Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Maximizing Your Photo Budget, Part 1: Selecting Your Photographer

The old adage is true: in higher ed marketing, a picture is worth a thousand words. There are few things that can impact your design and brand messaging more than the photography you use, and without a good selection of photography, your ability to communicate is severely limited.

But in an age of shrinking budgets, how can you get the most bang for your photography buck? By being resourceful and planning well, there are many things university communicators can do to maximize their dollars in this important area.
  • Consider your style. When I started working for my law school eight years ago, a corporate photographer was hired annually to do a two-day shoot with staged, perfectly lit shots. He and his assistant would spend an hour lighting a small area, then we would fill in a few students and a professor to interact. The result? About 15-20 of the most beautiful, phony marketing images that made our prospective student focus groups cringe.
    Ever since that discovery, we have used a more journalistic style of photography to show a truer, more authentic view of our campus life. But the rewards of this change extend far beyond messaging and impact; we also get a much higher yield of shots. Instead of getting 8-10 different images in a day, we can get dozens (if not hundreds), so the cost per shot is drastically reduced.

  • Finding the photographer (assuming you don't have a professional on staff). Professional photographer rates can vary widely, ranging from less than $100 an hour to $4,800 for a day. The key is to know what you're looking for and do your homework. Local newspaper editors can refer freelance photographers in your area, or you can also check with marketing peers at other institutions or agencies. The CASE College/University Editors Photographers List is also a good resource for photographer recommendations from around the United States. Once you have a few names, be sure to look at their portfolios and check references with their other clients. Rates do not necessarily correlate with ability, and you don't want to waste time, effort and budget on work that doesn't fit your needs. Ask the photographer about your project, including their expectations for setup needs, whether they use an assistant, their approach to photo editing, and other issues.
    Also, don't automatically dismiss photographers who are outside your area. Some who specialize in higher education may coordinate shoots with several universities in a geographic area for reduced rates, and others may charge an affordable rate with limited travel costs. If you can offer on-campus accommodations and cafeteria vouchers, you may even be able to negotiate on the travel fees.
Check back next week for part two of this series: Avoiding the Curse of the Cover Photo.


  1. Sounds like your photo shoot was a success. When will be able to see some of the images in action.

    One point you may want to also consider when doing a photo shoot is who "owns" the photos. Many photographers still keep ownership of the photos and continuously ask for permission of use and an extra charge even after the initial use. More photographers nowadays are going toward the method of giving over all rights of the images to the client university. Just be sure you decide what you want before searching for a photographer, then go out and find one that fits the bill.

    Very much to your point of finding your style, check out this slideshare on branded photography too http://bit.ly/c1pudA.

  2. Good point. LOVE the Slideshare presentation!

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