Wednesday, May 8, 2024

What Every Photographer Knows

Posted by Elena del Valle on September 27, 2010

and what you need to know before hiring your next one

By Art Montes De Oca
Owner, Montes De Oca Photography

Photographer Art Montes De Oca

Photo: Montes De Oca Photography

How do I know?

My first language is Spanish.  My second is photography. Over the decades my career has spanned, I’ve photographed many award winning ads, brochures, and annual reports. Along the way I’ve learned a thing or two, and I’d like to share with you some of the secrets that every good photographer knows. These insights should end up saving you time and money in your marketing and advertising budget.
What do I know?

From the camera of a good photographer, it a rich medium filled with nuance, symbolism, and abstract concepts that can deliver a variety of meaningful messages. A good photographer uses the subject matter to convey a larger message to the viewer and to the marketplace.

Photography is not a universal language. The same picture can mean different things to different people. For instance, shooting for the Hispanic consumer marketplace means more than styling a photo with primary rather than tertiary colors. If your photographer doesn’t understand this, you have the wrong photographer.  You need someone who didn’t learn Spanish in high school. Your photographer needs to know the difference between pan dulce and a donut.

While a photo is a two dimensional representation of a three-dimensional object – be it a person, a place or a thing, – it is often the first contact someone makes with your business.  As such, it is their initial impression, and your valuable opportunity to make a best first impression.  Getting the right photo for this first impression starts with getting the right photographer.

What should you know?

Not all photographers are alike, but most of the good ones know the following, and so should you. Despite what your parents and teachers may have voiced about perfect posture, it is not always the best thing for a photograph.  People often photograph as being more real and friendly when they allow themselves a less rigid stance. Body language does speak volumes.

Men tend to photograph best first thing in the morning.  A freshly shaved face makes a world of difference in how well groomed a man appears on camera.

Women usually appear slimmer in solid rather than patterned clothing. If a pattern is really desired, women should avoid heavily horizontal patterns for the unwanted width they visually add. Women should have their make up with them for last minute touch ups. The photographer should supply a small mirror to check for details like lipstick on teeth.

Portraits taken of both women and men will usually benefit from a touch of facial powder across the forehead, chin and nose. This is because we all tend to shine up with facial oils as the day goes on. If men do not choose to use powder, they should at least blot their faces with a few paper towels prior to facing the camera.

Group portraits require more than political correctness.  We all know that people come in different shapes and sizes.  But this difference is nowhere more apparent than in a photograph. Your photographer must be willing to juggle the group moving people around to minimize disparities and to find a balanced attractive grouping.

In photography, lighting is everything.  Similar to the three golden rules of real estate being, location, location, location, all three of the golden rules of photography are lighting.  Most people realize that the age a person appears in a photo is to a large extent a matter of lighting. But how many people understand that how friendly or approachable someone appears, versus how distant and stern one seems can also be a factor of mere lighting?  Your photographer should.

Even the most utilitarian place like a dim factory can be visually transformed into an interesting space in a professionally lit photo.  So imagine how much more visually attractive will a pleasant space like your store or office be made to appear in a well-lit photo.

Today’s pace requires all of us to make snap judgments all the waking hours of our day.  To the dismay of advertisers, we even hold the remote while watching TV so as to instantly remove anything we consider unworthy of our time or attention.

This same highly judgmental audience is exactly who you are trying to address with your own sales message.  Whether your business is product or service oriented, you first need to capture their fleeting attention.  This is where a photo delivers the goods.  We’ve all heard that a picture is worth a thousand words. So ask yourself, will my intended audience be more likely to read a thousand words, or view a photo, before clicking the remote, turning the page, or closing the URL.

If your answer is “view a photo”, then you need to have an attention arresting, eye stopping photo, one that relaxes their hand muscles long enough to buy you the time needed to have your message successfully delivered.  This is where stock photography often falls flat.

If the stock photo you are using is also used by many other businesses, chances are your visually bombarded audience has seen it before, and are thus instantly ready to move on.  If those messages on branding we have all been made increasingly aware of during the past few years tells us anything, it is that our product or service must appear unique to the buyer. Use a stock shot only when you want to shoot yourself in the foot on branding as well as confuse your potential consumer in the process. Stock photography often is much more costly than it first appears.

A good photographer knows this and can help guide you toward your unique presentation in the marketplace.  Whether your business is a multi-national corporation with a large marketing department, its own advertising agency and PR firm, or a sole proprietorship, a photographer knows that a good photograph starts with good communication.

Your photographer should be able to work well within the various tiers of your communications team.  He or she must be equally comfortable working in conjunction with an art director on site, or flying solo on location. Your photographer must be adept at creating an instant rapport when photographing either the CEO, or the staff at the loading dock.

Re-shoots are also one the costliest types of assignment photography. I know this as I have been called upon many times over the years to redo the assignments of other photographers whose work somehow fell short of the mark.  Re-shoots can stretch schedules and budgets and to their very limits.

Your next photographer should be amicable, creative, experienced, professional and a problem solver. When you find the right photographer, you will also find that many of your visual communications problems will be solved. If you would like our list of tips to finding the right photographer for your business, email us at with the subject line reading the right photographer.

Art Montes De Oca is based in Southern California and shoots worldwide. Art can be contacted at  (626) 791-9214.© Art Montes De Oca 2010