Let’s say you own a business that sells a product we’ll refer to as “widgets”. Not very original, I know, but I want to keep this as simple as possible. Now let’s say your widgets are manufactured by a factory based in Bangladesh. Naturally, you’d like to get your hands on the widgets at the lowest possible price and sell them to your customers at the highest possible price. Donald Trump said it best, “Buy low, sell high”. Business 101, right? So you negotiate back and forth with the manufacturer and you finally wear them down to the point where they agree to sell you their widgets at a record-breaking low price. Score! You pat yourself on the back and celebrate your business acumen and negotiating genius. Visions of a skyrocketing bank balance are dancing in your head. Life is good.
Here’s the problem. Although that kind of price beatdown strategy may be appropriate and smart when it comes to purchasing mass produced goods stamped out in large quantities by a factory in Bangladesh — it’s naive to think you should apply that same strategy when hiring a commercial photographer to produce strong and beautiful images to sell your widgets. Yet, so many business owners, art directors, or those responsible for hiring a commercial photographer don’t seem to understand the difference! They negotiate with the commercial photographer in the exact same penny-pinching way they negotiated with the manufacturer in Bangladesh. Big mistake. You see, there’s a huge difference between the production process of widgets vs. the creation of effective commercial photography that your business relies upon.
The widget machine can be programmed to spew out thousands of uniform and nearly identical products day after day. It can continue stamping them out for years on end, if necessary. The widget machine doesn’t know or care about the price of the product, so consistency in the product is mindlessly maintained by the machine. Your bargain hunting tactics have not insulted the widget machine in any way. The same cannot be said of the commercial photographer.
The professional commercial photographer utilizes a skill set that includes visual arts, aesthetics, psychology, and marketing insight. He must be attuned to the the current social climate (zeitgeist) to produce strong images that will have the appropriate impact — attracting buyers for your widgets. Each photograph is a functional work of art that is the product of the photographer’s many years of training, highly developed aesthetic sensibilities, and a very clear understanding of how and what the image will communicate to the viewer/customer. If someone were to ask him how long it took to take a particular photograph, he could honestly answer, “My whole life”.
When you hire a commercial photographer, you’re not hiring a machine, you’re hiring an artist and professional. We’re human. We are affected by our sense of just how much we’re being respected and valued by our clients. If you expect your commercial photographer to perform his best, you need to demonstrate that you respect his expertise and that you value the importance of his service. Chiseling away at his price for or making comments like, “Your price is too high. I’ll just get my stock boy to do the photography” just insults the photographer and it won’t encourage him to deliver his best work to you. Keep in mind, no one will buy widgets from your e-commerce website if the photos look amateurish and they don’t show your product looking it’s best. Pay your photographer what he’s really worth, maybe even throw in a bonus — my favorite clients typically do — and save the bargain hunting for more appropriate times.