12 Tips For Picking A Good Photographer

Jan 21, 2011 by Bryan Saunders

Klyment Tan is a much sought after photographer in the fields of fashion and architecture. He is the CEO of the photography studio Klyment Inc and the owner of PrintHuge, a large format printing company. In today's blog, I sit down with Klyment and ask him, "What makes a good photographer?"

Keep on reading to see his thought provoking reply.

First off, why’s photography so important in the first place? Why should a business care about having good photography?

Well, there are definitely aspects of certain types of products that aren’t best represented in words. For items that are purchased as a part of an emotional response, photography is very important.

Personally, when I see a good photograph, I associate well with the object that has been photographed or with the company that has done that shoot.

Model: Kayla Laturnus (free agent) Makeup: Adrianne Thompson Styling and Hair: Nikolas Syhatheb Art direction: Paige Weir for Odvod for Avenue magazine's 2010 spring fashion feature Assistants: Adam Goudreau, Craig Hobbs, Corey Thompson (no relation to MUA) Technical: Huy Sam's D3x and my 135/2 DC Nikkor, Norman and Bowens lighting)

You do a lot of fashion photography, I know, but are there any other industries outside of fashion where you see that emotional response being very important in actually selling the product?

Yes. Interestingly—even though computer generated architectural models might exist for a lot of buildings—there is still a very strong market for architectural photography.

One of the other instances is annual report type photography or any people-oriented photo shoots that might indirectly associate with the company’s product offering. Anytime an art directory thinks, “Yes, we need faces in this,” you should be calling a photographer.

Interior construction photo of the new Art Gallery of Alberta Art direction: Paige Weir for exclusive sneak peek feature Technical: Linhof Technikardan 45s w/ 135/5.6 Caltar-II S on Provia 100F, existing light, processed by ABC Photocolour Vancouver, scanned with Aztec DPL Pro and a Howtek Scanmaster 4500 drum scanner.

What are some of the biggest mistakes that you see people making when hiring a photographer?

Hiring a photographer who is not well versed at the type of shoot that you’re trying to do is a huge mistake.

If, hypothetically, you have a bridal publication and you hire a wedding photographer to shoot what really is commercial fashion, I think that’s a huge mistake. Wedding photography is more spontaneous and more photojournalistic type work. The photographers who do that kind of work are very skilled, but they’re not necessarily experienced at shooting commercial fashion.

So, it’s like doctors who all have their own speciality. You don’t want a heart surgeon operating on your brain. Any other tips?

Yeah, if it’s fashion related, pick someone who is local because they’ll be able to suggest interesting shooting locations.

Either that, or if you can make a trip out to another photographer in their home base—that might make sense too. If, for instance, you’re a local company marketing a young fashion line, you now have access to locations that don’t look too familiar with your existing clientele, you have something a little more eye-catching, a little more different that can set you apart.

Model: Victoria Stinchcombe (free agent) Makeup & Hair: Nikolas Syhatheb Styling: John Chwyl as assisted by Pat McKinley for Kingsway Mall Art direction: Todd Sloane of TAG Advertising Calgary Assistant: Corey Thompson Technical: Nikon D3 w/ 135/2 DC Nikkor, shaded by large scrim.

What about cost or experience?

Cost isn’t everything and experience isn’t everything either. There are a lot of photographers who’ve been shooting for 10 or 15 years and their work isn’t that good. They’ve kind of plateaued in the realization of their potential.

A year or two ago, I was worried about that myself. I was thinking, “How come my work hasn’t moved as drastically as in the first five years that I was shooting?” Then, I got into film rangefinders and using 4X5 large format photography and my work took off again.

It’s stuff that’s completely different and it’s stuff that I’m sought out for now because I use what some people consider antiquated mediums. But it gave me access to equipment that isn’t available digitally or that isn’t available to most photographers.

From a client perspective and from the perspective of that client’s customers though, it must set apart your work.

Yes. And that leads to another point: choose someone who isn’t afraid to use the right tools. And allow your photographer to use the right tools. Try new stuff. Try old stuff.

When it comes to architectural photography, don’t settle for a guy shooting a small format camera. A guy using a tilt shift lens or perspective control lens won’t be able to achieve the same kind of image quality and perspective adjustability and the same kind of flexibility as someone shooting a full view camera, especially a 4x5 view camera.

Model: Julie Gillespie represented by Sabrina Notte/Deja Vu Models International, Red Deer Hair, makeup, styling: Nikolas Syhatheb Location scouting: Mike Isaak and Cody Tait Technical: Horseman LE #1 w/ Calumet Caltar-II S 210/5.6 (now owned by Justin Poulsen) on Fuji Pro-S 160, processed by ABC Photocolour Vancouver, scanned with a Microtek M1 and Lasersoft Silverfast AI Suite.

We were talking about cost earlier. What role does that play? I mean, are there ways of calculating return-on-investment?

It depends because photography is difficult to quantify. You can ask “What is one Coca-Cola ad at the Superbowl worth?” It’s really hard to tell. Everybody knows this brand already, so is it for brand awareness or for creating a certain type of product perception?

Sometimes, as an art director or business owner, you need to go with your gut. Speaking with a photographer, do you think this photographer understands your product and your needs? And are they asking a reasonable price for what they’re offering?

So that’s an abstract way of looking at it. What are the more concrete things a client can look at in terms of calculating value?

Let’s say you have one photographer who can shoot your whole catalogue in 2 days and another who might take a week but they cost a third less… well, the second photographer might seem cheaper, but who else’s time is involved? Because you don’t just have photographer costs: you’re paying your models and overtime for your other staff too. So you have to compare the two and see who comes out ahead.

You can also definitely compare costs in terms of turnaround time, productivity, and the photographer’s willingness to bring additional equipment to a shoot so that they can deliver on-the-spot.

If a photographer shoots digitally, shoots tethered, and shoots to a machine with a fully colour managed workflow with a good proofing display … they can deliver final work the same day.

I was working for West Edmonton Mall a while ago and we were shooting tethered. By that afternoon, the art department was already working on billboards that we had shot that same morning.

Sounds like your team was working on a tight deadline.

Sometimes, we only get 24 hours’ notice for a shoot.

Wow, I imagine not every photographer is able to handle that.

Right. Sometimes photographers won’t have the right assistants on hand, or they need to rent the gear, or they need a special piece of equipment that’s not available that day.

One of the things that I take a lot of pride in is that my studio has a lot of equipment [in-house]. We own a lot of equipment you can’t even rent anywhere else.

Actor: Robert Hall represented by Darryl Mork Makeup, hair, styling: Nikolas Syhatheb (with my personal wardrobe) Technical: Leica M7 w/ 90/2.8 Leica Elmarit, both in chrome, on Kodak TMax 400 Version 1 pushed to 1600 in Kodak HC-110 dilution B in studio. Scanned with a Nikon Coolscan 5000ED.

Any last words of wisdom on what to look for in a photographer?

Most of my work comes through referrals. I know art directors who’ve moved through several different agencies and they continue to book me or to tell their clients to book me, so that’s good.

A dedicated photographer, I think, does more than just take pictures.

In the case of Shoeguru—one of Threefifty’s clients—there was some stuff that was better off being shot by the owner because it was fairly mechanical and fairly repetitive.

As the photographer on that project, I told them, “It doesn’t make good business sense for me do this. But I can show you how to do it, and I can give you the equipment to do it yourself.”

And that’s what ended up happening for a lot of the catalogue-oriented stuff that they had. So, the return on investment for the client in that case was actually a savings in money.

That's amazing! Thanks so much for your time. I hope our readers learn a lot from this interview.

Anytime, thanks for having me.

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Bryan Saunders - Contributor

Bryan Saunders is a researcher, marketing consultant, and internationally published writer.

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