5 Pros Share Secrets To Finding Great Photographers Anywhere

Maybe you need a photographer for the story of an amazing alum who lives halfway across the country — or halfway around the world. Maybe you’re just looking to shake things up and get a different perspective on your own campus.

How do you find a photographer who’s going to get your school and your publication’s goals? If you haven’t yet built up a network of go-to photographers, what’s your next best bet?

Below, a few experienced pros — who’ve all won awards for the work they’ve done for higher ed clients — share their best advice, big mistakes, and go-to sites.

“It pays to do your research on the front end.”

Kat Braz, The ESC Plan
Find her at:
TheESCplan.com

Do you have go-to communities, sites, or other resources to find great photographers in non-local locations?

If I’m starting from scratch, I’ll browse Wonderful Machine or ASMP’s Find a Photographer or PhotoServe. I will sometimes reach out to editors of nearby schools to see who they would recommend.

Are there key questions that you ask photographers to know if they’ll be a good fit?

I think the biggest challenge is adjusting your budget for the region. Based in the Midwest, I can get some high quality work for a lot less money than what I have to pay when hiring someone in California or Washington, D.C. And you can save some money by allowing them to shoot with natural light, but in those instances you have to ensure that the environment will support natural light and that the photographer is comfortable shooting in those conditions. In those cases, event photographers are sometimes a better bet than portrait photographers who may be too reliant on extensive lighting set ups, which come with equipment costs and assistants and can start to add up.

What’s one mistake that you made in the process of hiring and working with a photographer in a distant location?

The biggest mistake is when you feel trapped into using someone recommended by the subject. I learned long ago that if your subject’s daughter-in-law is a photographer, you should run far far away! To some extent, it is nice to have a subject working with a photog they already know, helps to ease their nerves. But I’ve rarely had good luck with the quality of the photo. But my worst experience was working with an onsite photographer for a resort in Las Vegas. We were doing a story on the head chef at the resort, who was one of our alumnae. And the first round of photos we got had her holding a pan at the stove, and there was nothing in it. NOTHING. There was nothing nearby on the counter looking like she was about to cook. It was just an empty, soulless kitchen. We asked them to reshoot it and described the types of cooking shots we were looking for (sending examples, too) and got back almost the exact same picture, but this time the burner was on, and there was a single egg frying in the pan. I mean this glitzy resort has oodles of fancy photographs showing its amenities (including food) all over its website. Why was this so hard? In the end, we just got creative with the design and added a bunch of photos of food over her and around her (it sounds worse than it turned out, I promise).

Another mistake I’ve made when working with someone new is not working out a kill fee in advance. If they deliver something that is totally unusable, unless you’ve previously discussed it, you can still be on the hook for payment in full because they have already done the work. Depending on the scope and cost of the shoot, it might not be necessary. Generally I want to budget about 50% for a kill fee. So if it’s only a $500 shoot, then it’s not worth the trouble, but if I’m investing $2,500 … then it’s definitely something to think about.

How much time are you willing to spend to find the right photographer? How is that time typically allocated?

Unfortunately, we don’t have a need to return to the same places too often, but if I hit one someone I like, I want to use them again and again because I know they can deliver. So it pays to devote time to do your research on the front end because ideally this is only the first time you’ll be engaging that photog. But honestly I don’t spend a ton of time on it. Maybe four or so hours searching, looking at portfolios, reaching out to colleagues, etc. More time would be spent communicating with the photog to devise the art direction.

“Call the photo editor of a good publication in the location you need.”

Erin Mayes, EmDash
Find her at: emdashonline.com

Have you hired photographers from any notable or far-flung locations? 

We’ve hired and photographed just about everywhere from Sri Lanka, to Boko Haram territory in Nigeria, to Tokyo, to a local pigsty with a free-roaming 800 lb. pig.

Do you have go-to communities, sites, or other resources to find great photographers in non-local locations?

We tend to check out Wonderful Machine quite a bit. It’s a good site organized by location. That site is super helpful when our photographer network is missing a location. There’s also a great site with an international base of photographers called Women Photograph that has photographers arranged by continent. The photographers associated with it tend toward photojournalism, but they are all extremely good shooters. There are Pulitzer Prize winners among the list, so it’s a good place to find good quality. A Photo Editor is also a great place to check out work. And speaking of women who photograph, photographer Amy V. Cooper keeps a list of links for photographers here as well as a list of her favorite photographers (which are all worth checking out). We also will ask any photo editor we’ve ever worked with when we get stuck. And I’ve had people call me out of the blue for Austin recommendations, so just calling the photo editor of a good publication in the location you need is another good resource.

Are there key questions that you ask photographers to know if they’ll be a good fit?

I usually let the work speak for itself. In my mind, photos typically fall into one of two camps: A photo that will need a lot of control and direction to be made, or one where the photographer can manage chaos and find the photo within that. Often I’ll hire a new photographer for something small, just to see how that person works and a sense of their personality. Then I know going forward on other assignments what that photographer needs and what kinds of stories or people that person will be a good match for.

Sometimes, like if we hire out of the country, we don’t have much of a choice. So I just pick the one with the work that matches the story most closely. Then I have a quick conversation about what I’m looking for, which typically, is for the photographer to make a photo that they love. If they make work that they would like to see on their website, then I’m probably golden. That tends to work, and hasn’t backfired much.

What’s one mistake that you made in the process of hiring and working with a photographer in a distant location?

I can’t think if a particular story (I normally forget my mistakes and move blissfully forward), but it’s probably a mistake to rush into a photo assignment with not enough information about your expectations. You can also overdo it with too much information, where the assignment just gets confusing. But I think as long as everything is written down, and it’s clear what you need (and what usage rights you expect), then you’ve taken care of what you can control.

I love looking at photographer’s work, so I will just spend as much time as I need. I look until I’m convinced that I have a solid match for the project and a good backup. Sometimes that means 10 minutes, and sometimes I can take a few days. Mostly that timing depends on the magazine production schedule.

“Working with photographers is not a science.”

Kelly McMurray, 2communiqué
Find her at: 2communique.com

Do you have go-to communities, sites, or other resources to find great photographers in non-local locations?

We look to our network first. Through years of working with different colleges/universities and attending the Editor’s Forum, I have developed a great network of art directors and editors to reach out to. If I have a shoot in a city that one of them works in, I’ll ask them for references. Sometimes their school’s university photographer is a great fit. We also have had great success working with photographers we found on Wonderful Machine.

Are there key questions that you ask photographers to know if they’ll be a good fit?

We review their online portfolio and curate a sample of photos that are appropriate for the shoot we are assigning. We then describe the school/project and make sure that they approach aligns with the visual direction of the story.

What’s one mistake that you made in the process of hiring and working with a photographer in a distant location?

Working with photographers is not a science. You are dealing with people. Sometimes the subject can be difficult or the weather doesn’t cooperate. Unlike a story that can be edited we typically have to work with what we get (we have had to reshoot a few times over the years). But the one mistake that we have come across recently is that the subject doesn’t really want his/her photo taken so they give the photographer very little time and are not showing their best self. We now ask our clients/editors to make sure they when they are interviewing the person that they know that they will need to make time for a portrait shoot.

How much time are you willing to spend to find the right photographer? How is that time typically allocated?

We will spend up to a few hours looking for the right photographer and reaching them out for the assignment. When we are assigning multiple photographers for one story (which we did recently for Williams—four photographers, four locations, one visual direction) it took a few hours to assign and direct. And with a shoot like that we also share the first person’s work with the rest for visual consistency. For a campus shoot it takes the same amount of time to find and select the right photographers and then a day or two onsite art directing. An additional time component is then editing the shoot. For a Day-in-the-Life shoot we just assigned, we now have close to 2,000 images to review and edit down to about 24 that will go in the magazine.

“I love it when the art director asks, ‘Was that photo taken on our campus? Where is that?’ ”

Tom Roster, Twin Cities photographer
Find him at: tomroster.com

How do you advertise/how do you help people from other locations find you?

Most of my clients come from word of mouth.

What’s one thing you wish more of your clients would do before they hire you, especially if they’re hiring from another city? 

Add a day or two of just roaming on the campus. I seem to produce the best photographs that way. I love it when the art director asks, “Was that photo taken on our campus? Where is that?”

“Education clients are wonderful.”

Sara Rubinstein, Twin Cities photographer
Find her at:
www.rubinsteinphoto.com

How do you advertise/how do you help people from other locations find you?

I use online advertising with sites such as Wonderful Machine and Workbook, and I can also be found via Google. I send promotional books and postcards to potential clients I am interested in working with throughout the country. I find word-of-mouth to be the best way to advertise. Sometimes people find me on Instagram as well.

What’s one thing you wish more of your clients would do before they hire you, especially if they’re hiring from another city? 

It’s helpful when people let me know what their budget is when they have an assignment, but in general I find that education clients are wonderful and easy to work with.

***

As always, thanks for reading! Email me if there are topics you’d love to see covered in the future.

0 replies

Leave a Reply

Want to join the discussion?
Feel free to contribute!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *