A bit of a Rant – a bit of a Rave. Something for everyone.

I just had lunch with a photographer friend of mine, Ken Easley. We were chatting about business when Ken brought up a recent assignment he had finished. It was a shoot of 13 or 14 corporate head shots. I will not disclose the money involved, but it was a great job and the expenses alone hovered at $15K.

I listened with a smile, as I remembered being asked on a forum “when do you know you are ready to go pro?” There were several responses to the OP, about gear and being paid for photographs, having a portfolio and a website… and having money enough to live for 6-8 months. All good advice.

But I can remember that my criteria is simply… can you get the shot? Every time. Every. Single. Time.

That is the most important criteria for clients. It is knowing that you can deliver that gives the client that extra bit of warm feeling when they go to hire you for the job. They know you have the ability, the creativity, the problem solving skills, the people skills and the bullshit skills it may take to pull off the job.

Ken visited 13 cities in a two week period. He had to do corporate head shots. The images had to rock. They were not ‘models’ or ‘celebrities’, but VP’s who were unaccustomed to being photographed. The images had to rock. They were actually not comfortable with being photographed at all, and the time frames for the actual photography was very short. He had have a great location scouted, be set up and ready, he had to have backup ready to go, and he had to make the subjects feel comfortable so he could make his images.

And they had to rock.

Traveling with the gear he needed, and renting what he would need, was a huge task right there. Coordinating rentals in 13 cities, making sure that he had backup and would be able to get the shot with what he carried meant a detailed, cross-checked list. With NO room for error. There had to be 100% accuracy.

Getting the plane tickets, airports, rental cars and making sure the rental places were close and gear could be shipped back – and allowing for time for the local travel – was time consuming in itself. Imagine what an inexperienced shooter would do given that task alone.

Ken experienced weather changes that were widely divergent. Rain in Minneapolis, storms in Philly, excessive heat in NY (we are from Phoenix… we scoff at your 100 degree East Coast days… child’s play to us…) and overcast in Connecticut. But that cannot deter the photographer from getting the shot. That is what he/she was hired to do. No excuses. No “it was raining” or any kind of whining at all. Get. The. Shot.

And they have to rock.

Every. Single. Time.

It is what the professional photographer is hired to do. Be creative and imaginative and organized and spontaneous and inventive enough to make the shot under most any circumstances. It can be very stressful and challenge the abilities of every photographer at one point or another… but it is a challenge that cannot go unanswered.

Commercial photography has been likened to baseball. Every step up the plate must result in a home run. No singles or doubles allowed. Screw up one job and the ramifications can haunt you for years. Do a smashing, killer, wow-wow-wow job and people accept it with a smile. Not much accolades… it is what is simply expected.

Ken is a professional who has been working steadily for 30 years. He does that because he can make the shot, a damn good shot, in any situation. He is good at it. He is damn good at it. You can see some of Ken’s studio and read an interview with him here.

Some photographers learn this stuff from assisting other photographers. There doesn’t seem to be as much of that going on these days, and the freelance assistant is keeping more busy than the full time assistants… at least in my experience. So learning this stuff on your own is a bit more challenging. But it can be done. Even if it is just a self assigned gig.

Ask yourself these questions:

1. Can you make the shot? Under any circumstances / any challenges?
2. Will it be a good, really good shot?
3. Can you take the direction of someone who may not be present and ‘get the shot’ anyway?
4. Have you ever done a shoot where it fell apart and you didn’t get anything? Can you define what happened and make sure it never happens again?
5. Are you sure enough of your gear, your cameras, your post processing that you are comfortable taking on a job for which failure can be catastrophic?

Catastophic? What do I mean by catastrophic?

Back in the day when I was working in NY, I met a photographer who was an ‘up and comer’ in the fashion world. He had shot a few dozen pages for a couple of top magazines. He had a few reps courting him. His star, as they say, was on the rise.

He got a catalog shoot… a pretty darn good one at that. Casting 6 models and finding a location in the Caribbean was like a fantasy for him… one in which he was to make a good deal of money.

So he and six models, three stylists, a hair stylist, a makeup artist and her assistant, and his photo assistant all jetted down to somewhere in the Caribbean for a six day shoot. That’s 8 nights in the resort for 14 people (112 room rates times $150 per room…).

It rained the first and second day. He had planned on shooting on the beach and around the yards of the hotel, so no shooting for two days. They partied. Then came day three… and the humidity and heat sank in and it was slow going keeping the girls hair and makup looking fresh. Then two more days of rain…

I think you see where this is going. He didn’t, well, get the shots.

Oh he had excuses… lots of excuses. Good ones too, by any measure.

But he didn’t have images. They really wanted the images more than the excuses. Even good ones.

He had no career after that… the bill for the trip that he wasn’t going to get paid for was staggering. And no one wanted to hear the excuses… the models, MUA’s, Hair and resorts needed to be paid.

So… can you get the shot? Every time and without any excuses? That is what separates the ‘professional’ from the amateur in almost any genre I can think of. Wedding shooters have to get the shots if it is hot or raining or snowing… they have to deliver the absolute best killer images they can. Photojournalists have people shooting at them! And sports shooters are working on crowded, hot sidelines. But the good ones, the ones that pay their bills with photographs get the shots.

Related Articles:
What We Mean When We Say “It’s Not About The Gear”
Four Photographers on the Trek to the Top
On the Matter of Style: Some Examples
“So You’re a Photographer, Quick… Tell Me What You Do”
“Breaking Out” as a Professional Photographer: Daron Shade

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Thanks for following along on this little rant. I hope I made you think a little bit about what it means to be a professional.

If you are interested in a workshop this fall, I hope you take a few minutes to visit Learn to Light. And if you want to stalk me along wth about 4000 other people, my twitter is wizwow.

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