I see the posts. You see them, too. A session gone wrong because a photographer didn’t know want to do. And they didn’t know what to do because they hadn’t yet acquired the skills necessary to do that thing they were hired to do. They said “yes” before they knew what they were doing.
I remember one such story. A gal had agreed to photograph a family at a beachfront hotel; a family that hadn’t been together in years. She photographed them on the balcony in the middle of a sunny day. The balcony was in shade. The beach behind them, in bright sunlight. The client wanted to get both them AND the beautiful beach in the pictures. Remember this family hadn’t been together for years and it would be years before they were together again.
But the photographer was a “natural light only” photographer so what the client ended up getting was an entire session of silhouettes.
And when these sorts of things happen, they are normally followed by a frantic pleading post on Facebook with the word HELP all over it.
And people, wanting to be helpful (because I believe most people truly want to help) will kindly suggest ways to somewhat improve the situation.
But very rare is it that someone will say, “Make it the best it can be. Apologize. Give them their money back and don’t photograph another family until you can consistently handle any lighting situation.”
Oh, how I wish that would happen.
See, it does no one any favors to coddle. It does even more harm to encourage people to accept jobs without the skills and knowledge necessary to DO the job. You can’t pretend when you don’t know how to light. And when I see this happen, I think to myself that there ain’t enough vodka in the world.
In fact, several years ago, a workshop-giver passed out t-shirts at a very large photography convention with the words “Fake it Till you Make it” written on them.
To photographers. Encouraging them to accept jobs without the ability to do the job.
And when I saw that, I felt like Obi-Wan Kenobi; I felt a great disturbance in the industry, as if thousands of clients cried out in dismay and memories were suddenly erased.
Because “fake it till you make it” might be good advice when confronting a personal situation in which you feel uncomfortable and must summon the strength to put on a brave face, but when it comes to professional photography…to the taking of photographs, images that people paid for and count on, it’s terrible advice.
No, more than that. As Dorothy Parker would say, “It isn’t just plain terrible; this is fancy terrible. This is terrible with raisins in it.”
Friends, you are responsible not just for images, but for memories. Clients are counting on YOU for these memories. And when you accept a job unprepared to do the job, it hurts everyone: you, your client, and the industry as a whole.
And of course, yes, things will STILL go wrong even when you do know what you’re doing because… life. But at least you are prepared, entering the session with knowledge and ability firmly in place, the vital ingredients that will allow you to handle those problems when they arise.
So please, don’t fake it till you make it.
Instead, acquire the skills necessary and be so good at what you do, that no faking is required.
About the author: Missy Mwac is a photography satirist, a lover of bacon, a drinker of vodka, a lover of sparkle, and a guide through the murky waters of professional photography. The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author. You can connect with her on her website, Tumblr, and Facebook. This article was also published here.