Lest you think that I am a Certified Master of Photography, one who has All The Answers and whose every exposure is of exhibition quality, let me assure you, I am not. I do pretty well when I'm just wandering around with a camera, free to shoot whatever I like, when I like. There's no pressure to produce, so if a photo doesn't come out as well as I'd like, it's not the end of the world.
That all changes when I take on a professional assignment, especially one like the job I did last week. I was hired to photograph a variety of programs and activities sponsored by Philabundance, a non-profit organization here in Philadelphia that distributes surplus food to the hungry. The locations included a warehouse, a training kitchen, an indoor food distribution center, and two outdoor distribution centers, one of which was located underneath an elevated highway.
I had brought a compact power pack and three flash heads to help with the interiors, but setting up light stands, cables, umbrellas and soft boxes in crowded areas where people have other work to do is challenging at best. In some cases I had to make do with a combination of ambient light with custom white balance, battery-powered flash units bounced off ceilings and walls, and good old-fashioned prayer.
As much as I wanted to concentrate on the technical challenges of photographing in less-than-perfect conditions, I also had to worry about other people tripping over cables, myself slipping on just-mopped floors, memory cards filling at an alarming rate, and above all, how to get photos that didn't look as if they had been staged by a photographer.
Because the job was for a non-profit group I wanted to keep the price down and didn't hire an assistant. That meant I had to pack, unpack, set-up, repack and transport everything myself. Fortunately, I'm in good shape and didn't mind the workout, but I'd be lying if I said I wasn't dog-tired by the end of the day.
Was the job stressful? At times, yes. There were also times when the positivity and good spirits of the people I met reminded me of how great it is to be alive. In the end I managed to deliver the goods, my client was happy, and I can now go back to a less demanding approach to photography. It's good to know I can do a pro gig when I have to. It's also good to know that, except on rare occasions, I don't have to.
If any of you reading this has ever had an assignment that has put you to the test, feel free to share it with the rest of us. It may serve to remind some amateurs dreaming of turning pro to be careful what they wish for.