The “Long Game” in Photography

The “LONG GAME” Approach to Photography

One of the things I notice about the culture lately is that there is more focus on the easy route, the quick way, ‘getting to done’ without really knowing what got done. There is a quickness to many things we do, and we expect it to carry over into everything we do.

I can get on a plane and be in NYC for lunch. I can shoot an image, and have a print in my hands in only a few minutes. I can send someone a note halfway around the world and hear back from them in a second.

And all of this makes us believe that quick and fast is the only way things get done.

Wanna be a rock star? American Idol… only takes 20 weeks!
Wanna play drums? Sample a drummer and throw it into ProTools.
Wanna write something? Take a “Weekend to a Bestseller” workshop.

And sadly these are now considered by many to be the de-facto way of getting anything done. Quick, fast, and easy.

You all know how I feel about easy.

Easy is a fool’s charade. Nothing worth doing is easy. Easy means everyone can do it. Easy places mediocre at the top.

So let’s talk about how we get suckered into thinking it’s easy.

1. We see people seemingly doing what we want to do with little effort.
The photographer who goes from being relatively unknown to shooting covers for Vanity Fair. The stylist who bursts out of seemingly nowhere to take on the biggest celebrities. We see this all around us. We refer to them as the “overnight successes” of our business.

And we call them that because to USit seems as though it was overnight.

Guess what? It wasn’t. We only see them now, at THIS point in their career, not at all the gigs they did for free, or the screwups that made them feel like they wanted to quit. We don’t see the all-nighters, the reshoots, the failed projects.

We weren’t privy to that, we only see them now, and somehow we take our awareness of the world and slap it on to their reality. “Dude, I didn’t know you when you were struggling, so I guess you didn’t”.

2. We only see their highlight reel.
Those awesome portfolios that make us think “how in the hell do they make so many great images”? Well – they are only showing you their great images. The turkeys, bad shots, shitty images don’t ever get posted.

Why would they?

So we see their best shots and think they must be their only shots. And we know that isn’t reality, but it affects us anyway.

3. They make it look easy.
You know, those photographer’s BTS shoots of awesome adventure camping and gorgeous models and helicopters and a full on crew. WOW, that looks like so much fun. (It is, BTW… it really is.)

But… what we don’t see is the preparation, the weeks of hard work and decision making, the meetings that can seemingly go on forever discussing the most minute of wardrobe changes. We don’t see the years of experience that gets them to the point where they can bid and produce such a shoot.

And the screwups… again, they don’t usually make the BTS video. Unless they’re funny… heh.

That photographer and her crew up on the glacier shooting some professional models for a national campaign didn’t happen overnight, it didn’t happen because she was ‘special’ or because of luck. Sustained hard work put her there, and that same hard work keeps her there.

The “long game” is a sustained effort as well. It is working today with no return. It is shooting images that few people see. It is working on projects that fail and projects that succeed. It is deciding on spending $300 on gas and motels or to sleep in your car and get some roadtrippin’ sunrise shots instead of a new thingy for your bag… that never goes anywhere.

The long game is not a sprint, it is a marathon that rewards those who keep running, and simply ignores those who bail out at the first 10K. The long game is the only game in town for creatives.

Sometimes people attribute luck to others success. Or they factor in crap like birthright or who their daddy was or some sort of class delineation. And there is no doubt that some of that comes into play… hey, life is what it is.

But usually it falls to this basic truth: They are simply outworking you. They are doing what you are not. They are making while you are not. All things equal, it is the performance that counts. We do or we do not.

And lastly, one of the things that separate those who are seemingly doing better than we are is the fact that they jumped.

They simply jumped.

“We must be willing to fall flat on our faces. Fearlessly putting ourselves out there is simply a required part of the process. At the very least, it results in the gift of humility and, at best, the triumph of our human spirit.”
? Jill Badonsky

Imagine being on an airplane to do your first skydive. You have practiced and taken the training and now it is time for you to make your first solo jump.

Scary as hell, that’s for sure.

But also a very simple choice.

You can either jump. Or not jump.

You have prepared for this moment for a long time. From jump school, to practice jumps, to studying for the test and passing it. Then the endless mental preparation… all leading to this moment of ‘jump or not jump”.

If you do, you will have become a skydiver. You have done something very few others have ever done. You will have conquered fear, and proved that you were ready to move to the next level in your desire to become a skydiver.

If you do not, you will simply sit down in the plane… no shame in not jumping. You decided that the risk outweighed the reward, and chose to remain risk-free. And you may go on to do other great and noble things for sure. But you will not be a skydiver.

That is your choice and no one should belittle you for it.

But you should know that if you do not jump, you will not soar, you will not face that fear head-on, and you will most definitely not become a skydiver that day.

That doesn’t mean putting yourself at dangerous risk, but it does mean that in order to soar, you first have to jump.

Might as well… heh.

The “Long Game” approach means working your ass off to become the best you can be, preparing for the work ahead both mentally and physically and then when the moment comes, be prepared to jump and soar.


FIND PHOTO CLIENTS NOW
– is an online class that I have created to help you prepare for a good jump.

It is free for all photographers, and it comes in the form of one class per week so you have plenty of time to study and implement the material. For more information and to ‘jump on board’, check the site out here.

A Fragrance Ad by the P52 Members.

"FRAGRANCES OF SPRING"

ASSIGNMENT PROJECT 52

THE ASSIGNMENT:

Provide the images for an advertorial designed for a consumer magazine.

The layout was furnished to the students with only minor changes allowed. Everyone got the same assignment, and look at the amazingly different interpretations. It is hard enough to shoot fragrances and keep the light magical, but to also have to shoot to specific shapes and relationships makes it even harder.

Really proud of the work the students are turning out. This marks nearly the halfway point in the class.

A Beautiful Promo

My bud Dave Siegel sent this to me. I think it is very powerful. Showing the before shot next to the final image makes the package more informational as well, and provides the viewer a glimpse into what Dave can do for them.

Email promotion.

siegel

Deconstructing a Portrait

I want to take a closer look at some of the portraits the students in the 8 Week Portrait Class are doing. Decontructing an image is a very valuable exercise and one that can garner much insight into the way the portrait was conceived and produced.

The image above, by Leonardo Ferri, is of a young woman at the rose gardens in Berkely, CA. Usually a place teeming with people and other photographers, and especially so, it was nearly deserted on this cold, overcast day.

Using the steps and the hedges as a grounding point for the image – a contextual pallete – he placed his subject in the middle of the steps and then moved a little to the side to bring the angles of the image slightly askew, and giving her a bit more of a dynamic position in the image.

Leonardo-Ferri-anootated

The placement of the subject is directed by the angles of the parts of the image. The placement of her face is in nearly a perfect spot.

Photographer Iryna Ischenko used the tall gates and cypress trees to frame her subject. I personally like this photo for so many reasons. The leading lines of the brick roadway, the brooding sky and those lovely, tall cypress trees. The subject seems to be moving through the gate, and her gaze is down. All other elements are focused upward while she gazes down. I think this makes the portrait quite intimate and hints at a narrative unknown.

Photographer Gabriel Alvarez worked with his wide angle lens (part of the assignment) to create this powerful, yet understated portrait. Simple elements for the subject to lean on, and a single light from a speedlight was the effect he wanted to use. Gabriel told us he really struggled a bit with the wide angle lens and used a cropped area of the frame to keep the wide angle distortion from being too much for the image. Since our inspiration this week was the great Jean Loup Sieff, I think Gabriel did very well.

The expression is a moment caught in time and we are not privvy to what is happening. The wardrobe, a little black dress, adds to the minimalistic setting. Everything is black or white. Carmen Blike, the photographer, used the V shape of the stone work as a base for her composition, then used the subjects legs as an inverted “V” above them. The light is a single diffused speedlight above the subject and blended to be just a bit brighter than the ambient.

This image, by Diana Lundin uses the geometry of the setting to drive the eye toward her subject. It also seems to isolate her, while making her the obvious hero of the shot. All lines lead to the subject here, and instead of appearing overwhelmed by the huge architecture around her, the pose makes her seem confident and in total control of her environment.

Linda Luu Kieff used a graphical shaft of light coming in from the window on right to highlight the face of this nude portrait. The angles of the light bring our eyes to the face and the textures of the environment help the subject stand out. The smooth skin of the subject is in full contrast to the dark, rough material of the lounge and the patterned background. Working in the dark tones like this can be very tricky, but Linda handled the exposure very well. The image has a feeling of film to me, although it was shot digitally.

One more from the set by Linda Luu Kieff. This nude shows a different angle and how Kieff worked with the window light, and the bars/panes of the window to play the light across her subject. This play of light, and the anonymity of our subject prove to be a narrative that begs explanation. None is forthcoming. The gentle tones of the image are very film like, and keep the viewer intrigued by carefully retaining the shadow details to play off of the skin of the subject. Ballet shoes add to the story, although we don’t know why.

Annely Silferwax used two softboxes from either side for this nude portrait. Camera right is turned up a stop and a half over camera left, and provides the impetus for our subject to be looking off toward it. The dynamic position in the subject with the careful placement of the cloth makes this a very powerful image… one the subject seems ready to leap from. Annely used a very contrasty post-processing to be reminiscent of high-speed film when pushed. The subjects regal expression, and subtle dynamics provide a stunning image.

Photographer Frederic Reblewski used the stripes on the jacket as a compositional element. Notice the painting (hung on seamless paper) that mimics the lines and colors of the jacket. A large single light source gave him the look he was desiring, and a natural feel to the portrait.

With the subject leaning way into the photograph, and into the light from the bay window, Photographer Duane Middlebrook used line and texture to set his subject off from the background. I love that bright outside contrasted with the dark patina of the inside walls. The pensive look of the subject makes the portrait more intimate and personal.

In the wilds of the mountains, and on an overcast day, photographer Marjorie Decker caught this portrait of a fellow hiker and companion at a moment of rest. The gentle light and shallow depth of field help the portrait keep a more personal feel.

An intimate, spontaneous feel to this portrait is due to the careful use of props and background. A single speedlight is aimed from camera left, and it is flagged off to provide the raking light on the flowing background behind the subject. The simple wardrobe and sparse table setting give the image a bit of mystery. Photograph by Richard McDonald

The image on the right by Sherrie Von Sternberg is whimsical, playful, and quite a candid moment. The use of overexposure, and the shadow line, as well as the brave and dynamic crop, makes the portrait quite evocative. I like it.