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A rough guide on how to commission a photographer

Although being a photographer is my passion and interest, I’ve also been involved in commissioning freelance photographers for architectural projects. However, in a recent negative experience I felt compelled to write a short guide on how to commission architectural photographers (although a lot of the principles I will cover can be applied elsewhere). My main mistake was that I hadn’t been clear enough about what was expected from the photographer and unfortunately I was naive to think that he would be honest enough about the time it took him to complete the shoot. To say the photographer took a mile when I gave him an inch would be an understatement. What really disappointed me was the response I got when I confronted him about this, especially as he had been caught out because I was bothered enough to check the metadata on the digital images he supplied. It goes to show that you can't always rely on peoples’ honesty, no matter how genuine they seem.

I usually find when working with commercial photographers, a good starting point is to get a quote. This gives the photographer an opportunity to provide details of what they charge, and why you should use them. In general, quotes can include the time involved for taking the images (most photographers charge by the half day or full day - be sure to check how many hours are involved), associated travel costs or any accommodation requirements, image processing costs (or any Photoshop work), as well as terms and conditions and fees for licensing photos, etc.

If you're agreeable with rates and terms and conditions, then the next step is to arrange some provisional dates for a shoot. Depending on the type of shoot, especially outdoors, you might need to consider weather forecasts and times for sunrise and sunset. If there is more than one party involved, (i.e. a client, such as the building owner) then you’ll need to consider dates that also fit in with their schedules.

To help the photographer gain a better understanding of the work they're being asked to do, it’s essential to write a brief, which should provide an outline of the main requirements. In general, a brief should cover the following aspects:

• Background information on the project and how the photos will be used – i.e. are they for PR or marketing purposes? Do they need to demonstrate a particular aspect of the building?
• Rough number of images required.
• Layouts of the building and details of any key shots – are there specific times of the day needed or do the images need to show any particular features? The photographer won’t always be able to distinguish what is important and what isn’t.
• Any special considerations especially in the case of sites or locations where the content of the image could be sensitive, such as in schools or hospitals. If the subject in a photograph is a living person who can be identified, then they’re covered by the Data Protection Act in the UK. In this situation you need a model release form to get consent to use these images. A model release form is essentially a liability waiver; if you don’t permission then the photos are effectively useless for anything other than private use.
• Contact details, in case the photographer is having any problems on the day of the shoot.

If possible, example images will help give the photographer a better understanding of style you want them to achieve, as well as what to expect before they arrive at the shoot.

Undoubtedly, some commissions will go better than others, but sometimes you have to give the photographer the benefit of the doubt if the images you get back don’t quite live up to expectations. Equally you shouldn’t feel obliged to pay for anything that you’re not happy with. It’s important to provide any feedback where possible as the photographer can only improve if they know what areas need to work on.

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