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A Day In The Life Of A Professional Photographer

October 11, 2013 by Jo Plumridge

When I tell people what I do for a living, those with no knowledge of photography at all always remark on what an exciting life I must lead.

To those with no experience of the industry, the life of a photographer is usually supposed to be how the job is often portrayed in films – photographer turns up to a shoot, presses a few buttons on a set that’s ready and waiting for them and then goes out drinking with the models.

Of course, things are a lot less glamorous but far more interesting than that! Let’s take a look at an average shoot day in my life, working mainly as a corporate and portrait photographer. It’s possible that I may have taken a little comic licence with this diary.

Portrait Photography
Image by Marcel Oosterwijk

Several weeks before the shoot day

Client rings up or emails requesting a quote to shoot corporate headshots. Being from a large company, this usually means that they will attempt an increasing number of ridiculous sob stories about why they can’t afford to pay more than the price of a cup of coffee.

Listen / read idly, whilst providing usual quote at a reasonable price. Wait for client to realize how reasonable price is and duly book shoot in for several weeks time.

A week before the shoot day

Client emails with a description of what they are looking for. What they are looking for is a variety of headshots of different clients, shot on the same background. What they mention, however, is the word ‘funky’. As in, ‘We’re looking for some really funky and edgy headshots, that show what a ‘happening’ company we are’. (I may have paraphrased here slightly…)

When I first started shooting in the corporate world, I used to get terribly excited when clients said they wanted something different and would come up with lots of different ideas. What I’ve learned over the years is that ‘funky’ is generally code for using a grey instead of white background and maybe even pushing the boundaries by doing some shots without a tie on. Learn this. It will save you a lot of time in the future.

Shoot day

Up early to wend our way through London rush hour traffic with my assistant, a car full of kit and a large thermos of industrial strength coffee.

Arrive at client’s office and park car. Here’s another tip – if you’re shooting in a busy city location, make sure you sort out parking with the client. There’s nothing worse than arriving somewhere and either having to pay a fortune for parking or having to park miles away and lug your kit back to the site.

Usual confusion at reception as staff profess complete ignorance as to knowledge of photo shoot. Eventually client is located. A room has been set aside for the headshots. Unusually, it isn’t the size of a cupboard. Set lights up quickly (as is the norm with corporate shoots, time is money!).

It’s a simple three light set up to keep the shots consistent and produce an even light for all the subjects. I favour two lights with barn doors on the background and a keylight with a large octagonal softbox. This is quick to set up and doesn’t require continual faffing around with – a key factor in shoots that need to move quickly.

Workflow & Being a people person

People who work in the corporate world are busy and important. Often they aren’t actually busy or important, but this is the image that many of them like to portray to the world. Consequently, you’ll rarely get more than 10 minutes with each of your subjects in this sort of scenario.

Being a photographer means being a people person. Each subject must be judged quickly and an appropriate approach taken for each. Engage shy clients in conversation to help them forget the camera, tell bad jokes and banter with the more confident – all the while directing and moving subjects into flattering angles for their body and face shapes. Smile politely at subject who thinks it’s alright to make increasingly inappropriate comments to both my assistant and myself as we’re both female, whilst secretly fantasizing about camera connecting squarely with his head.

Assistant uploads photos as shoot moves along and converts as many RAW files as possible. On corporate shoots such as these, setting up actions in Photoshop ahead of time saves a huge amount of time and makes the retouching process far faster.

Lunch break, as is often the way on busy shoots, consists of some soup and crisps consumed in breaks between subjects.

Shoot wraps up at 5.30pm, after a long day of photographing many different subjects. Back aches a little, so it’s home for an early night.

The day after the shoot

Start sorting through all the photographs. Am usually far too generous, but like to give clients at least 10 headshots per subject to choose from. As the photos have already been converted from RAW files and the lighting was set up correctly, it’s usually just a case of resizing images and cropping to suit. Unfortunately, corporate clients always seem to contain a worrying number of subjects with untrimmed nasal hair. Removing nasal hair is possibly not what most people envisage when they think of photography. Alas, it is often a necessity.

Several months later

After numerous emails and several phone calls where blame is placed upon a mythical accounts department, payment finally arrives for the shoot. It is a truth universally acknowledged in photographic circles that the larger the organisation, the worse the payers.

Despite the little trial and tribulations though, I genuinely love what I do and the fact that every day is different. This is just one day in a variety of many.

Jo Plumridge

About the author: Jo Plumridge

Jo Plumridge is a UK based photographer, writer and lecturer. She specializes in portrait, corporate and travel photography, and writes photography, travel and comedy pieces for magazines, websites and books. You can see some of her work at her website, follow her on Twitter or Google+.

  • pleased

    Ouch. I hope your clients don’t read about how boring, demanding, unorganized etc you think about them. Could really hurt your career. Then again doesn’t seem like you like it that much.

    • Contrastly

      You didn’t read the last paragraph of the article, right? ;)

      • pleased

        I actually did and that’s why I posted. It a tale tale sign of someone ranting about their work and then covering up by saying but most of the time its OK…. The goof out weigh the bad? So why give a shit about the bad! And make yourself look less professional at the end.

        • Swag

          Ur mum is lame

    • Brandon

      Clients that don’t suck, in any industry, are a rarity.

      • pleased

        Agreed but it how we deal and treat them that makes us professionals. And this rant screams…. Hmm

  • jefflivesinchicago

    Clients are not evil, or out to get you, they just live in a different environment, and have different things to worry about than creative producers, like photographers, writers, art directors,etc… The accounting depts at large agencies are often understaffed and it’s normal that things require a few phone calls to get moving. Remember Conways Law, never attribute to evil intent anything that can be explained by ignorance, confusion etc….