There’s a difference between someone asking you to make something and someone being wholeheartedly happy with what you’ve made. The two actions make you feel good for very different reasons. The first is all about expectations — they expect a particular product and believe that you can deliver it. The second is an unexpected appreciation, a surprise validation. You’ve made something and someone else said, “yes, this is good.”
The reason I shoot personal work is because I’m able to make images by just following my own curiosities. To have a client connect with that is really special.
A few years ago, Doug’s friend introduced him to Sarah, the lead producer for photography at Vistaprint. In 2018 Doug began hosting bi-annual dinners at local restaurants, a dinner series dubbed “People Who Should Know Each Other”. Doug would invite people he knew, like prospective clients, stylists, MUAs, and other photographers, and allow them to get to know each other, including Sarah.
Sarah came to a couple of our dinners, and we kept in touch. Early in 2020, Sarah hired me to shoot stills as part of a two-day small business campaign [Vistaprint] was doing.
During that project, Doug made valuable connections with the Vistaprint crew, and when they began a new marketing partnership with the Boston Celtics, they thought of Doug. Sarah’s first email to him about this project was on November 30, with the TV spot’s first air-date being December 27.
Sarah requested images and information from his ongoing New England Craftsmen project detailing each shoot, the businesses, and their locations. Simultaneously, the rest of Vistaprint’s creative team collected their own list of potential small businesses.
In the end, we photographed eight new businesses, and they licensed images from four previous craftsmen shoots, one of the shoots we did earlier in 2020, and an additional photo of me that my assistant took.
Scheduling these eight new shoots was challenging, mainly because they only had three days to complete them, and the final, fully produced edit needed to be completed only four days after they wrapped.
Sarah and I spent almost 90 minutes on the phone sorting this out one night. There was a lot to juggle beyond the obvious of ‘can we physically get to these locations and have enough time at each?’
Of course, physically getting to and shooting at eight different locations was further complicated by business hours. Doug and co. needed to have space at the sites without endangering any of their crew or the business’s employees and customers. They needed to arrive at the barbershop before they opened, the restaurant between lunch and dinner, and the gym between one class and the next. They budgeted roughly two hours at each location when they could, and in almost every instance, they finished up with time to spare.
That’s where my history of shooting CEOs really paid off. With those, it’s not unusual to be told we’ll have 20 minutes in preproduction, then told we’ll have 10 minutes when we arrive, only to find our subject walking off set after five minutes!
Doug approached each new location similarly to how he would an editorial assignment —keeping an awareness of the time constraints and unpredictable nature of shooting indoors in foreign spaces. He did as much research as possible before the shoot and analyzed each location for lighting, color, size, and potential hazards.
I knew because of our compressed production schedule we’d have limited time at each location, limited crew, and that COVID safety procedures would make everything run a little slower, which made all of these questions that much more important.
However, what was in Doug’s favor was the reduced traffic on the roads and Vistaprint’s in-house creative team. Doug was impressed by their experience and capabilities, and when they decided to add another location during the shoot, he took it in stride.
We had confidence we could fit it in with some minor adjustments to our timeline. By that point, we knew we were working pretty quickly at each stop, and adding one more exterior-only shot wouldn’t trip us up.
As you can imagine, with the compressed timeline came fast edits. Doug would shoot during the day, drive back to his office at night, and edit their selections from the day’s shoots.
I shot tethered and had [Vistaprint Editor] Adam Mikaelian starring images he liked as I shot. As we wrapped each location, I’d airdrop him 6-10 of his favorites, and by the time I was back at my office each night, he’d have emailed me his selections.
Despite the time crunch, the COVID restrictions, and unexpected add-ons, the shoots went smoothly, and Doug and the team worked with the efficiency of a machine so that Doug’s project and the small businesses he worked with could be presented to the masses.
If a client says, ‘your personal series is perfect, and we want you to shoot this project the same way you’ve shot these self-assignments,’ you’ve found the perfect match. I also really enjoyed the opportunity to reconnect with my old subjects and highlight their businesses so publicly.
See more of Doug’s work at douglaslevy.com.
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