Professional Photography is Expensive — and It’s Worth It: Part 1

Aldus PageMaker, circa 1986

Aldus PageMaker, circa 1986

Sometimes I show my age in my blog posts and this is one of those times. I’m old enough to remember when “desktop publishing” arrived. I was an Aldus PageMaker groupie. Everyone thought that this software would turn anyone into an expert graphic designer. Roger C. Parker, pioneer desktop publishing, design, and educator knew better.

“The quality of early desktop published documents was pretty low. The first-generation documents reflected by problems like the ‘ransom note school of design,’ which referred to using too many different typefaces and type sizes on each page," says Parker. "The problem was that the individuals and departments turning to PageMaker had no previous design or typesetting experience. Inadvertently, businesses were shooting themselves in the foot by delegating design and typesetting responsibilities to individuals who had never been exposed to the fundamentals of readable design. It was like surgery tools, like scalpels and anesthesia were being sold as do-it-yourself surgery kits!” 

Pros vs. Well….You

There’s a parallel to PageMaker story in photography. Today, anyone with a smartphone can take a photo or video. Selfies, the family dog, best buddies on the beach, kids in a classroom, etc. These are old school “snapshots.” (They just aren’t printed on photo paper with a white border anymore.)

You can make the argument that there is someone around who is “pretty good” with a camera and will do the work for free. It’s hard to argue with free. I get it. Maybe you or someone at school is "better than pretty good." Awesome. All the better. 

And there are times when you don't need fabulous shots that are going to win a photography contest. You just need shots. That's great, too. But I'm talking here about photography for marketing and communications. It's different. I'll explain in a minute.

Let's do an exercise. Think of how you might take a photo of these situations at school with your phone (pretty good), and then I’ll show you how a professional would do it (pretty awesome). 

Students Studying Outside
A Student Playing Drums
Football Practice

Pros vs. "Joes"

Sure, you and I could shoot these situations, but my images depicting the same subject would not look like these. This is the work of professionals who are in the InspirED Photographer Resource Guide.They reflect the photographer’s talent to frame, light, freeze, position and capture a moment in time. They reflect the quality of their equipment and their mastery of it. They each tell a story in a way that makes the viewer halt their eyes and become engrossed in the image.

This is photography for marketing and communications (MarCom). Not snapshots, not family portraits, not even event photography. Images for MarCom carry more weight in representing and extending the school’s brand, have more longevity, and present a greater potential for repurposing.

With photography for MarCom, every second counts in reaching through the clutter and noise bombarding your audience. When an image draws them in, they are more likely to read the copy. I always said to my clients (and to the dismay of my writers), “Not everyone will read every word. But almost everyone looks at all the photos.” Indeed, a picture says 1,000 words.

“Invest in the Best Photography Your Budget Will Allow.”

Jennifer Marchi is Director of Marketing at Ravenscroft School, the winner of the silver award in the viewbook category in the 2016 Brilliance Awards. In our By Example case study about it, Jennifer tells her fellow school marketers to pay attention to two things to ensure success. One is photography. Jennifer says,

Photography really, really matters. This might be obvious, but it is an area where we, as schools, tend to either do it ourselves or do it ‘on the cheap.’ Whether working on printed or digital pieces, the photography tells the story — you are your pictures. It is a worthy investment, so to the extent possible, invest in the best photography the budget will allow.

What You’re Paying For

Professional photography is both art and science. You’re paying for the use of the photographer’s equipment and technical skills in using that equipment as well as post-production (editing, color correction, etc.). You’re paying for their professionalism, advice, organizational skills, business practices, expertise, and work ethic. You’re also paying the least tangible, but most important element: his or her “eye” or aesthetic in crafting compelling visual stories about your specific school. Putting a price on these qualities is up to the photographer and is validated by their client list.

“We just had a new person at an old client who was reluctant to hire us, because, well, we’re expensive,” says PRG photographer Jason Jones. “Yet she took the leap and at the end of the two days of shooting the level of her praise was just nuts. That’s because we could walk into a room, know exactly what the kids were doing, and how to take advantage of the situation quickly and simply to achieve the greatest number of variations. She not only got better work than she’d seen in a couple of years, she got three or four times more work than she was used to.”

Read Part 2 Next...

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