About wizwow

This is a place for photographers.

Hi, I'm wizwow - also known as Don Giannatti. Photography has been the focus of my life for most of my adult years. I have written three books for Amhearst Media (available on Amazon and Barnes & Noble: keyword 'don giannatti'. Lighting Essentials is my flagship blog and e-zine with a slightly different slant than most photography related sites. If you are interested in becoming a better photographer, check out Project 52 Pros.

Thanks for visiting.

Find more about me on:

Here are my most recent posts

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

img049-small

 

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.

(more…)

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

silverware

(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.

(more…)

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

test-89

 

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

IMG_0011

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

OLD-FASHION

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.)