Friday, October 21, 2011

Do You Shoot It All?

Photographers can be divided in many ways. One way to divide them is into two, broad groups of generalists and specialists. What I mean is they either shoot, almost exclusively, one genre of photography or they try, or are willing to try, to shoot it all.

Me personally, I'm definitely a specialist. If or when I'm asked to shoot outside the realms I know best, i.e., the people portrait realms, I openly admit I'm a novice and more than a little unsure (and insecure) about what I'm doing. I might take stabs at other genres but they remain stabs. Obviously, some skills in my personal skill-set transfer to other genres of photography but, for the most part, I don't have a clue what I'm doing beyond how those transferred skill-sets might help me.

One might think if someone is a portrait photographer and has really good lighting skills they should be able to shoot, as an example, product photography about as competently as they do people. After all, most of a portrait shooter's lighting skills should transfer to shooting other things besides people. Personally, I don't think it works that way, at least not automatically. Sure, a portrait shooter can bring to bear their lighting skills on a piece of jewelry or a plate of sushi and the results will probably be okay but those results aren't likely going to be extraordinary in other ways, that is, without the photographer learning some new skills regarding shooting jewelry or food, coupled with plenty of practice.

People who aren't photographers don't quite understand why a photographer, pro or hobbyist, might not "rock it" when shooting outside of what they truly know how to shoot; not even close. Some photographers themselves don't understand why they don't rock it when shooting outside of what they're mostly experienced at shooting. Worse, some photographers don't recognize they're not rocking it: They think they are when they're not.

I sometimes get asked to shoot things I don't really know how to shoot. Make that things I don't know how to shoot with any high level of skill or experience. When asked to do this, I might give it a shot but, when I've done so, the results weren't anything to write home about. The results were okay but just okay doesn't cut it for me and it usually doesn't cut it for many clients.

When I'm asked to shoot outside my comfort knowledge range, I usually tell whoever is asking me that they'd probably be better off getting someone who knows how to shoot those things. Certainly, someone who knows how to shoot them much better than I know how to shoot them. "You're a photographer, aren't you?" is the reply I've often heard. Well, yeah. I am. But being a photographer doesn't mean I know how to shoot anything and everything, certainly not anything and everything in terrific ways. I could probably learn to shoot whatever it is (outside of my norm) I'm suddenly being asked to shoot but clients aren't generally interested in funding or subsidizing my photography education.

It's not that I'm trying to talk myself out of jobs. It's simply that I feel my reputation is always on the line regardless of what I'm shooting. It's a small enough world that failing to deliver good work in one area of photography might somehow, later on, bite me on the ass in terms of getting hired to shoot what I do know how to shoot. More so since the reason I probably was asked to shoot what I don't really know how to shoot was the result of someone recommending me. That someone was, more than likely, somehow connected (sometimes in big ways) to the work I normally perform.

Just because someone is an accomplished French chef doesn't necessarily mean they're capable of shaking up the culinary world of Chinese cooking. I'm sure a much heralded French chef could give Chinese cooking a damn good try but he or she would still be no match against a highly skilled and experienced woksman.

I'm aware that more than a few photographers will take on nearly any assignment. I know more than a few who do so. I've seen the results of some of that work and, frankly, it wasn't too impressive regardless of how impressive their usual and customary work might be. That's not to say the outside-their-normal-box work sucked. It's only to say it wasn't as extraordinary as the work they normally produce.

IMO, the bottom line is this: If you're going to branch out into other areas of photography where your skills and experience might not be so awesome, be prepared to find yourself -- once again, and just like you were when you first began shooting what you do have experience and mad skills shooting -- being something of a novice and on the uphill side of the learning curve. You might thoroughly believe you can shoot it all but shooting it all -- shooting it all really, really well -- is another story.

Once again, I've posted a pic of a chick whose name I can't recall and, also once again, I can't seem to drum up the motivation (for a variety of reasons) to spend time hunting down her name in my paper records.

1 comment:

Josh Zytkiewicz said...

So I'm reading this and thinking, "Yeah, like how a chef can be good at one type of food and not another." And then the next paragraph, BOOM, talking about chefs.

You rock Jimmy.