Behind the scenes - Sue Vaughton - Architectural and Interior Photographer

I’m looking for a photographer near me!

I’m out all day tomorrow on a photo shoot”.

Photographers are artists

You may ask why this personal diatribe from the husband of a professional photographer is entitled “photographer near me”. If you read a little further, you will discover why. First, let me illustrate the upsides and downsides of being a photographer widow and how the general public and many businesses so misunderstand the world of these photo professionals. Also, why on this Sunday afternoon? I’m home alone again?

Photographers are by their very nature artistic, which endows them with innumerable characteristics that are often difficult for all in their household to understand or rationalize. Patience, or better still persistence, is one of these!

Even a family photograph at a dinner or a picnic can be akin to choreographing professional ballroom dancers, ensuring all party members are positioned correctly. Making sure no one has a chimney protruding from their forehead, the light and shadows are just right, and the facial expressions are natural but coached are all part of the “snap challenge”. We are all familiar with the comment “Is that it now?” from partners and their children as the exercise is repeated with different exposures, lenses, angles and poses. 

The takeaway is that good photography takes time, skill and patience (by all).

If only it were possible to capture a moment in time, every time, without spending hours preparing for it. This is a photographer’s dilemma and invokes the equivalent of a camera gun-slinging affair for that moment in time when something interesting is spotted. Time and all movement must cease whilst the photograph is taken and stored alongside the other 100,000 photos on the latest petabyte chip.

The example below is of a lightning strike over Lake Como in Italy. Was this a spur-of-the-moment affair and luck, a little shoot-out at the Italian Corral? No, this was captured after many hours (after midnight) of sitting at the open apartment window and on the balcony as the rain hammered down and the thunderclaps shook the roof tiles, waiting for that moment in time when God invoked his (or her) wrath on the mountains of Lombardy. Not to mention getting the exposure settings and direction just right, as we all know, lighting seldom strikes where you are looking.

Again, the takeaway from this is that photography takes patience, skill, persistence, and tolerant partners who appreciate sleep!

lightning bolt over bellagio on lake como

Photographers are constantly developing their skills

Sue, the owner of this website and the photographer in question is by trade and by education a photographer. This was a double whammy for me, Sue as a trained medical photographer and me at the beginning of my short pseudo-improvised photography career; it ensured that as her husband, my non-existent artistic talents were to be developed, under hurried instruction for sharp-end birth photography!! These are my first and last photo shoots with an SLR 30+ years ago. Don’t ask!

Good photography skills are varied and complex. Ignoring the challenges of the actual subject, alive or inanimate, the mere understanding of how to use a camera and all its associated equipment and processing software is challenging, to say the least. The technical aspects of the industry surge forward daily and need constant professional development. Add in research on competition, developing the style, and reprocessing old photos for fun, and it’s not just quiet Sundays.

Photographers need equipment and lots of it!

Good photography is not easy to realize, so this post needs more context on its complexity.  Many people and potential clients believe it’s a simple matter of point, snap, download, and send. As you will see later, this is a challenging question for any photographer when confronted with a non-artistic, photo-uneducated public member.

Many, myself included, would have thought that in the 21st century, technology would have improved to the point where it would be possible to voice-activate a decent shot: “Camera-Alex. Please take a perfect photo of my dog”.

This may provide decent photos that would be “Instagrammable” and keep all family members happy on “WhatsApp” but would no doubt be insufficient for cutting-edge and commercially viable, stylised photographs.

A sales avalanche of photography equipment and software has transpired across the industry to process and edit the photos (please bring back the film!). Every photographer has their approach, standards and style. I’ve considered investing in Sony recently, but we have enough equipment to be a significant shareholder anyway.

Digital cameras and storage chips ensure that one photograph can be accompanied by 100 in rapid order, and this amplifies the time needed to select, refine and edit, which, of course, requires sophisticated and expensive software, too. This new subject involves cloud-based tools, never-ending subscriptions, higher-performance hardware, regular updates and security programs. Not to mention an array of connectivity tools to the ever-growing camera and accessory collection.

Photographic equipment is sexy in design and would be favoured by magpies if left in the open too long. But as manufacturers don’t often share design formats (we all know why, of course), this often means single-brand adoption by the photographer, and like Apple, they become trapped in an ever more complex and expensive ecosystem.

Despite this, photographers often like to have a smaller collection of  “backups” from a different brand, as that particular lens or camera may have one specific use, maybe once or twice a year, but it is very important!

It’s no different to DIY addicts or fishing enthusiasts but in a commercial world. It is essential to surround oneself with the latest gear as it helps reach photographic nirvana, a discourse about self-perfection, aka Jonathan Living Seagull (for those who remember the 70s).

photographic gear and staging props ready to be packed into the car

It’s a shame that photographic equipment doesn’t hold its value and depreciates faster than a sinking stone, probably why photographers never have enough storage space at home. The cupboards and shelves where old cameras go to die.

Sue has invested (term used poorly here :)) in a substantial array of equipment to deliver exceptional photographs. The shot below shows some of this equipment being used at a shoot in a holiday rental (taken with an iPhone). Carrying this from shoots and loading the car is not for the faint-hearted. Organizing the invasion across the beaches of Normandy has little compared to the planning needed to go on an architectural, home or wedding photoshoot. 

On that note, the British Army has a  brilliant acronym suitable for photographers: PPPPP (Perfect Planning Prevents Poor Performance). There is never a more accurate statement. Pre-shoot preparations are substantial: the equipment list needs managing, cleaning and checking off, and the day itself requires planning regarding distance, traffic, weather, client requirements, use of the photographs, and processing schedules. 

Making sure all batteries are charged, disconnected from every socket in the house, packed and ensuring the drone has the latest software are all critical, the latter for fear of the drone migrating to warmer climes under its control. And ensure your partner is at home to look after the elderly dogs!

The takeaway is that great photography requires good equipment, which tends to be expensive, and a photoshoot can take a considerable amount of pre-preparation. I suggest partners take up a hobby, such as mammoth jigsaws or hiking the Pacific Crest Trail; you won’t be missed for a few months.

A photographer’s work is misunderstood!

This is the real issue and the most significant challenge a photographer encounters. It is especially true for those whose goal is not just a great quality photograph that delivers the brief, keeps the client happy, and receives plaudits from other photographers!

The challenges are not just the photographic act (there must be a law about that) but the subject. Consider animals, children, weddings, events, complex architecture or rooms with poor lighting, shadows, lines and design and furnishings.

I can happily confirm that most people who wish to engage the services of a photographer have little or no idea of what they are asking. Brilliant photos seldom materialise from a single point and click, if ever. 

Some online marketplaces even compound this effect with equal ignorance in their attempt to drive commissions from matching potential clients with photographers. Bark and Bidvine are two notorious examples. If you have a camera, you can call yourself a photographer, but just because I own a golf club doesn’t mean I can play golf.

The partners invariably encounter the fallout when the following types of encounters happen, and they are not infrequent. A typical enquiry for photographic work can follow along the lines of:

C: “I need a photographer to take photos of my 3-bedroom cottage for Airbnb; how much do you charge?”

S: Where exactly is the cottage, when is it available to be photographed, and do you want external and evening/dusk shots too?

C: It’s in X and we need them by next Saturday and yes, we want external and dusk shots.

S: Your cottage is an hour away but I can fit you in on Thursday, although on very short notice. I can reschedule some work to process the photos on Friday so you can have them that evening. The price for all this is £xx and will be a full day’s work and I’ll need to stay until dusk (9pmish). You must ensure that all beds are made, the cottage is cleaned, and the dining table is entirely made up. I can bring a lot of staging equipment, but it’s helpful to ensure you have wine, fruit, bread and cheese available, too. Alternatively, I can supply it but it will add to the fee. Staging a property for photography is super crucial in rentals.

C: We love your photos and work on other places we have seen, but can you do this in half a day and reduce the rate? I’m not sure we will have time to sort the beds or do the dining table ourselves.

This is the point at which you know the customer has absolutely no idea of what this entails, the investment in equipment, the skills, the time it takes to photograph a property with detail, staging, lighting, angles, time of day, let alone travelling and processing and scheduling a shoot. 

It’s a real problem that lands in every photographer’s partner’s breakfast, dinner and social conversations and …… never gets better. They say sharing a problem halves a problem; it doesn’t.

The takeaway is that many potential customers think a photographer pitches up with a camera and spends 20 minutes on snaps and leaves. Estate agency style.

Great photography pays for itself

I live in a world of vacation rentals as a software supplier, and my photographer wife has also owned a sizeable holiday rental business. Photography makes a massive difference to bookings and interest in booking. Guests want an experience, to dream of their trip and use of space, and to understand where they will be staying. You are selling a dream.

Sue took all our rental business photos and works with other businesses as a holiday rental photographer and on interior design projects (another pending blog!). The disturbing fact in cases like these is that the cottage in question probably costs £500K and will, with good marketing, realize £50K gross bookings with good photo representation and active marketing. The shoot would more than pay for itself in one winter booking. Without it, the cottage could drop thousands in income. Online marketing sites such as Airbnb or VRBO have AI tech to find and rank great photographs, and those that get more attention also rank higher. Why? These properties make more booking commissions. More exposure (sorry for the pun) means more guests and higher rates.

Photographer near me?

So why is this piece titled “Photographer Near Me”? This is one of the search terms frequently used on Google and results in these types of enquiries, and as with all businesses, photographers need to do marketing as well.

My contribution to my incredibly hard-working partner, a devout perfectionist, is now to help her get more enquiries, and then we can educate the world one person at a time.

By writing this Sunday piece while Sue processes a grateful customer’s photos, I hope the content will interest anyone considering engaging a photographer. It is often a very thankless task, and despite my grumpiness, I’m super impressed with both the work, dedication to the task and capacity to rise above the challenges daily.

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