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Not Every Shoot Is A Winner

Here’s the scenario: You go do a shoot, download the images, go through the take, mark the selects, do your editing, and deliver the shots. The client loves them… But you don’t. Sure, they’re okay, but… They don’t quite send you to your happy place.

Sound familiar? If it does, I have some good news for you… You’re not alone.

Alexander and The Grapes perform at The Orpheum in Tampa, Florida
Is there anything wrong with this shot? Not technically, but it’s not winning any awards.

I would guess that most photographers go through this, even the best ones. No matter how much we try to make the best possible images we can, not every shoot is going to result in a new portfolio image. You can plan all you want, put together your shot list, research the location, research your subject, make inspiration/mood boards, clean your lenses and sensor, and carry your lucky rabbits foot; but when you do the shoot, the shots are decent but not great. The client is happy, so you’re happy that you’re getting paid, but you wanted to come away with better shots.

Graham Colton performs at State Theatre in St. Petersburg, Florida
Arrive at the venue only to find out there’s no photo pit, and you weren’t there early enough to stake out a spot up front? Better hope you brought a telephoto lens.

Sometimes your subject just isn’t great. Or the location you picked days ahead of time fell through on the day of the shoot and you had to quickly find something else that worked. Or you were unexpectedly battling the harsh sun on what was supposed to be a cloudy day. Or you just flat out had an off day of shooting and don’t know why.

Michael Tait of Newsboys performs during Winter Jam at St. Pete Times Forum in Tampa, Florida
Right place, right time? Not this time. When the singer takes off down the other end of the stage and you can’t get there in time, this is the result.

For me it’s concerts. There are so many things that come into play here that can make or break an image. How’s the lighting? If there’s lighting, is it always the same or changing a lot (to give variety to the shots)? Is the band doing fun and crazy stuff, or are they all just standing in one spot playing and not being very emotive? Is there so much going on that I don’t even know where to point my camera to try and capture peak moments? Can I get to the spot in the pit I want to be in, or are there twenty other photographers vying for position and I’m stuck where I’m at?

Hillsong United
Even when you’re in the perfect position to capture something you know is going to happen, things don’t always come together to capture the best moment.

I get lucky sometimes and I’m in the ideal position as the guitarist jumps off her amp in the perfect light and my camera focuses and fires and I nail the shot. Other times I see it happening out of the corner of my eye and turn to try to capture the moment from the wrong spot and there’s so little light on her that my camera can’t lock focus and I get a blurry shot. Or a lot of the time I get what are, for me, mediocre shots of the singer with their mouth open and eyes closed standing in front of a mic. It’s a perfectly fine shot that you’ve seen it a million times, but you won’t see it in my portfolio.

Brandi Carlile performs at Capitol Theatre in Clearwater, Florida
Is there ANYTHING good about this shot??
Brandi Carlile performs at Capitol Theatre in Clearwater, Florida
Keep firing shots and hopefully you’ll get one that works. Still won’t see this one in my portfolio though!

But here’s the thing… You’ve gotta keep shooting. You have to push through those bad days to get to the good ones. I once heard Jay Maisel explain it this way to a photographer who was frustrated with his photography:

“It’s like, if I’m trying to be a well built body builder… If I go to the gym on Monday next week maybe or maybe Thursday, or just when I find a day, then it’s not going to happen. You have to go to the gym and work out. I don’t go to the gym and work out as a photographer, but I do the visual push-ups everyday. If you shoot once in a while you may get some nice pictures, and if you shoot very rarely you’ll get fewer. But if you shoot all the time, the number is going to go up.”

Jack Parker of David Crowder Band performs at Countryside Christian Center in Clearwater, Florida
Is there something cool happening but you’re just not sure of the best way to capture it?
Jack Parker of David Crowder Band performs at Countryside Christian Center in Clearwater, Florida
Keep working the scene, trying different angles, and sometimes you can work through and find the shot.

So don’t let a bad shoot or two get you down. Keep doing those visual pushups so you increase your chances of finding those holy grail shots that you add to your portfolio. When you get them, we’ll rejoice with you. And if you don’t, just remember… You’re not alone!

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