Hiring a photographer – some things to consider

When hiring a photographer there are quite a few things to consider. Some of the things will be obvious, some less so and some will possibly not even cross your mind. If you are booking a gas boiler service you know to hire a registered, trained, qualified technician. There are a lot of professions where you have to be qualified and registered in order to practice that profession. Whilst photography has a number of professional organisations –The Societies / SWPP, BIPP, AOP for example – there are no legal requirements to be a member or to be qualified.

Amongst the obvious things to look for when choosing a photographer are:
– the style of their photography in the context of what you want to hire a photographer for
– their location
– availability
– price
– perceived quality

The less obvious to the issues possibly not even crossing your mind include:
– backup equipment, second camera body, lenses, backup lighting etc
– repeatable quality, you only use your best work in your adverts
– file backup routines
– training and experience
– insurance, not of their equipment but Public Liability and, if appropriate, professional indemnity and product liability
– PAT testing of electrical equipment
– Income declaration to the tax man …………..

While you can get an idea of a photographer’s style by looking at their images online there can be a few problems here. The photographs that I use on my ‘Events’ page were all taken in real time at actual live events. The same applies to the other categories, it is the old WYSIWYG. Example photographs of what can actually be achieved by that person in a situation that is a close match to what you would be hiring them for. This is quite different from hiring models to pose and be photographed at your leisure. At live events you draw on several additional skill sets as well as needing to work very quickly and reliably. Being able to repeat the quality achievable in a controlled, leisurely studio session is very different from a hundred or so teenagers within the time constraints of a school Prom. Some people do not see this as an ethical problem but for me to maintain my integrity I make sure that I only use truly taken photographs in my publicity for any particular genre. The second issue with online viewing is that quite often images that look good at screen size do not make the transfer to larger prints. I have a camera from one of the ‘big two’ camera makers that I take walking with me at times that has this problem. At the time that I purchased it the camera was the top model in their compact camera range and considered a professional model. For people photos it can be fine. Landscapes and general scenes the noise is obvious and there is no real definition / sharpness at ‘A3’ print size but is not noticeable on web sized images.

Equipment that is fit for purpose is important. The more challenging the conditions are, the more that is expected of the equipment. There are reasons why some cameras are labelled as ‘consumer’ some as ‘prosumer’ and some as ‘professional’. ‘Professional’ camera bodies and lenses do not only have higher quality standards but also are built to be more durable. Metal bodies with weather sealing, more durable shutters and more direct user control over what the camera is doing. It is true that a good photographer can produce good photos with any camera within its limitations. With a ‘professional’ system the limitations are fewer and it is built to keep going for longer. All equipment fails at some point. You do not want, for example, to have your photographer’s one camera to malfunction at your wedding. One acquaintance dropped his most used lens at a wedding and damaged it quite badly, beyond usability. The coverage that he gave the couple did not reflect this loss since he had backup lenses.

With regard to PAT testing of electrical equipment, this is something that gets overlooked by many but can be the difference between your chosen photographer being allowed to work at your venue or not. Firstly, insurance for the photographer’s equipment is not an issue for you. What might be an issue if things go wrong is if the photographer is not covered as a working professional for those professional activities. Increasingly venues are requiring evidence of photographers having sufficient Public Liability insurance. As the consumer it is the Professional indemnity and product liability insurance that you should be more concerned about.

I still have vivid memories of the first time that a long term workplace of mine had their equipment PAT tested. I was amazed at the amount of equipment that failed the testing and this was in a State school. In subsequent years there has been equipment that has failed. On one professional forum another photographer recently related how he had purchased 6 long power leads off an E-bay seller, used them for nearly a year before their testing came up and they failed. There was no earth wire in the cables. PAT testing is for your safety as well as covering the photographer’s back. Increasingly venues are requiring evidence of appropriate insurance and PAT testing. Even my local Village Hall requires any electrical equipment used there to be tested.

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