The Top 3 Reasons You Won’t Hire A Professional Photographer
Our lives are completely dominated by imagery. As visual creatures we react to what we see on a completely visceral level that goes beyond our conscious minds and advertisers are experts of taking advantage of this fact. What we think, our shopping habits, even how we feel about certain kinds of people, situations, products or ideas, is so strongly influenced by imagery and particularly photography, that multimillion and billion dollar companies spend insane amounts of money to create imagery specifically designed to take advantage of your subconscious reaction to visual stimuli. For what reason, aside from using sex to sell product, would anyone need to see a busty gal in a bikini making a mess of herself with a cheeseburger from Carl’s Junior?
Photographs are uniquely powerful because people instinctually see a photograph as a representation of reality.
If images, and photographs in particular, are so powerful, why do so many entrepreneurs and small business owners forgo hiring professional photographers to help them promote their businesses or products?
I asked myself this question but since I am a photographer it’s hard for me to answer objectively, so I took advantage of social media and asked business owners what was stopping them. I’m going to share with you what they told me, because the valid concerns that they shared with me deserve to be addressed.
1. Stock Photography was easy to acquire and filled the needs of my business just fine, and/or I didn’t have time to wait for a professional to produce comparable images.
This is actually far more common than I first realized, and reaches across business borders from family dentistry to book cover design. Take, as an example, this quote from author and book reviewer Naomi Blackburn from the Huffington Post article "Yes, We Really Do Judge Books by Their Cover's,"
“If the cover seems to be nothing more than a catalog photograph with block lettering, I bypass it,” she says. “If the author didn’t care enough to dedicate time/effort to their cover, I wonder how much time they put into the book itself.”
Stock photography makes professionally taken photos easily accessible to anyone with a computer and a bit of money, and there are millions of photos to choose from. The problem is that the photos are easily accessible and there are millions to choose from. That means that the smiling woman on a white background that you chose for the billboard promoting your family dentistry office may also be promoting hemorrhoid cream across town. It means that the images available to you aren’t specific to your company and don’t represent the spirit of your business, it’s values, or what makes your product stand out in a sea of competitors. The mere size of stock photography libraries also means that it can take hours and even days to search through and find images that will suit your needs, which is time that could be spent making your business more profitable.
If you hire a photographer to create images specific to your business, you will have the license and usage rights to insure that your business is the only business using that image to promote your product or service for the duration of the license. Exclusivity is a hallmark of luxury.
2. Clients often can’t tell the difference, so I’ll just have an employee take the photos with a nice camera.
This is an interesting argument that has a lot of basis in fact, but stems from a misunderstanding of what cameras are capable of and what actually goes on when a photographer designs a set of images to promote a business or product.
Today’s digital cameras really are amazing pieces of machinery. They are capable of finding correct exposures, capturing insane amounts of detail, and have enough buttons and whistles to put the Starship Enterprise to shame. All that means taking a nice photo is easily within reach for the average person. But a professional photographer does much more than decide which settings are needed for a properly exposed photograph; they’re in the business of storytelling. Not only will a professional deliver usable images, but images specifically crafted to convey the message you need to get to your clients about your service or product. They understand how to use composition, color, expression, light quality, and mood to tell every bearded man in the land that your razors are absolute best choice for the kind of close shave that will make their face irresistibly touchable.
They also have the post processing skill, or will hire a retoucher who does, to turn a well taken photograph into a perfectly finished advertisement.
3. It costs too much
This is the most common and most understandable reason why many business owners don’t hire a professional photographer to help them promote their business; but again, this stems from a misunderstanding of the cost to value ratio, and of another important fact: money isn’t the only way to exchange services.
When business owners are writing their business plans, one of the most important aspects to consider is marketing: how am I going to tell people about my business, and what will I say to them? You might have the greatest product or service in the world, but if no one knows about it, no one can buy it. Marketing is something that should be very carefully figured into the costs of doing business for one simple reason: it’s costs a lot more to lose your business. You’ve spent incredible amounts of time, money, and effort making something amazing, and losing it because you weren’t properly getting the word out could cost you everything.
With social media taking over the world and image heavy markets like Instagram (which now has over 400 million users, talk about a market!) becoming hotspots for consumers, there’s a good chance that skipping over professional photographers and sharing sub-par images that aren’t driving traffic or growing your reach, is costing you more money in the long run than hiring a professional would have cost out of pocket.
The other aspect often either misunderstood or simply forgotten is one that may not make me very popular with my peers, but still deserves to be mentioned, and that is this: money isn’t the only thing of value you have to offer as a business person. You should always, always, ALWAYS pay anyone who is helping your business grow and profit, but the exchange of currency isn’t always the only way to accomplish this.
As a business you have something of value to offer, and for businesses that are just starting out and have very limited budgets, trading with a photographer for goods or services of equal value is an option that may work for both parties.
If you’re a mechanic and can offer tune ups or oil changes, a hair dresser who could provide style services, a lawyer who can offer valuable advice, a piano teacher who’d trade lessons for little Billie, or one of a thousand other professions with goods and services to offer, then you may have what a photographer would consider valuable enough to trade services with you.
The caveat to this is two-fold. One, remember that the trick to making an exchange of service work is EQUAL VALUE. Your photographer still has bills to pay and if you’re trying to exchange a $2500 photography job for $1000 worth of product, you’re devaluing your photographer and wasting valuable time they could have been spending earning enough money to pay their car payment.
Two, professional photographers are earning their living through their craft, and the more skilled and sought after a photographer is, the less likely it is that they will be willing to trade. Why take money out of their own pockets? If this is a route you try to take, make sure to remember that they are a business person trying to make it in a competitive industry, just like you are. If they turn you down, don’t take it personally, but remember this: chances are that a part-time pro photographer will turn over better images than Susie the Intern with her iPhone.
For some final thoughts, I want you to consider something: would Coca Cola, Guess, or Old Navy continue to invest millions of dollars in professional photography of every kind, from lifestyle to product, if they saw only minimal value in it? The answer to that is no, they wouldn’t. Even McDonald’s, the mecca for a low-cost burger, has high quality images on their menus. A selfie, no matter how well taken, will never say “I’m a professional, trust me,” in the same way that an expertly taken headshot will, as you could see in the example below that contrasted my bathroom selfie (in good light, at least) with a professional headshot taken by Jason of Lavender Bouquet Photography.