Do What You Do Best, Leave the Rest

June 05, 2013  •  Leave a Comment

I read an interesting post the other day on a Web site called "12Most," which brands itself as "savvy smartitude for busy professionals in easy-to-digest list posts that mean business."

Called  "The 12 Most Urgent Reasons to Hire a Professional Writer," it said everything I could ever say on the topic, so I’ll just summarize here:  When it comes to writing for your business, the "don't-try-this-at-home-kids" advice is very much sound.

I'm a writer by education, and have drawn paychecks for it. It’s not my primary gig these days, of course, but  I call upon my writing education and skills and experience every single day. I have no reservations about legitimately calling myself A Writer. And yet I’m still not as good as I'd like to be.

Professional writing takes practice and time – lots of time.  I’m sure some writers just start hacking away and come up with gold on their first passes, but most writers have to work at it. They put real effort into:

  • Figuring out their primary objectives
  • Organizing and outlining key points that support those objectives
  • Crafting sentences to  deliver the goods, using situation-appropriate styles and voices
  • Editing and cutting ruthlessly to stay on-point
  • Proofing for grammar and punctuation
  • Re-writing for coherence and unity
  • Reading anything and everything, until their eyes bleed

Do you have time for all of that? Probably not. And it will show, if you decide to bumble through it anyway. Most people can't put their finger on what makes a piece of writing great, but they sure can sniff out the bad stuff pretty quickly. And that bad stuff can really hurt your professional image.

Let a professional do it. No shame in that. It doesn't mean you don't understand your own market or customers.  It only means that writing is not your thing. Something else is. So do what you do best, and leave the rest to capable professionals.

All of this can be said about photography, too. Just as we can all read and write sentences, we can all buy cameras and push shutter buttons. But it doesn't mean we should. Yeah, the results might be passable. But is 'passable' what you want to show your clients and prospects? Are you really content with putting your name on something that's merely not terrible? With this in mind (you knew this was coming), here's my own list: 

6 Reasons To Let a Professional Handle Your Photography Needs

1. Getting the shots is much, much less a question of luck for pros. They know how to compose scenes and frame subjects, how near or far away to stand, what depth of field is appropriate, what shutter speed will freeze or blur motion, which lenses to use in the first place, and so on. People who make a living taking pictures need to be good at getting the shots right in the first place.  Even if they do get a second chance to make amends for a botched shoot (which they rarely do), they sure as heck don't want to dilute their income or ding their reputations with do-overs.

2. They understand light. And not just an understanding that "if it's sunny outside,  I don’t need flash." (hint: you might need fill flash).  They know how the warmth or coolness of a light source can impact a photo, how to bounce and bend light, how multiple light sources combine for different effects, and how to position subjects properly to take advantage of available light. If you're doing outside portraits at high noon and use the sun as a giant strobe, your model will probably not like how she looks. Squinty-eyed  face-scrunching with bright forehead reflections is not a good look for most people. That's why I hate my college graduation photo.

3. They have the right gear. Now, we've all heard the purists talk about how Ansel Adams worked with gear primitive by today's standards.  I could do an entire shoot with just one lens and an older camera, if I had to. But I don’t have to. We're talking about getting great images for paying customers, efficiently and effectively.  For best results, I need the ability to adapt to different scenes and situations. That's why it helps to have a variety of tools in my bag.  I might need to move uphill,  30 yards away, to get an angle just right. And that means mounting my 200mm lens with image stabilization, or breaking out the heavy-duty tripod with multiple leg adjustments. Do you have a remote shutter trigger, so that you can stage your subject without having to keep going back and forth to the camera? How about multiple flash units or some reflector umbrellas?  Well-lit backdrops? What about wide angle lenses? All of these tools help photographers get the job done without making sacrifices or taking shortcuts.

4. Pros know how to post-process, understanding that less often really means "less offensive to the eye." They have instincts for making great crops – but,  ironically, they don't have to crop much to begin with because they’re good at getting the shots right in-camera. That’s important, because cropping means throwing away pixels, which ultimately means a lower working resolution.

5. They use professional-grade software to tweak what the camera sees, not to outright replace it. They don't "spray and pray" in continuous shooting mode (unless it's a sports assignment), assuming they can just go fix everything in Photoshop later.  As fun as messing around in Photoshop is,  clean-up work can be incredibly time consuming and tedious. One time a few years back,  I spent more time rescuing a single image than I spent on the entire shoot.  Again, professional photographers - like any other professionals - want to deliver the best service for their customers in the least amount of time possible. Otherwise, if we did the math we'd realize we could make as much dough working at McDonald's. Probably more, when you factor in the cost of gear and software and gas.

5. They know what terms like resolution, DPI, and color space mean - and know how to apply that knowledge. They know that shooting in RAW format gives them the most flexibility for post-processing because RAW formats are true digital negatives (RAW images never, ever change or degrade; they’re permanent sources with instructions on how they should be output). Speaking of output, it's more important than most people realize.  Not all Jpegs are created equal. And some images will never see life as Jpegs in the first place. For example, your printing vendor is going to want 300 DPI  Tiff images for your full-page spread - NOT a collection of 1000-pixel wide Jpegs which can only print at a few inches.

6. After all the shooting is done, after all the adjustments are made, after clients get the goods and cut the checks, professionals know how to properly tag and store and archive everything for future needs.  They know how to let their software do the heavy lifting when it comes to searching and cataloging, using metadata and EXIF codes to help them quickly find things later. If you're a do-it-yourself type - working in the real estate market, how quickly could you find every single photo you took in 2012 that meets the criteria of being an outside shot, in the summer, in York PA? Oh, and pros are big believers in backups, storing copies in two or three different places.

Of course, every business and every situation is different. Sometimes, professional photography just isn't warranted. Maybe 'good enough' really is good enough. Maybe you're a dealer for a company that provides excellent product photography through its distributor portal or extranet. For example, one of my favorite clients is a Harley-Davidson dealership. You can bet that the HD mothership invests heavily in providing excellent image libraries for its dealerships.

But wait a second. This dealership ended up being one of my biggest photography clients last year. They didn't need me to take photos of the latest models; they've got free access to beautiful product photography, lit in a high-end studio and probably captured with $20k camera systems by staff photographers who specialize in motorcycles. But what they did need was pictures of their dealership and its various departments, photos of the people who work there, creative shots of inventory on their showroom floor, clothes and accessories in their store, and mechanics working on bikes.  Headquarters couldn't and wouldn't provide that. By combining the high-end photos from corporate with the custom work I did for them, we were able to produce a visually-striking and appealing Web site that puts a lot of miles between their Web site and their competitors' offerings. 

Clearly, the 'don’t’ try this at home' advice was advice they were really smart to take. The people at this dealership are well-versed in the latest models and features. They know how to repair or accessorize motorcycles. They understand what it takes to provide good customer service within a dealership model of business. But had they overextended themselves and tried to include photography (or professional writing) to their repertoire, the site would have suffered for it.  Instead, they now have great images that really help pay-off their position:  "We're a unique, distinct, and substantial dealership full of great people and products."


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