Keep Your Cool — and Use Your Smarts — When Dealing with Meddlesome Clients


Some days, everything goes according to plan and the assignment seems relatively easy. The assistants and talent do their jobs and you do yours — and even your coffee mug stays magically full.

Other times, however, working through a shoot is like slogging through thick mud; problems seem to crop up at every available opportunity. Be in the game long enough and you’ll have your share of both.

Doing It Their Way, Then Yours

On an assignment for an advertising agency in Florida, I was supposed to document a video commercial shoot and take the collateral stills for regional ads. The early part of the day went quite well, on location at a private residence “rented” for the day. Between some video takes, I brought the actress to a large sunroom to set up for a series of images. The video director ordered his crew to hang blackout drapes and bring any lighting I needed. That part was easy.

Later, the art director took me outside to get some shots of an actor standing about 40 feet in front of the house. He demanded I shoot with the actor in bright, midday Florida sun and get the shaded house in the background. The actor couldn’t keep his eyes from squinting, but the art director was insistent. I did as he asked.

I didn’t want to get in an argument with the art director, so I followed his lead, just as he asked. Afterward, when he left to pester someone else, I took the actor to the side, where there was some shade, spent about 10 minutes setting up some lights and did the same setup my way, albeit from a slightly different angle.

I believe it’s important not to be negatively influenced by others on assignments. Permitting them to dictate my mood affects everything I do and the quality of the images. It’s always best to find creative ways to ameliorate situations, like the above, rather than acting like a prima donna. It’s more important to get the deliverables than to win petty wars.

Making the Marketing Director Happy

Weeks later, I was in a large rented studio, setting up a shot for a major client. Their main business was producing the plastic fabric used to shade plants in tropical nurseries. Now, they wanted to open a new line of business, using the fabrics to make portable cabanas and car ports.

I had one of their white carports and borrowed a new white car from a friend, all placed against a seamless white wall and floor. The only real color was a rose in vase on top of a table next to the car port. I had spent the morning painting the table, chairs and place settings white, when the director of marketing showed up unexpectedly to monitor the shoot.

Immediately upon arrival, he became a nuisance, chattering incessantly and wanting to look at the setup on the back of my 4×5, all the while complaining the image was upside down.

So, there I was with this guy getting in my way, questioning everything and suggesting I move the camera this way and that. My stomach started to churn and I could feel my anger rising. I knew if I told him to leave, it could be unpleasant. Nothing I did or asked stopped him from being a pest. Then, I had an idea.

I went over to him and made a point to show him how I wasn’t getting the right kind of light on top of the car port and asked if he would mind helping me. My assistant brought over a 12 foot light stand with a small monolight attached. I handed it to the marketing director and asked him to hold it over the top of the car port, as high as he could, to get even lighting. Because of the weight and length, he had to lean backwards to hold it in place. Once he had the light positioned correctly and out of the frame, I did my part.

Days later, at a meeting in the company’s conference room, with the corporate officers present, we went through the images. They loved them. Near the end of the meeting, the marketing director told everyone how he was instrumental in getting these tremendous images. I didn’t have the heart to tell him I never connected his light.


6 Responses to “Keep Your Cool — and Use Your Smarts — When Dealing with Meddlesome Clients”

  1. Brilliant, made me smile after the day I've had with clients :)

  2. That's fabulous! Yes, we've all been there. However, hearing others tell their own pesky people stories always lightens my heart up for the next one that comes along. Thanks!

  3. Ha ha, that second story made me laugh... :) I need to go buy more lights to deter people like that... or I can just use this story as an excuse to buy more toys...

  4. Thank you for the laugh! I need to remember that "headbutting" a problem isn't the best way. Love the way you very smoothly worked around it and got the job done

  5. Love this. Thank you.

  6. I am going to have to try something similar at weddings with interferring relatives who tell me how to shoot or "compare" cameras.

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