Sunday, September 27, 2009

Shooting Inside/Outside Other People's Boxes

When you're shooting for clients, whether the subjects in front of your camera are those clients or the clients are third-parties who have hired you, you're often tasked, like it or not, with thinking and shooting inside their boxes. Assuming, that is, you want to get paid and hired again.

Most clients don't want photographers thinking and shooting outside the box, make that too far outside the box, when they're working for them. Most clients don't want photographers testing the outer limits of their artistic visions, or suddenly trying out unexpected new techniques, styles, or whatever, on their dimes.

Clients, more often than not, have specific expectations for the images they've hired you to deliver. Those expectations are usually based on your previous work, work they've seen elsewhere, work that is similar to what they've already had other photographers shoot for them, work that reflects certain styles and approaches they believe works best for their uses of the images, any of the above, all of the above.

Yes, it's true, some photographers are given more creative license than others. Sometimes, way more! You see this often happening in the fashion world, the world of celebrity photography, and elsewhere. But you don't, for instance, see a wild array of photographic styles portrayed on the pages of Playboy or Maxim or in many, many other magazines, whether those rags are adult in nature or not. You also don't see it in the vast majority of wedding and event photos, senior pics, kid pics, or in editorial and commercial photography.

When a photographer is given, pretty much, carte blanche to produce whatever they want, that is, to produce in any way they want--Annie L or David L are possible examples--it has much to do with that photographer's status, rep, and juice and, usually, not because some clients are more daring than others or are art patrons. There are, of course, clients who are daring and offer patronage... but they're not in the majority.

Most of the work performed by paid photographers have specific guidelines for the shots; guidelines dictated by the clients. Those guidelines might be dictated directly or indirectly. As a result, assuming you shoot a lot of this sort of work, i.e., you're getting paid to shoot, full-time or part-time, you're probably going to feel your work is repetitive and often looks the same, albeit the faces and bodies change.

But hey! Which is better? Kudos for brilliant, unique, work posted on photo forums? Or, waiting on line, at the bank, to deposit checks you've been given as a result of your we've-all-seen-this-before photography?

Art vs. commerce: It's a battle where, if you're an artist, losing it sometimes means you get to pay your bills.

Certainly not all, but more than a few younger shooters, don't seem to "get" this. Instead of looking to older, more experienced shooters as mentors or people they can learn from, they accuse older, established photographers, of being "old school" (not in a complimentary way) or unable to be creative (because of their age) or worse-- I guess it's the arrogance of youth, naivety, or, sometimes, ageism at its ugliest... whichever applies. Sometimes, unfortunately, all of it does.

When I look at the work of others, especially work that is decidedly "outside the box," I can usually guess, with a fair amount of certainty and accuracy--unless the shooter is someone famous and/or very successful--whether that work was the result of the shooter being hired to produce it or whether it's personal work. The more "outside the box" it is, regardless of how good it is, the less likely it was paid work.

A photographer whose work often looks the same isn't necessarily a shooter who is photographically myopic, too old or out of touch, unwilling to stretch, or unable to think outside the box. It's often a shooter who is regularly delivering products a client asked for... make that, the products a client demanded, sometimes politely, sometimes not-so-politely.

In the world of paid photography, it is mostly clients, those paying for the work, who are responsible for so much of what looks the same.

I'm just saying.

The pretty girl at the top is Jana from a few years ago. Yep. Paid work.


Killjoy said...

Jimmy, does this mean that Playboy didn't care for your artistic vision?
Or am I reading too much into this?

jimmyd said...


You're reading too much into this.

But it's true, still haven't heard back from the rabbit ear people.



Dwight McCann said...

I photograph promotional models for Team Dazzle about three times a year. The client stands right there and tells the girls what to do and then turns me loose to photograph them. I get paid.

OTOH, I have very little vision and to have someone with solid creativity directing in addition to providing costumes, bubbles, fans, glasses and props is very instructional ... clients can be an asset rather than a limiting parameter.

Jon Attree said...

I'm not sure I agree, I think it depends on why you were hired. You need to bring some of your style and flair otherwise it just comes down to technical skill. I would agree fashion photography can get a little crazy, but even when I look at different countries versions of PB I see some really creative stuff going on in the French and Russian versions. I guess it depends on the market.

jimmyd said...

@Jon Attree,

In some ways, I agree with your disagreement. Certainly, different markets, whether it's cultural or represents more of a sense of art patronage, are different than what happens here, in the U.S. And I'm not saying a photographer shouldn't bring their style/flair to the work. I'm talking about suddenly going for a very different style or flair, without the client's pre-agreement. Shooters are usually hired based on previous work. Unless the client expresses a desire for a shooter to suddenly, and in major ways, deviate from that, you might find you've caught the client off-guard with unexpected results: Results they weren't looking for in the pics.

Killjoy said...

jimmyd said...

You're reading too much into this.

But it's true, still haven't heard back from the rabbit ear people."

If you ask me, it's their loss.