The biggest difference between amateurs and pros is vision – not developing it, but executing it.
When you’re an amateur photographer, you shoot for yourself, and maybe a few friends and family along the way. The client you ultimately serve is yourself, and your own creative instincts. You shoot what you want, when you want, where you want, how you want.
And then you turn pro, and the equation radically changes.
Now, as a working pro, your main mission is to serve the needs, wants and interests of the customer – even when it comes to vision.
The good news here is that most clients are not going to blindly hire you – they already appreciate the creative vision you bring to the table. But what happens later, on that project where your artistic vision clashes with the client’s?
Let me be clear: If you’re being paid to execute an assignment, your vision is secondary to the client’s. Your No. 1 goal, at all costs, is to serve the customer’s needs and make him or her feel damned happy he or she hired you.
When visions clash, the first thing you must do is prioritize executing the client’s wishes and meeting the client’s expectations. When you’ve gone above and beyond in regard to meeting the client’s vision, then – and only then – give yourself permission to do your own “take” on the assignment. Sometimes you’ll need the client’s permission, on or off set, to execute an alternate version; sometimes you’ll take a risk and just do it, and share the results later. Either way, shoot the client’s vision of the project first, and yours second (time permitting). And always execute your alternate idea with speed, efficiency and humility.
Veteran commercial photographers do this automatically, usually without creating too much fuss. Truth is, at least in my case, I could fill a book – probably several volumes – with examples of times when clients chose my vision over their own.
Prioritizing your client’s vision quickly takes the conversation out of the realm of vision and into the realm of value, which is exactly where you want to go.
You want your client talking and thinking about you as a valued partner, not a service provider primarily interested in making points, winning arguments or flaunting a creative agenda.
Don’t get me wrong: Vision is very important. And the long-term client with whom you have a mutually beneficial, win-win relationship knows it. But when your vision gets in the way of a client’s vision or a project’s overall value, then it’s time to step back and reassess.
I wish commercial photography was always about executing our personal creative visions, but it’s not. As a matter of fact, as you move up the commercial ladder and your project fees get higher, you’ll likely find that you have less and less control. You may even find yourself in a constant state of modifying your vision, even abandoning it, to serve the client’s greater needs.
You’ll live. Shoot the client’s vision first, then yours, and see which treatment wins out. And always relish commercial opportunities where you get to spread your wings and show off your own creativity, with little or no client direction or supervision.
But equally embrace, with great joy, the not-so-liberating opportunities that include tight comps, storyboards and a studio full of young, inexperienced art directors championing their vision over yours. As you collaborate and co-create with your clients, you might actually replace the clashing of two visions with the meshing of two visions.
When all is said and done, the real time-honored lesson here is about attitude, not vision. Manage your service attitude with the utmost care, kindness and diligence, and your vision will take care of itself.
Jack Hollingsworth is easily one of photography’s most well known names in the world of Lifestyle, Travel, Portraiture and Stock. His three-decade commercial career boasts numerous awards, publication credits and satisfied customers. Jack Hollingsworth
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