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Painting a thousand words

Friday 31 March 2017

Image of a camera and roll of film

Images form a key part of how you communicate with potential customers and clients

A picture paints a thousand words, or so the saying goes. Whether you hold with this idea or not you’ll likely know from your own experience that ‘showing’ is often just as powerful as ‘telling’, if not more so.

Whether you sell products or services the chances are that images form a key part of the way you communicate with potential customers and clients. But how can imagery help you develop your brand, and how can you achieve images that present you, your product, or your service, well? I went to meet photographer Kevin Greenfield to find out.

Kevin has a glass-fronted studio in a converted coach house at The Haining in Selkirk in the Scottish Borders. After a quick tour of the facilities we settle down to discuss how commissioning a professional photographer might help you to achieve your marketing goals.

‘We live in an image-led world, which is becoming more and more visual’, says Kevin. ‘Good photographs catch people’s attention and get them to stop. They can make an average product look special – and that’s powerful. But they can also help to create the overall feel of the brand – and people will buy into that. It’s something that the market as a whole recognises. Look at cars – they spend a lot on imagery because they know it works’.

But having good photography can do more than this. ‘It helps give customers confidence in your brand. It changes the perception of your business, creating an image of a company which is reliable and trustworthy.’

Images which not only catch the attention of your target audience, but show your product clearly and encourage customers to trust you, are something that is undoubtedly a valuable part of any marketing mix. But how do you achieve this?

Everyone has a camera these days, as well as access to thousands of images online which they could simply purchase. Kevin is pragmatic: yes, custom photography is more expensive than stock images can be. And many people are able to to do a bit themselves. ‘You have to ask yourself whether a professional’s photos are going to be better than those you could take yourself. And whether you’re willing to spend the money.’ But he adds: ‘Photography is an investment in yourself and your business that lasts for quite a while. Good photography shows you care. It’s the public face of your business.’

If you’re marketing something unique then there is little alternative to using your own photographs. But even if you don’t, custom photography provides you with images that are unique to you and your business, which is key for any brand. Kevin recounts a tale of every businesses worst nightmare – a direct competitor using exactly the same stock images. ‘It damages your reputation’, he concludes.

So what exactly are the benefits of using a professional photographer? Well, the years of training, knowledge, and experience in both photography and image processing to start with. But also access to specialist equipment that most people wouldn’t have lying around. Kevin explains a technique he has developed to cut out even the most intricate of objects, creating what is known as a white-box shot. It’s the sort of image which anyone marketing a product will need, alongside the more stylish lifestyle shots of their product in use.

The high-quality that you would expect from a professional photographer is clearly something which Kevin regards as a ‘hygiene factor’, but that’s not always the case. ‘You get what you pay for’ he says, describing one client’s fruitless experience of using a cheaper photographer. But there are other things that you might not have considered. Skills such as storytelling, identifying or anticipating key moments when photographing moving objects or people, or working with a model to achieve the right effects, all add value.

Add to this the undoubted benefit of having someone else coordinate all the elements you need and deal with any problems that might arise, and it’s easy to see why it’s worth a little extra expense. ‘For one shoot the client specifically wanted the sun to shine through the branches of the trees. When the day came the sun wasn’t shining, so I had to use my lights to be the sun!’, recounts Kevin.

Like most photographers, Kevin’s clients are varied. He works directly with clients, but is also commissioned by designers on behalf of their clients. ‘It’s generally the designer that identifies that their client needs new photography. Having a designer and photographer collaborating on the photography for a project can be very successful’, says Kevin. Images can be discussed in advance to identify the precise shots that are required, while the photographer provides a valuable additional creative input. There can be an advantage in giving a photographer a little flexibility too. Kevin recalls that on one occasion he provided some additional shots showing details of a piece of work. They weren’t in the original brief, but ended up being used more than the pictures the client had requested.

Whether you have a designer involved in your project or not, you will need to establish some sort of brief for your photography project before your photographer can begin work. The brief will help the photographer to understand what it that you are trying to achieve, but it will also help them to price your project accurately, so it’s worth being clear and comprehensive.

Kevin’s checklist for a brief includes:

  • Subject  what you would like photographed, and anything you specifically wish to include or exclude
  • Context  how large the images will be used, and whether they will be feature images or not. This will impact upon the equipment that Kevin uses, but also how much time he factors in to capture each shot
  • Location  where the shoot will take place, so any travel and accommodation costs can be factored in
  • Deliverables  how many images you would like, but also how much post production work you need on the images, eg adding metadata, sharpening, cut outs, assembling multiple images etc
  • Speed  the timescale for delivery of an initial proof, and for the finished fully-processed shots
  • Use  how the image will be used, and who can use it, ie licensing

The apparent complexity of licensing is something which can put people off. But Kevin is reassuring. ‘Think of it like music’, he says. ‘When you buy a CD you’re buying the right to play the music, not the music itself’.

In technical terms the photographer is the copyright holder – they own the images. This means they are within their rights to use the photographs in whatever way they choose. Photographers often use images to demonstrate their skills and promote their services, but they are also within their rights to sell the images elsewhere as well.

You are licensed by the photographer to use the images in a predefined situation, which you should agree with the photographer before they start work. This may include the use of credit where it is possible and appropriate. Problems generally arise when a third party wishes to use the images – particularly if they intend to use them in a way that might generate income for them.

Kevin’s approach is relaxed, pragmatic and ‘often flexible’. ‘If images are just a record of products then I’m fairly relaxed about how the client uses them’. But he advises keeping in touch with your photographer to avoid any problems. ‘Additional use may cost nothing, or just a token amount, but it’s always worth making sure!‘

So how do photographers settle on a price for a job? In my own experience I have found that like much else in life, it varies! Kevin is no exception. ‘It depends on the type of job’, he says. ‘You have to consider both the creative complexity of the job, and the practicalities such as licensing requirements. Essentially you are paying for the photographer’s experience, reliability, insurance, marketing, cameras, practice, training, and consumables. ’

Experience is valuable, and as Kevin points out, ‘everyone becomes more specialised as they gain in experience’. So, does this mean that you’ll need to find someone who specialises in precisely the right sort of photography? ‘Generally, commercial photographers fall into categories – studio and location. Studio photography might cover food photography, or become very specialised – photographing jewellery, for example. But photographers use principles, skill sets and basic equipment much of which is transferable between different types of photography.’

So how should you find the right photographer for your project? Kevin advises finding someone whose work you like, and who is skilled at what they do. ‘You could have two chairs made of the same materials, using the same tools, but they could look totally different – that difference is craftsmanship, and it’s what makes people choose particular photographers.’

On a more practical note, you should consider whether they can they do the job. Are they equipped and able? Do they have the right studio/equipment? And importantly do you get on with them? Do they have a positive attitude? A photographic shoot can be a demanding experience so you need someone you can get on with. Someone who is solutions-oriented, reliable and professional in their attitude towards you and the people they will meet. They’ll be representing you and your business, after all!’

Kevin Greenfield is a commercial photographer covering both studio and location based projects for businesses, craftmakers and the Third Sector. He covers editorial, brochure, event and product shoots, for clients across the UK. His enthusiasm for lighting has filled modern studio full of wonderful and unusual specialist light shaping tools. Having graduated from the Documentary Photography course at Newport, he has worked as a lighting cameraman and ran an outdoor centre, before returning to his first love of photography. His own documentary work explores our interaction with the land and the outdoors.

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