The 12 best things a photographer can hear

1. Could you just pop in for a few minutes? – we only need a few shots.

Usually the tuning notes that precede a full symphony of requirements – as models, costumes and props descend as if from the Covent Garden Opera House ceiling. The “few minutes” inevitably harks back to (and magnifies) the amount of time the client has spent thinking about this. The “few shots” are what you wish you could administer to the back of their head in a quiet alleyway. (Or that some photographers pour down their neck to dull the pain.)

2. Can you show me that one on the back of the camera?

“What? On here..?” (…he says, quickly tweaking the settings to show an unreadable mess of histograms on the back.) “Not really, this camera is just all technical like.” In truth, nothing will generate disappointment in a client faster than seeing a 21 million pixel image rendered on a tiny LCD, through raindrops and pie-grease-thumbprints. Trust your photographer. And wait for the proper unveiling.

3. What’s your price for a couple of hours?

Um. A couple of hours of what? Firing away like there’s a demon sitting on the shutter, or planning, shooting and processing amazing images? As with most conversations that begin with “how much…” it’s likely that expectations are sailing away to sea already. Start with what you really need, and how beautifully, carefully and lovingly crafted, and go on from there. Realistically, a good photographer is going to work more intensively if time is limited. You’ll save less than you think by trying to shave minutes off here and there. We’re more motivated by getting the job done well than by watching a clock.

4. We’ll need all the photos you’ve shot.

Oh dear. You won’t, you know. Because if we’re talking live action with people, they’re talking and moving, and I’m shooting rapidly at times to make sure everyone looks at their best. The ones with the snarling mouths and drooling fangs? Trust me, you do not want those. Nor do the people in them. In fact, they may exact a terrible revenge. Nor should your time be taken up sifting for the best. You should only get the best. Why would I send you stuff that wasn’t? Why would I not send you stuff that was?? And a real artist will always be trying new things, pushing technical boundaries to get killer shots. Which means there’ll be cock-ups, and flash misfires, and zoom blurs that didn’t, and panning that went down the…and do I really need to continue?

5. While we’ve got you here for the party, can you redo our website headshots?

Ah yes. The perfect time to immortalise your senior leadership team on the company website is after they’ve gone three rounds of fine wines in the Great Room at the Grosvenor House. Nothing says: poise, focus and energy like claret teeth and snowy-white trails down the philtrum. Seriously, a portrait shoot is an important job. Give it time, space, preparation and do the right thing at the right time.

6. I’m doing the flowers – can I have some photos of them?

“Of course you can!” (At which florists’/caterers’/venue managers’ eyes light up with sunny delight.) “But…(and here they start to well up with sour tears)…if you like them, and want to use them commercially on your site to promote your business, you’ll need a licence.” If they have a value to you, they have a real value to me as well. Professional photography isn’t something that just happens. It’s not going to be that expensive, as my costs are largely covered, but I’ll probably do some extra editing to bring out the things you need (because I believe in doing things properly), and did I mention that professional services are precisely that? Professional. Not free. That’s amateur. Which this service isn’t.

7. Let’s allow fifteen minutes for each costume and scene change.

A normal person can get changed in three or four minutes if they really get a wiggle on. And anyone knows that you can change lights just by flicking a switch. But if you allow less than an hour per significant change of setting and clothing, disaster will loom. It’s been said that a great photo is a third in the planning, a third in the taking, and a third in the processing. Don’t skimp on the first two, or the third won’t be able to dig you out of the poo.

8. Can we do anything we like with the pictures?

Actually, pretty much, yes. I’ve always leaned far more to the generous side of licensing than perhaps some others I can think of. If you commissioned the images, it’s in all our interests that they get plenty of use. You’ll be happy and come back for more, I’ll get my stuff seen and loved. Provided a fair fee’s been agreed, of course. But there are limits. If you’ve commissioned shots to promote your business, and they start appearing as prints for sale on the railings by Hyde Park, we’ll probably need to have a chat. See also: handing over images to the press as “stock” when their use will be nothing to do with what you commissioned them for. You’ll always get a fair, written licence saying what’s covered. Sticking to that is, well, fair.

The happy tog

9. But the guy last year did it for £50 and a dinner.

Cool! You must have got a great deal. Where is he this year? Oh…he isn’t? Oh dear. Had to go back to the call centre job? Oh dear. Sold his cameras? Gave up photography? *tut tut tut*. Yes. I wonder why. And you’re still fighting that defamation case from the guy who was photographed with his hand down the… and he SOLD your event pictures for stock WHERE? Oh my days. Yes. You got a great deal, didn’t you?

10. Of course, it’s much easier now with digital, isn’t it?

So true. Since digital, lighting all got brighter, and more consistent. People stopped getting in each other’s way, and now they just leap into beautifully composed groups, because digital. Tungsten became daylight, and lo, the lion lay down with the lamb. Digital means steady hands and calmness under pressure and always being in the right place at the right time. And ok, yes, you can take more shots with a lower marginal cost, so you can, but you gotta go through them all, and that’s not really a zero marginal cost, now is it? C’mon. Think on.

11. I bet you miss the darkroom.

I’ve never been in a darkroom. Sorry. Next? (I picture the look on a black cab driver’s face when flagged down at the lights and asked if he misses his horse. And I try to do exactly that look.)

12. You have a lovely camera. I bet that takes great pictures.

It certainly does. While I spend my time peering down the bridesmaids’ dresses and snarfing wedding cake. It just goes “click click click” and bugger me but the job’s done almost as if I didn’t exist. Chances are that in your venerable hands it would probably leap into life and make the most amazing stuff. Here you go, have a quick try – what do you mean, your taxi’s here? You were on the verge of the Taylor Wessing, srsly. Happens to me all the time, with this lovely camera. In fact I have to deliberately balls-up a few, just to keep myself grounded.

Inevitable disclaimer: this might be a load of lighthearted nonsense, but in here lurk at least a few useful things you might want to think about when working with a photographer. And you’ll find we’re generally more helpful than snarky. Honest.

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3 thoughts on “The 12 best things a photographer can hear

  1. My personal favourite is “we don’t have a budget for photography, but doing this shoot will benefit your portfolio”. Really ? But you are a company and you want me to take pictures to benefit your business so that you can sell more product. So, what if someone came to you and said, I would like one of your products, but I don’t have any money to buy it, however, it will really be really good for you when people see me using/wearingyour product.

  2. Yep, can relate to pretty much all of those. I was once asked to do a full days shooting for a gym in return for a quarter page ad in the back of their local leaflet!

    Good stuff!

  3. It’s funny to see that people ask same things in every place. I enjoyed reading your 12 points. I found really funny the last one :-)

    Jorge Villalba
    Valencia, Spain

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