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For a long time, I’ve assumed that being a perfectionist was an asset as a commercial photographer and artist. I consider every detail, I want things to go a certain way, I create a plan, I execute said plan, and my client is happy.
However, the more experience I accrue, the more I learn that assignments rarely go according to plan. There’s always someone who can’t make it, snow when you thought there’d be sun, or a deadline that moved up two weeks when you thought you’d have a month. The ability to be nimble and always capable of producing something of quality regardless of whether or not it was your original plan becomes paramount. It’s not an option to send your client home empty-handed just because the situation changed.
It becomes essential to redefine failure and success.
In many creative industries, you are often making something new. Performing successfully is less about your ability to generate a product exactly according to your original plan and more about whether the product you did generate achieves a set of goals.
Does the product you created promote interest in the client’s brand? Engender social engagement? Did you communicate your client’s message in a conscientious and respectful way? Are your references relevant and accurate? Did you stay within budget? Most importantly, did you do your best with what you had? Is your client satisfied?
The answers to these questions are often subjective and ambiguous.
Being able to produce at a high-quality level on command comes with time and experience. Your technical skills must become instinctual. It also requires embracing whatever the situation has become rather than what you want it to be. This is something you can start working on right away, regardless of your skill level in your field.
Changing course is not a failure. Reacting to your immediate present and developing the ability to read personalities, interpret priorities, and figure out what people actually need vs. what they think they need is much more valuable than walking in the door and executing your original plan if it’s no longer appropriate.
I’m not advocating that the solution to every job is to rely on your instincts, show up unprepared, and just wing it. On the contrary, I advise coming with a few potential plans, three charged batteries even if you only need one, and the certainty that something will happen that you didn’t expect.
And the knowledge that that is okay.
On a recent photo shoot, we had four ad campaign images to create in a single day and we were shooting videos alongside still photography. Meetings had happened, details were approved, and the day was all about the execution of these ideas.
The most complicated setup involved 10 mannequins and the most important aspect of the shoot was that these mannequins had anonymous, blank faces, to create a dramatic contrast with our model.
However, en route to the shoot, when we picked up the mannequins, we found out they had no heads. Alas!
Given our tight deadline and inability to reschedule, we had to come up with an alternative shoot concept and look on the spot. At the end of the day, rather than writing it off as a major mishap, we asked the following questions about the work we created.
Is it what we thought we wanted? No.
Does it satisfy our original objectives? Yes.
Was this an overall failure? Not at all.
Liza Voll is a commercial photographer specializing in portraits and documentary media for advertising and editorial use. Her images capture the essence of her subjects and communicate vitality and movement through a painterly sense of color and composition. www.LizaVoll.com