Fstoppers Answers - "How Do You Balance Your Personal Creativity in Your Paid Work?"

Fstoppers Answers - "How Do You Balance Your Personal Creativity in Your Paid Work?"

Every Wednesday, we have a question to ask our writers in a series we call Fstoppers Answers. We encourage the public to ask questions they'd like our staff of professional photographers and videographers to answer. Last week, you asked to hear our worst mistakes, this week you ask "How Do You Balance Your Personal Creativity in Your Paid Work?"

Dave WallaceStaff Writer | Commercial Videographer My A-ha moment happened about a year ago. I realized that my clients are hiring me based off what they’ve seen me create. The lesson being: they more I try to sacrifice my creative and please the client, the more unfulfilling my future work will be.My advice is to only share portfolio content that you'd love to create again. If that doesn’t exist then go out and shoot some passion projects for free and showcase those. You’ll start to find that future clients respect your creative opinion and you are generally much more creatively fulfilled.


Ben SassoStaff Writer | Wedding Photographer Being an artist and a business person can be a tricky thing but I think that the important thing to remember is that your artistic vision is what will drive your business forward. The key is finding and working with clients that completely trust that vision. If they trust your vision, you will be free to bring your creativity and style to the shoot without feeling hindered by a client who is looking for something different. To clearly communicate what my artistic vision is, I narrow down the work I show on my website, I control my brand, and I communicate in a certain way. All of those things weed out the clients that may not be best for me and bring in the clients that I know I will work great with.


Peter HouseStaff Writer | Commercial Photographer For me this really varies to a wide degree. Certain clients will simply give me a budget and a rough framework within which I am to work. As long as I keep their goals in mind they have complete trust in the work I will produce for them. These are the clients I can get a little risky and creative with. On the other hand there are those clients who have a pre-determined and pre-visualized concept. These are usually the larger clients with "art departments" where the concept will sort of trickle down the ranks until it reaches me. My input is really only a very small fraction of a much larger picture and generally more on the technical side as opposed to creative. All that said, in the paid work I do, a message that is clear and concise is usually better received than something artistic and ambiguous. There is often too much at stake to really get "creative" with commercial work. I find that the real creative and experimental things come out of the tests and TFP work that I do. Once I have an example from that I can always show it to the client and replicate if they like what they see. That way I can sneak some creativity into the work without experimenting on the clients time.


Dave GeffinStaff Writer | Fashion/Music Photographer & Videographer Two options – one - do the job you are being paid to do and do it beautifully so that the client is delighted with how you can bring their vision to life. If you see an opportunity to get creative, get the client shots first and nail them, and then get creative and shoot what you think the client would go for as an option. Two - avoid working with clients who only bring you on and insist you capture what they want and nothing else. Avoid simply being a commodity/”button clicker”. We have to orchestrate ways to work with clients who see the work as a collaboration and want you to bring something to the table. To me, these are higher value clients in the long term with stronger possibilities of longer term relationships developing. Short term this might mean less client work, less income. Longer term, you’ll probably be happier with what you are doing on the commercial side of things.


Sarah WilliamsStaff Writer | Wedding Photographer I think this is probably the easiest thing for us to do. We have well represented our brand as a creative and non traditional option for couples. When you come on our website you can see the different angles we shoot from, the use of other objects in our field of view and utilizing them for our portraits. I think it tends to be easier for wedding photographers in general, because I probably wouldn't feel the same way if I were a studio shooter. But I am a firm believer that even though this is work, you should still love everything you do. You shouldn't deliver something you're not happy with and wouldn't put up on your own walls. Doing things you don't love makes you start to resent your work. If I get the urge to do something out of the box I usually bring it up at a session and the couples are game, they know we try to give unique portraits every time.


Zach SuttonAssociate Editor | Headshot Photographer It's simple, I do it with confidence. My work has a particular style to it, regardless if its a commercial project, family portraits, or a headshot session. I'm a firm believer that I was hired for a reason, and that reason is that they liked my work. Certainly, I've taken different approaches to my work, but they all share a common similarity. I trust in what I'm doing, and deliver the work I have produced similar in style to what my portfolio shows.


Jaron SchneiderFeatures Editor | Commercial Photographer I’ve been shooting a lot of corporate video lately, and much of what they hire me to do is bring visual interest to what would often otherwise be a dull or uninteresting topic. It’s there that they rely on me to come up with that visual “oomph,” and as a creative I can get very attached to the art that I’m making. During editing, a lot of the visualization of the finished product that I was seeing while shooting starts to come together for me, and then the client can come and request some pretty minor or pretty substantial changes. In both cases, I have to suppress the desire to fight tooth and nail for that “look” I was going for or the message I was creating for them. It’s, in the end, not my product. It’s theirs. Having the mental fortitude to nod, accept that it’s not how you would have done it, and move on can be really hard, but something that I’ve become quite familiar with. They may hire you for your artistic vision, but they have every intention of molding what you create to what they might want.

As always, if you have a question to ask, feel free to do so in the comments below or on our thread in our Facebook Group. Also feel free to provide your input below in the comments.

Zach Sutton's picture

Zach Sutton is an award-winning and internationally published commercial and headshot photographer based out of Los Angeles, CA. His work highlights environmental portraiture, blending landscapes and scenes with portrait photography. Zach writes for various publications on the topic of photography and retouching.

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Almost all clients have urgent requirements.
The balance between business deliverables & what one is creatively happy with, is not easy. In our market, they love to cut corners and rely on Voodooshop, it saves them time wasted in a photo shoot. It’s hard to compete with such requirements, especially when you have a family to care for.

I'm with Dave about getting the required/client desired shots, first. They won't be willing to try something different until they call the boss to confirm that they've got "the shot." (sending a quick screen grab from their iPhone for approval). Then, if time permits, try some creative things as a "bonus".

Second. It also depends on how you charge for your work and time. If you do full and half-day rates, and you have time remaining, then it's easy to suggest trying something new or creative. However, if you charge by piece rate or hourly, once you get what the client wants. It's miller time.

Third. Many clients have other things to do and places to be, meetings, etc. Some have flights to catch and their attention will shift hours before departure. You have to be sensitive to this, and want to leave them with a good impression.