When you’ve nothing else to do

Occasionally I’m asked to work for a fee the client sets, a fee far below what it costs me to do the work and certainly far less than the benefit the client would get from the images I would make for them.

The client will try to justify this by arguing that the work is flexible and I can do it “when you’ve nothing else on” as if when I’m not shooting pictures I must be sitting around, twiddling my thumbs waiting for the phone to ring or desperately wishing I was working for less than it costs me to do the job.

Tim Gander sits before a strobe softbox looking into the lit panel

Spare time to take selfies? No, testing a new lightbox before a big assignment.

In practice, the work isn’t always that flexible either. It might be weather dependent, or rely on the availability of other people, or it might even be on a set date. This kind of “opportunity” also ignores the after-shoot processing and administration which is attendant to doing any assignment at all, regardless of the fee involved.

In any event, if a client requires photography, booking a date when I haven’t anything else on is kind of how my business works. There isn’t a single assignment I do that gets booked into a slot when I’m already working, being that I am not omnipresent or master of quantum physics and thereby able to occupy two dimensions at once.

If I happen to have assignments which will clash I let the client know and offer to take on the administration of the job but pass the work to one of a network of trusted colleagues. That way the client gets to deal with me, the job gets covered by a trusted photographer and everyone is happy.

Conversely to being double-booked, what happens on days when I’m not shooting? Surely that’s a day off isn’t it? No. Anyone who runs a proper, grown-up business will know the astounding amount of administration which is attendant with keeping things running smoothly, or in my case just keeping them running.

I’ve spent much of August doing my end-of-year accounts. When I’m not keeping on top of the books, I’m backing up work, archiving it to my searchable database, updating my website, improving my SEO, making contact with clients to keep in touch, setting up meetings, shooting test images to try out new techniques, writing blog articles… I’m just scratching the surface here, and all this happens around assignments which are booked by clients willing to pay my fees.

Every day of every week I’m putting in the hours. Sometimes I’ll scale back the time I work in order to remain sane; I might even take a day off, but this year I haven’t managed a proper holiday. I haven’t been away anywhere, because so far it’s been my busiest year since I left the Portsmouth News to go freelance 15 years ago. And after the struggles I experienced at the start of the credit crunch (one day I’m going to invent a biscuit with that name) I’m determined to make the most of the resurrection I’ve experienced over the last two years.

That has been and will continue to be a lot of hard work; work I’ll be doing when I’ve nothing else to do.

What does the photography client want?

This maybe a dangerous question to ask, but then they don’t call me Mad Crazy Tim for nothing. Ok, so they don’t call me Mad Crazy Tim, but it’s a dull Wednesday morning and I’m struggling for jokes here…

I ask the question because while some of my articles are aimed at those with a passing interest in photography, some at designers and others at the voices in my head telling me to burn stuff, I’m also aware that existing and potential clients sometimes swing by and read these articles, so this time I’m asking them/you the question – cue close camera shot of my screen as I type, á la Carrie Bradshaw:

What does the photo-buying client want?

Hmm, that’s not as sexy as the stuff Carrie asks.

female with brain activity recording cap on.

If only I could read clients’ minds.

You see it’s all very well me putting up a website, getting it found, showing my work etc, but as with any business there are two sides. There is the quality, service and pricing structure I put out there, and then there is what the client actually wants from a photographer. And unless I ask the question every now and then, how can I possibly match what I offer to what you, the clients need and want?

I know many clients want a fast turnaround. They’re keen to get the ball rolling with their project, and waiting to see the results of a shoot can be frustrating. Especially now we all expect things to happen instantaneously through the web. I know when I order something from Amazon, I’m expecting the courier to be knocking on my door within seconds of me hitting the Confirm Order button. To this end, I aim to have the client gallery up within 24 hours. With afternoon and evening assignments the link is often with the client by the following morning. Even Amazon would struggle to compete with that speed of delivery.

And all this speed of service is fine and dandy, but I want to know what clients, either design or direct clients, want even before the shoot begins. How much involvement do you want from your photographer?

I know I’m always keen to speak to designers and their clients at the earliest possible stage. It means I can have input and also see how everyone else’s minds are working before I start taking pictures. I need to know what pictures the designers and clients have in their heads, because the last-minute brief may not convey this. But sometimes (ok, often) I can see I’ve been called long after the creative discussions have happened. Maybe that is what clients want, or maybe they don’t know it would be better to involve me sooner.

What else might clients and their designers expect? Ok, free photos would be nice but let’s stay in the real world here. What I mean is, is there some service, some input or anything else either before, during or after a shoot that clients wish could be done to help them?

This article is essentially a plea for help and information, because designers and businesses will often raise with me issues they’ve had with other photographers, but I know that unless I directly ask for feedback (which I often do) I might never hear good ideas on improving my service. I also ask because non clients have good ideas too.

Of course if I get no feedback at all, I’ll just have to assume I’m perfect, which is what I thought all along…

Ah, the jet-set lifestyle…

Being the top-end commercial and corporate photographer that I am, you can imagine all the pampering I get.

My clients delight in sending me chauffeur-driven cars to take me to the heliport so I can be flown in style and at the greatest possible speed to my next assignment. The girls on-board the flight spoon feed me the finest caviar while massaging my temples so that I arrive relaxed and ready for anything.

If only…

Of course the reality is much more down-to-earth, but you know I wouldn’t enjoy knowing that my mode of transport was powered by liquidized baby Pandas while the inflight meal was the result of nine-year-old girls squeezing eggs out of fish for a penny a day (and that’s the middle-management wage for the fish-squeezing industry).

So I pootle along to my assignments in my trusty, and actually rather economical, diesel Ford Focus. Another Panda gets to live, a fish gets to lay its eggs where fish eggs should be laid, and the circle of life remains largely un-interrupted by my activities (until I hit a pheasant on a B road, which is always a bit distressing).

I’m the kind of person who is pathologically early to assignments. I’m either ten minutes early (rare) or, more commonly, an hour early. Well, it gives me time to find the last parking space in the universe and work out the mathematics of 20p for every 12 minutes at the parking meter, discover I need a small mortgage and a hundred weight in £1 coins to park the car long enough to cover the hour that I’m early, plus the 4 hours I need to do my job, at which point I discover the maximum stay is 3 hours with no return allowed before the next equinox at which point my head explodes and I start to daydream of helicopters, caviar and temple lobe massages.

chicken's arse

I’ve photographed some weird things, including a chicken’s bum for thechickenvet.co.uk

All this stress is more than made up for though by the joy of making pictures and pleasing my clients (aw). And even if most of my work seems routine when described in terms of portraits, people at work, processes and the like, believe me nothing is ever routine. It may not all be glamour and excitement, but receiving an enthusiastic response to my photos makes it all worth while. And sometimes I get to do some really fun stuff too. I get to see things not many people see. Some of which I would tell you about, but it’s top secret and it would take me too long to kill you all.

So next time you want to lavish me with helicopters or First Class travel, save your fish eggs, dancing girls and gift boxed Rolex. A parking space will do nicely.

I’ll be away next week, but will return refreshed and ready to blog again.

Take care, each and every one of you…