How To Hire A Photographer

by William Lulow

Back in the day, art directors often looked for creative talent from personal recommendations as well as people they already knew about. These days, most art directors have to see artwork (be it photographs, paintings or illustrations) that is very similar to what kind of job they have. It’s highly unlikely that an art director will take a chance on talent that offers samples different from the ad or article they need to illustrate. It may be easy for art directors to recognize talent, but the problem is, can that talent deliver the artwork on deadline and as promised.

So, it may be better for an art director to know that a creative source he or she is considering has a track record of being able to produce the kind of artwork that is wanted rather than to take a chance on whether an “untested” talent can deliver.

In the field of photography, there have been many “horror stories” about photographers who have been talented, but notoriously difficult to work with. As an art director, would you be willing to sacrifice a smooth production in favor of dealing with a difficult personality? And, conversely, for a photographer, does it really make sense to be a “diva” and sacrifice a smooth production for the sake of your “art?”

With my many years of experience dealing with art directors and editors, I have found that knowing things like production schedules, shoot requirements and personalities has really helped me be able to produce successful projects. Being able to “go with the flow” is important to producing successful shoots.

In the field of wedding photography, I have often said that the personality of the photographer is just about as important as anything else when deciding who you want to spend your time with on your wedding day, given the fact that we all use modern, digital equipment. Suppose you were to hire an extremely talented photographer who was the biggest “boss” and difficult to deal with? How would your day go? Would it be comfortable and flow smoothly? I doubt it. The same goes for art directors. I’ve known some art directors who have used agency budgets to hire “big names.” Most of the time, it’s the art director’s visions that wind up taking a back seat to those of the talent. There are certainly times when it’s wonderful to work with a big name artist. I’m reminded of the time when an art director at Bloomingdales hired the well-known French photographer Guy Bourdin to shoot a catalog. The art director wondered when he’d see some images and Mr. Bourdin told him he’d have to wait until the job was finished! Reportedly, Mr. Bourdin received a great deal of money for his efforts, but I’m sure that AD was very nervous until the project was finished.

So, an art director should really look at a few photographers she thinks can handle the assignment and whose style reflects that ability. Then, she should call in those books and interview the artists to get a feel for their personalities to see whether or not they would be easy to work with.

I guess the moral of the story is that, for the most part, art directors need to work with talent they can trust to get the job done correctly and on deadline. People need to work with photographers they can rely on to give them the kinds of images they want. The talent needs to work hard to make the art director look good. Because, paraphrasing the immortal words of Vidal Sassoon, “If they look good, you look good.”