What part of the photographic process are you operating at a world class level? This article is about owning what you’re great at and outsourcing the remainder of the process to specialists.
Think about all the different disciplines that go into creating images. Before you even pick up a camera, some level of pre-production is required: location scouting, securing permits, sourcing models, and so on. During a shoot, you have to manage your equipment, direct people, think about the composition, style, and lighting of the images, and sometimes even catering. Finally, there is the post-production phase: the initial edit, the optimization of the raw files, the retouch, printing, and delivery.
Taking the photo is only a small part of the process.
Looking at all of these roles and referring back to my original question, what part of that process are you operating at a world-class level? For all the rest of the process, do you try do it yourself or do you outsource to others who are world class in those disciplines? It’s unlikely that you excel at every part of the process.
Trying to do something yourself just because you’re capable of doing it is like buying a professional lens and then slapping on a cheap filter. Your final images will not be as good as they can be.
I’ve been a photographer for 12 years. For most of that time, I’ve tried to do it all myself. I’m happy that I have experience in the entire process, as I’ve learned what I’m good at and what I enjoy (usually the same thing). However, for the past couple of years, I’ve been outsourcing large parts of the process.
How I’ve Benefited From Specialists
Key for me has been outsourcing retouching. In the past, I had dabbled with this by responding to the cheap offers I received through LinkedIn, and I was never happy with the results. I preferred my own retouching. This changed when I found a retoucher whose work I admired. I developed a working relationship with her to the point that she understood exactly what I wanted and matched her work to complement my style.
Her retouching work is significantly better than mine, so much so that I feel it’s my duty to my clients to forward the retouch to her. It also frees me up and allows me to schedule more shoots. I’m currently on a three-week travel shoot. The day before I left, I wrapped up an architectural shoot. I got home from the shoot, made my selection in about an hour, and uploaded the images to Dropbox. My role in the process was over, and I can focus on my current shoot while work continues on the architectural shoot.
I’ve also had the privilege of working with professional producers. Some of my shoots have been month-long travel shoots, requiring coordination/permits at multiple different locations each day. Working with a producer makes it possible for me to just arrive and start shooting. I’ve had similar shoots with no producer, and the experience is a nightmare. Trying to think creatively while shooting and also juggling the administration of a shoot is next to impossible.
Strategy for Starting Sooner
One reason I delayed hiring a specialist for many years was the thought that I could not afford to outsource, or similarly, I could only justify outsourcing once I was too busy to do it all myself.
I hired my retoucher for the first time when I decided to spend an entire year traveling with my family. Just before the trip started, I went through thousands of raw files to create an edit of 300 images. I then contacted the retoucher and explained that she had a year to retouch these images while I traveled. The ideal would be small batches of maybe five images per week. This meant that while I was traveling, I had a steady stream of images that I could use for promotion purposes.
It was a small investment financially, but it meant that I developed a relationship with the retoucher. We worked on processes for image delivery, a style guide, and an understanding of time expectations.
Once I arrived back home and started taking on commercial jobs, everything was in place to use the retoucher for the shoots. I simply added her fee as a line item to my estimates and have worked with her ever since.
What I’ve learnt from the process is to start off outsourcing slowly with a minimal initial investment. Develop the working relationship on jobs that are not critical — something like portfolio images from the past year. Once you have a working system in place, add their figure to your job estimates.
Since my initial experience using a professional retoucher, I’ve used every opportunity to outsource parts of the photographic process that are not my strong points. Not only has this improved my final images, it has also meant I’ve spent more time working on the parts that I love. I’m convinced that world-class photography is not possible as a solo effort. World-class photography requires a team of experts.