My First Gig: or the perils and triumphs of photographing under contract for someone else

(c) 2010 Brian E. Miller Photography

My brother emailed me today.  It was an email I had been looking forward to, both with excitement and with some dread.  Excitement because it meant that his company’s website was finally up and all the pictures on it are mine.  That is exciting; it was my first photographic gig.  Dread because I had, and have, this nagging sensation that the images are simply not good enough; that I had been found out; that he, and others, would now know I am a hack.

It was the best of first gigs: my brother would fly me and my family to his place for a long weekend.  My wife and child would enjoy a weekend of really good food and the company of family whom we love dearly.  I, in return, would spend 2 days photographing his production plant for his new website.  He had a list of shots he wanted and he wanted something better than what he could do with his point and shoot but didn’t want to spend an arm and a leg for a professional photographer.  Sounded great!  Sounded win-win…

What I learned:

  • First, this was a way different level of photography than what I was used to.  I couldn’t just go in an shoot, click-clacking away hoping that I got something usable to post of Flickr later and tell stories over.  No, I had a shot list I was expected to fulfill and anything less was failure.  Wait!  Failure?  There was the risk of failure??  I’d never had that in photography before, at least not that anyone else would know!  Yikes.  Dread.
  • Photographing people by request is not a forte of mine.  Oh, I can get some good shots of folks but mostly candids.  Now I needed head shots and I had to make everybody look good.  Now, don’t get me wrong, they all look good.  But that doesn’t mean they are all going to like the images I take of them.  So what needed to happen was that I take images of people that they wanted, not what I wanted or I thought looked good.  What they wanted.  What they wanted.  (Yes, I know I’m repeating myself, but I really do want to drive home that this job entailed getting what someone else wanted, not what I wanted.  And that is hard.  And that helped create the dread I felt.)
  • Although I ascribe to David duChemin’s motto of “gear is good, vision is better” I’m also going to begin ascribing to my own motto of “when you’re creating someone else’s vision bring way more gear than you think you’re going to possibly need.”  I had been in my brother’s plant before and I thought I knew the light but when I showed up my heart sank.  The light was horrible!!!  I had to shoot either with a really low shutter speed or my ISO cranked way up to get some of the shots, which sent a post-processing panic through me.  And I couldn’t get some of the shots that I thought would match the “set list” well and please my brother because of my limited gear.

Sounds like a nightmare, right?  Well, in a way it was.  I got so stressed I hardly enjoyed my visit with my brother’s family and I got really sick while there.  I found photographing someone else’s vision very stressful.  But you know what, it also pushed me incredibly.  I had to move wayyyyy out of my comfort zone and try things I’d never tried before.  I also came home thinking about my limitations and ways to overcome them.  I’ve spent more time re-thinking that shoot and different ways to accomplish the set list with my limited gear.  I’ve learned more from having done that shoot than from the previous few years of photographing my usual subjects.  And that has been worth it!  Perhaps I am still a hack, or maybe I was then, but at this point I am a more improved hack.

And you know what, it’s my first gig; I got it under my belt; and it is now published for all to see, right here. (This is a slimmed down, initial, version of the website that they wanted to get online due to some impending press releases.  I’m told the full site will be up later with more pictures.)

Have you had a first photographic or creative gig?  What was your experience like?

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11 Responses to My First Gig: or the perils and triumphs of photographing under contract for someone else

  1. Amy Zampella says:

    I think the photos came out great. You sure had a first tough assignment with all that fluorescent light! And the dual stress of first gig and working for a family member. Some may think that it would be easier, but in reality, I think it’s more stressful. Leave it to you Brian, for making everything a learning and growing experience – impressive.

  2. Joshua Davis says:

    RE: High ISO – OTOH since the work was for a web site so a little noise from a high ISO isn’t going to be noticeable. If the shots were used for large format printed material then… eh… high ISO, not so much.

    Congrats on the gig! Don’t forget to come back and visit us in the land of “click and pray and post-to-flickr and tell stories” (my permanent photographic home)!

    • Brian Miller says:

      Thanks Josh. Yeah, I guess I’m pretty hard on myself. I haven’t forgotten about Flickr. I just have much less time now than I used to for surfing the net. I do check back pretty regularly though.

  3. Marc says:

    Brian – the images are wonderful….You did a great job on em. You should be proud.

  4. Josh Gentry says:

    They look good. Interesting post.

  5. elaine says:

    The photos look fabulous…. you did an awesome job.
    I agree with Amy in that sometimes working for family is actually harder and more stressful! …but you handled it with grace and expertise.

  6. Pingback: On Being An Artistic Hack | LomiMonk Photography

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