What You Can’t See Matters

A talented photographer I know recently shared with me a blow-by-blow account of how tough he was with a client who was over-noodling his vision for an advertising shoot. “In the middle of the shoot I told them where to put it,” he said, proudly. “I’m an artist and they hired me for my vision, so that’s what I was giving them. Period.”

Period? He was bragging. I didn’t get it. Seemed like he’d been watching too much TV.

Fast forward to this week. I’m swapping stories with an Art Director friend of mine over a beer. He confessed something to me that, on reflection I knew inherently, but hadn’t really thought about since the photographer I mentioned above championed how he’d “stood up to” the client and refused collaboration. What my AD friend said is a little truth that’s not often publicly voiced in and around the world of professional photography, but that everyone who’s in our world knows… [click the ‘continue reading’ link below]

And it goes something like this:

What you can’t see matters.

Obviously, as professional photographers, we’re most commonly and justifiably measured by our visual output. What do our pictures look like? Do our images achieve the desired effect? Who hires us? Do they make people want to buy a new pair of Nikes or do they stop someone in their tracks at a gallery or do they arrest someone flipping through the pages of a magazine? Common knowledge.

Our pictures have to cut the mustard to even be considered for the ball game.

But ask any AD, CD, or PE – you name it – hiring us also depends in part on the intangibles, the total package we bring to the table. Whether that package includes experience, vigor, passion, wisdom, naivete, intensity, technical knowledge, whatever – we know not. Certain things in that list above (it’s obviously much longer in reality that what I just scribbled down…) are not in our control. Experience for example. At any given time, the sum of one’s experience is just that. But on the other hand – so laments my AD buddy – there are a large number of fundamentals that we can and should remember since they, in part, determine who gets hired.

Picture this: an Art Director has to spend 10 days on set with a great photographer in Aruba. Think they want to hang out with a jerk? Nope. The other guy gets the gig. Your pictures are great, but you can’t deliver them on time. You get hired again? Nope. Let’s try a new photographer.

I’ve had more ADs and CDs tell me this in private than I can count on all my fingers and all my toes, and it finally, over that beer with my buddy, occurred to me how rare this topic is in our community’s online discourse. Us photogs ramble on about exposures, and lights, and creative vision, yet we often forget to think about the basics that are important to those who hire us. Are we hard working and enjoyable? Are we on time? Do we foster confidence and exude integrity?

Call it the basics, or call it the X factor – whatever. Remember, like all human interactions, there is a threshold in play for those who hire us – they’re willing to take a risk here, work with a jerk there, but in the long run, when business is at hand, they’re covering their asses. Sure they want to hire a great talent, but usually not at the expense of good business and the basic building blocks of any healthy relationship.

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