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It’s time to talk about the photoshoots that go wrong.
Most people write about the tricks and tips that guarantee success. That’s an illusion. I won’t say the word “lie” – it’s too harsh. Those articles promise success where none can be assured.
Don’t get me wrong – the advice is useful and good to know. It does help the shoot go smoothly; however, life has this funny way of throwing a wrench into even the best-laid plans. Sometimes no matter what you do or how prepared you are things can and do go wrong.
It’s okay! It doesn’t mean you’re a bad photographer. It’s just a part of the daily grind. It is real life and you cannot escape this reality.
Sometimes photography, just like every other endeavor, hands you a bag of hammers. The important thing is to handle the situation. You need to come out of the proverbial lion’s den with all your faculties intact.
Hopefully, the following stories will lift your spirits. I also hope they will give you some inspiration and some courage to continue when all you see before you are roadblocks and negativity. Knowing you’re not the only one may make it easier to get out bed tomorrow and to keep working hard.
Note: As I mentioned in the photo caption above, I haven’t used any images from the anecdotes I discuss here. I don’t want to create targets. Instead, the images in this article are from successful photoshoots but also some very challenging shoots.
When you shoot family portraits you witness some interesting family dynamics. Most of the time scenarios are pretty average. Perhaps there’s a bossy mom or a grumpy. You might run into the moody teenager or difficult children. All of these issues are relatively easy to manage. Bossy moms need a little encouragement to focus on being relaxed. Grumpy dads are easy to appease with a few jokes and a promise that the session will be over quickly if he can try to have fun. Teenagers are usually easy to bribe if you take a few photos and then promise to give them their favorite for social media.
However, what happens when you meet the family from hell? What do you do when the situation is far more complicated than you expected? Imagine trying to get images that portray love and caring in a family when there is none present. Imagine a situation in which family members are staring each other down across a picnic table. I never imagined that I would meet one of those families until I did – and it shocked me.
The family members were making thinly veiled insults towards each other. When I asked them to pose, they began to throw a few snide comments my way. I was not impressed. When clients don’t treat you with respect, it’s really difficult to create images that are appealing and unique.
It seemed like a situation in which nothing was going right. Truthfully, nothing was. The shoot became far worse the moment the grandmother pulled out her point and shoot camera. She proceeded to stand behind me and shoot over my shoulder. Normally, I would have stopped the shoot and walked away. The clients would have received a refund when I returned home, and that would have been the end of the whole event.
I should have followed my instincts and walked away, but I didn’t. Knowing when to get out of or turn down a job is as important as taking amazing photographs. The only thing that stopped me was the woman who booked the shoot. I’d known her for a long time and felt wrong about lumping her in with her mother in law. That was my mistake. The advice is simple. Never let personal relationships affect your professional nature. The client was being rude and overstepping her boundaries. That was reason enough to walk away.
Instead of creating the best possible images I made the bare minimum effort and didn’t try to add in any of my usual fun creativity. The shoot ended with the client receiving some pretty basic images.
The behavior of a client affected my ability to produce the best possible portraits. That’s not good. Never allow that to happen. If you can’t produce great images in the situation, then don’t take them. Don’t deliver sub-par work. It will only affect you later on. Those who view your work won’t know that the client was impossible; they’d see the photo online and assume your talent is limited.
We’ve all run into this situation. We end up with clients who want you to turn them into something they are not. They show you pictures of themselves from 20 years earlier and 30 pounds lighter. They expect you to create the fountain of youth for them. This becomes the challenge. You have to convince your clients that they are beautiful just the way they are. That’s probably more than you can accomplish in 90 minutes.
The advice is simple – be gentle, be kind. Do your best to put the client in poses that show off their best features but at the same time be firm. If you create portraits that address the insecurities of your client, and the images are photoshopped and look fake, it will once again reflect badly on you.
Instead, work with the client to achieve the look while still holding to your vision. The work must reflect your skills and aesthetic as well as satisfy the client.
In this case, I asked the client to show the photos to her friends. I knew the images were great, but the client couldn’t accept her own body. The comments and praise from friends helped. She purchased the images, but I’m pretty sure she did so to be polite.
A few months later, I saw her new real estate signs around town, and in the end, she had used a different photographer. The images were highly photoshopped and looked nothing like her. There’s nothing you can do when a client wants a certain look. You either have to deliver or hold to your vision.
Part of me wishes I had caved and given her what she wanted. Perhaps I would have landed more jobs from her if I had, but it just didn’t feel right. I didn’t want to create an image that wasn’t true to the beautiful person I saw before me. The lesson in this situation is that photography cannot repair someones damaged self-image. Be prepared for the client who dislikes your work.
This final scenario presents a situation in which no matter how much you prepare, you cannot prevent mother nature from wreaking havoc on your photoshoot. The family requesting the portraits had just the one day available. Family members were visiting from the west coast of Canada, and it was a do-or-die type of scenario. There was no option to reschedule, and just our luck, the remnants of a hurricane decided to blow through the Toronto area making the option for shooting outdoors impossible.
The challenge here was to create a warm family atmosphere despite the raging wind and rain outside. The family was understanding, but they were adamant they needed their photographs completed then. The hurricane forced us to have to improvise a setting and deal with bad lighting.
We moved some furniture and tried to create a nice setting with a large couch. I moved the couch to face the large window to add natural light to go with my flash. My strength as a photographer is in shooting solely with natural light and in outdoor settings. I don’t do well inside in confined spaces without the opportunity to improvise and add some physical activity. However, we had no choice.
In this case, the resulting photographs were not up to my usual standards, and I was unsatisfied with the work. While the client seemed satisfied with the product, there was the issue of personal pride in the work. This experience resulted in a personal decision to improve my studio photography skills so that in the rare circumstance when I cannot shoot outdoors, I can still create work with which I’m satisfied. The lesson here is knowing your limits and then working to improve your skills.
Photography can be unpredictable. That very factor makes it exciting.
For those of us who crave some variety and challenge within our work, we embrace this fact about the photography world. It can cause frustration and anger, and sometimes you might wish you had a different career or hobby.
Then in the next moment, the truth hits you, and you know the unpredictable challenges keep you going. You’d be bored otherwise. The idea of knowing how each day begins and the end makes you cringe. So take a deep breath and dive into the business. You can handle all the challenges life throws your way.