During a recent shoot, a client was explaining to me how they wanted the final images to look, including what they wanted from both in camera and post production. Whilst the requests were coming through, a part of me was thinking “You have seen my work, that is not really my style”.
Of course, I delivered what was requested and they were happy, however I couldn’t help but feel I was “imitating” being a photographer rather than being the photographer.
I would like to think we are all working towards our own unique artistic style. With the number of photographers out there it is near on impossible to be completely unique, but during our careers we are a constant work in progress, aiming towards having a photographic identity that communicates who we are artistically.
Whilst the above is very “arty farty”. It still stands true. However, it got me thinking…
Do you take photos for your client or yourself?
When working on a personal project you tend to have full creative control on the work you are creating and the outcome. When a client/clients are involved you have to be prepared to work with a different mindset to yours with the objective of working towards a body of work that does not line up with your usual creative way of thinking.
Let me take you on trip down memory lane….
I used to DJ in my younger days. Whenever I would send a demo to a promoter, it would be full of peak time tunes that were perfect for a club full of ravers who would be generating a loud and wild atmosphere. The promoter would like the demo and you would get the gig. But guess what…You’re on first.
For those of you who not quite familiar with club land, let me teach you the basics. If you are the DJ who is starting the night (aka warm up) the club is not busy, those who are in are not at their peak of wildness and those tracks with long break downs and big drops don’t quite match the time of night.
Now as a performer you have a choice. You either play the same tracks on the demo and argue “the promoter knew my style” or you stay true to the code (The DJ code is not that cool) and show your professionalism and versatility to ensure the progress of the night is a good one and the consumer is happy with their overall experience.
“Whilst I am sure you are loving your dose of nostalgia Dan, what the bloody hell has this got to do with photography?”.
The point is, sometimes we must go against our artistic grain. When photography stops being personal, but rather something that is being consumed, there is no point sticking to yourself as in the long run clients will fall away.
I recently did a shoot with a Paediatric Oncologist (that is a doctor who treats children who have been diagnosed with cancer to you and I). He approached me as he needed some images for the hospital website, and of course I was happy to get involved.
So there I was, with suggestions at the many of how we could make him look as professional and warm as possible (with him working in such a sensitive and emotionally challenging setting, I thought it was important to make him look as trusting and emphatic as possible).
His response? “I would just like a standard headshot please”.
Okay, so it’s not much of a challenge and creatively we are limited. But this is his shot, it is how he wants to be represented and it is my role to ensure that it is delivered.
As you can see the image is pretty standard. From a quality point of view I am happy with it (although like with anything, it could be better), however it would never be part of a body of work that I would be quick to boast about. The reaction of the client however was fantastic, he loved it, his friends and family loved it, as did his employer.
What I learnt from this is that, just like DJing, my work cannot just be about me, it must go further. Sometimes you have to put what you feel to oneside to ensure your client is fully satisfied. This is extremely important as for many photographers, those straight forward shoots are the bread and butter, and rarely does one make as big an impact through their personal projects, however hard they might try.
Of course this does not mean you should give up on your personal projects and just concentrate on churning out the run of the mill client assignments. You always need to be developing your creative side, if not for credibility and success, at least for the mind.
Control the ego.
We can sometimes let our ego get the better of us - “that is not my style” or “that is not challenging enough for me”. All we are doing in those circumstances is putting limitations on ourselves. I am a firm believer that almost any photography related task makes us better photographers in the long run.
I learnt from that shoot how to be disciplined and not allow my mind to overflow with ideas which I would in turn force on the client. With this in mind, it would be wrong for me to say I didn’t take anything from it
I would encourage you to do the same. If you are turning down jobs because they are not in line with your photographic vision, stop doing so. Take the job, even if it’s one, and see that as a challenge in itself. Push yourself to go against what you believe yourself to be, but rather what someone else wants you to be.
I appreciate we are told to always be ourselves, and there is truth to the importance of that. But I assure you it can be rewarding to be someone who someone wants you to be (in this case through our work) even if you are just putting on act.
Maybe you think I am talking rubbish? Maybe you can relate to what I say? Or maybe you are not even reading this sentence as you got bored after the first paragraph. I would love to know.
Please comment below or message me through social media with your thoughts.
Thanks for readin.
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