Not all clients are a good fit.
(Blog note: I try to make this blog a realistic depiction of what it’s like to be a working, travelling, international event photographer. In most cases, my clients, my team, and I form bonds that last for years. We look forward to seeing each other, and life is good. But that’s not always the case. And so, at the risk of sounding snarky, here is a blog post about when the Client is pure evil — at least, in my view. To protect the identity of this evil client, I’ve changed a few details of the story that are not important to the overall theme. Oh, and “chief evil client” is NOT an Indian chief. I mean to say they were my primary contact for the shoot for the evil cliet. The fact I wanted to scalp her is coincidental.)
Sometimes, vacation is just too far away, even when it’s next week.
The first year I did the EVIL CLIENT life was good. Their event was held in Nashville, and they booked two years in advace. The event is a national “club type” event, and the attendees ranged from 18 – 81, all alumni of the same club, and all sharing a common history at the bi-annual event. The feeling was ELECTRIC, and the schedule — while quite a few days, was fairly easy — five hours here, five hours there. I thoroughly enjoyed the shoot. And, when we did the final slide show of images from the event? They gave me a standing ovation.
The next event, held in Denver? Oh, boy. I was again booked two years in advance, and again, the event went on for about 5 days. But this time around, enamored with the photos from the previous event, they’d packed my shooting schedule. With a start time of about 7:30 am and an end time of 10:30 pm, I ran from event to event like a chicken with my head cut off — with little time to eat, or even pee.
And, on the second day? That rumble of stomach that can only mean one thing:
You haven’t lived util you are trapped in a non-stop shooting schedule, and at the same time diving for the bathroom to purge bad shell fish from your system. The event doesn’t pause just because the photographer is about to hurl all over the awards stage. In fact, it seems everything speeds up.
I warned my primary contact, who we’ll call CHIEF EVIL CLIENT. “If you see me dive out of the room — don’t follow.” I was sweating through dress shirts like a boxer wearing a fur coat. And every single time their was another award? The stomach did a flip, then a flop, and I’d barely make it out of the room.
The only other time in my life I saw anything like this was when I was shooting Fareed Zakaria from CNN. In the middle of his keynote speech? He stopped, turned pale, and exited stage right.
The video guy (who was standing next to me) screamed into his lapel mic, “KILL HIS MIC! KILL HIS MIC!” Turns out poor Zakaria was the victim of a sudden stomach flu. I saw him years later at a meet and greet, and he said, “why do you look familiar?” I didn’t want to tell him, “Oh, you nearly puked on me three years ago.”
I told him, “I photographed you for a client in Phoenix; you weren’t feeling well.” He turned pale again, and said, “THAT DAY WAS PURE HELL.” He knew exactly what I was talking about.
We didn’t chat further. A few months later he got in trouble for lifting words from another reporter’s work.
Anyway, the EVIL CLIENT didn’t give a crap that I had bad shrimp and was near death’s door kneeling to the porcelain god in the mens room. Every time I ran from the room? Chief EVIL CLIENT called my cell phone, “where are you going? We need you here.” (I should mention: there wasn’t a single time I ran from the room during anything important. I never missed a shot. Even near death I know how to shoot. But, Chief Evil Client was convinced I was going to miss some highly important moment for favor of puking.)
If I had been feeling better, I would have made a joke. But all I could do was say, “I’m still not feeling very well.” Ever see Ron puking slugs up in Harry Potter? It was like that.
The EVIL CLIENT decided they wanted a photo for their magazine cover, and that the only time to do this was 10 pm at night. Worse, they decided to march 8 or so 20 something YOUNG WOMEN through the streets of Denver to a building they had scoped out that they thought would be cool.
Now, a couple of quick observations. First, magazine cover shoots aren’t typically sandwhiched between 10 and 11 pm at night. Second, I didn’t know where I was going, and the number one mistake you can make as a photographer is to lose control of a shoot. And, third, we were marching into a questionable neighborhood — me dragging $30,000 worth of camera equipment, and the chicks holding large props for the shoot. We did not blend. The shadows of the nieghborhood continued to deepen, and I was getting more and more nervous.
“Where are we going?” I asked, trying, desperately to sound pleasant and positive. (I’ve never been good at hiding when I’m — not happy.)
“I’m not sure.” said CHIEF EVIL CLIENT, “perhaps a few more blocks.”
I put my foot down. “This isn’t a good idea. We are in a bad neighborhood. See that guy over there? He’s dealing. See that guy in the car? He’s the lookout.”
“Don’t be so racist,” CHIEF EVIL CLIENT said.
With that, the police swooped in, lights flashing, and surrounded the dude in the door way.
“Well! I said, “I think that’s a good omen to head back towards the hotel. The Denver World Trade Center is across the street with a nice court yard. We’ll do the photo there.” I turned, and started to walk back, giving little options for discussion. (Ha! CHIEF EVIL CLIENT! THAT’S HOW YOU TAKE CONTROL BACK. EAT THAT!)
And, the photo was great, if I do say so myself. I put the girls on the steps, had their props all around them, and it was a totally cool shot. CHIEF EVIL CLIENT was dismissive. “It’ll do.” Sigh.
I confess I’m not used to this type of shoot. I’m used to things going perfectly (or at least, looking like they are going perfectly), clients being delighted, participants laughing and joking with me. This was the opposite. And, after the food poisoning and the drug dealer, I looked longingly at my suitcase in the hotel room. Michael! Pack me! Michael!
My calendar alert beeped on my iPad, disrupting my thoughts of escape. “Mike to vacation”. That meant 4th of July vacation was less than 48 hours away. Suck it up, Buttercup. Suck it up.
I met Matthew and David in Fort Lauderdale, and we drove to our hotel. I love the Fort Lauderdale Sheraton, not because it’s overly posh, but we’ve had two great rooms on two different trips: One, directly on the beach, with a sweeping view of the fireworks, and the other, a multi-room suite, over the main section of the hotel, with plenty of windows and a view of the moon rising over the ocean from the bed.
For four days, I sat on the beach, staring at my feet.
The EVIL CLIENT had nearly killed me. It was an effort to even order a beachside iced tea. I couldn’t move.
And, to this day, when I see EVIL CLIENT’S logo? My stomach clenches and I look for the closest rest room.