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QUESTIONS & ANSWERS
ON HIRING A PROFESSIONAL PHOTOGRAPHER


Why should I hire a professional photographer for this shoot?

Because you're a professional in your field as well, you probably want to get the best images possible--which are almost never the cheapest images possible. As we all know, the advent of digital photography has led your Uncle Fred, your roommate, and a whole slew of other folks into thinking they're photographers (and undercutting serious, seasoned pros). It's true that the DELETE button on their digital cameras allows them to throw out out-of-focus, awkwardly framed, or badly exposed images--and that all kinds of messes can be cleaned up in PhotoShop. It's also true that the newest digital cameras are really, really smart. But a smart digital camera does not an accomplished artist make.

So, the upshot is that there are more people calling themselves "photographers" and putting up quick, slick photography websites than ever before! (In the business, this is now being called the "EVERYBODY'S a photographer" phenomena.)

What's the moral? When you hire a pro, you're not just hiring a person with a more expensive camera than your Uncle Fred. You're hiring someone who knows how to make you (or whatever the subject is) look awesome, using an artistic eye, an ability to put the subject at ease, and the technical skill to give you a riveting image that everyone will notice. You're hiring someone who can take your vision of yourself (or of the subject you want shot), and mold it into something eye-catching, truthful, and new.

If those things don't matter to you, phone Uncle Fred immediately.

What am I paying a professional for?

When you pay a professional photographer to shoot for you, you are generally paying for the following things:

 • a creation fee, which involves their creativity and expertise;

 • an agreed upon number of hours or days to do your shoot and deliver a final product;

 • expenses incurred in creating those images (film, processing, post-production time in digital work, etc.);

 • a print or scan of one or more select images;

 • a repro rights fee on individual photos you wish to reproduce and use for professional purposes. This fee is variable and will depend on the use. Personal, editorial, and educational usages for example, are generally less expensive than commercial and advertising.

Who owns the negatives and the rights to the images?

According to U.S. Copyright Law, the photographer owns the copyright, negatives, or digital files on all images shot. In paying them to shoot, you are purchasing their professional services. When you buy "repro rights," you lease the right to USE one or more photos for a specific purpose, and are probably purchasing a COPY of the image as well--generally in print, slide, or digital scan form.

Incidentally, this is the same copyright law that protects all artists and people who create--whether they be composers, authors, watercolorists, photographers...you get the drift.

Why is it that the same image can cost me $50 or $500 to use?

You might be buying an image just for personal use--to put in your wallet or place on your desk at work. But when you buy an image for professional purposes--whether it be for newsletter or newspaper stories about you, or as the cover of your next CD or book--the price is significantly higher. In addition, editorial and educational usages are much less expensive than commercial and advertising. For example, an image you want to use once for an in-house newsletter or your own website will cost far, far less than one running with ads for a commercial product you endorse, and which are published in nationally-distributed magazines or printed on billboards. Also, covers--be it book, magazine, or CD--always are priced higher than interiors of that same product.

What's important is that when you buy a photo with repro rights, you do not own the copyright--meaning, you do not have the right to use it for anything at all and for as long as you like. Hence, you need to ascertain exactly what rights you have bought, and for how long. It's common, by the way, for someone to buy the rights to a picture for one use, then contact the photographer sometime down the road and purchase another type of usage for the same photo.

What's included in a photo package deal?

Photo packages that offer a single price for the creation, hours, expenses and final images you need are often a far better deal financially than a la carte billing. Find out the price for the package, and make sure you know exactly what's included--how many hours you get, how many poses, how many final shots (and in what format) and what you're allowed to use the photos for professionally. If it fits, you're golden!

Does the package cover everything I need?

Maybe, maybe not. Look carefully at what's included in your package, then talk to your photographer about additional items or replacement items and their costs. For example, you may want to do a "Tuesday Quickie," but have your final image in both color and black and white. Or you may want to do a CD cover shoot, but go out on location for four hours instead of two, to get all the poses and settings you want. Typical additions to basic packages are often items like hiring a professional makeup artist, doing extra digital retouching on final images, or adding time, final images, or additional photo uses to some standard package. (i.e. you might want to buy an image for PR as well as for a CD cover). All are easily doable, but make sure you're clear on your needs and the additional costs of these items before you get in over your head.

Isn't digital photography cheaper?

ANSWER: The emergence of digital photography over the past decade has revolutionized photography. And though we miss the days of film--particularly gorgeous black and white--digital shooting has numerous advantages. Among the perks of digital is the ability for the photographer and client to catch mistakes and make changes early in the shoot by checking the monitor, as well as faster turnaround time, easier image modification and retouching, increased ability to shoot in low-light situations, and the ability to create dynamite color and black and white images from the same shot. But here comes the confusing part: for amateurs, digital is often cheaper; but for professionals, it's not. In fact, according to stats published in the past few years, doing a professional shoot digitally costs as much as one-third more than traditional methods. Why, you ask?

(1) CONSTANTLY CHANGING HARDWARE AND SOFTWARE:
In the old days--from eight to one hundred and fifty years ago--photographers expected their cameras, darkroom equipment, and all they needed to shoot and create an original image for you to last between five and twenty-five years, if not more. Today, digital equipment--cameras, computers, hardware, and software--is often obsolete in a few months, and rarely makes it to two or three years. Constant upgrading ain't cheap!

(2) THE PHOTOGRAPHER'S TIME:
When a photographer shoots digitally, the post-production work required after the shoot--including downloading, naming files, color corrections, various batch actions, backing up on multiple external hard drives, retouching, burning CDs or DVDs, etc. etc.-- is infinitely more time consuming for the photographer, and sometimes takes longer than the shoot itself. In the old days, this was often a simple lab drop and pickup that was billed to the client. Today, it is the photographer who is working at the computer perfecting and presenting your images, which is reflected in your bill.

(3) FASTER TURNAROUND EXPECTATIONS:
Because clients know how quickly digital turnarounds can happen, they often expect the photographer to process and deliver much, much faster than with film. The marketplace has upped the ante on deadlines as well. So these added pressures also push up the costs.