Make The Call – 8 Questions To Vet Your Potential Photographer, and Stump The Amateurs
Your best shot at finding out if a photographer is a fit is to call them. Email is non-committal but can slow down the process. There’s nothing like a phone call to get more of that gut feeling about someone.
Nevertheless, whether you call or email, ask these questions to make sure you get the best photographer for the job.
Let’s explore these questions in detail
1. How much experience do you have specifically with architectural photography?
This is your most important qualifying question.
If the photographer is mainly shooting weddings, sports, food, or other niches, they are unlikely to be familiar with what’s required to shoot in an architectural style. There’s a specialized way in which to shoot architecture, and if they aren’t specifically trained in it, they won’t have the:
- compositional rules and techniques
- specialized equipment
- lighting knowledge
- vast array of specialized knowledge needed to do a proper architectural shoot
- post-processing skills (Photoshop).
They MUST have specialized knowledge in architectural photography. If they don’t, you can write them off right now. Don’t even bother going through the rest of the questions. Thank them for their time and move on to the next pick.
2. How much are you willing to collaborate to get that final image perfect? How much input can I have?
This question will immediately weed out the inexperienced photographers. Regardless of whether or not you want to collaborate, simply asking this question will give you an idea of their experience level.
If you have a vision for the final outcome, work with a photographer who is willing to take your direction and collaborate with you.
If you don’t have a vision and “just want it done well”, then you’ll want to work with someone who is extra creative and has many years of full-time experience so they can create under their own direction and showcase your work in a way that impresses.
In turn, you should ask which type they are.
- “Do you have a particular vision in mind?”
- “Do you mind me giving input on the job?”
Ideally, you want someone who can both follow directions as well as set their own direction combining their experience with your vision.
3. Do you have liability insurance?
Imagine this: The photographer walks into a shoot and sets up their tripod. The tripod falls over, knocks over an expensive vase, and the lens leaves a big dent in your hardwood floor. Who pays for that damage?
In my case, the liability insurance does. If your photographer doesn’t have it, it’ll be you who pays for that damage.
Any full time professional architectural photographer should have liability insurance. If they don’t, it’s a dead giveaway that they aren’t taking their business seriously.
4. Tell the photographer what the challenges are in your project. How will they handle that particular challenge?
You may not immediately know what the challenges are in your particular project. Here are some examples of challenges that I’ve run into.
- The lighting is very dark or dim in the home.
- The lighting is very bright and washes out details on floors, furniture, or other aspects compared to other areas of the room.
- The view from the window is worth capturing, which requires specific skills to capture properly in the final image.
- The homeowner is going to be around with kids, so they need help staging the rooms because they’re messy. Many photographers won’t help you do any staging or moving of furniture.
- There are pets in the home that may get in the way, even if the owner says they won’t be a problem they often are.
- There is lots of reflective glass and shiny surfaces in the home.
- The homeowner can only have a photographer in on weekends.
- The job is 2 hours away.
- The driveway is so steep that we can’t capture the front of the house without a 50 foot aerial platform (mast photography).
- The house is on waterfront property, so we need to take photos from a boat.
- The shoot has some very small rooms, so finding space for the tripod can be tricky or you need a lens that will capture the entire scene.
Reflect upon your specific project and mention any obstacles that may be an issue for the photographer. You would also expect a good photographer to ask you “what are the compositional challenges in your project?”. If they don’t, they’re probably a rookie.
5. How do you license your images? What licensing and usage does the price include?
The rookie photographer won’t have much of an answer here. They won’t understand licensing which is another quick way to weed out the inexperienced photographer. The answer must be very specific on exactly what the license includes.
Ideally you want to have a written licensing agreement for all the images they supply. The agreement will state exactly what the license includes, whether it be for web and social media use only for example, and for how long. This should be included with a written quote for the shoot.
Each photographer makes up their own licensing based on what you want to use the image for.
Here are some examples of the types of licensing that I offer.
- Web and social media usage. Included with each shoot.
- Internal and low resolution printing, not public facing. Included with each shoot.
- High resolution sales material. Offered for an additional fee.
- High resolution for newspaper or magazine. Offered for an additional fee.
- Image use for television or mass-produced book. Offered for an additional fee.
- 3rd party usage licensing. Offered for an additional fee.
Many of these licensing options are often negotiable though, and it’s best to talk about licensing options early on so you can bundle some of it together, especially if you’re wanting to use the images in many different places. See more on licensing.
6. Is this your full-time job?
You want to know if they’re dedicated to the profession and thinking about photography all day long. Whenever you hire anyone, you want someone who eats, breathes, and sleeps their craft. That’s how you get the best. A part timer isn’t going to be able to give you that same level of dedication.
7. Do you use flash photography? Do you combine flash with ambient lighting?
This might seem a bit technical. But the photographer should know how to manipulate light, and flash is often required to do that. The use of flashes, or strobes as they’re commonly referred to, is often required to capture the natural color of the room where necessary.
How a camera captures available room light may not be desirable on some parts of the photo and carefully placed flashes will compensate for this. Combining portions of an image taken with flash with other portions taken with available ambient light is often the best way to give images a magazine quality look that attracts potential clients to your business.
This is a good question to ask because so many photographers refuse to use flash. Why? Flash photography scares the inexperienced photographer because they are difficult to use well.
8. Do you use a tilt-shift lens?
Another technical question but this one is particularly important. A tilt-shift lens allows the photographer to compose a scene with perfect alignment of vertical objects, then optimally adjust the outside frame of the shot either horizontally, vertically, or both, without moving the camera.
Any serious architectural and interiors photographer will have one or more of these in their bag. In many instances there is no other way to compose a scene without the use of this speciality architectural lens.
The amateur photographer, or one that doesn’t specialize in architectural photography, will not have a need for this type of equipment, a sure sign that they aren’t the right person for the job.