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Things to Consider When Hiring a Corporate Event Photographer

what to look for in an event photographer chicagoIf you own or manage a business, there will come a time when you’ll need to hire a corporate event photographer to capture photos on your next conference or meeting. You may be tempted to ask a friend or your staff to do so, but you shouldn’t trust just anyone with this role. Professional photographers do more than take photos. They use their experience and training to capture the beauty and importance of each occasion.

Here are some things you should consider when hiring an event photographer.

Background and credentials

Event photography is a specialized field that requires its own set of skills. Just because a person owns an expensive camera, doesn’t mean he’s a professional. A camera is a tool, and does not guarantee that he’ll produce great photos.

Consider the photographer’s background and credentials. What kind of events do they cover? How many events like your do they shoot a year?

Portfolio

Believe it or not, some people would only look at the pricing and won’t even bother to look at the photos. Photographers put their best work on their website so feel free to check them out. Compare photographers by their portfolio, not their pricing. Make sure that their style is what you’re looking for.

Budget

Try to get price quotes from a number of photographers. Most photographers try to be flexible with their rates since they do understand that some clients are working on a tight budget. However, you also have to understand that the saying “you get what you pay for” usually applies when hiring an event photographer. Haggling may not get you the results you want.

Needs and expectations

Figure out what you want to get out of the event before talking to candidates. Communicate specific event details so as to give the photographer an understanding of what you want captured and where he needs to be at specific times.

With more than 20 years of experience G Thomas Ward Photography has been helping businesses in Chicago capture their business events and conferences. View our Event Photography gallery for samples of our work.

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Non-Profits and the Value of Photography

Candid event photograph in Chicago

Recently a friend of mine saw a post on a local marketing Facebook page where the Executive Director of a charitable organization was looking for a photographer.  I contacted the Executive Director and had a nice long conversation about the mission of the organization and what the job would entail.  At the end we got to talking about budget and he told me that their budget was $300/day for the photographer and that he had a hard time in his mind justifying more because they want to put as much money as possible into fulfilling their mission.

I’m sure almost every photographer worth their salt has run across this pitch with regard to non profits before.  The temptation is to let the conversation end there and part ways.  That is what I’d normally do.  However, part of what we do sometimes involves educating our potential clients as to the value of what we do and the cost of merely being in business.  So, I sent him the following follow up letter (slightly edited).   In this instance, we weren’t able to come to an agreement, but sometimes it’s worth the try.

“I just wanted to follow up with you after our conversation yesterday.  Oftentimes, people in your position are ambivalent about paying the going rate for a truly good professional photographer.  This often stems from hiring cheaper photographers and getting less than the desired result, and in turn it devalues what truly committed and experienced professionals do.  It’s a struggle at times in my industry to get people to recognize the value of what we do.

For every day we spend shooting pictures, we spend at least a half a day negotiating the details of the job, replying to emails, writing up contracts, editing and adjusting the “raw material” that comes out of the camera, burning DVDs of the images, archiving the images and billing the client.  Additionally, we have very expensive equipment to buy, maintain and upgrade every few years…the same for our computers and software.  We fund our own health insurance, retirement, sick days, business insurance, pay the rent on our studios, buy, maintain and fuel our vehicles so we can get to your locations, pay to build and maintain our websites and other marketing materials and myriad other expenses…this is before we  even break even…let alone pay ourselves a salary…and this is why $300/day is not a sustainable business model. 

Like people who are employed by nonprofits….freelancers who work with non-profits need to make a living.  Just to give you another perspective on this, I’m sure if someone offered you your job as executive director for $20,000 a year with the caveat “we want to put as much money as possible into our mission”….well, you’d start to understand that we all bring our talents to the table and need to be compensated accordingly. 

That being said, I understand that you may or may not be prepared to milk the photographs for what they’re worth.  They could be used on your website, social media campaigns, annual reports, fundraising materials, press releases, etc.

I hope you don’t find this email “out of line”.but I did want to reach out to you to try to give you another perspective  We all have to make a living, and high quality, professional photography has a vast potential to help you further your mission.  It’s an investment.  Ultimately, who you hire and what you pay is up to you.  I’d love to work with you, and build a sustainable business relationship if possible.  Regardless, you have a great mission and I appreciate the work you do.”

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“The Collectors” Series

After my first few photography classes and trying my hand at a variety of photographic genres, I took a class in large format photography and the view camera.   Even though the age of film photography is for all practical purposes dead, most people over the age of 30 are probably somewhat familiar with 35mm cameras.  But view cameras use negatives that are 4×5 inches or larger…so, the negative is roughly 15 times larger than a 35mm negative.  They’re the kind of cameras you see in old black and white movies with the photographer’s head under a black cloth.  For some reason, I took a liking to this medium, perhaps because none of my classmates were particularly into it, or maybe it was because of the unique ability of the medium to capture detail with a clarity way beyond 35mm.

Throughout most of my time as an undergrad, I worked in a store called “Rosie Cheeks Vintage Clothing” which was  a legendary local hang out for all sorts of fascinating people:  artists, gays musicians, dandies and other assorted self-styled hipsters and misfits of the era.  I was looking for direction with my photography work and it occurred to me to do portraits of some of our more colorful customers.  I believed the 4×5 format, with its ability to capture detail, would be the perfect medium for this kind of work.

Shooting what I loosely called “The Collectors” series, was really the beginning of my taking myself seriously as a photographer.  I wasn’t just “taking” pictures, I was making them.  And my teachers also started to take me seriously as a photographer.  I worked on this series through the time I graduated with my BFA in photography in 1987.  On the strength of the work, I applied for the Mary C. McClellan Scholarship in Art and was awarded the top award for the year, beating out all other applicants from any artistic medium at my school.  With the money, I undertook the my next project in my post-graduate life, the “Route 40-From St. Louis to Terre Haute” series.  But I’ll show and tell more about that in my next post.

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Early Experimental Portraits and the Beginnings of my Commercial Work

Academics came easy to me in high school, and without much study I always made the honor roll.  As I mentioned in the previous post, I secretly longed to be a film director.  I started taking cinema studies courses at my school, the University of Illinois/Urbana, but quickly learned what a dismal program they had, and it mostly involved writing, film theory, and criticism, which really weren’t my cup of tea.   I did take an actual class or two in cinematography, but, I wasn’t as talented as I thought I was, and was bereft of ideas and funds.  I earned my first “D” grade in a class, and experienced what I considered to be my first academic failure.  I floundered.

I can’t remember if it was during my freshman or sophomore year that I enrolled in my first photography class, and I’m not even sure how seriously I took it.  It wasn’t until my third class in photography that I felt myself pulling ahead, becoming more and more interested in the work and taking it far more seriously than the other students.  I set up makeshift studios and had access to lighting equipment provided by the university.  My teachers and professors were heavily into post-modernism and feminism.  I was drawn to works by Cindy Sherman, Barbara Kruger, Joel-Peter Witkin, Diane Arbus and Arthur Tress.  These were people with something to say, and the vision to match.  My only problem was I didn’t feel passionately about much.

I know I liked theatricality and set-up shots.  I liked shooting people because it appealed to the film director in me.  What you see above are some of my experiments in portraiture along with some of my first commercial work, which was shooting a fraternity calendar.

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Feeling My Way In The Dark

I grew up in Oak Lawn, Illinois which, in second half of the 70s and early 80s was a cultural desert.  If there was any culture to be had, I wasn’t aware of it.  My parents were good parents, but family, work, and making a home were their main pursuits.  My mother had a few LPs, Errol Garner, Johnny Cash, Herb Albert and the Tijuana Brass, and some Christmas records.  There couldn’t have been more than 20 total.  We had 1 TV which was shared between my parents and my 4 older brothers.  Suffice to say, my viewing options were limited and I was bottom of the totem pole when it came to selecting what to watch.  We didn’t go to the movies, let alone theater, concerts or art museums.

Once I reached junior high, things started to change for me.  I started to take music lessons. A friend’s parents took me with them to see Abel Gance’s silent film masterpiece Napoleon at the Chicago Theater with a live orchestra.  I saw my older brother perform in his high school’s version of Fiddler on the Roof.  Once I got a taste of the arts, I couldn’t get enough.    Eventually, I became the entertainment editor on my high school newspaper, and was regularly winning local music performance competitions.  I was an honors student and my parents expected me to go to college to become an engineer or scientist.  With no one to really understand or nurture my interest in the arts, and limited means to pursue it on my own, my aesthetic education was slow.

I think it’s kind of funny that I ended up as a photographer.  I don’t think anyone who knew me in my high school days would have ever predicted it.  I went off to the University of Illinois enrolled in Liberal Arts, secretly wanting to become a film director, but afraid to tell my parents lest they say, “You’re going to be a dentist, and that’s FINAL!”  I thought perhaps I could sort of ease them into it.  How was I to know that I should have found a way to attend the University of Southern California if I wanted to go into film?  I was a plumber’s son from Oak Lawn, Illinois for god’s sake and all the smart kids went to the U of I.

I took my first photography class pretty much by accident.  Once I was out of the house, I was exposed to all kinds of new and interesting people, and was encouraged by my teachers and the creative environment.  I did have a lot of catching up to do in terms of my aesthetic education. Here are a few samples from my earliest attempts at photography, mostly from Photo I and Photo II classes.  These images span approximately from 1983-1985.

As part of an ongoing project, I’m reviewing some of my photography work from my first photography class to the present.  Here is my first post.

About

My years of experience include shooting for a wide variety of clients both corporate and personal, including Cartier, WTTW, The Chicago Reader, Northwestern University, Hartmarx, Music of the Baroque, Red Moon Theater, Theo Ubique, Third Coast Marketing and many, many more.

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