Sarah* is a great photographer. I’ve known her for years. She’s fast, efficient, delivers on time, has a great rapport with the people she’s photographing… She’s a dependable go-to. We’ve shared the load on numerous jobs where it was too much for one person to handle. In terms of coverage, if she was the carpet bomb, I was the surgical strike; if she looked after everything on the running sheet, I’d field video production, media wall coverage, and all the other odds and ends that come up at an event.
On our last shoot, I noticed from a distance that her technique had changed: she was casually cradling her camera at about chest height while maintaining a pleasant conversation with the people in front of her. I knew that she used Canon gear, so I thought it a bit odd that her posture would be so relaxed.
Maybe she’s not actually shooting? Maybe she’s really just having a conversation with them?
The diffuser above her camera blinked several times, leaving no doubt in my mind she was in fact taking photos.
Why would she do it that way? She’s holding it at an angle!
The explanation became a little clearer as I worked my way closer: she was using a Sony mirrorless camera – probably the latest in the A7 series.
I was surprised: for all the talk on the Internet of an insurrection against SLR cameras, I’ve never met another working photographer who’d made the switch to mirrorless.
It turns out her Canon gear was stolen. And while her insurance wouldn’t cover the cost of everything, it was enough to make a switch to a Sony A7, complete with pro-level lenses.
In practice, the gear works out to be slightly lighter, and the millisecond delay in the electronic viewfinder does bother her somewhat.
The latter is actually a deal-breaker for me: I trade in smiles, and a millisecond is the difference between a natural smile and a forced grimace.
Her response to that was intriguing: “Because I can hold the camera like this (she casually cradles the camera at her sternum), I can maintain a real conversation with them and it keeps them so much more relaxed!”
I’d never considered that. In a world of fleeting smiles, a relaxed subject is everything. The design and ergonomics on Sony’s cameras aren’t to my liking, but it makes something like the Nikon Z7 (which I’m not actively considering) a workable option for existing Nikon users like myself.
Anyway, we went about our separate ways and I spent the rest of the night with her insights to ponder.
The next morning, I was greeted by a panic.
“Kevin, did you get any event photos from last night?”
“Maybe a handful… why?”
“Sarah’s photos. They’re all terrible!”
I glanced through the folder. Everything was properly lit and exposed, everything was in focus, every handshake, every award, every table, every dish being served… that’s actually kind of impressive, considering she was shooting from the chest for much of the night. And then I saw the problem: everything was on a Dutch tilt.
Weird. That’s not like her.
A Dutch tilt is okay every now and then to add some life to the overall suite of photos. But in this instance, because of the way she held her camera through the night, every single photo was on a Dutch tilt. Some of them could be rescued by rotating them in post. But for the majority, such an action would mean cutting off people’s heads. In other words, they couldn’t be saved. I’d say about 80 per cent of the photos were unusable.
As a client, it’s a huge inconvenience. There were newsletters, thank you notes, photo collages and more for which we would have considerably less production options. We’d have to postpone some of them. Maybe even cancel them. All of that, in turn, adversely affects our ability to meet our business goals. That’s bad.
For Sarah, this was a disaster – but nothing she can’t learn from. All she has to do is fix the way she holds her camera. At a minimum she’d have to consider offering some kind of discount or refund.
Unfortunately, she’s not going to get that chance.
“I’m not going to waste any more time on her,” declares the manager in charge. “I know three other photographers who can do the job without screwing it up this badly. She’s never getting hired again.”
She won’t do it again if you just tell her about it. It’ll take all of five minutes.
That’s not to mention the additional time required to familiarise a new photographer with our brand, our preferences, our work processes… But it wasn’t my call to make.
And just like that, without even a telephone call, after four years of doing around 16 of these events a year, Sarah lost a major client.
As a photographer, my heart sank for her. I considered giving her a discreet heads-up, but I wasn’t even sure if the Dutch tilt was a mistake. For all I know, it may have been a conscious choice. It comes down to whether you believe it was the fault of the photographer or the fault of her new camera.
If you’re a photographer, the bottom line is this: clients don’t care about artistic your choices. They only care about getting what they paid for.
*Not her real name