The Visual Advocate Blog

India: Reflections on an assignment

2 Comments

I was meaning to write this post as soon as I got back, but alas the tyranny of more urgent things has kept me from it until now. In short, the trip was great!

I loved getting to eat with local Indians almost every day as we worked in their villages, I loved getting to make a total fool of myself to get my subjects to loosen up and smile, I loved getting to train some of the staff of this organization to be better visual storytellers, and I just loved the challenge of constantly trying to create the strongest and most visually and emotionally compelling images I could!

For those of you out there who long to do this kind of work, I wanted to share some things I was reminded of again on this trip:

  • Always bring back up gear-While I was doing some personal shooting in Delhi before the assignment began my 16gb card all of a sudden stopped working. Though I had back ups, I went bought two more cards just so I had back ups for the back ups! None of us like to think about the possibility that our gear will fail just when we need it most, but this does happen so plan ahead and bring back up gear.
  • Don’t take yourself to seriously-One of my traits that most came in handy on this trip was the ability to make a fool of myself to make kids and adults crack a smile and sometimes even almost fall out of their chair from laughing so hard (that happened once!). We all want to be taken seriously as photographers and look professional and all, but the reality is that sometimes we have to do the funky chicken or make faces to get our subjects to loosen up. So next time your subject is totally stoic, try breaking out your best dance moves or silly faces.
  • Use whatever local language you know-I am embarrassed to confess that after 3 trips to India I still only know about 5 Hindi phrases. However, when I am in India, I use those 5 phrases like they are going out of style and you know what…almost everyone I meet loves it! So many times on this trip I had people comment on how much they loved to see an American trying to speak Hindi.  So the moral of the story is learn the local language the best you can and use it as much as possible.
  • Know your equipment-Don’t wait until you are getting paid for an assignment to figure out what your equipment can do and where all the buttons are on your camera! The time to experiment with your flash unit or various lenses is before you get in the heat of the moment. So many times on this assignment things were happening so fast in front of me and I am glad I practiced changing every feature on my camera without ever taking my eye away from the viewfinder while sitting on my couch a long time ago.
  • Dot the I’s and cross the T’s before the assignment begins-This group I was working for on this assignment had never hired a professional photographer before. While this did not result in any big problems, there were times we had to have talks about the proposal I wrote up and delivered before the assignment began because they were just used to getting free images from volunteers. In the end everything worked out, but you need to make sure that you have your ducks in a row so that you are prepared when you have to talk pricing, image licensing etc.
  • Under-promise and over-deliver-There is an old saying “Fake it until you make it”, but it is not the time to fake it when you are telling your potential client what you  can do for them. Do you need to sell yourself? Yes, absolutely, but don’t over-sell yourself. Be realistic about your skills and specialties and if what you have to offer doesn’t line up with what the client needs or wants have the courage and integrity to send them elsewhere. I have never had a client who has not loved the images and stories I produced for them. A major reason for this is because I have put in the time to hone my craft. However, another big part of this is that I have been honest and realistic about what I can offer.

Those are just a few reflections from this past trip. I would love to hear from you about things you have learned or been reminded of as it relates to international assignments. If there are things I didn’t touch on that you have questions about feel free to comment and I will respond to your question(s).

Advertisements

Author: The Visual Advocate

Joe Murray, The Visual Advocate, is a Humanitarian and Cultural photographer based in Decatur, Georgia. Joe began his photographic career as an adventure and landscape photographer, but a month-long trip to India in 2009 deeply impacted him and proved to be a turning point in his life and photographic vision. Today, Joe is dedicated to using his craft to create and share compelling images and stories of the lives of the peoples and cultures of the world. While Joe loves and appreciates all the peoples and cultures of the world, he has a particular vision, passion and love for India and South Asia. As both an experienced photographer, public speaker, recruiter and advocate, Joe's goal as a visual artist is not simply to create awareness, but to move people to use their lives and resources to be a blessing to the world's most poor, abused, displaced, stereotyped and overlooked peoples.

2 thoughts on “India: Reflections on an assignment

  1. Great post mate. I definitely agree with all your points. I’ve had some great reactions from older folks by telling them they could be a supermodel 🙂

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s