Sunday, June 10, 2012

Excelling at Mediocrity

Your clients won't ever tell you this but, as a rule, whether they or you realize it or not, what they really want is mediocre photos, make that photographs at the higher ends of mediocrity.  They're not looking for you to shoot photos on a par with humanity's great artists. They don't want museum quality images. If they tell you they want edgy or out-of-the-box or super-artistic images, they don't really mean that. They simply want good photos which might have a definable style but which still fall into the realms of, for the most part, fairly average-looking photos... preferably, in the above average realms of technically and artistically average-looking photos.

I know all this sounds very cynical and, in truth, it is cynical to a degree, but it's the truth whether you or your clients admit to it or not. Most clients want good pics, actually a bit better than good, but they don't want images which completely transcend what they're accustomed to seeing in the often-seen world of photography. And what they're accustomed to seeing falls somewhere within the lower-to-upper limits of mediocre.

None of this is to say clients want photos that suck. They don't. They want pics which are noticeably better than the mid-point of mediocre. But even the high-side of mediocrity still falls within the limits of mediocrity.  You see, for the most part, clients want images which are more commonly seen. Uncommon images are risky. Uncommon images might occasionally be perceived by viewers as incredible, awesome, terrific, and so on but they might also fall flat on their faces. More commonly seen images are safer. They're less uncertain in terms of achieving they're expected impact. More commonly seen images, when done well, are guaranteed to be fairly well received even if it's possible to produce images of the same subjects that are significantly better, more artistic, and achieve greater impact than more commonly seen images of the same subjects.  Photographers who know how to shoot more commonly seen images in very competent ways, delivering images which are always at the higher ends of mediocrity, are considered consistent. They're thought of as reliable. They often become the "go-to" shooters for many clients.

I consider myself a reliable, efficient, and consistent photographer of higher-end, yet still mediocre, images of beautiful (and sometimes  less beautiful, a.k.a. mediocre) models. I know how to get in and get out and still get the shot. "The Shot" might not win awards for artistic merit but will meet or exceed my clients' expectations for images at the high-side of mediocrity: Images which are as good, for the most part and given the shooting conditions and circumstances, as those produced by the majority of my peers. Being able to do that is something I can take to the bank, literally and figuratively. Even the world's greatest photographers shot plenty of mediocre images. Often, they shot them for clients.

If I was exceedingly driven to try to shoot truly exceptional images with oodles of impact and feeling, I'd probably have to do so as a hobbyist. In other words, for myself and not for pay. Why? Because clients aren't art patrons. They don't pay me or anyone else to strive for shooting art. Depending on genre, they pay either for commercially viable photos or keepsake images that are as good as most of what they see others getting for their money. In other words, average... well, better than average but not all that better than average.

Anyway, another "just saying" blog update. I've been rather preoccupied for the last couple of weeks. I nearly lost my Mom. She's eighty-five. Two weeks ago, she was in the hospital in critical condition. Now, she's out of the hospital and recovering at my sister's house. I'm very thankful for that.

I snapped the mediocre image of Amber at the top this past Saturday for an ongoing client who, lately, has been having me photograph pretty girl sports-themed images against a white backdrop. (Click to enlarge.)  It's exactly the sort of image they asked me to shoot. The images I've shot of a handful of different models for them will be composited (by their graphic artist) with some other background, plus text and graphics, for a DVD's cover art. Some (but not a whole lot) of processing on the image above.


Rick said...

Well said Jimmy. I wish I knew that years ago. I beat myself all the time over only having mediocre work. I did have some good days, the Babewatch were awesome, some of the others, not so much. I always set out to do great work and make my customers happy, but I usually felt like if I accomplished that, I barely made it. What you said here makes perfect sense.

jimmyd said...

I hear ya, Rick. I think a lot of photographers, myself included, set out on any given shooting day and try to shoot truly awesome stuff. Then, the reality of customer expectations (average looking pics) and everything that gets in the way of shooting awesome pics makes you feel like you did your job but could've done it so much better.

I'm guessing some photographers might not like this post about excelling at mediocrity. Sometimes, finding photographers who will admit to photographic mediocrity ain't easy. But, bottom line, shooting at the high-end of mediocre is most working photographer's bread and butter, whether they admit it or not.

Bill Giles said...

The way that I see it, most photography is a craft and photographers are craftsmen. As with most crafts, you have apprentices, journeymen and masters. If you were a cabinet maker and a client asked you to build a cabinet for a certain purpose, you would probably be able to do it. Much of this ability comes through experience and some through talent. Good photographers don't necessarily do everything by the book, but the understand what the client wants and use their abilities and experience to satisfy the client. Most of the things that I see in the entertainment business, TV, movies and music follow the minimal risk formula. If something worked before, let's try something like it and see how it is received.

jimmyd said...

Bill: 100% agree. I'm not calling photographers mediocre. I'm simply saying that clients generally follow that "minimal risk formula" you described and, consequently, the work they want from photographers is generally mediocre because mediocrity is what most clients want... altho few will admit to that.