We are fully living in the digital era, where our photos live in different digital mediums – Facebook, Instagram, photo sharing sites, and of course our phones and tablets. Not only is taking and sharing photos a pervasive, natural part of our lives, but more professional SLR cameras have also soared in popularity given the potential jump in quality they offer over our phone cameras. So what’s the problem, you ask? We’ve come to rely too much on the technology / equipment to “make good photos.” That is to say, we’ve come to relate quality photos with quality equipment, taking the human out of the equation as a significant factor in the equation. So instead of “talented human + pro equipment = great photos,” we’re dealing with “person who likes to take pictures + professional-looking equipment = roll the dice on end-result.” There are plenty of situations when a “friend” is completely appropriate – but just consider the followng advice for those situations where scheduling a reshoot/redo would be inconvenient at best (think: family reunion), and impossible at worst (think: wedding). The following are my top reasons to consider hiring a true professional artist over a friend. This is not meant to scare you into hiring a pro; it’s simply what I’ve observed directly over the past decade – take from it what you will!
Posing / Direction
One of the most challenging parts of being a photographer is juggling camera and lighting settings/ratios in our heads, constantly observing our surroundings for compelling compositions and lighting, carrying around heavy equipment – all while naturally working with our subjects, directing their poses and surprising them with delightful ways to tease out their true personalities for the camera. Mastering all these elements in tandem takes years of experience working with all types of people in an variety in often challenging environments. It’s hard enough to work with a static subject with all the variables involved, but setting a human subject at ease, with all your apparent focus on them and your interaction – that’s not a skill the casual hobbyist photographer is likely to possess.
Stuff breaks. Cameras stop working for no apparent reason, lenses fall to the ground, lights fall over in wind – if it can happen, it’s bound to happen. If your photographer friend doesn’t have another camera body / lens / lighting equipment, etc. etc. on-hand, the shoot is over. Hopefully it’s something you can reschedule – and even if it is, it’s still an inconvenience for everyone. Unless your friend is a professional, the chances are good she doesn’t have a backup solution if something goes wonky.
This is important if you’re having a photo shoot at a private venue – many hotels, for example, require photographers to have at least 1 million dollars in liability insurance. Does your friend have this?
Most friends-with-cameras actually have 9-5 day-jobs, and won’t have the flexibility to shoot during the week. Almost everything I shoot (except weddings) happens during normal business hours. That means your LinkedIn headshot, your restaurant interiors, your real estate listing – all happens while your friend would be working a day job. So, unless you want to shoot when you’re usually spending time with family, you’ll want to hire a professional with a flexible schedule that can adapt to your own.
If your friend flakes on you, or doesn’t do the bang-up job he promised, there’s really no downside for him (except the affect this would have on your relationship). A professional has a reputation to uphold, and will bend over backwards to accommodate your every need. In the age of Yelp, there’s plenty of motivation to do a kick-ass job for every client, as bad online reviews can stop a business in its tracks. Plus, this is our job as pros – to show up on time (or early) and make the whole process from beginning to end as delightful as possible. It’s in our best interest!
Back to my opening paragraph and the equation of what makes a great photo – it’s not the equipment! In fact, unless your friend truly knows how to work with that fancy new SLR and properly edit the photos afterwards, that expensive camera is perfectly capable of delivering crappy results – and you may be better served by a point-and-shoot – seriously! If your friend doesn’t know her hardware & software like the back of her hand, she’s likely to be fiddling with settings between shots, constantly checking the back of the camera and – guess what – not giving you the attention and direction you need to look your best. And she’s more likely to spend tons of time trying to “fix” the bad photos on the computer instead of giving them the extra polish and retouching a pro would spend that time doing. The more intimate the photographer’s knowledge is of their equipment, the less brainpower is needed for that aspect of the shoot – and therefore more attention is available for the subject – you. If you care about the lighting, composition, editing/retouching and overall experience, then you need to hire a professional. If quality is not a priority, and you want to give your friend that experience, then by all means help her out!
Beginning t0 End Experience
As I mentioned above, the experience with your photographer will either leave you with a bad taste in your mouth, or eager to share the awesomeness with friends and family. The experience begins with the first point of contact – how quickly the photographer responds and in what manner – and ends with the delivery of the final, beautiful product. How the photographer works with you on the actual shoot is also hugely important and contributes to the quality of the photos (do you look natural, at ease – or tense, unsure?). I consider it my duty to ensure the whole experience is a positive one for you, because I know happy clients means positive referrals and future business. Your friend doesn’t have to worry about his reputation, his paycheck isn’t connected to your experience with him. When both parties have low-risk (minimal investment on your part, no real penalty for him if he screws up / doesn’t do a good job), artfully-crafted products rarely result. At best, he walks away – glad he doesn’t do this for a living, and you walk away – glad you didn’t spend a ton of money for meh results. Sounds fun, right? 🙂
“Price? But my friend will shoot for 1/4 your price!” Yes, but in the end you’ll likely be paying twice (not so nice…). Unless you’re completely satisfied with your experience with your photographer friend, you’ll likely have to re-do the whole shoot, paying the “normal” price plus the original friend’s price. Not only are you spending more time re-doing everything, but the experience has turned you off to photography altogether. I have plenty of clients that came to me after already shooting with a friend or pseudo-professional, wishing they’d just gone with me from the get-go, saving them time and money.
Keep your friend…a friend
Now, there are some situations where you’d rather have your friend enjoy herself – let’s say it’s a wedding. Your friend likes to take photos, and is thinking of getting into wedding photography. That’s great! We all have to start somewhere. Ask your friend to take photos, but primarily be a guest; you’ll still hire a professional because the photos are super-important to you, and your friend can enjoy themselves + get some cool shots along the way. For anything you’re considering hiring your friend to do, ask yourself what would happen to your relationship if something bad happened. What if the results weren’t so great and you wanted your fifty bucks back; would that tarnish your friendship? Is it worth it?
In summary, there will always be those times when hiring a friend with a camera is a low-risk/safe option – maybe it’s a portrait, maybe it’s your child’s birthday party. But if your needs call for professional portraits; if you’re planning a big family get-together with out-of-town relatives; if you’re planning a wedding – these are many situations that hiring a friend = a daring roll of the dice, and I have to ask you, are you feeling lucky?