Why Hire a Professional Photographer?
I’ve been reading a number of articles recently about just what constitutes a ‘professional photographer’. Since Marrisa Mayer’s blunder at the release of Flickr’s website redesign, this appears to be quite a hot topic around the interwebs and one I think should be considered by anyone who charges to provide a service.
The question I’ve asked myself is quite simple; “Why hire a professional photographer?”
Firstly, I think it’s important to clarify one thing. The word ‘professional’ in itself isn’t necessarily an indicator of quality. Sure, there’s this fuzzy idea that when something is described as being of ‘professional quality’, that object or service is of a premium standard. Break that down, and it just means something is of a standard you can expect to pay for. When it comes to a service based industry like photography, what really establishes one photographer’s service at a higher standard than another’s? Does it just come down to skill? How the hell do you quantify a skill set?
When I started shooting for paying clients, I quickly realised that being able to take a great set of images would not get me very far if it remained my only core skill. When a client hires you to shoot for them, they’re hiring you to create a solution.
Say there’s a theatre company that needs to promote an upcoming show. They’ve got someone ready to run a print/web campaign but no imagery around which to base it. The stage manager’s photo hobbyist friend Jack gets a call. Jack charges a cheap rate, takes some great images of the dress rehearsal and delivers the final selection of high res files on time. Boxes ticked and smiles all round.
The theatre company needed a set of images that would tantalise the general public into seeing their show. Images of the actors simply working through their scenes might not be the best way to do this, no matter how great the photos are. This may mean that despite the prompt and convenient service they received, the company might not have got the best solution to their issue.
Let’s say the company asked around and eventually hired Jill for the same job. Jill shoots for a living and charges a significantly higher rate than Jack. She offers to sit down and discuss the show with its creative director, then makes some suggestions based on her experience of having shot a range of theatre campaigns in the past. She then devises a series of images designed to present the show’s characters in a compelling manner, liaises with the cast to explain the project, then arranges and carries out a shoot. Once the final selection of images is complete, she delivers the images in two formats, each with the sizing and colour profiles appropriate to their use in either print or web. Jill also makes a point of being available if the company need any further assistance with the images.
I know, I know, there’s a lot of factors I conveniently glossed over in that little spat of fiction. My point is that Jack delivered some great images of the show. Jill delivered a tailored solution to the company’s issue of how to create imagery that would inspire interest and sell tickets. Assuming she did a good job, it’s likely more tickets were sold and the show was more successful.
This for me is specifically what the word ‘professional’ means. A specialist that you can hire to solve a problem you don’t have the skills or resources to solve yourself. They will sell their skills, but also provide all the experience and support required to get your job done.
Note; the images above are some I shot for Les Enfants Terrible to promote a show at the Lyric Theatre in Hammersmith last year. In some ways this is a bad example of the point I so earnestly try to make above, as this project was a real run-and-gun affair with very little time for pleasantries. That said, the core values of a press shoot were still very much present, resulting in compelling imagery that was then used to promote the same show later that year at Latitude Festival.