The challenge of self-paced assignments

May 09, 2014  •  Leave a Comment

Night Cinema in Victoria Square (for ACC)Night Cinema in Victoria Square (for ACC)

Since early March, I've been undertaking an assignment for Adelaide City Council, for which I have a list of shots they want for their image library or current image needs. I'm able to plan and execute the shoots at my leisure. No specific deadlines, other than the occasional request to speed something up, and I am almost entirely free to exercise my creative will within the limitations of the brief. Kind of a dream job. But you know what? It's really hard.

Do you remember at high school or uni when you had projects you had to do and you were given a submission date weeks or even months away from when you were given the project outline and you sat there quietly promising to yourself that you would chip away it every week so you didn't have to cram it all into one week of frantic activity ahead of the hand-up date? Well, of course you do. We've all been there.

Well, this project is like that. Working for a client with a short deadline is way easier, inasmuch as you don't need to think much about schedules. You take the job, you promise a delivery date, you deliver. Simple, right? Well, OK, perhaps not quite that simple but at least you and your client have a clear set of expectations. With a more open brief from a client such as the one I'm doing for the ACC, you need to approach the task differently.

So for what it's worth, I'd like to share some tips for handling a workload where you are in charge of a long-term shooting schedule.

  1. This may seem obvious but, above all, you need to be disciplined. You can't put things off because it suits you. Keep working at a steady pace and set yourself weekly goals. (Pretty much what your high school teacher said, right?)
  2. Be aware that if you have an extensive shot list involving outdoor locations, there's a good chance the seasons will change while you're working on the project. Be aware of this and plan accordingly. Clarify with your client if they want a particular seasonal shot. Be prepared to do both.
  3. Clarify, clarify, clarify. Clarify the client's timeframe for the project. Clarify what your client expects. Continually clarify with your client as to how they think the project is progressing. You aren't operating in a vacuum and the last thing you want to discover is that your client has been quietly fuming away because you never seem to be in touch.
  4. Go the whole ten yards, and then a little further. The image accompanying this blog entry is of a trial cinema screening in Victoria Square. It was by chance that I stumbled across the event being set up and volunteered to get some shots. Yes, correct, volunteered! I was already shooting nearby for another project so it wasn't any skin off my nose to hang around a little longer and grab a pano of the screening in progress. Call it a value-add, if you like. I just call it "working for tips". I used to be a professional waiter for more than a decade, which is how I learned about customer service and most of what I learned in that industry is transferrable to this one.
  5. ​Look over the shot list at the start of the project and ahead of all other tasks, assess which locations will need approval for access and commercial photography and get your application forms in, or at least get the nod from the appropriate decision-maker. It can take a surprisingly long time to get these approvals and you don't want unnecessary down time for the sake of not thinking ahead.
  6. Log your time on the job. I have an iPhone app that tracks my travel, location and post-production time and can generate reports. 

Finally, try your best to enjoy the freedom of an assignment like this. They're not common. If you land one, take the opportunity to soak up that feeling of shooting like you did before you turned pro. Remember those self-assigned projects you'd do for the love of it? Well, an assignment like this one is a great opportunity to relive those days. Make it your own.


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