This weeks interviewee is Drew Forsyth, a commercial and advertising photographer who specialises in photographing classical and contemporary ballet. Throughout his career, he’s had the opportunity to work with some amazing clients and artists from every corner of the world, including dancers from Scottish Ballet & The Royal Ballet, Nobel prize winners, astronauts, politicians, actors, and television personalities.
1. Biggest Mistake of Your Career?
Apart from the classic wiping a memory card by accident, or losing a hard drive, I’ve had loads of them. The one I’m about to lay out though is the one that I look back on as being a pivotal moment in my career.
I’ll tell you what happened, then what I got wrong, then what I learned. I’ve changed some details to preserve identities, but you’ll get the idea.
So, I was shooting for a medium-sized commercial client, and the brief was to create a series of majestic-looking images of a group of actors. I went back to them with a concept like King Arthur, photographing the actors in the middle of a lake at dawn. Easy right?
This shoot was months in the planning, with a whole team of stylists, makeup artists, assistants, behind the scenes video, you name it.
We shot the whole thing over a day and delivered it around a week later. A few days go by. No reply. A few days more. Still nothing.
Finally, a reply. Client emails back saying the images are “unusable” and that they’re going to reshoot them with someone else. My heart sinks. I feel sick in the pit of my stomach. Months of work. Sleepless nights. Staying in prepping and editing.
The client agrees to cover my expenses, pay the contractors I’d brought on, and that was it.
So, what went wrong? This is not an exhaustive list but is a good indicator.
I didn’t manage expectations
When I sent through the mood board to the client, I primarily used editorial images from copies of GQ and Wired Magazine. Both of those magazines regularly deliver £20k photoshoots so their expectations were sky-high. When I delivered them a set of ‘great’ images, they were disappointed they weren’t ‘insanely amazing’.
I fucked up the diary
The shoot was on the 14th of October. But because I had written the date wrong in my diary, I booked the entire team of nearly 20 people for the 13th. The day before. When I checked in with the client two days before, I said “looking forward to the 13th!” and they said “You mean, the 14th?” and I said, “……….. yes”.
That meant I had about two days to reschedule everyone. Some contractors couldn’t do it so had to be refunded. I then had to find replacements suppliers, which cost even more money.
I made bad assumptions
When you’re working in a creative environment, surrounded by people who are in creative fields, you all share a similar kind of ‘industry knowledge’. This is normally fine, but when you’re out of that world and dealing with clients, who maybe haven’t hired photographers (or designers, or illustrators) before, they might not necessarily know that editing takes a long time, or that you have to scope out the location in advance, or that they won’t get the 1200 images we shot (they’ll probably only get 5 or 6), and so on.
I assumed all that knowledge, and so when the client found out they couldn’t have 1200 images from the shoot, they kicked off. Because of course, they did. They saw that as me taking advantage of them because I assumed they would know how many images they’d get. That’s just a small example.
So what did I change?
Well, just about everything. After it all blew over, I completely deconstructed my process/pipeline, whatever you want to call it. I rebuilt everything from the ground up.
At every stage of the process, I installed ‘fail-safes’, which rely on feedback from the client, which means that they have input on much more of the project. I’m now a lot more honest with clients about what is achievable based on their budgets and the scope of the project. I’m honest about what I can and can’t deliver and if they’d like something I can’t deliver, then I outline how I can bring someone else on to help, or I can learn those skills to deliver it. You know, stuff like that.
Honestly, this whole thing turned my world upside down.
I think honesty is missing in my industry. Everyone is always “busy”, or “shooting loads at the minute”, but that can’t possibly be true. I think if people were a bit more honest about what they were doing every day, then that would relieve the pressure a little. It’s so easy to bullshit your way through Instagram and tell everyone how focused you are, but I think that really sets a fictionally high standard for people to compete with. You’re not always busy, and it’s fine to admit that every now and again.
3. Useful Advice
You’re not shooting enough. Yes, this is specific to photography, but I’m sure it applies to your career too. You’re not shooting enough.
Doing creative stuff is like learning a musical instrument. It’s not some god-given natural talent, it takes years of practice, so get out there and practise.
Shoot more. All your favourite musicians were in terrible bands for YEARS gigging up and down the country in the back of a van before they made it. Get out there and shoot more, then look at your shots, and figure out what you’ll do differently next time.
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