The Moon On A Stick…
This represents the first post of it’s kind on this here blog. Feedback is very welcome. I’m currently embarking on a journey to review how today’s photographer approaches and handles the subject of time and effort within difficult circumstances. (Cue jovial and plinky Muzak)…
Acquiring and earning new clients, working together, solving problems and emerging victoriously is all part and parcel of business language and collaboration. Our job is to ascertain the clients requirements and fulfil them, right? I perch firmly on the ‘give it 110%’ side of the fence but over the years I have encountered instances where there is a definite want for 110%, but an absence of consideration for the effort, time and resources to successfully achieve it.
I follow a few blogs from my photographical heroes and influences and although they don’t seem to be heavily denied the resources they need to orchestrate their process and manifest their style in good, solid, inspirational formats, I’d hazard a guess that they encounter it at some stage.
’The Moon On A Stick’ syndrome – Where the output is unrealistic in respect to the input. How do we deal with it?
I’m not talking about over complicating a simple job or trying to create ‘fine art’ when the client clearly doesn’t want it. To clarify, here’s an extreme example:
The client requires a full scale studio installation on a remote rocky mountain, complete with MUA, stylist and full wardrobe which must be fully operational, from load in to performance ready all within 5 minutes.
“That’s not impossible with the right amount of assistance” some may say and maybe they’d be right but let’s put the budget at 500€ to illustrate even further, the issue I am drawing attention to.
The transport costs alone are going to exceed the budget before we have even begun with crew and resource costs so, as in most circumstances, I would advise that the requirements are scrutinised with much more realism and thus renegotiated logistically.
Sometimes though, there is trouble in comprehending that arriving onto the scene with an expensive camera, simply pointing and shooting a single frame will not get the required result. Now, I have lots of amazing and fantastic clients, I refer not to those I have worked with but more to the enquiries that I either negotiated or had to turn down.
After receiving any kind of enquiry there is a vast pool of questions I will always relevantly dip into to help paint a picture of what exactly is required, how much work is involved, the tools/crew to choose and ultimately, to calculate an idea of costs.
Ultimately, I want to do my absolute best, be as creative as I can, as resourceful as I can and then as efficiently as I can = Blow some socks off.
A full scale assault with several flash heads, 200cm diffusers and a platoon of assistants is not the kind of approach for formal corporate head shots destined for ID cards for example. I consider myself a fast worker and have always offered a healthy level of flexibility. I guess these are commonly earned skills when your busy starting out, getting your foot in the door to develop business relations and earn new clients. I rarely turn down any assignments but there have been a handful of times where the proposal is so unrealistic and no matter how much logic or rationality is gingerly injected, the understanding of the base ingredients are totally ignored.
In most cases I will investigate the locations before a shoot so I not only know where to load in and begin installation of the equipment but also to grant me perspective and creative influence. Having as much of an idea possible of the dimensions, textures and existing lighting, arms you with vital potential and especially if there is any extra time for adlibs or the manifestation of spontaneous and creative brain waves.
After all the ‘must have’ frames are wrapped, I encourage the clients and crew to fire out any ideas that they may have, this can be very fulfilling and a lot of fun.
Pre-planning and pre-preparation are key but we’ve all experienced a few circumstances where none of these considerations have been possible. For example, access to the location or adequate time for load in may not be possible for a variety of reasons. Even with a compliment of assistants it’s safe to say that a few minutes is unrealistic to unload from vehicles, transfer, set up a large scale studio environment and be ready to shoot. Some seem to find it difficult to comprehend that make up actually requires time to apply and if you want it done well you won’t be breathing down the back of your MUA’s neck constantly yelling at them to hurry the hell up. If your a wanker, you might do that but for the rest of us human beings, we realise that it’s a little counter productive to yell and scream at our colleagues.
Part of being a professional is both knowing the time scale and supporting it.
Another related variation of this instance that I have come into contact with is the polar opposite – the satisfaction with mediocrity. I’ll loosely define mediocre as work that has no visible skill or harmony, has very poor composition and highly notable/abundant technical flaws.
Bottom line here, I loathe feeling like I have produced mediocre work and I have had a few experiences where there has been so many restrictions and obstacles through preference that mediocrity is unavoidable.
Yes, the job is done but I don’t take any pleasure nonchalantly squelching out that phrase that is often used as a shield – “The Clients Happy = I’m Happy”.
From observations, adopting this attitude and practising it, is also to light the fuse to your own demise.
A few fellow photographers who work in the mainstream Finnish media industry share exactly the same observations. I shan’t name any names here but one in particular mentioned that after a visit to the USA shooting high profile sports and after witnessing how the pros work, the level of effort they put into their craft, how the clients not only expect this level from them but encourage it, and consequently how the pro is rewarded, all are way above the current levels here in Finland.
Now it must be pointed out that the industry here in Finland is wildly different to the USA and UK for example as it is extremely small. To be honest though, those US shooters can have a huge edge over us in Finland and on a certain level – I’m inclined to agree, not because there is an absence of desire, skill or talent to produce high quality work here, on the contrary we have an abundance of influential and talented shooters it’s more the issue of the bigger clients being unwilling to allow the effort/resources needed to produce a similar result.
“A whiskey sour without the whiskey is just a sour.”
My good friend and colleague, Kari Kuukka wrote some about an instance pertinent to this point we’re illustrating here.
The satisfaction with mediocrity. No matter how much I want to ignore it, is there: To prioritise convenience or a minimum of effort over output quality.
It’s a persistence to remain antiquated, a reluctance to adapt, to modernise and from what I have experienced in the last 7 years of being here, this goes precisely against the grain of Finnish mechanics, culture and spirit.
It’s pure madness but it undoubtedly crops up often – “I can’t be arsed with all the fuss, just gimme something shit for free or as cheap as possible”.
The most recent example I can think of was being approached by a promoter, they needed a weekends worth of event coverage (16 hours total), 120 portraits of high commercial standard (studio installation required), all editing/file conversions/online storage and the exclusive copyright ownership to all images.
The budget was 300€ inc tax.
I made a more realistic output/volume offer within regards to the budget and that was politely declined. A younger photographer was hired whom met all the above requirements and has their horridly rushed and poorly constructed images pasted all over European websites and media with their name right alongside every single one.
“Out, damn’d spot! out, I say!”
These situations do not require a photographer who has earned their stripes, made their investments and developed a unique style, they need a tripod with a point and shoot on a timer.
“Hey, just take the money and hush your noise!” say the neysayers.
Personally, I take pride in earning an honest living but more importantly I’ll share with you a little something that is worth memorising:
“Short term gain and a long term loss“.
In our tiny industry producing mediocre output with huge holes and visible mistakes, whether regular or occasional, is eventually going to suffocate or destroy your chances of survival within the industry (not to mention your well being and piece of mind).
Even if it’s what the client requires or enforces, it won’t matter – you have a portfolio containing only middle of the road, sub standard work.
Your an easy target to knock of the wall and all that ‘The client was happy’ stuff is not getting you out of the hole you’ve willingly dug for yourself.
Be careful out there, be confident, be genuine and remember that the cost of money is sometimes too high.
…. (Muzak fades out)