What Are Your Creative No-Fly Zones?


Adman Ernie Schenck coined the phrase “creative no-fly zones” to describe places where copywriters and other creatives shouldn’t go in their work. The no-fly zone encompasses ideas that are not only tacky, but likely to offend the public. One example Schenck cited was an Ohio car dealer whose ads promised customers “a jihad of savings!”

Naturally, the dealership made the news — for all the wrong reasons. Other examples of “no-fly zone” creative might be public service announcements so graphic they scare children, even though they’re intended to change behavior in adults. Or nasty political spots that accuse a candidate of (insert scandal here).

The thing is, that type of work is a lucrative career choice for many in advertising.

Paparazzi Shots and Wedding Photography

I got to thinking that photographers must deal with the same issues. There must be assignments you wouldn’t take on no matter how much money you were offered. Or would you?

The genesis for this was twofold. First, I saw a clip on TMZ about how local surfers attacked a group of paparazzi trying to take pictures of Matthew McConaughey catching a wave. Having watched Point Break enough times, even I know you don’t hassle locals, bra’. In their retreat to safety, it was comforting to know at least one photographer had the good sense to capture the slowest of his brethren getting trounced. (Evidence for the lawsuit, you know.)

Second, I had a discussion with an award-winning photographer last month in New York City. We were covering an event honoring advertising’s “golden age” — and on hand were many of the original Mad Men of Madison Avenue. During a break we talked about stuff only two 20+ year vets would. Changes in the business; the fact that he no longer shoots film, only digital; and so on.

I jokingly asked if he shot weddings, figuring that as with most of the photographers I know, the mention of weddings or babies would make his eyes roll. After all, these were the equivalent of doing coupon ads for any self-respecting art director. Sure, they may pay the bills, but they’re a creative black hole from which your soul never returns.

“Yes,” he responded.

So later, after the shock wore off, I checked out his site — and the stuff was good. Casual. Spontaneous. Genuine. Not at all like the typical stuff you see for most weddings. My preconceived notions hadn’t allowed me to think this was possible. After all, here was a guy who shoots everything: major event openings around the world, portraits, products, famous bands, politicians and CEOs. Why would he need to shoot weddings?

Contrast this photographer’s story with another photographer I knew who had studied under Ansel Adams, and who one day almost had a heart attack when someone had asked (quite seriously) if he did baby pictures.

What Are Your No-Fly Zones?

So is paparazzi photography in your no-fly zone? How about wedding photography? For some, these options are off the table. For others, they are a lucrative — and even fulfilling — career choice.

Putting the question to the pros out there: What are your no-fly zones?

[tags]advertising photography[/tags]


2 Responses to “What Are Your Creative No-Fly Zones?”

  1. as a freelancer, there are a lot of assignments i've been offered that i won't take on ... so called "glamour" (cheesecake) photography, for ex ... generally, once you say no the first few times, you stop getting asked, so it's not that hard to take your work in the direction you want it to go.

  2. It's not something I've given a lot of thought to, because I've always gravitated to the work I enjoy doing. Probably some of it could even be in someone else's "nofly zone" and it wouldn't even occur to me. Paparazzi photography I personally wouldn't do just because it's such a hassle and cattle call; I don't find it morally objectionable. And wedding photography is a living. If you can make a living from taking pictures with a camera, more power to you. I would never judge someone else's specific choices.

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