When I was still practicing law a lifetime or two ago, some of my colleagues and I used to say that the practice of law would be so much more enjoyable without the damn clients. Obviously this was just a form of letting off steam when dealing with a problem client– usually accompanied by copious amounts of bourbon. When I made the jump to photography ten years ago, It didn’t take long for me to learn that the same maxim held “true,” regardless of whether I was carrying a brief case or a camera bag. It appears that problem clients are everywhere.
Even in the mirror, if you’re not careful.
Let me explain.
I currently find myself in strange and unfamiliar territory. For the first time in my life, I need to hire a photographer. My son’s bar mitzvah is in a few months and my wife has made it quite clear that my place will not be behind the camera. As much as I may not want to admit it, she’s right. This is an important milestone in my son’s life and a proud moment for our family. For once, I need to be in photos instead of taking them. Living the moment and trusting someone else to preserve it.
Not easy for a control freak, yet here I am. Checking out websites. Scanning through portfolios. Looking for experience. Searching out styles. Looking at price lists. Is this really what it feels like to be a client?
Thinking Like a Photographer– Not a Father
At this point I realized I was already getting ahead of myself. Instead of simply sorting our choices by what we liked and what we didn’t, I was dissecting the lighting, criticizing the posing, and obsessing over the white balance.
“What about this one?” my wife asked, with a sigh that said, “Answer carefully.”
“THAT one? Are you kidding me?!?”
Her reply can’t be printed here, but it would make a sailor blush.
Time for a new way of thinking.
Hey– Do You Think You Can Bring Your Camera?
The truth is, I have some pretty talented friends and relatives. But I absolutely, positively do not want to be THAT guy– the one who makes sure to invite his friend or uncle with the nice camera. While I am not so far over the edge that I’m even considering this, I’m starting to see where potential clients get the idea.
My search continues.
Putting Out Feelers
I decide that a good step might be to put the word out with some of the local photography groups. They are full of talent, and it’s about time for some of that networking to pay off. I was very specific in my posts about things like experience– both photographically and culturally. While I got a ton of replies, most were from photographers with little to no experience, many of whom began their emails with things like, “I’ve never shot a bar mitzvah before, but…” or, “I know you said experience is a must, but how much?” Seriously? There were even a few who offered to shoot for free, so they’d have something new and different for their portfolio.
This is not going well.
Speaking of Money…
Let me be very clear about something. I’m not looking for a deal or a discount. If someone wants to maybe trade services, that’s would be great. But I’ve been an event photographer long enough to know what kind of commitment a job like this takes. Whoever ultimately gets the gig is going to work hard and should be properly compensated.
Unfortunately, this doesn’t get me any closer to hiring a photographer.
I think it’s time to narrow the search. I freak out a few non-photographer friends by asking for a couple of referrals and I start taking a much more targeted approach to my online search.
And Then There Were Three
So, I’ve managed to narrow it down to three. I’m waiting to hear back from them regarding their availability. I haven’t sprung the news on them yet that I’m a photographer– mainly because I haven’t figured out just yet how I’m going to convince them that I’m not going to be a huge pain in the ass.
That might be easier said than done, however, because despite my promises to the love of my life that I will not sneak up behind the photographer on the big day to double-check their camera settings or question their lens choice, I do have one request that is so small that it’s almost not worth even mentioning.
Can You Just Shoot It & Give Me All the Files?
There! I said it! It’s that one dreaded question that cuts through to my very soul when clients ask the unthinkable of me. The question that raises a flag higher and redder than any other when deciding whether to work with a new client. I’ve given the speech so many times that it’s second nature. Am I really about to drop that bomb on a fellow photographer?
I’m sure thinking about it.
I don’t need an album or prints– two more considerations on my own checklist in determining the potential value of a client. All I’m looking for is a qualified, talented, culturally knowledgable photographer who is willing to shoot the event and back up a copy for me before they leave. Kind of funny (scary) how reasonable it sounds coming from me, yet how mortifying it sounds coming from a client.
Does this obvious double-standard lump me into the same category with all of those clients for whom I’ve denied the very thing I’m seeking? Do I become the problem client if I don’t take “No” for an answer?
The jury’s still out. I’ll let you know when the verdict comes in.
Do you have a story to tell about being the client instead of the photographer? Tell us about it in the comments.