D.I.Y Photography & When to Hire a Pro

Let’s liken photography to my second favourite subject – food. Let’s consider two bowls of pasta, in a steaming Italian sauce. One you cooked yourself, it’s tasty, convenient and cheap. The other one is being served in your favourite restaurant, it’s beautifully done, rather delicious and you’re enjoying this plate of food very much, even though it’s five times the price it cost you to make at home, right? But are you going to open a restaurant tomorrow, because you own a hob, some dried pasta and aren’t feeling too flush this month? You getting where I am going with this? 

Yet, time and time again I hear people doing the photography for their business themselves……..yet they’re not professionals and, as a result, I see poor quality images plastered across websites and marketing material. Now hear me out, this is not a rant, I promise! This is actually a post with advice on how you use photography wisely and not have to spend a fortune. So, in metaphorical terms, you can cook your own pasta and eat out once in a while.

Let me get this straight – I am not offended if you want to shoot your own photography, but I am bothered if you want me to shoot your photography super cheap. If I did I wouldn’t be able to operate a viable business. I wouldn’t be able to have all of my high-quality equipment, be legitimately insured and pay for my editing software. I wouldn’t be able to keep up training on new techniques and follow trends and spend time carefully editing then backing up the images I shoot for you. I wouldn’t have survived in business all this time and be able to offer you my expertise. 

Photo by Susannah Fields
But I do understand that photography is an investment, sometimes even a luxury.  Of course, if you’ve a healthy marketing budget then spend it, hire a pro for everything and have the best images of any company in your market. But if, like most organisations, you have budget constraints, then compromise and hire a pro for some things and use the time wisely to produce quality images you can use throughout the coming months. Simply speaking it’s a matter of your available budget and the real requirement for your photography and whether it’s worth an investment. 

Photo by Susannah Fields

Planning is everything. If you’re a hotel you could hire a professional every couple of months to shoot new rooms, food shots, new staff and promotions on a day’s shoot and produce enough high quality images to use throughout the coming month and to keep on your image library for the future. If you’re in a busy restaurant, you probably can’t afford to hire a photographer to capture the atmosphere or dishes on a daily basis so you could take fun shots yourself on your phone or digital camera and publish those across your social media, but hire a professional on a quarterly basis to capture the key dishes of the season, get some fresh shots of the restaurant (does the décor change for spring, for example, or Xmas time?), new chef shots and some artistic shots of fresh supplies. These high quality images will really help for serious promotion such as press releases, features in magazines, booking websites and of course to update your own blogs, website and newsletters.

Social media is the key time when you can put out non-professional shots and do it yourself as it’s seen as a ‘lighter’ look at the company and can be more relaxed. This is fine if you’re a hospitality business, especially since you’ll find most of your customers will take their own shots, so yours will just mix in with theirs.  The same if you win an award or have a staff incentive day; fun snaps taken internally are great for internal newsletters, e-shots and social media and spending hundreds of pounds on a pro for this is not necessary.

Snap Shot
Snap Shot

Then there is the charity side of things – sometimes a non-profit can’t justify the costs of hiring a pro to shoot a new opening or signing, which requires just a quick shot. At times like these, you’ll usually find a budding photographer in the organisation willing to volunteer their time, or an up-and-coming photographer looking to build their portfolio – and there’s nothing wrong with this. Everyone has to start somewhere and non-profits have to be conservative with their spending. I myself volunteered at the beginning of my career at charities shooting a bunch of fundraising events and shot many a friend’s wedding for free to build my folio and gain experience. 

But do hire a pro when you need quality images to launch a campaign, when dealing with very high-profile celebrities or staff headshots and anything where you want the media to print your story – they want quality images. Just ask for a charity discount – I offer one, it’s not huge but it hopefully helps keep your spending in check.

Remember, whatever you want photography for, here are some key points to help you decide when it’s important to hire a pro, and why: 

  • If you want your images to get picked up by press and media, investing in photography will ensure you have quality images to illustrate your story, which the magazines, paper and online websites are more likely to publish. Risk poor photography and risk the chance of not getting your story or brand out there.
  • Portraits require the skill of someone who can flatter their subject, light any environment well and has the personality (gift of the gab, surely not me?) to draw out a great shot of anyone. Never consider professional portraits to be something you can D.I.Y.
  • Awards Ceremonies. So you’ve spent £1,000s putting on this event and you’re not sure if spending a few hundred pounds on photography is worth it? You go to all the trouble of hosting awards, having the people who win get super excited but no professional photo to remember it all?
  • Hotels, Restaurants, Bars, Venues – the list goes on…..All of these places need customers. Customers these days all go online and check the places out. Therefore investing in a professional shoot to take smashing photos will bring money back through your door time and time again. Shoot a dark, wonky photo yourself and put that on bookings.com, for example, next to another restaurant’s fancy professional shot and whose tables will be fully booked that night?
  • Catalogues, brochure, websites, marketing material. These images must be the bees knees. Nothing else needs to be said.

When it’s a luxury, but one worth doing if you can afford it, but it’s not essential, and why:

  • PR launches and events. Sometimes just having snaps of events like these can suffice. Especially if shots are just going on social media and lots of people are taking their own photos. Because a lot of pictures are going out on social media rather than being used in the long-term, you can get away with less quality and people will just appreciate having images to mark the day. So stretch to a pro if you can, then you’ll get top quality photos to show it off afterwards and you can leave the photographer to worry about being in the right place at the right time to get the key shots. Going back to my earlier point above, it also means that if you want images to be featured in press afterwards, they are more likely to be picked up my media if they’re good quality images.
  • Party pictures. If you have a staff party, most people will bring their own cameras and take a fun snap of themselves that they, alone, can keep. Hire a pro and you get someone focusing entirely on the job of shooting everyone, and can present everyone with a set of great photos to giggle at the week after the event, which is great for company moral. Not essential but a great option.

Photo by Susannah Fields

And when to D.I.Y: 

  • If you’re a very small charity – better to have non-professional photos than no photos, of course – especially when covering events.
  • If you’re a chef and want to post daily dishes of things you’re cooking you can take great snaps on your phone and post straight away to Instagram and engage with your audience. You are there right then, so who could do a better job in that scenario than you.
  • If you’re a venue/hotel/bar/restaurant then update fresh happenings with your phone on social media and internally, these can be fun and very instant and no one minds a bit of wonkiness or excess shadow in these kind of ‘chatty’ shots.
  • Internal events and general happenings. If you’re sending a report after an important meeting or announcement, then illustrating it with pictures will help break up the text and make it more digestible.
  • The point at which everyone, at an event, is a little drunk! Yep that’s when a good professional knows to leave. Shoot away and keep those pics to yourselves!

These are just a few scenarios to helpfully give you an idea of when to hire a professional and when to do the photography yourself. In all scenarios you always have to judge what justifies investment and time and input, which is not always readily available. If you think the photography will help sell your business or product, win your more customers, increase company moral or win you publishing space, then do make that investment!

Please note that I can also offer training for when you do want to DIY your social media or charity photography. Just get in touch to discuss this.

Thanks for reading and feel free to post your comments.

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