some research to make sure you hire the right person for the job.

This article gives you the low down on hiring a freelance photographer. It gives you insight into hiring a freelance photographer.

Different types of freelance photography

Besides product photography, there are other types of freelance photography. You may need photos to illustrate a book or another type of project and want original photos rather than stock photos. Or you may want original photos for your website and marketing material. These make your projects unique and gives them true authenticity. Readers get sick of seeing the same stock photos used over and over again.

Here are some different types of photography you may need for your project (this list is by no means exhaustive):

  • Environmental. Environmental photography includes photos of wildlife in their natural surroundings. It includes photos of natural disasters, forests, bodies of water and any other natural elements of the environment.
  • Environmental portraiture. Environmental portraiture includes photos of people in settings other than a formal studio setting, such as their homes, outdoors or at an event. These photos show people living their lives and subjects usually look natural.
  • Street shots. Street photography portrays people in public places. The photos are normally candid shots at the beach, in parks and shopping centers. Street shots work when they create a memorable photo. Local laws may prohibit or limit such photography.
  • Architectural photography. Photos of structures and buildings in unusual settings and from different angles is architectural photography. Architectural photography also includes street view virtual tours.These photos differ from the norm to create an impact.
  • Still life. Photographing flowers, fruit or any other object that does not move is a still life photo. There is a lot of creativity in the photo’s composition. Photographers usually use a macro lens to capture the fine details.
  • War photography. Photos of war portrays armed conflicts and the life of people in war torn areas. They depict the extremes of people’s lives and the difficulties of everyday life. These photos can be shocking and invoke an emotional response in the people viewing them.
  • How-to photos. How-to photos illustrate the instructions for how to create something such as a recipe or a vegetable garden. These photos make it easier for the reader to get a good result.
  • Photojournalism. Photojournalism are strong photos that capture an activity or event for publication. It is usually just one remarkable photo that tells the whole story.
  • Portraits. Portraits usually focus on the faces of people so you can see their expressions and mood in the moment.
  • Social documentary. Recording people going about their daily lives is referred to as social documentary photography. It can also follow the lives of disadvantaged people to raise their profile to governments and across the world.

What type of photography suits your project?

To choose the right freelance photographer, there are some things you need to consider.

Create a brand style guide

You cannot expect a photographer to get good results unless both you and the photographer understand your brand. Photographers are not psychic and rely on you having a clear vision. So, create a brand style guide, often referred to in the photography industry as a mood board. A brand style guide gives a freelance photographer insight into how to portray your brand and what you expect.

A brand style guide should contain the following:

  • Brand identity. Your brand identity includes colors, voice, style, typography and styling for example.
  • Consumer personas. Who are your ideal customers? Understand the personas of your ideal customers; their preferences and what they like.
  • Point of difference. It is important to integrate elements to show your point of difference from competitors.
  • Buyer experience. What is the buyer experience you want your target audience to have when they interact with your business and branding?

These are the types of questions a freelance photographer will ask you. They need an in-depth understanding of your business. You need to connect with each other to share the vision for the project.

Beware, if a photographer does not ask these types of questions, they are not trying to connect with you. When you can communicate your brand style guide, it is easy to see if you have a creative connection with each other. It is unlikely you will get the photos you need without a creative connection. Move on if you do not feel a connection with someone.

Add visuals to a brand style guide

It is important to have both written information and visuals in your style guide. The visuals illustrate your written expectations and clarifies what you mean to a photographer. Why? Your concept of a clean studio shot could be different to the photographer’s vision. Including visuals clarifies your expectations.

Determine the project and photographs required

It is your responsibility to give freelance photographers clear guidelines about what you want to achieve. If you do not know what you need, how do you expect a photographer to know? They may know how to photograph simple studio product shots for product pages. But they will need your input to get the results you want.

You need to consider whether you need:

  • lifestyle shots
  • full body shots with models
  • headshots
  • on location or studio shots
  • simple product shots with a white background.

Every time you hire a photographer, create a list of the photos you need for the project. Create a short description and a bullet point list of what you want. For example, you may be launching a new skincare range so your list may include:

  • New skincare range that is all natural and packaged in glass containers:
    • close-up studio shots, minimalistic with a white background
    • shots for the website banner
    • branded shots.
  • Types of lifestyle branded shots:
    • two or more diverse models using the products in real life
    • detailed shots of models and the product
    • shots suitable for a website banner and social media marketing.
  • A variety of portrait and horizontal photos.
  • Use the colors of the business brand.
  • Lifestyle shots for social media.

A list like this gives potential photographers insight into what you expect from hiring them.

Freelance photographer costs

Product photography is different to wedding, portrait and family photo shoots. Wedding and portrait photographs have set price packages. These are easier to price as the sessions do not vary much.

How much product and other photography costs depends on a lot of variables. These can include how many different products, whether there are models involved and how many photos. This is why freelance photographers provide a quote based on your requirements for each project. They consider the time they will spend to get the right photos. This can include:

  • consulting and session planning
  • travel
  • services such as models, wardrobe, hair and makeup
  • studio rental
  • finding suitable locations
  • editing
  • printing, if required.

There is much more to photography than simply pushing buttons.

Prices vary

Prices vary depending on what you need. Simple product shots with a white background cost less than working with a model. Product photography on a plain white background, known in the industry as "pack-shots", is usually charged per finished, fully edited image, on a sliding scale, and not on a time-cost basis.  The more images you need, the lower the cost-per-image becomes.

So, there is no simple answer. Some freelance photographers charge per hour. Others charge per half or full day and will promise to deliver different numbers of photos. Compare different prices with what each photographer intends to deliver. The cheapest is not always the most cost-effective.

Always check what is included in the price. Do they charge:

  • A rate for each product or is it a flat hourly or day rate.
  • For retouching the photos.
  • Extra for delivering different sizes of each photo.
  • Any additional fees.

The more photos you have the better. You need a variety of photos for your website and for use across social media channels.

Whatever you do, do not hire a photographer based on just what they cost. You cannot afford to end up with photos that are low-quality and cannot use.

An experienced, professional photographer will get it right the first time. An amateur photographer may be cheaper but the results may be low quality. Remember, you get what you pay for. Poor results means you will have to hire someone else to take the photos again. And that means a wholly avoidable higher cost for you.

How to tell an amateur from a professional

How do you tell the difference between an amateur and a professional photographer? Good question. Hiring an amateur freelance photographer can end up costing you more in the long run.

Here are some red flags to help you determine if someone is an amateur or a professional photographer with experience:

Amateur photographers:

  • Are usually a lot cheaper
  • May not have the equipment they need to produce the best results
  • Do not have the experience to adapt to changing situations
  • Will lack past clients and cannot show you published work
  • Add watermarks to their work.

Professional photographers:

  • Ask a lot of questions
  • Will make the effort to connect with you to understand your needs and business
  • Can have a set way of working as they understand how to achieve clients’ outcomes
  • Have procedures in place and can give you a turnaround time for you to receive the results
  • Will only watermark proof images. Note that removing watermarks from proof images in order to use them without paying for the photographer's services may, in most jurisdictions, be regarded as theft or fraud
  • Carry professional public liability and clients' property insurance
  • Have health and safety procedures in place
  • Will almost invariably have their own commercial studio, (as opposed to a studio at their home).

You want a photographer who is a true artist rather than one who is just a photographer. An artistic photographer understands brands and the types of photos needed for branded messages and advertising.

Hiring just a photographer means they will look to you for constant direction. You want a creative photographer who can interpret your ideas into something truly unique for your business.

Now let’s have a look at the questions you should ask photographers.

Questions to ask a freelance photographer

There are many amateur photographers online. So, it is important to know the right questions to ask to weed them out. Here are some questions to ask to assess a photographer’s suitability for your project.

What is your training and experience?

Some photographers have learned on the job and may not have professional training. Do not let this put you off as it is their experience and portfolio that should speak for them. Ask the following questions to find out their training and experience:

  • What formal training do you have and where or who did you train with?
  • How long have you been doing commercial photography?
  • What experience do you have?
  • How many professional shoots have you done?
  • Who are your previous clients?
  • Who are your current clients?
  • Do you have repeat clients?
  • What is your editing style?
  • How do you deal with lighting? Do you use natural light or lights? How do you overcome low light situations?
  • What mode do you shoot in and what quality are your images shot in? (The best answer is they use Manual and shoot RAW images.)

And, ask them if they have client reviews. When talking with photographers working through the freelancer.com platform, check out client reviews on their profile page.

Do you have a portfolio?

Freelance photographers working through freelancer should have a portfolio of work as part of their profile. But they may also have a portfolio of work elsewhere online. Checking out a photographer’s portfolio is a good way to find the true professionals.

Good photographers have a good eye for detail. They ensure details such as lighting, hair and makeup, composition, the subject and everything else work together to bring your vision to life.

Amateur photographers are not so detail oriented. They can fail to remove background clutter, dust, stray hairs and other things that affect photo’s quality. Ask freelance photographers about these things as part of the consultation.

Look closely at portfolios

Look closely at a photographer’s portfolio. Look beyond what they want you to see. They typically display their best work upfront so do not be afraid to look more closely at their work. Take a look at their social media pages to see how they do things.

When you are looking at their work, consider whether they have the experience you need to complete your project. Does the photographic style suit your brand? Select photos that resonate with you as examples of what you want and let them know why you chose them.

If a freelance photographer cannot show you work samples, move on to someone who can. You want to hire a photographer who has a diverse, high quality portfolio to do your photo shoot.

What equipment do you use?

A freelance photographer needs good quality equipment to capture high quality images. While they may have a good camera and lenses, they need more than that. An experienced photographer will have the right lighting, staging and props to get the right type of photos to represent your products and brand.

How long does it take to deliver the photos?

How long it takes to deliver the photos depends on how a freelance photographer works. Some will need time after the shoot to edit the files before delivering. Others will send you unedited photos straight away so you can choose the ones you want.

When the project is product photography, you may be working with a tight deadline. It is important to get a firm deadline so you can prepare your team for uploading a lot of photos at a time. You will also want your photos for other projects such as marketing material or to illustrate an ebook.

Is there a backup plan to deliver on time?

We all know the best laid plans can go awry. An experienced freelance photographer should have a backup plan for when staff get sick or equipment does not work. This is important when you spend money on models and other equipment. If the photographer does not have a backup plan, it can waste time and money when something goes wrong.

Do you need anything from me?

Asking a potential photographer if they need something from me is more about building a connection. Creating a good rapport will help get the best results.

What is important is the photographer asks you the right questions to get a good understanding of your needs and the outcome required from the project. Creating a mutual understanding, along with their portfolio, helps you compare all the candidates to help you choose the right one.

Freelance photography is crucial to visual branding

Hiring the right freelance photographer online is crucial to your visual branding. You need someone who is creative and connects with your vision to deliver outstanding results.

Professional photographers will be fully insured for commercial public liability risks and (in  cases where required) for clients' products and property in the photographer's possession.  Professional photographers will also comply with relevant health and safety laws, and where a studio is required for the job, it will be fully equipped, checked for fire and electrical safety and will provide professional sub-contractors such as models, makeup and hair styling.

Steer clear of amateurs as they often deliver poor quality images. Even though they are cheaper, an amateur photographer will need constant direction and cost you more in the long run.

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