Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Collaborate or Suffer The Consequences

The mystery photo editor over a the A Photo Editor blog writes (Who is this Dan Winters Fellow?) about the challenges of superiors/colleagues being enamoured with Dan Winters work, "...he loves a photograph he once saw. Not, that he will love the photographs he’s about to get....Could a Photo Directors job get any easier then giving Dan an assignment? Right up to the point where you’re told to give him art direction."

Ah. This message is clear - just because you are a phenominal photographer, with a great style, doesn't mean clients will want to work with you. And, if you make it worse, you make it so that you can't take direction. This is a recipe for a lot of one-off clients, with little repeat business.

(Continued after the Jump)

We are in the business of making pictures. Pictures people want, pictures people need. And those they want and need are the ones that actually fit into a story, or a mocked-up layout for an ad. If you want to try something edgy, fill the request, and then shoot your "something different", and offer it up. In this way, the client has what they need, and if they like your second image, they might go to bat for it. Placing a client in a position where they have to take what you've given them, and only that, places them in an uncomfortable position, against deadline, or additional costs for a re-shoot. Apply, instead, the "one for thee, one for me".

We are also in the business of taking direction. Sometimes it's vague, sometimes (overly) specific. To presume that you wouldn't deign to take direction, or, worse yet, you consider direction something to work opposite of, ensures that you will get a reputation for being difficult to work with, or for people to only work with you when their superiors press for it.

I can't know how Dan Winters works. He may well be a fine and responsive photographer. The mystery photo editor may just be miffed at Dan for other reasons, who knows. But, the overarching point is, you have to be easy to work with, and deliver what the client wants.

Please post your comments by clicking the link below. If you've got questions, please pose them in our Photo Business Forum Flickr Group Discussion Threads.

10 comments:

Mr. King said...

You think the photo editor is miffed at Dan Winters? I didn't get that impression at all.

I don't know how Mr. Winters works, either, but I don't get the feeling he's hurting for good assignments.

Anyway, John, thanks for your generosity in sharing information via this blog and your book. In my opinion, your book is an absolute must read, and the best of its kind I've ever read (and I've read a lot of them).


Cheers,
Mr. King

A friend, said...

John

John, I know you, I know you mean well, but you are totally off-course with this.

Dan Winters is an amazing photographer who shoots incredible pictures for the best editorial clients in the world. All the time. He is not hurting for work.

He gives clients an incredible image that goes beyond what they expected.

If anything, more of us need to tighten up our edits (I know I do.) Instead of feeling like scared little mice, we need to put a stamp on our images and show the world our view of the subject. Remember, this is editorial. NOT ADVERTISING. The client is not paying ad rates. More than likely the photographer is spending more on the shoot than he is getting paid. Clients judge you by the magazines you shoot for. It is a form of promotion but also career management.

John, please take a look at Dan's site. (http://www.danwinters.com) Look at the level of clients he has and continues to shoot for.

If anything, it is a outline for success. Have a distinctive style, be willing to make it totally your own and be willing to stand up for what you think is right.

Anonymous said...

The point is about having a concrete vision and consistent delivery of it. I thoroughly disagree with John's premise about giving the client what they want. I don't believe there is any randomness to our universe. I don't go to Five Guys Burger joints and expect them to whip me up a burrito. Clients may be bad shoppers but it's up to us to show what we want to shoot, not show everything under the sun to maybe get a hit. Laser beam or shot gun what's it going to be folks? Make better editors by showing a more distilled vision. Ambiguity is really visual pollution. As Dan says about taking chances, "Run off the cliff with everything you've got."

John Harrington said...

What I did/am doing, is making the point that it's a collaborative process, and perhaps Dan is a collaborator - if so, that's great. If not, that's a problem.

History is full of photographers who were single-mined to the point that they wore blinders, and cared not about what the client said they wanted, once the contract was signed hiring them, and delivered what they wanted themselves. Most all of these photographers are now either gone, or humbled to return to a more collaborative process.

At no time was I making a criticism of the quality of Dan's work. Quite the contrary, actually, I think he has great work. I do hope that Dan's a collaborator with his clients. If, however, he doesn't take art direction, then that's a problem.

Further, even if he does take art direction and is a great collaborator, the point - without him as evidence of it - is that you have to work with your clients to remain in business for the long term. The key to long term success is repeat business, not one-off clients, who, while they may like what you've done in the past, don't like having very much input into what you deliver, and decide it's not worth working with you.

Tim said...

I think that John has a valid point in that there is a risk/reward relationship here. Getting the balance right will lead to sustainable success and getting it wrong will lead to clients either bored with your work or pissed off that you keep pushing the envelope and not delivering what they think they want!

In Dans case it looks like a risky strategy (therefore unlikely to be sustainable) but he seemingly has enough talent that the risk is mitigated and as a result he reaps the rewards.

kencav said...

John...your point on collaboration is well taken. There are some clients who do let you do your "thing" and others who want the control. Your challenge is to lead them while catering to their needs.

My take on the Photo Editor piece is that one hires a Dan Winters or any other "distinctive" photographer for their vision and get out of the way. Someone telling you to dictate style or art direction to them is missing the point.

It's a nice place to be for a photographer...but I think uncommon.

Anonymous said...

I think john's comments are correct for a certain type of client. I'm assuming he is talking about pedestrian level visual people who have been given the responsibility to guide their companies visual presence. I don't think you can apply the same business strategy to the magazine world. The significance of the visual is well substantiated by the mastheads alone. I think editorial demands risks and attitude certainly can be a factor. Business folks are just Iowan beyond and just want something competent and on time, they probably would be unhappy if they only got one print in a box.
Clients are just different, they should be responded to accordingly. Check their Photo Mojo Levels.

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