Jackie Lederfine, director of marketing for Franklin Brass Manufacturing Co. in Culver City, Calif., set out to create a trim, fold-out color brochure highlighting her company's bathroom accessories.
Five months later, the project had turned into a nightmare. The agency she hired to do the project was not responding to her calls. But she knew she had a real disaster on her hands when the first set of photographs arrived for her review.
"Some of our bathroom fixtures were shot upside down," Lederfine said.
Although she insisted that the photographer reshoot some of the towel bars, robe hooks and tumbler holders, the photos were never quite right.
"I learned through trial and error," said Lederfine, who asked a friend who is a professional photographer to help her with the brochure and give her some tips for future reference.
Many small business owners don't realize that good photographs of themselves and their products can be an affordable and valuable marketing tool. But most people have never hired a professional photographer, except to shoot a wedding, christening or bar mitzvah celebration.
"Photographs can be used in a company newsletter, to send to a trade magazine, for a brochure or to send to your local newspaper," said Alan Berliner, a Los Angeles portrait photographer who shoots pictures of many executives, celebrities and socialites. "Your image is really your stamp," said Berliner. "People want to know what you look like."
Savvy business owners who have a good portrait on hand are often surprised about the number of ways they can use the picture. Many small publications prefer to use material that comes with a photograph because the pictures brighten up the page. Every photograph you send out should be accompanied by a fact sheet describing yourself and your business.
Free-lance photographer Joel Mark frequently advises and works with small business owners.
"Sometimes I have to tell people to stop because their product isn't ready to be photographed," said Mark. "I also tell them that if it's ugly in reality, it will be ugly in the photograph."
Because it takes much longer to set up the lights and plan the photography session than to actually shoot the pictures, Mark recommends asking a photographer to shoot several products or people at once.
"I spend a lot of time educating business owners and explaining how to avert a photographic disaster," said Mark, who has a studio in West Hollywood.
For example, he was recently asked to shoot photographs of an upscale condominium project where units were listed for $350,000 to $600,000. The brochure was supposed to highlight the luxurious features, but because the condos were dirty and unfinished, Mark knew that the usual architectural photos wouldn't work.
Instead, he focused on the details and highlights of the floor plans, showcasing the best features without actually showing an overall view.
Once you decide you need pictures to enhance your business, finding a good photographer is easy, even if you live in a small town. Ask the photo editor of your local newspaper to recommend competent photographers who do free-lance work.
When you interview photographers, ask to see current samples of their work. Explain exactly what kind of pictures you want and set a deadline to see the proof sheets and receive the final prints. If you need both black-and-white and color prints, have them shot at the same time to save money.
Ask the photographer if you can buy the negatives and the copyright or whether you will have to buy prints from him or her for specific uses.
Before hiring a photographer, call a few clients and ask whether the job was completed satisfactorily and on time. Make sure you understand exactly what you will be billed for and how and when the photographer expects to be paid.
"Looking at the photographer's work is not enough because they only want to show you the prettiest pictures," said Lederfine of Franklin Brass. Because dealing with photographers has become a significant part of her job, she has been going to seminars on advertising and photography.
Although creating the point-of-purchase brochure was a major headache for Lederfine, she said more than 100,000 copies are in circulation and customer response has been extremely positive.
Shedding light on photography
* Establish a budget and hire a photographer to shoot pictures before you need them. Last-minute jobs cost much more to complete.
* Photograph several products or people at one time to cut your costs.
* Show the photographer ads or brochures you like to give an idea of what you are looking for.
* Display photos of key employees so customers get to know your staff.
* Be sure to photograph any special event or promotion your company hosts.
* Take pictures of your best customers using your product or services and ask for permission to display the photos in your lobby or waiting room.
Jane Applegate welcomes letters and story suggestions froreaders. Please write to her at the Los Angeles Times, Times Mirror Square, Los Angeles, Calif. 90053.