Now, you may spot the inherent problem with a professional photographer trying to answer the question ‘why hire a professional photographer?’ – I can hardly give an unbiased answer, eh?! However, I’d like to counter with – who better to answer that question? Only a professional photographer knows all the little things he/she does to deliver great service and great images to the client – that’s what makes us professionals after all! So who better to help you decide if it’s worth hiring a pro or giving the job to an enthusiast?
For the record, it’s not always the best idea to hire a professional. We all started out as enthusiasts and proved our ground shooting for friends and family or picking up low budget jobs. There are some gigs that are simply better suited for your Uncle Steve or to that friend of a friend who’s studying photography at college. And then there are some jobs where you’re just not sure whether to fawk out for a pro or not.
This post is aimed at helping you make the best decision for your needs.
Okay, so when shouldn’t I use a Pro?
Sometimes the job just isn’t all that important: maybe its a family get together and capturing some of the moments would be a nice idea but it isn’t really essential. You’re already worn out booking the venue and making sure everybody’s travel arrangements are sorted out and you don’t want to have to search for a good photographer within your budget on top of all that.
In that case it might be better all round to ask Uncle Steve if he wouldn’t mind bringing the DSLR he got for Christmas to the gathering.
Sometimes you just don’t have the money for a professional photographer: maybe you’re just starting a new business and would like a photographer to attend the launch event but you’re already cutting your budget close to the bone and you have no guarantee that the business will take off. A professional has to charge a certain amount because they have their own business overheads to consider.
A student or enthusiastic friend however… they don’t need to charge as much and if they’re halfway decent you should still get some shots that you can use on your blog or post on Facebook etc
I see. And when is it important to hire a Pro Shooter?
Well, its important to hire a professional when it’s essential to get the shots, when you need consistency and guaranteed results, when you need someone who can interpret a loosely formed idea and turn it into an amazing image and/or when the photographs need to be taken in difficult lighting situations. There are many more situations when a pro is the best choice (most of them obvious) but those are the aspects you need to look at if you’re unsure.
If you’re having a party in a nightclub and you want some really good shots of your guests, then you probably need a professional; the mixed lighting is difficult to work with if you don’t know the craft and an enthusiast may well deliver pictures of white faces (bleached out by the flash) against a black background (because they forgot about capturing the club’s background lighting too).
If it’s your Ruby Wedding anniversary and you really want some nice shots of everyone – perhaps you’re hoping for a picture you can mount and put on your wall – then you need a professional who can guarantee you quality shots and who knows how to format the files so they’re suitable for large prints.
Being able to work a camera is not the same thing as understanding the craft of photography, so if you’re unsure, then it’s best to ask yourself how important it is that you get good shots. If the answer is anything other than ‘not very important’, then you may want to err on the side of hiring a professional.
But professional photographers are expensive, is there really that much of a difference?
Other than the cost you mean? =D)
Well in a nutshell Yes. And it all has to do with craft and experience.
I stressed earlier that you need a pro if you want consistently good pictures. Well, consistency comes with experience; making and learning from mistakes; knowing your camera inside out; and knowing how different factors affect the exposure.
To give a few examples (I’m not bragging, honest): I recently did a shoot where my flash started playing up halfway through. It wasn’t recharging properly and would only fire on low power. A less experienced photographer may well panic or have to stop shooting. As an experienced shooter, I was able to adjust my settings and ISO speed to compensate for the lack of light and still deliver good quality images.
In a similar situation a few years ago, a fellow photographer (and member of the Freelance North collective) Bish, was doing a photo shoot for an important client when the LCD review screen on his camera stopped working, meaning he was unable to see what the pictures were coming out like. Being a consummate professional, Bish was able to keep shooting; intuitively altering his settings to suit the changing situations – and the shots came out fine (in the olden days of film, we had to shoot like that all the time but I can’t imagine those who learned shooting digital would cope as well with no review screen)!
I also said earlier that you need a professional photographer if the lighting conditions are difficult. I suppose its unfair of me to ask a non-photographer to predict when lighting conditions are going to be difficult and when they’re not, especially as you’d be surprised at how many scenarios are easy for the eye to take in but difficult for a camera to capture: A mix of different coloured lights, a mix of daylight and electric light, low-light (evening/night or even just indoors with one of those horrible yellow energy saving bulbs), outdoors when the sun is low in the sky, anytime where there is lots of contrast between the light and dark areas of a scene – all of these take skill and experience to photograph well.
As a brief example, I was recently shooting an awards dinner at the Natural History Museum and a lady asked me if I could take a photograph of ‘Dippy the Dinosaur’ (who dominates the atrium) and send it to her, because she couldn’t get a good shot with her point and shoot camera (very dark room with the dinosaur lit up in blue). What I did instead was take her camera and alter the setup so she could make a good picture with it herself (I did show her how to put it back to normal afterwards!).
In fact, taking a photograph yourself with a phone or point and shoot is a good acid-test of how well a camera can handle the scene and how good your photographer needs to be to make the pictures work!
I also mentioned using a professional photographer if you intend to make/buy prints. The reason for this is that professionals use colour managed software and monitors and know how to shoot, edit and format the files so that they’ll print well. It’s unlikely an enthusiast will have the skills or equipment to do this (having said that, if it’s just small prints you want and you’re not too fussy, then this won’t be a major concern).
Speaking of editing, that’s another skill that’s worth paying for. A professional photographer has this down and can edit your pictures to a high standard quickly and efficiently. Imagine letting Uncle Steve photograph your wedding only to have him send you a disc full of unedited pictures, or spend ages over-editing them! Wouldn’t you prefer a beautiful album of high quality prints delivered within the week? Of course you would! =D)
Well, I hope that wasn’t too boring for you! If I were to put it in one sentence for you I’d say, there’s nothing wrong with giving an enthusiast a chance to gain experience but if the images are important to you, then hire a professional photographer!
When I accept an assignment I do so in the knowledge that I’ll be able to deliver images the client will truly appreciate; that I’ll be able to manage the lighting conditions and composition, that I’ll have time to edit the pictures and bring out the best in them and that I’ll be able to deliver in a timely fashion. If I don’t think I can meet those self-imposed requirements – be that due to other commitments or because the job is not one of my specialties – then I’ll recommend someone who I think will be able to deliver what you need.
I hope that this blog has helped you decide when and why to hire a professional photographer – and remember – if you do choose to use a pro, you can book me by using the contact form on my site or just giving me a call. I’m based in Newcastle and will work anywhere (for the right fee!). If I can’t serve you, I’ll know someone who can!