The topic of photography fixers crops up a lot in my emails. Finding a reliable fixer can be somewhat difficult and whether you can justify the cost depends entirely on your style of photography. I’ve been burnt a number of times by hiring the wrong people. People who are either completely useless or who just don’t share my ethos and aims. The last thing you want is to be paying someone to waste your time.
When searching for reliable fixers there are a number of different ways of finding people. Fixers tend to come at different price points and their ability varies greatly. Hopefully, in this short post, I can give you some ideas that will help you find your next fixer…
WHAT MAKES A GOOD FIXER?
In my eyes, the most important quality in a good fixer is somebody who understands what you are trying to achieve. If the fixer has a good grasp of your style then they should be able to get you into the right places. This is the nmain reason why I like to use the same person if I travel to a country multiple times. Building up a working relationship, where both you and the fixer are working ‘in sync’ is key to getting the best images. If you find someone you click with, don’t let them go!
It’s also worth considering someone who has worked with photographers or filmmakers before. When this is the case, they generally understand things like lighting, which to non-photographers can seem strange. Trying to explain to a non-photographer than you want to shoot in a dimly lit hut might make absolutely no sense if they don’t understand the result that you’re trying to achieve.
An important consideration and one you may not have thought about are the importance of the race, caste or tribe of your fixer. This isn’t important in all countries but in India for example, Hardik my fixer, who is of Brahman caste (Priestly caste), was able to get us out of some interesting situations just by mentioning his caste. In many rural areas in India, caste is still really important and the fact that he was of the highest caste meant that we almost always were given the absolute best hospitality, even in communities who were wary of photographers.
DO I NEED ONE?
The question of whether you need a fixer depends almost entirely on how you shoot. If candid street photography is your thing then apart from suggesting locations, a fixer may be less useful. Whereas if you wish to shoot intimate portraiture of a particular remote tribe, having someone to find the villages, translate and explain why you are there and then to hold your gear whilst they translate means that you can create images that would be almost impossible to do without them.
Much of my best recent work has been created in tandem with the fixer I have been working with. I would not have gotten 1/10th of the images I shot in Romania, Laos and India without my fixers Paul, Aod and Hardik. Fixers are often overlooked but for my style of shooting I find them invaluable. However, finding someone reliable can be a difficult task…
HOW DO I FIND ONE?
Find a reliable fixer can be hard work, especially when you are trying to do it from your home country. Below are a few different ways I have found fixers in the past:
This is the most common way that I go about finding my fixers nowadays. Two of the best fixers I have used in my entire travel time both came through recommendations from photographers whose work I admire greatly.
Working with a fixer who has the recommendation of a trusted photographer means that you are pretty much certain to work with someone who understands your needs. Often these guys will not need so much guidance from yourself and after a day or two working together will find you great locations and subjects without you asking.
Hardik, who I travelled with in India, and Aod who I used in Laos both played a huge part in me getting the images that I did. They had both worked with great photographers and in Aod’s case on big documentary productions too and so they understood the need for great light, authentic subjects and the need to often work unsociable hours to be in the right place at the right time.
It helps if the photographer whose recommendation you receive is already someone who you either know or have spoken to before but don’t be afraid of asking in online travel forums or even contacting the film crew or photographer who has worked in that area directly.
If you can’t find anyone to recommend you a fixer, the next best option is to simply search the web. Some fixers nowadays even have websites and so you will see from their ‘resume’ of past clients whether they have the credentials to be a good match.
During my three trips to Romania, I worked with Paul (http://www.fixerromania.ro) who I originally found through his website. Paul had only been working as a fixer for 12 months when we first met but had already worked with huge clients like the BBC, Channel 4, Mashable, The Times, Daily Mail etc. Just from seeing this list of clients and then from our subsequent email conversation I was sure that Paul would be perfect.
This is probably one of the least reliable methods of finding someone but often when you land in a new country you will have a whole host of people offering their services as a ‘guide’. These guys are normally geared more towards traditional tourists and so are probably not right for your needs; however, you may occasionally find someone who is useful.
My advice for following this path is to know what you want from your ‘guide’. Take them on a bit of a test run for a day and be willing to spend a little bit of time building the relationship first. Get to know the person as a friend first before deciding if they are suitable. If you can’t build a relationship on a human level with the person you are travelling with, how do you plan on working together for weeks or even a couple of months?
This is probably a good option if you have a very low budget and lots of time. The two fixers who I am still great friends with, Hardik and Paul, both got into fixing this way. Hardik spent his days annoying entertaining tourists in Junnagarh whilst trying to learn English which is where he struck up a friendship with my friend and fellow travel photographer, Mitchell Kanashkevich.
Paul on the other hand, had a chance encounter with a BBC journalist whilst travelling in Romania and after his first experience fixing slowly realised that there was a need for reliable fixers in Romania. Unlike many people, Paul saw the bigger picture and realised that he could use the resources like the internet to set up a professional service rather than just relying on word of mouth recommendations.
If you are looking for a local to work with then a good place to start is local universities. There is likely to be an abundance of people wanting to improve their English. As with the advice I gave above, get to know the person first and foremost. Check that they understand your goals and aims and that you connect on a personal level before agreeing to work with them for the next month.
Hopefully, this short guide will help you find a reliable fixer for your next photography project. Don’t forget than a great fixer will not only help you but will play an integral role in creating your images and may even become a lifelong friend. I always try to keep in contact with the reliable fixers I have used and am always happy to recommend them to others.
A fixer isn’t always cheap to hire and so I’m a big believer that if you find someone who is reliable then you should go out of your way to recommend their services to others. That way the good guys get future work and your fellow travelers don’t get burnt by dodgy ‘guides’.
Have you ever worked with a good fixer? Ever had a bad experience? Let me know your experiences both good and bad in the comments below. If you have used someone who is reliable, please comment with their contact details and location along with your own blog/website/contact info as well and I can add your recommendations to the bottom of this post for other photographers to make use of.