Shoot for whom?

Pub Quiz at 4C 1/50 sec, F2.0, ISO 2000, WB K4350, No flash on a Nikon D700.
Added +0.48 exposure in Lightroom. That’s all.

The image above is a lovely picture! The boy making a face and holding his stuffed animal, relaxed big family and Quiz night host at the back leaning in. Great shot! It tells you of the atmosphere. People talking and hanging out. Drinking, but not drunk. It’s a cozy, social evening for sure. But this is not an acceptable image to send your boss.

So let’s criticize it! “Only 2 of 8 faces are sharp, 3 if you count the stuffed animal. The beer in the glass doesn’t look all golden and amazing. The table isn’t illuminated enough, neither is the stuffed animals body, or the boys face. Facial features should pop on all people! This shot is just too murky.” These could be the words of a professional event photographer.

If I’d been shooting for a client, I’d used a flash for sure.
But it changes the moment, and it isn’t worth it at these kinds of events. But imagine a cocaine fueled party going on til 5 in the morning, where there is already lights everywhere and exhibitionistic outfits; it makes perfect sense. Those guests will LOVE the bigger and bulkier the camera is! It will make them feel like the Kings and Queens of the whole evening, which is EXACTLY what you want them to feel when taking their picture, cus it will show in the resulting image.

But at a local pub, a big flash with a softbox on it makes people a uneasy. Nobody gets more relaxed by the bigger and bulkier the camera is with it’s extra add-ons and gadgets. The picture above here, would have had a bright warm soft lighting all around with all faces sharp, compared to this murky thing we got here. It would have been absolutely stunning! But you know, the light WAS murky! Why is the job of photographers to not just capture, but beautify the evening and the guests? Why can’t reality be good enough?

What really counts, is the vibe!

This shot has all it needs to satisfy the people in it. They would be stoked with this! But an organizer paying you about 2000 RMB, would not be. This is why I was worn out quickly trying to satisfy them, because I cared for the wrong people.

After my own judgment, this shot is perfect. I love this image very much. The light is more than enough for all the important information to come through. But if my goal was to really make some art out of a moment like this, a bounce flash or softboxed one would be necessary. But to capture it, you just need a good lens and a steady hand. See what I am saying?

Usually when I shoot for a client, I am constantly on the shutter. Constantly going after each beautiful smile, elegant or cool posture. If I see something happening on the other side room, and I can’t shoot it, I am tormented. “I should have been there in the perfect spot with the flash already set! I suck!!”

Now, this is terrible…

All of that goes away when I shoot on my own. I like the real moments captured for what they were. Beautifying with lights and stuff is fun and understandable for portraits, but I am not comfortable doing it at social events. I wanna keep my gear to the minimum, and work with what’s there. That way I feel more as a part of the event, rather than a bright flashy thing running around in it.

When working at an event as a photographer, my judgment on whats a good shot goes out the window as well, because probably nothing will ever be good enough for the client; so I want to get them all. Then spend endless hours of choosing add editing for days after. Stressing myself out and not making the deadline.

The worries doesn’t even make sense at all half the time. But still too concerned to just trust myself, and this is bad.


So let me tell you this: a photographer working like that, will not be working very long because his/her brain will be all fried up pretty soon. 

When I shoot for myself, like this evening, I first of all just worry about my own comfort, and then I wait. Let the moments come to me instead of chasing after them like a cat after a laser pointer. What If I miss a moment? Well shit, I am sure there will be another one.

This is how you’ll find the clients you are more similar to. Those who appreciates you for what you do and how you do it. Trust yourself.

Most importantly, keep delivering! Keep the deadlines. It is better to deliver bad photos on time than mediocre ones late. 

If you prioritize the deadline, your quality will get better and better per delivering because you learn to understand where the pressure points are much quicker. I’ve done the opposite for years and I recommend against it.

Know who you are trying to please. Is it yourself or someone else? Both at once is hard, if your feeling about what make’s a picture differs. Just choose.