Shane's Blog

Shane Gramling is a husband and father of three, web & print communications design expert, worship leader, photographer, cyclist, and flintoid

Defend Your Art

by Shane Gramling on October 1, 2013

Sometimes you have to turn down work for the sake of your art.

This past weekend a local restaurant (a place that I absolutely love, by the way) contacted me for a photography gig. Their fall menu was in place and they needed some good food shots for use in marketing and advertising through multiple outlets.

I was pretty excited about this gig. Not only was it local work (most of my work comes from outside the State of Michigan), but it was an independent place that I really enjoyed (and still do). My mind started running with how I could set up various studio lights there in the shop to achieve absolutely stunning lighting that will compliment their product perfectly. That’s what I consider my specialty, you see – natural light is great, but limited. I shoot for clients that want that ‘high end / magazine’ look, I achieve this by bringing in off-camera lighting, even for outdoor shoots. Thats what makes my photos look like a “Shane Gramling” photograph. Its my style.

I then learned of their budget: $20. There are some okay photographers out there that would be glad to take this gig for $20, but I am not one of them. I simply could not justify walking in there with $4k+ in equipment, spending an hour of my time, and walking out with $20. I almost did justify it in my head…but then I remembered I have bills to pay and kids to feed. My time is worth more than $20, and this is one place where a lot of freelancers will sell themselves short. However, that’s a topic a separate blog post entirely because today we’re talking about another aspect of the job that I learned soon after: the inability to shoot the product with my style.

After I gave them a dollar-rate that I’d have to receive to do the job, and some information about needing some space in the shop to set up studio lights, they asked if I could just shoot with natural light during business hours as the food came up for each order. For me, that was a deal-breaker. The work would look flat and average, and would not be anything I’d want to show anyone because the shots wouldn’t be consistent with my work. To show them in my portfolio would actually reduce the quality of the portfolio as a whole because of the inconsistency. I’m sure there’s some high dollar amount that I would have accepted to do the shoot, but it would be a number that is well worth my time, knowing I won’t be able to use the shots at all, and surely out of their budget.

As a photographer, your portfolio of work should have a consistent feel to it – you want people to hire you for your art. They need to be able to look at your work and know your style. Without that, you’re just another photographer in a sea of a million photographers.

If you are known for playing your guitar while hanging upside down, and someone wants to hire you to play standing on your feet, turn them down – there are a thousand people who can do that, but you are the only one playing upside down. Stick to your art – its the only thing that sets you apart.

Got a story similar to this? Think I should have taken the gig anyway? Tell me about it in the comments section below, or grab me on Facebook or Twitter.


Author Snapshot

Shane Gramling is a full-time professional freelance graphic designer based in Michigan. He serves a global client base with over 10 years' experience creating memorable brand experiences across multiple platforms. Shane has a highly sought-after combined skill set in web interface design, front–end programming, and print design – from brochures, to annual reports and billboards.

» Follow Shane on Twitter @ShaneGramling  
» View Shane's LinkedIn Profile  
» Check his Flint Photo Journal website  
» Drop into his design agency: Gramling Creative
» See his photo portrait work on Shane G. Photography

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