I’m sometimes asked by prospective clients, “When do I really need the kind of corporate photography that a photographic agency can deliver?”
These days, with so much cheap and free photography flooding the Web, it’s easy to forget what quality corporate photography is all about. Assignment photography may not be a company’s lowest-cost option — but it often delivers the best value.
The Costs of Doing It Wrong
At Black Star, we do all we can to minimize the cost to our clients by maintaining a network of hand-picked professional photographers in locations around the world. That enables us to call on a photographer who is already in the area to reduce travel costs. It often enables us to be at the site on shorter notice, too.
Ultimately, though, the old maxim is true: you get what you pay for.
Our clients tend to call us when the alternatives are more expensive — not in terms of the initial outlay, but in terms of the costs of using a lower quality photographer and receiving substandard images as a result.
Images today can be seen by millions of people within a short time of their release and are scrutinized around the world. Inevitably, when a Fortune 500 company’s audience is global and its brand affects the lives of many consumers in many different places, even the smallest errors tend to be highlighted, emphasized—and publicized.
A CEO portrait that doesn’t show the executive exuding contentment can raise questions in industry publications and affect confidence in the company. An annual-report cover image that doesn’t inspire may fail to motivate investors. Advertising images that don’t capture the public’s imagination can lead to the failure of a product that took years of research and investment.
Photography is rarely the only thing that contributes to the image of a company and its growth, but it’s often a vital component of its success. Assignment photography may require a budget, and it may have costs. But for our clients, the costs of using the wrong images are generally far higher.
Types of Assignment Photography
So in which situations should you ask a photographic agency to assign a photographer to your project?
Our clients ask us to find photographers for a wide range of different needs, but there are four types of photography that we’re asked to shoot time and again: executive portrait photography , annual report photography , architectural photography  and advertising photography .
In each of these cases, there is generally no alternative to bringing in a photographer of some sort. Stock agencies will not be able to supply executive portraits, and while some agencies may have industry-specific images available in their inventories, companies tend to prefer shots that show their employees at work on their sites producing the products and services that carry their name.
Choosing the Best
Once a company has established the need to hire a photographer, the question then becomes, “Where do I find the best photographer for this assignment?”
Photography is a popular profession, and there’s no shortage of professionals who own the right equipment and understand the basics of composition, lighting and post-production. But those kind of skills should only be the starting point in the selection process.
At Black Star, we understand that shooting an executive portrait, for example, requires talents that go beyond the ability to spot the opportunity at a location and set up the shot so that the background adds context to the image.
Experience has shown us that for this kind of assignment, photographers must have a combination of technical skills and organizational ability, as well as the diplomacy to work with an industry leader whose time is short and who is accustomed to being in control rather than standing in front of a lens.
That combination of skills is rare, which is why we put so much care and effort into reviewing our photographers before we offer to represent them.
One of the reasons companies turn to a photographic agency like Black Star is that they want to feel that they’ve hired the best person for the job. They can explain what needs to be done, leave the photographer to get on with the project and feel confident that by the time the deadline rolls around, they’ll have a selection of exactly the sort of images that they need.
Relevant, Wide-Ranging Experience
The best assignment photographers bring a range of different experiences to each job. While all of the photographers to whom we assign a shoot will have a background in that particular specialty, they will also have experience in a number of other specialties, too.
Many, for example, come from the world of media photography. Their images have appeared in some of the world’s leading publications, including The New York Times, Newsweek and Spiegel. Whenever they accept an assignment, they bring those experiences with them — they’re able to spot an opportunity quickly, capture the scene and return the final images on a tight deadline.
Other photographers may be well-known artists with a number of books and exhibitions to their name. They may bring a level of creativity and originality that less accomplished photographers lack.
Still other photographers may specialize in environmental photography or portraiture, bringing a special look to their images and putting their subjects in context.
When you hire a photographic agency, you expect them to assign a photographer who can bring something special to a shoot, exceeding your expectations and giving you choices you might not have otherwise considered.
The Agency’s Role
At Black Star, we bring together companies and designers with the photographers who produce their corporate photographs. But we do a lot more than that.
We put each of our photographers through a rigorous selection procedure, one that takes into account more than their ability to create outstanding images, but which also tests the extent to which we can rely on them to get the job done and on time, even in the toughest of circumstances.
We also work closely with the client to make sure that everyone understands exactly what should happen on the shoot. Assignment photography relies on initiative and creativity, but when the images are delivered there should be no surprises.
Whether the client plans to be on site directing the shoot or waiting in the office for the finished photographs, the plans should be clear and the results expected.
When we’re sending a photographer to an oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico to create pictures for an annual report or booking an appointment with the time-strapped head of a multinational to shoot a portrait, these things matter. And instead of hoping that your photograph does what you want it to, you can rest assured that your photographer will produce exactly the right set of images for you.