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Monday, 17 March 2008


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Ah the life of the client. Turn up late once nearly all the work is done and everyone is tired, then view the pics and announce you didn't have what the photographer has done quite in mind. How about they try this? They saw it more like this. Groan.

That's a generalisation of course but I've seen it time and time again. Good clients that support you are the ones worth hanging onto though and can really help bring out some excellent end results.

Usually the higher up in the business the client is the less reliable their input will be, I've found. Again a generalisation but managers used to sitting in meetings were never born to be creatives.

And yes, photo editors have an uncanny way of choosing your least favourite image to run, so if everything you have shot that day, you like, then shoot a few out of focus or that technically arent as good. ;)


Everything you wrote applies to software development too, my previous life. Last minute "Why not approach it THIS way" statements that altered months of development and testing, followed by "Why is this project so late?" were the norm. Eventually, I got used to it and it became the new normal.

In another site's forum I once read a long list of comments regardng wedding photography and how ill-informed wedding couples were about photography. In fact, I thought a lot of the thread was client-bashing, much of it arrogant. A particular young couple did NOT want ANY formals, just candids, and one of the photographers made the comment that HE could teach them a thing or two about weddings. I thought that was presumptuous. If you don't want to deliver what the client wants to buy, that's fine just walk away, but why presume that you know better than they do about what they want. On the one hand, I understand the importance he placed on his skills and experience, but on the other hand, it's a service business and shouldn't the hired help do what the clients want? I guess it's an inevitable clash of different philosophies. Creativity is a grey area, and there will probably always be conflicts when someone is paying you to be creative in expressing their ideas.

(That's why I grew to hate software development in favour of software maintenance. When you do maintenance, you are repairing an asset, for which everyone is grateful and for which the value is self-evident. When you do development, you are always late building something that no one can see yet.)

To Mike's question about pre-emptive artistic decisions, it seems to me that all you can hope for is that what you like to make coincides with what others like to buy. If it doesn't, you are in a tight spot. Do you spend part of your time making calendar photos that sell, so that you can afford to spend the rest of your time doing what interests you? Is that much different than being an amateur artist with a day job selling insurance and is there anything wrong with that?

If you are doing commissioned work where the client has definite ideas about what they want to see, whether articulated or not beforehand, I think Mike's word "collaborator" is spot on. If you don't enjoy collaborating, there are some jobs you should not do or you'll just drive yourself nuts.

I take photographs to amuse myself as well as the occasional spectator. Exhibiting photographs for mutual pleasure is similar to a comedian telling jokes to an appreciative audience. But comedy is more serious than photography.

Viewers who see more in my photographs than I do probably have better vision. Those who see less than I do may be right, and I remain partially open to their criticism.

The point I was struck by is that in one particular case the client, really a friend, liked some other pictures that I rejected. But when I looked at the ones he liked I realized they were also good, and I couldn't tell you why I didn't pick those to begin with. I guess my question is, what impacts on our decisions when we evaluate our own work? Is this inexperience on my part? Do you learn to see things in your work as other people do? I don't mean pleasing clients here, I mean innate qualities.

Collaboration can be a good or bad thing, I suppose, just as as a crazed singular vision can mushroom into a sublime epiphany or turn out to be maybe not-such-a-good idea.

It takes crazed vision and a committee to make a good movie or an iconic ad of today or, say, the Marlboro Man ads of back when. (Talk about unnamed collaborator--we all know now that photographer was Jim Krantz; O to know the dynamics of some of these shoots!)

In art or commerce or family, I think we do best when we're expressive--and when we listen.

Commercial photography is almost by definition pleasing the client; if you don't please your client then the client will simply find someone who will.

As for art, it depends on motivation. If the motivation is to sell prints and make money then it's no different than commercial photography (and in effect it is simply commercial photography). The motivation is selling the work; therefore the work must be what the public (clients) will buy.

Of course the photographer who doesn't care about whether or not the work sells is only pleasing himself, with no uncredited collaborators.


I never try to please anyone but myself. Never has this resulted in a dissastified client and I get paid well.
If equipment alone is the crucial factor, we all are the losers.

"Commercial photography is almost by definition pleasing the client; if you don't please your client then the client will simply find someone who will."

I'd say that commercial ANYTHING is by definition pleasing the client...why would photography be different?

I told all my clients to go away and leave me alone. I pay for my own exhibitions and show what I feel is important ...despite this I still sell stuff

To be honest exactly this issue has kept me away from ever engaging in a professional photography direction. It takes a strong dedication (and maybe some financial backup) to shoot and show what you think is good, not to mention making a living out of it. Of course, this is being done by so many photographers every day, and I admire them for that!

My guess is the amount of personal compromise a commercial photographer must make is inversely proportional to their notoriety. All of the most notorious photographers got that way because they have developed a signature style, but they probably made a compromise or two on their way up the ladder -- some of these compromises may have even aided in developing that style, forcing them to break habits or think outside of the box. And sure, many photographers who lack notoriety will also impose the same 'my way or the highway' attitude on their clients, but possibly at the expense of losing the job. Some of us just gotta get paid, and don't have the luxury of taking that chance. It takes a different kind of talent to please a demanding client and still consider your own work to be respectable, regardless of whether or not you personally like it.

Whenever I'm feeling oppressed by my clients -- although i'm usually feeling more oppressed by not having enough of them -- I find it useful to remind myself that Michelangelo's ceiling for the Sistine Chapel was a work for hire, Shakespeare played to full houses and Bach wrote just about all his music in order to meet the requirements of his day job . . . . And actually I have to concede that much if not all of my best work, both as an artist and as photographer, has been done on commission or assignment.


Two stories from my assisting days.

Once we were out in the Hamptons in 1980 taking a photo for a record cover. Remember when LP covers had the highest profile commercial photography , and were probably the only photographs that a lot of people would spend 45 minutes looking at while they listened to the record the first time? It was the end of the day , we had one shot left on the roll in the Hasselblad, and the photographer wanted a picture of himself with the singer. I took one of him with his arms around her.

The two photos they ended up using for the front and back were a clip test (a single frame of Ektachrome developed to see if the rest of the roll needed to be pushed or pulled), that had holes punched in it by the developer clip and a nasty rip in it , and the photo I took of the photographer for the back. Apparently all in all the other photos she was the opposite of relaxed. I heard retouching the rips and clip marks out of the photo cost more than the session.

I found the cover on someone's web page here

The other thing I remember is a secret code on shoots that meant "I think I've got it, could you please jam the Polaroid back on the next shot so that the art director will stop suggesting changes and we can go get dinner?"

Those are very funny. I've got some similar tales--once, a studio photographer I was working for had offered to do a portrait of the young son of some friends of his. We rigged up a Speedo Quad head to a very large softbox and set up a box under a muslin for the kid to sit on. The child was about three, very happy and friendly. Well, when my boss sat him on the box to do the Polaroid he killed the studio lights as usual so he could see the modeling light. The kid seemed just a touch nervous about that. But when the Quad head popped while shooting the Polaroid, the kid jumped out of his socks and started screaming like bloody murder! Scared the crap out of him (not quite literally). Well, we took him to the office so he could calm down, but for the rest of the afternoon, whenever we tried to take him back into the studio and sit him down next to the softbox, he started wailing again. The boss's friends stayed for hours but we never got a single frame of film. Just one test shot of a happy, smiling, relxed kid. And the exposure was fine. [s]


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