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.

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Here are my most recent posts

What I’ve Learned So Far: Twenty Four; “Photography is a Privilege”

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Is making a photograph easy?

Good question… although the question should really be;

Should making a photograph be easy?

We seem to expect it to be. I see the ads about how easy it is to “click” and get a picture. Kodak said it decades earlier: “Push the button and we do the rest.” Now Ashton Kucher, the uh, actor or whatever he is, tells us that it is even easier.

I see post after post on forums everywhere that seem to say “I don’t have time to learn this, just show me how to do it really well. I got a minute. I have to do an annual report next tuesday and my ass is on the line. How do I light a CEO?”

To record an image to a sensor is an extremely easy thing to do these days. Point and shoots do it amazingly well. And the new pro cameras are simply awesome. Throw in a flash and a modicum understanding of light and ‘voilA’ – a photograph.

We can post it on Flickr. Stick it on a hard drive. Transfer it to our iPhones.

Easy.

But is it so easy to make a photograph? I mean an image that connects with the viewer. One that means something to the people who see it. Should it be easy to make a photograph? Seriously… should it? Will it ever be?

Not an image. That should be as easy as, well… a click I guess.

What I am talking about is making an image that transcends the ‘pictures’ we make and reaches a new place.

I submit to you that it is easy to make an image, and terribly difficult to make a photograph.

Making a photograph requires more than a camera, or the newest sensor, or gazillions of pixels. It has more to do with the photographer than the camera. The thought processes that got the photographer from the bed to the place where he/she is standing and ready to click the shutter.

So many of us spend so much time talking about lenses, cameras, pixels, lights, stands, whether we should take an umbrella to the beach (heh) and other stuff that we forget about talking about photographers. About photography. As a verb.

Us.

We matter in the taking of a photograph. We make the difference between a capture and a photograph. What we think. Who we are. Our depth of life experience (or lack of it) can make so many differences in the choices we make to commit that moment to a still shot. An image is a momentary snap of reality that is recorded for review. Lots of images are simply wonderful too, so this is not a slam on simple images or snaps or whatever. However, a photograph can bring us back again and again to a place in our emotions that call up more complexity.

Or not.

Consider this: A photograph by Edward Weston or the snapshot of your parents now gone, taken before they were trampled by age and smiling together – a rare moment – as they went out the door for a party. Which provides more emotion for you. Side by side it is a no brainer. At least for me. Which would I grab and head for the door in a fire if I could only take one? See ya ‘Peppers.’

The image can become a photograph by extraneous emotions of the beholder. If I were not there and someone came in to save my things, I imagine they would take the framed ‘Pepper’ shot and not the little picture on the desk of mom and dad. The difference is what they brought to the image. Not in the image itself. We bring things to the picture after it is taken.

What do we bring to the image before we take the snap? Is it easy? Simple maybe, but easy?

In this fast world where you can board a plane in Phoenix and end up in Atlanta in about 3 hours, take your camera out and make a snap of the concourse and hook up the iTouch for some Coltrane, the thought that making pictures should be easy is probably normal. Yeah, I’m good with that.

But I don’t think making a photograph is easy. It is made more difficult by the ease of creating an image. Does that make sense? As the making of a snap becomes quicker and easier (no film, processing and darkrooms needed) the ability to transcend the mere making of an image becomes more difficult. When everone can make a picture that is exposed well, lit reasonably well, in focus and with glorious Photoshopped enhanced color, the call is to make an image that somehow goes beyond that set of parameters and touches the viewer, or moves them, or repulses them, or makes them think, do, act… whatever.

That is not easy. That is as hard as any other art form. Hell, maybe harder due to the fact that everyone can reasonably do it. I can sit any person down at my keyboard or drums and if they cannot play… they cannot play. No button to push. No “Easy Button” or whatever. They are gonna have no idea and the learning curve is substantial. Give them a 40D and they can put it on auto and make some reasonably good captures. Some point and shoots will even alert you if the subject wasn’t smiling. When they can make decent coffee, I’m gettin’ one.

So the ability to make a clean image is just not a big deal anymore. To me that means that making an image that goes beyond that level is made even harder.

My questions to you is: Do you think about photography as being the result of the gear you have or the thought processes that goes before? Is it the print or the moment? The action or the result? Is it a question of how that you first think, or one of why? Are they both important, or are neither of any consequence?

Is the making of a photograph easy? Or are you challenged every moment that you work at it.

I am. I want to make some photographs as I make thousands of images. It can be such a daunting task. Like triple paradiddles, but uh, different. But every time I grab the camera I think ‘maybe this time’ and work as hard as I can on the image before me.

To make a photograph that makes someone else feel something is a privilege. And a rare one at that.

What I’ve Learned So Far: Twenty Three; “On Creativity”

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Occasionally we run into the argument of whether or not ‘creativity’ can be taught, or does it have to be born within us? We read all about creativity and how important it is. We award little statuettes to really “creative” people. Creativity is blessed, cursed, chased, obsessed over, ignored, beaten down and vindicated.

It is a word so over used that we mention Stravinsky and Lady GaGa in the same breathless discussion of creativity. Schools want to nurture it (bullshit). Companies seek it (bull-bullshit). Poets have it in spades (bull… oh never mind).

But have you ever tried to simply define it? Being ‘creative’ can also be cruel, savage, inhumane and anarchistic. Creativity can mean simply doing something different… so what? If I take the garbage out with my left hand instead of my right hand, as I do every day, is that “creative”?

I rarely think about creativity, as I long ago realized something about creativity that made me wary. Creativity claims to be your buddy, your pal… your roommate along the path to making cool shit. but creativity rarely keeps up his end of the bargain. He leaves the place a mess, hits on your girlfriend, steals your money and drinks your beer.

And then one day, ol ‘creativity’ waltzes out the door destined to befriend that kid down the street, or the woman downstairs. He hasn’t even paid for his half of the electricity.

Bastard.

So here are a few things I know about creativity. And believe me, after being in the ‘creative’ business for nearly my entire working life, I know this guy. Here’s the skinny…

Ten things I Know About Creativity:

1. Creativity is not something you bestow on yourself, but something that others bestow upon you. Creativity to the creative person is simply the way they work. Calling yourself ‘creative’ may not mean it is so, and in fact, I find it runs pretty much the opposite. Every time I see the title “creative photographer” I want to mutter under my breath, “says who”?

2. Creativity is not a method or a system or a learned behavior. It is inherent in all of us, but few of us let it be what it is. Out of fear or laziness, self pity or arrogance, ignorance or infinite exploration, we eschew creativity and choose the safer, well worn paths. Ignorance of creativity is a very smart way to get along in some circles. Washington DC for instance.

3. Creativity cannot be taught. It doesn’t have to be. It only needs to be unleashed. Getting out of its way is the most difficult of challenges. We are not conditioned to allow creativity to go unchecked. From our earliest age we must walk in a straight line, color inside the lines, sit at our desks, study what some older person deems is important to us. Creativity and schooling is like a fish with a bicycle.

4. Why do we automatically consider creativity good? Hitler was fairly creative in his endeavors, getting farther along the path to madness than most would have been able to go. Some murderous monsters are creative in the ways they trap their prey… while eluding capture. Creativity can be horrific when applied to horrific things. Creativity has no soul other than the one wielding it. Creativity is not good or bad, it is simply its own person, and he does what he wants. We allow him to run free or channel his wanderings and misadventures. Our call, not his.

5. Creativity can be within specific genres and may not necessarily spill across the entire spectrum of a persons life. One may be incredibly talented in music, but not very good at drawing. A sculpture may be able to see and reveal an incredible masterpiece, while a concert level pianist may not be able to see anything but a piece of rock. This is not good or bad creativity… it just is creativity in different spaces of humanity.

6. Creativity is shown simply and honestly… and not in a good or bad notion. One may be very very creative and turn out pure shit in the eyes of the world. A 3 year old with a canvas and 56 paints could have the time of their lives… being creative and exploding color across the field in ways NO ONE has ever seen.

So what?

Creativity does not necessarily create masterpieces. Sometimes creativity creates shit. And then he stands there smugly demanding that we LOVE what he did… it was so, you know, creative.

7. Work that is derivative can be creative, if the act of derivation ends with something that we think is worthy. It can also end on a bad note if it is not as good as the original. We see creativity usually on the backside, not the front. We see the results not the action, and we rarely see the prelude. Sure “Batman” was pretty creative back when Marvel was cranking them out and we were spending a quarter to keep up with the story. But these days, they are simply worn out ‘toons with two hundred million dollar budgets. Boring, predictable and lame.

8. Creativity is a tool. Creativity is a honorarium. Creativity is a joke. Creativity is divine. If Lady Gaga is creative, then what would we call Eliot Carter? Stravinsky? Coltrane? If P-Diddy is creative, what do we call the hordes of rappers that came before and after that sound the same… identical even, to his work? If Copland was creative, how do we explain it to someone who has never heard the music? How about explaining music to someone who has never heard music before… ever?

Now that would be creative.

9. Creativity is over rated. We have turned anything a bit differnt into “creativity at its finest”. If building the space shuttle and twitter are both creative, is there any difference given to the importance of the creation? Can “Cats” be considered as creative as “Othello?” Is a child like presentation of a Chopin Etude be considered as creative as a performance by a prodigy – or indeed the creator himself? If we consider creativity to be some mark on a ledger or tick on a measuring stick, then we have to be able to quantify it.

Go ahead… give it a go. Quantify creativity.

Good luck with that.

10. Creativity is not definable. Not in any way I can comprehend. And yet I know creativity when I see it, hear it, taste it. We all can agree that we know creative people, and yet we may be somewhat dismayed when we discover who each of us believe to be creative.

I rarely think of creativity as something I want to achieve. It is never how I discuss my own work. If my work is creative, others will note and if it is not, then it will be noted as well. To seek it wastes time, as it cannot be found. It only reveals itself when it is ready, and when the moment is right.

Our job is to make more opportunities for creativity to be revealed. We do that though practice, and study, and work, and effort, and critiques (good and bad) and friends who are not afraid to call you on the work, and enemies that make you defend, or retreat, or rethink. Creativity is a pain in the ass. It has no guarantee of being revealed. There is no magical criteria (10,000 hours my ass), no ‘aha’ moment, no grace to be bestowed. It can leave you waiting at the alter after promising you a thousand times that it loved you. It is heartless and loving, cruel and kind, manic and patient.

And often it is disguised as something else. Something more familiar than trendy, more ethereal than processed. Sometimes ‘creativity” is disguised as hard work.

Creativity means something to each of us, but it is rarely something that I think we should be chasing. Rather we should be chasing the near perfection that comes from working whatever we do to the heart of it. From shooting every day. From being relentless critics to stalwart defenders of our work. Creativity needs nothing from us, but we give our all to achieve it.

Sometimes we are awake to see creativity arrive, but we rarely know its name nor recognize its power. Most of the time we are working on our work so hard we never see it arrive, we couldn’t care less what we call it and we never remember to acknowledge it. We just keep working.

So creativity sits on our shoulders for a while.
Resting in its comfortable by-the-month apartment, putting his feet on the furniture and parking his car on our lawn

But you can be sure about one thing… creativity can be a mercurial and disloyal pal while he camps on your shoulders. He will come over for BBQ and Corona’s, flirt with your wife and hang around long enough to borrow your lawnmower and never return it when he leaves.

You see, creativity rarely moves in, buys a house and puts in a pool.

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