Sunday, November 14, 2010

Life lessons from event photography

A year ago I was walking into building I'd never entered, to find somebody I'd never met, to do something I'd never done.  Sure, I'd taken my camera out to a lot of different places and taken a lot of different pictures, but this was the first time that I actually had to produce and deliver photos according to set specifications.  How all that was going to work was an unknown to me.  I figured I'd follow my normal procedure:
  1. Show up

  2. Celebrate because I did such an awesome job
Fast forward through a year and over fifty events.  I've learned a lot, only, not at all what I expected to learn going into this.  I'm going to have to break this into multiple parts because it's getting a little too long for my taste.  The first part here will be the non-picture taking learnings, starting with this -

Experiences of almost any kind follow the same pattern.
  1. You start off in the honeymoon phase; you're nervous and excited, you learn a lot in a short period of time, and you love what's going on.  
  2. After a while, the excitement goes away and you enter the dreaded "this is bull sh*t" phase.  You realize that things aren't perfect, that there are more challenges than you thought, you want to quit and retreat into your comfort zone.  
  3. If you make it through phase two, you end up in the acceptance phase.  This is a leveling off of emotion where you're not distracted by the highs and lows, but find a balance in what you're doing.  This is the stage where you start fine tuning and improving things.  This is where you get good at what you're doing.  
After reflecting on my experiences over the last year, I realized that I've gone through this pattern with a lot of things - travel, work, exercise, hobbies, and most definitely photography.  Not everything makes it through the phase two, but persistence and experience and a drive to make things better usually yields results.

People.  Yes, just "people."  I'm not a naturally boisterous and gregarious person, but going into crowded events with masses of people I don't know has helped define what I enjoy about other people and myself.
  • I enjoy that I can be the pillar of calm in a chaotic environment.  The phrase "herding cats" comes up a lot during my events.  The contacts I work with are often apologetic for having trouble getting photo subjects together for me.  I get to tell them "It's normal.  If you see me getting stressed out, then you're doing something wrong."
  • I enjoy that I've learned to appreciate truly nice people and that I've developed patience for unpleasant people.  We humans cover a very broad spectrum of personalities, some more tolerable than others.  Face it, some people are just dicks.  Minimize your time with them and move on.  
  • I enjoy that I've had to question how I deal with others.  Do I do like some people who treat me like an idiot when I ask them to spell their simple names (Jon Smith v. John Smithe)?  Or do I empower them to get it right by actually spelling out Kharamapakiev for them?
After having dealt with doctors, hospital owners, politicians, chefs, lawyers, grammy winners, athletes, actors, and all manner of businesspeople, the main lesson is simply to make eye contact, extend a hand, and smile.  If there's a human on the other end, they'll normally respond in kind. 

Part Two - The finer points of photographing parties will come later.  

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