ILLUSTRATION: MARK FISHER
We just built a stunning new exhibit, and we plan to hire a professional photographer to shoot it at an upcoming show. What are some key questions to ask when vetting photographers for this type of work?
Kudos to you for not only choosing to photograph your investment but also hiring a professional. High-quality exhibit photos offer myriad deliverables, including everything from documenting your booth for internal stakeholders to providing gorgeous imagery for your marketing materials. Plus, a professional will ensure that you have the right file size, lighting, angles, etc. to put your picture-perfect booth in the best possible light. After all, there's nothing more frustrating than to tear down your booth for the last time only to realize that all you have to show for it are some fuzzy smartphone images.
However, it's important to note that professional photography isn't cheap. Pricing ranges from $115 to $195 per hour, and photographers usually require a two- to four-hour minimum. And as is the case with most professionals, the more experienced the photographer, the more he or she will charge per hour. A higher price often equates to better photographic skills, scheduling flexibility, experience with various show-management teams, etc. Plus, you'll likely incur additional costs for DVDs, posting to an FTP site, or delivery via thumb drive.
So to help you locate the right professional, start by asking prospects the following three questions.
➤ What percentage of your business involves trade shows, and how long have you been working in this industry?
Exhibitions are a unique environment filled with confusing procedures, regulations, restrictions, etc. If your photographer spends only a small fraction of his or her time shooting at shows and/or has only been at it for a year or two, it's unlikely that he or she has a deep understanding of how to work within this specific situation – and around unforeseen issues.
As a follow-up to the main question, also inquire as to how many times the photographer has worked in the particular venue at which your show is being held. Again, someone with venue experience is a wise choice compared to someone that's never set foot in the place.
Be sure to verify the photographer's answers by viewing his or her website and contacting exhibition-industry references. The website should show a range of exhibit photos, preferably of various-sized exhibits in multiple industries and venues. A handful of exhibit shots amid a gallery of architectural imagery, for example, likely means that exhibitry isn't a prime focus for this professional. Similarly, references should have plenty of good things to say about the photographer's ability to work with venue limitations, lighting challenges, scheduling, deadlines, etc.
➤ How and when will I receive my images, what format with they be in, and what is included in the price?
There aren't any standard right or wrong answers to these queries; however, you need to ensure that the photographer's deliverables meet your needs. Consider whether his or her schedule jibes with your internal calendar and if the delivery format and medium will meet your current and future design needs. Also make sure the price doesn't have more hidden add-ons than a cellular contract.
Another key component of this answer is whether (and when) the photographer will post your photos to his or her website, offer them for viewing or downloading, and provide potential photo-sharing options for attendees. These options may be completely irrelevant to your needs, but it's important to arm yourself with knowledge just in case these requirements become important in the future.
➤ What can we expect during the shoot?
Ask the photographer to walk you through the entire shoot from his or her arrival to departure. Generally speaking, you want a photographer that will arrive 15 to 30 minutes before the shoot is scheduled in order to assess the lighting, arrange any ladders or special equipment, and create a shot plan for the work.
In addition, you'll likely want a photographer with a bit of flexibility built into his or her schedule. If you have a Plan B situation on site, he or she should be able to maneuver the shoot to accommodate any minor scheduling changes.
As the photographer explains the on-site experience, also listen to determine if he or she will bring backup equipment, ladders, lighting and light-directing devices, etc. An exhibitor shouldn't have to provide any equipment to the photographer, and a true exhibition-industry professional will understand that the aforementioned gear is typically a necessity to obtain varied, high-quality shots in this challenging environment.
Armed with the answers to these questions, you're well on your way to selecting a photographer that will suit your needs. However, just as important as the questions you ask the photographer are the questions (or lack thereof) that he or she asks you. An experienced professional should query you regarding your goals and objectives for the images as well as their intended use.
Queries should also touch on the style or emotions you want to convey. For example, is your brand highly technical and based on cold, hard research, or are you selling a lifestyle brand for which comfort and nurturing are critical characteristics? These examples require two different styles of lighting and framing to achieve the emotion required, and if a photographer fails to ask key questions, he or she could miss on the ultimate "feel" of the images you desire.
Securing a photographer might not be as critical a step as planning exhibit traffic builders or scheduling transportation. However, you're wise to follow the aforementioned information if you want to ensure that you're selecting the right photographer for your needs and squeezing every ounce of effectiveness from your exhibit-photography budget.
— Bob Christie, president/owner, Christie's Photographic Solutions Inc., Orlando, FL