Whether you are a professional or an amateur, you will eventually be asked to work on a project in an area of the industry you are not so familiar with. Assuming you are technically savvy, would you accept the challenge?
This question is both for photographers and filmmakers. If you are a beginner who is technically incapable of doing the job, the answer is simply "no." However, there's no definite answer if you know how to use a camera, work with light, know how to make a good composition, and have experience in post-production. Even if you are great at these (regardless of being a professional or an amateur), the answer won't be "yes" every time. Below is my personal advice on making a decision which will be good for both you and your client. Even if the task is assigned by a friend or you are an amateur, these next paragraphs are still in force.
What Are the Expectations of the Client?
At this point, you have to be aware of whether the client worked with other artists before and what their expectations were. I am always clear with clients what my field of expertise is and I ask them why they wanted me to take the task. If their expectations are quite high, I don't ta,ke the job, because this will have bad consequences both to my image as an artist, my business, and, of course, for the client. After all whether the client is just a friend or a big corporation, they want one thing: someone to get the job done for them. Your goal should be the same. Profit comes second.
I am a commercial portrait photographer and a filmmaker, which means when I do photography, I have people in the frame and those pictures are going to be used for someone's business. From time to time, I have requests for photographing products, and my usual response contains both gratitude and a question: gratitude that they contacted me for that project and a question why they want me to do the job instead of having a dedicated product photographer execute it. You may think you've lost the client at that point, but here are the possible scenarios for why they've got in touch with you:
- They just found someone with a camera and ask for a price. Usually, these are not my clients, because they don't care about dedication or quality, but just numbers on their final bill. I may take the project sometimes, but I will also consider the next points in making my decision.
- They've liked your other work (or you as a professional and as a person) and they thought you'd do great in other fields of photography or filmmaking. This by itself is a very important potential client of yours, and though you may not work on the project, they would love to work with you on other tasks. Just be honest with them, and you may work with them on that or on future jobs.
Have I Worked on Such Projects Before?
Whether former tasks were paid or not, it means experience. This is the reason I constantly work on personal projects that may prepare me for complex commissioned jobs. Sometimes, if I haven't worked on such tasks, I will try to give an example to the client how the end result may look by assigning myself to a simple similar project and showing them the results.
Do I Know the Pitfalls of Such Projects?
Having worked on such a project once or twice doesn't mean you know the deep waters of that area of the industry. I would not work on something that's much different than what I have experience with in the past. For example, I would reject photographing high fashion or conceptual fashion, because it's not just photographing people, which I constantly do. I have to know how to direct my subjects and know what the expectations of that part of the industry are. The same goes for products: not all products are the same. Photographing objects made of glass, plastic, or metal requires quite a different approach.
Do I Have the Gear?
"No, but I can rent it" is not always an excuse to take the project. Renting another stills camera may not be that different, but renting a different cinema camera changes exponentially your usual workflow. Even renting a simple macro lens for photographing jewelry may be very different from what you may normally expect if you haven't used such. A macro lens sometimes requires focus stacking, which you may not be familiar with or never tried on dozens of products at once. Don't take gear lightly. You need to have experience with such tools on a similar project in order to give a confident answer. Nothing beats experience.
Do I Have the Team?
Even if you don't have the gear, you may collaborate with someone who has it and let someone else have a piece of the pie. A fresh example is a project I worked on that also called for areal photographs. I hired a drone pilot to do them for me.
What if I Fail?
There's a much higher risk of failure with such tasks than with those you are comfortable with. Taking the risk to work on the project should be by a mutual consent with both parties: you and the client. To minimize the risk, you have to get some experience in that field prior to the days of actual shooting, only if the client is aware of your lack of qualification. You should never ever work on such a job without making it clear you don't have the right level of expertise, regardless of the magnitude of the client or the possible profit. Accepting to do the project may ruin your established image as an artist to an extent that you may not be able to attract clients in the field you usually work in.
Benefits From Rejecting a Project
Remember, this industry is not just about the money. Being honest with the client can win them for future projects. Another benefit comes from referring the job to another artist who is an expert in that area. This may result in stronger relationships within your community, and you may get jobs in return. Be good at what you do, be wise, and be honest.