Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Selecting and Working with a Professional Photographer, Step One. Making Contact

I spend a lot of time on the Pictage Forums. It’s a great environment where I am able to interact with photographers on a daily basis. It’s closed, so they can talk about what’s really on their minds, and through that experience I’ve been able to develop a pretty clear view of their challenges in working with clients.

Here’s the thing. In my experience (and we currently serve just shy of 12,000 of them), these folks universally love what they do. They approach every job wanting to do their absolute best work. There are some things you can do to help them. Many of these are things they’ll discuss with you. Some are not. Some are just common courtesy. Some you may not think of. Taking a few extra minutes to think through these things will make your time with them and your experience and images just that much better. The work they do is amazing, so long as you follow a few simple guidelines.

Over the next few days I will be posting a series of posts that are free for anyone to use for any purpose. These will cover subjects ranging from selecting a photographer - the work you need to do before you get started - to preparing for a successful portrait session, to ways to make sure you come away with the best possible images for your wedding, mitzvah or other event.

Finding a photographer. Navigating the Website and Blog to find the perfect fit.

There are a lot of professional photographers. In almost any town you may find there are almost too many to choose from. It can be a little overwhelming and it is not surprising that so many potential clients essentially resort to sending a blanket or form email out to see who responds. You should know that the more a photographer is working, the less likely they are to respond to an inquiry like this. It isn’t that they don’t love you or want to work for you, and it certainly isn’t that they won’t do great work (in fact, quite the opposite is true), but these folks are busy and they simply don’t have time to respond to all of the inquiries they get. To make your search more fruitful, take a little extra time and get to know them before you reach out. You’re much more likely to find someone who will absolutely thrill you with the work they do!

The web site.

Think of this as their store front. You will notice that all photographer sites feature rich image galleries. This is the first place to go when you get to the site. They’re all going to feature great images, but how do you narrow it down? You’re looking for two things: Their style, whatever it is that makes their images unique. And, their specialties. If you are seeking someone to photograph your baby or perhaps a boudoir photographer, make sure the photographer’s galleries include images like these that you LOVE.

I recommend creating a folder and “favoriting” a few photographers on the first pass and then going back to spend a little time. View their image galleries (those most relevant to you) a few times so you know for sure that this is the way you wish to see yourself. (One thing to look out for here ... Are all of the people in all of the images model beautiful? Are you? If so, great. If not, then spending a little time to find a photographer whose work more closely reflects who you are is a good idea).

Photographer Pricing

In most cases you will also find their pricing on their websites. Make sure this is also in your range. As discussed in a previous post, their pricing is generally not significantly negotiable. You are likely to be able to make minor changes to what is included in a package, but you are not likely to get a 50% discount. You can actually find great photographers in many price ranges. Just know that those who are really good and lower priced will require a little more searching (and they’re generally building their businesses so they’re also very busy).

The Blog

If the website is their storefront, their blog is their family room. Once you’ve narrowed your search down to a few (less than 10) photographers you’d like to work with, go and visit their blog. You will likely find a combination of recent real client projects and personal work and musings. You’re going to spend some time with your photographer and even if you’re just doing some headshots you’re going to want someone you know you’re going to be comfortable with. Taking the time to do this will help you get comfortable and will also give you something fun to reference in your inquiry email. (and that’s the generally the next step). One other quick note is that on their contact pages the photographer will likely tell you how they prefer you make contact. Again, this isn't them being hard to work with. It is actually that they are trying to be easier to work with. If they are generally on location then it might be easier for them to get a phone call and a voicemail than an email. They'll tell you that. Going with their method is another way to start out right.

First Contact - The inquiry email.

These days it is common for photographers to make first contact with their potential clients through email. It is a convenient way for both the photographer and the client to communicate, so this makes sense. However, you should know that if you are seeking a photographer who is in demand, (and most are), sending them an email that appears to be a simple form letter is not likely to get you a response. This isn’t because they are snobby or don’t want to take the time. It is because they are generally very busy and they get a LOT of these. If they took the time to respond to every one, they’d never get anything done. Here is a good and bad example.

Response unlikely: “Hi. We are seeking a photographer to take some portraits of our children. Can you send us pricing?”

Response likely: “Hi. We’ve been looking for a photographer for a while and we found your website and blog and we love your work. (especially the picture of the child with the balloons!) We’d love to get together with you to talk through what we’re looking for. Can you suggest a time and a place that makes sense? Weeknights are probably best for us.

Granted, you’re not going to be able to contact every photographer in your area if you use this approach, but taking the few extra minutes necessary to spend some time in their portfolios, review their pricing, etc., will be a big help to you in selecting a photographer whose work you will love and in making sure that photographer understands that you are serious about working with them and that is the first great step to success!

(Note: For photographers - if you are interested in using any of this content for any purpose you are welcome to do so. Consider it a gift and use it however you please. Also, feel free to drop me an email at jim@pictage.com if there are subjects you would like me to cover. I’ve gotten a lot of great ideas from the folks on the Pictage forums so I have plenty of subjects to cover, but I always love hearing from you).

1 comment:

Justine said...

Well said, Jim. I heart you.