Here’s a little secret: Not every photographer is great at every style and category.

Find the photographer whose work best reflects what your audience wants. This doesn’t mean only researching photographers who shoot college campuses; also consider photogs for big brands and fashion labels if their work matches the vibe you’re seeking. If you sell your mission, show photographers the value of partnering with your institution and negotiate well, these highly experienced photogs are not out of your reach.

But before you launch into finding the right photographer, be sure to read part 1 of this white paper to start mapping out your photo plan. It covers steps 1-4, including defining your goals, creating a content strategy and assembling the photo team.

You should also have a clearly defined brand style. Your photo style(s) is as much a component of your brand as your color palette, brand attributes, key messages and graphic devices, and should align with those other key brand components. So you shouldn’t be reinventing your photo style with every shoot.

Union College photography
Union College photo shoot

Your photo style(s) should reflect what your audiences want and what they’ll gravitate toward. For example, if your brand needs to appeal to savvy 15-year-olds, your imagery should take a cue from the brands that are most popular with them. Brands like J Crew, Anthropologie, Kate Spade and Apple understand what appeals to the audiences that buy their products. And you need to have that same awareness.

Follow these tips for finding the best-fit photographer for your team and meeting your photo shoot goals.

Step 5

Find the Right Photographer

First, you’ll need to articulate the photo style that best fits your brand. Then research photographers who specialize in your photo style. For example, if you’re looking for a photographer who uses saturated, high-contrast colors and unusual cropping as part of his or her style, don’t choose a photographer with a different style and expect them to match what you want. Make sure your desired style is right for the photographer.

Expand your search beyond photographers who focus only on education. Some other categories to consider in your research include adventure, advertising, animals, architecture, babies, interiors, cars, editorial, environmental (corporate, outdoor and industrial), event, lifestyle, fashion, fine art, food and drink, drones or aerials, kids, landscapes, marine, medical, music, portraits, still life, sports, wedding and wildlife.

Use these resources to find photographers:

Also check the photo credit lines in your favorite magazine publications. And search out photographers whose work appears on websites and brands that resonate with your audiences.

Once you’ve narrowed down three to four photographers based on their past work, set up an interview with them to gauge their fit with you, your art director and institution. You can usually tell with a few phone calls whether or not a photographer’s personality matches your requirements. You’ll want to listen closely to how the photographer responds to questions about timing — how much time they’ll need to set up each shot or scope out locations/lighting in advance — relative to your own expectations. Do they seem inflexible or too egotistical? There’s your red flag. Listen for his or her enthusiasm to work with you.


Rate Your Finalist Photographers

After you find photographers expert in your selected style, look for ones who might be closer to your area. While it isn’t a must, a good cultural fit can go a long way in putting subjects at ease. It can also help with keeping travel expenses down. But don’t just hire for closeness if you don’t have the talent and expertise in your region.

You’ll need someone who’s a visual storyteller, flexible, talented (preferably an award winner), high energy, enthusiastic about the work, outgoing, personable and organized.


You can usually gauge your photographer’s professionalism by his or her past work and experience. Check out years of experience, awards, professional organization membership, teaching experience and current client list. Pepsi isn’t going to hire someone who isn’t professional. And if someone has worked for Martha Stewart and photographed inside San Quinton, you know that he or she can work with a variety of requirements, sensitivities and circumstances. Looking into a photographer’s track record of professionalism on shoots will prevent embarrassing results.

Expect professionalism from the full photo team. You don’t want your photographer’s assistant to show up to a president’s photo shoot wearing an obscene t-shirt.


To help choose the right photographer, create your own scoresheet to compare finalists on each of the considerations outlined in the contract section below.


Set Expectations — And the Contract

As you determine a good-fit photographer among your finalists, you’ll need to work out these details in your contract as well:


Get ranges of dates that the photographer has available for shooting. This will allow for some flexibility in scheduling subjects and locations. Most photographers are willing to put a hold on a few date options so that you can schedule the details and confirm a final shooting date that works for everyone. And if you are looking at fall and spring, you’ll need to book well in advance, as these are the busiest times for shooting on any campus.


With everything included, most professional photographers who work in the education world typically charge between $10,000-$20,000 for a two-day shoot. Adding an outside art director or producer can tack on another $15,000 to your bill, so plan on budgeting $25,000-$35,000 for a two-to-three day shoot.

Make sure your photographer includes all expenses in his or her estimate. It should include the cost of any rental spaces, equipment, backdrops, assistants, hotel, airfare, luggage costs, shipping, taxis, meals, snacks, props, postage, shipping, editing, hard drives for images and post production. Nobody likes extra costs or surprises at billing time, so including everything keeps everyone happy.

Find out if the photographer requires a deposit before the shoot, and never pay in full before you receive the images.

Don’t be afraid to approach photographers who work mostly with big brands, if you like their style. Be upfront about your budget and negotiate using these standard rates in education. You’ll need to express why you think they’re the best fit and give them a reason to partner with your institution.


When requesting estimates, define the scope of work in as much detail as possible so that you set expectations upfront. For example, if you’re planning a two-day shoot, define how many setups, locations and final images you’ll need within an eight-hour day.

On an average photo shoot, you can set up shots at two-to-eight locations each day, capturing a range of 600-2,000 individual shots. Your number of locations will vary depending on what you want to capture. For instance, you can accomplish a high-volume shoot with eight different locations if you’re roaming campus all day with many subjects on hand. Or you could scope out three locations in a day featuring three different subjects with wardrobe and lighting changes. But expect about 100-200 great final shots.

Be sure to specify whether you want to receive all images. Most photographers will deliver only an edit of the images, taking out ones they deem not usable. If you don’t have an experienced art director on staff, this approach will save you time, eliminating the need to go through images you’ll never use. Other photographers will deliver only the photos that represent the quality they require of their work in the marketplace. Make sure that you receive different image orientations for every subject that’s photographed so that you can use them in a variety of layout scenarios. The key is to define your expectations and needs before you hire a photographer.

Also specify the file type and size you require. For example, if you need all images as high-resolution JPEGs at a certain minimum size, specify that. Consider whether you’ll need horizontal, vertical and/or square images to fit certain design layouts or to accommodate typography.


Since you’re going through all of this planning and expense, consider planning stills and video together. Discuss scheduling an extra 20-30 minutes per setup with the photographer to shoot some video without sound. This allows you to take full advantage of your planning, expenses and everyone’s time.


Build in an extra day to scout all locations with your photographer in advance of shoot days so that you tackle any problem solving beforehand — and include this in your contract. You should negotiate scouting as inclusive of the price ranges mentioned earlier, and rate photographers on their willingness to comply with your terms.

Scouting will give the photographer and art director an indication of lighting, backgrounds, furniture, carpet and any details that could either enhance or detract from shooting. It will also allow for any staging plans in advance of the shoot. Look for backgrounds, murals and vantage points like parking lots or rooftops that can get you a stunning city shot.

When shooting in a great city like Chicago, use the architecture to frame a dramatic moment.

The University of Iowa-Tippie College of Business photo shoot


Find out the details of how many hours the photographer is willing to work and the specifics on time needed for breaks and meals. You want to make sure the photographer is performing at his or her best. Pushing through a shoot without the proper breaks will not produce the best results. Most photographers perform best when you’ve scheduled them for no more than an eight-hour shoot day, including a minimum of a 45-minute break for lunch. If you discover some photographers seem inflexible or aren’t willing to put in this much time for a full-day shoot, rate them accordingly. Plenty of liquids and a mid-morning and mid-afternoon snack go a long way to keep up energy levels all around.


We recommend requiring unlimited usage for unlimited time for any photography commissioned. Stipulate that there is no third-party usage. Because we require this ourselves, we also recommend stating that the photographer and any partnering agency may use the work for their own self-promotion.


Find out how the photographer deals with cancellations. If you book a certain day and the photographer has turned down other work, you can expect to pay either full price or a kill fee, depending on how far out or last minute you cancel.

And always have a plan for bad weather. Try to schedule outdoor shooting at times of day and times of year when you are least likely to experience snowstorms or torrential rainfall. You’ll need to know if your photographer can shoot in the rain or be willing to adjust the shot to accommodate inclement weather. Some photographers charge a kill fee in such circumstances, so don’t overlook it in negotiating the contract.


Follow these key steps from Planning and Producing a Photo Shoot that Delivers: Part 1 and Part 2:

  1. Define your goals. What’s your desired outcome? Attract more women? Highlight star programs?
  2. Set your strategy. Find the subjects that embody your key messages and draft short summaries for each.
  3. Create your photo plan. Get organized with a binder of docs that contain your schedule, art direction/style, wardrobe and prop guidelines, setups, map and who’s who on set.
  4. Assemble your photo team. Define the roles you’ll need, and consider including a project lead, creative team, photographer, photographer’s assistant and stylist.
  5. Find the right photographer. Research photographers whose work span styles and categories — then interview them.
  6. Rate your finalist photographers. Create a scoresheet to finalize your selection.
  7. Set expectations — and the contract. From cost to scope of work to usage, negotiate — and put it in writing.


Focus on photo shoot day.

If you invest the time to plan, your return on investment will pay off in a big way. It will also garner flagship images that reinforce your brand for years to come.


Read about Zehno’s content development services.