How to hire a photographer for your team
Looking for a photographer for your project, event or team? Here’s where to start.
What does a photographer do?
A photographer takes photos professionally for events, publications, brands, agencies, people and products and more. They are responsible for capturing and telling stories through imagery, whether that’s a wedding, a fashion show, a political event , a concert, a landscape or a family portrait.
In the same way a writer is relevant to nearly every field, photographers are needed across every industry. Many photographers specialize in a specific area or industry such as event photography, sports photography, travel photography, outdoor photography, product photography or fashion photography. In this way, they learn the ins and outs of a field so they can better capture its complexities. A food photographer, for example, has mastered lighting a scene to present a meal in an enticing way. A portrait photographer understands how to photograph different skin types and get a specific expression or mood from their subjects.
Today, advances in technology make photography accessible to anyone with a smartphone. However, look at their portfolio and you can quickly tell a professional photographer from a casual one. A photographer has made a career of mastering the technology and skills, of curating a specific style and growing a portfolio to represent what they offer.
What skills should a photographer have?
Hiring a photographer is easy in a way, because you can’t fake it. You don’t need to probe into their history or test their knowledge. It’s not about their degree, any kind of certification or even their mastery of certain tools or techniques. The work speaks for itself.
A photographer doesn’t necessarily need any sort of formal training to be great at what they do. While their skill with their equipment and techniques of course inform their work, it’s usually not necessary to understand exactly how they do what they do (unless you’re a photographer yourself, or you’re looking for someone who has mastered a very specific type of photography). Your chief concern is the final product.
For a photographer, the following matters more than anything else:
- The quality of photos in their portfolio
- The photographer’s specialty and style
- Their level of ease and confidence while shooting their subject
- The ability to edit and retouch
- An understanding of the field and subject matter
- Their level of organization and care for the small details
- How all of this aligns with you and your project
All of that said, most photographers have a foundational grasp of modern hardware (such as DSLR cameras, lenses, tripods and lights) and software (like Photoshop, Lightroom and other common editing tools) that allow them to handle a project confidently and smoothly. The type of camera and other tech they use will vary depending on their style, preference and speciality. Some may prefer to shoot solely with digital cameras, for example, while others appreciate the romance and style of shooting film and developing it.
What to consider when hiring a photographer
Trying to decide on the best photographer for the job? Here’s what to keep in mind:
1. What is the event or project?
A wedding photographer may not be the right fit for an editorial shoot. A nature photographer is not necessarily the right choice for a fashion shoot. Search for a photographer who has experience in their portfolio related to the type of shoot you’re doing. The photographer you choose will always depend on the project.
2. What is the art direction for the project?
Likewise, the specific art direction for a photoshoot will influence which photographer you hire. Ideally, you will choose the photographer in collaboration with the art director, as they typically set the vision for a shoot.
A photographer has usually honed a specific style for their work. While a skilled photographer can certainly shoot different styles of photography, you will likely look through dozens of portfolios to find a photographer whose style “feels right” for the brand and the visual direction of the project.
3. Recommendations mean everything
Before you start your search, ask your team, and especially your art director, if they know of a good photographer for the project. Your art director likely has a network of creatives they collaborate with, and can not only recommend the right person for the job, but can possibly even get you a better rate. If you find someone through your network, you can save time and verify their credibility first-hand.
4. Look through their portfolio
This is the ultimate deciding factor in choosing a photographer. Click through their online portfolio and you will know in minutes whether they’re the right fit for your project, event or position. Review the type of work they typically shoot. You will likely get a grasp of their style after looking through a few projects – does it match the mood you need for your project? (A really great photographer’s portfolio may even inspire the style for the project.) You will likely click through dozens of photography portfolios to narrow down your search.
5. Local vs remote
If you live a big city, you’ll have plenty of talented photographers to choose from locally. But locality shouldn’t limit you when choosing a photographer. Most will travel for the right job and the right budget. And it’s worth that extra expense to get the perfect photographer for your project. So don’t just search “photographers near me.” Look across the internet. Take note of photos you see in other publications and websites that fit your style, and see who’s credited. Dig until you find a photographer whose talent and style match your vision for the project.
What to ask when interviewing a photographer
Considering a photographer but unsure if they’re the right fit? Here are the questions to ask. Some may or may not be relevant depending on the photographer’s level of experience and the project, but it’s a good place to start:
Q: What is your style and expertise?
This should be clear from their portfolio, but here they can expand on their specialty and explain why they’re the right fit for the job.
Q: What equipment do you regularly use? What would you use for this project?
The photographer should have basic equipment (such as tripods and light meters) with the ability to adapt to different scenarios. They should be able to confidently explain their reason for choosing specific equipment for your project, and ask educated questions to make those decisions.
Q: What’s your process and how do I fit in?
Most photographers require a brief before beginning a project, which will benefit you both.
Q: What’s your rate?
An obvious question, but an important note as you consider their rates and your budget: It’s worth paying for the best, if you can afford it. Photos can make or break your brand, project or event. The better your photographer, the better your final result. It may help to get multiple estimates from different photographers to compare rates and potentially negotiate to fit your budget. Just beware of undercutting – quoting a cheap estimate you got from Fiverr to an accomplished photographer is not a fair comparison, and will offend any photographer who has made a living of this work.
Q: What’s included with your services?
Every photographer will include different deliverables in their default contract. Make sure you understand exactly what’s included: Will a backup photographer be present on the job? How many selects do you get and what’s the turnaround time? In what format will they be delivered? Are travel, meal and prop expenses billed separately? Review what’s provided by default and negotiate any additional services you need before finalizing the contract.
Q: What should I know about copyright subscriptions?
Photographers typically license you to use their images. You don’t always own them, or you may be limited in how you use them. Make sure you fully understand where your images can be used (Only online? Only print? Print and online?) and how, and that it’s all written down in your contract with the photographer.
How to get work as a photographer
Anyone can take nice photos from their smartphone these days. But to make a career of photography requires passion, practice and diligence.
Getting started with photography
The good news is, you don’t need any sort of formal degree or certification to be a great photographer. While studying photography can of course only benefit your work, many photographers are self-taught, having learned through online tutorials, short courses and a lot of practice. You can do the same. That said, the accessibility of photography makes it a competitive practice. Someone can find hundreds of photographers for any job or event. The best way to ensure they choose you? Be exceptional at what you do.
If you don’t have clients yet, give yourself your own projects. Attend a public event and capture pictures of it. Style a product shoot from your living room. Invite a few friends over to test lighting, try out backdrops and take headshots. Style your meals and experiment with food shots. No matter the type of work you want to do as a photographer, don’t wait for permission. Start on your own and begin building your portfolio with self-initiated projects.
How to make a photography portfolio
Photography portfolios are unique in that the work speaks for itself. Unlike a designer, for example, you are less dependent on case studies that explain your projects. While it helps to describe the task you were given, the art direction you were following and the conditions or setting you were working with, what most people are paying attention to is the final product.
So the most important part of creating a photography portfolio is selecting the photos to put in it.
Curation is key. Whether you’re aiming to show your diversity or hone a specific style, you will want to select only your best photos to represent you. Depending on your body of work, you might group your photos by project or client (Nike, GQ, New York Times) or by category (sports, weddings, fashion, food). Or you may choose to mix them all together in a simple grid on your homepage.
The photos you select, and how you arrange them, depends on the type of work you want to get hired to do. Lead with your best work, since most people viewing your site are likely clicking quickly through many portfolios at a time) and choose the work you want to keep getting hired to do. If you love shooting horse shows, create a project for your horse photography and put it at the top of your page. It’s better to select single, strong images rather than multiple slightly different versions of the same image. If you show the same image in color, black & white and sepia, you will come across a bit amateur. Show confidence by letting your best images stand on their own.
Don’t overthink the design of your portfolio. When photography is presented in a gallery space, it’s most often on a white wall without any adornments or fancy frames so the image can tell its own story. Your portfolio can be just as simple. Whether you go with an all-white background or choose complementary colors for each project is up to you. Focus on uploading high-quality images and giving them room to breathe on the page. With Carbonmade, you have a variety of options for showcasing your photography, whether you simply drag & drop them into a grid on the page, put them in a photo gallery or make them full-width so they fill the page.
Aside from displaying your images, you’ll want to add a short introduction to your work on your homepage. Just write a couple sentences describing your style and the type of work you like to shoot, so we understand what you offer right away. Feel free to expand on this further on your About page, where you’ll list your clients, background, any press or awards, and ideally, a beautiful headshot of you.