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Pixels and Powder
Pixels and Powder
Why professional photos are really worth it

Sixty million photos. That’s how many images are uploaded to Instagram per day. When you add other social media sites like Facebook and Snapchat, the daily number is closer to one billion. It’s a great, big, digital world out there, and it’s run by pictures.

Pictures are easily the most valuable, shareable medium for telling stories quickly, getting attention, and making instant connections, which is why custom photography is one of the best marketing investments a business can make. But it all starts with a good plan and the right photographer. Today, we ask one of Pivot’s preferred photographers,Esther Boston, to share her advice on how clients can get the most out of their investment when hiring a professional photographer.

Why should a company invest in professional photography for headshots, products, services, and so on?
My take on that is they wouldn’t just hire anyone to fix their car. They want someone who specializes in that. Photos represent a company, their people, and what they’re selling. If they’re poorly lit or composed or the picture is pixelated, it makes the company look amateur. A professional can make sure the people and their products look as good as possible and help a company put their best foot forward.

Also, with product photography, hiring a professional relieves business owners of the stress of creating good photos that actually mean something to the customer. In real estate photography, you sometimes see a lot of shots of vases, and it makes me think, “Why focus on a vase that won’t even be in the house after it’s sold?”

Before a company even approaches photographers for quotes, what are the questions they need to ask themselves to make sure they get the most out of their investment and find the right photographer for their needs?
They should consider how they’re planning on using the photos—for brochures and mailers, for billboards, or just for the web. How they intend to use the photos can change the quote. Having answers for those questions will make the quote easier to put together for the photographer.

Location is important, too. Companies can bring all their employees to my studio, which makes the shoot easier and cheaper, but sometimes that’s not possible or effective for larger companies.

What should a company have prepared in order for a photo shoot to run smoothly and get the best photography possible?
What makes my job easier is if they already have a room picked out where I can go, and it’s cleared away and ready for me to set up.

A shot list also makes everything so much easier. A photo shoot can be really hectic and include a lot of moving parts and people. Having a shot list keeps it organized and makes sure nothing gets missed. I can just check it off as we go.

If a client needs a shot of a building, it’s important to figure out the best time of day to shoot the building. Figure out when the parking lot has the least cars in it. When are people moving in and out of the lobby? How does the sun affect the look of the entrance?

What level of involvement should a company expect from photographer on a shoot? What responsibilities should they expect to handle themselves?
Ideally, a photographer should be able to come in, set up, and spend most of their time interacting with the people or or manipulating the product to get the best shot possible. Of course, that’s the ideal, but anything the company can do to let me stay in front of the camera helps.

For optimal results, a company should make sure everyone is on time and prepared for the photo shoot. We just had a shoot recently where we had been talking and planning for about a month. We asked the client to send out a reminder to make sure everyone dressed properly and had their hair cut and styled the way they wanted, but I think it went out a little too late. So the people came in and didn’t seem prepared or comfortable. It was hard to get them to loosen up and feel natural in front of the camera.

Companies can hire a makeup artist or hair stylist to take care of some of that on-site. Most photographers can recommend makeup artists or stylists for that. Sometimes, the company might not want a white background or just a blank wall, so asking a photographer to help find a creative location can be part of the job as well. Photographers can also be involved with hiring actors and models if they’re needed. It’s all a matter of what the client wants and how we can help them get the best shots possible.

What are your clients most often surprised by during a photo shoot? 
Sometimes people are surprised about the licensing fees. I don’t think they realize that depending on how a photo is used, it can affect the overall price of the shoot.

Could you explain the levels of licensing and usage rights that are common with photographers? 
There are 3-4 different types of usage: for web, for print (brochures, magazines, mailers, and this can depend on quantity or reach of the print piece), and billboards, which is often the priciest.

A lot of clients don’t understand that even though they’re paying for licensing, the photograph is still actually owned by the photographer. It’s more like they’re leasing or paying rent on the photo. If they do want to own the photo, they can do what’s called a “buy-out,” in which they basically own the photo for a number of years. The photographer isn’t able to sell the photo for stock photography or anything like that. It can be kind of pricey, because they’re paying up front for the lease over several years. But the buy-out often only covers one type of usage—for example, you couldn’t buy out an image for a website and then use it for a billboard.

What advice would you give companies regarding the use of actors or models instead of friends or employees?
This is a good one. I recently did a shoot where they had a very specific shot they wanted, and they ended up using three random people who were there on the day of production. To direct these people who have no modeling experience was quite challenging, because they didn’t quite understand the expressions to have or how to stand or act on camera. One of them actually kept doing what looked like a frown, but he thought he was smiling the whole time.

Models are trained on how to express certain emotions or act in front of a camera, so you can often get the shot more quickly and save time and money in the end. For instance, on this shot I was working on, they didn’t budget much time for this shot, but it was supposed to be the money shot of the whole project. So it got really stressful trying to get it exactly how it needed to be without extending the budget.

What wardrobe advice would you give? 
For business portraits, I think the best thing is to wear business casual. Things not to wear are really tiny prints, bright colors, really bold designs. For women, wear something that’s fitting and flattering to your shape. For men, blazers are always great. Stay away from really bright patterns or prints.

What’s one simple thing people can do to make sure they get the best shot possible?
Honestly, I think makeup actually makes a major difference, both for men and women. I know guys are usually weird about it, but some guys can really benefit from some powder and concealer under the eyes. I actually keep makeup with me on shoots now just in case. Powder helps take some of the shine out of a person’s face. It can save the client a lot of extra time trying to mess with exposure and lighting, and it can save me a lot of time during editing.

Esther Boston is a regular contributor to Pattern Magazine and specializes in headshots, portraiture, and fashion photography. Click here to learn more about her services and her work.