In any market, there are often a handful of good “shooters” you could choose from. On the surface, all their images catch your eye and meet your visual standards, but as they say, the devil is often in the detail — and it’s these details that can come back to bite you.
After spending a lifetime in the industry, we know all the snags you could run into, and here our 7 “must ask” questions before you hire your next commercial photographer.
1. What are my usage rights and fees? Is there a limit to how I can use these photos?
Did you know that a lot of the time, photographers only let you use images they shoot for a certain time, or in a certain situation? Depending on the market and type of photography, buying from some photographers could mean only having usage rights for one to five years or based on your intended distribution (web usage only, local usage, regional usage). It is common for unlimited rights to be very expensive and a complete copyright release could be budget breaking. These rights should always be listed on a photographer’s bid and contract.
Pro tip: Make your photographer specifically tell you in a simple manner what your usage rights are. The price you are being quoted may not include the usage rights you need! If it isn’t, it could mean a lot more expense for you and them down the road.
2. Do you have at least 3 references for this specific type of photography?
If a photographer is trying to make their way into a photography market, they may have images in their portfolio that were shot for personal growth. It’s important that a commercial photographer has experience in the heat of the battle. Shooting for your portfolio is very different than collaborating on set with clients and art directors. A photographer with experience should be able to give you 3 or more references who can attest to how well they think on their feet.
Pro tip: All photography is NOT the same! Do all you can to get the job done right the first time — even it if costs a little more. Contracting with a photographer who is new in the field may give you a reduced price, but you always get what you pay for, and the quality of images from a less experienced photographer may not be what you need for your business goals (and you still have to pay for it!).
3. How do you price your jobs?
Most commercial photographers submit a bid in writing for each project they quote with a new client. This estimate should include all photography fees, assisting costs, post-production fees, equipment and studio rental (if necessary), backgrounds, props, usage rights, copyright information, and payment terms. Commercial photographers often submit a client a contract in addition to the bid that includes cancellation policies along with payment terms and usage fees. The bid and the contract may come as one document or be separated.
Pro tip: Don’t just look at the “bottom line”. A custom photography price might seem far too high for you, but always compare what you pay for what you get. Choosing the cheapest quote will save you the literal dollars but compare that to your others to make sure you receive what you need for whatever price you pay.
4. How much post-production was done on the images in your portfolio?
Listen, Photoshop is great. Almost every photographer uses it on every image that’s delivered to their clients—as well as the images in their portfolio. This, and similar software, adds a strong, finishing touch to any photo and enhances the natural talented eye of the photographer. However, some might use it as a “cover up” for bad techniques or worse yet, there could be hidden charges in your price for Photoshop work, when you thought the quality samples you saw were straight out of the camera.
Pro tip: Ask your potential photographer to describe the post-production process on an image you liked from their portfolio. This can be a great talking point and could expose if Photoshop work is standing in for good technique.
5. After we are done shooting, what is your turnaround time for delivery of images?
Time after time we hear prospective clients complain about how long it takes photographers to deliver files after the shoot. Asking your photographer this question not only lets you know their normal turn around time, but if rushing their normal process to fit your timeline will cost extra. Knowing in advance what that timeline might be will help you schedule your job far enough in advance to meeting pressing deadlines while keeping budgets in check.
Pro tip: Make sure to bring up timeline in every meeting with a potential photographer so all expectations are clearly communicated on both ends. Expect that if you require special retouching or extensive image manipulation any photographer will require extra time.
6. Do you have Insurance?
This question separates the men from the boys. Seriously. Photographers bring equipment and a crew on the job. Sometimes projects are on a construction site or in an industrial situation, where liabilities are crawling everywhere. Or maybe the lights a photographer brings simply plugged into a bad socket that shorts out the entire building! A qualified photographer will have both a liability and a commercial policy that protects them as a professional.
Pro tip: Ask about potential photographers’ onsite and offsite backups of your digital images. This provides a kind of “insurance” on your images in the case of a catastrophe or data corruption.
7. Do you require art direction during the shoot?
Collaboration is a fantastic part of commercial photography. Putting great minds together to create the best images possible makes sure that both client and photographer are pleased with the end result. But let’s face it…everyone is busy! Sometimes it’s simply not possible for you as a client to be on every project to approve what they are shooting. You need a photographer that can take your vision and run with it even if you’re not there!
Pro tip: Notice if your photographer takes notes about your vision for images during a sales call or pre-production meeting. Ask if they charge extra for not having a client representative on set or have a way of sending you images as they shoot. Sometimes these little things take your photography experience to another level.
Have you worked with a photographer who has not met your expectations in one of these areas? Are your current quotes not living up to your standards or fail to meet your marketing needs? Then call Studio 13 at (317) 923-1122 or email at email@example.com to answer some questions or get your custom photography quote started!
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