Sometimes the world of photography can be a harsh place, a very harsh place. Fashion photography sets standards for women and men that are realistically speaking not achievable without Photoshop or the magic of lighting. Art creates a world that just doesn’t exist but you really wish you could escape to, and portraits sometimes capture moments and memories that are embellished but you really really wish they were real. Equipment is overpriced and breaks, memory cards accidentally erase and computers sometimes just don’t co-operate. Being a photographer can be one of the harder jobs on a skill based level as well as a moral issue when it comes to clients and friends.
I started my career in photography as a commercial photographer. I photographed everything from Animals to Zippers. All sorts of things that where emotionless and pretty uncaring. I didn’t have to worry about my subject or their feelings. If the photo didn’t turn out it was no big deal. The chair wasn’t going to feel hurt when the spread didn’t make it in the latest flyer. Eventually I felt my skill set had improved and moved on from this work into things that interested me more, people. Obviously the job became a whole lot harder at this point as a whole new variety of variables came into the picture – emotions, the subject or model’s skill sets, thoughts, ideas. All sorts of things came into the picture that I had little to no control over.
I began to shoot weddings, portraits, grad photos, all sorts of fun things. Some very successful, others not so successful. It’s never easy on you when you take a bad photo. Someone once said to me you are only as good as the last photo you show. So, when a photo shoot goes bad for whatever reason you can easily get pretty down on yourself. Any photo you take is a collaborative effort between photographer; the photographic team and subject. Sometimes a project is more of an effort on the photographer’s part, other times it’s more of an effort on the subject’s part but in the end everyone just wants to take fantastic photos that will leave a lasting memory.
A year or so ago I attempted a marketing campaign targeting schools to photograph graduates. It was a fad at the time and was big in the photo business community. The idea was to photograph high school students, use their photos for marketing purposes and spread the word through recommendations and referrals through the students. After attempting to set up roughly 5 photo shoots with local students I had one volunteer show up for photos.
She had brought along two friends which was fantastic. This was a volunteer situation and they knew there was no payment involved. In exchange for their time I offered to do prom photos as well as discount any print orders.
It’s always hard when you are looking to photograph commercial grade product with less experienced models. It’s never easy for anyone. The model isn’t 100% sure what to do, the photographer has an idea in their head and tries his or her best to articulate it. And at the end of the day sometimes it just doesn’t work as planned. Sometimes the photos just don’t turn out. The light is wrong, the subject is blinking, the equipment fails and so on. There are so many factors that it’s just impossible to list them all off. In this particular case after the previous frustrations with the entire project I just wasn’t feeling it any more. This wasn’t a job where I was being paid by a client, I didn’t need to make anyone else happy… The chair didn’t care if they were in the flyer or not…..oh wait, they did this time. This would be one of those times I made a mistake. I didn’t think about the subject matter. The girls who came into town to volunteer their time so that hopefully they would get nice photos and I could use them for marketing.
I got home, unloaded the photos and treated the project like any other commercial job. I selected the photos I felt work and discarded the ones that didn’t. I didn’t take into consideration who was the subject in the photos, I didn’t take into consideration on how they would feel. I never had to up to this point. There is no particular reason the photos didn’t turn out. They just didn’t look great. They didn’t represent me and my best work and they didn’t represent the subject involved very well. Why spread these not so great photos around? I ended up just letting it be.
The project failed and I moved onto other projects from that point. Shot some weddings, edited some albums, just moved on. And that’s what happens in the world of photography. Commercial photography, to be more specific. You move from project to project and don’t get tied up in project that’s just don’t work. Except in this case there was one variable I had forgotten, the subject’s feelings. They were upset that they never received photos and it went un-discussed for more than a year, the project had ended. But there were no photos to give. In hindsight, I should have just given her some photos, but I didn’t. It had nothing to do with the subjects size, smile or demographic. It had nothing to do with the lights or the camera or even how we interacted that day. They just didn’t live up to the standard I was trying to set for myself. You only ever want to show your best work, and I assume the same goes for the subjects. You just want to see great photos of yourself. Not the mediocre ones in between.
It’s never easy for a photographer to write about their own personal failures. I am certain we all have a story like this. Unhappy clients, missed deadlines, files gone missing. In the end though everyone is just human and makes mistakes. Photographers are not people with special powers. We can create wonderful fantastic things, we can create things that make people happy, we can create things that make people cry, we can even make things that make people angry… But sometimes it’s the act of not creating that can evoke the worst emotions.
Originally published at Brian Larter Photography. Please leave any comments there.