Pro Tips

How to Find a Professional Photographer

Finding a photographer is quite easy. I could probably throw a rock from my window right now and hit one. With cameras in our pockets, everyone is technically a photographer these days. However, because of the sheer number of photographers out there, finding the right one for your commercial photo project can be extremely difficult.

This article will discuss the best places to find a professional photographer and what to ask them to ensure they have the proper level of experience for your project.

Where to Look – A Refined Choice

Google is great and all, but if you want to save a little time in verifying that the photographer you’re hiring is a professional, I would suggest using one of the photo industry trade organization websites. The photographers on these sites have been vetted and confirmed to follow best business practices.

Photo Trade Organizations

ASMP – www.findaphotographer.org

APA – www.apanational.org/hire-apa-pro/

AIAP – www.aiap.net (for finding architectural photographers)

ASMP's Find a Photographer
Since 1944, ASMP has been the most trusted photo trade organization.

Another resource is source-book sites. Photographers pay significant money to be listed on these websites and are only allowed to join if they meet the high-quality criteria dictated by the site. These sites are highly reputable and have upheld the industry standards for a long time. While there are a number of such sites out there, I believe the ones I advertise with cater best to art buyers:

Source-Book Sites

Wonderful Machine

Workbook

LeBook

Found Artists

On each of these sites, all you have to do is type in your specialty and/or location, and you’ll get a list of quality professional photographers that can serve the needs of your project.

Wonderful Machine's Find a Photographer
Finding a photographer is easy at Wonderful Machine

When in Doubt, Just Ask

At the end of the day, the best way to find a photographer is often through a referral. A referral can come from any trusted source: a client, a colleague, or even another photographer. I’ve personally referred plenty of other photographers to my clients if their projects weren’t a great fit for me.

Searching the Wild Wild Web

If you still can’t find anyone on these sites and the referrals are coming up empty, your next step would be to search on Google. Here’s my main tip for finding the right kind of photographer on Google: Be specific and use “quotes”. Don’t generically search for “Photographer.” Make sure to include the specialty and location you need for your shoot. For example:

“Architectural Photographer Virginia”

Or

“Food Photographer San Diego”

Or

“Fashion Photographer Brooklyn”

Now, it’s important to be particularly careful when reading the results. Contrary to customary wisdom, the photographers that come up first may not be your best fit. The first 3 will be paid ads, and it’s very likely they’ve not optimized their ads for your area. Personally, I would skip past the ads and read the other results on the first page. The photographers there are usually much more relevant to your search. If location is important, go to their contact page before anything else to make sure they’re listed in your area.

Google results for "architectural photographer virginia"

Portfolio is Important, but so are Words

Once you find a photographer, definitely head straight to their about page or blog if they have one. You can get a great read on someone’s personality just by seeing how they talk about themselves and their work. Are they humble or braggy? Are they quiet or boisterous? Are they confident or conflicted? Would you want this photographer to meet your parents? Do they seem like someone you can know, like, and – most importantly – trust?


Ask The Photographer These 5 Questions

Hopefully by now you’ve found a photographer or two you like and want to inquire about their availability. But how do you know if they’re as good as they say they are? Here are some fundamental questions you ask:

1. Hey photographer, can I see a complete job (proofs and finals gallery)?

When you visit a photographer’s website, you will usually only see the best of the best. A well-edited portfolio is probably what motivated you to reach out to this photographer. This is great! Next ask the photographer if you can see a complete shoot that includes the proofs and the final images.

This will give you two important things:

  1. You can see how consistent they are across the entire shoot. Getting one shot is easy. Getting 10 consistently good shots separates the pros from the amateurs.
  2. You can see how well they shoot in camera and how much retouching they do. This will help you understand their creative process and know what to expect for deliverables.

Here is one of my client galleries you can see as an example: https://go.lbpho.to/client-gallery

Lincoln Barbour Client Gallery

2. Hey photographer, can I see a full resolution image?

Megapixels and camera brands, though important, don’t matter much if the shot is not in focus or the retouching is inferior.

On the web, images are sized down and many technical errors are masked by the reduction.

Ask the photographer for a full resolution photograph from their website that closely matches your needs. Open that file in Photoshop and view it at 100% (Cmd-Opt-0 Mac or Ctrl-Opt-0 PC). Review the photo closely and look for sharpness, detail, focus, color fringing, dust, and poor retouching techniques like repeating patterns. Then print the image as you would print it for your own needs.

If it looks good to you, then great! You’ve found a photographer who knows how to handle their files.

Here is one of my high-resolution photographs as an example. https://go.lbpho.to/high-rez

100% Crop of Full Size Image
100% Crop of Full Size Image

3. Hey photographer, do you shoot RAW?

A RAW image is a digital negative and is the industry standard.

It contains the maximum amount of color and uncompressed detail from the camera’s sensor. It allows greater flexibility for coloring and toning than a standard JPEG. You are able to save highlights and boost shadows. A RAW image provides total control for the highest quality output.

And it’s non-destructive, which means any changes you make to the file can be undone anytime, forever.

Here is one of my RAW files: https://go.lbpho.to/raw

(Note, you will need Adobe Camera RAW 7.1 or later to read this file)

4. Hey photographer, how will I review photos during our shoot?

When you’re working with a photographer on set and it’s critical that you review the shots he or she is getting. You don’t want to be viewing them on the back of the camera. It’s just too small and too hard to judge sharpness, composition, detail, etc on that tiny little screen.

A photographer can tell what they need from the camera’s screen, but you need to see it big.

You should be looking at the shots on a large screen such as a laptop, external monitor, an iMac, or at the very least, a tablet.

5. Hey photographer, how will you backup the files from the shoot?

It’s not if the hard drive will fail, it’s when. There is a golden rule for backup of digital assets called the 3-2-1 Rule: 3 Backups, 2 Types of Media, 1 Off-site. I typically shoot to a card and a laptop simultaneously and then automatically backup to an external drive. My assistant will take the backup drive home and there we have the 3-2-1.

But that’s not secure enough for me…

After the shoot, all media is downloaded to a RAID hard drive and uploaded for cloud storage (RAW Files and all). After a shoot is delivered, final images, edit files, and RAW selects are placed in long term cloud storage and backed up on my studio hard drives.

At the very least, your photographer should be following the 3-2-1 Rule. If not, I’d request a copy of the files immediately after the shoot so you can back it up yourself.

I learned a lot about Digital Asset Management from Peter Krogh’s great book, The DAM Book (in its third printing). If you or one of your team members is in charge of media assets, I highly recommend it.

Here is a link to it on Amazon: https://amzn.to/2N7TMQg

Thanks for Reading!

I really hope this article helps you find a great photographer for your next project. This is just an overview of some fundamental validations you can use to vet any photographer you hire. Definitely add your own to get a complete picture of who you’re about to work with.

If you have a project that I can help you out with, contact me today at [email protected] or 503-467-9470.

Have an awesome day!

What are the Four Types of Photographers

The other day, my barber asked me: “So what do you do?”

I told him I was a photographer, so he proceeded to tell me all about his buddy who shoots weddings. And while I wanted to relate on this shared commonality, I had to be honest with myself: shooting weddings is extremely different from shooting commercially.

As I was searching for a way to explain the difference, it dawned on me: All service-based businesses use similar “tools” in their jobs, but how they use the tools varies wildly.

For example: a plumber and a mechanic both use a wrench, yes, but would you hire your plumber to fix your car? Tools are just that: Tools.

In that same vein, just because a photographer carries around a camera doesn’t mean he or she possesses the necessary skill set to approach each assignment with the same level of expertise. As for me, I’m primarily an Architectural Photographer. Over the past two decades, I’ve filled my toolbox with the knowledge required to approach each assignment with care and consideration. If you need me to beautifully photograph a building with expert technical precision, I’m your man. If you need me to shoot your daughter’s senior portrait, I’m going to pass; frankly, I don’t know the first thing about shooting a teenager’s portrait.

To break it down, I feel there are four basic types of professional photographers, each of which can be very general or very niche. So, before you hire a photographer for your next project, take note of the following.

Commercial Photographer

Photo from my last shoot for Hunter Douglas

Commercial photographers are B2B. They know how to work with other businesses, collaborate in teams, and acquire the resources needed to pull off complex shoots with detailed creative briefs.

Need to secure a location permit and close down a street?! A commercial photographer knows a guy who knows a guy. But if you ask that commercial photographer to shoot your wedding, he’s going to overthink it and probably have you walk down the aisle repeatedly to get the shot just right.

Photojournalist

Photo from Leah Nash’s series about Asperger Syndrome – www.leahnash.com

Photojournalists prime responsibilities include reporting on the news and shooting documentary photo essays. The ones I’ve met are some of the most talented, hardworking, and dedicated people with a camera.

But if you want them to shoot an architectural project, photojournalists are going to approach it like a war zone: “Shoot first, ask questions later.” They also probably wouldn’t even retouch it because to them, it would be unethical.

Retail Photographer (Weddings, Portraits, B2C)

Jen Fariello Photography – www.jenfariello.com

Wedding & Portrait photographers are typically B2C: they get hired by brides and grooms, families, pet owners – basically, the whole gamut of consumers. Some W&P photographers will also dabble in commercial work like headshots for businesses. But their core specialty is the consumer and they are great one-on-one, just like a boutique business should be.

However, if you have an ad campaign to shoot, a wedding photographer is probably not going to have the resources to find a producer, cast talent, and pull permits for locations. I’m sure they know a really killer band and a wonderful caterer though.

Art Photographer

Photo from Holly Andres series “Fieldcrest Drive” www.hollyandres.com

Even though photography is an art form, not all photographers are what I would call “artists”. In fact, I would consider most photographers to be craftsmen – myself included. They dedicate their careers to perfecting the craft and creating photographs for others’ use. Art photographers, on the other hand, shoot purely to create some of the meaning for themselves. Their work is an expression of their feelings. If you hire an art photographer to shoot your ad campaign, you’re letting them lead the vision and direct the creative. But, if you already have a clear creative vision in mind, then you’re better off finding a commercial photographer who can execute it properly.

Next Steps: Vet the Photographer

Now that you know the four types of photographers, you’ll be much better off finding the right person (or studio) for your next shoot. But before making your hire, you should ask them some questions to find out if they’re a pro or an amateur.

Questions like:

  • Can I see a full shoot (proofs and final images)?
  • Do you carry liability insurance?
  • Do you shoot RAW or JPEG?
  • How do you backup files from your shoot?
  • What can expect before, during, and after the shoot?
  • Have you shot this kind of job before?
  • How much retouching do you do?

How can I help you?

Do you have an upcoming commercial photography project you need help on? Contact me today and I will gladly help you out. If I’m not a good fit, I have some great recommendations for you. Click here to go to my contact page.

The Best Time of Year to Photograph Architecture

September_Architecture_Lincoln-Barbour_01

August is rapidly coming to a close and I am super excited for September. Why? You may ask. Because we are approaching the Autumnal Equinox and that means great light… all… day… long.

For the few weeks before and after September 22nd, the sun angle is right around 40˚ which is like Rembrandt lighting for buildings. The shadow lines are perfect. There’s just the right amount of low angle light during early morning and late afternoon. And in the Northern Hemisphere, the summer haze has cleared for gorgeous skies with all the plants and trees still pretty much green. You really can’t go wrong shooting in September. Check out this diagram to see what I’m talking about.

Here are some of my favorite projects that I shot in September’s beautiful light.

Even if you have already wrapped up your project, if it wasn’t captured in September, you really should shoot it again to see what an improvement the light at this time of year makes.

Fortunately, I still have a few spots open in September and if you’d like to book a shoot, click here to reach out to me.

Bonus Guide for Architects and Interior Designers

Want to know some easy ways you can improve your architectural shoots? Check out my handy little guide called: 10 WAYS TO MAKE AN ARCHITECTURE SHOOT BETTER. It’s a free download! Just enter in your full name and email and I’ll send it your way.

[activecampaign form=7]

Then and Now

I was going through my archive the other day and stumbled on the first kitchen I ever photographed:

I shot this way back in January of 2003, on film, with a Nikon F4, and a manual focus 20mm lens. I shot it on Kodak E100VS slide film and I think I scanned it on a Nikon scanner, too. My memory is a little hazy on the digital stuff since it was so new then and changing so quickly. I shot film for the first three years of my career and learned a lot by making some very expensive mistakes. Fortunately, this shot wasn’t a total failure. But it shows me how lucky I am to have the technology I have today to do my job. Back then, I just had to guess that the shot was going to turn out. I had to trust that I focused correctly. I did sometimes shoot a test shot on Polaroids, but you really didn’t know what the the film was going to look like until it was processed. I had many sleepless nights waiting for the film to come back.

Things are so much better now. Take for example, this kitchen I shot November of 2012:

Almost a decade later and I was shooting this with a Canon 5D Mark II, 24mm TS-E II, and tethered to a MacBook Pro with Retina display. I could Live View the shot and see exactly what it was going to look like after I pressed the shutter. I knew exactly if the chairs were lined up correctly. And I knew I was going to have to shoot a bracket to get an exposure for the view to Photoshop in later. With digital, I have total control of the look and feel from set all the way to client delivery. No worries about labs messing up your film. No hassle and image quality degradation from scanning. It’s as perfect as a photo can be. Once digital hit 6MP, I was all in. Now were up to 50MP like it ain’t no thing.

It’s hard for me to imagine what I’ll be shooting 10 years from now. I do feel things are about to change again in a big way. Mirrorless cameras will definitely probably surpass and overtake the traditional DSLRs. I can’t wait till Canon comes out with a mirrorless version of the 5D. I shoot that camera on Live View 90% of the time on my architecture shoots. The mirror just gets in the way. The iPhone is an amazing point shoot that you always have with you. It’s not the best quality, but for small quick shots it can’t be beat. And then you have crazy compact cameras like the L16 by Light that has a field of tiny lenses to make one awesome camera that rivals a DSLR. I’m dying for a good travel camera and I would love to have the L16 in my back pocket, rather than lugging around a whole kit. Can’t wait to test it out.

Anyway, no matter where the technology goes, I’ll be sure to keep up and use it to take the best possible photography I can take. As Eve Arnold once said, “It is the photographer, not the camera, that is the instrument.”

A Bad Deal

This is not a $10 Photo

I recently passed on job that was such a bad deal, I had to share. Below is the job description and my thoughts on it.

Hi Lincoln,

Thank you for the fast response! Below is the run down for the job.

We’ll be putting together a list of (roughly) 60 venues (restaurants, bars, concert spaces) that we’ll want to have shot. I will contact each of the venues and set up an appointment time, as well as a point of reference for you to go and photograph the venues.

WOW!!! 60 locations to shoot! A good architectural photograph takes 30 to 45 minutes to set up a shoot (though I’ve been known to spend hours on a single shot). Add on set up, break down, and travel time, and you’re looking at a full day of work just to shoot two locations. Hope it pays enough to justify passing on other jobs for 30 days. 😉

We’ll want 4-5 interior shots of each space, just to give us a few options (we work with Photomatix Pro so three different exposures per shot would be ideal). In the past, our photographers have used just the natural light that the restaurant normally has set up when they are open, like mood lighting, candles, etc., no strobes or extra lights, and then the photographer shoots in that interior space. They shoot without assistants. They shoot just before the restaurant opens or just after they close so they can avoid people in the space.

Now hold on a sec… do you want high-quality photography that captures the spirit of the space? Shots that make will make people want to go to the restaurant, bar, or concert space? Shots that are in-focus, properly exposed, and tack-sharp? If so, I will need to shoot the way that I think it is best, which almost always means that I bring my own lighting, a skilled assistant, and a trained stylist. Also, if you don’t want people in your shots, then I will only be able to shoot two locations a day. One from 7am to 9am and one from 3am to 5am (those hours sound brutal).

There would be no need for you to do any post-production on the pictures. I will edit the images in terms of color correction and cropping etc. So we would take that off of your plate. Just shooting and uploading. We would just have to work out how we would upload the raw files from you (in the past we’ve used Box.com and Dropbox.com).

You don’t hire me to push a button. You hire me for my technical knowledge and creative skills. Monkeys push buttons. I’m a photographer, damnit.

So for that job as described, we can offer $50 per venue and a total of $3,000 for the complete project.

*gasp* (it gets worse)

And as in all past projects such as this, we need ownership of the photos. We are a content distributer and need to be able to utilize the photos on any platform as we move into in the future. We can’t enter into deals in which we would need to go back to the photographer or any other vendor with further licensing requests. We also may want to compile all photos from every city into some sort of anthology in the future. Finally, we work with partners editorially sometimes and can’t go back to the photographer anytime we need to enter into a content partnership. We’ve worked on this basis in multiple cities and haven’t paid a premium for this type of license and unfortunately can’t start now.

So, for $50 a location, $10 a photo, you basically want unlimited, unrestricted use of my intellectual property? Intellectual property that you can do whatever you want with now and into the future…ANNNNNND you want to pass on the photos to 3rd parties without compensation to me??!?! For $10 a photo??!?!?!?!?

However, that said, we can give you a limited license to show the work in your portfolio and sell to venues to make extra money from the work. But we don’t want you selling the photos to places like BLAHBLAH (a main competitor) in the future, the limited license would allow you to sell the photos back to the venue themselves. So that’s our situation with rights and ownership.

Gee thanks, but since you’re handling the post production, I won’t have access to the final retouched versions of the images. So, I will have to retouch the shots myself (which takes a half day of work for a day of shooting) if I want to use them for my portfolio or attempt to relicense the work to the venues. Who knows, maybe the venues will pay for the shots with with beer and pretzels!?

As I said, I’m really excited about your work and I hope we can work something out. Let me know if you have any questions or thoughts about the project.

I don’t believe you are really excited about my work. If you knew anything about what I do, you would know that I care way to much to shoot these spaces in the way you are suggesting and for so little compensation.

It boggles my mind that they would look at my work and ask me to shoot like this. What is even more frustrating is that there will be some photographer out there who will do this job. Even as a pay-your-dues, portfolio-builder, need-experience kind of gig, this job is ridiculously low-paying and devalues the photo industry as a whole. This is microstock pay for custom exclusive work. This is a bad deal.

Maybe I could have negotiated the price up, but the starting point was so low from where I would need it to be, it just wasn’t worth my time. I passed on this job and you should, too.

Retouching the Oregon Home Cover Shot

I take a lot of pride in my Photoshop retouching skills. Mainly because I try really hard to make my shots not look like they’ve been retouched.

For architectural interior shots like this cover image for Oregon Home, I often do something I call, “Dropping in the Windows.” During the shoot, I’ll take several brackets that are under my main exposure. Later on in Photoshop, I will pick a darker exposure that I like the look out the windows and overlay it on the main exposure. I then hand cut out the windows using a mask and blend it together a little with the paintbrush. It’s subtle, time consuming, but the look can’t be beat.

The alternative to this is to do and HDR photograph or overlight the room with artificial light. I, personally, never like either of those ways look, so that’s why I do it the hard way.

Here’s time-lapse of the whole process: