Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Finding a visual story

Today I completed a project for a new corporate client. The project started off as simple posed images of some of the key leadership people both in a group and singles shots, the client preferred a boardroom…boring as all get out. I do accept project like this from time to time, if my book is open as a freelancer its hard to turn down work. Typically a project like this is about a day or day and half worth of shooting. The client wanted images that could be used on the company website, for a wall display as well as short slide show they planned to show in the lobby to potential customers who were waiting.

I requested a pre-shoot concept meeting, which is very important when working with a new client (more on that in future post). During the meeting with the marketing directors I proposed shooting images that told the visual story of the people behind the services that were provided to customers, not just photographing the big cheeses in a boardroom. We talked about shooting the leadership team in more casual approachable way. Because of my background in photojournalism I'm always looking for ways of telling stories and this concept seemed like a no brainer for me. I often find when working with new clients it up to me to educate them with how I work best and my shooting style. I always find a way/angle to use my skills that can best serve those who are paying my rate. The marketing dept agreed to the shift in concept, less formal images and more of a documentary style. This expanded my role from one day of photography to four days. The client saw real value in the concepts and like me left the meeting excited about the photography we were planning.

Because we had a fast approaching deadline that meant getting started right away and moving very quickly. This is the type of photography I'm accustom to. I call " hit and run photography" you show up unannounced spend a few moments getting the basis jest of what the subject does and began shooting. In some cases shooting in natural light in other situations using only small flashes. In an ideal world I would have spent more time getting to know my subjects and working with the light more. A basic rule is the more time you spend with a subject or on a story the better the images will be. This situation was not ideal. Being a photographer means thinking on your feet. This is a large company with over 3000 employees with many different departments. It's not at all possible to photograph every one and all departments. I spent most of my shooting days shooting very general shots of each the predetermined departments and capturing what is called environmental portraits. In this situation that means basically showing up and shooting the employees right where they are, no quick trips to "check make up", no "let me put this on" no hair adjustments just simple and quick images.

Now that the project has been delivered, the client is very happy with the results and has even mentioned how important the pre-shoot meeting was for them. She said it helped her understand the importance of a clear direction for any project. I always find those clear honest meeting can be the difference between a successful shoot and a shoot where the photos just get the job done. I'm happy because I was able to get a few really nice images for myself but most of all I've been asked to take part in other projects. The client said, "We were going to use just copy and an file photos for that series of ad's but, I think new photo's would be better". Now, they’re thinking more like me!

So the basic lesions here:

1. Always, always find the time to meet with the client before the shooting. Often the client will not see a need for this but its makes the direction of the project clear and ultimately shows the client you care.

2. Listen to what the clients needs are. Ask questions that will help you understand more about the role your images will play and solve potential problems while covering the project.

3. Find a way for your shooting style to work for your client’s specific needs.

4. Be flexible when it comes to working with new clients. I was able to move a few booked projects to other days to accommodate a fast deadline.

5. Above all I care about the work I produce. Sometimes that means letting go of some of your own more creative idea's and shooting something that will better serve the clients needs.

Here's one of the images I shot while working with a new client. This is an environmental services employee changing the pressure of a cooling tower. I arrived to find him working on the towers in the background. I quickly set-up a small flash with a remote trigger. As I waited for him to move to the tower near camera angle, I had set up a single flash, I shot a few test images for proper exposure. Once he arrived I got maybe 10-12 quick frames before he moved on.

Working quick means no time to set-up light stands and lights. If I'm not working with an assistant I'll use tables, book cases, door frames or anything I can find to position a flash on. For this shot, I used part of the cooling tower to set a single flash on.

This article, graphics and photography are protected by copyright and may not be reproduced in part or as a whole in any electronic or printed medium without prior permission from the author. Text, graphics and photos by Mike McLean

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