The day a photographer left me speechless! (You won't believe this.)

Tracy Marlowe  |  October 14, 2009

And trust me, it's not becuase of the photos he produced.

If there is one thing that I won't let go of, it's my work ethic and accountability. Almost to a fault, I don't want to let anyone down. So I just have to share a story that happened to us recently. As a business owner—but more so as a person—the actions of this particular vendor just made my jaw hit the floor. I can't imagine EVER, EVER, EVER doing this to a client of ours.

Through a client we worked with in the past, Tracy and I had met this charming golf-pro turned self-taught photographer who was doing some nice HDR (High Dynamic Range) photography. He was very nice to work with and although he was not a seasoned ad photographer, he recognized his shortcomings and truly wanted to learn about the ad industry. We knew he did nice exterior shots, such as landscapes, buildings. etc and wanted to see him make a go of it.

So when Tracy and I came across a client that needed an exterior shot of their building, we eagerly called him, excited to be working with this nice guy again. A reasonable fee was negotiated and the shoot was scheduled for a couple weeks later. The day of the shoot looked bleak, at best, so an hour from shoot time, she called him to postpone.

The next day, he bailed on the job. Literally, he sent an EMAIL saying he didn't want to do the job. And that we should find someone else. WHAT???

Knowing there must be a really good reason, I called him. And nope, there was no really good reason waiting for me on the other end of the line. It wasn't because we postponed. He just decided it's not really the kind of job he wants to do. I said to him. "So you would rather burn the bridge with a client that could bring you future work than to suck it up and do a 2-hour photo shoot of ONE building that involves NO models, NO lighting and NO props?" His reply was simply. "I guess so."

My veteran ad photographer husband was in the background practically doubled over on the floor he was laughing so hard at the stupidity of this guy I was on the phone with. Simply by hearing my end of the conversation, he got the whole thing because I was repeating everything he said to make absolutely sure that what I was hearing was right.

"So you know this is a highly irresponsible thing to do."
"And you don't care if you ever get a job with us again."
"This is just not the kind of photography you want to do."
"But you know, ethically, it's the wrong thing to do."

I felt like I was on some cruel advertising version of Candid Camera. Apparently, our little fledgling photographer had befriended an ad agency that was giving him advice to "only do the kind of photography you want to do."(Great advice back in the 80's and 90's when there was an abundance of work and stock was still considered a financial term.)

"While that's very noble and aspiring, the best time to do that is certainly BEFORE you commit to an assignment." I bluntly told him. I had never truly experienced the expression "having the rug pulled out from under you" until that day.

Although I gave him some advice which I'm sure he promptly spit out as soon as he hung up, I feel better for having said it.

So for any newbie photographers out there, here is some wise industry advice -- which actually could be applied to any business you're in:

1. Don't put all your eggs in one basket. Just as no fool would put all their money in one specific stock, photographers shouldn't rely on one or two steady sources of work. If your direct contact (meaning the one who hires you, would fall on a sword for you and pops open a cold one with you after the shoot) leaves for higher ground, you may be left sinking. This industry is based on personal relationships just as much, if not more, than on portfolios, so if your personal contact is gone, guess what, the work might be, too.

2. Don't consider yourself irreplaceable. If you've got a really unique style, be prepared to evolve yourself, because there will be other photographers that will adapt the same technique, style, photoshop tricks...whatever. There are those occasional projects that call for a unique style, but these days, and in this market, dependability and affordability can be more marketable than uniqueness of style.

3. Don't expect every client to think every shot hung the moon. It's time to put on your big boy underwear and not expect a lollipop after every shoot. There are agency clients out there that have high standards and they may not do cartwheels at your brilliance. It's impossible to completely hit it out of the park every time you're at bat. And for some people it may seem like you never do. But if they keep calling you then, HELLO??? you must be doing something right, so don't burn the bridge.

4. Learn from mistakes and then try not to make them again. If its it's an assignment you regret taking, just finish it like a professional and decline them in the future. If you forgot a critical piece of equipment, be creative and hobble along without it, but pack your equipment better so it won't  happen again. If you accidentally erase all your images, reshoot it for free. But first and foremost, be professional. Clients will be more likely to remember how you handled the bad situations, than the good ones.

5. Its's a small world. Treat every client like they are best friends with the other ones you would rather be working for. Word travels fast -- good and bad.

So you might be wondering what we ended up doing with that shot of the building. Well, after my husband stopped crying from laughing so hard we both agreed he could easily do it. Even "that photographer" himself told me HDR was pretty easy. And in the 3 years since I met him, LOTS  of other photographers have picked up on it (see advice tip #2). Steve did about an hour's worth of research and then created some beautiful shots, including this one. So thanks "other photographer dude," you just made my husband more marketable! To see more of Steve's work, check out

HDR Building Exterior

HDR Building Exterior

And if you're wondering why I haven't mentioned names. I can't bring myself to go there. That's petty.

by Trish McCabe Rawls

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