I have a close friend who is a photographer, and every time we meet up, at some point in the conversation, we have a marvelous, passionate exchange that lasts at least ten minutes, about what is currently driving us a little crazy in our current lives as photographers. I also have a boyfriend, who is very kind and patient, and endures these same moments of griping from me, without having a "I KNOOOOW, RIGHT??" to fire back. I think one of the most important caveats of this, is reminding my boyfriend, my family, my non-photographer friends, that I love my job. I do. I need no extra reminders of how lucky I am to have the career that I do; I think about it all the time. If Christmastime ghosts ever make their way to me to teach me a few lessons on how wonderful my life really is, I'll tell them to move along and save themselves a night of flashbacks, because I am 100% aware of my current situation and how awesome it is.
These little frustrating moments though, are usually all in the same situation ballpark. I think that the main root of these problems is the difference in expectation versus reality from clients; that gap that is present in a lot of jobs that require a specific service. Whether it's photography, or plumbing, there are always things that are 'obvious' to the service-provider, and not-so-obvious to the service-receiver. I write a lot of emails and have a lot of phone calls that all include the same types of explanations, and in the spirit of keeping things real and laying it all out on the table, I thought maybe it's about time to just put them out into the world. This isn't for the purpose of saving myself emails, or phone calls, and I'm not trying to get all Buzzfeed-y and rant. I just find that the best conversations I have with clients are ones that are real, honest, and not all about a sales pitch. Even if you never need a photographer in your life, maybe just keep things like this in mind for anyone you're hiring to perform a service that you don't have much knowledge in.
I CAN ONLY KNOW WHAT YOU TELL ME
I am definitely not psychic, and I also try [read: try] not to draw assumptions. If I am not given specific details on what you need from me, I will just do my very best to do what I am hired to: take photos. Especially in a wedding or event situation, where you really want to grab a few group photos with some special people, I will always ask what you need from me. But, if there's never an email back with a list, or a "let me get back to you" that never seems to happen, I will not arbitrarily start forming groups of people for photos. I know it's a totally common and innocent thought to go, "The photographer will take care of it," but please remember that the photographer is only human, and is not in any position to just decide who you will want photos of. First of all, there are a lot, and I mean a lot, of different family situations, that are different for each and every person. I have gone to weddings that had forty-person formal portraits with every living family member, and, alternatively, I have had weddings where certain people were not speaking to other people, and it seemed pretty clear that they wouldn't want to be in a fun, posed photo with them. While it may seem like it should be my responsibility to know all of the shots you need, I will only know what you tell me.
PHOTOSHOP IS NOT SYNONYMOUS WITH MAGIC
This is generally the thing I end up explaining the most, in some form or another. And you know what, I get it. I saw quite a few movies and TV shows when I was growing up that involved surfing. I spent a lot of my childhood in Santa Barbara, and remember going into the surf shop that was down the street from my dad's store, and buying surf magazines, and even pinned up some of the pages to my wall. It looked so graceful, the way that you could float out in the ocean, and then find the perfect wave, and hop up on your board, and just glide through a tunnel of crashing water. My dad rented a surfboard for a day during the summer when I was maybe ten or eleven, and I was so ready to have that Johnny Tsunami moment. As you can surmise, dear reader, it did not go that way at all - that surfboard just turned into a glorified raft as I clumsily attempted to just sit on it, let alone use it as a majestic ocean steed. You and I both know that there are many people who can very well have that experience, sometimes as often as every day. It came with lot of time and practice, and definitely not on their first try. Photoshop is, arguably, more accessible than surfing. You can use it indoors, and the risk of drowning is considerably lower. But, like surfing, it is not instant magic. Here are, verbatim, some Photoshop-related things that have been said to or asked of me:
- "She's about to put on the wedding dress!" "Oh, let's clean up that stuff off the floor!" "No, the photographer can Photoshop that all out."
- "I thought you were going to Photoshop me - why didn't you trim my stomach? You said you would edit the photos."
- "I have a tattoo that I need you to take out - it's my ex-boyfriend's name."
This is the short list, and they are not exaggerations. I once had a really biting review left on a wedding website from a bride whose main complaint was that I didn't 'edit out the beer cans on the tables' during the reception. Let me start by saying this: all of the above things are in the realm of possibility, in this world. Space travel is also possible, but involves a lot, a lot of steps. Take the first situation, for example. It's very common for a bride to get ready in a hotel or bedroom before her wedding, usually the space is shared with her bridesmaids, mom, or all of the above. After a tornado of makeup and pajamas and shoes and suitcases, there is more likely than not, a trail left behind. To explain it as simply as I can, you cannot remove something from a photo, without having something to replace where it was. If you are wanting a clean room made from a messy room, the only way to do that is to:
- physically clean the room
- take a photo of the messy room, and then clear all of the things out of the room, and take a photo of the now-clean room, and use that as a base for editing the messy room photo, and replace all of the trash/clothes/piles/etc. with pieces of the clean room image
I think we both get which one of those is the more practical option for everyone. As far as retouching goes, I'll do the basics when I'm editing a photo. I'll generally do some light skin-smoothing, and remove any obvious blemishes [i.e. a zit on a forehead]. I cannot make you thinner, and I cannot change the way your chin or arms look. There are people who can - I know a couple of them personally. They are very skilled at what they do, and they charge their clients accordingly. This realm also goes hand-in-hand with the family photo situation - it feels very wrong on my part, to assume that you would want something drastic changed about yourself. While you may feel that your insecurities are obvious to the whole world, they usually are not. If you're really wanting a similar change made in one of your photos, I will of course direct you to the right person; but please don't expect your photographer to be operating a the same level as those Vanity Fair editors who are making Adele look slightly thinner. [Sooo are we mad about that, or on board? Jezebel.com says yes to 'mad', the many emails I get regarding Photoshop weight loss magic say something different...]
I PROMISE I AM NOT WITHHOLDING AND/OR HOARDING PHOTOS OF YOUR FAMILY AND/OR MAGICAL MOMENTS AND NOT GIVING THEM TO YOU
I made a little F.A.Q. section on my website here about a year ago [it's under the INFO tab], because I had seen a few other local photographers doing that, and really liked the concept. This is touched on in that page, but it still comes up pretty frequently, so I'll dive into it a little bit. When I take photos of a wedding, or portraits, or just about anything, my process is to go through all of the photos, take out the images that are out of focus, or include blinking, a weird mid-sentence mouth movement, etc. and then edit the rest and send them to you. There are also many shots that I take that are light tests, to make sure my camera settings are good to go before shooting in a new setting. The bottom line here is, I am not just deciding to leave out a portrait of Aunt Roberta from your wedding photos. If it is not in there, then either no one requested a photo of that lovely Aunt Roberta, or maybe it was on the list, but no one could ever track her down that night [that crazy broad, God bless her]. I have gotten texts and emails at 11pm, asking things along the lines of, "Did you get any photos of us walking through the arbor where we're smiling, and there's the Rolls Royce driving by?" Please trust me, if I did, they would be in your possession. But if you were walking through said arbor when I was not around, and was tackling another area at the time, then chances are that I did not even know it was happening. [Main takeaway from all of this: communication is key!]
I THINK YOU GET THE GIST
I don't want to get crazy with this; I'm sure you get the main idea. I'm not mad, I'm not unhappy - I just like everyone's feet to be on the ground when it comes to expecting things from other humans. A final thought is this: please don't use Instagram or Facebook as your standard for what all photos should look like. There's a reason you don't see ENTIRE weddings on a photographer's Instagram; they're sharing one particular, beautiful moment, that they think other people will enjoy. Even at the most well-executed of weddings, not every moment is perfectly windswept and romantic. There is food being chewed on. There are sneezes. Keep in mind that photos from weddings and senior photos and families and the like are meant as reminders of moments that happened in real life, and not supposed to be highly stylized, always-perfect images. Adele blinks, too.