Professional photography as a business is a strange animal. It can be difficult for clients to know what they are getting, what they aren’t getting, and why. If your photographer can answer a few simple questions and believe in their own answers, no matter what the answers are, chances are you are dealing with a pro who has experience and knows what works and what doesn’t for the way their business.
So it’s not a case of answering these questions with a single ‘right answer’, often it’s enough that the photographers answers fit both their own style of business, and your own expectations as a client.
This season I decided to test if my own answers made sense to me, to my business, and to my clients, and to make some positive changes. I’d love to hear your thoughts on this, too, so I’ve left comments open (but moderated; spam comments are annoying!).
To illustrate I’m going to use some images from a recent ‘1 hour Mini Shoot’ that I did locally. Sala was a terrific model; she’s put time into her posing and facial expressions, so it made the shoot quite productive. She also reminds me of a few actresses from those swingin’ European 60’s movies that had no real plot or dialogue, but great cast, cinematography and locations.
Question 1: “Can you make me look my best?”
My Honest Answer: “Of course! But what does that mean to you?”
Everyone has a slightly different opinion of what ‘best’ means, especially when they are looking at images of themselves. Have an honest discussion with your photographer about what you like and don’t like photographed, and the images you get will be 100% better. I tend to emphasize a persons positive aspects and features; this naturally means that trouble spots get less attention in the images. That might mean I see personality traits like being funny or charitable in their eyes; or I might find a womans lips or legs to be their best features, so it really depends on who I’m photographing, and what or who the images are for.
Before you Buy
Before your start shopping you should consider what it is you want the finished images to look like. Consider the location, wardrobe, hair and makeup; chances are you’ve seen an image or own wardrobe that has inspired you, so discuss that with your photographer. If you are working to a common goal it will show in the results; if you have a mental picture already and don’t discuss it with the photographer you’re really leaving things to chance, and you’ll probably be disappointed in the results. Collectively I call this style and styling.
Style and Styling
These are really two completely different concepts. The style of an image refers to the qualities of the image itself, not the subject or wardrobe. Are colors vibrant or faded? Does it look retro or modern? Is it grungy, gritty and dark, or is it soft, light, and airy?
Styling an image refers to getting the details right for the type or genre of shoot; everything from shoes to dresses to props and furniture. Often getting styling right means the subject is going to look ‘right’ and fit the shoot; getting it wrong means the image won’t be memorable or have that ‘ring of truth’ and the viewer will sense something is off. Your photographer should either know a few stylists or have ready access to all the goodies needed for the shoot.
What’s really great is when the style and styling work well together. They don’t have to match, but they should compliment or contrast each other in a way that’s consistent.
Behind the Camera
Besides those obvious things that are in the frame, I think about things like lighting, posing, composition, and the choice of lens as the key ingredients to making a great image. These all have to suit the style of the shoot, because once the image is made, changing these things is practically impossible. It can be done, but it’s better to get it right from the start. Have a look at your photographers portfolio, and see what they’ve done, and let them know if there are specifics that you want to see in your images.
The Skinny on Retouching
Retouching is something that clients expect in vastly different amounts. Some people dislike the plastic look of retouched skin; others adore the look of airbrushed models in cosmetic advertisements in the glossy pages of magazines. By talking to your photographer you’ll know what to expect, and if there are additional charges to ‘photoshop’ the images in major ways.
Of course I can run all kinds of software to smooth out skin, shave off pounds, or even distort your limb length, but I really don’t like to do it to excess. I like to create images in the camera that reduce the amount of time I have to spend removing blemishes and smoothing skin, and I really dislike warping images to create thin or ‘more attractive’ subjects; in fact I’ve only done it a couple of times, and I didn’t really like it.
Does reality need a little nudge once in a while? Sure, zits, scars, and blemishes happen, and I deal with those. But it doesn’t need photographers altering body shape drastically. I think it sets an unrealistic burden on young people to fit an idealized image, when in fact they are great just the way they are.
Don’t believe me? In these images of Sala from the 1 Hour Mini Shoot, I chose the most flattering poses and compositions for her, so she didn’t need any ‘photoshop’ to make her thinner or distort her. Notice that she looks slightly different in each image as the camera changes position. I did a few very minor touch-ups on her skin, but this is what she looks like in person. Fo Realz, folks!
Question 2: “Why does photography cost so much?”
My 2¢: “Hey, I’m not that expensive!”
But really, the question should be “Why does that photographer cost so much?”. Photography is fairly inexpensive. Photographers, on the other hand, are not.
Digital has really changed things; there is no direct cost for clicking the shutter as there was with film. A decent semi-pro camera can be had for about $1500. A pro lens is about the same. You could add all the accessories, software, lighting, etc to the list, but it’s no different than any other profession where the tools are part of the cost of doing business. Sure, it’s more than a $99 point-n-shoot pocket camera, but pretty much all the dSLR’s can produce some solid images, even with cheap kit lenses, if they are used creatively.
So if the cameras are all more-or-less the same, what’s left? The photographer.
The photographer is the unique element; each one of us is different and produces different looking images. Because there is only one of me, I’m the only one who can deliver what I do. This is another reason why you should like the portfolio of the photographer you hire; asking them to work outside their style can doesn’t always work, so look for confidence in your photographer that they feel they can deliver what you are asking for.
But back to pricing; the two unique factors that each photographer might charge for are time and talent. They may not package it that way, but I do.
The time cost is sometimes referred to as the session fee, sitting fee, or shooting fee. This is the compensation for the time and expenses for the photographer to show up and deliver a great experience and capture some awesome images. If you’re in a studio, chances are the session fee covers the rent and upkeep of the studio itself, so those tend to be higher priced. ‘Boudoir Marathons’, where a photographer sets up shop in a posh hotel for a day can spread the cost of the room across all the clients, and it’s a great way to reduce the prices so everyone can have fun. Your photographer might even have a ‘rep’ program for you – I do; if you organize your friends for a marathon shoot, you’ll get perks for your effort to get your friends involved.
The other factor is talent of the photographer; it shows up in the price of the images you get, either as prints, in an album, or maybe as digital files. So if a photographer has a print price list, make sure you’ve read it and understand what kind of investment you’d like to make. It’s one thing to afford a photoshoot, it’s very disappointing when you then realize you can’t afford to purchase any images! This is why I package things as a combination of session fee and print credit, or a specific product like a boudoir book; it ensures that you’ll be able to have your cake and eat it, too.
The biggest in-joke / insult for photographers is when someone sees a really big camera and comments to them: “Geez, I bet that thang really takes some puuurrty pikturz!”. That kind of statement discounts the talent of the photographer completely. In fact, the photographer makes some pretty pictures, they don’t take them. The difference? You make an image when you know what you’re doing, and can use the equipment to get the result you envisioned.
Here are a set of similar images from the 1 Hour Mini Shoot; the difference between each pair is that I’m taking one step to the left or right to catch the sun in the lens. Sometimes I like the washed out effect, sometimes I prefer the punchier colours or less lens flare. I know a few really skilled camera owners (note: I didn’t say ‘photographers’) who take really boring shots with really expensive cameras. I much prefer something creative, even if technically it isn’t a perfect image because I was shooting into the sun.
Which leads us to the next question…
Question 3: “How much do you charge for digital files?”
My not-trying-to-duck-the-question Answer: “It depends… keep reading…”
Digital files are a slippery slope for photographers. Unlike film, where there was only one negative, and having control of the negative meant something, digital files can be copied, shared, and printed. Digital rights management is something new (and confusing) to most clients, and it can really be done badly. But there are ways to simplify it.
Answer #1: “Digital Files are not for sale.”
This works really well in situations where both the client and the photographer agree to keep the images private, or to only publish/blog those that the client is ok with showing. My intimate portraits and boudoir sessions are good examples; a client may want images for a photobook or canvas, but the absolute last thing she wants are those digital files to end up on facebook or their husbands laptop at work. I don’t even offer online proofing for these shoots for just that reason; it keeps those images off the internet.
Answer #2: “Digital Files are (in the accent of Dr. Evil) ‘One Million Dollars’…”
Ok, so maybe not a million, but kinda spendy. Why?
The files are essentially a piece of unique art, and buying full resolution files means you are buying that art in it’s purest form. To the photographer the risk of having someone do a very bad editing or printing job, but still having the photographers name associated with it is a real possibility, and for some a real worry because they feel so strongly about their art and what it means to be an artist.
I price digital files as if they were large prints; after all, if you order a print of an image the same work goes into the file, and often the bigger the print, the more work is needed to ensure all the details are right. Selling a full resolution digital file could mean that it’s going to be printed large, and if it’s not prepared and sharpened for output at a particular size, it won’t look it’s best, so photographers, like any visual artists, they like to have control over how their final products look.
The other thing that is often not made clear with digital files are image rights. Often clients assume that if they get a digital file they can do anything with it, when really that’s almost never completely true. The best thing to do is talk to your photographer if you feel that you want a digital copy, and what their stance on digital files is. I’m finding more of my colleagues are reluctant to sell digital files because it cuts into their print sales or they have concerns about print quality, which I agree with. But I don’t loose sleep over it, because I now rarely sell full resolution images, instead I talk to my clients to ensure I’m providing them the products they really want.
If a client can’t afford a $750 large-format canvas, but can afford a $150 canvas from a big box store at the mall, they often get frustrated, because they think they can get the same product for much less, if they only had the digital file. What’s missing in the equation is the cost of the art and the preparation for the medium, not the product it’s printed on (see Question 2). Although the photographers costs for professional products is often higher than ‘big box’ retail prices, the value of the image also has to be factored into the final price as well.
I now charge an additional fee for full resolution images; if you’ve ordered a print, canvas or book product already, then do you need a full resolution digital copy? Probably not, if you’ve purchased the products you really want. But how about smaller resolution files? You might want these if you want to brag on facebook. That’s what I do, and I provide smaller resolution files for exactly this reason, which leads to Answer #3…
Answer #3: “Digital Files are included in the package”
This is how I answer most of the time. For clients (including models) one item of value is a smaller digital file, usually sized at 720 pixels wide, called ‘Social Media Files’. This fits facebook perfectly, and works with all other social media and model networking sites. I usually watermark the image with my logo, and grant the client rights to use the images ‘for personal display, for advertisement and self promotion’ (ie, model portfolios), with a photo credit.’ They are sized and sharpened especially for display online, so it’s easier to just supply a set of pre-sized/pre-sharpened files of all the images the client has paid for.
So if you’ve ordered an image as a physical product, like a print or in a book, the social media files are yours, because chances are someone will see the image, and my logo, and give me a call. Simple, huh?
Question 4: “Can I get all the images from my shoot on a DVD?”
My Short Answer: “No.”
But why? The client is paying, right?
Not really. Remember, as the client you are paying for the photographers talents to provide specific images or prints; the session fee for time and expenses doesn’t cover the value of any other images. And just as importantly you are paying for a positive experience!
As an artist I’m a bit self-concious about what I put out there as my portfolio both online and printed. I take pride in the images, and I only want my name to be associated with my best work. Could you still have the full resolution files and edit them yourself? Generally, no (see Question 3, above)… images that aren’t 100% often get deleted, I kept this one below as an example. Why delete them? At 25 megabytes per image, RAW files are 2 – 4 times larger than jpeg files. A full day of shooting can mean as many as 64 GB of files, so even lower quality jpegs from a shorter shoot often fill one 4 GB DVD. That’s a LOT of data that nobody will ever want to look through twice!
If you’d like ALL the images from a shoot discuss it with your photographer; what you might find is that the session fee is higher, but since you aren’t asking for them to cull, edit, or post-produce the images, there is no ‘per image’ print fee. This is more like a commercial arrangement, where the client has their own in-house editing staff and you’re just paying the day-rate for the photographer.
To illustrate, take a look at the *cough* anaemic image below, and compare it to the next image down… they are really the same image, the first one straight out of camera (sometimes abbreviated ‘SOOC’), and the second one is the ‘finished’ version. This was taken right at the start of the shoot as she was looking for some good footing on the hillside, and as I adjusted the reflector to put some more light on her, so it was never going to be a ‘keeper’.
Another reason the files aren’t consumer-ready is that I often shoot in ‘RAW’ mode, instead of shooting jpegs. What’s the difference? RAW means the files are what the camera sensor recorded, which is often a bit flat looking; not the vibrant, punchy colors and contrast of a consumer camera in jpeg mode. Recording this way gives me about twice the data, because in this case I know I’m going to edit these files later to give them a more ‘sunset’ look.
I think this makes the point; are all the images from the shoot worth it? While I prefer to get things looking great in-camera (meaning no endless hours fiddling with the image on the computer later on), that’s not always the case. And sometimes, as I was doing here, I’m just using the camera as a capture tool, because to get the look I want I will have to edit it in the computer later to bring out my vision from those pixels.
I hope I explained things in enough detail to make sense; if there are any questions – fire away in the comments section!