Yesterday I spent the morning wandering around an area north of Phoenix for a few hours. Joined by photographers Dennis Mong and Miachelle DePiano, we took a loop through a beautiful part of central / north Arizona.
I had no expectations other than hoping I could capture a few shots of the fall colors that seem to last but a moment each Autumn. We took the I17 North to Camp Verde, had breakfast while hoping the very gray skies would open up with some sun, but moved on toward Strawberry, AZ when that didn’t materialize. As we went up the mountain toward Strawberry, Pine, and Payson, the sun began peeking out just a bit. The resulting soft light was really pretty.
I used two cameras, with only two lenses. The drive wasn’t formally constructed to do that, but it ended up that I used a moderate wide and a telephoto for all the images.
Nikon Df, 35MM f2.0
Canon 6D, 200MM f2.8L
So I either chose a moderate wide or a tighter tele for all the shots I did, not once changing the lenses on the two cameras. That forced me to look for tight or compressed images or things that could be presented within a wider context.
I may do this again in a week or so… 28mm on the DF and 135MM on the 6D and look for shots that fit those two specific image views. Or not… LOL. I do not have any idea what I will do in a couple of weeks.
5 Photographs with the Nikon Df and the 35MM f2:
5 Photographs from the Canon 6D, 200MM f2.8L.
The assignment was to illustrate a double truck (2 page spread) magazine story on the Origins of Halloween. Layout was furnished as a layered PSD file and the P52 students had to shoot TO that layout – reversed copy and all. The assignment was a great example of how photographers can take a single topic and make something totally different than other photographers. (NOTE: a few of our photographers are from areas in the world that do not celebrate Halloween. They chose something more in tune with their regions.)
My recent Lighting Essentials post on “Systems” (Don’t Be Afraid of Systems) was an overview of some simple checklists that I use to keep focused and create content in an overwhelmingly busy world. The amount of people, information, education, entertainment and sheer braincell killing stupidity that competes for our attention at nearly every turn makes it hard to stay on task.
I have a few larger systems that work for me, and of course they are constantly being challenged by the fact that day to day, my days are usually not the same.
Being a photographer and a designer means that there are all kinds of distractions, and a constantly changing landscape of what must be done that day.
A shoot day usually means no design gets done. A heavy design day means lots of ass sitting (and you know how I feel about that). A day on the road kills creation for both the photography and the design. Getting any design done while transferring planes and flyint through bumps is not gonna happen, and the constant shift of attention makes a 30 minute time frame better for reading than actually designing or editin images. Most of the time.
I do get a lot done while traveling, but most of that output is directed to writing, reading and catching up with correspondence. (Once in San Francisco I was so intently working on a page design that I missed the boarding call. At one point I looked up and there was nearly no one in the area. I had to wait another 2 hours for a flight… it was a crazy evening.)
So my system has to be big enough, flexible enough and ‘open’ enough to encompass those wild swings of priorities.
The post on Lighting Essentials talked about checklists and systems for packing/unpacking gear and how to focus time through the day.
But focusing through the kind of days that photographers have is more difficult than a cubicle gig.
I use a ‘system’ that allows for serendipity.
Part of this system is to be very, very careful on promising delivery. I build in time, double check my schedule and make sure I can deliver when I say I can. Editing and post takes time, and we can sometimes find it takes longer than we thought it would. Finding a design problem may lead to more complex changes than were expected, and I want to be able to make sure that I always under promise and over deliver.
It is so much better to tell a client you will get it to them in two weeks and deliver it in a week than it is to promise it in a week and deliver it in two.
None of us like it when the promised due date goes by without nary a word.
MY SYSTEM IS FLEXIBLE AND ONLY HAS FOUR STEPS
1. Handle all emergencies as they spring up… UNLESS they are not really emergencies. If they are truly an emergency, we take care of it RIGHT NOW. Putting off the challenges only lets them stack up. Make sure you have room in your schedule for the occasional burning house.
2. Keep clients apprised. Nobody likes surprises – especially delivery surprises. If it is going to take a bit longer to get those files edited, let the client know as soon as you realize it. Tell them why it is going to take a bit longer and then under promise / over deliver.
3. Be prepared for all contingencies. Just as it is necessary to have a backup camera or two, it is necessary to have backups to your planning/productivity. Do you have someone who can step in and take some of this work off of your desk and let you handle a higher level priority? I hope you do, otherwise long, sleepless (and not nearly as productive as you think they are) nights await you.
4. Stay on top of marketing. No matter how busy you are, there must be time set aside for your marketing work. Don’t let the week go by without that scheduled email to go out to local ad agencies. If you have scheduled it for that week, make it a priority to get it out. We can be very busy, but if we do not keep the marketing forefront, we can then have the roller coaster of no business / lots of business.
If we are not marketing while we are busy, then we end up getting slow, and then we market like crazed banshees amped up on Red Bull till we get busy again and stop marketing.
And that is nuts!
The most important thing is to make sure you have some simple systems in place to handle the bigger issues of time management. No, don’t go all nuts with huge spread-sheets and such. Just work it out so you have a ‘typical’ way of dealing with the rigors of running a small creative business.
In this assignment, the photographers had to jump through a few hoops. The previous week they had to submit a “Creative Direction” shoot showing at least two different approaches to doing the fictitious catalog.
Those approaches had to meet some criteria. First is that there are 200 similar items, and the art director wants the catalog (traditional paper and online) to be as consistent as possible. The second is that there is a limited budget, and while the money is pretty good for a two day shoot, it dwindles fast past that point. Shooting 100 items in a day, and having them all be matching takes some planning and a stylistic approach that will allow them to be shot quickly and efficiently. (NOTE: In the fictitious brief all items are similar in size.)
So the photographers have to show a creative direction that also makes it possible to do this catalog in two days, not a week.
The students did a bang up job of it as well. The creative direction shots were reviewed and we assigned that look. This is the finished catalog page in that creative style. The layout was delivered to them as a layered PSD and they could not change anything on it – just insert the photographs. Understanding how to work with a layout, and shooting to that layout is a very important part of commercial photography.
The results are wonderful.
Last week I railed against too many rules.
Now I am asking if there is too much freedom?
Could I be off my meds, or a little daffy? To complain about too many rules and then question if there may be too much freedom too… OMG, I am turning into a …. no, I won’t go there.
And indeed we may have more freedom than we know what to do with… photographically that is. No, I am not discussing financial or political freedoms, I am talking about photography.
Today, we can do anything – ANY DAMN THING – we want.
We can Photoshop in a city we have never visited, we can fake a man looking over Manhattan from a desk and a studio in Phoenix. We can change hair colors and eye colors and slim a bit here, firm a bit there… we literally have no boundaries.
In Photojournalism, that manipulation is referred to as a no-no, or a “stupidass career killing dumb thing to do”… but I don’t want to get technical. And yet, there are PJ’s who have been caught pressing to the limits of those constraints because, well, they can.
The freedom exists for us to make worlds that only exist in our heads, and instead of having them look like illustrations, we add the credibility of photography to them and they become real. As real as this MBP I am typing away on this morning.
Reality gets blurred in the freedom to modify what we shoot… and quickly too. What used to take hours of work in Photoshop can now be done in a matter of minutes… so we have the freedom of time to work and manipulate and alter the ‘reality’ in front of us.
It can be a bit heady, and it plays out in different ways all across the scope of photography.
And while this ‘freedom’ to create can be a good thing, IS a good thing, it can – like all good things – be overdone. Pushed beyond the good and into the fake and deceitful. And even beyond, to the cruel and worse.
With this great freedom comes an equally and also overwhelming responsibility. We have great power in our eyes and minds, and managing that power with the constraint of an artist is like walking a tightrope, blind and being forced to listen to Pitbull at full volume.
Extraordinarily difficult and possibly puke inducing.
However, with all that said, it is in the tools of our trade where the freedom is becoming more and more ever present. Where once there were few choices, now there are myriad solutions. And the selection of tools becomes harder because of the segmentation, while at the same time becoming easier as the quality of the gear is rising to the point of ubiquitous.
We once had a defining line between “Pro” and “Amateur’ gear. Pros used professional cameras like Nikon F4’s and Canon EOS3n’s and Hasselblads and Mamiyas. Amateurs shot point and shoots. Pros had view cameras and press cameras and panoramic cameras. Amateurs shot point and shoots.
The price point kept the weekend, now and then shooter from spending on a Pro camera. The knowledge needed to produce images was tenfold what is needed today.
No darkroom means about 357.78 pounds of knowledge needed is removed. And that is only black and white.
Fast forward to today.
I am not sure you could even buy a camera today that would not be considered a top of the line camera only 10 years ago. The specs on entry level cameras like D7001’s and 60D’s and the like are beyond even what was imagined 10 or so years ago.
Today we can make excellent images on a variety of cameras from the big flagship cameras of Nikanon to mirrorless cameras to iPhones and Androids… all able t make images that meet the requirements of print, and exceed the quality of screen views by a country mile.
And so we have the ‘freedom’ to do whatever we want with whatever we want… and that can be a little intimidating. Like having lunch at TGIFriday’s with their 87 page menu, vs a small boutique restaurant in Portland that only serves 3 different gourmet meals.
Having all the choices means more work upfront, while in the three meal restaurant you choose the sea bass and get on with the wonderful conversation going on at the table.
I do not really think this is a problem if we recognize the hand of marketers at work. We are massaged into believing that the choices we make are far more important than they really are. They create the illusion of imperative change… change NOW or your work will die, and maggots will eat your hard drives, and no one will ever want to hang out with you.
Reality is this:
We have moved beyond a space where it really mattered. What matters now is the work. The subjects and the presentation and the engagement we create with our images.
I recently spoke with a photographer who was now purchasing his 4th 50MM lens. Starting with the 50MM 1.4, he then moved to the 50MM 1.2. After reading a post on a blog, he sold the 1.2 and bought a Zeiss 50MM. Now, he is looking to sell the Zeiss so he can get the Sigma because someone on a blog said they were actually sharper than the Zeiss.
But what does the work look like? What is the need for that change in the work? Where will that new lens benefit him in the images he makes?
Or is it because while he enjoys the world of freedom that having multiple choices involves, he chooses change without really knowing why?
Are there reasons for changing lenses? Absolutely. There are reasons for all of the choices we make… if we make them with the full knowledge of what we need and what we will see with that change. This knowledge comes from a firm core artistic vision and a strong business model.
This is the best time ever to be a visual medium artist. From photographers to artists to designers, this is OUR time. And that provides us great possibilities and overwhelming choices that must be met head on.
The world of too many rules can be as confusing as the world of too many choices, with too much freedom.
Stravinsky once said in regards to writing music for a choreographer;
“The more constraints one imposes, the more one frees one’s self. And the arbitrariness of the constraint serves only to obtain precision of execution.”
– Igor Stravinsky
This is important to us as photographers too. A bag full of lenses and bodies will NOT necessarily make better photographs, but if we focus on the art itself, the gear can fold into the background and the subjects may reveal themselves in a less fettered way.
My last trip to Zion and Bryce was an interesting one. I took my Canon kit full of wide and long, and I also took my Nikon Df kit. It has only 4 primes from 28 – 85. having those constraints made the trip more creative for me – more of a challenge.
I had to work the shots into what I had and that ‘working’ it made me see “more”.
Look, I really don’t think we have ‘too much freedom… I LOVE the freedom to use what I want and do what I want and not give a damn about those who want to bring me down (Yeah, Brene!!!).
This week I will be shooting with a Mamiya 6×7. While I have lenses for it, I will be using the 65MM and the 90MM exclusively… probably (heh). The additional constraints are shutter speed max at 1/400 (although we can use flash at that shutterspeed), a very heavy apparatus so tripod is necessary, and a viewfinder that forces me to look straight down and have my eye next to the camera. Oh, and only 12 photos per roll… heh.
These are the parameters that make me excited to be doing the shooting. I must find the shots carefully and with as much deliberateness as possible. I am looking forward to it.
How about you? What do you think about imposing some structure around shooting that forces you to look deeper, find solutions and dig for the vision?
“In The Frame” is my weekly dispatch covering lots of tips and interesting points of view for emerging photographers. Some articles end up on Lighting Essentials, and some of them are only for my newsletter subscribers. No Spam, and we never give names to anyone.