4 Things I Look For When Hiring a Photographer, Part 1
I’m going to give it to you straight: there are a lot of photographers — good ones — who want to shoot for NGOs. And by a lot, I mean a lot. Competition for NGO jobs is really tight. Just think about all of the newspapers who have let photographers go over the past three years. That’s a lot of photographers looking for work, and they’re knocking on the doors of NGOs. I’m contacted just about every week by someone wanting to shoot for our NGO.
So if you want to shoot for NGOs, you need to stand out.
Because I’m contacted by so many photographers, I have a rating system to sort out the great from the decent from the not-quite-ready-yet. I rate all photographers on four criteria, which are the basics and essentials for any good NGO photographer. The next four posts cover those criteria. The first is the most obvious and basic.
CRITERIA 1: HOW GOOD ARE YOUR NGO PHOTOS?
This is pretty much a no-brainer. If your photos aren’t great, I really can’t hire you. You’d be surprised, though, how many photographers contact me who’s photos are just average. I look at every single portfolio that is sent to me, and trust me, you can tell a lot from a portfolio. Here are the three main things I’m looking for when reviewing a portfolio.
SOLID BASIC ABILITIES
When I look at a portfolio, I’m asking myself several questions. How is their composition? Can they deal with difficult and harsh sunlight? Are they getting context shots, mid-range shots and details? Are they capturing moments? And, maybe most important of all, are they connecting with their subjects? A lot of photographers aren’t quite there yet on the basics, so I automatically rule them out.
SOLID NGO PHOTOS
I definitely look to see if the photographer has shot for NGOs before. If you want me to hire you to shoot for an NGO, then I need to see an NGO portfolio. You would be surprised how often photographers send me a portfolio of wedding shots, high school basketball games, corporate environmental shots and photojournalism, but not NGO work.
Can you imagine applying for a job as a fashion photographer and sending in a portfolio of high school sports photos? That makes no sense, and in the same way, if you want to get a job with NGOs, you need to have an NGO portfolio, or at least something similar. In a future post I’ll talk about how to get an NGO portfolio if you don’t already have one.
Also, you may be a great photojournalist, but that doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll be a great NGO photographer. Photojournalism and shooting for NGOs are two very different things, with different approaches and different goals. I’ll write much more about this in future posts, but for now just know that showing me a photojournalism portfolio doesn’t always tell me if you can shoot for NGOs or not.
AN UNDERSTANDING OF THE TYPES OF PHOTOS NGOs NEED
There are different types of NGOs with different photo needs, but it’s safe to say that the majority of NGOs are looking for two main things: photos that show very clearly the good work that they’re doing, and photos that connect strongly with the subject. A lot of photographers have photos with wonderful composition, great light and more, but as the viewer I’m not connecting with the people in the photos. There’s a distance, a sense of being on the outside, a lack of human warmth. If you as the photographer aren’t connecting with your subjects, then the viewer won’t either, and that’s key to good NGO photography.
Also, most NGOs are not looking for funky, artsy, pushing the edge photos. Some are, and in a future post we’ll look at different NGOs and the style of photos they use, but generally speaking, most NGOs aren’t looking for wild and crazy stuff. They’re looking for solid photos that show human dignity and warmth.
IT’S ALL ABOUT YOUR PORTFOLIO
As you can tell, when looking for a job it all comes down to your portfolio, because that’s about all a photo editor has to go on when deciding to hire you. We’ll talk more later about what makes a strong and compelling portfolio for getting NGO jobs.
For now, on to my second criteria.