Recently there has been a spate of very sad, and ultimately defeatist articles decrying the “death of photography”. We have no shortage of examples. Seriously.
In all their pain and detailed examples of how the art and business of photography have been “ruined” (their words), I can find little to no examples of the basic, most important reason that photographers are falling behind.
And that is;
Photographers are wildly devotedly, happily, and ecstatically in LOVE with the processes of photography. Like any devoted partner, they see the relationship as sacrosanct, and the most important in their lives.
And they are totally, 100% wrong to be so.
Photography is a process, plain and simple. Romanticizing it makes it more difficult to change, to adapt to new rules, and to find solutions that are not instantly visible.
While they are deeply committed to and in love with the process of photography, their clients are simply… not.
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.
I really enjoyed meeting Frederic and having a chance to discuss art, creativity, and purpose.
If you are interested in hearing me blather on about this stuff – and I do so love to do that – give the link a click and listen in. Frederic is a very good interviewer, and makes me sound pretty good. 🙂
I love shooting large format cameras, but the hassle of developing 4×5 and 8×10 negatives can be daunting unless one has a full darkroom. Paper is easy… safelight and some trays and you got it.
This project will bring some sanity to those of us who really love the look and feel of a large format image, but have trouble getting the negs developed. Yes, there are labs – but take a look at what they charge. A weekend shoot could easily run $200 for 20 or so images.
(images from the kickstarter page)
The answer is to shoot on paper.
I load my 8×10 with the paper I use to print on and make images directly onto it. I can then develop the image in a tray under safelight. Yes, the image is a negative, and yes it is backwards. A simple scan of the print can fix that. Or, do a copy shot on your DSLR and reverse it in Photoshop.
(For those of you who like to think out of the box, shoot the paper negative onto black and white negative 120 film and end up with a positive transparency of the image… small but mighty. Scan the positive as a transparency.)
Check out this KickStarter project and see what they are offering. I am in at $150. I hope you all support this project and enjoy a bit of a resurgence in the interest in large format photography.
GALAXY HYPER SPEED Direct Positive Photo Paper
“We all know about direct positive photo papers nowadays. With all their nice features they lack one very important quality – the high speed. Every single shot is very time-consuming for large-format photographers, and fellow pinholers struggle sometimes for hours. In addition, if there is a moving object in the shot, the object turns out blurred (if it appears at all). However, 70 years ago photographers already had a solution to this problem – Kodak Super Speed Direct Positive Paper.”
Sometimes we get stuck in the mire of our own making. Thank goodness we can find a pump around to dredge us out of the muck.
Last week an open letter dispute erupted on social media. That could be said of just about any week on social media, but this time it was about a photographer and a band who wanted to use a photograph.
I found myself intrigued but after reading both letters I felt more confused and chagrined at the situation than angry. It was a minor tempest in a teapot… one of those very small kids teapots because, let’s face it, not too many people even care about such things as this.
The photographer fired off a note after being contacted by the band for the free use of an image in a book they were doing.
The photographer’s letter was one of outrage, demanding to be paid for the use of his photograph and he makes a very cogent point. Without being paid, we can not continue to make images for bands or anyone for that matter. It is what we do, and as such it should garner more respect.
The band fired back with claims that it is too expensive to create a photobook if they are going to pay royalties to every image. As well, they figured that since they already purchased the photograph, they believed they should be able to use it.
Let’s look at some realities:
“Any refusal of permission would be respectfully accepted and no further questions asked.” — Garbage in open letter to Pat Pope.
A photobook with 200 photographs in it; at $350 per license, that comes to $70,000. The band claims that is too expensive for them to spend to do a book. They are most probably right. By the time you figure printing and shipping and distribution and design and copywriting and incidentals, the books are going to be very, very expensive. And then the price has to double at the bookstores so the stores can make money. Could be a run of 7000 books could cost $40 a piece. That comes to $280,000 upfront for the band. The $40 book then has to have a retail price of $80 a piece to allow for it to be sold… breaking even for the band.
I have written books that are sold in major bookstores so I can speak from experience when I say NO photobook for $80 is going to sell out quickly… if at all. If the print run was a thousand books, it could sell out in a year or so. But it would also be around $125 per book… so maybe all bets are off.
End game: The band is right.
It is too expensive to produce if the royalties are to be paid. Perhaps they should figure out a sponsorship or move on. It is a cold fact of life that many things we want to do are simply too expensive to do.
That is NOT a value judgement, it is a simple fact of business.
Or find photographers who will give you pictures for use without a royalty… which is what they were doing.
I think the band learned that because they previously purchased a license, it does not hold over to any future uses.
They also learned that a simple request, made in good faith could unleash a shit-storm that would drag their name through the mud. I guess that is a good lesson for us all. The social media mobs are unforgiving and – really – not very bright. They react the same way the immensely base Piranha do… form a gang and destroy.
“I’m a firm believer that musicians and artists deserve to be paid for their work. I’ll sign any petition that’s out there supporting that concept, and even when I choose to stream rather than buy, I’m one of the fans of your band that will pay for a premium service because I think you should be paid. That’s my point of view. Is it yours? When you think about artists being paid, does that include photographers? Do you think “content providers”, whatever the hell that means, deserve to be paid for their work, or is that a special category for musicians? If I want to release a music album, can I use your music in it if I give you a “proper credit”?”
— Pat Pope in open letter to band Garbage.
Wow. That is quite an angry response to a simple request.
I think it could have been handled another way. Going public without even contacting the band was, in my opinion, a little cheesy. But I am willing to cut some slack because we have all become a bit tense over big names using our shit for free. It isn’t right.
But neither is focusing your anger on the wrong perpetrators.
Being angry at the band, who simply asked, was misguided and off base. Of course they wanted to use it for free. We all want free stuff and we ask for it when we can. No harm. A simple “No, it would need to be licensed first” would have seemed more professional to me.
Nothing wrong with saying no. NO. It is easy… try it. “No.”
However, the real problem makers in this whole debacle were never singled out for his ire, his rage, his being really perturbed. The perpetrators who caused this entire calamity were even pointed out by the band. They were identified and STILL no words of scathing indignation was turned toward them.
Who were they?
“We were so grateful and delighted to learn that most of the photographers were happy for their images to be seen in conjunction with the telling of our story.” — Garbage in response to Pat Pope
If you want to be mad at someone, just read the credits in the book when it comes out. Be mad at those who complied, not with those that requested. Being mad at someone who genuinely asked for permission first is – well – it’s offputting to me.
And since so many others said YES, that could signal that the majority indeed support the free use (whether it is right or wrong is not the point here). Be mad at them, if you like.
Or maybe choose not be be mad at all. Perhaps the photographers saw fit to have their images in the book for reasons we may never know. Or should know. Or even have a right to know. It is their property to do with what they want.
My story is not your story… don’t try to write the paragraphs your way.
The real conundrum is where the line gets crossed between supporting one another and exploiting one another. It is not a fine line, it is wide and gray and sometimes hard to see. But it is there.
All in all it was great fun for the mobs… but it held little out for those of us who are wanting to get a little more serious about the dialog that needs to happen regarding usage of IP.
Until that happens… rock on, dudes (and dudettes).
A few days ago, this was making big news online… wow. Imagine Cindy Crawford having the guts to go public in a photograph that was un-retouched in Photoshop.
Yeah… wow. Big F’n Deal.
Of course she did that for two decades and more. You know that, right?
Of this I can speak firmly. We didn’t have Photoshop in the 40’s. 50’s. 60’s, 70’s, 80’s, 90’s. At the beginning of the 2000’s it was being used a bit more, until we arrive at today where the non-use of it seems to be big news.
For people who have NO sense of history, how it all became. They gotta 5DMKIII and LIFE STARTS NOW.
We will look at the insincerity of the photograph of Cindy in a moment, but first a history lesson.
We made the photographs using skills in lighting. LIGHTING. L I G H T I N G.
We had a cadre of amazing MakeUp Artists, Stylists, Lighting Assistants… all focused on making the image – perfect. Cause there was no ‘fixing’ them later.
We made prints lovingly and by hand in dark, smelly rooms that perhaps robbed us of a few years of longevity.
Those prints were lovingly delivered to magazines where they were sent for halftone scans. (No, they did not have banks of ‘retouchers’ to ‘airbrush’ each editorial image. Anyone who tells you that was never there, and making that shit up. DIDN’T HAPPEN.)
We also shot this magic stuff called “Transparency” film… a ‘slide’ by another name. The image was what it was. If you blew exposure by a 1/3 stop, it was there for all the world to see in the transparency. If you missed focus you ended up with what we would technically call a ‘soft image’… no amount of work at the scanning houses was going to fix it. And many ‘soft’ images made it into print… because ART.
Find a few 80’s / 90’s Vogue, W, Italian Vogue (my favorite), Bazaar or other fashion magazines. Find a few early issues of People, Time, Life, Look, – hey – find a magazine printed before 2003 – ANYGDAM one. NO. PHOTOSHOP.
PHOTOGRAPHY done right by craftspeople and artists and damned skilled creators. Guess what we never said? “Fix it in Photoshop” – cause we. like, didn’t know what that meant in 1987.
So now someone wants you all to believe that PHOTOSHOP is the magic beans of photography. Well, it isn’t.
Which brings us to the current image of Cindy…
… and why I call BS on it.
This shot of Crawford was LIT to show her “flaws”. It was PURPOSELY created to show texture and line and the signs of age. It is NOT simply un-retouched, it is, in fact, ENHANCED through the lighting.
If you brought a model who looked like this to any decent photographer, they could choose to mitigate with lighting (soft non-directional ambient, or large scrim, plenty of fill) or enhance with small, single light source MEANT to bring out any ‘imperfections’ the woman may have.
(NOTE: Before we get pulled into one of those lameass discussions of what ‘beauty’ is, let’s not go there. My belief is that Crawford was and will always be a stunning woman. Age is not a digression in her appeal. Beauty comes in all sizes, shapes, and ages. I stopped shooting fashion BECAUSE I grew weary of shooting 17 year old ‘babies’ who were meant to personify ‘all women’. This whole thing may be a cause-celeb for a lot of folks. I walked away from a solid business because of my beliefs. Beauty if NOT made in Photoshop… and all of my subjects are beautiful to me, no matter who and how old they are.)
However, this image is supposed to be a rally point for the “anti-photoshop” groups, and those for whom the cause of the moment is so awesomely cool, man, they just have to be, like, involved… #trending… #badphotographsrockcausetrendingsaysso….
Is this a ‘bad’ photograph of Cindy Crawford. No, of course not. It is as perfect as the photographer CHOSE it to be. The photographer CHOSE a single lightsource with no fill to enhance every line/wrinkle/and skin anomaly that was possible.
But to champion it as a shot of Cindy being brave and shooting without Photoshop leaves that part of the equation, the most important part – LIGHTING – out.
So is the idea that Cindy is brave for not being Photoshopped? That’s no big deal. She has done that before.
Or is it that she ‘risks’ showing off some flaws of age? Well, she CHOSE that when she chose to be shot with this light… so shouldn’t it really be “Cindy Crawford shows us what a beautiful woman looks like with the passage of time”? Cause why would you light her like this and then Photoshop it… That would be stupid.
(Yes, I know… but I don’t want to go there… so stop it. Stop it now… heh)
Where do I fall on the Photoshop or No-Photoshop line. I use Pshop basically the way I used a darkroom. I strive to get it as right in the camera as I possibly can. It is in my photographic DNA, I suppose.
But I also don’t give a rats tushie what others do. I have no dog in this hunt, and usually find such discussions and ‘side taking’ utterly boring and useless.
So “Shop” away if you want. Or not.
But don’t peddle a prepared and purposely lit shot to show ‘flaws’ and expect me to believe that nothing else could be done but Photoshop. That is a lie… there is something we call…
Of course the disservice it does to the amazing photographers of that time… from David Bailey, to Watson, Elgort, Demarchelier, Lindbergh, Ritts, VonUnwerth, Roversi and more… just terrible.
We have an art form that doesn’t even acknowledge its past, but chooses to be led by people who do not have the best interests of photography at their hearts, but the quest for immediate fame and more “likes”… pathetic.