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Lauren Sanders

Communications planning

Tips for better photography: hiring a photographer

November 9, 2015   //   Lauren Sanders

If photos make the first impression, why do so many organizations treat photography — in publications, websites, advertising and e-communications — as an afterthought?

The most obvious way to scale up your photo quality is to hire a strong photographer. But how?

In my mind, 70 percent of a successful photo shoot is about picking the right photographer. The best photo shoots pair your given conditions (timeframe, budget, style, subject matter, lighting conditions of your location, number of shots desired) with a photographer who will flourish under those conditions.

After working with photographers at Martha Stewart magazines — and hiring them for Zehno clients — here’s my advice on finding the right fit.

Think about how much time you can devote to the photo shoot

Half a day? Two days? Set a time limit and be honest about what you need out of it. If you need to overhaul your photo library, hire a photographer who delivers thousands of images to choose from.

But if you need a signature shot with major wow factor, or if you are shooting a specific magazine story or have a desired shot list, hire the photographer who will work with you to carefully plan a smaller number of money shots.

Get serious about specialties

Consider each photographer’s content specialty (photojournalism, architecture, portraits), the existing lighting conditions (naturally or artificially lit), and other factors. Depending on your project, you might need photographers who specialize in portraits or in architectural photography.

Maybe you want an expert in using existing lighting conditions — with or without an on-camera strobe — for a photojournalistic style. Maybe you need an experienced studio photographer who works well under controlled lighting situations and whose images — whether still lifes or people shots — drip with style.

Or perhaps you need an all-around lifestyle photographer to capture general campus culture and to work under many conditions. I’ve found that travel photographers often have a natural eye for the architecture, people and personal moments that tell the story of your school.

Find someone who speaks the same language as your organization

It’s a fact: Not all photographers are good at shooting everyday people. Just because photographers are technically proficient doesn’t make them great with people. Depending on who you are shooting — students versus administrators, for example — you might choose a different photographer.

If you’re shooting students, look for someone with high energy who can draw out the personalities of the students. If you’re shooting a classic portrait of the university president, look for a photographer whose presence will make the president feel at ease — so the photo doesn’t come across as stiff.

Interview the photographer ahead of time

The art director’s job is to create a good dynamic for the shoot, so interview photographers in advance to get a sense of how they’ll work with your art director.

You want photographers who see the project as a collaboration rather than as an assignment where they are asked to shoot by themselves and then come back with images. Especially when you have a specific shot list in mind, make sure the photographer can take art direction well.

Learn more

Connect with photographer agent reps. Check out for a list.

Interested in training on how to run your next great shoot? Zehno offers custom training and workshops. Maybe you’d like to shadow an art director for a day, or walk through advanced photo planning. Let us know — we’d love to help.


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