Monday, March 31, 2008

On Being a Professional

So many Idiots With Camera (IWC) go out, and make our lives more difficult. Whether acting up on TV, or being unprofessional in the execution of our photographic duties, the world sees us as less and less a professional, and more and more a nuisance.

Recently, I received information on two separate, and distinct demonstrations where professionalism was lacking, or simply devoid.

(Continued after the Jump)
The first was the fisticuffs that took place while paparazzi were covering the arrival of do-nothing heiress Paris Hilton in Turkey. Paris was busy trying to recover her image, as if she had one to begin with. Yet, the assembled photographers and videographers can be seen here throwing fists, and if you look carefully, you can see one TV cameraman using his $30,000 camera as a weapon, hammering down on an unseen victim.

The second is the situation where a wedding photographer was found to not deliver professional results - in fact, results not consistent with the portfolio they presented. (PhotoResearcher, by Joel Hecker, Esq) Further, the photographer did not deliver on the terms of the contract. Specifically, they did not bring an assistant they had said they would. Thus, they were found to be in breach of contract for this, and other reasons.

In an odd way, there are benefits to these incidents. Perhaps, people will become more discerning when they select a photographer. When I get a call from a 5-star hotel who wants to send me their "vendor agreement", which dictates how we may act, and comport ourselves while on site for the event (press conference, wedding, and so forth) and they require us to provide proof of insurance, I smile and send along the appropriate documentation, knowing that at-least 75% of my competition just got nixed from consideration, or, perhaps, when it's a last minute call for an event at those same venues, it's because other photographers (among that 75%) got nixed after the client had signed them because they could not meet the terms of that vendor agreement. It's surprising that I am among the minority of photographers who have liability insurance. One lost job is more than enough revenue to carry that insurance in the first place.

Over the years, I have covered countless movie premieres and events, and worked with many many A-level celebrities. It's easy to illustrate how we are different - ney professional - and clients fear the possibility of hiring an unprofessional photographer who does not know how to co-exist amongst the VIP's at their event. I recently received a call to travel to five countries this Summer over 12 days, for a premiere project. The client has indicated to me, when I asked "who have you used in the past..." responded about the trials and tribulations of working with an unprofessional photographer. This five-figure assignment was won not because I was the most talented with a camera, or because I had the best eye/vision, but because I have a track record with this client of being professional as I make my images.

Would I love to have all my assignments conveyed to me because of my unique vision? My creative capabilities? Absolutely! But, in the end, I am more than happy to that the assignments that come to be because I am 1) the only one available; 2) I was the only one who called back; or 3) I was the only one who had the right professional attitude to accomplish the assignment.

I see often clients who come to work with me, and then, for no apparent reason, stop calling. Then, they start calling back again. Over time, I've learned that these clients get lulled into a false sense of security thinking that the service level I deliver is comparable to that of others in my community who deliver at a price 30%-40% less than me. So, for a few hundred dollars, clients go elsewhere. Soon, they learn that there is a difference, and they return, with a new understanding and respect for a level of service that they expect on a continuing basis. These clients remain, over time, and are among my favorite long-term clients. Some of them have been calling on me for over 15 years.


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10 comments:

Anonymous said...

Amazing! I noticed some shooters standing away from the fray not shooting. If you are going to hang around a situation like that you might as well snap a few frames.

Ed Z said...

John,
This is a fantastic point, and something all aspiring and even seasoned pros should take to heart. It is definitely something that is at the forefront of my efforts to build my own photography business. A professional attitude and demeanor is more valuable than gold :-)

Sean Cayton said...

Go one step further with this line of thinking John.

That one extra step tells us a lot more about being a professional and that is this:

As a professional your job is to find people who appreciate and respect your professionalism and pay you accordingly.

So that means you would probably never do a job for that couple's wedding or work for that wire service because arguably they weren't looking to hire a professional.

Further, as a professional you should have as a standing policy a MONEY BACK GUARANTEE on all of the work you perform.

Whoa. There's something to think about. If you're truly a professional, then customer satsisfaction and demonstrating results is not only expected, it is guaranteed.

What's almost always lost when people write about how angry they are at their clients for insisting on all rights, or signing work-for-hire agreements or whatever else happens to them on the job is this: You CAN always say no.

By being professional you are empowered. You dictate the rules of the game. You decide who to work for and further who you will market to.

Who doesn't want that?

In the end, photographers who lack the confidence to be professional will always find an excuse to not be. And there will always be picture buyers, photo editors and wedding couples willing to capitalize on those photographers who didn't do anything about their insecurities (or laziness?) to begin with.

Great post!

Anonymous said...

So you think it was some amateur with the big pro video camera? Or because that guy was pushed or yelled at it was ok for pro video guy to use his video cameras as a weapon? If only the place was filled with pro's this would have never have happened, is that the idea? You should watch the end of more football games, where it's everyman for himself, trying to get to the big players or read McNallys new book where he talks about Eddie Adams getting on his giant sized assistants shoulders and then using him as a bulldozer to get close to Jimmy Carter at the DNC. Pro's are often times more willing to be jerks and aholes because they HAVE to get the pictures, where maybe it's not so life or death for the amateur.

Anonymous said...

I don't see where John mentioned anything about amateur's in that crowd. Only some less than great behavior from the professionals.

Steve Cairney said...

I must admit, I did roll my eyes at 'IWC'. Seriously, people need to let that (along with the companion anachronisms) as a stigma go. My only niggle with this post, btw.

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