Photo shoots. Camera formats. Tripods. Studios. Lightboxes. Product photography. Lifestyle imagery. Models. Digital retouching. Photographer rates. Shot lists. Art Direction. Backdrops… Yeesh… Yes, it can be a lot to consider. And it can also, all be pretty simple, although it usually doesn’t turn out that way. Usually things get time intensive and expensive.
Photography can be one of those fields or services where we rely too heavily on one person. The Photographer. And many times the photography needs require more than your average Photographer has to offer. No offense average Photographer. Spiderman can’t always handle everything without some super people around him either. To that point, good photography results might be a direct result of good art direction. It might require thoughtful image usage and workflow planning to cover multiple platforms and formats, from a super horizontal digital facebook header, to a large one page print ad.
And what makes good photography, good anyway. If it’s good, it’s mainly because it’s “right.” Simply looking good and high quality isn’t enough. It needs to be right for the brand and the plan. Pictures need to live out in the world in many places at many times. Ideally you want them to reflect and say something about the business, product or person.
Making something good is usually the byproduct of a combination of the right things.
What makes your favorite walnut chocolate chip cookie at that coffee shop so good? Every single thing that went into it. That “just right” amount of dark in the dark chocolate chip, the size of the chip and walnuts themselves, the right ratio of chips to walnuts, and their right balance to the cookie as a whole. We haven’t even mentioned the batter yet!; The temperature it was served at and the pairing of the Americano you had with it. And what about the mug? Anyway, you get it. And yes, I want this damn cookie right now too.
Point is, “Good” is usually a combination or recipe of ingredients. And who determines it’s good by the way? Something like photography can be subjective. What’s “too dark?” Who’s to say? There’s not 3 wise men in the corner of the room. A few good people with taste and experience usually decide. And no– they don’t always get it right. Look around. Things don’t always turn out “right.” But you want to set yourself up for the best chance to get it right before it gets out into the marketplace and in front of eyeballs.
“Photography can be one of those fields where we rely too heavily on one person. The Photographer.“
In the case of a simple cookie, one good baker can likely create the right cookie. With the various photography needs a business might have, it will not likely ever be a good decision to leave it all in the hands of Your Friendly Neighborhood Photographer. If it really is super simple – like 1 head shot or a few pictures of a birdhouse, then yes. But if it’s headshots for an entire company who is trying to make a name for themselves as a fun, innovative company who thinks differently – then you probably want to talk to someone who has your brand in mind. You might need a team or at least one other Avenger.
And to the photographer’s defense, it’s not really their business to make all the considerations for your business, keep your marketing plans in mind and manage your brand. They are likely just trying to deliver best they can and get paid and get on to the next shoot and hope they get called for the next time you need them. (I’ve been this photographer too btw.) Usually they are contracted under terms that are theirs and the client isn’t always super familiar with how a shoot needs to come together, what a good shot list looks like, or how to design a post-production workflow, and communicate it all in the best language for a photographer or retoucher or stylist.
How do you know if the photographer is right for the job?
Just because they shoot pretty pictures of cats, or your cousin’s wedding, doesn’t mean they’re going to kill it on your racing tires or your cosmetic line. Just because you see high res images shot with professional lighting doesn’t mean they’re good. I’ve been asked by a brand to review images they got and paid for from a fancy photographer. I saw beautiful, “professionally” shot images of high quality that were completely boring and forgettable. It was clear no one had conversations about how the imagery should look or feel and what would be best for that start-up brand that was trying to stand out and make a name for themselves. And, as told to me by the smart young female brand representative who was on the set that day, this older male photographer in this case, who once upon a time in the 90’s shot for a big fashion magazine, was apparently rigid and difficult to work with. Shocker. $5000/day fee = poof!
What would a good shoot/plan look like? It would involve thoughtful planning from a brand & budget standpoint, shot lists and good post-production workflow. You want to walk away from the day with great assets for multiple and specific purposes, and imagery that is “on brand.”
Pro tip: If you’re on a photo shoot and no one is having fun – you’re doing it wrong.
#dontshoot before talking to me.
– Matthew Desotell, Creative Director