Service Paramount for Quality School Photography
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Service is Paramount for Quality School Photography

School photography feature

As imaging technology continues to become cheaper and more ubiquitous, some schools are considering ways to cut costs when it comes to their photographic requirements. However, AIPP Chairman of Professional School Photographers David Ryall suggests that using a professional service yields much more than the latest in photographic technology.

For the past decade and more, professional photographers have come under pressure as portable devices have put high-quality imaging in almost everyone’s pockets. For the casual observer who spies the ‘Shot on iPhone 6’ billboards for the first time, it’s easy to see how more people are thinking, Why would I ever hire a professional photographer, or even purchase a standalone camera?
In the school, the need for high-quality photography remains as high as ever, yet the proliferation of smartphones hasn’t decreased demand for professional photography services. The reasons for this should be obvious to anyone who has every overseen class or whole-school photos – a professional school photographer does a lot more than simply take good photos.

In order to delve a little further into how much, if any, the modern paradigm has changed, as well as enquiring about how schools should select the best photographer for their needs Education Matters Editor, Campbell Phillips talked to the Owner and Managing Director of Photo Hendriks, Western Australia’s longest-serving school photography company. David has a 14-year history in this industry and is currently the Chairman of the Professional School Photographers division of the Australian Institute of Professional Photography.

The following is a transcript of that interview.

Campbell Phillips: In a world where everyone has a camera attached to their mobile device, has the role of the professional photographer changed in schools?

David Ryall: Yes and no. For those schools that require a lot of event photography, often the school staff are covering these themselves now. However, they still require professionals for the events that require big logistics (for example: graduations, school formals, group and portrait photos, and so on).

What has changed most significantly is the sales from events have decreased as the new generation coming through are less interested in prints and often ‘screen grab’ the images from the photographer’s sales websites, or simply don’t order as they are happy with their phone pictures. This is currently threatening the viability of some operators while others are adapting by shooting and burning the event on the night and selling the complete set of digital files to students on USB. This method is actually increasing sales and decreasing ‘production time’, so is working well for event photographers.

Group and portrait sales seem to be unaffected by the camera phone generation at this stage, and this is where 90 to 95 per cent of revenue is for most school photography companies.

CP: What are the different types of photographs that schools have a need to produce and how often are they usually taken?

DR: Different schools have different requirements. While some require photographers to attend 20-25 sessions per year, others may only need one or two.
The main types of services they engage a professional for are as follows:

  • Class and Portrait photography
  • Events (balls, graduation and so on)
  • Group photography for yearbook publications (such as sporting, music and academic groups)
  • ID Photos
  • Whole School Photography
  • Promotional Photography

The types of events that the school often does themselves are school plays and dances, presentation ceremonies, sports carnivals and similar.

CP: Do most schools outsource their needs for professional photography or do some schools maintain their own full-time professional photographer?

DR: Most schools outsource for at least some services, though the larger schools often have a member of staff who might spend 10 to 20 per cent of their time taking photos of different events. Schools simply don’t have the budget nor the necessity to have a full-time photographer on staff, so outsourcing is a good option and often costs the school nothing if the photos can be sold to families.

CP: What does the professional photographer bring to these initiatives that simply can’t be provided by the school staff?

DR: Professionals have a great understanding of how to light the subject properly, how to handle the logistics and fast pace of a shoot and how to provide high quality files in a timely manner. These things cannot be replicated without training and professional equipment, though many people try.

CP: What are some of the logistics challenges associated with school photo days?

DR: The most important part is figuring out the ‘flow’ of the day. That is how to get the students through the photo stations in an orderly fashion with minimum disruption and on schedule. A bad flow can create a bad day for everyone involved, where as a good flow is pleasant and leaves the schools staff and photographers feeling good about the day. Some schools try to do too much in one day, which can be unrealistic and create problems. This is where a good professional can advise the best way to structure the day so that it flows well and runs on time.

CP: Do you have any insight into the administrative side of these initiatives?

DR: The schools greatest challenge is to figure out how to get the kids to the photo venue and create the least disruption for classes so students lose the least amount class time. Once teachers get their students to the venue, the photographers take over and generally keep things on schedule.

The other challenge is distributing order forms and photo packages, though most professional photographes make this easy with custom printed order information for each student.

CP: What about logistics challenges in terms of equipment? Do you hire lighting, backdrops and portable stadium seats as required?

DR: Professional photographers generally bring all of their own equipment. This is simply for reliability and consistency. In times gone by, photographers have borrowed chairs from schools and maybe some staging, but resources are getting tighter and the equipment often simply isn’t available.

It is rare that photographers would hire equipment unless strictly necessary. Again, from a reliability standpoint, they have to know it will work on the day versus relying on hired equipment that may not be well maintained or configured appropriately. This does mean that professionals have a large cost outlay in equipment, but it is worth it for the reliability.

CP: Do you have any key recommendations for schools regarding strategies, systems, softwares or otherwise to help make these projects more efficient?

DR: The best advice is to work closely with your photographer. They are professional and they do this day-in and day-out with all types of schools, so they know the best way to make your shoot easy, no matter that the scenario. Trust them and use their experience to help guide you – photo days don’t have to be stressful and they know how to make it easy.

CP: What should schools look out for when hiring an external professional photographer to handle their photography needs?

DR: The number one thing is good service. Speak to other schools they deal with and reference check them. Any company that has a track record of good service is likely to deliver what you need. And, in the rare event that they mess it up, they will clean it up quickly and to your satisfaction. Some operators compete on cost, or offer lots of extra ‘free stuff’, but they generally have to sacrifice service to do so. This can create other problems and hidden costs, as well as a great level of dissatisfaction. So always go with service, and don’t be afraid to ask around to see how they have performed previously.

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