I've been shooting corporate jobs since about 2010. At first, it was a little rocky. I didn't really know what I was doing, I hadn't shot enough with other photographers to learn the ropes, and I was just a self-taught photographer trying to make ends meet. Fast forward to 2017, and I'm shooting high-profile executives at Fortune 500 companies, and am expected to do it quickly. I'm shooting luncheons where half of the attendees flew in from another hemisphere on their private jets, and am expected to do it quietly. And well. So, here are a few quick tips for people who are just starting out in the freelance corporate photography world.
Time is Essential.
If you don’t keep time a high priority through all parts of the process, you’re done for. Don’t be late to gigs. Don’t take too long responding to e-mails. Know what questions to ask about scheduling to make sure enough time is allotted for everything, or at least so you know how rushed you’ll have to be during the shoot. Under-promise and over-deliver on the deliverables from the shoot; if you say it will take two weeks, try to deliver in one — and never deliver in three. Be dependable!
The Big Wigs Are People Too.
It’s easy to become "star struck" when you’re in close quarters directing and photographing celebrities or executives of Fortune 500 companies. One thing I try to keep in mind when this is happening is that these people are… people! They're like me. They have personal lives. They have families. They have needs and wants and are depending on you to make them look good. So, take a deep breath, and if you treat them like a friend, call them by their first name, and are just nice to them, things will work out. If they see you're relaxed, they'll relax too. Treat people -- even if it's the CEO of Walmart or Hugh Jackman -- like they're an old friend, and your images will be all the better.
I asked Jeff Koons, a contemporary artist who holds the world record for the highest auction price for a single piece of art by a living artist, at $58.4 million, to climb a big ladder to get a good shot. He scurried up like it was no big deal.
Be a Ninja!
Over the years I’ve learned the importance of being stealthy during corporate events. When you get hired to shoot events for a company, generally, they want to know you’re there, but they don’t want to see you. They don’t want to hear you (And they certainly don’t want to smell you!).
So, be a ninja.
Wear dark colors — all black is preferable. Try to be as quiet as possible. Don’t wear loud shoes, space out your shots and use whatever “quiet” mode your camera has, if possible. Try to be gentle when changing lenses, and avoid loud velcro at all costs. If you don’t need a flash, don’t use one. Be a fly on the wall, a ghost, and your client will be that much happier. Don't have too much equipment while shooting events; you should be able to slip through the crowd pretty easily without causing a ruckus. Crouch at the front of the stage instead of standing. Perfect your duck-walk. You'll thank me later.
Sometimes, ninjas also climb things to get a good shot. It's not stealthy, but it's fun.
If it can go wrong, it will go wrong... eventually. Extra batteries and memory cards are a must. A backup camera, even if it stays in the car, is a great idea. Even having some safety pins, a small clip or two, and a small roll of gaff or duct tape might save the day and make your client appreciate you that much more. Hairspray and lint-rollers are great to keep nearby for headshots. A small sewing kit in the glove box could make a fashion client love you forever. You never know!
It's rare for me to be in photos, but when asked, I try to be a good sport.
Problems Arise, Squash Them.
Problems arise all the time during commercial work, so you have to be ready for anything. Sometimes, things will be your fault, and sometimes they won’t. Forget a sync cable? Be sure to know how to use the optical slaves on your flashes. Client doesn’t know how to tuck in his shirt? Grab a clip from your bag and tidy it up. Terrible smiles? Learn some jokes. If you can solve problems on the spot, you’ll be a hero. And if the problems are your fault, being able to solve them without losing your cool (or even letting your client know you left one of your radio triggers at home) is a powerful way of maintaining a good client relationship.
I'm not that good at jokes. I'm trying.
Give the Client What They Want.
No, you probably don’t want to just shoot boring headshots on a white background all day. That’s not creative. That’s not you. But, sometimes, you need to do it anyway. You can do the shots the client wants, then try to grab a couple of unique ones for yourself (and they might like those better anyway!), but if the client is asking for something specific, do your best to deliver. Even if it’s not your typical style. That way, the next time you suggest something that’s a little out of the box, the client might be more inclined to listen to you.
If they really want to look at the back of the camera, say yes and hope for the best.
Getting into corporate photography isn't easy. Generally, you need to be vetted and come with some good recommendations from past clients. You have to prove yourself during the first couple of events or shoots, and then after that, things get easier. Building trust with clients is a huge part of the freelance life. You want them to love your work, and at the very least, like you.