Crossroads, Pt. 1: Purpose and Principle by Miachelle DePiano

Doorway, Mission San Xavier del Bac, (C) 2016, Miachelle D Photography

Doorway, Mission San Xavier del Bac, (C) 2016, Miachelle D Photography

Today's post is rather personal. I'm at a crossroads in my photography business: I have a conflict in the principle of making money as a photography business, and my purpose in being a photographer.

I love photography. I love the stories in the images, and behind the images taken. I thrive on both. The two are distinctly different most of the time, and I find them both fascinating. I started my photography business for the same reason I started a jewelry business many years ago. I wanted to take something I love doing, and hopefully make money at it. In the jewelry business, I hit burnout, and I hit it at a time when the economy was tanking rapidly, and I shut it down. I haven't returned to jewelry since. And that's a shame, because I was damned good at it.

Five years into my photography business, and I see myself hitting the burnout stage. The thing is,  I've loved photography since I was a child, and I don't want to lose that love. This time, I recognize the signs, and know I must make a change that puts me more in alignment with my desired purpose.

People start businesses because they are good at something, and see a need or just love doing a particular thing so much, they want to make money at it. This is true with artists. Artists love to create and express themselves, and what better Utopia than to get paid to create and express yourself?

The problem is once The Man starts paying you, The Man dictates what you do. And the The Man is always right, even when he's not. This point is especially true in photography, and more so today with the advent of social media and personal branding.

Imagery has always been powerful, since cave people learned to use rocks, bark, and plant extracts tocreate drawings and record events in their lives. When photography was invented, that was a game changer in recording humanity's achievements, events, foibles and tragedies, and in cementing society's classes. The haves versus the have nots. Imagery became not just a means to record history, but a powerful tool to influence, titillate, validate, and even destroy.

With the advent and escalation of social media in our lives, photography is now a split-second consumable product. We scroll through Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, and a number of web sites daily, consuming images and just as rapidly forgetting them. Think about your day yesterday; did you scroll through a web site or social media app, look at dozens of images, and can you remember single one of them today? Can you remember who the photographer was? My guess is probably not. I can remember a couple of photos from yesterday's perusal, but not many.

Yet outside of cell phone photos, those images are created by photographers, who spend a lot of time learning their craft, spend time setting up for a shoot, spend time at the shoot, and spend time after the shoot editing the photos. This is all just so the hungry audience can digest images and move on from one to the next, in the hopes that perhaps the right person will notice their photograph and they'll get that magical phone call so many of us hear about.

I look at the last year, and specifically the last three months, and I can see why my burnout has been approaching. I shoot events, and those who know me by now and why I'm there will rush tome asking me to photograph them with this person or that person, so they can appear in publication or on-line and be seen with those perceived to be important. I shoot someone for a specific editorial and later get asked if they can have the photos for free to use elsewhere for their marketing purposes; yet they fail to understand that just as they expect to get paid for their work, I, too, expect to get paid for mine. I get asked to make people look far younger than their years, fix perceived physical flaws that will exist when someone meets them in person, and I watch people place filters on top of my work so they feel more secure in who they are as they post my work on social media. I've had an incredibly financially successful 12 months, but I'm incredibly dissatisfied with the aftermath.

It's a dog-eat-dog world, and I see myself getting sucked into it.

But I love photography, and I can't get sucked in. I want to be more than just a split-second glance.

Therefore, I have to make the change. I have to change my direction, I have to change my purpose to the one that satisfies my creative soul, and I have to be willing change principles to do so.

Next part: what will the change be?


Shooting Events for Publications by Miachelle DePiano

This is an image I took of Cheryl Ladd and her husband Brian Russell. Ms. Ladd is a long-time ambassador for Childhelp, and this photo was taken at a kickoff event for Childhelp's annual "Drive the Dream" gala in 2015.

This is an image I took of Cheryl Ladd and her husband Brian Russell. Ms. Ladd is a long-time ambassador for Childhelp, and this photo was taken at a kickoff event for Childhelp's annual "Drive the Dream" gala in 2015.

I've been working for a local magazine publisher since 2011 as a writer and a photographer. My assignments have varied over the years, and one of my routine assignments is extremely high end events, fundraisers and galas.

When you first see these events in publications, they seem like pretty easy work. And overall, compared to shooting an editorial or a fashion shoot or a portrait, these events are very easy work. However, if you are intimidated by approaching complete strangers, or if you don't understand the publication's demographic and layout, it's much harder than you think. I've seen a few photographers who more than hold their own in their preferred niche, but were not hired beyond one issue because they failed to understand and meet the publication's needs (THE CLIENT!).

Today I thought I'd talk about some tips that may help other photographers succeed in these shoots. Your mileage may vary. Not all events are created equal, and my tips may not work for you. I hope that they do.

Study Your Intended Publication

If you've never shot events for a publication, or even just for a specific publication, educate yourself on that publication. Find out who the target audience is:

  • The age group
  • If applicable, the gender
  • The income level
  • The focus of the general content.

Every publication has a target audience. If you don't understand the target audience, you will not get hired beyond the first assignment. Talk to the editor, look at several issues of that publication, and study the photos used:

  • How many people in a photo typically?
  • What are the ages of the subjects in the photo?
  • How are they dressed?
  • Are they shown holding alcohol, or no alcohol?
  • How are the photos framed? The last one is especially crucial; if you don't frame the image the way the publication wants, the image won't get used. That's bad for the publication and for you.

Be Prepared

You've studied the publication, you have a feel for what they want, and you've just gotten your first assignment. What do you do now?

  • Get your gear ready. Charge your batteries fully.
  • Have that workhorse lens that will allow you to zoom in and out. Events can be very crowded, and sometimes you don't have the luxury of backing up a comfortable distance from your subject. I use a 24-105 mm lens. Make sure the lens is clean.
  • A backup camera is optional. Because I typically shoot very high end fundraisers and galas and events during cocktail hour, I don't carry a backup camera. I have a limited number of shots I need, and I'm out before people sit down to dinner at the event. If I were shooting as an event shooter for an entire event, this would be a different article, and I'd tell you to have a backup camera without question. You can still have a backup in your car, but if you shoot events in a limited capacity like I do, one camera suffices.
  • Format your cards ahead of time. In my Canon 5D Mark III, I have both a CF card and an SD card. That way if something happens to one card, I have a second card as a backup.
  • If your publication requires names, you have two options: use your phone for notes, or bring a notebook and pen. I prefer the latter. It seems antiquated, but if a phone gets dropped and broken, or wet, or stolen, or lost, you just lost your information. You can loose a notebook, too, but it won't get erased or wiped out as easily as a phone.
  • Research the event if you have time. A) Editors make mistakes, too, and sometimes may provide the wrong location or time. B) Know the purpose of the event, the expected attire, and any VIPs.

Dress For the Event

As I said earlier, I shoot very high end events and galas. This means I'm interacting with affluent guests. I have found that my visual appearance at these events has the same impact as if I were at a job interview. When you are dressed in attire similar to your subjects and you approach them, it helps them relax. It establishes credibility. You have 2-3 seconds tops to get your subject's trust and open that door. It sounds superficial, and it may be, but it helps me do what I do and get the assignment done faster. It also can be the precursor to a light conversation that can eventually lead to clients outside of the event itself. What does this mean? It means wear clothes that fit well, no wrinkles, no dirty worn out shoes, and tidy hair and facial hair. And yes, I've seen photographers at high end events that did not dress accordingly. I've also seen the results. It's why I'm spelling it out in black and white.

CARRY BUSINESS CARDS! People do ask for them.

Arrive Early

This may seem like common sense, but for some folks, it's not. These kinds of assignments can take me anywhere from 20 minutes to an hour, but if the crowd isn't what the editor anticipated it would be, or if it's just a night when the guests seem to arrive later, you want to give yourself the leeway to get what you need. Arriving early affords me the time for the next section I'm about to discuss.

Media Check In

Many events will have a media check in table, and usually your editor will get you on the list. The hosts or the organization want to know what media is there, understandably. However, don't just check in. Ask for the PR/media contact, and ask them who their VIPs or notables are that they want photographed for the publication. The organization most often will go out of their way to get their VIPs and notables in the magazine. They want that the free press and publicity. This will typically get you escorted by the PR/media contact to those people, and can take up a good portion of the shots you are required to get, which means you are saving time. VIPs and notables can include guest emcees, celebrity entertainers, chair committee or board members, and major donors or sponsors. By arriving early, the PR/media contact can get you access to these people before the throng of guests arrive and everyone is busy with ensuring the success of the event.

Be Personable

One of the hardest things for many photographers is to walk up to a stranger, or a group of strangers, and asking to take their photo. You've arrived at the event, and it hits you that you're going to start approaching strangers. It's okay, deep breaths, they aren't going to lynch you. The worst that can happen is someone says "No." I do get refused on occasion, and I don't take it personal. If it happens, you move on to your next potential subject, and start the process over. What is my process?

  • I smile and I say, "Hello, my name is Miachelle, and I'm with XXXXXX magazine. May I take your picture for the xxxxx issue?"  Having a smile, positive energy, that neat visual appearance, and being polite will usually gain my subjects' trust in that 2-3 second time span I mentioned earlier.
  • Be aware you are going to interrupt conversations. When you have an assignment, and a limited amount of time, it's an ugly part of the job. That's okay. Again, use your manners. "I'm sorry for interrupting your conversation, but my name is Miachelle..." Most people warm up realizing you are there to do a job, and most people are happy to be associated in a magazine with that event, especially when it's a charity function or fundraiser.
  • Give the subjects time to put down drinks, or to arrange themselves. If necessary, assist with posing. People love it when you take the time to pose them. That tells them you care about how they appear in the magazine. Sometimes, if someone makes a comment about how they NEVER look good in pictures, I'll take 20 seconds and give them a couple of pointers they can use any time they are being photographed. Most people, especially women, really appreciate that.
  • Take the picture, and take two. Check your images to make sure that no one is blinking, and that the eyes/face are tack sharp.
  • Once you confirm the images are good, thank your subjects. "Thank you so much, and enjoy the evening/event."
  • Next subject!

Camera Settings

This is where opinions definitely may vary. As photographers, we all have our differing techniques and settings for certain situations. What I describe below is merely one way of doing the job.

  • My personal choice for darker events in ballrooms or conference rooms is 1/160 shutter speed, f/7.1, and adjusting the ISO as needed to ensure ambient light is evident in the image. I'll go as high as 2500 or 3200 ISO depending on the ambient lighting situation.
  • A custom skin tone setting of 5400 kelvin.
  • I have my Canon 600 ex-rt speedlight with a Gary Fong dome on ETTL, and I usually aim the speedlight up to the ceiling to bounce the light evenly.

After the Event

Remember the publication that hired you? They are your client. My typical turn around time for delivering the photos and the information to my editors is 24 hours. On occasion, 48 hours, but no longer than that. Publications have to do layout, proofing, and send the layout to the printer. They have internal deadlines to meet, and need your content as rapidly as possible. If you are going to be delayed delivering the content, make sure you contact your editor immediately!

Another tip for after the event...really try to learn names and remember faces. I'm bad with names, but I've learned remembering people and their partners or spouses goes a long way, and (again) can lead to conversations that lead to clients outside of that event. One woman commented recently after I remembered her name that she's usually only remembered by her role as her husband's spouse and was deeply touched I remembered her name. Those moments are connecting moments that can open doors.

I hope this helps you out if you're new to shooting events for publications, and I look forward to comments and questions.

Happy Shooting!