How to Pick the Best Event Photographer

Congratulations! You’ve started planning your fundraising event.

Chances are that right now you’re scanning your event budget, and wondering how you can save money.  It’s all about raising money, and you want to keep costs as low as possible, to increase your net revenue . . .  right?


Well, not really.

One mistake many nonprofits make when planning events is to cut corners in the name of reducing costs.  Unfortunately, this hyper focus on saving money can backfire.  As they say, you must spend money to make money, and your fundraising event shouldn’t be any different.

Event photography is one of the first things that nonprofits are tempted to skimp on.  These days, when everyone has a camera handy, it’s easy to forget how valuable a talented photographer is.

Hiring a professional photographer is one of the most important decisions you’ll make when planning your event.  Why? Assuming you don’t have the budget to keep a professional photographer on staff 40 hours per week, this is your one chance to get some high-quality photos that showcase your organization.  The pictures from this event can be used for the rest of the year on your website, in social media, in print materials, and even on TV!

It’s tempting to agree when your co-worker tells you her college-age daughter is taking a photography class and would like to volunteer her time to build her portfolio (and of course, mom promises she’s the next Annie Leibovitz). Worse still, you might be tempted to put a plea out on social media: “Everybody just show up with your cellphones and be ready to take pictures!”

While those approaches might work for a small, informal gathering, believe us: It really is worth your time and money to hire a professional photographer for important events.

There’s a reason trained photographers cost money.  They know how to put you, your donors, and your constituents in the best light (literally).  They’ll capture the spirit of the event and make sure they give you a portfolio of lovely, edited and ready-to use photos.

Yes, you might save money on the front end by hiring a volunteer or a student.  However, even if they take great pictures, you risk spending valuable time later following up with them, trying to get the photos in a usable format, reminding them to send the pictures, and weeding through and editing the pictures yourself.  Further, a professional photographer has a reputation to keep up and mostly likely won’t disappear the night of the event because “something else came up”.  (Yes, this has happened!)

Have we convinced you to keep this cost in your budget?

I hope so! Now, here are 7 things to keep in mind to make sure you get the most bang for your buck.

  1. As soon as you have your event date, start looking at websites of local photographers. Find one whose style will reflect the spirit of your event so that anybody who sees you pictures feels like they were a part of your event.
  2. Call several different photographers to get a sense of how you’ll work together and whether your expectations match. Some questions to ask at this stage include:
    Tip:While your fundraising event is different than a wedding, you may benefit from asking some of the same questions as the bride and groom! Read these articles from The Knot and Here Comes the Guide for more inspiration.
    • Do they have a substitute or backup plan (or refund policy) in case they can’t make it?
    • What do they require for a deposit?
    • Will they shoot in digital or film? How and when will your pictures be delivered?
    • Do they have packages? Are you charged by hour? Is there a time minimum?
    • What are their space requirements (for example if you are setting up an area for staged shots)?
    • What is their turnaround time for giving the pictures back to you?
    • Are they comfortable working your type of event?
    • Have they shot at similar venues?
    • Will they allow you to assign a staff person to assist in identifying your guests?
  3. Once you’ve found the right person, make sure to get on their calendar as soon as possible! Confirm location and time on the phone (not by email or voicemail) two weeks before the event as well as the day before the event. Get their cell phone number for texting if possible.
  4. Ask your photographer to arrive early on the day of the event so you can walk through the venue and identify the best spots for staged photos. Walk through your shot list with the photographer.
  5. Assign a staff person or volunteer to help the photographer identify key people in the room, spot good candid photo opportunities, or grab them a bite to eat or a drink.
  6. Prepare for the worst. Despite your best efforts, things can go awry. Maybe the photographer had an emergency, or the pictures weren’t at the quality promised. Always assign one or two people plan to bring their own cameras and have extra batteries or cell phone chargers ready.
  7. Here are a few more ways you can save money:
    • Hire the photographer for the first part of the evening for formal shots and then rely on assigned staff members with personal cameras for more casual pictures.
    • Hire just one photographer, not a team.
    • Ask if they can give you a deal if you book multiple events with them.
    • Create a shot list and assign a staff person to help the photographer, this will ensure you get the most out of his or her limited time with you.
    • Do you know a professional photographer? Maybe they will give you a friends and family discount!

We know you still need to be conscious of costs, and maybe you’re reading this article because you need to convince your boss that hiring a photographer is a good investment.


Professional photographers will take great pictures, organize them for you, deliver them on time and ready to use, and will provide a reliable service the day of your event and prompt follow-up afterwards.  These are pictures you’ll be able to use throughout the year on all your print and electronic communications.

 Think of your event like a wedding – would you risk not having great pictures for years to come just to save a few bucks? It’s worth shelling out on a good photographer to get quality images delivered on time.

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