What I’ve Learned So Far: Twenty Two; “Photography Is an Incredible Art”

portrait-ny-1Photography at its best can be a reflection of the world in ways that we have never been seen before. It is the photographer’s vision that makes the image become more than it could have been.

But at the heart of the photographer’s vision, there is a deep foundation of the art and the technology that is required to create images that transcend the normal.

Photography is one of the most incredible art forms known.

It combines composition, and color, and tonality, and aesthetic sensibilities with technology that is as precise as it is deliberate.

Many art forms can lay claim to that set of parameters – or at least many of them.

But only photography has the element of time. Time frozen in the vision of the photographer. Time that was captured in an instant of the photographers choosing.

That choice made by determining the nature of the subject unfolding in front of them… in a heartbeat or faster, the shutter captures something that was seen, but only in that moment.

Dance can be seen live, and on video or film, but the moments of the dance are blurred to create an entire piece meant to be savored from the beginning to the end.

A painter can paint the dancer again and again and again to get it just right.

But a photographer has no second chances, no video to show a totality.

A photographer has a single moment.

A single photograph of a dancer, caught in that never to be seen again moment is all up to the one who makes the decision. The decision to activate a shutter that reveals the light.

At that exact moment in time.

Precisely at the moment the photographer has been waiting for, planning for, working for… that “moment” when it all comes together and makes something extraordinary.

And then it is gone. Forever.

But for the image that was caught, that moment is lost.

Time is the vessel of photography. The print is its legacy.

Imagine the skill involved in making that choice. Imagine the depth of sheer knowledge that is brought to bear on that ‘click’… that moment that the photographer has chosen to capture. Imagine photography without the limitations of time.

Skills that develop slowly give way to a comfort in the making of images. A comfort that will inevitably give way to a deeper push for better skills and understanding of the process.

Like the tall trees on the beach, photography is seen on the surface, but buoyed by the deeper roots of the artist.

And like the trees, artists with deep roots whether the toughest of storms, the heat of summer and the frost of winters. The roots keep them anchored even as they are thrown about on the surface by storms of indifference and self doubt.

At least long enough for them to stalk that moment in time when all come together whether from deliberateness or whimsy, and that tiny sliver of a moment is caught and rendered as a photograph.

What I’ve Learned So Far: Twenty One; “Don’t Be A Clone”

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Nobody likes a clone.

A clone is a copy, a non-authentic ‘ringer’ that has no soul, no guts, no passion, no quirks or guilts or pleasures.

And it is way, way too easy to be a clone. Just copy something or someone and do that as you.

But it is you.

Case in point.

A very talented media person who I work with spent many, many hours researching her WP theme. Upon deciding on it, she spent many more hours customizing it to be a perfect “magazine” for her publication. With the added coding required for special posts, it is a very nicely done site.

Another one of the people that worked with us saw her site and asked a bazillion questions about the custom post types and what was done to create such a marvelous looking site.

Then went and got the same theme and built the same custom post types for a nearly cloned site. Although the content is different, the look and feel is identical… and this caused a problem.

The person who had built the original site was miffed that she had been ‘ripped off’ and the person who had appropriated her site felt that since it was a WP theme, all was fair.

Both are actually right. It is indeed a commercial theme – and there is no copyright or proprietary ownership of custom post types and fonts and such. And she wasn’t really ripped off, but more like appropriated.

But what is inherent in the original site is a feeling of authenticity, of originality. Something only found when you are on the front lines of trying to make some goddam thing work – and work well for you and your specialized needs.

And there is a feeling of a win as you wrangle those problems and shards of ideas into something cohesive that is exactly what you wanted.

Copying it, however, is simply copying it. “Command C / Command V” is not a win. It is a non authentic approach that has no passion or desire or plan. It’s a no heart, no guts approach.

Now for sure others who do not know of the existence of the original site will NEVER be any more aware, and the clone site does indeed look pretty nice – but not because of anything special the clone did, but all to do with that original site designer busting her ass.

After it all settles, something has been lost.

The struggle for excellence has been sidestepped in favor of the damn “easy button” and what could have been discovered was not. To think that someone else’s approach to something would so perfectly match your own that it is a slam dunk is to miss the idea of unique and authentic.

He needed to struggle with a theme… hell, even that theme. He needed to stay up late and look at font combinations again and again and again to find the ones that were so perfectly his that they screamed at him from every H1 tag. If you have never fought through a design struggle, then you will never learn how to fight through one.

And you just may have to do that one day. Especially if you are a, you know, designer.

Photography is very much the same way. Finding out what actions a photographer in your town uses may be wonderful for that imitation phase (school/beginner – NOT in business yet), but by the time we are into innovation and creating an authentic vision, that is simply not acceptable anymore.

How could the ‘style’ of a forty seven year old mother of three who photographs children in natural light wearing old people’s clothes’ be the style of a 20 year old hipster in a NYC loft working with ‘alternative’ talent? C’mon… it may be a rare coincidence, but very rare.

You must speak from your authentic self every time you make a photograph, chat with a client, invoice a gig, post a blog article or – and this is important – talk about another photographer.

Let me make a bold statement here: Authentic people are not petty people. Authentic people are not jealous or envious. Nor are they gossips or naysayers. They spend their precious time making their authentic work, not disparaging or stealing the work of others. That is truly a waste of time and effort and results in a badly made clone if it results in anything at all.

And clones are easy to spot, actually. There is a bit of lifelessness in their eyes, they are not fun to be around and they cannot dance the Tango.

Which is an important part of all life on planet earth. Trust me on this.

We are oftentimes presented with opportunities to simply cut and paste something else and call it our own. And there may be times when we are tempted because of the banality of what it is. But think long and hard about what that does to YOUR creative muscles.

It cheats them from a solid workout. It is taking your creatives to the gym all excited to work out and then spending the afternoon in the doughnut store next door. Too easy. No challenge.

Do it once… and perhaps no harm done. Do it twice and we are now seeing the beginnings of a trend. Do it a couple more times and it is now a defining way of doing business and you are no longer pushing for excellence.

In the consumer side of photography we have seen some major players lose a lot of their credibility from that ol’ cut and paste habit. Big names at the top of their game for reasons that are simply lost on me figured they could steal a little snippet here, a line or two there… who would notice or even care.

Somebody noticed. A LOT of people cared. It was a matter of character, or the lack thereof, that was on display that made a mockery of their claims of authentic creativity.

Look. Being authentic is being YOU. It is owning up to your mistakes, challenges and losses. And to pretend that there were none will always bring us back to the pain of being found out as a putz.

I could go on and on about being authentic, uniquely you and how important it is. But I think you may have the idea.

Being the best you can be is far better than trying to be the best someone else can be.

What I’ve Learned So Far: Twenty; “Gravity; A Force of Nature, Not a Way of Life”

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One of the more difficult things to wrap our arms around is that not everyone out there wants us to succeed. In fact, the numbers are highly stacked against us. More people will seem to want to douse your flame of passions before it gets lit than will block the wind for you.

I don’t know why that is. I don’t.

But we see it everywhere. Writ large and writ small, the people we engage with seem to be either indifferent to our successes or actively engaged in diminishing them.

The media touts destruction and sorrow, with a steady drumbeat of negativity. Even as gas prices are falling all over this country, there are many pundits who are now saying that will bring ruin. Same pundits who predicted ruin when gas prices were on the way up.

We hear that if the economy is roaring, it is a terrible time to start a business because there are already too many businesses doing well. That leaves no place for us.

We also hear that if the economy is doing poorly, it is a terrible time to start a business because there are too few businesses doing well.

Schizophrenia is a terrible malady, NYT… you should see someone about that.

We all know that “haters gonna hate”. And trolls are a new level of disgust pooped from the bowels of the internet. Trolls and haters don’t count… not at all. My advice is simply given, but a bit more difficult to do: Ignore them. In every way.

Arguing with trolls (which I am guilty of doing in the past) is a losing battle. They are by definition NEVER going to have their minds changed because that is NOT what they are about. They are trolls (reference the “Scorpion and the Frog” story for more clarity).

Haters are even a lower form of life, and need to trouble you not. Screw ‘em.

But barring the cretinous haters and trolls, we have many people who will stand in our way with good intentions – and they are a bit more tricky to deal with.

The “I don’t want to see you be disappointed” crowd is usually parents and older relatives who really only want to see you succeed but many times bring their own fears and failures forward to stack on your back. This is of course, unfair, but being angry is not the way to deal with those folks. Let them know that you understand that failure is a possibility, one that you have prepared yourself for. Failure can indeed be in your future, but you will accept it only if you have done every possible thing you can to succeed.

Remind them that Disney was bankrupt twice in his life, that Sylvester Stallone was a bit actor with a screenplay about a boxer. Edison was nearly out of funds when he found the material for an electric lightbulb. And Colonel Sanders was a retired guy with a chicken recipe… and running out of funds as well.

To do anything great, risk must be involved. Otherwise there is no greatness. Only the mundane. Tell them that you appreciate and acknowledge their advice, but that you must move on with your dream – and the associated risk – if only to prove to yourself it can be done.

When you meet the naysayers group, the “nobody is making any money in that business”  folks, you will undoubtedly be in for some long, undocumented, vague and creepy novellas of treachery, deceit, and defeat.

“My sister’s best friend’s brother knew a guy who knew a guy who was the brother of a woman who wanted to do this and she failed badly… nearly sank her whole town.”

Questions regarding what exactly went wrong are met with shrugs, and vague guesses, but then it isn’t really a news story they are telling you. It is a fictional report of a made up failure to illustrate their own fears.

Which are probably not your fears. (Not that we don’t have fears. No, we got entire rooms full of fears but they are also probably not relatable to their fears.)

Let them know that a lot of people who are unprepared want to go into business right after buying a zoom lens or a Mac. And that unpreparedness is more likely to have been a big contributor to their massive fail than anything else. Let them know you are prepared, you have completed your research, and have your ducks in a row.

Being prepared means the risks are mitigated. Not gone, just made a more palatable percentage point change. They may be a little more understanding, but there are still residual concerns.

Dealing with the obviously and truly jealous is also problematic. Some of them are not even aware of their envy and how it is manifesting itself in comments and little actions meant to demean what you are doing.

“Yeah, those big contracts come along now and then, but be careful… they will probably try to rip you off, and then you will be left holding the bag.”

Well, probably not, actually. But your success worries them because if you are successful they may have to face the fact that they were either not ready, not very good, of completely confused by the business. That makes them feel their loss doubly hard, and they see it as a failure all around.

Now we have our last troublesome group, the ones who feel that your success directly creates their failures. These are the “zero-sum” folks – and the world if full of them. Unfortunately.

They see success as a limited quantity of something… and if you have more, someone else must have less. That is NOT true, never has been. Your success can breed more success for others. You being successful can inspire someone you may never have met into doing something they may never have thought about doing. Being great at what you do can be the impetus for someone else’s greatness as well.

Gravity is such a powerful force of nature. Pulling something down is always easier than lifting something up. Not only in the real world, but in the psychology of our daily interactions.

Now you have seen some of the habits and traits of people who may be bringing others down. You can recognize those traits. And if you are exhibiting any of them, you can stop that right now.

Be a mentor. Be a sponsor. Be a friend that inspires, cajoles, pushes and expects greatness.

Be a positive, uplifting force for good.

It is, in the end, a hell of a lot more fun!

PHOTO INFO:
Robert Shaw, International Consultant. Scottsdale, AZ

 

What I’ve Learned So Far: Nineteen; “It Isn’t What You Shoot, It’s HOW You Shoot What You Shoot”

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In the ‘business’ of photography some things have changed drastically since I started out a long time ago. From “day rates” to “snip tests” some of what we did as a normal part of our creative lives have either vanished or have been recreated into some new language – “TFP” will always be ‘testing’ to me.

What you shot helped determine a lot about your style, and helped clients understand what you do.

Don Giannatti: Landscape photographer
Don Giannatti: Fashion photographer
Don Giannatti: Architectural photographer

Hell – we had those designations ON our business cards… it was WHAT we shot.

And for a wide swath of the industry, it was enough. Clients wanted a photographer to do THAT thing – and you did THAT thing so you got the gig.

But not anymore. It is no longer good enough to simply shoot what you shoot. It is far more important HOW you shoot what you shoot.

Style

One of the most difficult and challenging things we deal with as photographers is style. It is a defining point of our work. It is one of the things that will set our work apart from the other photographers out there. Style will be our calling card, the incredibly complex nature of our style will be the simplest thing people see. Our work.

And yet style cannot be taught, nor would you want it to be. It shouldn’t be contrived, forced, manipulated or fake. It has to be authentic. And that can be one of the biggest challenges a photographer can face.

Let’s get a few things out of the way first. You must be a shooter first. That means that the technical stuff isn’t getting in the way. You can light what you want, and can create a shot under duress and deliver an excellent result every time. Well, if not excellent then really really really good.

We have to discover what it is you love to shoot. That may sound easy, but it can take a lot of personal introspection to find that inner driving point that makes it all come together. We will look at a few ways to get yourself directed toward the kind of work that you really love to do. And doing what you love is such a great way to make a living as a photographer.

Questions to Answer

Question: What do you shoot? Are you a glamor photographer or an editorial portrait specialist? Do you like to shoot landscapes or still life or architecture? Or is fashion your focus? If you already know what you want to do, that’s great. Are you doing it? If not, what is getting in your way and preventing you from doing what you want to do? Take the time to note what you are doing to sabotage your images from getting made if you aren’t currently making them.

Is it time? Could you cut out some television, or weekend projects? Could you get one shot a weekend done while still spending time with family or obligations? Can you plan very tightly to keep yourself focused on a shot per weekend?

Is it money? Are there ways to do what you do without spending money? Portraiture or street shooting shouldn’t cost at all? Can you find people and partners who can work with you to get what you need without spending money? Are there ways to piggyback tripos out of town with a few hours or a day shooting?

Is it gear? Naw… that doesn’t fly with me. If you have a camera, you can make photographs. Now, sure… you may want to create rockstar shots with 12eleventy lights and trestles and gaffers and grips. Well… that ain’t gonna happen. But if you have a camera, you can use available light, bounce cards and great ideas to get to done on the making pics thing.

Are you lacking ideas? Well, this is a tough one. If you are unable to find ideas to make photographs, then you may find this a difficult business to work through. However, if you need to prime the pump so to speak – and we all have to do that at some point – hit the bookstore, grab a coffee and start looking at magazines. Look at magazines where the interest focus is NOT what you are interested in. You want stimulation? Try magazines that you have not much interest in… then when the image captures you… BAM! That is a great idea… right?

This list will be your first challenge.

Inertia. Getting moving. The first step. Work on it.

Your subject is not your style.

I’ll say it again. Your subject is not your style. Your subject is your subject. It is what you shoot. It is your choice to aim the camera in the direction of what you like to photograph is a personal choice. A choice of subject.

How you shoot it is your style. What the image looks like is your style. How it engages the viewer and creates an emotion or reaction… that is attributable to your style. You could be a classic fashion shooter or a classic architectural shooter or a classic portraitist. Classic means you have a style that you apply to what you do. If you are wild and crazy, and that look carries across the subject matter, then you have a strong style. You will be hired for How you Shoot What You Shoot, not just What you shoot.

Let’s take portraiture. You can go to department stores and get a “portrait” made. You can get a portrait made at a photobooth, or a church fundraiser, or from that nice lady who lives across the street – the one that used to sell time-shares – she has a really good camera and can snap a pic or two.

A portrait.

Or you could hire Dan Winters to make a photograph of you. Or Emily Shur. Or Scott Toepfer or Platon. The work would be the same thing genre wise… a portrait. But it would certainly not look like those department store pix. Each of these photographers would bring their style to the work… their way of seeing, their way of making an image that does more than simply capture your image on a sensor.

And let’s be perfectly clear; if your images look like they could have been taken at the local department store, there is no way in the world you are going to be successful on any level but that… $29.95 packages of forgettable pictures.

I had a photographer who was quite frustrated come to me once and ask “what am I doing wrong?” He could not figure out why he could not get an account that for him should have been an easy cash-flow money cow. Youth sports team photos were a great way for him to stay busy in the traditional slow times in his city, and he was totally confused as to why he couldn’t get in the door.

“Look at these shots,” he said, “they are exactly like the other guys work and I can’t get in the door.”

I asked him to repeat what he had said because he had nailed it… that was his problem. And it wasn’t that he couldn’t get through the door, it was that his work looked just like the other guys work. Period.

And it was schlock – ten steps below what my friend was capable of doing.

I told him to make HIS shots, his way and see what happened. Take the lights and the batteries, take the booms and the stands – go the extra mile on making images that stand out. That are YOUR images, and see what happens.

He did nearly $40K that season alone.

His style resonated with the kids, and they in turn begged mom for more photos… cause they were cool.

As to how to know what your style is… well, that is a challenge. And I don’t think you should go out and seek a style. Rather your style is something that is revealed the more you shoot. We tend to gravitate toward those things that intrigue us about our own and others work.

Clarke Terry’s marvelous quote about jazz always resonates with me: “Imitate. Assimilate. Innovate.” And I think it is true in photography as well.

Naturally gravitate toward someone who’s style you love and find if it works for you. Imitate.

Learn to shoot in that style until it is second nature. Assimilate.

Break through and add your own twists, turns, runs, and personality to the work. Innovate.

Imitating and assimilating are easy. There are so many clones of great photographers it is sometimes difficult to see past the facade. Innovating his hard.

But necessary.

Your style is revealed by looking back, not determining forward. Style should not be contrived or artificial, it should be an organic part of your process.

And it is NOT what action or plugin you are using in Photoshop or Lightroom. C’mon… if your style is dependent on a $60 piece of software, you have no style at all. You have a gimmick.

An exercise if you are interested

Take ten of your favorite photographs by someone you admire style-wise and in your journal make comments on the following:

What kind of lighting is predominant?:

  • Natural
  • Appears natural
  • Dark and Moody
  • Single Light
  • Multiple Lights
  • Location Heavy
  • Studio Heavy

Add any additional criteria you want to add. Note all things that are the similar in the work.

How does the photographer handle composition?:

  • Classical
  • Funky
  • Off Kilter
  • In Close
  • Far Away
  • Horizontal Prominent
  • Vertical Prominent
  • High Angle
  • Low Angle

Add any additional criteria you want to add. Note all things that are the similar in the work.

What kind of post production do they do?:

  • Heavy Post
  • Medium Post
  • Minimal Post
  • No Post.

Add any additional criteria you want to add. Note all things that are the similar in the work.

At this point it is important to note that we are not caring about subject matter. We are looking at ways photographers create a style. It may not be a style that you are interested in or it may be such a blast that it makes you want to shoot like that. Cool. You can’t copy, you can only work through it as an inspiring model.

And that is so true. Taking the time to do this with a couple of the names above is a great way to see how photographers work within parameters they set themselves. Don’t do all of them, but do a couple for sure. I suggest that you use one or two of the photographers you love. And do one or two of those shooters who may not be your cup of tea. It is a great exercise. Sharpens the mind.

NOW DO IT AGAIN WITH 10 OF YOUR IMAGES.

This can be quite an eye opening exercise – and it can be done by photographers of every level.

If you have been shooting for only a couple of years, it may be entirely possible that you do not have a style yet. Or if you do you are still in the Assimilate stage. Finding your own voice, one that resonates with your heart and mind is the most important part of all of this process of professional photography.

There are legions of mediocre photographers out there crying the blues because they cannot get a gig – remember the story of my friend. If your work is stylistically the same as 8 dozen other photographers, there is a great chance that no one cares. You haven’t given anyone a reason to care.

Give them a reason to note your work. Give them a reason to champion your imagery. If you cannot do that, then give them an estimate that’s $5 less than the other photographer that shoots the same way you do.

What I’ve Learned So Far: Eighteen; “It Costs What It Costs”

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Have you ever purchased a car? From a dealership?

All the run around they do, the “let me take this to my manager” BS, and the “hey, what do you want to spend per month for this little honey…” makes me cringe. I am a marketer, and that stuff makes me laugh. But it also annoys the hell out of me.

I recently bought a new car (Sonata – loaded). It was pretty painless. I told them straight up that I had no time or energy for haggling (and they actually do not do that either). I wanted their best offer and if it was good I would take it and if it was not good, I would walk. Simple. I wanted their best effort and price and I got it. They came back with three proposals, and I took the middle one.

I had done my due diligence, knew the trade in value for the old blue-rocket, knew my credit score and the rates that should accompany that, and also knew the markup of the vehicles both used and new. Research is a bitch, but a beautiful bitch for sure.

I kinda laughed to myself, as the ‘three price guideline’ is something I teach a lot. And true to nature, I took the middle offer. I haggled a bit for an extended warranty (got it) and for an interior package option (didn’t get it). Why? Because they could not afford to make that deal.

Drove home in a new car. And a new car payment – something I wasn’t really used to. The monthly bill was less than the monthly mechanics bill on the blue rocket, so it evened out for a while.

The whole experience reminded me of something I read by Danielle LaPorte – a very good read for all of us in the commercial arts. “It costs what it costs” she said. And she is absolutely right. People will always try to bring down the price. No problem with that, as we do it too. The problem is when they want to go below the price that makes sense to our business model. What we do cannot cost less than what it costs, that is an old joke.

“I lose money on every sale but make it up in volume.” And that is funny, until we are asked to do that very thing.

You know what…

“IT COSTS WHAT IT COSTS…”

No more.

No less.

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What I’ve Learned So Far; Seventeen; “Funk In, Funk Out, Funk Off”

theroad-washington-coast

I know that being a professional photographer should be a bed of roses, a magical place where unicorns and rainbows are interspersed between the Bentleys and mansions. A place where creativity is simply something that everyone has in spades, and no one is ever without a great idea.. or three.

Yeah… I imagine it is wonderful there.

I have never been. I live in the other part of the creative world. The one where crap happens, and creativity doesn’t always drip off the fingertips. Where I live people have to work hard to deliver, practice hard to get it right, and push themselves to deliver better and better work every time.

Sometimes a funk moves in. It could be a creative funk, or a business funk, or simply a malaise at the end of a particularly busy and stressful period. There can be many things that wrench our creative energy from us and leave us, well… sort of flat feeling.

The funk moves into our heads and sets up a little flat, meaning to stay for a while. And that, we simply cannot allow.

You see the problem with funk is that it can take over, create patterns of destruction, and make it more and more difficult to get out of. So we have to be proactive and kick that bastard out… evict the funk.

Each of us have ways to do that and work well for us. If you have ways to get the batteries charged and knock the funk from its roost, do it without hesitation.

For those of you who wrestle with it, I can share a few ideas that I use for banishing the funk outta my thoughts.

1. Create an Excitement “Folder”:
Make it easy to save work for your portfolio – and provide an interesting idea gallery.

I can’t believe how many times I will be working with a photographer and ask to see some new images, or to send some images for a portfolio, and be told “Let me see if I can put some together”, or “I’ll look for them.”

That is not terribly efficient. Or wise.

I use a shortcut on the desktop to send any and ALL portfolio possibilities to a folder on an external drive. When I am working on an image, and I feel it has consideration for the portfolio, it is simply dragged to the shortcut and sent to the folder for later review. Keeping the drive external means a copy of the image is sent, so the original is still in the working folder.

When I feel a funk coming on, I go to that folder to explore and review work that I thought cool when I shot it, and now I use that work to trigger new ideas or scenarios I want to work on. Note: this is my folder of work, and not other photographers work. The images in there range from commissioned work, to personal work to iPhone snaps, and experiments. They are loosely catalogued in those titles.

I am sometimes very motivated to creating new work when looking at older/less structured work.

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What I’ve Learned So Far: Sixteen; “Devil’s In The Details / Don’t Sweat The Small Stuff”

rio-standing-annamaria

Two old sayings people like to throw around a lot without really listening to what they are throwing around;

“The devil is in the details” means pay very close attention to the minutiae… it is where the challenges will be hiding.

“Don’t sweat the small stuff” means getting caught up in the minutiae can be problematic, and not productive.

These kind of colloquialisms will fall from the lips of many creatives, and occasionally within a short amount of time. Makes you kind of wonder how many other ‘sayings’ we have are diametrically opposed? Or just plain silly.

“Patience is a virtue” / “Carpe Diem” (“Seize the day”)

“Haste makes waste” / “Time waits for no man”

Really helpful stuff there old guys… thanks for your, uh… wisdom.

In commercial photography the devil IS in the details unless it isn’t. And not sweating the small stuff is easy unless the small stuff will kill the shot.

So “don’t sweat the details unless the details are of great importance because they contain the devil…”

Got it.

The most interesting thing is that both are true… and that is where it becomes a bit of a tricky choice for the photographer. Do we start sweating the small stuff or let it go – do we get into the details of the shot to dig out the devils or are they just fine being left alone?

Yes.

Sorry, I am starting to sound like my own oxymoron, but it is so very true.

An example:

Shooting for a swimsuit designer catalog on the shores of Zuma Beach one Friday afternoon was a hot mess. Three of the five models were riding together and had gotten lost. Now they were stuck in traffic and we were already an hour and a half past call time. The MUA was new to the catalog type shoot and was busy making every eyelash perfect. On five girls, three of whom would be late… my calculations showed we could comfortably get the shot by oh, midnight or so.

She was looking for the devil in the details, and I was noting that the trajectory of the sun does not care about how much more time we need for perfect faces… in full length shots running on the beach.

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What I’ve Learned So Far: Fifteen; “Own Your Set” – Or Be Prepared for Chaos

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As a commercial and advertising photographer, one of the most important responsibilities you have is to be in control of your shoot. It can mean the difference between a very successful shoot and one that gets by. (Keep in mind there are no failures – it isn’t an option. Ever.)

I refer to it as “Owning Your Set” and it applies to location as well as studio work. It usually applies even more when you have a cadre of artists, talent and agency people working with you to make the shot. The more ‘cooks’ you have, the more everyone wants to add their pinch of spice.

And that can be a deal killer in the creative endeavor we call photography.

Now being in control of your shoot doesn’t mean you cannot delegate, nor does it mean that you must micromanage (something I have to remind myself of from time to time. It is also not a license to be a big asshat either. It only means you must take all responsibility, and MAKE decisions promptly and with clarity and decisiveness.

Remember that this is all your responsibility. Remember that this is what you signed up for. THIS is the big show.

And whether or not you maintain control, the end product is one you are responsible for. It is always better to be responsible for a great shoot and lots of accolades for you and your team than one that is passable and unremarkable.

At this point you may be asking if you are really ready for that responsibility.

You had better be. Seriously – if you are not, then you are not ready period. Get back to the basics and make sure you can control the creation of a photograph.

I can speak from some experience on this… heh.

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What I’ve Learned So Far: Fourteen; “Rolling With The Punches While Dancing On a Wire”

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One of the challenges of commercial photography is that you are obligated to hit a home run every time your number comes up. You are the clean up hitter, or the “go to” guy when the team needs a guaranteed win.

It can be a little stressful at times.

Like standing on a set with 11 professional models ($1250+ rate for each), 4 MUA’s ($650 rate for each), two assistants ($450 rate each), a digital tech ($1100 rate), two assistant art directors, on senior art director, five (5!) client reps who flew in for the shoot from Singapore, and three Hollywood trained dogs ($1000+ rate each). Let’s not forget the stylist ($2500), her two assistants ($900 per) and the catered munchies/lunch (a little north of $1100).

And of course in a rented studio with rented lighting gear and a set that ran approximately $15,000 to build. The props bill was nearly $5000, and wardrobe had been purchased/rented for about $4000.

And by the way, the shot has to be – HAS TO BE – made and delivered by the next morning to make the deadline for insertion – which was already an extension.

The art director, set designer, stylist and photographer had spent at least a couple of dozen hours together on the set design, casting, and various other challenges this shot would create.

The cast was hired, the set was built, the lighting was in place and the tests had been made and approved.

And then… “Excuse me,” says the client representative, “on the flight over we have made some changes.”

At that moment the world becomes a very quite place, and the music that was blaring a moment ago is now drowned out by the thumping in your chest. Three things pass through your mind.

  1. He really didn’t say what I thought he said. (Denial)
  2. I can do a couple dozen years for homicide. (Anger)
  3. What the hell, I have always loved Walmart, might as well welcome people to the store. (Acceptance)

Now remember that the production is in full swing. The models are in makeup, the set is made, the tweaks to the lighting are being finished off, and the team is about an hour or so from first Polaroid.

And they had some ideas on the flight over. That needed to be heard. Now. At this moment. Here.

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What I’ve Learned So Far: Thirteen; Life’s Too Short for Asshats

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You know, it really is too short for most things.

Life. Four letters, and yet it means so much to our very souls.

One of the things I loved about being a photographer was all the amazing people that I got to meet. I photographed the guy who invented the mechanical heart. I photographed God – well, actually it was George Burns… but, you know. I photographed Kevin Johnson and several mayors, a Senator or two and lots of musicians.

I photographed a porn princess and a Supreme Court nominee in the same week. I turned down an ‘opportunity’ to photograph some tennis guy named McEnroe (who needs that BS in their life?), and spent an enjoyable afternoon with Phyllis Diller. Tatum O’Neal was a pure waste of air, and James Garner was a hell of a nice guy.

So many fascinating people.

But I never wanted to be a celebrity photographer. Seriously, I do not see how anyone willingly submits to being treated as badly as some celebrities choose to treat those around them. I simply don’t think that much of celebrity, or pop culture for that matter.

After a while, I only wanted to shoot real people – scientists, authors, astronauts and auto mechanics. And fashion models. I shot a lot of fashion models.

In those days the studio was always full of people dropping by; models between gigs, MUA’s, set builders and friends in the business. It was a safe place to go, and we had sort of a ‘family’ thing going.

But as in any family, drama and asshattedness would occasionally raise its ugly head.

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What I’ve Learned So Far: Twelve; “Nice Shot… Who Cares?

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Back when I was first starting out in this business, I shot nearly every day. Maybe for an hour or two, maybe only for a few minutes. When I wasn’t shooting, I was in the darkroom developing film, making contact sheets or printing.

Lots of printing.

There was a lot to learn, and the curve was sort of a hockey stick configuration. It was fairly easy to learn how to spool up a roll of film and develop it in chemistry as the directions explained. But once that hurdle was passed, creating more beautiful and tonality laden negs began to be something that resembled alchemy and magic – and a lot of damned hard work fraught with failure after failure.

And then that image gets printed – the one where I finally got it right. More tones, more depth, more feeling… magic.

After what seems like a lifetime – and tens of thousands of dollars later – the work was technically meeting some measurement of success.

I assembled a “portfolio” to share with the advertising exec a few doors down. He had hired me for my first ever gig, and I wanted to show him my brand new portfolio.

He took the book from me and sat down. He then flipped through it at a pretty fast clip, closed it and handed it back to me.

I sat there waiting for him to say something and finally he did. “Hey, you wannanother beer?”

I was kinda dumbstruck and asked him if he had anything to say about my book, my baby, the culmination of a few years of hardass work?

He stared at me with a kind of a wry smile and said, “nice shots… who cares?”

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What I’ve Learned So Far: Eleven; “They Don’t Pay Me Enough To…”

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Have you ever heard someone say this?

“They’re not paying me enough to do my best work.” Possibly some variation of that?

What a terrible, awful, self-defeating way of doing anything. It’s an amazingly stupid, self-absorbed sense of entitlement that brings nothing but disappointment and failure.

When I hear someone saying that I can only feel a twinge of pity for them, and a sharp desire to smack them up side the head.

And fire them on the spot.

Why?

Because they agreed to do the job. At the rate that was offered.

The “job” is to deliver the best image possible. The rate was there to accept or deny and they accepted it.

Did they tell the client “Well, I will do it for $200, but I am only gonna give you 50% effort cause it is worth more than $200?”

No, of course not. They took the job and then did a crappy job because they felt entitled to more than they charged. And that is not only a deceitful, petty way of cheating the client, it is unethical and will lead to eventual failure of the photography business.

Look, no client wants a crappy job. They want the best they can get. That is what they are expecting when they hire a photographer to do the work.

The photographer wants to project an image of being the best available creative. They want to be seen as the solution to the problems and challenges that clients have.

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What I’ve Learned So Far: Ten; Listen to Your Gut

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… it knows what the heck is going on. That place deep inside you where you just know something is not right. Listen to that feeling. It is right more than it is wrong.

Now I know that your head will be arguing with you the whole time. There is a reason for that is ego, romance, “passion”, a fondness for gazing at one’s own navel… the list is too long to imagine. But all of those things make it difficult for that ‘gut feeling’ to get through. And it is the one that is the most important.

And perhaps your initial gut instinct is wrong. Fine, by listening to it you can make better choices, investigate the situation and come to a more rational conclusion.

For instance…

I often see posts by people who have gotten an email that reads something like; “I have seen your work online and it is perfect for us for our project. We have not been able to find a photographer that we like as much as you and we need you to do this for us…”

Right.

Because we know how difficult it is to find the ‘rare photographer’ out there in the world.

And when the email comes from somewhere in LA or New York, it of course makes everything perfectly clear. There are no photographers in LA that can shoot ‘the project’ like you can. This is true even though you have never met the ‘clients’, they do not know anything about you, you live 2400 miles away, and no one has even mentioned what the damn project is. Nope – YOU and YOU ALONE are perfect for this ‘project’. It says so on the email.

Your gut says… “WTF” and your ego says “Wow, this major corporation/agency thinks I am better than all those LA photographers. Yeah! Sucks to be them!” A good thing to do is to ask your FB friends how to proceed now that you have been anointed into world class at-least-better-than-them-LA-fools status. They will offer loads of good ideas on how to land this big fish client.

But your gut says “wait – this doesn’t make any sense. All I have is a Model Mayhem account with 11 hand-bra shots of girls in stripper heels posing on railroad tracks with caution tape wrapped around them and there are certainly better photographers out there in LA who have done this ‘project’ work before…”

Yes… that is absolutely true – however your head is all wrapped in the stars. And your ego.

Now. Listen. To. Your. Gut.

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What I’ve Learned So Far: Nine; Loyalty Should Be a Brand Attribute

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I am a pretty strict believer in loyalty. I live it and I demand it. Not in harsh, ‘kingly’ sort of way, but more of a gentle ‘I am way too busy for your call’ way.

I can list loyalty as one of my strong traits. I may sometimes be loyal to a fault. I have always felt it was something that was valuable not only to me, but to those around me.

Loyalty to my friends, coworkers, vendors, and clients is a powerful part of my personal brand.

Expecting that loyalty to be returned is not something I can expect, but it is something I do recognize as being very important to me.

What is loyalty?

To me it means I can trust those around me to be considerate when they discuss me and my business to others. It means lying and gossiping about me is limited to the good stuff. No, I’m not kidding about this. I do not gossip about my friends, although I may be candid about situations that we have mutually agreed on whether agreeable or not. Telling someone that my bud Dave doesn’t like the ‘snapshot’ aesthetic which I do enjoy is not the same as telling some dark and potentially damaging bit of knowledge I may know about him. Arguing over aesthetics in photography is fun, and it is open for all.

Those things that are private are easily known. If you know something about someone and have a question as to whether you should share it, you already have your answer. No. You should not.

Loyalty to my clients means billing correctly and on time. It means plugging them at every opportunity. It means arranging a meeting between them and another client who may be a perfect fit for their product or service.

And it means I do the best I can at every single thing I do with them.

Loyalty means honesty too. You cannot be loyal to someone and lie to them at the same time. Not. Possible.

I find that loyalty begets loyalty in most cases. The people around me are those who recognize this attribute as being something that is important to them. And they expect the loyalty they give to me to be returned.

It’s a win-win deal for both sides, and it brings great rewards. Both in business and in our personal lives.

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What I’ve Learned So Far: Eight; Life – Through a Lens…

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… is different – depending on what lens you choose. Choose wisely.

One of the joys of photography is being able to use a different lens for a different perspective. Something very far away can be brought ‘closer’ by a long (telephoto) lens. We can add depth to a flat scene with a shorter (wide) lens.

Interesting though that the scene itself doesn’t change. Only our ‘perspective’ of it does. The scene is a reality that exists whether we are photographing it or not, and all we can do with it is choose our POV.

Kinda like life.

A very talented photographer who is just starting out recently noted that he may be a failure after spending a year and not making any money at it. That was his lens of the moment.

For the last few years he has spent a ton of money on getting the best equipment that he could afford – without being extravagant or a gearhead – and working at his craft with great commitment and passion. Hell, I wish I could shoot as often as he does.

But work had not found him, and he was feeling the pinch of that telephoto lens. That’s the one that reaches out and magnifies the small things on the horizon making them look quite large to the viewer. Large and formidable.

In reality they are hardly noticed when standing there without the camera and scanning the scene ahead for a possible composition. We choose the telephoto to reach out, grab that small, insignificant element and by doing so elevate it to the “hero” of the photograph. The isolation of the subject removes much of the context, so it is without a relationship to that which is around it.

Kinda like life.

In life we put those telephotos on our minds and reach out to find the small things, the little incongruous parcels of our life and we magnify them to ‘fill the frame’. What was a single incident is magnified into ‘the way it is” in our minds. What was small and perhaps inconsequential becomes elaborately framed and presented as THE star of our focus.

Now if we stayed in that telephoto mode, most of our lives would be filled with small, tiny fractions of our life enhanced by magnification into massive failures, huge challenges and a resignation to defeat.

Hey… let’s not do that shit, OK!

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What I’ve Learned So Far: Seven; Gear Envy Sucks

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Gear envy takes two major forms;

1. “I can’t do what I want with this crummy gear.”

2. “I can’t believe that guy/gal has such great equipment when their work sucks so bad.”

Actually envying someone by what their gear collection is – “I so wish I was him, I would be so awesome with that gear” – is more a sign of needing some professional help. Please see someone straight away.

So let’s look at number one first, the thought that you cannot shoot with your current crummy gear.

I have absolutely no sympathy for you at all. Crummy gear is better than NO gear, and it is probably better than a lot of photographers who are smoking you butt daily. Why? Because they are shooting instead of worrying that their edges are too soft if the image was blown up to the side of a house, or that awful purple fringe that no one can see anyway, or how there is a chromatic aberration when the lens is pointed at a 36 – 46 degree angle to the sun in the afternoon on alternating Tuesdays!

Give it a rest. You can make great shots on an entry level camera. You can make great shots on P&S cameras if you know how to make a good photograph. And understand the nature of the tools. And have spent anytime actually MAKING images instead of talking about them incessantly.

Think about this:

  1. If you cannot take a good photograph with an entry level camera and a kit lens, what makes you think your work will be better with a shiny new D760D-X NiKanon?
  2. If your pictures suck with what you have, they will most likely suck with a new camera, but now have the added fun of sucking after spending a boat load of cash.
  3. Your results may vary. Listening to some photograph blather on about how the new camera from  —- simply sucks the suck out of suck means only that he/she lives in a bubble somewhere since there are thousands of photographers doing amazing work with every kind of camera on the face of the earth.
  4. Perhaps it isn’t your camera, maybe you suck at making photographs.
  5. If your camera is not working ‘correctly’, it could be “user error”… just sayin’.
  6. Bigger file sizes means bigger file sizes. That’s it.
  7. Focus is not a substitute for connecting with the viewer. (Neither is pixel counts or dynamic range, but we don’t want to get too crazy.)
  8. Yes, yes… that guru on all the awesome YouTubes shoots with some terribly expensive gear, and his pictures are awesomer than yours. Here is something to think about – give them your camera and watch them make the same awesomer shots.
  9. Camera manufacturers pay extraordinarily big money to make you think that their new wizbang will turn your pathetic throw aways into gallery ready pix. You let that crap take hold and you will never have enough gear… ever.

Worrying about gear is a form of resistance. It’s an excuse. I ‘need’ this or I ‘need’ that, and without this or that I am in no shape to make a photograph. The gear won’t let me.

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What I’ve Learned So Far: Six; Self Sabotage and the New Photographer

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(This is an ongoing series that I am writing for the month of December, 2014. After nearly 40 years in this business, I have learned a couple of things. I am sharing that knowledge here.)

What is “self-sabotage”?

It is the premature destruction of a talented photographer… and it comes from within.

It starts when we accept the judgement of one person as the gospel truth of our work. Usually that voice is one of negativity. We can have a huge bunch of people who tell us they like what we do, a cadre of clients who continue to support us, and yet one lone voice can carry so much weight.

When we let it.

I taught for a while at a photography school in Phoenix after my celebrated return from LA – (LOL, more on that later). It was part of a modeling school and we had a very good facility with students from all over the southwest.

One day the director called me to discuss a great idea she had about doing a show of the students work. It would be like an opening and there would be food and drink and making merry.

She also mentioned that she wanted to get one of the local photographers to come in and ‘judge’ the work. I was sort of mixed about that since this was student work and it would take a judge who knew what the parameters were to be able to do the work justice. When she told me who she was going to invite… well, that sort of took a lot of the fun out of it.

Egos can be a problem in this business. They can blind one to all that is outside their orb of ‘kissassedness’ and provide a faux quality of relevance where none really exists. This photographer had that… trait.

This may sound braggadocios, but it is the honest truth. We had a hell of a school and we had some simply astounding photographers. Some of these guys are still shooting and kicking ass all over the country. The show ended up with 38 prints and all of them were stunning. The instructors and some of the local photographers came in to help hang the show and were simply blown away at the quality of the work.

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What I’ve Learned So Far: Five; Step Up, or Step Aside

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In photography, as in most things in life, there are moments when you hesitate for reasons you may never know. Those small hesitations can be driven by fears, or unknowing, or simply because you had too many beers and are partially paralyzed from playing some sort of adult game that you cannot remember the name of BECAUSE your good buddy John and his girlfriend decided… wait. We aren’t going there.

Suffice it to say we occasionally hesitate.

And when we do, we leave the door open to a lot of other people to hit it before we do.

So it was for me and Polaroid transfers. I watched a photographer do one while on a roadtrip in Colorado. I LOVED the look, and he was very gracious and walked me through it.

Back in Phoenix I tried all sorts of Polaroid transfer techniques: Hot press paper, cold press paper, original images shot in camera, slides projected on Polaroid film… all sorts of methods.

I was the only one in the area doing it and I wasn’t showing anyone because I wanted to have this massive book of imagery to show. I wanted to blow the walls down with a half dozen different techniques that would rocket me to stardom.

Once I had the portfolio put together, I wanted to start showing the agencies… but I hesitated.

“What if no one likes this stuff,” it suddenly dawned on me. And I began to question whether the technique was really something they wanted to see.

I hesitated.

A few weeks later, I decided to hell with it, I wanted to share this work with folks who may think it was as cool as I thought it was.

And they loved it. In fact the first agency told me they had just hired a guy the day before to do a big Annual Report with the technique. A second and third agency all said “yeah, we have been seeing this a lot in the last two or three weeks…”

Seriously?

My hesitation meant I lost first opportunity by a few lousy weeks.

By the end of the year, everyone and their brother were doing them and in another year or two they were passe’… only a few opportunities to do them.

(Which, as an aside I will say – NEVER set your style on a technique. Technique can be learned and borrowed. Vision cannot.)

“He who hesitates is lost.”

“Strike when the iron is hot.”

“Carpe Diem”

All very important for photographers. No matter what we are doing, it is important to not hesitate unless there is a good reason. Wondering if they will like what we do means we weren’t sure about it to begin with.

Do you have an idea for a shoot? Do it.

Been wanting to change your style a bit? Do it. Now.

Waiting for that perfect moment is a fools folly. There is NO perfect moment.

There is only now, and you and your work.

In the words of a great captain, simply “make it so…”

PHOTO NOTES:
The original image was shot on black and white Polaroid Instant Slide Film, a very delicate but absolutely lovely positive transparency. The Polaroid transparency was put into an Omega enlarger and focused onto a mounted 4×5 Polaroid film sheet holder. After a few attempts that were pure black and white, I added a slight warm filter to the enlarger and it then cast a sort of sepia image down to the Polaroid in the holder. Cold press water color paper was used and I made four images transferred to the paper. This is one I liked the best, and it is an original… no negative exists. One of a kind art.

What I’ve Learned So Far: Four; You Can’t Please Everyone

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Not only can you not please everyone, you shouldn’t even try.

Why? Because all those “anyone’s” can’t even agree what they like anyway.

The first seven or eight years of my photographic career were spent trying to figure out what “they” wanted to see. Should I have more black and white? Should I separate out the black and white from the color? More product / less people or more people / less product?

It was a quandary every single day. And trying to dial it in seemed impossible.

Out the door to an agency showing… book is tweaked and ready. Agency CD looks through it quickly and mentions that they mostly do more ‘produced, big set shots’ which I knew – intellectually – was pure bullshit. I could see the work they did on his FKN OFFICE WALL. And it was the kind of work I was showing. I was a fit.

No matter… back to the studio with one burning thought… “must do more big set productions, must do more big set productions…” A new mantra was born.

The next meeting with a different agency would find an AD saying – “wow, I like your food stuff but you are a fashion photographer right?” Well… uhh… I am showing you food and you are discussing images you haven’t seen in a book that has never crossed your desk. And – you didn’t hire me for the food stuff, even though you said you should, because you heard I was a fashion photographer?

“Need more fashion, need more fashion, need more….”

And on and on it would go. Always taking a random thrown out statement as some sort of ‘golden nugget’ of advice and a solid lead on what I needed to do to ‘get the gig’.

Sad. Lonely. Maddening.

Then one evening the local ASMP hosted a “round table” of some of the big name AD’s and CD’s in the area. There were four of them sitting there and we got this kind of stuff:

AD 1: “Never send me direct mail. I hate direct mail… goes right the can.”
AD2: “Direct mail is the only way I will see your work. I rarely look at the annuals and we will only call in books if we have worked with you before.”
AD3: Direct mail… eh. We occasionally will bring all the AD’s together to look over a couple of weeks pieces, but honestly it is catch as catch can on that stuff.”
AD4: I LOVE direct mail. Keep it coming, guys…”

Seriously?

AD1: “The only kind of portfolios I like are loose prints. If I can’t spread them around the table, I am not really gonna look that hard at them.”
AD2: “Small books are best. 8×10 – 9×12… and not more than 30 images, please.”
AD3: “I like the really big format… even 16×20’s are cool. Book or loose prints, it doesn’t matter much.”
AD4: “We prefer to find the work we like in the annuals, and if we need to see a book we will ask you send it over for us to look at on our leisure. We don’t care much for large books, but we do love when they are super designed.”

Seriously seriously?

There was no consensus on anything that evening. We heard that direct mail sucks and keep it going because it is effective. We learned that design of your portfolio was totally unimportant except when it was absolutely a dominant force. The enlightenment continued with the admonition to separate black and white from color and oh, BTW, never separate black and white from color, only separate genres except when the book has a more flexible, organic flow.

I realized that I was trying to please a ‘them’ where there was no ‘them’.

There were only individuals, and they all had different criteria for what they wanted to see.

I stopped worrying about them. I started worrying about me. What the hell did I want to do? When the taskmaster of madness is lifted and all you have to worry about is the work you LOVE to do, it can suddenly dawn on you that you are not really sure what that is.

After years of trying to feed the beast, it became abundantly clear that it was a faux beast to begin with… and it may be too stupid be fed.

I learned that I had to be comfortable with what I shot, and build that work from the ground up without checking in with the Blackbook or the Workbook or any other ‘hip’ annual to see if I measured up to what everyone else was doing. I wanted to measure up to what I WANTED to do.

Within a year the book was totally different than it was a year before, and the clients I was shooting for not only liked what I was doing, but wanted me to do more of it.

And no, it wasn’t every agency in town. It was a few agencies, and a few designers, and a few corporate MarComs… but they added up to busy weeks and lots of billing.

I was shooting exactly what they loved because I was shooting exactly what I loved and the individuals who hired me were in sync with that.

Trying to please everyone will end up with you pleasing no one.

I remember one of Avedon’s assistants telling me one of the things that surprised him was that Avedon didn’t get every gig he tried for. Sometimes they picked someone else. For all sorts of reasons. Can you imagine?

You simply cannot please everyone.

You shouldn’t even try.

(And if you ever hear someone say, “this is what they all want to see”… well, consider that full on, totally awesome bullshit.)

Photo notes:
I was asked to shoot tools for a construction company. They prided themselves on very detailed and hand done work. I chose a set of antique tools and shot them on 4×5 Polaroid Type 55, then contact printed them and toned them with copper. I left the ragged edge of the Polaroid on the contact sheets to give the images more ‘reality’. They ran as 4×5 images quad toned and floated singly on a white page with text on the opposite page. The brochure turned out to be an award winner.

What I’ve Learned So Far: Three; It Ain’t Brain Surgery

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When I first started I met a photographer who was what I call a “prima-donna”, or asshat in today’s world. He would rant and rage while shooting. All of his assistants would cower as he belittled them, humiliated them and treated them less than anyone should ever be treated.

I met one of his assistants who quit after he threw a 4×5 film holder at him because of some perceived offense. In the day, he was quite an influential photographer and had lots of work. At first, the rages were done after hours, but they slowly became visible to clients. And that was sad.

The clients would talk about his screaming and ranting and raging with a shake of the head… but they used him anyway because he was a good photographer.

The problem I had with it was three fold.

  1. No one should ever be treated with that level of disrespect.
  2. It was supremely less than professional… after all, the staff was HIS, and HE was ultimately responsible
  3. He was taking pictures of fkn TOWELS FOR A DEPARTMENT STORE!!!

Now yeah, I got it – being a professional means doing the absolute BEST towel shot, or box of crap shot that you can. And you tweak it till it is perfect. Feeling that it warrants rage and deep, moody brooding is – well – mental illness.

Seriously.

I only worked for him one day, and never went back. He eventually left the industry when digital came in. I sorta figured it was because throwing a compact flash card at assistants wasn’t impactful enough.

I was reminded of his idiocy a few years after the one day I assisted him, when I photographed actual brain surgery for a regional hospital chain. The mood of the two surgeons and four nurses was relaxed and respectful. They were focused on the task at hand, and broke tension with humor and good natured comments.

Brain surgery. Screw up and someone dies.

Photographing towels. Screw up and… photograph them again.

The difference was absolutely staggering… and it has stayed with me since that day.

Yes, we work very hard to make the absolute best image we can, we push those around us to perform even better than they think they can. And we do it with respect. We take great pride in presenting an absolutely perfect photograph, but that should never come at the expense of those around us.

Things have changed a lot since those days, and I don’t hear much about the “angry prima-donna drama queen” photographers. Oh, they are out there, but probably not as prevalent as they were because social media could be disastrous.

It really is important to do the best we can at what we do, but it ain’t brain surgery and no one dies if we mess up… and believe me, that is a good thing. :-)

(PS… my assistants have always appreciated the way I treated them, and their professionalism. In fact, many of them became personal friends over the years.)

(PSS: My wonderful MUA Danita Fenn, who is still a friend today… sorry, cannot remember the name of the model. Only worked with her once.)