Hiring A Photographer

by William Lulow

Back in the day, art directors often looked for creative talent by asking for recommendations from their friends and colleagues. They also had a list of artists they knew about. In addition, they maintained a list of people whose work they admired from mailings and other published projects.  These days, most art directors have to see artwork (be it photographs, paintings or illustrations) that are similar to the kind of job they have to do in order to ascertain whether or not a creative person can execute it properly. 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, but it does happen  It may be easy for art directors to recognize talent, but the problem is whether or not the talent can deliver the artwork on deadline and as promised. Sometimes, having the talent is not enough. You have to know how to use it!

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. The best way for a photographer to display this “record” is obviously, to have a portfolio of images.

In our field, 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 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” as well as some understanding of basic psychology is important to producing successful shoots.

Art directors should know that the creatives they are thinking about hiring have proven track records of successful jobs. They need to be able to research websites and find out about the artist’s personality and abilities. They should look at testimonials and get reactions from other art directors who have worked with the artist. A good professional website goes a long way towards convincing today’s art buyers of an artist’s capabilities.

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. 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 the art director was quite nervous until the project was finished.

If you’re an individual trying to decide on a photographer to use to update an old head shot or portrait, you might want to find someone who not only has done hundreds of them, but also has the ability to bring out the best in people – someone who knows the nuances of lighting, posing, backgrounds, etc. You can tell this by carefully looking at the samples on a website or portfolio.

These days, with the advent of the internet, many decisions about hiring talent are made without actually meeting the artist. Basically, I think this is a mistake. But, it is often the only way for an art buyer to assign a job – especially from great distances.  Although, I have had very good success with clients who have booked me over the internet. If you can’t meet with the photographer, at least talk to them to get a sense of their personality. I have had people hire me just by looking at my web page from many parts of the country.

These days, many professional photographers can take good pictures. The question really becomes just how “professional” is the one you are choosing?

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 on a consistent basis. Art directors need to be reassured that the talent they choose has executed the same or similar types of assignments before. 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.”