The Big Q

In The Big Q, Vision Is Better by David3 Comments


It’s still the long-weekend here in Canada. Man, it’s been relaxing to be away from it all. Tomorrow’s a travel day so check in, I’ll try to post, but no promises.

The Big Q
A question that came out of a recent Big Q from Matt: How do you balance your vision verses the vision of the art director/graphic designers that ask for specific images? I know they are the client and you need to give them what they need but what if they are too constrained? Similarly, how do you balance planning beforehand with reacting in the field?

The Big A
Thanks Matt. Good questions and, to be totally honest, not ones there are perfect defining answers to. First of all, I am a huge believer in the notion that clients buy your time and talent because they believe your vision is a fit for their project, not because you know how to press the shutter button better than any other camera monkey out there. So you should be starting on the right foot, with their trust in you already somewhat assumed. They will give you a brief that, hopefully, clearly communicates their needs, and you’ll likely have a meeting or two to clarify things, and give you a chance to ask questions of the client about scope and specs and what exactly they’re looking to communicate. If you’re really lucky you’ve got a client who trusts you and your vision to interpret the brief and come home with something that both meets the needs of the brief, and does so without compromising your vision of things.

Any place where the world of craft and commerce meet will be rife with compromises. You may need to shoot images wider than you like, but understanding why the client wants this (we need bleed room) will help. You might need more negative space than you prefer (we need room for the masthead on the cover). You might need to shoot from a specific angle (we need to protect the identity of the child). Remember that this is not a cap on your creativity but an invitation to play with it a little more. I’ve written before about the positive effect of constraints on creativity and believe that, while frustrating at times, these constraints should push us to better work, not resign us to mediocre work.

Your second question is also about balance. I see it as the balance between pro-active and reactive. It’s not one or the other, it’s both. You do your scouting and your field prep as thoroughly as you can and lean on that prep for much of your work, but you also need to plan for the serendipitous and, frankly, for all your planning to land on its head and be completely useless. I work in the so-called developing world. We have language issues, logistics issues, and a million surprises. So much of my work relies on my ability to be flexible, patient, and to ignore what’s gone wrong and focus on how we can make the most of it. Some days it all goes well and then the planning and scouting pays off in spades. On the days it all goes wrong the planning is even more valuable because it provides a safety net – you don’t fall quite so far. But either way it only goes so far. Life happens and you have to watch for it, roll with it, and be ready when it happens.

Feel free to add your Big Q in the comments for consideration. Canucks, I hope you’re having a great Victoria Day. Within The Frame is now shipping in Canada, and is in stock in many Chapters/Indigo locations. Americans,  your favourite bookseller should have them by now. There are also still signed copies available HERE.


  1. So, you’ve shot photos over the years and finally get down to putting them all together, and then find that you have material for a photo book. You approach a publisher and they love the idea and the photos. But during the course of the planning of the book the direction starts to skew more and more – not in a bad direction, just different. And since this is your (i.e. , read ‘my’) first photo book you’re a little reticent to do battle with the editors and layout artist. How do you balance the need to get that ‘first’ book published and staying true to your vision of the main thrust of the book?

  2. You could check out verses vs. versus in your dictionary but my real question is how one becomes a humanitarian. Is there an accreditation organization out there somewhere or can you just call yourself one enough times and hope it sticks?

  3. Author

    Uh, thanks jfwfoto but I’ve got a handle on verses vs. versus, I’m just a lousy typist and got lots on my mind. 🙂

    As for the Q about being a humanitarian, it’s no more a qualification than being, say, a vegetarian. It’s a choice derived of your values and lived out in your actions.

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