Finding the Right Photographer

- - Getting Hired

There are only 4 things to consider when looking to hire a photographer.

1. Genre
2. Style
3. Location
4. Price

Ok, there’s actually a fifth that’s like a recommendation or an impression we have of you and informs us what it will be like to work with you but I’m leaving that out of this discussion.

When making an assignment several of these variables may be locked down. If the budget is low then the weight of the decision goes to price and certainly location because that can be a big factor in the cost of a shoot. The genre can be wide or narrow depending on how much you want to leave open to chance and interpretation. Color, shoots men or conversely photo journalist specializing in domestic abuse, portraitist who works with older women. And, you either assign stories that match Genre’s or do the opposite to create something interesting (assigning fashion stories to photojournalists and sending fashion photographers to war zones… ok that last one’s probably not a great idea). The style further breaks down the genre into subgroups of similar looking photographs and derivatives and maybe even a few that don’t really fit anywhere.

For most photographers the Genre and Location are locked down and the price is a function of how busy/new you are. That leaves style as the most important factor in how we find and hire you.

Are you leading, following, pioneering or just pain unsure where you stand?

There Are 31 Comments On This Article.

  1. the cinemascapist

    1. Genre – conceptual, lifestyle, esoteric
    2. Style –
    pros: identifiably mine. cannot confuse with others. different.
    cons: people only love it or hate it. not North American friendly (dark). cannot shoot vertical.
    3. Location – @ Northeast-ish
    4. Price – Negotiable

  2. I think I have distinct style being: a graphic design inspired, semi-conceptual festival of color.

    Most people who hire me say one of the reasons is that they love my use of color.

    I feel my design background has helped me to “create” images rather than just “take” them. And I’m not referring to doing things in post, I mean the sets I build, the way I shoot.

  3. Rudy Archuleta

    “Style is the most important factor… Are you leading, following, pioneering, or unsure?”

    Yes no doubt style is the most important factor. For me the answer at times could be any of the above labels. The nature of the business can lead an individual into a vacuum when it comes to judging ones photos. Most of my peers are extremely educated as to what is going on visually in a genre. I admire some styles and loathe others. We are individuals leading, following, pioneering, and some times unsure of our own path that we are carving out. In my opinion we need to be honest, smart, and perseverent with regards to our individual work and let someone else hang a label on it.

  4. Is location really that big of a factor when clients hire you? I am considering a move from the ridiculously expensive San Francisco to the more reasonable Portland, but still being ‘based’ out of San Francisco. Will this hurt a career, or help because I am now based out of two locations and makes me more ‘versatile’ and willing to travel?

  5. Yeah, I think when it comes down to landing the job the personality and other things become a factor but you initially find someone base on style.

    Tighter budgets will make location more important then it is now but if you can compete with NYC and LA photographers it doesn’t matter where you live.

  6. Rob,

    I am assuming that it’s because style is the only thing that cannot (and should not) be “bent”, right? All the others can be. As in, you can always cross genres, fly people out, or pay them less/have them work for free.

    In practice however, I wonder how often photographers “bend” their style? Considering all the other factors like, subject, art direction, budget, etc.

    For some reason I get the sense that sometimes, some people may try to tamper with a photographer’s style, simply because the photographer meets the other requirements so well. For example, if one finds a really good photographer in the right location, charging the right amount, and shooting in the correct genre, that someone *might* try to get him/her to shoot in a style they may not normally shoot in. (different lighting, different film, different location conditions, etc.)

    I’ve heard of this happening, which sounds a little like the opposite of choosing someone based on their style. Does it all depend on the photo editor’s working method?

  7. @ 9 Red: Yeah, that certainly happens and more so when you can’t find what you want in a particular location.

    All the conversations where someone is looking to hire a photographer always start with them describing the style they want. Sometimes also in a specific location and sometimes budgetary constraints are added as well but it always starts with the style.

  8. I think it’s hard to find unique, fresh, points of view or styles these days. Annie Leibovitz is shooting like Janusz Kaminski, Terry Richardson and every other trendy is shooting like Jurgen Teller always has, Cobra Snake is biting Mario Testino’s style, Ari Macropoulos is riding Nan Goldin dick, the list and comparisons can go on forever… The established photographers are drawing from the established cinematographers and so on.

    Now more than ever photographers have become what Helmut Newton always called himself, a hired gun.

  9. Very interesting concept. For someone like me, starting out, I find myself thinking about my own style, trying to label or define it.
    I think style however, is always dependant on comparison. My style, on a most basic level, could be described as relatively dark… but only in comparison to what’s out there. Relativity is the key word here…

    Having said that, any labelled style would be a niche… something specialized, not mainstream… and mainstream usually ends up getting the job… otherwise there would be no mainstream. Am I wrong?

  10. sinuhe – that is the first intro to a site i have ever sat through happily. I was wondering what kind of photographer would have such an intro, then saw the rest of it and realised I was not looking at a photographer.

    My worry with what you said is that you used the “gun for hire” thing as if to say this is a bad thing. X shots like Y. Y shoots like Z etc. Helmut shot like…… Helmut. He was for hire, but only ever with his own gun.

    In the context you meant I think it is bad. But to take a quote from Helmut Newton and apply that to the mediocrity that I *think* you are talking about is a slur on Helmut.

    Maybe I got you all wrong. But With Newton I would like to think that if someone had approached him and said “we want you to shoot a campaign in the style of Bill Brandt” he would have said “Fuck you – call Bill Brandt”

    Your ad agency is a gun for hire. It looks like a pretty good gun from the site you have.

    Helmut was a gun for hire, but he was is own gun, and what a gun he was….

    Robert P

  11. I do think you have misunderstood me… A bit. Don’t get me wrong I have great respect for everyone I mentioned.

    I think Helmut joked about being a gun for hire in the same way Warhol joked about everyone being famous for 15 minutes. Those were different times and I feel like they have both become true… Helmut was an original, he was a first, as was Andy.

    Trailblazers are few and far between these days in both stills and live action. 20-30 years ago new styles were emerging from season to season and by new I don’t mean recycled, they were fresh ideas.

  12. scott Rex Ely

    I don’t remember if it was Dude or J. Colberg that recommended this book or not, but as far as helping to discern and distill the “spectrum of motivations and expressions” as she puts it, Charlotte Cotton’s book, “The Photograph As Contemporary Art” has been beyond helpful.

  13. I wonder how many trailblazers we could dig up and then how long would it take for people to find their influences and debunk their trailbalzerness. Worth trying in a post or call for submissions.

  14. I wonder if the 80/20 rule is alive and well when it comes to success and style? (i.e., out of 100% of those who are successful, 20% are a hit as a result of a unique, identifiable, and appreciated style while the rest, 80%, are successful because they are either A) really good general practitioners or B) clever at mimicking other shooter’s styles or C) both.)

  15. Hello Rob,

    An off topic here.

    I just saw the photo of the brazilian top model Isabeli Fontana, in an article about hookers, bondage and drug orgies in the british newspaper “News of the World” (link below):

    What is the problem with this newspaper that shows the image of a famous top model as if she were a prostitute ?

    Here is Isabeli’s profile on Askmen :

  16. Are we talking about a publication photographer?

    Would you not even consider the question of what is the story we are trying to tell? What about who are the subjects of the story?Who has the expertise to tell that story or bond with the subject?

    If you were the PE of a business publication would you send the same photographer to shoot a story about a home foreclosure in Silicon Valley as you would a feature about Google?

    Are there feature photographers and hard news photographers? I think that it is time to think about the ability to communicate the visual end of the story rather than the willingness to use the trendy ringlight, desaturated color look.

  17. Mikko Reinikainen

    What about 6. professionalism? Or is it a given that any of these criteria only apply to established professionals?

    I mean if the photog is a great guy, has a suitable portfolio with unique style and is located in the right spot geographically and budget wise, but flips burgers during the day, shoots with their dad’s old camera, and returns emails unless it’s a nice weather at the beach. Or sometimes turns up at a photo shoot a little tipsy. Or doesn’t turn up.

  18. Bet you haven’t thought of this one:

    5. Speed of answering an email enquiry.

    No, I kid you not. Last week I walked in the studio and saw an email from a magazine photo-editor I’d never worked for before, asking me if I was interested in a portrait shoot that needed to be done *very quickly* – and could I get back to them asap.

    I replied asking more about the job, budget, usage etc – the usual stuff exactly 48 minutes after I had received the email. Meanwhile I’m wondering if the shoot is tomorrow or the weekend and I’m mentally rearranging the diary to fit this urgent job in.

    Four hours later there was no reply from the PE so thinking I’d landed in someone’s spam-trap I replied again.

    Got a message back saying “Yes I got your mail but another photographer replied before your email”…..

    So that was that. No thought to email the schmucks whose day the PE had just put in a spin. I may have worked this job for free…(only kidding) but the PE will never know because they based their hiring decision on which of the (lord knows how many) photographer’s they emailed were sitting glued to their monitor at the time and could hit reply fastest.


    I hope the guy or girl that got the job was as good at photography as they were at typing fast.. ;)

  19. I believe that style is imperative, and then the others are interchangeable, depending on the circumstance. However, it depends on what the personality of the snapper is. But that’s just me….

  20. Mike Lindquist

    Just discovered this blog via a link from Looks very interesting, but the homepage seems to have an overprint problem this morning, with what I think should be links to postings in the left hand column actually being grayed out and overprinted on the main posting.

  21. Personally I know that I’m not following. Leading: maybe. Pioneering: gee I’m not that egotistic to think of myself like that. What I do is push myself as an artist and try to be inspired by my subjects and my experiences. I get bored easily with my own work so that keeps me from establishing a static look. Isn’t that what we are supposed to do as photographers? Or should we just find the magic button that makes us money and push it till it breaks? I certainly hope it’s the former and not the latter.

  22. And let’s not forget management and their overriding “…good enough…” factor when dishing out assignments and hiring photogs. I’m always impressed by clients when I find out that “good enough” isn’t, and quality is worth it.

  23. (assigning fashion stories to photojournalists and sending fashion photographers to war zones… ok that last one’s probably not a great idea).

    Somewhere in the recesses of my brain I recall a story of a fashion or portrait photographer sent to Iraq by Kathy Ryan for a genre-busting shoot. He thought is ended up being a bad idea — setting up lights in some no-go neighborhood calling unwanted attention to the subject. Anyone recall this?

  24. LondonLee

    Unless you’re lucky enough to be working for Conde Nast or one of the other rich monsters of publishing then location is quite important.

    I’m the AD of a science/tech magazine (who doesn’t have a photo editor) and I commission a lot of photographers but don’t have the budget to fly someone from NY to LA for a shoot. Hell, sometimes I don’t like to send people from LA to SF. When you factor in assistants, hotel stays etc. it gets expensive. Luckily there’s usually plenty of talent that fits the bill in the cities I want but sometimes you have to get something shot in a smaller city or town where there’s no one good or fits the bill for miles around.

    Having the right style for the job is still the most important consideration but then I have to look at where the photog is based and that can be a deal breaker. And I really wish some agent’s websites would actually say where their photogs actually ARE.