The Calm Before The Storm

It’s not like I do not like being busy with photography, but I’ve had two weeks off to enjoy with my wife, newborn son, and 2.5 yo boy and now have one of the busiest week(-and-a-half)’s ahead of me.  I love photography and anything photography related but I don’t enjoy the calm before the storm.

Today is the day that I get to pack everything I need for a week of leadership conferences for a quite large company , and a wedding the Saturday directly after.  Tomorrow is the day I get to drive for four hours thinking about what I have forgotten to pack!  I always second guess what I may or may not need for these multiple day photography jobs, and nine times out of ten it turns out fine.  However, I don’t enjoy the preparation (and transportation and setup of equipment) as much as I enjoy the work.

That being said…  Bring it!

Advertisements

Do You Have Backup Equipment?

I know it may be common sense for a professional photographer to have backup equipment be a high priority on their must have list, but you would be surprised how many shoot events with only one camera…  Even if they have more than one in their arsenal.  All photographers will always say backups are a must.  Not just for cameras but for memory cards, lenses, batteries, etc.  Not one will say “you don’t really NEED a backup” even if they never have backups.  However, even a casual shooter should have some kind of backup unless they are not worried about missing the photo opportunity due to broken / malfunctioning equipment.

Now, I am not just writing about this topic to have something to write about.  I have been photographing weddings, events, portraits, and more for about six years and not once have I had a major camera malfunction…  Until a couple weeks ago.  Not only did I have a camera failure, but it wasn’t at a lesser important job like a family portrait shoot, it was at a wedding!  Talk about needing to remain calm and composed; this was the epitome of needing to stay calm.

While at a wedding, right at the end of the ceremony (after the kiss thank god), my Canon 5D locked up and would not continue to shoot.  No error message, no reasoning, just gave up.  I always use two cameras simultaneously at weddings so I continued with the other until I had a chance to check out the issue.  When I had a minute (and you rarely have that much time to stop at a wedding), I looked over my 5D and found that the mirror had detached itself and lodged into the lens track.  I managed to get the lens off, get the mirror out, and secure all the pieces.  Then finished the wedding with one camera.

Everything the rest of the day went smooth, but my main concern was that I was leaving for an out of town job a day and a half later and kind of needed two cameras; that was what was nagging at me the rest of the day.  I was racking my brain of what to do.  Risk shooting with only one camera body, rent another body and cut into my profits, find a fellow photographer to borrow a body from?  Luckily, my answer was simple.

I had just upgraded my old Canon 20D to the newer 50D and sold the 20D to my parents who had wanted something better than a point and shoot.  The wedding I was at was 3 hours from my house, but partially on the way to my parents house who lived 6 hours from me.  I called them up and explained the situation, and they drove to meet me half way to deliver the old 20D.  That camera body has been through a lot with me being my first professional camera so it was only fitting that it was the camera to save me.  Now with sufficient backup, I felt a little more at ease leaving town for the job.

Now, this situation played out and resulted in no major business repercussions.  But needless to say, it could have been a lot worse.  I have great parents, I have great colleagues, and I have a great camera system in Canon (who reattached the mirror at no charge).  But not everyone has the same at their disposal.  Which brings me back to the topic of saying ALWAYS HAVE BACKUP EQUIPMENT!  No excuses…  Always!

The final verdict on the 5D camera body (which hasn’t come back from Canon yet) was not only the detached mirror but the shutter was way over it’s maximum shot count and had to be replaced.  That could have been the reason for the mirror detaching.  Until then, my old, trusty 20D is getting me through the jobs I have lined up currently.  So, do I need to say it again?  ALWAYS HAVE BACKUP EQUIPMENT!  No excuses…  Always!

The Art of Food Photography

I recently received a call to do photography for the menu of a local Mexican restaurant.  It’s interesting that they found me because I have no food images on my website.  I don’t do much food photography.  Actually, besides a few shots that I did in school and some quick portfolio shots I did for myself, I don’t do any food photography.  However, it was something that I was always interested in and quite a bit of my photography in college was geared around small product and artistic shots of small trinkets of sorts, which is kind of the same technique.

Anyway, they did find me and I had enough samples to show them to get me the job.  I had eaten at the restaurant a few times (as I love Mexican food and it is close to my house) and even remember commenting to my wife on the pictures in the menu “These are pretty bad.  I can take way better pictures.”  So it is a fun coincidence that I was called to do the photography for the new menu images.

I had some idea of what they wanted.  How hard could it be?  This wasn’t a full day shoot for a high end cooking magazine to showcase the restaurants chef, it was menu shots.  I compared it to the difference between white background clothing catalog shots and a high fashion Vouge photo spread.  Worlds of differences.  I was given no direction or input as to what exactly they wanted except the phrase “You’re the professional.  Whatever you think looks good.”  So that’s exactly what I did; I shot how I thought would look good and show customers looking at the menu what they are going to get from ordering said meal.

I felt I went above the call of duty photographing more meals than we had talked about originally, two angles of each meal that gave a little bit different lighting on the table, and even took shots of the inside of the place when asked as I was packing up my equipment.  I got the final retouched shots back to them in about ten days, which is what I had told them.  I was happy.

Then I received a call saying the owner was unhappy with the shots and needed them all to be reshot.  That really broke my spirits.  I didn’t know what she didn’t like, what she wanted instead, or any insight as to what she wanted in the first place.  After the initial disappointment in myself, I began to get a little angry.  The owner had the opportunity to be there for the entire shoot and chose not to.  I did meet her at the end of the shoot and it was her that asked me to take a couple inside shots of the restaurant bar.  She even questioned the way one of the plates looked and asked to see one of the shots on the camera screen, which I showed her, and she said it looked fine.

I am going back to reshoot for no charge.  The only request I made was to get with the owner and talk about the shots I took, the shots she wants, and ultimately break down everything that can possibly be a factor with the photography.  There is a lot going through my head.  I know I can take creative, artistic, shots of the food; I even shot a couple of the meals in a more creative way while waiting for the next meal to come out.  But with the low end charge for the shoot, how much should I be expected to do?  It was something I had mentioned when talking with the manager of the location I photographed at.  He was, after all, the only person I had contact with.  When you add more meal props (ie. multiple meals, background accessories, drinks, placemats, candles, etc) the production goes up, the time commitment goes up, which means the cost goes up.  There was also the mention of food stylists whose job it is to make the food look its best in order to transfer to photos the best.  None of this was needed, he said, just straight forward shots of the meals.

Now this brings up the question of how to move forward, and how any photographer should deal with unhappy clients.  How far do you go to make the client happy?  There are really just two paths to choose.  You can reshoot, and if they don’t like it again, reshoot again, and if they don’t like it again, reshoot again, and…  You get the picture.  Keep going until the client is happy or walks away from you.  Or, you reshoot, and if they don’t like it again, you yourself walk away.  The risks involved are your reputation.  With either option there is the risk of their word of mouth stopping not only future work from them, but anyone else they may talk to.  There is also the chance that they respect your work and realize that each of you are on different pages and respectfully part ways.  There is no way to know how it will turn out and that is the reality of having a business; it’s true with any business no matter the scale.  How will I handle this?  I am going in to the reshoot with a smile on my face, camera in hand, and a willingness to discuss their needs.  Where it goes from that point…  we will find out!

Below are some shots from the day.  The first two are the standard retouched shots that I delivered to them (there were 18 meals in total) and the next two were a couple more creative shots I took spur of the moment while waiting for the next meal.  They did receive those shots too, but on the disc of secondary angle, unretouched images.

Smooth Weddings Are Not A Result Of Extensive Planning

       Now before anyone jumps on me, I’m not saying wedding planning is obsolete or wedding planners are pointless.  Planning does help, but it does not directly relate to a wedding running smoothly.  I have been to plenty of weddings, both as a photographer and as a guest, and two things are certain…  They always run late, and some one is always worried that the schedule is off.

       What is more important is having vendors that can roll with last minute changes and not freak out when something varies from the written schedule of the day.  Anyone that is calm and collected when planning the events of the day will be more valuable than the schedule of the day itself.

       I recently traveled out of state to photograph my cousins wedding and was very comfortable with the flow of the whole wedding, but most impressed with the setup and organization of the reception.  All of the typical activities took place one after another (entrance, toasts, cake cutting, dances) all while a room of catered stations was available for guests to access at their leisure for their meal.  I had never seen this before, and while at first I was a little thrown off, I came to realize how this setup enhanced the entire flow of the reception.

       I don’t know if this was the work of the wedding planner hired for the day or the parents of the bride & groom, but I am going to credit them with it.  I have a love hate relationship with wedding planners and sometimes dread hearing that a couple has hired one.  A good wedding planner is hard to come by and a bad wedding planner can ruin the wedding from a behind the scenes point of view; not to mention drives me insane as a photographer.  My job consists of thousands of split second decisions and can not always fall into a time schedule by the second.  I don’t care if they are to be introduced at 7:00 sharp, if the setting sunlight is reflecting off of the lake to create a perfect light falling on the meadow while I am photographing the bride and groom then they are going to be introduced a minute or two late.  No one will mind and it’s not worth being pushy or stressing out about.

       But back to the people who planned this wedding…  They did a wonderful job of keeping me updated without forcing me to stop doing my job, and all of this not because they planned the entire day perfectly, but because they were calm, collected, and able to roll with the flow that is created by each individually unique wedding day!  If you are ever planning a wedding in the greater Owensboro, KY area, hopefully you are blessed to have parents as great as Ellen & Matt’s, however, I suggest you look up Lesley Cart with Welborn’s Events to be your wedding planner.