I was reminded of something last Thursday that is sometimes (too often) missing from a lot of work these days. It seems that we all know how to get the work done correctly, and efficiently, and diligently but many have forgotten how to have fun with the work. I mentioned last Thursday because having a lot of fun that day reminded me of many of the projects I end up doing over the course of a year in collaboration with people who are obviously stressed and under the gun to perform. And who are obviously NOT having fun. And seem not to want to have fun.
Business has gotten so busy, and at the same time so chancy these days, that more and more people approach each task in their crowded purview with a mix of iron control and blindered tunnel vision. They worry through every step and, sometimes, their stress is contagious. They worry about time management. They worry about budget. They worry about the tiers of committees within their companies who will dissect every decision made and who will, collectively, relish the role of "monday morning quarterback." They worry that the project might go overtime which causes worry about things like traffic and child care. Deep down they worry that their marketing concept or their campaign really isn't as brilliant as they wish is was and they obsess about the impact a failed foray might have on their company's bottom line. But most of all, they've just worked so hard for so long that they've had the fun sucked right out of their work lives. At least that's the way it looks from outside. (And of course we call what I have written just above 'hyperbole').
I understand the feeling that one needs to be in total control of each tiny piece of a project but, in reality, no project ever goes exactly the way people imagine it will. There is never "complete control." There are bumps in the road but at the same time there are pleasant surprises and wonderful coincidences. But it requires ratcheting the stress down far enough so that people are able to weather the glitches and harvest the great things that can happen unexpectedly.
I think the best way to do that is to prepare for as much as you can. Why did Thursday's shoot end up being so much fun for me? First of all no one had to be completely in charge. I trusted that the client would know what shots they needed and come prepared to help work through a rational schedule. I trusted that the models were professional and wouldn't need to be obsessively coached or highly directed. Instead of having one person who would sternly look at images on the monitor and give a "thumbs up" or a "thumbs down" we quickly fell into a dynamic where everyone's opinion was considered valuable and where give and take was the rule of the day. If we saw something that wasn't "on the list" we gifted ourselves with the leeway to spend time experimenting and playing with the concept. The client, in turn, extended me the same. He believed I knew what I was doing and had his best interests in mind.
No one was overly obsessed with details that would not be visible in the final photos. A frontal shot of a person wearing a belt is not "ruined" if there is a clothespin behind their back, pulling a shirt tighter. If we are dropping out a background a small ding in the white seamless backdrop isn't a show stopper. Without a "supreme boss" who ruled with an iron fist, we could shoot in a relaxed way and enjoy the process. A shoot at which everyone is happy and well fed is a wonderfully productive project. A shoot where everyone feels that they are on the verge of being fired by a relentless bully is like a broken car that lurches forward in painful lunges and spews noxious fumes into the immediate environment. In those situations you're never sure you'll reach your destination.
So, here is my short list of how to have fun on a photo shoot:
1. Be clear on the concept and make sure the client is clear as well on the same concept. You both want to be pulling the wagon along in the same direction.
2. Clients and photographers should treat each other as equal partners in the project at hand. Laugh together, learn together and have fun getting stuff done. When one person tries to rule the hierarchy the good feelings dribble away and the time seems to go on forever.
3. Treat models, assistants and support people with as much respect and kindness as you would like to receive from them. When everyone works happily more stuff gets done and everyone puts more of their energy into the success of the project.
4. Make sure the schedule is reasonable. Photo shoots should not be desperate races to complete unreasonable amounts of work by sheer determination. Projects should be planned with a do-able pace in mind. One that allows for bits of happy experimentation, breaks for proper, good meals, and lots of ongoing collaboration. If you are racing an imaginary (or real) clock you and everyone on the team will cut corners and conserve their energy and output to try to make it to the finish line alive. The worst clients (the ones who suck the air out of what could be fun jobs) are the ones who want to pull three days worth of images out of a single day. It never works out the way they intended...
5. Have a nice, relaxed lunch and take the full "lunch hour" to make a break from what you just got done in the morning. It allows you to start with renewed energy in the afternoon. Everyone I know with a real job gets an hour for lunch; the "event" of having a photo shoot shouldn't prevent living well.
6. Be professional about your part. If you are the photographer it goes without saying that you should know exactly how to do your job. You should have your batteries (and their back-ups) charged and ready to go. Lights set up and well planned. A clean and well stocked environment to work in. A client shoot is NOT the time to try out shooting 4x5 sheet film for the first time. Practice makes for a smooth shoot and that smoothness translates as confidence. Confidence in your expertise and professionalism will go a long way toward helping a stressed client unclench a bit and have more fun as well. It's a virtuous spiral. Don't make excuses for your gear. Use the right stuff and be sure you know how to use it. You should be able to do a custom white balance on your shooting camera almost with your eyes closed. Same with all the other functions.
7. If something isn't going right stop and fix it. Don't try to ignore or power through an issue. It will come back and bite you on the ass. And that causes stress and ignites the un-virtuous spiral of blame and recrimination. An ancillary subject to this one is the need to practice your craft safely. No models in swimming pools with alternating current electronic flash heads strapped to their backs.....no shooting on rail road tracks.
8. Have a targeted finish time. If you've planned well you'll have gotten everything you need to accomplished. We called it a "wrap" at 4:30 pm last Thurs. No one complained about not working longer. The truth is that we all run out of energy by the end of the day and everything starts to fall apart. The work suffers. Emotions start to fray. People start to take everything too seriously. If you are still working at the end of a twelve hour day you might want to think long and hard about how you are scheduling. Clients can ask you to schedule too much in one day but you don't have to accommodate them. You can always explain your reality. You are an expert in your field after all, right? If you have clients who don't understand what constitutes a "day" of work in your profession then you have done a poor job communicating.
It's eight hours. Everything else is over time. Price overtime fees high because you'll know you are not working in your optimum fashion once you crest the eight hour mark....
9. Invite input from everyone when it's appropriate. The client may be the final arbiter but you might find some really good ideas from lots of people on the team. They will enjoy being asked.
10. It's a worn out saying in the corporate world but I really mean this: You should celebrate your successful jobs (and they should mostly be successful if you plan them out right). Wrap the shoot and then spring for the first round at happy hour. High five each other. Shoot some group shots to share on the web. Talk up the high points of the day. Ignore the little glitches or poorly thought out remarks made during times of stress. Talk up everyone's contributions and you'll have a future team that looks forward to working together on projects. Include the client in every step of this team celebration!
Learning to have fun at work is work too. You need to be diligent about pushing back against bad practices because, in the end, you as the photographer have real power on every shoot. You can say, "No" to unrealistic pre-planning. You can make clear how you work and what you require. You set the stage for the way everyone works on the set. You are the example of positive relationships and productive work. You can either make your jobs fun or you can suffer through twenty or thirty years of personal hell trying to work in this industry. It's something to consider.
We're into the 21st century and we're making our livings as artists. Life isn't that rough. Plan your projects so that everyone has a good time while getting good work done. Isn't that the worklife we should all be aiming for?
Finally, forget the cowboy boots or five inch heels. Wear some really comfortable shoes. That's a good start....
Make making money fun.
Wear the right shoes.
Make sure you know how to work your cameras. And don't forget to bring along a back up. Or two.
When it snows take a minute to lay down and make some snow angels.
Laugh and play together and you'll get just as much done but it will seem like you did it all in the blink of an eye. Happy teams pitch in together to get stuff done.
Craft service is important. It's fun to bring donuts (or Cronuts(tm)) but be sure to bring some protein to the set as well. You don't want everyone sugar crashing right after the coffee break.
Keep your pencils sharp and your filters clean.
Most crews run on good coffee. A well stocked Keurig set up is the absolute minimum standard. Don't invite me to your set and let me see a jar of instant coffee anywhere. Just don't.
With a great team that's having fun, and all on the same wavelength you can accomplish almost anything. Getting good photos under those conditions should be child's play.
I have no caption for this. I included it for the silly reference to hipsterism.
When we play we try out lots of different styles and methods. Some (filters) might look a bit embarrassing a year or two later while some might become the next big thing. You'll never know if everything you shoot is done to a plain vanilla formula. Play harder.
When you find the fun clients nurture the hell out of your relationships, and remember the value they bring to your life every single time you work with them. If you aren't paying off a desperate loan to a malevolent mob loan shark you'll be smart to turn down toxic and untrainable clients. Life is too short to live as though every photoshoot is a dire emergency with no good outcome....
Bad clients? Screw em. Go swimming instead.