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Commercial Photographer Vs. Photo Enthusiast – Knowing the Difference
The most salient asset to any client when hiring a photographer is the access to
information. There are many people, some of them with very professional
equipment, claiming to be professional photographers. This article will
highlight a few of the differences between a professional commercial
photographer, and a photo enthusiast with a nice camera.
Probably the single most immediately recognizable indicator of a professional
photographer is their portfolio. Key indicators include a diversity of subjects,
consistency with lighting, composition and tone, and distinctiveness in style,
function, and form.
The portfolio is also as much a measure of function as it is of fashion. Images
that take too long to load, or websites that are too difficult to navigate, or that
don’t load on mobile devices, are simply not going to receive engagement. A
photographer with great images and a terrible website has already lost their
client. Portfolios must be fluid, natural, and indexable for all audiences, and
they should adhere to principal, industry specific concepts such as a valid
copyright year and right-click disablement to deter intellectual copyright
If the portfolio of the photographer you are considering does not offer this
criteria, additional time and resources should be used to further investigate the
individual. In my professional opinion, the ‘photographer’ has already placed
you, the client, in a substandard position, as it is not and should not be your
burden to prove the photographer’s credibility.
Professional Equipment Does Not Yield Professional Results
When I approach a job for a client, part of what I do is provide a thorough
consideration for the equipment required to accomplish the job. To
understand what equipment is required, it’s important to understand the
client’s goals. The considerations that I bring to the table are apart of the
services that the client is paying for; that is to say, through experience, I know
the right questions to ask my clients to better execute the project at hand.
As a commercial photographer I have a preference to the professional
equipment that I use and to the professional assistants that I hire to test,
transport and manage that equipment. Endless hours of consideration are
invested into the research and application of what is often very expensive
photographic equipment. Sometimes equipment can be highly versatile, while
other times equipment is needed for a very specific purpose. Selecting the
right equipment to accomplish the shoot is input only a professional
photographer can provide. The selection process, transportation and set-up of
this equipment may not always be fast, but it will correct the first time. While I
personally can promise my clients both speed and efficiency, I value great
work over fast work.
When I approach executive portraits, for example, one of my largest
considerations is the physical available space that I have to work in. As with
most professional photographers I appreciate the subtleties of intricate,
dynamic lighting. To achieve this look, there are often space considerations
such as the distance from the subject to the background, the distance from the
photographer to the subject, the height of the ceiling, if the space we are in
has windows or moveable furniture, if we’re in a high-traffic area prone to
interruption, and so on and so forth.
While it is possible that both I and MWAC (Mom With a Camera) or DWAC
(Dude With a Camera) could have access to the same camera system, simply
having professional equipment doesn’t make him or her a professional
photographer. Imagine buying the same spatula, carbon knives, cast-iron
skillets or La Cornue Grand Palais Stove Range as Giada De Laurentiis. Does
having that equipment make you a professional chef? No. Similarly with
photography: Just because someone has professional equipment doesn’t
make him or her a professional photographer. It takes years – if not a lifetime –
to develop and curate a professional trade.
Value And Experience
Commercial photographers are hired for their professionalism. This includes
keen attention to detail, client relationships, knowledge, experience, talent,
communication skills, their ability to execute, and their contractual obligation
to deliver on deadline.
A commercial photographer brings value to their client. My role as a
professional commercial photographer is to execute the vision of the client,
and much of this process includes planning. Face to face meetings, phone
calls, email exchanges, writing contracts, securing assistants, securing
locations, scheduling talent, mapping weather patterns, reviewing gear lists
and rehearsing the shoot before I’m on site are just a few of the pre-planning
considerations that I value.
If the candidate photographer you are considering for your project cannot
provide you with clear, articulate, punctual answers to your questions – do not
hire them. While artistic input is valued in merit, it should not be vague,
impractical or complex.
A commercial photographer is also flexible and adaptable. Many times –
almost always – something somewhere at some point in the day doesn’t go as
planned. This could be something minor like a traffic delay to something major
like building management late to arrive. What does MWAC or DWAC do when
their wireless transmitters suddenly stop working? Do they check the radio
frequency the transmitters are operating on? Do they replace the batteries? Do
they even have replacement batteries to put in the transmitters, or do they
have replacement transmitter? Or, what happens when a client of the hiring
party trips and injures themselves over a light stand or cable that wasn’t
secured? Why wasn’t the set secured in the first place, and now you’re left with
the question: Does the photographer have general liability insurance?
The client should not be in a position to worry about these things. A
professional commercial photographer is paid, in part, for their history and
reliability as a professional, which includes contingency plans and their ability
to handle stressful situations. Any person who does not add value and
experience to a production shoot is not someone that should be considered or
present to execute your vision.
In conclusion a professional photographer should add value and experience to
execute your vision, which should be observable through a developed and
diverse portfolio that showcases both function and fashion. They should be an
adaptable, agreeable professional with thoughtful insight, and they should be
a clear, coherent communicator with the knowledge and equipment to
accomplish the job. Any photographer absent these characteristics is probably
not a photographer at all, but is, alternatively, a photo enthusiast at best.
Thanks for reading. If you have questions or comments about the content of
this article just leave them for me in the comments section below. Special
thanks to Jeff Clow for providing me with this topic as subject to blog about.
As always, feel free to contact me on Twitter @stephenmasker or on Instagram
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