Photographers vs. Influencers

Influencers and Photographers: Which Do I Need?

If your brand works in ecommerce, odds are you’ve had your fair share of photo shoots. Graphics and images from influencers and photographers are more important than ever. They help sell your products and to differentiate your brand from the competition. 

However, the options available to brands in order to create their photo libraries are becoming more varied. Now, brands can hire many different types of photographers with all different types of skill levels. They can also hire influencers to contribute to their creative assets. 

The camps of influencers and photographers are also becoming increasingly muddied. Influencers, like Amber Faust, can start out as photographers and quickly gain a following that also qualifies them as influencers. Faust has even been able to turn her family photographer business into a full-time Instagram photographer gig. She’s accepted multiple brand partnerships and strategic collaborations.

Similarly, Meghan Young began as a wilderness photographer and has been able to make up to 100K a year. The bulk of this was from sponsored social media posts and licensed photos. In her own words, “My job is to make it look effortless, to look like it’s the most fun ever and it’s never a job. But it is a job,” adding that she considers herself to fall somewhere between a photographer and an influencer.

Marketers cited content creation as one of their top struggles, according to a ClearVoice survey. In most of this content creation, photos and imagery were front and center. Creating the minimum marketing assets to run a successful brand requires a large creative library to pull from. 

Marketers are turning to two places to get amazing imagery for their websites, social feeds, and marketing materials—influencers and photographers.

So, which should your brand hire? 

Influencers and photographers offer different advantages for your brand and can also come with a different set of requirements. According to Rosh Sillars, “The new reality is that everyone is a photographer on some level, or in some capacity.” In a world of photos, does an influencer or a photographer make the most sense for your brand? 

In-House Photographers

In-House photographers are employed by the company. These photographers can provide a steady stream of photos for your brand. However, they typically have a higher cost and may have additional requirements surrounding the use of their images.

Pros of Using In-House Photographers

A Constant Influx of Photos

An in-house photographer’s main advantage is that they are always available to shoot new images as needed for your brand. You’ll have a steady stream of images without having to negotiate new agreements constantly with new photographers or influencers. 

You’ll also have someone to help you fulfill specific marketing needs. With an in-house photographer, you can add whatever images you need to the next planned shoot.

Quality

“The biggest difference between a $500 photographer and a $5,000 photographer is not their location, experience, or the equipment they use. It’s the brand they build,” says Rosh Sillars. Photography has made enough advances in recent years that both an amateur and a professional can take exceptional photos. The true artistry enters when a photographer is able to properly frame a shot to tell a story. 

Christopher Malcolm argues a similar point, saying “Your voice as a photographer is far more important than technique.” In hiring a photographer, you are hiring someone with a unique perspective who can provide images that tell your brand’s story, instead of just picturing your products. 

Quality is basically guaranteed in today’s photography world. However, style and artistry is still reserved for the best photographers.

Clear Photo Rights

Typically, an in-house photographer will set up a contract so that the rights to the photos are clear. It is commonly written into the contract that any photos taken during their workday belong to the brand in perpetuity. Perpetuity means that the brand can use them forever.

It is also important to designate the purpose of the photos. If the brand plans to only use the photos on social media, then the photo rights would be different than if that brand decided to print the photos on a t-shirt to be sold on their website.

Consistency

A single photographer will be able to build a cohesive creative library for your brand according to your brand’s unique tone and voice. 

Using a team of photographers to tell your brand’s story will require a clear style guide in order to help the different photographers work together to create your brand’s images. It may also help to have an existing library of photos for them to reference while creating new assets so that they can match the style.

Cons of Using In-House Photographers

Cost

Although a good photographer is worth their weight in gold, few companies have the funds to add another person to the payroll. If you’re working on a shoestring budget, the cost of a photographer may be the deciding factor, whether you want it to be or not.

Prices for photoshoots and photographer rates vary widely depending on the requirements and the industry. A photographer could make $8,000 for 6 shots in 1 day of shooting, or they may earn $5,000 for 25 social media images (Source: A Photo Editor). 

Influencer Team

As influencer @erinoutdoors says, “…photographer and social media promotion are two different things and have two different values/price points! I’m usually happy to weave them into a nice package for a brand, given the right budget. Brand’s should never assume that one is included if you hire us for the other.” Influencers can help you build a creative library, but you should negotiate these images differently than your normal influencer campaigns. You’ll want to specify how you’d like to use the images and any additional requirements. 

In inviting influencers to create photos for you, you’ll also want to be especially discerning when looking at their style and aesthetic. The influencers that create your marketing assets should reflect your brand’s aesthetic. If you are planning to use the influencer’s content on your website or other marketing materials, these images will represent your brand, so they should be treated with more care than influencer content that only lives on social media. 

Pros of Using Influencers

Authenticity

Influencer photos will not have the heavy editing or stylization that certains professional photos have. These influencer photos will then appear more genuine and real than their counterparts. Depending on the products you sell, this unpolished authenticity may be an asset to your overall sales strategy. 

Additional Brand Exposure

While a photographer can help you fill your own social feeds with tons of photos, an influencer can help you get better brand exposure by posting to their own feeds. Influencer Marketing Hub calculates the EMV, or total earned media value, at 5.2x per $1 spent on influencer marketing, according to more than 2,000 influencer campaigns. That’s a huge return!

Brand exposure may or may not be possible for a photographer. Although photographers are increasingly building audiences on social media, influencers still hold higher follower counts and may be able to generate buzz for your brand through their organic sharing. 

Cost

According to Collectively, “54% of influencers say they would be more likely to post in-kind, or in exchange for free product, if they’re a true fan of the product or brand.” That means that an influencer who is familiar with your brand may be willing to negotiate their fee with you because they really want to share about your products and brand. 

The standard rate for working with an influencer is 1 cent per follower (or $100 per 10K followers), but if the brand requires to be able to use the influencer’s photos in other promotions, then this fee should increase. 

Cons of Using Influencers

Potential Inconsistencies

Influencers may not have experience with matching a brand’s style. Instead, they are experts at presenting their own aesthetic and voice in their photos. Depending on the influencers your brand works with, this can create aesthetic inconsistencies within your brand’s creative assets. 

Loss of Brand Voice

Don’t allow your brand’s voice to be muted. For an influencer creating your marketing images, you may want to specify additional requirements that helps your brand tell its story within the influencer’s images. Each image on your website and on your marketing materials should align with your brand’s overall tone and voice. 

Photo Rights

In negotiating with photographers or influencers, it is important to discuss your legal rights to use the photos. The copyright of each image that an influencer or photographer takes belongs to them unless your brand has a contract or written agreement in place. 

Usage rights

If the influencer or photographer does not want to sell you full rights to the images, you’ll need to negotiate for usage rights to the content. Your agreement will need to define where you’ll be using the images and how long you intend to use them. By clarifying these requirements up front, you’ll save yourself the headache of having to renegotiate in order to use the photos. 

Exclusivity

Exclusivity is especially important for brands buying stock images or any kind of generic image. How many websites can these stock images appear on if the influencer or photographer continues to sell them to other brands? Negotiating exclusivity will ensure that the images on your social platforms and website aren’t duplicated on other sites and are only pictured on your brand’s social feeds and sites.

Instagram Boyfriends

Ever heard of the Instagram boyfriend? It’s a common occurrence in the Instagram influencer community to have a boyfriend (or friend or photographer partner) that takes the pictures of influencers so that the influencers can be in the photos. A lot of influencers are also hiring photographers to take photos. They work with photographers who want to build up their portfolios and get brand exposure. However, this changes the photo rights that the influencer has. 

Anytime the influencer is using a separate photographer, then they may not hold the copyright to the images—the photographer does. If your brand is going to use an influencer, you’ll want to clarify that the influencer has an agreement with the photographer to sell the images to your brand. Otherwise, you’ll need to work with the photographer to obtain the rights to these images.

In fact, many street-style photographers are rallying to proper credit for the photos that they take of influencers. “The Photographers,” an unofficial union of street photographers, launched the #NoFreePhotos hashtag to discourage influencers from sharing their images without credit. In the absence of written permission, these photographers own the copyright to their images. They can enforce that with influencers and brands that share their work on social media. 

Final Answer: Should My Brand Use Photographers or Influencers? 

Each brand’s circumstances are unique and there is no right answer to this question. When creating the images for your brand, you’ll have to evaluate your available resources. This will help you see if you can either hire an in-house photographer or a team of influencers to shoot your photos. 

Regardless of which option you choose, you’ll want to have a clear brand story through your images. You’ll also want a roadmap so that you can accurately negotiate the photo rights for your marketing.

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