Thinning Down, Weeding Out… Hopefully

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Gettin’ Skinny and Lovin’ It

I bet you’re wondering if this will be about a new diet program, and how I am slimming down and getting to be a lean mean fighting machine.

And it is… sorta.

It’s a diet of all things photography.

I am moved out of the big studio I share with Dave Siegel in Phoenix. We moved to a smaller studio (still with a cyc and all I need for a big shoot) but without all the excess stuff that really resulted in a cluttered space and working environment.

Clutter is not always things either. Sometimes it is thought processes and sometimes it is workflow and sometimes it is simply dealing with all the physical clutter that makes us have mental clutter… did you follow that?

When I started the process, I was a bit down. I am a collector. I love my little mementoes; of projects I did, models I knew, and experiences that were memorable. Getting the courage to toss a lot of that stuff made me dig deep… LOL.

I also found boxes that had been unopened from my original move in 2002. I was going to open a few to see what was in the them, but realized if I hadn’t touched it in 12 years it simply was not important. (Yes, my fear is that I will awaken in the middle of the night remembering I had stashed a Leica system in one of the boxes… arghh… but that will only be a nightmare.)

I pared down almost everything I had because of the changes in my interests in photography and the work I want to do and will be doing.

When I started out it was in the late 70’s. Natural light was my source.

By the mid 80’s a studio with tons of lights and booms and stands was home to me. 14 hour workdays were common. It had a kitchen and a shower, a full makeup area with two stations. The darkroom was spacious and featured three enlargers – one color. We did Cibachromes and black and white prints and poster sized enlargements.

The studio was always full of people… models, clients, art directors stopping by on the way to and from somewhere, assistants, makeup artists… it was a place of social interaction as well as a place to work.

That changed.

What was pretty cool to do in your thirties became less so as we get older and gain families and other social lives. Perhaps in some studios that still goes on.

In ours it doesn’t.

(We are adding some things to the new studio that will maybe help create a more fun environment with much more interaction between creatives.)

I have over the years gotten rid of a lot of the bigger lighting (Norman 2000 packs) and was down to only one pack and four heads. They went to a friend who is going to fix them up and use them in his studio. The stuff I had been clinging on to for years was in the end a lot of junk.

Dumpster divers will find old negatives, transparencies, and boxes of stuff they will not even have a clue about. Stuff that meant something to me at one time… now it is gone.

Or perhaps someone will reclaim those old pinup shots from the 80’s. or the tractor catalog I shot in 92 or better yet, the “Little Black Dress” poster I shot for the Leighton Agency back in 90.

LOL… lots of memories.

Interestingly the memories remain… only the box of stuff is gone.

I was going to toss out the print ‘collection’ (probably a thousand or more)  but decided to digitize it first. Probably use the iPhone and snap shots of each of the prints before tossing them as well. Perhaps… unless I just love the print and want to DO SOMETHING WITH IT. If it doesn’t go into a portfolio, it will be gone.

So what did I keep?

Booms – all five of them. And all my stands. Never have enough stands. I have four Profoto strobes and a plethora of modifiers, but my “kit” is now two heads, two Octaboxes (48”) and one 24” square softbox. Accompanied by four grids and a beauty dish, this is what I will be grabbing on the way out the door. I still have the one Dynalite as well. It may go or I may get rid of the Profotos and go all Dynalite. Much smaller footprint for sure.

I have a rolling rack that contains all of my gear except the booms. All stands and umbrellas are in Standbaggers, and the small stuff is in a cadre of tool boxes. One for small strobe stuff, one for big light shoots and one for the odds and ends I always need on a shoot. Pliers and wrenches and fasteners and velcro.

Organized it is getting. And I will be doing more now that I have pared it all down. That means I have to redo my packing sheets (obsolete now) for the new gear bags and boxes. Each box/bag has a laminated ‘packing sheet’ with exactly what is in them. This makes it easy to find the right part and easy to know where it goes when the shoot is over. Even thinking about color coding the items for the different boxes. Using small pieces of colored tape, each strobe, connector, cable or screwdriver can find its home easily.

When I used to go on location, we took a truck of gear. I am now finding I prefer one light and the world. Styles change, but also my personal work is becoming more about my vision rather than someone else’s. Yes, commercial photography was a lot of working your image to THEIR vision. I am climbing out of that hole, but after decades it is not as easy as I would have thought it to be.

The more gear I take on a shoot, the less ‘spontaneous’ I find myself. I want to change that up.

For nearly four decades I was focused on getting THE IMAGE. We would prep and light and re-light all day for that one perfect shot. Tweaking and ‘roiding, tweeking and ‘roiding. In the end a perfectly conceived and produced photograph was the goal.

That is not how I want to do it anymore. I want flexibility and whimsy and a much more loose feeling to my work – to my images. And that means thinking differently.

Thinking smaller in gear choice, looser in presentation, quicker in production. Spontaneous is exactly that and ‘staging’ spontaneity is as hard as it sounds. However, the actual image should look like it wasn’t staged at all. And that takes a loose approach to a tightly scripted production… loving that right now. The challenge is something I have always craved. If it is too easy, it can become a bit stale.

I still love to shoot in natural light, ‘real light’ so to speak. Working with what I am given seems to perk my creative ideas up a bit. But I also love to create light and create an emotion with that light that may move someone else when viewing the image.

Something else happened this week amongst the tossing of stuff and the paring down of gear… I am much more excited about shooting. I have so many more ideas now than I did two weeks ago. Perhaps the anchor of too much stuff began to wear on my creativity.

Stravinsky once said that the greatest freedom to create came with the tightest confines. If we have everything to choose from, perhaps the choosing gets in the way of the creation itself.

I went on a week long roadtrip with only one body and four lenses not wider than 28 and not longer than 85. I had the best shoot I could have imagined. In fact, I probably would love to do it again with a 35mm only. Maybe the constraints of the lens would spark a creativity I would have to dig deep for.

Perhaps.

For now I have gone from an office the size of my living room to a corner in the garage (OK, a bit more than a corner) and I am feeling more like shooting than I have in quite a while.

Look, I am not telling you to pare down and go minimal. I have no dog in that hunt and would only prefer that you do what you want if it makes you happy and more creative. There are some incredibly gifted shooters with far more gear than I and Dave put together. They USE the tools for what they do.

And that is exactly what I want to get back to… using the tools I have to make the images I want to make.

It is really all about the image, and the freedom to create what you see in your minds eye. If there is something that is getting in the way of that endeavor it must go. It must.

I will post images of the new studio when it is ready. Lots of construction going on… we are putting in a real darkroom with sinks and all. Don’t ask… we are indulging ourselves a bit.

Industrial Assignment: Project 52 Pros

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One of the most under-rated and least mentioned genre of commercial photography is Industrial/Corporate. It isn’t sexy, and models don’t flock to the studio after hours. The travel is usually not to some awesome resort or fancy hotel, but rather to out of the way places with gritty facilities and hard working men and women.

I like industry. I love when people make stuff… and then find people who want to buy that stuff.

We had some great work turned in on this very difficult assignment. In some cases the work is far better than competing work by those already in the business. I like tough assignments and this one the students really lit on.

Photographers You Should Know: Ellen Von Unwerth

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tumblr_l2hzax2OX91qb9i4yThe first time I saw her work was a Claudia Schiffer shoot for Guess. The ads were edgy, fun, loose and sexy. The photography was gritty, and voyeuristic and part of the scene itself.

Ellen von Unwerth (born 1954, Frankfurt) is a photographer and director, specializing in erotic femininity. She worked as a fashion model for ten years herself before moving behind the camera, and now makes fashion, editorial, and advertising photographs. (wiki)

From Complex Style:

Ellen von Unwerth began her career in the fashion industry as a model herself before deciding to get on the other side of the lens. She gained credibility as a photographer in the ’90s when her work for GUESS jeans became popular, shooting famous models like Claudia Schiffer, Eva Herzigova, and the late Anna Nicole Smith. von Unwerth has continued building her reputation throughout the past two decades, doing work both for top publications and independently, while also creating album art and doing private shoots for many celebrities.”

The One Hundred Sexiest Photographs by Ellen Von Unwerth.


 

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Here is a large group of great posts of the work of Ellen Von Unwerth from Fashion Gone Rogue.

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Some very cool videos by Ellen Von Unwerth.

Throughout her career, she has kept it fun, sexy and very accessible. Her models always look like they are having a blast, and many times unaware of the photographer, or happily playing along with the shoot. There is a feeling of watching something unfold in front of our eyes that we are not usually privy to see. She is definitely one of my biggest influences as I have tried to keep the hand of the photographer out of the image itself. I love the wildly candid approach to the images.

See more on Google:

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Photographing Mundane Subjects

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I have always been a ‘commercial’ photographer. While that included some wonderful editorial and fashion along the way, the bulk of my income was from good old commercial photography. Photographs made for advertisements, brochures, product sheets, illustrative uses and corporate.

There is a growing difference between commercial photography and the world of editorial (which seems to be the focus of most blogs/sites/gurus) and that difference can make it a little difficult for many of you starting out.

Editorial, fashion, glamor portraiture and food are specialties whose niches have grown quite a bit in the last 20 years. Commercial has enveloped a lot of those niches as well, but it also has the genre of “stuff”.

We photograph ‘stuff’.

Mundane items like power strips and lamps and a cool new gizmo that keeps hard drives from overheating. Sometimes with a model, sometimes on a table top, and sometimes on location in a factory setting.

While not exactly a ‘jack of all trades’ a commercial photographer keeps their doors open by working the markets they have.

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NOTE: If you are living in San Francisco, LA, Chicago, Dallas, and New York, this may not apply to you. The markets are very big and one can specialize in shooting one thing, in one way. No problem… and those are great places to live.

The rest of us live in Winnipeg, and Cleveland, and Albuquerque and Missoula. We could get every single fashion shot in those cities and still not make even a small living.

So we keep our doors open shooting all kinds of things.

While we work on those specialties that can give us regional and national reach. Yes, you can be a niche “Editorial Portraitist” and work for magazines the world over while living in Portland, Oregon or Portland, Maine.

But that takes time. And money.

Commercial shooters work as photographers instead of barristas, or cable repair while they work toward those more lofty goals.

SHOOTING MUNDANE ITEMS

One of the things we all have to do as a commercial shooter is to make images of mundane, everyday items. It is part of our general workweek in many studios.

Shoes, tools, consumer products, industrial materials. All must be shot for product sheets, consumer and trade ads, brochures, catalogs and websites.

However the bar is being raised all the time and you may find, as a recent “Summer 2013” Project 52 students did, that shooting something as mundane as a power strip is much harder than it seems.

This is where technique, lighting, style, and deliberateness come into play.

Can we take a power strip and lay it on a white seamless and bang it with a big softbox? Of course. So can eleventy-hundred other shooters.

If your imagery is not better than the product managers iPhone shots (done in the bathroom at a trade conference and run through Snapseed for more dynamic range… heh) then there is absolutely no reason for them to hire you.

Product manager doesn’t get any more money for his iPhone shots, and you want a grand or two a day… plus usage!

This is where you must differentiate yourself from the pack.

Lighting, composition, style, dynamic sand concept. Make a shot of that power strip that knocks people’s socks off. A power strip shot that sets a new level of awesome for multi-plug devices retailing for under $12. Give that bad boy some visual juice!!

How do you do that?

You work your ass off. You work deliberately. Ask questions… does that corner read well against the background? Will the plug holes show the unique pattern? Does the base blend in with the shadow too much? Is there a highlight on the cord? Does the cord read well against the background? Is the background a distraction? What can we do to make the light more interesting on this 12” piece of cheap plastic?

Determination, skill, technique and a deliberate approach to making a photograph.

Below are some images that take everyday items and make them look amazing.

A shoe gets a fancy approach in this series by a popular shoe designer.

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A much more mundane pair of boots are made more interesting by texture and lighting. Photograph by Charles Ward.

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Grab some items from the kitchen and make something cool with them. My friend Rick Gayle does it all the time.

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Imagine getting an assignment to photograph notecards and small paper items. Annabelle Breakey makes it look amazing.

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A simple, everyday pill bottle represents a cancer treatment. Careful lighting, angle and presentation makes it look as important as the client believes it to be. Adam Voorhes always delivers.

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So the next time you hear yourself saying “there is nothing to photograph today” just run up to Home Depot or Bed, Bath and Beyond and grab something you need around the house anyway.

Then make some careful, deliberate, amazing shots of it before it goes into the drawer or closet.

Hint:
Vacuum cleaners… very tough.
Weed Whackers… harder than you think.
Blenders… wow, reflections!
Electronic items… can be boring or cool.
Kitchen or Garden Tools… Impressively difficult.

Can you make mundane shots of mundane things? Of course. Anyone can.

But not anyone can make a killer shot of a garden spade or a car vacuum cleaner. That is where you shine and it can be where you get work too.

The Summer 2013 Project 52 Yearbook (Free Download)

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Proud to announce the arrival of the Summer 2013 Project 52 Pro Yearbook. If you would like to purchase a hard copy, it is available at cost at Blurb.

If you would like to download a free screen resolution PDF, here ya go. Enjoy.

Summer PROS 2013 Yearbook (Free to download and distribute. Modification of this document is strictly forbidden)

(Cover photo by Tracy Sutherland)

If you would like another issue, the 2013 Project 52 Winter Yearbook is here. Also free for PDF.

Photographers You Should Know: Matt Mahurin

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Matt Mahurin is a a multi-discipline artist who uses film, photography, and illustration to create a pallet of amazing work. (Wiki)

From American Photo Mag:

“When you commission a graphic from Matt Mahurin, you never know what you’re going to get. Which is the whole point. Skipping around his toolbox, Mahurin uses whichever media combination will help him create charged images to illustrate difficult stories. No wonder, then, that publications such as Time, Rolling Stone and Men’s Journal hire him to make visual sense of complex topics like Abu Ghraib or the Wall Street crisis.

But while his technique is top-notch, editors and art directors come to Mahurin, based in New York City, for something beyond Photoshop expertise. “They come to me for my point of view,” says Mahurin, who began working with Photoshop soon after its launch in 1990 and personally executes every stage of his photo illustrations. “I walk the line of having an emotional take while working with the point of view of the article.”

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Illustrator of the Week: Matt Mahurin

“Matt Mahurin is an illustrator, photographer and film director.  He often uses images of himself as reference for his digitally-manipulated photo-illustrations, once posing as Sigmund Freud for a Time magazine cover.  Mahurin is also well-known for a darkened image of OJ Simpson on the cover of Time, based on Simpson’s mugshot at the time of his arrest, which raised some controversy when it appeared next to the unaltered mug shot on the cover of Newsweek on the magazine racks.”
Above from “The Art of Visual Thinking”
(Great portfolio there as well)

“Judd Apatow & Matt Mahurin join Mark Seliger to talk about photographing tragedy, finding humanity with comedy, and meeting their heroes. From Tom Waits to Seth Rogen and Steve Martin to Henri Cartier-Bresson, they share stories of collaborating throughout their careers.”
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Photographers you should know is an ongoing weekly feature. You can find more by using the category link to the right of this article.

What If The Problem Is That You Suck?

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Photo of the author by Mike Eller

Even More Advice for the Aspiring Professional Photographer.

These days a lot of people seem to be offering advice in the area of becoming a full time professional photographer. Some of those folks like Greg Heisler, Jay Meisel, Gail Mooney and others have long careers and great inspirational advice for those who are beginning the journey.

Others, whose names I won’t mention, and hosts of FB, G+, and Flickr shooters want you to know that the life sucks, the cameras suck, the business sucks, and the whole idea of being a professional photographer is a total pile of crap – and it sucks, of course.

Count me among those in the first group, with some cautious understanding of where those in the negative group are coming from.

Let’s face some cold facts.

Being self-employed is not for everyone. The challenges of self discipline, fear of the unknown, difficult self motivation and a desire to not eat macaroni and cheese for every meal for a year is daunting to a lot of people. And it doesn’t make any difference if the self employed person is going into graphic design, plumbing or photography.

Being a professional photographer is not for everyone either. On top of the challenges of self employment, there is also a huge disconnect between what people think that world consists of and the actual world of pro photography itself. Huge.

Let me be perfectly clear here; I am not referring to wedding, maternity, ‘senior’ and family portrait photography. That is not a world I am expert in, nor do I really care all that much about. While it is most certainly similar in a few areas, the differences are vastly so in the aesthetic and the end use of the images.

I am only commenting on commercial photography and its many adjunct genres: architectural, editorial, food, fashion, product and travel. This is photography used for commerce – both directly and indirectly. Think of it as B2B photography – not B2C.

I know most of my readers are in this group, and I have a sizable contingent of those who do both commercial and B2C. In smaller markets shooting some consumer work may be a necessity for a commercial photographer, and some photographers love both sides of the business, so that is cool too! Freedom of choice works for me.

I have had the honor to work with a lot of emerging photographers and watched them grow from full time other job folks to full time photographer folks. Over at Project52Pros that is what we are all about.

In over 40 years of professionalismI have seen amazing success stories, and I have known some spectacular crash and burn scenarios as well. In most cases, the causes and reasons were the same for both. I have spoken with photographers who were crashing and instantly known why… some things are obvious. And the reasons are very much the same for most who are failing.

I would like to address some of these more obvious challenges and offer some solutions. Hold on, this may sting a bit.

To those of you who are struggling making the jump, here is some free, unsolicited advice.

Perhaps it is not the market, maybe you just suck.

C’mon… that could be it, right? I mean, other people are working and some are working their asses off. And you aren’t, and you don’t know why. Maybe you haven’t spent enough time making images, or building a book, or building a list or building a goddamn business! (It is important to understand that every photographer once sucked. Every damned one of them. The successful ones figure out how to not suck.)

No one who ever picked up a camera was guaranteed to be a phenomenal photographer with clients dripping gold infusions into their wallets with every snap. Most of the ones we see shooting the really cool stuff, the assignments we all want to get busted their asses to get there. They found ways to not suck.

To get over the suckiness that may be holding you back, let’s look at a few glaring challenges (traits) that those who are struggling usually exhibit.

  1. You suck at shooting enough pictures to make a difference.
    Getting a camera for Christmas and business cards for Easter may be a quick jump into the abyss of thinking it is the market failed you when actually you still suck. Make sure you are ready, and are able to make images that are amazing before you put yourself out there. This is very important.
  2. Your photographs suck.
    The images that you think are ‘good enough’ actually still suck. If you are measuring your work against others, make sure you pick high enough up the ol’ totem pole to make that comparison worth it. Being ‘better’ than the 1 ½ year shooter down the road may not be enough to make a difference to the people in your town and make them want to hire you. Only excellence moves on.
  3. Your marketing sucks.
    Recently I read a painful article from someone who was honestly hurting and was chastising all the other photographers he/she saw as crushing him/her with lowball pricing. Problem was, the author’s website totally sucked, there was no marketing message, the logo/presentation was amateurish and silly and the images were – well – meh. Not bad, not great… just… images.
  4. Your presentation sucks.
    Does your Website look like it was made in 1995 with a quick refresh in late 2000? You may have a problem convincing anyone that you are worth hiring. This is a competitive, creative world where PRESENTATION is an absolutely huge part of the equation. If you don’t know what good design is, why would I trust you to do good photography? They are hand in hand.
  5. Your list sucks.
    Your list… you do have a list, right? Right? If you do not have a list of people who could hire you, you are not really in business, you are playing like being in business. And that can be very painful. Of course playing at it is fun, but when reality catches up please don’t write a whining “I was crushed by the $200 Craigslist Shooters” post. It is embarrassing, it really is.
  6. Your client outreach sucks.
    No one knows you exist. I want you to reach out and touch a prospective client three times a day… that’s it. Just three times. If you do that, you will find success will follow (unless your work really does suck) and if you do more, it will come faster. MOST photographers do not market themselves to a targeted list. Waiting for the phone to ring from people who don’t even know you friggin’ exist is a fools game, ya know.
  7. Your portfolio sucks.
    You know, the portfolio that hasn’t seen a new image in 4 months or longer, has no current work in it, and totally misrepresents your new style and vision. The portfolio that has no personal work, tired old client crap and some nekkid chicks in the ‘aurt’ section will sink any photographer… fast. Get serious and get to work on the port.
  8. Your brand sucks.
    Not your logo, the one that you got from Fiverr… that totally rocks next to the fact that you have no personal look, never return phone calls, have no coherent message, no visual style and are late with every shoot. Seriously – next to that disaster, the $5 logo has it really going on, man.
  9. Your gear sucks.
    No, wait… I am not talking about the gear itself, I am talking about the way you hold it up as a substitute for the work. Owning a fancy camera with all the bells and whistles only requires a good credit score, not a quality image score. Using all your money to acquire the newest pixel machine may make you a hit on G+, but it will do nothing but suck your assets from doing something important to help your business. Gear Acquisiton Syndrome will suck the viability out of any emerging shooter.
  10. You suck.
    You are the type of person who sees everyone else as a threat or a competitor. You work against yourself in order to feel more powerful when comparing yourself to others… which you do at every opportunity. You treat other photographers and beginners as something less than human and have nothing but disdain for their wanting to be a photographer… like you. And instead of addressing the challenges of the business, you choose instead to ridicule the successful, and demonize the competition.

So here is a thought… do it this way and skip the sucking part:

Shoot photographs as often as you can, and get those images critiqued by people IN the business, not buddies or Flickr followers. Find art directors, graphic designers, other photographers (who aren’t total douchebags) to give you honest direction on that work.

Work to make sure your marketing is up to the level it needs to be. If you do not know, get some other eyes on it. Knowing eyes. Being a great photographer does not automatically make you a great marketer.

Or designer. Your presentation must be professional, clean and perfect. Websites do not have to be expensive to work beautifully, but they do have to have a sense of style.

Get a list. Put one together yourself from magazines, local business papers, contacts and referrals. Then use that list and start to market to them with email, direct mail, and personal phone calls. Don’t like personal phone calls? Who cares… suck it up and do it. Reach out personally to at least three of your contacts per day with either a phone call, email or some other marketing piece.

Make sure your portfolio is kept up. New photographs (see one above), personal projects, BTS shots and more can help you stay fresh in the eyes of art directors, photo editors and art buyers.

Make sure your brand is doing its job, and remember that there is no more powerful reminder of your brand than you, in all you do in your business, and how you present your work, and yourself to the world.

Spend the least amount that you can on gear that sits around waiting to be used. Shoot more, acquire less. Use your assets for creating stunning work, in awesome locations, and add cool new shots to your book instead of a new lens to the bag. (There may be a time when your accountant says, “Hey, you gotta spend some money this quarter….” That is when you grab that lens. If you actually, you know, NEED it.)

And above all, don’t suck. Be a mentor, be a friend, be a helpful person to those who are starting out just as you are. Be positive in your speaking and dealing with others and never give in to despair, and negativity although it may be difficult when you are having another macaroni and cheese dinner.

Success is not an overnight roadtrip, and failing to understand that journey and its ups and downs, forks in the road and challenges can be the greatest obstacle in front of you.

Know that it is an obstacle that can be overcome by hard work, careful attention to detail, knowing what you don’t know, and keeping the gaze forward will help deliver you to the ranks of professional photography. And, believe me, it is still a blast and a thrill to be shooting gigs for a living… no matter what anyone else tells you.

Oh, and try a little Tabasco on that macaroni and cheese. The additional spice breaks the monotony… trust me, I know.

My name is Don Giannatti and I have, on many occasions, sucked at photography. I overcame those times when I sucked, and had periods where I didn’t suck. I have had a 40 year career in this business that has been punctuated by thrilling highs and devastating lows. The challenge is to get back up after being knocked down, understanding that in order to be knocked that far down you must have sucked at something. And then you fix it. Don’t whine about it, or the competition, or the market, or the economy, just fix the damn thing and stop sucking.

You can find me at

www.dongiannatti.com

www.project52Pros.com

www.dongiannattiphotography.com

On Twitter and Instagram I am wizwow.

I suck at social media.

NOTE:

Thanks to PetaPixel for republishing the article.

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The article was also picked up by OnGoingPro. Thanks Hillary.

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“Money, Money, Money” A Difficult Subject

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The subject was money. And the assignment was for a brochure cover for a financial services company. Layout was included, but optional. The important thing was to not be totally cliche’ about the image, and also not to succumb to a boring shot.

This is a most difficult shot to do, and the photographers had to master the technique as well as come up with the creative. I think they did very well.

The students of Project 52 just keep on rolling. Two of them just got their first pro gigs, and others have been able to expand into markets they hadn’t been in before. Very exciting times at P52.

Photographers You Should Know: Nadav Kander

Nadav Kander shoots a lot of different subjects and I think he does them extremely well. I love his classic approach to composition, and the understated approach he uses to lighting and presentation. His imagery is clean, uncluttered and created with deliberation and attention to detail.

From Wiki:
Nadav Kander
(born 1961) is a London-based photographer, artist and director, known for his portraiture and landscapes. His work is included in the collections of the National Portrait Gallery, the Victoria and Albert Museum and other galleries and museums.

Nadav Kander: Radioactive ruins of secret Soviet towns: a fantastic set of images of places we may never see.

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From his Rep Agency in Europe: We Folk.

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From Nadav Kander’s American Representatives: Stockland Martel

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From Nadav Kander’s Website.

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Are We Clear About What We Do as Photographers?

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Are We?

Two things recently formed today’s article. One was a note from a commercial shooter who was being setup to fail, and the other from a consumer shooter angry that the client kept wanting more and more retouching… and feeling trapped that it must be done.

To both I responded with one word: contract.

I know we all hate that contract crap… at least I know I do. It starts out a relationship saying “I trust you, but I really don’t so sign this.” Maybe I am being a little melodramatic, but it seems that way to me.

The commercial situation was this:

The photographer had submitted a bid for the job and the client said “Wonderful. We love the bid. It’s a go… with just a few minor changes. Of course.

1. We want every shot you take in RAW.
2. We want there to be very little Photoshopping on the images (how does that square with #1?)
3. We want the images to look like the images in your portfolio.
4. We want the images to look just like what we want them to look like although we can’t really tell you what that is until we see them.
5. We want 60 days to pay instead of 30.
6. We want the copyright to all the images forever.

He was concerned about these requests… as he should be.

Whether intentional or not, they were setting him up for a major fail. Conflicting expectations and demands that are clearly not in the normal way of working will always create confusion. And give the client something to use as leverage to bash your price down.

The photographer asked me to review his response which was lengthy and detailed with explanations of why he doesn’t feel good about giving the RAW files, and what copyright really means to him and how he wants to do a great job for them but is a little confused about some of the terms.

I simplified the response to only a few lines.

60 Days is acceptable (from billing date).
Backup RAW Files for the chosen 16 images.
Responsible client representative to art direct the imagery and/or provide a shot list.
Responsible client representative to approve images on set.
Copyright will be retained by the photographer, but client can have a buyout for chosen images for this much more money.

Done.

I always hear photographers talking about educating the client. Well, I am not one that believes the art department of a major corporation needs educating. They know this stuff, they are only playing politics.

By the way, they said yes to the revised bid with 5 paragraphs stating what the PHOTOGRAPHER was going to do.

If I sound jaded, I apologize only slightly. I have seen too damned much of it, and on occasion been on the receiving end. In my case it doesn’t last long because I have a contract and a clear method of working that prevents that.

I have a very simple contract that has the deliverables plainly stated. You get this. This way. By this date.

The client is responsible for the shot list, and someone with the responsibility to do so, must approve all images. Without client approval process, they get what they get. In writing this is.

The consumer shooter had a customer from hell… asking for more than 15 rounds of ‘editing’… from ‘fly away hair’ (shot in a breeze) to making a chin smaller and opening up the eye a bit.

The photographer was mad at the client for all these demands and that shouldn’t be the case. I am happy to make all the changes you want. At $90 per hour.

The contract should state what is included: Color Correcting, skin cleanup, some creative expression (hey, it’s consumer… gotta love them actions). Additional changes are happily made at $90 an hour (or whatever your charge is).

“While every attempt is made to provide a perfect photograph for you, changes in reality can be costly and time intensive. Digital liposuction/cosmetic alterations are supplied at a rate of $90 per hour and estimates must be approved before work commences.”

In the design/web business we call that “Change of Work Order”.

Since we were clear in what we are going to deliver, it is a change to that deliverable schedule when things are added. This also goes for the “Hey, you’re here with your camera already out… can you get a shot of the whole facility from that forklift?”

“Absodamnlutely I can. Hold on, that will require a change of work order… I have one right here. I can add the fee to it and we can get that shot.”

You will quickly find out if they want the shot that bad.

Or you can just go shoot it for them… I don’t care. Just don’t whine about being taken advantage of later. Gift the client that shot since you already had your camera out… or don’t. You have the ability to do either because you have a specific job to do.

Inherent in all of this is the comfort level you have for ‘walking away’. In Trump’s book, “The Art of the Deal” he makes a very important point several times; if you are not willing to walk away from the deal, you aren’t in the deal, you are taking an order. Desperation breeds a bad deal if you are the one that is desperate.

Your choice. Are you an order taker or are you negotiating a position or compensation. Being willing to walk away gives the confidence to make your demands known, and feel as powerful making YOURS as they do making theirs.

I don’t usually do full RAW file transfers. It’s rare. 16BIT Tiffs… whatever. But RAW generally stays in my purview, just like my negatives and transparencies. And I don’t transfer copyright. Ever.

I can negotiate most other things and depending on the client and the gig, I can be pretty flexible. But core principals will not be swapped away, and I am totally fine with walking away. No gig is worth giving up my core values and deeply held beliefs.

Be smart, be clear and be deliberate. Eliminating those things that can go wrong upfront is the best way to make the ending a smoother, more enjoyable one.

PS: If your contract requires a Harvard Law Professor to make sense of it, then it’s wrong. Plain old speech is fine. Spell it out clearly with clearly understood words… it’ll hold up.

Two Lenses: A Day in the North Country

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Yesterday I spent the morning wandering around an area north of Phoenix for a few hours. Joined by photographers Dennis Mong and Miachelle DePiano, we took a loop through a beautiful part of central / north Arizona.

I had no expectations other than hoping I could capture a few shots of the fall colors that seem to last but a moment each Autumn. We took the I17 North to Camp Verde, had breakfast while hoping the very gray skies would open up with some sun, but moved on toward Strawberry, AZ when that didn’t materialize. As we went up the mountain toward Strawberry, Pine, and Payson, the sun began peeking out just a bit. The resulting soft light was really pretty.

I used two cameras, with only two lenses. The drive wasn’t formally constructed to do that, but it ended up that I used a moderate wide and a telephoto for all the images.

Cameras:

Nikon Df, 35MM f2.0
Canon 6D, 200MM f2.8L

Gear Links

So I either chose a moderate wide or a tighter tele for all the shots I did, not once changing the lenses on the two cameras. That forced me to look for tight or compressed images or things that could be presented within a wider context.

I may do this again in a week or so… 28mm on the DF and 135MM on the 6D and look for shots that fit those two specific image views. Or not… LOL. I do not have any idea what I will do in a couple of weeks.

5 Photographs with the Nikon Df and the 35MM f2:

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5 Photographs from the Canon 6D, 200MM f2.8L.

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Great Reads: November Books 2014

“A Road Through Shore Pine focuses on a series of 18 never-before-seen photographs by Robert Adams (born 1937), taken in Nehalem Bay State Park, Oregon, in the fall of 2013. Adams documents a contemplative journey, made first by automobile, then by foot, along an isolated, tree-bordered road to the sea. As presented through Adams’ 11 x 14-inch prints, the passage takes on the quality of metaphor, suggestive of life’s most meaningful journeys, especially its final ones. For this group of photographs, all of which were printed by Adams himself, the artist returned to the use of a medium-format camera, allowing the depiction of an intense amount of detail. Through experience gathered over more than four decades, Adams’ trees, especially the tips of their leaves, are etched with singular sensitivity to the subtleties and meanings of light.”

“The definitive monograph of American photographer Vivian Maier, exploring the full range and brilliance of her work and the mystery of her life, written and edited by noted photography curator and writer Marvin Heiferman and featuring 250 black-and-white images, color work, and other materials never seen before.”

“Mikhael Subotzky and Patrick Waterhouse worked at Ponte City, the iconic Johannesburg apartment building which is Africa’s tallest residential skyscraper, for more than six years. They photographed the residents and documented the building-every door, the view from every window, the image on every television screen. This remarkable body of images is presented here in counterpoint with an extensive archive of found material and historical documents. The visual story is integrated with a sustained sequence of essays and documentary texts. In the essays, some of South Africa’s leading scholars and writers explore Ponte City’s unique place in Johannesburg and in the imagination of its citizens. What emerges is a complex portrait of a place shaped by contending projections, a single, unavoidable building seen as refuge and monstrosity, dreamland and dystopia, a lightning rod for a society’s hopes and fears, and always a beacon to navigate by. This long-term project obtained the Discovery Award at Les Rencontres d’Arles in 2011.”

“Julie Blackmon has transfixed the contemporary art world with images of her children, nieces, nephews and friends (and their children). Following the success of the bestselling volume Domestic Variations (2009), Homegrown shows how Blackmon’s style has evolved, as she continues to capture the tensions between the harmony and disarray of everyday domestic life. Though her photographs continue to be undeniably contemporary, references to classic painting and portraiture can be detected: the influence of seventeenth-century Dutch painter Jan Steen mixes with more contemporary figures, such as Balthus, Edward Gorey, Tim Burton and Federico Fellini. Included in this new volume are 45 works made from 2009-2014, along with an introduction by renowned poet Billy Collins and an interview by the actress Reese Witherspoon.”

“Nadav Kander (born 1961) is a recipient of the renowned Prix Pictet and one of today’s most successful photographers. Upon learning of the existence of two “closed” cities on the border between Kazakhstan and Russia, he decided to visit them. For Dust he photographed the desolated landscapes of the Aral Sea and the restricted military zones of Priozersk and Kurtchatov, which did not appear on any map until well after the end of the Cold War. Long-distance missiles were secretly tested in Priozersk, and hundreds of atomic bombs were detonated in the so-called Polygon near Kurchatov, until the program ended in 1989. The bombs were exploded in a remote but still populated area, and covert studies were made of the effects of the radiation on the unsuspecting inhabitants. Kander describes how the ticking of the Geiger counter on his belt while he photographed served as a foil against the aesthetic allure of the ruins.”

“Find out how Alec Soth constructs his projects, why Trent Parke relies on old-fashioned Polaroids and hand-made books, and how forty-one other photographers experiment with new and old technologies, turn their photo-diaries into exhibitions, and attract audiences of millions via online platforms.

This book celebrates the creative processes of the modern photographic era, in which blogs and Instagram streams function alongside analog albums and contact sheets, and the traditional notebook takes the form of Polaroid studies, smartphone pictures, found photography, experimental image-making, and self-published photo-zines. Each photographer presents his or her sketchbook: several pages of images that convey his or her working methods and thought processes. These intimate, oneoff presentations are accompanied by engaging interviews that reveal how the simple act of pressing a shutter can capture and express a fully realized personal vision.”

“Throughout his prolific career as a photographer, Emmet Gowin has threaded together seemingly disparate subjects: his wife, Edith, and their extended family; American and European landscapes; aerial views of environmental devastation, brought together by his ongoing interest in issues of scale, the impact of the individual, and notions of belonging. This long-awaited survey pays tribute to Gowin’s remarkable career and his impact on the medium. Following his marriage to Edith Morris in 1964, Gowin began work on a series of images of his extended family that is now recognized as a touchstone of twentieth-century American photography. He photographed the children and the aging parents, and made intimate portraits of his wife, continuing a photographic tradition inherited from his mentor, Harry Callahan, with whom he studied in the 1960s. His focus broadened in the 1980s, when he began an exploration of landscape and aerial photography, most specifically in his documentation of Mount St. Helens and the American West”

Halloween Shoot: Project 52 Members

Halloween Shoot: Project 52 Members

The assignment was to illustrate a double truck (2 page spread) magazine story on the Origins of Halloween. Layout was furnished as a layered PSD file and the P52 students had to shoot TO that layout – reversed copy and all. The assignment was a great example of how photographers can take a single topic and make something totally different than other photographers. (NOTE: a few of our photographers are from areas in the world that do not celebrate Halloween. They chose something more in tune with their regions.)

The images:

Photographers You Should Know: Aaron Jones

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The first time I saw Aaron Jones work was in a Communication Arts Magazine a long time ago. At that time he was in Portland (I believe) and the work was so amazingly incredible I will never forget that moment. Those images must have resonated with a lot of other folks because soon afterwards, I started seeing his work in national magazines and some very high end advertising. Soon after, he moved from Portland to San Francisco.

Jones invented a lighting tool that provided a unique and very interesting look. Over time, he was able to turn that lighting tool into a product, “The Hosemaster”.

Here is a good article on how the Hosemaster works.

Essentially the Hosemaster was a very fancy tool for light painting.

In the early 90’s Jones moved to Santa Fe and built a studio there. He continued to work as a commercial photographer for many more years. I am not sure what Jones is doing today. If anyone one knows, let me know. Thanks.

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Basic Systems for Commercial Photographers

hunts-tombMy recent Lighting Essentials post on “Systems” (Don’t Be Afraid of Systems) was an overview of some simple checklists that I use to keep focused and create content in an overwhelmingly busy world. The amount of people, information, education, entertainment and sheer braincell killing stupidity that competes for our attention at nearly every turn makes it hard to stay on task.

I have a few larger systems that work for me, and of course they are constantly being challenged by the fact that day to day, my days are usually not the same.

Being a photographer and a designer means that there are all kinds of distractions, and a constantly changing landscape of what must be done that day.

A shoot day usually means no design gets done. A heavy design day means lots of ass sitting (and you know how I feel about that). A day on the road kills creation for both the photography and the design. Getting any design done while transferring planes and flyint through bumps is not gonna happen, and the constant shift of attention makes a 30 minute time frame better for reading than actually designing or editin images. Most of the time.

I do get a lot done while traveling, but most of that output is directed to writing, reading and catching up with correspondence. (Once in San Francisco I was so intently working on a page design that I missed the boarding call. At one point I looked up and there was nearly no one in the area. I had to wait another 2 hours for a flight… it was a crazy evening.)

So my system has to be big enough, flexible enough and ‘open’ enough to encompass those wild swings of priorities.

The post on Lighting Essentials talked about checklists and systems for packing/unpacking gear and how to focus time through the day.

But focusing through the kind of days that photographers have is more difficult than a cubicle gig.

I use a ‘system’ that allows for serendipity.

Part of this system is to be very, very careful on promising delivery. I build in time, double check my schedule and make sure I can deliver when I say I can. Editing and post takes time, and we can sometimes find it takes longer than we thought it would. Finding a design problem may lead to more complex changes than were expected, and I want to be able to make sure that I always under promise and over deliver.

It is so much better to tell a client you will get it to them in two weeks and deliver it in a week than it is to promise it in a week and deliver it in two.

Trust me.

None of us like it when the promised due date goes by without nary a word.

MY SYSTEM IS FLEXIBLE AND ONLY HAS FOUR STEPS

1. Handle all emergencies as they spring up… UNLESS they are not really emergencies. If they are truly an emergency, we take care of it RIGHT NOW. Putting off the challenges only lets them stack up. Make sure you have room in your schedule for the occasional burning house.

2. Keep clients apprised. Nobody likes surprises – especially delivery surprises. If it is going to take a bit longer to get those files edited, let the client know as soon as you realize it. Tell them why it is going to take a bit longer and then under promise / over deliver.

3. Be prepared for all contingencies. Just as it is necessary to have a backup camera or two, it is necessary to have backups to your planning/productivity. Do you have someone who can step in and take some of this work off of your desk and let you handle a higher level priority? I hope you do, otherwise long, sleepless (and not nearly as productive as you think they are) nights await you.

4. Stay on top of marketing. No matter how busy you are, there must be time set aside for your marketing work. Don’t let the week go by without that scheduled email to go out to local ad agencies. If you have scheduled it for that week, make it a priority to get it out. We can be very busy, but if we do not keep the marketing forefront, we can then have the roller coaster of no business / lots of business.

If we are not marketing while we are busy, then we end up getting slow, and then we market like crazed banshees amped up on Red Bull till we get busy again and stop marketing.

And that is nuts!

I would also recommend Steven Covey’s “7 Habits of Highly Effective People” and David Allen’s “Getting Things Done”. Both are go-to’s on my shelves. And the great thing is you can adjust to fit.

Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity (Amazon)

The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: Powerful Lessons in Personal Change (25th Anniversary Edition) (Amazon)

The most important thing is to make sure you have some simple systems in place to handle the bigger issues of time management. No, don’t go all nuts with huge spread-sheets and such. Just work it out so you have a ‘typical’ way of dealing with the rigors of running a small creative business.

Project 52 “The Catalog”

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In this assignment, the photographers had to jump through a few hoops. The previous week they had to submit a “Creative Direction” shoot showing at least two different approaches to doing the fictitious catalog.

Those approaches had to meet some criteria. First is that there are 200 similar items, and the art director wants the catalog (traditional paper and online) to be as consistent as possible. The second is that there is a limited budget, and while the money is pretty good for a two day shoot, it dwindles fast past that point. Shooting 100 items in a day, and having them all be matching takes some planning and a stylistic approach that will allow them to be shot quickly and efficiently. (NOTE: In the fictitious brief all items are similar in size.)

So the photographers have to show a creative direction that also makes it possible to do this catalog in two days, not a week.

The students did a bang up job of it as well. The creative direction shots were reviewed and we assigned that look. This is the finished catalog page in that creative style. The layout was delivered to them as a layered PSD and they could not change anything on it – just insert the photographs. Understanding how to work with a layout, and shooting to that layout is a very important part of commercial photography.

The results are wonderful.



Off Topic Sunday, October 26, 2014

An absolutely astoundingly hectic week. My daughter got married Friday night, and Saturday was spent on a hundred different unrelated errands. Now, Sunday is going to be for catching up and getting ready for next week.

Check out this amazing commercial. And please stay to the end so you can really see how powerfully creative this spot is. Kudos for the creators and a BIG shout out to the manufacturer of this product for having the guts to go with something so different.


Our weekly Jazz entry:

Don Ellis was an innovator, a visionary and a hell of an incredible Jazz arranger / composer. This piece, “Strawberry Soup” is his seminal piece and one of my all time favorite works. For jazz orchestra, string quartet and a bunch of different types of wind instruments, the piece has the structure of a symphony in three parts – with a drum solo. There are four drummers in the group. Ellis plays the trumpet and has the trumpet solo and jumps in the drum solos at the fourth drummer spot. Don Ellis died too young at the age of 44 from a heart condition.


 

Our weekly classical entry:

Samuel Barber’s Piano Concerto is one of his most atonal pieces and was composed in 1960 for a commission by his publisher G. Schirmer. It is scored for full orchestra and piano soloist. While it has a very modern approach to tonality, it is still an easy piece to listen to and is quite accessible to the classical music newbie.


 

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If you are running your site on WordPress, you may find these eleven plugins worth downloading. All of them are tested and they perform functions that keep you focused on creating and not screwing around with code.

See you next Sunday.

 

Photographers You Should Know: Jeanloup Sieff

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I discovered Jeanloup Sieff while going through a bunch of black and white portfolios in a used book store in the early 80’s. Fell in instant love with his incredible monochromatic view of the world, and followed along as he gained more and more fame as a photographer with a huge, minimalistic style.


 

From his gallery:

Born in Paris to Polish parents Jeanloup Sieff (1933 – 2000) began shooting fashion photography in 1956 and joined the Magnum Agency in 1958, which enabled him to travel extensively. Settling in New York for much of the sixties he worked for Esquire, Harper’s Bazaar, Vogue and Elle, photographing celebrities such as Jane Birkin, Yves Saint-Laurent, Rudolf Nureyev and Alfred Hitchcock amongst others. Sieff won numerous prizes including the Prix Niepce, the Chevalier des Arts et Lettres in Paris in 1981 and the Grand Prix National de la Photographie in 1992, and his work is housed in many private and international collections.

Sieff is heralded as one of the great international photographic talents of the last half-century and has left an undeniable imprint on his generation. Prolific in many fields, the variety of his imagery highlights his broad artistry, ranging from fashion, nudes, landscape and portraiture.

With great tenacity, Sieff pursued a personal and highly effective signature style, soaked in playful imagination with a touch of irony. Seldom working in colour he favoured the discipline of black and white, often using to his advantage the spatial distortion of wide-angle lenses, the dramatic potential of shadow and exploitation of tone.

“I have always maintained that there is no such thing as art. There are only artists, producing things that give them pleasure, doing so under some compulsion, perhaps even finding the process painful, but deriving a masochistic joy from it!”, Jeanloup Sieff.

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From another gallery that shows his work, the Bernhiemer Gallery.

“In the mid-1950s he worked as a freelance photojournalist and fashion photographer for Elle magazine, then in 1961 he went to New York, living and working there until 1966. After returning to Paris he photographed fashion, nudes, and portraits for numerous journals such as Vogue,Harper’s Bazaar, Paris Match, Glamour, Esquire, Look,Vogue, and Twen.”

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A small gallery of Sieff’s images.
(All images are by Jeanloup Sieff)


Jeanloup Sieff Books on Amazon.