Monday, March 31, 2008

Paula Abdul and the Art of Listening

Like most photographers, I guess, I spend an inordinate amount of time in the dark by myself creating shots, designing the lighting for my next shoot, thinking about what I did right and wrong on the last shoot and what I'm going to do to change it on the next shoot, and just shaking my head in wonder that I get paid to have this much fun, but that's for another post. Tonight I want to talk about an extraordinary man named Peter Jay, who kindly offered to assist me during an upcoming motorcycle shoot. This guy has done so much work, is very well traveled and well read, and he took the time when applying for the job to view my web site and say embarrassingly nice things about it. So nice, in fact, that I put some of them on my accolades page of, but not all of them, because they were so nice that I thought people would think I was making it up! Now, I have won hundreds of awards. I know that I am good at what I do, but when I posted an ad for an assistant, I received 400 replies, NONE of which even bothered to find out who I was or what I did. In fact, one assistant suggested I send him my resume and he would decide whether or not he would deem me good enough to assist!

How can this transfer to your every day life, no matter what segment of the business you are in? By being prepared, by sincerely believing in the person that you meet, and letting them know it in a positive, open, non-suck-uppy way, by differenciating your self; promising what you can do and over delivering, by being kind, and listening.

Find out about your client. Know what kind of book to bring them, and show only what you know. When I was first starting out in Los Angeles, I was given the opportunity to shoot Paula Abdul, who was probably one of the most photographed people on the planet at that time. To be honest, I didn't really know who she was, and I was arrogant enough to think that that part of it didn't matter, that what the great Barbara Stitzer did was what mattered, no matter who I was shooting, so I shot her my way. I don't even think I came and hung out with her while she was in makeup so that she could get to know me and feel comfortable with me. Well, she was a total pro, she didn't say a word, did the shoot with great aplomb, even signed a few autographs on her way out, but to give you an idea of how bad the shot was, my mom thought that I had put a picture of myself in my book! A compliment, I'm sure... I had great lighting, a great set, great makeup, by golly I had Paula Abdul, but I caught none of the sparkly, spontaneous, glamourous, wild woman Paula. Who cares, I thought. I SHOT PAULA ABDUL! I'm a wunderkind! So a couple of weeks after that, I somehow pulled off arranging a giant meeting with one of those kind of people in the industry that could make or break your career with a phone call, and he's kind of nodding and smiling, and he get's to the Paula Abdul shot and, before he could even help himself, blurted out, "What the hell is that?" I still didn't get it. I proudly drew myself up, looked him straight in the eye, and said something in Valley speak, like "I know, right, like isn't it awesome? I shot Paula Abdul!" He looked at it, looked at it again, turned to page to look at it from the back, then slammed the book and shoved it back at me. He gave me the best advice I have ever gotten; when you shoot the most photographed ANYTHING on the planet, it has to be the best, most interesting, most unique, or don't show it. "And know your client, " he said, "because this might be Paula Abdul, but this isn't Paula Abdul."

Today, Peter Jay took the time to see who I was, and what I do, and, even though he costs a lot more than any assistant I have ever used, by golly, if I can get him on this job, I'm doing it. Now go out there and make someone's day.