Distraction, Discontent and Distruption (Part One)

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Distractions, Discontent, and Disruption

The three “D’s” of the new daily discomforts. Wait, is that a fourth?

We are constantly being distracted from our work, made to feel discontent at every turn and facing disruption in our business like never before.

Distraction.?

Distraction comes from every side. From Facebook and email to the web and other forms of entertainment. It comes from politics and social events. It comes from the manufacturers of commercial culture who want us distracted and hooked on their latest gizmo/whachathingy.

And it is damned difficult to keep our heads down and do the work with all that clamoring for our attention. Go to this webinar and that web page – they have all the answers. Listen to this guru or that guru or some rockstar who has all the answers – they will help make it easier. All ya gotta do is pay attention.

To them.

We have learned that we ‘must’ spend hours a day on Facebook, ‘connecting’ with our fans and followers and possible clients. We have to ‘pin’ and blog and tweet and twerk.

OK, we don’t really have to twerk. Seriously.

But we can spend so much time on the other crap that nothing of real value gets done.

Camera companies compete for our attention by dribbling out shiny new cameras with cutting edge features that we of course MUST have now, because our competitors have it. And it is awesome – that guru guy said it was, and there is a webinar that shows how lame last months new camera is compared to yesterdays new camera.

And a big time internet photographer just “Pinned” it… so it must be awesome.

Discontent.

We become unhappy with what we have, and what we don’t have becomes even more of a sore spot. Even to an open wound.
“When I get the Nicanon Mark 9, DE7000 X, I will finally be able to create my vision.”
But that never happens because as soon as you get it, Sonlympus comes out with a “Nicanon Killer” and some “awesome” internet guru has just declared it the most awesomest camera since last March.

We can sink into the pits of despair, the fire swamps of sadness, and simply believe that without this new or shiny or awesome thingy, we simply cannot continue on.

The funk continues when we read about a new photographer making a lot of waves, and getting a ton of attention. “Brooklynneshannadale Smith, 13, is shooting the new Audi campaign for a gazillion dollars after taking the commercial photography world by storm when her captivating, slightly misogynistic iPhone images on Instagram caught the eye of Dorkus McStoopeed, a big time ad agency owner in Manhattan…” (We call that a PR stunt. Learn to see them for what they are.)

And we try to measure this new work to our own, and try to figure out what the commercial world is really wanting anyway? We start to complain about clients, and the industry, and the totally screwed way it is going and how it is ruining the business… yadda – yadda – yadda.

Too many begin living their creative lives between distraction and discontent. They post memes on Facebook about how no one wants to pay them for their work. They go on forums and discuss how stupid and screwed up clients are. They fall farther and farther away from the center of their own world.

Photography.?

And while they are focused on all this negative distraction and discontent, along comes good old “Disruption”. It is quiet and insidious and if we are not vigilant, it will catch us looking away and – bang – we are watching our business from the sidelines.

Disruption.?

Things change. It all changes. Some changes took a long time to occur, like continental drift. Others took a small amount of time to change… like the time my Tower records went all CD over night on a weekend. No more vinyl – overnight.

Photography has seen plenty of disruption before. The invention of the Brownie camera that allowed anyone to make a photograph. The addition of meters in cameras, faster ISO films, auto-focus, and digital are the highlights.

Now we are seeing disruption in the publication industry that is affecting the commercial photography business as well. Things are changing. Print magazines are flooded with promotions from thousands of photographers. There is a glut of shooters it seems.

But there are also more ways to find work. From web sites to web magazines, Kindle books to iBooks to eBooks, there are more and more ways to create images for publication. Kickstarter projects, self assigned projects, galleries and print sales.

Disruption can be bad for some, but it always opens doors for others.

Seven years ago there was no such thing as an App Developer. Disruption changed that, and tens of thousands of new jobs opened up where none existed before.

Ten years ago a photographer who wanted to do their own high quality coffee table book had to first find a publisher, then negotiate and get a lawyer and lots of crappola to just get to the point of getting it to print.

Today, a photographer can produce their own coffee table book and offer it for sale on Amazon – reaching millions and millions of people worldwide.
“Local” may not mean what it meant 20 years ago.

Solutions?

  • Maybe, but I am not going to offer you the tired old “get off Facebook” stuff you get everywhere, I will simply offer some ideas:
  • Self Assignments: Personal work is the key to keeping creative and moving forward. If you do not have a personal project, start one as soon as possible.
  • Create a schedule for your work. Follow that schedule. Call it your creativity plan or productivity mantra or whatever. Instead of being distracted by all the silliness all day, find a great time to go on, engage, have fun and then be done with it.
  • Find a disruptive agent and make some effort to understand it, what it means for your work and how you can use it to advantage. Instagram is a disruptor… what can you do with it to help your work get known and seen? Or is it not worth the effort for you?
  • Analyze the distractions you see around you. Are you sure the camera companies have your best interests at heart? Are you sure the gurus with millions of followers have your best interest at heart. (Some do, some don’t… look carefully and you can tell who does.)
  • Stop comparing your work to others. Period. Follow YOUR vision, follow YOUR style, follow YOUR path to image creation.
  • Become insulated against the distractions and discontent that is so pervasive on the internet and social media. Remember that most of those discontented, unhappy ‘photographers’ have not been in the trenches, they are simply spouting what they read other people say.

At the end of the day, you are your own advocate, your own critic, your own worst enemy.

And identifying the distractions, discontents, and disruptions around you is important for us all. Once identified, they are easier to leave behind, ignore or actively engage.

Trends to Watch in 2015

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Trends I am noticing:

  1. Social Media Thinning. Photographers are becoming more selective in where and how they spend their time in social media. This is a good thing. Not every SM platform is right for you and what you do.Facebook may be find for consumer shooters, but for commercial it is pretty much a bust. Some photographers have built huge groups but watched those numbers tumble after FB’s recent algorithms that force paying for views. Not worth it at this point, I believe. Flickr is more and more irrelevant. Not sure why, but it simply is.If you want to blog, but have not started one at this point, I would suggest Tumblr. Absolutely the place to be for photographers. Whether you post an image only or an image and brief text or a set of images, the people who visit there are more infused with clients than FB and G+. In short, it is where to be seen.

    Instagram is very important as well. Especially for editorial and commercial shooters. Clients love Instagram… you should love places that get your work in front of prospective clients.

    Vine may be a perfect platform for small, BTS videos and other random personality driven videos.

    One of the most important, and often overlooked platform is Behance. Stories, sets, complete shoots, process… all work well on Behance for photographers. More clients there than on any other platform. Be there NOW.

  2. Content Driven Websites. Instead of the usual ‘here are my photos’ websites that photographers have used for over a decade or more, we are seeing content within and new frameworks to help inspire contacts.Vanessa Rees blogsite is a prime example.Yes, it is important to show the work, but it is becoming even more important to show the brand – the personality – and the depth of the photographers offering. Get more engagement by being more engaged.
  3. Personal Brand. More and more important as we find more and more platforms that need our attention to gain others attention. Without a strong personal brand, being remembered becomes more challenging. Just as rock stars, authors, actors and others in the public eye create branded personalities, so should photographers. it is absolutely important.
  4. Behance. Be there. Yes, it is so important I am mentioning it twice.
  5. Wider variety of lighting. No more “I only shoot ____ for my lighting”, photographers are expanding into all sorts of lighting choices for all sorts of images. The “natural light only” or “storbist” approach is feeling a bit thin. It is more important to use the right light for the vision you want than it is to adhere to some sort of ‘mantra’. The waning interest in compartmentalizing the production is a good thing, and there will be a stronger emphasis on the image than on the production.
  6. One word: Film. Yeah, it is an old technique, but it is a unique technique that is becoming very boutique in its approach and interest. I will not say you MUST shoot film, only that you consider some other forms of image making that can set you apart… (brand?).
  7. Smaller, more targeted lists. We pared down over the last decade, now we will see micro list marketing, where ultraniched workwill be marketed tomuch smaller groups of potential buyers.Let’s say you have a targeted list of 500 magazines. It may be time to narrow those lists to different approaches or images to be sent. 500 names is not a lot versus back in the 90’s when lists of 3500+ were normal. But the way that media works today may make it more important to separate out the different magazines into segments… and perhaps you end up with a list of 250, one of 150 and one that is only 100 names.Smaller, more agile and specifically focused marketing.
  8. More geographical freedom. Live where you want, work where ever the work takes you. Shoot globally and regionally. Mobility gives us more freedom. And where you live helps establish a bit of your ‘brand’ as well.
  9. Gear will be less of a factor this year. More emphasis on the images and creating work that sells will be the focus of much photographic press. Gear will always be a big draw for many photographers, but for those who are working toward creating a unique brand or vision it will take less and less gear to create the work they want. Technology is leading the way to less need for gear and more need for vision. I notice that so many more articles are featuring the work of photographers with hardly any mention of gear or technology.
  10. Fees will begin to rise again. I see little signs of it here and there… and the need for excellence is finally beginningto be seen by the clients who NEED to know this stuff. With the focus on brand that is replacing a lot of traditional advertising there is more of an emphasis on photography and how visualsare being used in the marketing. This trend will continue throughout this year and the next and will end up affecting design and ad agencies as much as photographers and illustrators.Uniquely crafted imagery, with the ability to show the brand in ways that engage the public will replace the single page ‘Ad’ in periodicals. This will become a sea change. I believe it will be a sea change in the industry and could end up benefitting photographers more than we can see at this point.

For those of you who are simply struggling to stay up with all that is going on, pare down. Simplify and focus.

There are a lot of other trends out there that we should be looking at. Neil Patel has a list of marketing trends that will affect all of us. Spend a few minutes with his list and see what you think about the changing shape of marketing – especially online marketing.

Some cool books to consider:

Providing Cover – Keeping Clients

still-life-4Finding someone to “cover” for you on a photography assignment can be tricky business. Not just for your client, but for you AND the person who you hire to do the shoot in your place.

Look, stuff happens. We all get sick or a relative passes away or there is emergency medical situations that make shooting the scheduled gig impossible. One sure thing we cannot do is to leave the client hanging. Simply not showing up is NOT an option.

The same thing can happen, to a lesser degree, when a long time client calls with an emergency shoot for a time period when you are not available. Simply saying, “nope… outta town dude” is not an option and it could cost you the client for future gigs.

So what do we do?

We find someone to cover for us. And that opens a can of worms filled with conundrums and highly charged with confusion, fear and paranoia.

Scenario One:

The client is in a rush and needs 25 photographs of the staff of a new company they had just acquired, and they need them shot next Tuesday at the official announcement meeting where all will be in attendance.

The timing sucks as it is the same day you are auditioning for “So You Think You Can Dance” and will be doing pirouettes and leaps on Tuesday.

You are unable to do the gig so you reach out to another photographer to ‘cover’ for you. I do hope you have made some good relationships with other photographers that allows that to happen… you have… right?

Right?

You cannot let this client down, they represent a good amount of fees over the course of a year, but you feel a bit reticent at sending over one of your ‘competitors’.

You know you have to service this client, so you tell them you are unable to do it, but have someone you will vouch for to cover it. Vouching for means you KNOW they will do a good job and a job that is up to yours and your client’s standards.

I have heard of photographers getting lesser qualified shooters to do a slightly less than excellent job to show the client how much better they are than other competitors. I will also say that usually ends up biting them in the ass… so don’t do it.

It is at this point that the paranoia part starts to wear down on you… what if the other guy ‘steals’ my client? What if the other guy does a better job than me? What if the client loves the other guy and wants to give him all the work… forever?

Get over it. Your professionalism is what counts.

You call your buddy, we’ll call him Tony, and give him the rundown. This is what the client wants, here are some of my lighting setups (you do photograph your setups so they can be replicated later, don’t you…), and the contact information for the client. You even let him know what to charge the client so that he doesn’t undercut your pricing or piss them off with a higher price.

“Call the client and get everything set up for the shoot, and let me know how it goes,” are the last words you say before hopping on the bus for LA and a chance at fame. Since you are actually incapable of dancing, you know you will be returning to the world of photography in a few days.

But hey, it was YOU who decided to make that bet… heh.

The above scenario is what happens – usually. And what else happens usually? The new photographer ends up with the client because they were there. THEY called and handled all the upfront logistics. They got the setup done and the people were thrilled and hey, he had such a great personality.

And to be fair, your buddy did not try to take your client. He didn’t hand out business cards or in any way try to solicit them. They just needed a few more shots done on Thursday, and called him direct.

Expecting him to turn down the client and send them back to you is not going to work – you are in the hospital with a badly mangled knee. Yes, hip hop IS that hard.

And that client is now your buddies client. It is quite awkward to expect that your buddy simply refuse the gig unless they offer it to you first… how does that work?

Ooops.

Scenario Two:

All transpires as above to the point of your call to the client. Yes, you have an associate who will cover the gig. Yes, they are right up to the level we need to do a great job. You get the “associate” on a three way call and introduce the “ASSOCIATE” to the client, go over logistics and make sure everyone is comfortable with the upcoming gig.

You send over the samples of the previous shots, lighting schema, and any personality quirks that the client perhaps displays from time to time… in other words you prepare them as you would an associate.

You go off to dance and your buddy takes care of the client. She calls to make last minute logistics, shows up and knocks everyone’s socks right off. She is pleasant and cool, and gets the images down just like you would have.

And then she delivers them… to you. You then send them on to the client.

And you bill the client, and pay the photographer. I am not going to get into percentages and all of that – ya’ll work that out on your own. Some do a cut and some negotiate a flat rate and some just pass it on through… whatever, it is plain as day to the client that the fill in photographer is under YOUR company banner.

When they need something on Thursday, they don’t call her, they call you and you call her. She is an associate of yours and working for you – not them.

Same outcome, but this time you keep the client and they love the fact that you can get the job done for them even when recovering from major dance injuries incurred while doing a hip-hop stunt on a whiskey keg… don’t ask. It wasn’t pretty.

Keeping our clients safe, happy and close is more important these days than ever. So be smart when finding someone to cover for you, and stay in control of the gig.

—-

PS: If you are the one being hired to fill in, do that. Don’t try to sneak in a portfolio review, or hand them your business card because you forgot what was happening. Don’t try to take that client away from your buddy who entrusted this shoot to you.

It’s wrong, and karma can be a real bitch sometimes.

Industrial Assignment: Project 52 Pros

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One of the most under-rated and least mentioned genre of commercial photography is Industrial/Corporate. It isn’t sexy, and models don’t flock to the studio after hours. The travel is usually not to some awesome resort or fancy hotel, but rather to out of the way places with gritty facilities and hard working men and women.

I like industry. I love when people make stuff… and then find people who want to buy that stuff.

We had some great work turned in on this very difficult assignment. In some cases the work is far better than competing work by those already in the business. I like tough assignments and this one the students really lit on.

Photographing Mundane Subjects

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I have always been a ‘commercial’ photographer. While that included some wonderful editorial and fashion along the way, the bulk of my income was from good old commercial photography. Photographs made for advertisements, brochures, product sheets, illustrative uses and corporate.

There is a growing difference between commercial photography and the world of editorial (which seems to be the focus of most blogs/sites/gurus) and that difference can make it a little difficult for many of you starting out.

Editorial, fashion, glamor portraiture and food are specialties whose niches have grown quite a bit in the last 20 years. Commercial has enveloped a lot of those niches as well, but it also has the genre of “stuff”.

We photograph ‘stuff’.

Mundane items like power strips and lamps and a cool new gizmo that keeps hard drives from overheating. Sometimes with a model, sometimes on a table top, and sometimes on location in a factory setting.

While not exactly a ‘jack of all trades’ a commercial photographer keeps their doors open by working the markets they have.

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NOTE: If you are living in San Francisco, LA, Chicago, Dallas, and New York, this may not apply to you. The markets are very big and one can specialize in shooting one thing, in one way. No problem… and those are great places to live.

The rest of us live in Winnipeg, and Cleveland, and Albuquerque and Missoula. We could get every single fashion shot in those cities and still not make even a small living.

So we keep our doors open shooting all kinds of things.

While we work on those specialties that can give us regional and national reach. Yes, you can be a niche “Editorial Portraitist” and work for magazines the world over while living in Portland, Oregon or Portland, Maine.

But that takes time. And money.

Commercial shooters work as photographers instead of barristas, or cable repair while they work toward those more lofty goals.

SHOOTING MUNDANE ITEMS

One of the things we all have to do as a commercial shooter is to make images of mundane, everyday items. It is part of our general workweek in many studios.

Shoes, tools, consumer products, industrial materials. All must be shot for product sheets, consumer and trade ads, brochures, catalogs and websites.

However the bar is being raised all the time and you may find, as a recent “Summer 2013” Project 52 students did, that shooting something as mundane as a power strip is much harder than it seems.

This is where technique, lighting, style, and deliberateness come into play.

Can we take a power strip and lay it on a white seamless and bang it with a big softbox? Of course. So can eleventy-hundred other shooters.

If your imagery is not better than the product managers iPhone shots (done in the bathroom at a trade conference and run through Snapseed for more dynamic range… heh) then there is absolutely no reason for them to hire you.

Product manager doesn’t get any more money for his iPhone shots, and you want a grand or two a day… plus usage!

This is where you must differentiate yourself from the pack.

Lighting, composition, style, dynamic sand concept. Make a shot of that power strip that knocks people’s socks off. A power strip shot that sets a new level of awesome for multi-plug devices retailing for under $12. Give that bad boy some visual juice!!

How do you do that?

You work your ass off. You work deliberately. Ask questions… does that corner read well against the background? Will the plug holes show the unique pattern? Does the base blend in with the shadow too much? Is there a highlight on the cord? Does the cord read well against the background? Is the background a distraction? What can we do to make the light more interesting on this 12” piece of cheap plastic?

Determination, skill, technique and a deliberate approach to making a photograph.

Below are some images that take everyday items and make them look amazing.

A shoe gets a fancy approach in this series by a popular shoe designer.

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A much more mundane pair of boots are made more interesting by texture and lighting. Photograph by Charles Ward.

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Grab some items from the kitchen and make something cool with them. My friend Rick Gayle does it all the time.

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Imagine getting an assignment to photograph notecards and small paper items. Annabelle Breakey makes it look amazing.

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A simple, everyday pill bottle represents a cancer treatment. Careful lighting, angle and presentation makes it look as important as the client believes it to be. Adam Voorhes always delivers.

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So the next time you hear yourself saying “there is nothing to photograph today” just run up to Home Depot or Bed, Bath and Beyond and grab something you need around the house anyway.

Then make some careful, deliberate, amazing shots of it before it goes into the drawer or closet.

Hint:
Vacuum cleaners… very tough.
Weed Whackers… harder than you think.
Blenders… wow, reflections!
Electronic items… can be boring or cool.
Kitchen or Garden Tools… Impressively difficult.

Can you make mundane shots of mundane things? Of course. Anyone can.

But not anyone can make a killer shot of a garden spade or a car vacuum cleaner. That is where you shine and it can be where you get work too.

“Money, Money, Money” A Difficult Subject

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The subject was money. And the assignment was for a brochure cover for a financial services company. Layout was included, but optional. The important thing was to not be totally cliche’ about the image, and also not to succumb to a boring shot.

This is a most difficult shot to do, and the photographers had to master the technique as well as come up with the creative. I think they did very well.

The students of Project 52 just keep on rolling. Two of them just got their first pro gigs, and others have been able to expand into markets they hadn’t been in before. Very exciting times at P52.