Why you should never do a photography job on the cheap or too quickly.
When I first started out as a photographer (aged 19), I was desperate to take on any job I possibly could… At the time I was having my hair cut at a trendy hairdressers in the town I lived. Obviously the fact that I was a photographer came out in our conversations.
Undoubtedly you’ll find that once you make the leap to becoming a photographer, you’ll find that EVERYONE has something they want photographed… Young women will want model portfolios, mums will want portraits of their kids or the family pet or (god forbid) all of them together. However, the one thing these people will undoubtedly have in common is that they won’t want to pay for it.
Ask anyone in the creative space; musicians, graphic designers, painters, videographers you name it they will tell you that in the early days the hardest part is not getting work, it’s getting paid work. People will ask you to do all sorts of jobs, right up until they ask “and how much will that cost…” You’ll watch as their face falls if it’s anything more than a tenner.
I don’t know why this is the case, but it most definitely IS the case.
So, when I was asked by the Mr Trendy Hairdresser, “Would you like to do some photography for me, for a national competition?” I wasn’t at all surprised when he told me “I don’t have much of a budget”. I should have thought ‘How come this guy doesn’t have a budget, he’s been charging me a fortune for hair cuts for the last year?’ but as I was young, in-experienced and a little bit desperate, I thought ‘This could be great for me!!!’
We spoke at length about how to do the shoot and I explained that we could cut costs by using high street labs, instead of professional labs, use cheap film stock (there was no digital in those days) and that while I’d rather we hired a proper studio, but I did have studio lights, a roll of paper and room at home. However, I also explained at GREAT length that if we cut costs, we would be cutting corners. “No problem he exclaimed… “Oh and another thing” Mr Trendy said, “We need these by Friday next week”.
Needless to say Mr Trendy Hairdresser chose the very cheapest of everything that was on offer. I explained that in order to get the very best, it was worth investing in the best film, using the best printers and hiring a proper studio.
The day was hard work because everyone was in my cramped space… We didn’t have any props and the models wore the clothes they turned up in. Was it a complete disaster? No, but I have to say the results were mediocre at best. The biggest problem was that the prints were far too contrasty and they were inconsistent.
They say a bad craftsman blames his tools. It wasn’t the tools. It was me. 24 years ago I was young and inexperienced and I hadn’t learned to say ‘No’and under these circumstances I desperately needed to say it.
Mr Trendy was underwhelmed by the results and asked “What can be done, we’ve got to get these prints over in three days” I explained that we could give the negs to a very good printer I knew, but Mr Trendy wouldn’t get much change from a hundred quid a print. “Ok, let’s go for it!” He shouted in excited tones!
Thenit hit me… I knew I’d been duped. The reality was that he DID have budget for this project, he was just trying to get the job done as cheaply as possible. I gave him the negs and the number for the printer and left his hairdressing shop feeling like an idiot.
I hadn’t gained any exposure from the shoot, in fact quite the reverse, I expect Mr Trendy took every opportunity to tell people how rubbish I was.
However I did take away a very important lesson about creative work. That is: ‘It doesn’t matter how much people pay for creative work, they will ALWAYS expect top results’.
After this I only ever did jobs on my terms. If I needed to hire a studio, it was hired. I only worked with the best printers and using the very best film stock. I certainly never, ever took a job that was needed in a faster time scale than I could comfortably deliver.If people didn’t want to pay, they could go and find someone cheaper.
To this day, whenever anyone says ‘Gosh that’s expensive’ I will see it as an immediate flag that the person I’m talking to doesn’t value what they’re asking you to do and will probably be the first to complain…
I appreciate if you’re just starting out in photography it’s hard to say ‘no’. But the reality of it is that if you have a stunning model, a make up artist, hairdresser, a complete wardrobe and a large studio space you are halfway to producing an amazing image.
If you cut corners, you’re halfway to creating a mediocre image.