If I take a long hard look at the photography I do for money, it becomes apparent that I am quite content to pick the low hanging fruit as far as jobs go, foregoing any interest in the type of big money work that most commercial photographers strive towards. Most of my colleagues in professional photography would turn their noses up at what I do, especially the pack shots. If you’ve ever done pack shots you’ll know that they are not a lot of fun and can test your mettle.
So why is this? Why am I picking this low hanging fruit and not aiming myself at more lucrative work much higher up the food chain? I have watched a number of Karl Taylor’s interviews with some of the world’s biggest names in commercial photography and while I would love to be able to charge the kind of money that these guys make for the advertising photography they do, it’s evident from the input they give in these interviews that I probably won’t have what it takes to work in those echelons.
Not photographically (it’s all just about lighting after all), but interpersonally. I appear to have a thick vein of contempt for authoritarian figures wherever they present themselves to me (dear hipster Art Directors, I’m looking at you) and a very low tolerance for ineptitude. The top commercial photographers, while sometimes precious in their behaviour, do tend to be more receptive to client folly, whereas I am more likely to point out that X or Y is never going to work and to pursue it is a stupid waste of time.
Last year I did a shoot for a fairly large chain of hardware shops here in South Africa who’s marketing person had decided that she wanted to change up the way they were presenting their leaflets and wanted to show the products “in situ” instead of just as boring old pack shots. All good, I said. I would charge a day rate. I arrived on the set at one of their distribution centres only to find that nothing was ready. They were literally going to be building the set while I sat twiddling my thumbs. Not very well thought out.
So of course I had to say something about it and thinking that I was helping the marketing manager / art director / ad designer by criticising this approach as being somewhat inefficient and that they should probably have built the sets before I arrived, I managed to offend her (this was her brain child after all). On that shoot I billed for one and a half days and I pressed my shutter button no more than 30 times.
The leaflets came out OK, but I have noticed that the company in question have now returned to the traditional pack shot grid for their latest leaflet. Either she got fired or she took onboard my criticisms and realised that hiring a photographer for a day and a half to make 30 images while her set builders were assembling cupboards and painting large MDF boards as backdrops wasn’t a clever thing to do in the first place. Whatever the reason I haven’t heard from them again.
The other thing that probably doesn’t work in my favour when it comes to aiming for the big money commercial jobs is that my ideas on what constitutes aesthetically pleasing differ quite markedly from those that other people consider aesthetically pleasing. To be honest sometimes I just don’t get what makes designers tick, so it’s probably best if I don’t try and pretend to be one. Not that I am not a creative person, just that my ideas are very different to what most would call “creative” for any particular thing.
On big money commercial shoots for large brands there is normally a very strict brief that has been poured over between the client and the advertising agency and the photographer’s job is to simply follow that brief to the letter. This would be ideal for me to do, but realistically the guys who get selected to do those jobs are almost always very well established photographers who have networked well and built their portfolios to match the clientele that they are working with. Thanks to the lessons I have received on Karl Taylor Education I am definitely closer to being able to create that kind of work for my portfolio, I just have to GOMA and make it happen.
But I’m not sure if I want to.
You see, the low hanging fruit is always going to be there and what I have found is that strangely enough competition for the pack shot work isn’t that high around where I live. As I said at the beginning of this piece, if you’ve ever done it you will know that it’s not exactly very stimulating, nor is it particularly easy to do if you are just starting out. I’ve accumulated quite a significant amount of studio gear that makes me very efficient at this work and using my past experience in knowing exactly how long it takes to photograph any particular type of product, I can play the pricing game very nicely. Today I have only two different rates for a pack shot, so no complicated pricing dramas. It either costs X per shot or X+Y if the product is complex to shoot. That’s it.
So while the wolf pack is running after weddings and lifestyle shoots for the heavily narcissistic, I am quite content to fill my basket with these “lowly” jobs. At the moment I am busy with a very large catalog job for a different hardware supplier - over 1000 images to be made of ironmongery items. Spread out over a few months it actually will pay nicely and apparently this is only the tip of the iceberg.
Low hanging fruit it is for me then.
The feature image for this article is from my iPhone showing what I arrived to on the "in situ" shoot I mentioned above.
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