Knowing Your Subjects Well

bri-running-2-smallOne of the most important considerations of a photographers work is the subject matter they choose to make photographs. Sounds almost simplistic, doesn’t it?

But there is a great deal of thought that goes into this part of what we do. If we have chosen subject matter for any reason at all, it should resonate and help us be more authentic in the work we choose to do.

For instance; if you are a mountaineering photographer, would you not be interested in mountains, hiking or climbing? If you shoot cars, are you not interested in them at all… just metal and wheels?

Car shooters LOVE cars. They LIVE cars. They can tell you about the fins of the 80’s and how big the cylinders the Cobra’s engine had in those classic muscle cars. A fashion photographer can instantly spot the trends, know the designers who are creating them and speak the language of fashion.

And that mountaineering photographer… she knows how to climb and hike and where all the cool places to shoot climbers are.

It is how the most authentic of us begin to work within our tribe. And it shows in the images.

One of the photographers I am working with loves motorcycles, in specific the older, retro designed bikes like Triumphs and BSA’s. He is not a kid though, and his friends reflect that as well. It is his tribe, and bikes are mixed with kids and the suburbs, day jobs and long weekends.

A niche he plans on using in order to build a stronger lifestyle book, along with the rugged outdoors folks who hike the Appalachian Trail in winter, the ridges of the Canadian Rockies in the summer.

It is the same people he spends time with when not shooting or working.

His tribe. His subjects. His authenticity.

A few examples of authentic photographers working in their own tribes.

Matt and Agnes Hage: Adventure Photographers.

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The Hages live in Alaska because the love the mountains and hiking where the wild things are. They have turned that love affair with the rugged outdoors into their subject matter and are shooting for editorial and advertising clients all over the world.

When they are not climbing and shooting for clients, they are climbing and shooting for themselves. Their lifestyle IS the one they photograph for, and with the people who are part of that lifestyle.

Scott Toepfer photographs his friends, their interests and what they love. The west coast surfing, motorcycle, freedom loving youth are where he turns his lens. His tribe, his life, his subjects.

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Scott has captured that culture, his culture, very well. And advertisers are wanting that authenticity brought to their products and services BECAUSE it is real and authentic

If Scott is not shooting motorcycles, he is probably out with the tribe riding them, hanging out with the buds and living the lifestyle he portrays in the work he produces.

Scott and I chatted about photography and it is here on Lighting Essentials.

Tara Donne loves design and food and travel. No small wonder it is what she makes photographs of as well as living that life. She loves to cook, and she loves to shoot food. Her travel bug is ignited by and paid for by her photography. Exotic locations are where she loves to go, and the images show us the excitement of visiting far away places. The food, people and quirky little vignettes are what she would shoot if she were on vacation.

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Her tribe, her images, her way.

Can you work with subjects that you do not have a personal affiliation with? Sure… because you live that lifestyle through the camera, the work, and the professional friends you make while working. And you KNOW it, and how to portray it with real insight.

You may be an older guy who loves to shoot fashion. And that work becomes your passion and your subject. It doesn’t mean you have to hang out in clubs and do shooters with 21 year olds, it means that you have to understand that lifestyle and bring that authenticity to the work.

You find yourself knowing more about designers, makeup, hair trends and style than you may have ever expected to, but it is an interest that brings authenticity to the work.

In short, your tribe, your interests, your passions… they make the best subjects. And if you come to the subject from a different passion, let them engage your imagination and spark an interest that goes beyond the surface, and into the heart of the matter. Making YOUR photograph is the most important thing, and being involved helps you stay focused.

As we look at new and exciting new opportunities for photographers, it can also be wise to consider who we are, what we do, and who our own tribes are. Finding authenticity in our own lives and watching that interest become a part of our subject matter can be quite exhilarating. And fun too!

ReBranding With Photography

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This was an interesting week.

An old friend and colleague reached out to renew a friendship and to discuss some epiphanies she had recently experienced.

Lunch was near my studio and it was with a bit of trepidation that I had agreed. While I think the world of this person, I also know that our working together can be fraught with frustration and no small measure of much needed patience.

I suck at patience, and life is too short to continually haggle with people. It simply is. We can be like water and oil at times… she with a close eye for microscopic detail, and with a heavy background in corporate people management, me with a ‘big picture’ approach, and eschewing nearly every corporate culture meme there is.

Lunch was always fun with her though… terrifically smart, very focused and with a zest for finding out everything about everything, she can match wits with most.

I was not expecting her exuberance to have faded in the last two years, and I was correct. But now there was something a bit different going on. She had found her voice, her ‘thing’ so to speak. That part of her that had made her so frustrating before was now morphed into a sureness and solidly focused professional.

“You were right,” she said almost at the beginning. “All the things you said I needed to do, were what exactly what I needed to do. I just wasn’t ready to commit to myself. I must have driven you crazy, huh?”

I smiled and brushed off the driving me crazy, although that nail was punched right on.

I had encouraged her to find her voice, find the thing that would make her, and her fledgling business, more unique and reflect more of her authentic person. Write like she speaks, be as personable on the page as she was in person. In short, be herself and stop trying to be what others thought she should be.

I am so proud of her now, that all of those frustrations are simply no worth thinking about. She has gone from a corporate ‘manager’ to someone who is confidently managing herself… and a whole slew of private clients that have been attracted to her systematic, well thought, and successful approach to her business.

We have set up a few projects together, and one of them involves an idea to share with you all.

One of the things we must remember is that what we package is sometimes not as interesting as HOW we package it.

Some of us older guys will remember the ads in magazines for the ability to “see through walls”… yes, this device would allow you to actually see through walls and doors. Like magic.

It was the little thing we put on our doors to see who is on the other side. He had purchased a warehouse full of them, and selling ‘door peepers’ just didn’t have the punch that “See Through Walls” did. He became a multi-millionaire.

Social Media, Personal Branding Photography is our package. And as of today, we have at least 5 shoots on the books for February. At a very decent rate for sure. (For sure I have mentioned it before… we have now been able to put a tighter ‘brand’ on it.)

What is included:
2 headshots: one ‘natural’ and one ‘professional’.
A full length shot to be used for purposes where that would make sense.
Two half length shots, and something with a strong environmental feel.

Uses:
Facebook header – need interesting wide shot.
A Twitter background – tall shot for left hand side of twitter page.
An About.me page.
A YouTube header.
A shot for their “About Me” web page.
Web Header images for their site.

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We are taking a full day for the photography, providing styling and hair/mu where appropriate. Most images to be shot on location, with only two images in the studio.

Well researched up front, I will know what dimensions their social media images must be, so I can shoot to “layout” so to speak.

All of the scheduled clients are entrepreneurs and business people who are discovering their social media impact and want their brand to be consistent across platforms.

And while shooting photographs of someone is not new, knowing exactly how they will be used and shooting for the disparate formats that they need them for is somewhat refreshing. No more cropping out or filling in areas on haphazard iPhone shots… we shoot FOR their social media and website presentation.

A professional and creatively presented, cohesive set of images.

A win for our customers and a win for us.

Just thought you would be interested… take it and run with it in your town if you are so inclined.

 

Going Back in Time

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The great shooters of Project 52 Pros, 2014 just completed an assignment I would like to share.

The work was to be shot in a style or period and be as faithful as possible in presentation. The reason for the shoot was to introduce them to the special difficulties of finding props/locations that could be used for something of a previous era. We excluded any era forward from the 60′s/

I think they did brilliantly.

“What is Wet?” – Project 52 Assignment

Some beautiful work from the Project 52 assignment on ‘wet’.

From the assignment:

WET…

Shiny, smooth, liquid… wet is – well, wet.

And we have to show “Wet” in a photograph. For a client who wants to keep things dry.

You can approach this one in three ways:

You can show something very, very wet. And make the photograph speak to the power of being wet, and how that may be a challenge down the road a bit.

You can show something very, very wet that is purely for the fun of being wet… as long as it shows the detail of the ‘wetness’.

You can show something repelling the wetness from it’s surface. Like a deck protectant, or a sealer for cloth.

The title of the shot would be “Wet” and obvious to anyone looking what that referred to.

How do we show “Wet” – in a photograph?

Wet things are shiny. Wet things have highlights and speculars that show them to be shiny. We will have to have some context around them – or within the subject itself – to make the call that it is indeed wet and not ‘just shiny’… and that means probably some added detail to the wet areas.

We want to see big, ‘liquid’ highlights on this shot – so softbox, scrim or overcast sky with lots of control. White cards are important, and your subject should be chosen with care. (Note… natural wet areas do not count… lakes, streams, rain etc… unless there is a reason or context present in the subject.

Get More Info on Project 52 Summer 2015 here.
Enrollment starts July 3, 2015

An Easy Set Up For Still Life: with Virginia Smith

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I needed a quick and easy set up for the small jobs I so here and there. Branding samples, food photography, accessories for the styling that I do on the side. I love window light, shadows and color so this is my easy set up for my style. The elements are:

* a diffused window (inexpensive white sheers from any big box store will do)
* an assortment of colored art papers available at any art supply store
* odd pieces of wood or a piece of paneling
* squares of vinyl flooring that looks like slate or stone, even wood
* wide painters tape

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All these elements are about 24×24 inches square. They are taped in place along with whatever props I may need in the background to set a mood (dresses, branches, fabric…). Sometimes I place my surface right against the background, sometimes I place my surface away from the background. I have latitude next to the window to use the light and shadows that fall as well as time of day. The shadows are stronger late in the day as in these test shots. I can use a reflector to soften the shadows but I tend to prefer them strong.

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If I find the backgrounds too smooth, I will add textures that I have created from old paintings, walls, rocks, dirt and whatever else looks interesting.

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Fast, easy and fits my Modern Vintage style.

The items needed for the setup.

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Virginia Smith (Modern Vintage Photography)

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