Decade in Review
Coming up on a decade of making a living taking photographs. Put together some things I’ve learned over the years b/c I’m a salty ol’ dog now:
- Client review: If you have time, make sure client’s good with your shots before you move on. It will help you in the long run. If you are moving quickly/have an ambitious day + are shooting tethered yet no clients/agency are looking at your monitor, kindly remind them that someone needs to have eyes on the shots so that you can know when to call it and move to the next shot in order to stay on schedule. If literally nobody is looking at what you’re shooting while tethered, you know you have several good shots, yet they ask for you to keep shooting, stop shooting, and show them those good shots.
- Be outspoken: In general, with everything. Keep good principles, show up for your crew/community/industry. I’ve definitely (knowingly) burned/removed most of the screws from several bridges over the years, but it’s for standing up for the principles I believe in. Good rates for photographers on editorial, swatting down abhorrent work-for-hire-ish clauses in contracts, OT for assistants, big companies trying to play how-low-can-you-go budget limbo with photographers who want/need the work but feel like they’re being taken advantage of. Not to be Peter Pan, but if you’re in a financial and career position to stand up for the livelihoods of those in your industry, do it. I’ve written to companies explicitly saying they’re taking advantage of photographers, I’ve thrown “we have $200 can you suggest a photographer in your city” requests back at clients, etc. Educate these folks, politely but firmly.
- Be an environmental steward as best you can: One of my biggest internal conflicts is that I need to fly so much for my job, but I would literally not have a job or work otherwise. It’s not as simple as asking a shoot to happen in my backyard, cause then people need to fly here. It’s an insanely wasteful industry, and I definitely have days/moments where I get bummed that I’m often photographing projects that help sell more *stuff* that nobody really needs. But if you’re in a position to create the greenest sets you can, do it. I’d love to do more pro bono work for national/international environmental orgs and also begin to work with NGOs as a mental offset to this, so please do hit me up if you know where to start with this.
- PAs: Production Assistants are some of the hardest working folks on set. Get to know their names, thank them frequently, treat them like you would a good friend, include them in your community on set, don’t treat them as outliers. They will have your back, and they are often the folks who pull the longest hours (as well as producers) yet are thanked the least. They’re also often the most interesting people on set, and are doing PA-ing as side hustle. Talk to them and learn what they’re up to.
- Carrying gear: This is a big one for me. When I assisted, I absolutely *loathed* the photographers I worked for who wouldn’t touch gear. Honestly you’re an asshole if you can’t pick up a fucking thing and contribute as you move around set, full stop. As I started shooting, and to this day, it’s one of my biggest tenants. Everyone in it together, the whole team. Everyone’s different and I think/know I’m more photo team facing than client facing once the lifting starts on set, but I think there’s something shitty about thinking you’re above helping out your assistants on set.
- Please and thank you. Say please and thank you. To the caterer, to the person who woke up at 4:30am to set up folding chairs, to the people who help make set function.
- Be selfless and have no ego.
- Own your shit and apologize to whoever if you fuck up. But generally, don’t fuck up. And anticipate potential snags and address them before they happen.
- Set boundaries to avoid burnout. Many agencies operate dysfunctionally, for reasons I have yet to understand, working 7 days a week with 18 hour days with tremendous urgency. Often it’s just a great flurry of emails that could have been solved with one single well-thought-out email. People burn out in agencies. I don’t wanna burn out. Set boundaries and parameters. Don’t check your email after 6ish unless you’re anticipating that need and are being held to it. Try not to be on email on the weekend if you can avoid it. Let’s be European about this. You need to have a life outside of photo if you want to be in this business, happily and joyfully, for decades.
- That said, be accountable AF, within those working hours, in preproduction, and on set. Meet the deadlines you said you’d hit, and be trustworthy.
- Write in full sentences and with proper grammar. It looks unprofessional to write as if you’re sending off a half-finished dispatch as if your house is burning down. Slow down and think about what you have to say. Pet peeve.
- Have AA and AAA batteries on hand, always. They are tiny but important. Do you know what it feels like to have your pocket wizard/transceivers run out of juice on a strobe-centric shoot? Just don’t! Always keep at least 8 freshies of each in your camera bag.
- Keep all your equipment charged and ready to shoot with full batteries. Just a good habit, you know everything’s ready to go.
- Keep your gear meticulously organized and well marked. You’re going to work with a lot of assistants, and it’s helpful for them to know where everything is, especially when you need to move quick. For new assistants, I always give them a pre-shoot lay of the land of the camera bag so that when I ask for a 55 they know exactly what I’m talking about and where it is.
- CLA when needed: keep your cameras in as-perfect shape as you can (especially if you use them hard/in bad weather). You need them working dependably. Stay in front of your EQ maintenance.
- Apple Notes are amazing. Each job gets a note, which becomes kind of a cork board for estimates, creative decks, travel info, creative call notes, EQ lists. All in one place. No more searching through emails for that one thing.
- Prep your assistants on what the shoot looks like. 1-2 days before the shoot I’ll send creative, shot lists, EQ lists, general ideas. That way everyone rolls to set with a comprehensive understanding of what we’re up to that day(s).
- Crews are big and info needs to get relayed all the time. Say the info/thing one time to everyone, not the same thing 5 times to 5 people.. It wastes precious time otherwise. Corral all privy parties in one area, say the thing one time, and this way if there are issues/thoughts, all pertinent people can have that chat one time, and you don’t risk a game of telephone with a garbled message.