Image is Everything: Hiring a Professional Photographer

Managing your first photo shoot can feel as daunting as it is exciting. With a company investing $100,000 or more in the project, the success of the shoot determines how the rest of their marketing and materials will look— sometimes for an entire year.

Knowing what you’re getting into can be key to ensuring a smooth shoot that stays within budget and results in great photos.


If you’re working for or with a marketing agency, there are several routes to picking a solid photography partner. Sometimes the agency will have an in-house photographer they want to use, which is always a great choice from a cost-saving perspective. More often, however, the agency will talk to multiple photographers about timing, budget, and their portfolios, then select the one who best aligns with the client’s needs. Typically they’ll put more than one photographer on hold so you can peruse their books and decide whose aesthetic you like best.

If you’re doing the hiring on your own, services like Creative Circle, Upwork, and Fiverr can be useful for finding freelancers. You may also want to do some hashtag searching on Instagram (your location + photographer is a good place to start, ex. #nycphotographer), as lots of amazing photographers have portfolios that live on social media. Another great place to look for photography you like is Unsplash, a site that curates free stock photography. If you see a shot that seems to fit with what you’re looking for visually, you can do a deeper dive into the photographer’s portfolio, fees, et cetera.

Lastly, check Adobe’s Behance. The site is flooded with student work, but don’t let that turn you off-- a lack of professional experience doesn’t mean there’s a lack of talent, or even professionalism.

If you are hiring on your own, make sure to choose a couple of photographers at first and make some selects from their portfolios to show your client. While narrowing the selection down to two or three is important, letting them have the final say will make everyone feel good about who you hire.

Remember: not all photographers shoot the same type of subjects. The style used in photojournalism, for instance, is pretty far removed from that of surrealism. While great photographers can often shoot a range of subjects and styles, you’re usually better off picking someone whose wheelhouse matches your needs. Some common styles include:


These photographers often work with human and animal subjects, typically in natural light without a huge crew. These photographers specialize in reality, so your photos will feel raw and accurate and won’t be treated to heavy editing.


These photographers shoot more abstract images, resulting in assets that feel more like art-- but aren’t always the best for traditional advertising. Most of the magic in surrealist photography comes in post production: expect heavy editing, including enhanced or added color and blurred or abstracted lines.


Like photojournalists, portrait photographers show things how they are. The difference lies in their subjects; while photojournalists capture natural groups and environments, portrait photographers usually work with one subject at a time, often in-studio and with the goal of capturing the model’s personality in a shot.


Automotive photographers are pros at lighting vehicles and composing scenes around them, flattering the car’s shape and making sure it’s the hero of the shot.

Up and coming vs. tried and true

There are a ton of positives and negatives to hiring amateurs or professionals, but the simplest way to think of it is this:

Seasoned photographers come with a lot of experience, which can help when you’re new on set. When it comes to composing shots, long-time professionals work quickly effectively, saving you time when you only have a limited number of hours to shoot. However, they can also come with big egos and hefty price tags, so you may be sacrificing some control and a big chunk of your overall budget.

Amateur photographers may not be as native to shooting for advertising, which can require more direction from you and can eat time while you arrange and rearrange shots. That being said, they’re a lot cheaper, and they’re a lot more likely to work the way you want to versus making their own demands.


Every photographer works differently, and what you need from them should play a role in determining who you hire.

For instance, your photographer may charge you for a day of shooting and then allow you to “walk with a drive,” which means you’ll take a hard drive of thousands of raw images with you at the end of the shoot. If you have a post-production team in place— specifically a photo editor— to make selects and finalize the images, this is a perfectly good way to work.

If you don’t have anyone to help choose and edit photos, however, you’ll want to work with a photographer who handles post-production on their end. This usually includes 10-20 finalized hero shots, but can be negotiated depending on your needs. In this scenario, the photographer will probably charge you by image versus time on set.

Some things to consider include:


Ask if retouching is included in the photographer’s scope. If it is, be clear on how long it will take, how many rounds of revision there might be, and what kinds of changes they’ll be making.

If you have specific deadlines for your own needs, you may be able to work out a deal where the photographer produces the vital images for that project first and then works through the larger set of photos later.

Usage Rights

Understanding who owns the photos is crucial to knowing how and when you’ll be able to use them down the line.

Ask the photographer if they’re comfortable with a full buyout, which means you’ll own the photos outright, forever. Alternatively, the photographer may work with you on a rights managed basis, which means you’ll own the photos for a period of time (usually 2-5 years) or you’ll only be able to use them in specific applications.

Stay tuned for part 2 of this post!