Client Expectations vs Reality

Photography is an art, or skill, that comes in a lot of different forms.  Events, concerts, portraits, food, interiors, exteriors, sports, weddings, etc, different projects require different equipment, even a different mindset.  I do as much pre-production before a gig as I can, no matter what the job is.  I sit down, I think about what's required, I do a little research if need-be.  I make a list of gear I'll need, shots I know I'll have to take, and maybe a wishlist of other things I'd like to see the day of the gig.  I love it when a client gives me a shot list before an event, that cuts my pre-production time in half.  I know exactly what they want and there should be no surprises the day-of.  Unfortunately, that kind of preparation is rare.

I've run in to a number of situations where after a gig someone will ask if I got a specific shot.  So specific, I wonder why they didn't ask for exactly that before I started taking pictures or even while I was working.  The most common is a shot of a single person at an event, with no one near them.  This shot is nearly impossible to do by accident and must be established before I start shooting.  For instance, I shot an event where a person desperately wanted a shot of just them, alone, at their own birthday party.  Surprisingly, I had that.  We had taken a few pictures of them alone, because they had requested it while I was there.  Perfect!  But that demand turned from "do you have a shot of me alone" to "do you have a shot of me with my whole outfit in view."  I managed to crop another image to just this person, full outfit in view.  But the shoes weren't in the shot, which turned out to be a problem.  I had other shots of this person, full outfit with shoes in frame, but someone was standing arm-in-arm with them, they wanted a solo shot.

So lets recap.  It's a birthday party with many attendees.  This person wanted a solo shot, head-to-toe portrait facing the camera, with nobody even behind them in the background.  This goes against everything I'd expect to accomplish at a party environment.  For parties and events, I do try to get head-to-toe pictures.  A full outfit shot looks great.  But another major goal for me is to make the party look lively.  This means group shots, or groups of people behind someone.  I'm not there to do portraits, that's an entirely different animal all together.  Imagine you have a plumber come fix your toilet.  They fix the toilet but you ask why they didn't fix the sink too, after the plumber had already left.  Had they asked the plumber while they were there, the plumber could've fixed the sink no problem.  But it wasn't in the job outline, how could they have known to fix the sink?

This birthday party isn't the only time this has happened.  Many other party throwers have asked for something similar, but after I had already submitted my final edits.  Or shots of the entire venue. That's a tough shot, considering many events are in dark environments.  I would need a tripod and maybe a few flashes on stands around the room.  It's a rare request, but it's happened enough where I now send a small shot list of things I plan on photographing, and the client can add to it if they need to.

My criticisms from my event photography are, thankfully, few and far between.  Even those criticisms come with tremendous gratitude for what I delivered.  Nobody has been truly upset with me and I certainly don't look forward to the day where that inevitably happens.  But when they ask for someone specific that I didn't get, I can't help but feel I failed in some way.  Why didn't I think to do that?  Did they tell me to get that and I just forgot?  When talking to another photographer about this, my eyes were opened to the truth.  I had sent him shots from an event I covered where someone had ask for something specific. After looking at my pictures, he said "event photography isn't a photoshoot.  You're there for the event, and you captured exactly what was required."

It's still difficult for me to tell someone I don't have a picture they wanted.  But if I don't know what they want beforehand, how do I know what I'll need at the gig?  I certainly can't carry all of my gear with me wherever I go.  If I'm photographing an event, I'm not going to bring a set of 3 lights as if I'm doing portraits.  If I'm doing food photography, I'm not going to bring my 70-200mm f/2.8L.  If I'm doing a day time outdoor sporting event, I'm probably not going to bring my flash.  No matter how much prep I do, there will always be something I can't capture.  The best I can do is capture all that I can and not worry about the misses.