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Insights & Thoughts

Shooting For Yourself Is Good, Just Not On A Client’s Time & Dime

By Brandon Perron on September 4th 2014

There seems to be a trend that has been growing in the paid sector of the photography world (weddings, portraiture, seniors, etc.), where some photographers have become egocentric artists, shooting just obscure stuff. I have been seeing a lot more of the “I am an artist and my job is to create insanely artful images” mentality.  But, your clients have hired you to take pictures that are useable by them, they are not funding your art gallery display pieces.

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*Above: Just a simple clean photograph, capturing a very beautiful moment between the bride and her great grandmother…no crazy sort of image gimmick.*

The Slippery Slope

I am not sure when the industry began sliding into this slippery slope of a direction, but it is really starting to rear its ugly head.  This is not meant to be rude or mean, but just bluntly honest…do not be disillusioned that we are anything but a wedding photographer, portrait photographer, senior photographer, etc. when that is what you are being paid for. We decided to go into business in order offer people a service and products that we feel they will love.

If you are starting to catch yourself, saying “why don’t my clients like my crazy artful images?” or getting frustrated that your clients are not wanting to walk the obscure line of photo sessions, that either you have crossed that line or on the edge of that line. I think it is time to move back in the direction of offering our customers an EXCEPTIONAL experience and delivering them high quality professional images with an artistic flavor.

I do understand that we as photographers do offer, not only very high quality images, but add an artistic flair to them that most people are not able to achieve themselves. This is fine and well, but we do need to keep the artistic style from running amuck in jobs we are hired for. This is a very fine line that we must walk, to deliver creative images without going off the artistic deep end. I do take some very creative shots on wedding days, some turn out amazing, some don’t and occasionally the couples like them. However, what I sell most of by a landslide are the very simple photos of the couple looking at the camera or ones with the family members. People want a reminder of what their loved ones looked like on the day and most super creative images really don’t fit that bill.

Practice Failing

I am a firm believer in going out and just failing to see what results you get with your images, but I know for many photographers reading this, you need subjects to test out some new creative ideas. I would like to offer a few suggestions of my own that work for me and maybe they can help you.

[REWIND:Failure Breeds Success: Why You Should Try And Fail In Order to Succeed]

There is always something about weddings and a bride in her dress, that wants me to push the portrait envelope besides doing just the stereotypical bridal portraits. The rub is not always being sure that if I ask brides to do some off the wall sort things, it would have the pay off that I envisioned. Being able to try ideas, outside of weddings is always the best option.

This means getting a “bride” into a wedding style dress. I solve this dilemma by finding a model that is willing to do “trade for pic” shoots and also finding a wedding style dress. I always try to turn this into a networking opportunity, approach some local wedding dress designers and use some of their designs in the photo shoot. After the shoot, I give them the images of the dress on the model.  If that does not work, there are plenty of inexpensive dresses that will at least give me a resemblance of a bride in wedding dress for the shoot.

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 *Above: This is one of my experimental shoots, with a dress from a local designer and a local model. This shot showed me the amount of time to set something like this up…I FULLY rearranged the room, set up a light lighting and killed other lights in the room (including removing light bulbs from other lights in order to keep only this light on). There were many shots that just didn’t make it, but I got to see what something like this takes to set up and if I am able to accomplish something similar on the wedding and the time I need to do it.*

I accomplish two things by doing this: I am able to put my vision into the frame of the camera to see what works and doesn’t work and make notes on how I might be able to incorporate that into wedding days. It also gives me insight into how long it takes to make shots happen (whether I had to mess with lighting, reflectors, posing, etc), something that can determine whether I have the time to attempt a similar shot on the wedding day or not.

Communicate the Timeline

While the above suggestions are great, I also know that I am in locations that I will never have the opportunity to shoot in again and simply practicing would not cover the gamut of shots I could potentially take. This is why I always, during my consults with couples before they hire me, go over what I hope for in regards to the amount of time needed for pictures. It is more common than not that I carve out 3-5 hours for bride and groom portraits.

*Note: As an editor was proofing this article, she was stunned by the amount of time I spent with a bride and groom and wedding party on a wedding day. She asked if 3-5 hours was a typo, LOL…it is not a typo. She asked if I would elaborate on this further. I will touch on it a bit, as this article is already fairly substantial in length. Brides and grooms come to me for 2 reasons 1: My Bride and Groom portraits and 2: My photo-journalistic style the rest of the day.

At the initial consultation with the bride and groom the portraits are heavily talked about. I set the expectation UP FRONT that in order to have multiple locations and the style of photos they expect, we must carve out 3-5 hours of time. In all most all the cases, we do a first look in the morning-ish time. Which means, most of the time we have no problem setting out with hours to shoot with. It is CRAZY important that you set this expectation from the out-set and understand that couple do the first look, or it will be next to impossible to carve out this sort of time. I can say, that the couple actually loves this much time alone with each other…NO one around, no distractions JUST them to enjoy each other on their special day.

It also means, that there is no stress after the ceremony to cram pics in, the couple can get family photos done and some portraits of the couple and bridal party at the venue and then it is off to spend time with the guests. There is more to the to the logistics and planning of it all…if people are really that interested, let me know in the comments and I will put an article together. *

I do this because it allows me to make sure I get ALL the images I need and what the couple is expecting. This allows me to have some time to experiment and try some different visions. Even if those different ideas don’t turn out or the couple doesn’t like them, I still have images that the couple will like and was expecting. I can knock out a couple, bridal party and family portraits in as little as 15 mins, but that gives me no time to go outside the box and produce images with a more artistic edge.

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*Above: Again, just a simple clean image of the bride with her groom and a artistic flair to it. Nothing off the wall or out of left field, an image that is very usable by the client.*

Second Shooting for Creativity

Something else I do is take 2nd shooting jobs for photographer friends of mine, as I enjoy the time to be able to shoot without having to coordinate the day so much. I am able to mess with the detail shots, pull away other wedding party members and try some more creative things during a wedding day. It also is awesome to watch other photographers work and see what they come up with.

Conclusion

I hope that some of these ideas will help you think of ways to allow you to stretch  your creative legs during sessions, while still giving your clients what they expect. While we are artists, we have to be cognizant that our clients are not paying us to have a photograph-obscura avant-garde session at their expense. They want high quality prints with an artist flare…something they can hang on their walls.

 

Brandon Perron is a wedding photographer, making a transition into a freelance automotive digital contributor/photographer, as well as setting up his own private gallery. In his words, he is an uber sarcastic gasoline loving gear head, lost amongst the hipster hyper Eco-friendly crowd of PDX and has a mouth that makes sailors blush. He likes to think of himself as a daily life commentator, where nothing is off limits to poke fun at.

Q&A Discussions

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  1. Ian Moss

    Try what you want (within reason), but give the client what they’re paying for. Pretentious nonsense will not play well with a client. Proper photography, done well, to the clients wishes – not ‘artistic’ claptrap. Either you’re a professional that actually does a job of work for the money, or you’re just playing at it.

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  2. Jesse Rinka

    I’m still at the point where I have ideas that I definitely would like to try….but that I know carry a bit of risk. I would never put my own personal goals ahead of the clients so I generally end up focusing most of my attention on executing the safer shots that I know will work and make them happy. I do believe however that I need to work on taking some more risks here and there…which would likely also be dependent on the type of clients that I am working with that day. Thanks for posting.

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    • Brandon Perron

      We all face this conundrum….we want to strech our creative legs…but need to deliver what the client expects, it’s a very fine line. Scheduling more time (check out my most recent article) can allow you to get the shots you need, but also give you some freedom to push the envelope a bit :-)

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  3. Dre Rolle

    Great article!

    Artist in general have shifted to a “I do what I want” attitude. We all do it from time to time to explore options and techniques; but in the end if you’re not delivering a useful product it just wastes both parties time. Yes client work can sometimes be….routine or generic but it’s the artist’s job to find a way to breathe life into it. If all you need is portfolio pieces go do personal projects.

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    • Brandon Perron

      I am very glad you enoyed it, Dre. Thank you for reading it…please share with your friends.

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  4. Vince Arredondo

    Its important to always shoot for yourself, otherwise it turns to a regular job, and will become the same nightmare as a day job, just doing it because you have to and because you get paid. Photography is an art, an art always require passion and, of course, our personal way to do it. Very good article.

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    • Brandon Perron

      I’m glad you enjoyed….

      I agree shooting for yourself keeps it interesting, but it is exactly that…it’s a job. We are getting paid for it and while it may be boring for us, it is not for the couple…this is new and exciting for them, no matter how common and mundane it feels to us. This is where the slippery slope happens, people think they need to make it exciting for them and of put the paying client by the way side and do there thing and it can get out of hand real quick. :-)

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    • Jim Johnson

      Years ago I did a shoot for Jack Daniels, and I received a six page description of how to light and set the shot, complete with diagrams. The money was good, but to me it was factory work, and I never did it again.

      But then again, I was well paid for it, and I had to understand that I can shoot what I like, but I shouldn’t expect to be paid for it. That was a hard lesson to learn.

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    • Brandon Perron

      Exactly Jim….

      Some people don’t want to be told what and how to do things and they run their business that way. Some are very successful and some are not. Others are ok with being told exactly what to do and having regular pay from it and usually very good pay…but you are then no longer your own boss, you are now an employee (actually a contractor…but an employee none the less) and they are paying you to do a job to their specifications. That is ok and it oays the bills, the great thing about being a photographer is in the down time you can go shoot WHATEVER you want :-) You didn’t like that way of getting work and didn’t do it again, the beauty of being your own boss. :-)

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  5. Matthew Saville

    It should of course be your ultimate goal for these two things to align as much as possible. “Shooting for yourself” doesn’t HAVE to be entirely excluded from delivering what the client desires.

    Simply put, yeah you gotta deliver a solid product, but your clients SHOULD be hiring you to “do your thing” just the same…

    =Matt=

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    • Brandon Perron

      I agree Matt…it’s exactly what I said. ;-)

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    • Jim Johnson

      The key is to not surprise your clients with your style. Be up front about how you shoot and what to expect. If you want to shoot nothing but avante-garde, that’s fine, but make sure your client agrees to that kind of shooting. Otherwise they just aren’t the client for you.

      On the other hand, there are two visions involved— yours and the clients. They pay the bills, so some compromises will always have to be made.

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    • Brandon Perron

      Jim…

      I think that is where the rub lies….I think most photographers know that they need to show normal work on their site to book jobs and then once hired go all “arsty” and only think about themselves and not the clients.

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  6. Randy Renfro

    Couldn’t agree more!

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