Last fall in Birmingham I had the opportunity to create images of an aircraft that was for sale. While lots of folks think that my job is all glamour (he gets to travel!), in reality it was 2½ hours each way, and the day wasn’t finished until a flat tire was changed on my assistant’s car, upon our return at 1:30am. The shoot itself went extremely well, in that we had a spectacular fall day, a cooperative/energetic crew chief, and an extremely well maintained aircraft. It was clean as a whistle, inside and out, and allowed me to deliver a wider selection of images than might have otherwise been possible.
The repeat client was particularly happy with the images, and called again in early January, for a potential location shoot that was 5½ hours away. Because of the distance, it would have required an overnight stay, with the associated expenses, including mileage. In the Shoot Estimate, the fees remained the same, with the associated travel costs factored in. To my dismay, the client selected “a more affordable solution.”
While understandable, out of curiosity I later went to the broker’s website to see what had been done. While the images are “usable,” to my eye the images are a bit underexposed, an extreme wide angle lens is overused almost to the point of vertigo, and the exterior shots are pedestrian at best. If this sounds harsh, it’s not meant to be, but rather I’d hope that it is educational. To my way of thinking, virtually any image can be improved, including my own, given enough time and resources. One thing I have a real hard time accepting though is lack of effort or expertise. The craft can be learned, but effort should be a given. The interior images reflected great effort, but alas, the exterior images did not.
Having seen the resulting images, and compared them to mine from the previous shoot, I can only hope that the client sees and, perhaps more importantly, understands the difference. Aside from the technical differences, there is also an aesthetic that is unique to each artist. Many years ago, it dawned on me that commercial photographers all use virtually the same high-end gear...the same cameras, lenses, lighting and so on. The real difference is how they see a particular subject, and based on their training, their experience, and their aesthetic, unique images are created. It’s one of those “intangibles” that is hard to put your finger on, but you know it when you see it.
When I first started out, I worked for a time in a local lab that processed slide film. I was often amazed at the consistent (perfect) exposures, and it occurred to me that this part of the equation is a given...no exceptions. Interior, exteriors, available light, strobes, whatever, it was expected to be perfect...every time. Why? Because it should be, and perhaps most importantly, it removes that variable from the imaging equation. In other words, the client should have the widest possible selection to choose from, and technical failures should not be a consideration. It maximizes their time, their investment in hiring you, and allows everyone to concentrate on the aesthetics of the image...beyond the technical considerations.
This can be very important, depending on the client. Often, advertising images are created over time, and not all in the same location. Matching the look, the feel, and the image quality can be paramount to a client. How often have you seen an off-color can of Coca-Cola? You don’t...and that’s because there is a particular, specific color that is associated with their brand, and only that color will do. No exceptions.
Many times a client will hire a specific photographer for their “look,” and because it’s very difficult (if not impossible) to duplicate a particular photographer’s style, they’ll be hired to go worldwide, if need be, to create images that are consistent across the board. It makes sense, from a marketing perspective, to spend a bit more money to create and maintain a uniform look from start to finish. The visual aesthetic becomes part of the client’s brand, one that they hope will become synonymous with their marketing message.
In the end, I was hoping that the client would understand that value, but alas, the dollar considerations won out. Was it worth it to the client to save a few bucks? Only they know the answer to that one, but an inconsistent presentation never looks professional, and can sometimes be detrimental to what they hope to achieve. If it’s important to a company to create and maintain a distinctive visual brand, then perhaps the short-term value of a dollar should not be the key factor in making creative decisions.
Just a thought...