Speaking Up for Bespoke Photography

December 15, 2015  •  Leave a Comment

Or, Why Pay For a Custom Photo Shoot?

You might consider the following nothing but self-serving blather from a professional photographer, but having also spent years as a graphic designer for aerospace companies big and small, I do honestly attest that quality, custom photography pays for itself over and over.


I'll start by clarifying the topic of "paying" for a custom photo shoot. With every smart phone a camera, complete with apps for manipulating the images, photography has been democratized like never before. But consistent, useful, quality photography is not built into a phone, or even into a high-end camera. Those tools function to capture what the person pressing the shutter release is seeing, in the way they see it. Those useful, quality images are much more a function of the user, the photographer, having the technical and aesthetic skills, plus the knowledge of both marketing and the industry (in this case aerospace), to not just luck into a good image, but to make them consistently and in manner and format to support the goals and processes of their client. This article addresses the need for such a person to be behind the camera. If that person is you, then "paying" might mean merely accounting for your own time, and more power to you. What you're about to read will just be a confirmation of what you already know and practice. Others might benefit from reading with an open mind, for it costs nothing to learn.


You (the marketer) demand marketing materials that are noticed, understood, and acted on. That's a big part of your job and you're damn well going to get it done. In addition to those requirements, those materials must, simultaneously, support your brand and fit within your budget. These are big challenges. Yet for some reason, photography — the most consistently effective tool for grabbing attention — consistently ranks low on the list of critical ingredients to effective marketing materials. It's baffling.

I say "ranks low" because companies, especially small to medium ones, seldom budget for it. The reason cited, almost to the exclusion of any other, is cost. Photography is seen as expensive. When you consider that a few hours of a photographer's time might cost a thousand bucks, and a day can clock in at two to five, "expensive" might feel like the apt descriptor.

In my article, "Art versus Commerce," I offer advice on how to make sure you reap the best value from a photo shoot. Especially with a less-experienced photographer, you'll probably need to supply more guidance and supervision toward getting quality images that serve your needs but, in all cases with proper planning and communications, the result should be not just a single good image, but a treasure trove of great ones.

And that trove will serve you for years. When you need an image, it will be there.

I spent an afternoon with the operations people supporting the firefighting DC-10 christened Vicki and the US Forest Service personnel involved in tasking those operations. I captured not just the aircraft, as pretty as it is, but also the activities, and the personalities, of the people. Inside, outside, up close, and far away — plenty to choose from means plenty of value.

When your press release needs graphic support, you have more than a single image to hand to everyone. You could send multiple compositions to each publication or, at your discretion, different images can accompany each release, segregated by publication. Editors will thank you for that, since they won't be running the same image as everyone else — or, be tempted to run no image, rather than duplicate what everyone else will be showing.

Time for a brochure? You and your support staff or outside agency won't have to hunt for old transparencies (that's reaching back a bit, isn't it?), shuffle through a motley collection of burned DVDs, or in whatever fashion pull out "that one image, the good one." Even if that one good image is close at hand, it's just one and you, and your audience, are getting tired of the same old, same old.

Product card? Not a problem. Facebook post? Tweet? Banner ad? All are produced more efficiently and effectively with a solid library of quality images.

Better yet, when we look beyond the first requirement of garnering attention, to establishing and supporting your brand, custom photography gives you something you can't get by scouring the web for free photography: images of your aicraft, your facility, your people — your brand. 

Don't forget, too, that sourcing from the web can lead to duplication, as in: your trade show booth has the same giant image as your competitor, because they also chose to source a free/cheap image from the web.

In "How Much is a Photo Worth?" the bottom line of value for a cover position on an aviation trade magazine runs from $5,250 to $27,700. In other words, budget for a day of photography and the cost is totally "paid for" if one of those quality images yields one cover position; paid for up to five times over!

All in all, custom photography is actually a good value, not an expensive luxury. You'll have exactly what you want — the products, the setting, the details — lots to choose from, and no duplication in the marketplace. I suggested, above, that this piece might be considered self serving and, of course, in one sense it is, but it's not exclusively so, because a photographer's interest and yours are actually aligned — great images bring great value for everyone.

(Note: the issue of quality has subjective components about it, but there are objective ones, too. In a future post, I'll cover those objective measures that are misunderstood, overlooked, or discounted — to the peril of the user of those images.)


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Photography is a massive field. Aerospace photography less so. In these writings I share stories and tips.
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