Don’t Be Afraid of ‘Systems’

SUMMER-SCHOOL

As a commercial photographer I know a lot about how to make things happen. In fact, being a commercial photographer is a lot of ‘solutions… NOW’ sort of life.

The locations are too small or too large. Too many lights or not enough. Always need another stand or something that will go just 6″ higher. It is a constant battle of “making” it happen when so many things are against the photograph coming out at all.

Solutions – solving problems – that is the nature of what we commercial shooters do.

I have to admit that I have never liked ‘systems’. I hated them, actually. They took the serendipity off, they seemed to be too button down corporate to me.

But I came around out of necessity. I was always able to keep things in my head; appointments, billing, conversations, expectations. All in my head.

I was also pretty good at multi-tasking.

Then I realized that ‘multi-tasking’ wasn’t really what was going on, I was busting my ass doing things simultaneously that could easily have been done one at a time. The idea of ‘multi-tasking’ really is a farce for so many reasons.

We are humans and most of us humans have to have a focus. A way of putting all of our attention on one thing, and getting that thing done.

Spending 6 hours multi-tasking to get 4 hours worth of work done is inefficient at best. Destructive in many ways.

So I found myself forming systems… little ones at first, then larger and more complex ones as the gigs began to get more complex.

THE SIMPLEST SYSTEM: CHECKLISTS.

I use checklists for many of my common functions now, and I use them religiously.

I have a checklist for my shoots. And I check each thing off as I load it. Does it make loading go a little slower, yeah. A little. But I never worry about getting to a gig without something I NEED.

As I have mentioned before, I have cases with gear that is packed in accordance to the type of gig I am doing. All my speedlights (save one in the bag) are in one large tool kit with triggers, cords, modifiers and all kinds of clamps and holders. When I do a gig with speedlights, that box is there and it is everything I need. There is a checklist in the box to help me repack the items. Did I remember to get all the clamps, and are there any grids missing? Checklist… got it.

I have a larger kit checklist that combines the different containers, which are also checklisted.

A big shoot may require Lighting Kit A and Lighting Kit B. It will also necessitate stand case A and B as well. Since those cases are prepacked to the same standards (checklists) each time, I need only grab them and load them according to my needs.

Every item I use is on a check list. They are marked as loaded, and then remarked when reloaded at tear down.

I don’t ever want to get home without a camera body or flash head. Again.

THE DAILY WORK CHECKLIST

I have been asked how I get so much done (even though I sometimes go to bed thinking of all the things that didn’t get done). I have my daily checklist to help with that.

Here is how I do mine. Starting early morning.

5AM to 6AM: Check Email / Social Media for trending articles.

6AM – 7AM: Write for my blog/book. I try to write 1000 words a day across various platforms. These days I do a bit more than that since I am working on a novel and doing discovery for a non-fiction book.

7AM – 8AM: Breakfast, walk the dogs, take my daughter to school and such.

8AM – 8:30AM: Review plans for the day.

9AM – Noon: Email is off, focus on the main job at hand. Can be broken into two distinct gigs if necessary. (This includes any marketing initiatives.)

Noon – 1AM: Lunch, email, social media check in.

1AM to 4PM: Email is off, focus on the main job at hand. Can be broken into two distinct gigs if neccessary. (This includes any marketing initiatives.)

4PM: Check Email / Social Media. Have a bit of fun.

5PM /5:30 PM. Dinner and get ready for webinars usually at 6PM.

After Webinars, relax, read, chat with friends.

Before retiring in for the night, I take a look at today’s list and make tomorrow’s list of prioritized gigs.

I rarely watch TV or movies (weekends are for that) and I rarely have the same schedule every day… this is an estimate checklist above.

Shooting days are far different and by nature looser.

CONTENT CHECKLIST: WEEKLY

I maintain a lot of online presence; from this site to the three Project 52 Pros as well as my namesake site, it can be overwhelming to keep up with it all. I have a checklist for content, updates, posts and what gets attention on what day.

For instance, I post on the Project 52 Pros sites with regularity. New assignments are added each Friday, and the critiques are uploaded the day after they are given. (Unless I forget to check my list… which recently happened when I travelled. Lesson learned. Big time.)

Here is what a content checklist could look like:

Posts:

Lighting Essentials on Monday.
Project 52Pros on Tuesday
DonGiannatti.com on Wednesday
DonGiannattiPhotography on Thursday
New Assignments on Friday (All P52)
Newsletter on Sunday.

I use the Editorial Calendar Plugin to keep ahead of things on my websites.

For content I also have a small checklist. 
Citations linked.
Author Info added.
Links checked.
Spelling checked.
Any additional info that was promised or needs to be on the post.

I probably add a couple of checklists to specific projects once or twice a week, but these are the ones that keep me going… and turning out a lot of content.

Don’t be afraid of checklists and systems… find the ones that work for you and make them your ally in the war that is over our time – and those who want as much of it as they can get.

If you have any systems you would like to share, use the comments field below.

NOTE: If you are a wedding shooter, check out this article at Tiffinbox.

Viral Visual Strategies

Social Media – VISUAL social media – is really powerful.

“On Thursday April 10th I shared the tumblr page with a huge dog magazine I’ve worked with regularly called The Bark. By Friday morning, it had 4,700 likes and 1,080 shares. I also sent the link out to a magazine called Koream Magazine, and on Friday they started to publicize it. All all the other huge Asian American media channels started to pick it up – like Hyphen, Angry Asian Man, Audrey Magazine, and more.

 

The Korean American founder and curator of a My Modern Met saw it on Saturday and immediately reached out to me for an interview that afternoon. Within the hour she had it up on the site and she told me that all the major news sites follow the site like The Huffington Post, The Daily Mail, Yahoo, The Today Show, and Good Morning America, just to name a few.”

A Photo Editor

My Favorite Film Cameras and Film Choices

cameras

We do so many cool things in P52 and this idea is one a lot of the photographers are picking up on.

We are going to have a fun little ‘assignment’ to shoot 24 frames of film in May. Just 24… but we want all of them to be ‘good shots’. What started as a one shot per day for 24 days morphed rather quickly into simply shooting 24 frames… not necessarily one per day. Quality is more important than the surreptitiously applied time frame of one per day.

And what is the point?

The point is to look at making an image as something important, something that can take some time to do. Without the ability to ‘check the screen’ we have to learn to trust our guts.

We also have to make very sure – very DAMN sure – we have the shot we want in the frame. Check the composition, then check the corners, then check it all again. Whether shooting 35MM or 6×7 all of the photographers will be treating the frame as though it was 8×10… taking their time to make sure the image in the lens is what they want to commit to.

One click.

Move on.

I have been asked about what cameras would be good for beginning film shooters.

I have some opinions on that (and I know you are all shocked… shocked to hear I have opinions on something), and here they are:

While I personally think that just about any old film camera will work for this project and almost anything else you want to do, I do have some favorites.

[EDITED TO ADD: If you have an old camera and need an instruction manual to figure it out, here is a resource for you. Yes, your eyes may bleed from the web design, but the content will make you smile.]

Nikon F2 Photomic.

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Here is one for about $150, but they can run up to $600 depending on how nicely they are cared for. A very simple camera with a nice feel in the hands, the F2 was a staple of commercial and editorial shooters for a decade. Simply a beautiful machine. Manual focus.

Nikon F3

Nikon_F3_with_HP_viewfinder

This was their flagship camera and the nicest camera I have ever owned. I love my F3. Light and smaller than the F2, it also has one of the best meters ever put into an SLR. I have found exposures running to about 30 minutes with it. The camera also has a mean “Auto” feature for aperture value shooting. An Ebay favorite, they run from about $200 to upwards of $600 again depending on how meticulously they were cared for. Manual focus.

Nikon FM2

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

A staple in every Nikkon shooters bag back in the day. Why? Flash sync of 1/250 – twice as fast as the F3 sync due to vertical curtains. This is also one of Nikons best cameras. They were rugged and sure, and very easy to handle. You can pick up a Nikon FM for about $150 – $500. (Yeah, and a bit more – they are quite popular film cameras).

Nikon F4

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Their first autofocus camera. Big and versatile. It is a coveted camera for a lot of film shooters who rely on autofocus. These are actually less than the F2/F3 cameras on Ebay. Auto focus.

Canon F1

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

I never used it, but I knew a lot of guys who loved it. This is a ‘tank’ of a camera. The F1 is a Manual focus camera. Heavy and solid. They run about $300 – $500 on Ebay.

Canon AE1

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No list of film cameras would be complete without one of the classic film cameras of all time, the Canon AE1. Program mode, fast shutter speeds and a body that just goes and goes and goes. They run from about $100 – $250 on Ebay. The AE1 is a manual focus camera.

Canon EOS Cameras

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I purchased the EOS 1 the same month it was released… amazing camera and I still use it. The feel in my hand was simply amazing. I highly recommend these babies… and if you are a Canon shooter, you will feel right at home with the wheel on the back for adjusting the exposure. From about $200 to $500 depending. I have both the EOS 1 and the EOS 3N… lovely and wonderful cameras. These are both auto focus cameras.

MEDIUM FORMAT CAMERAS

I love shooting the big boys… and here are the ones I am most familiar with. All of these are manual focus cameras.

Mamiya RB67 (and the Mamiya RZ67 – not pictured)

Mamiya_RB_67_ProSD

These are beasts of a camera. Very heavy, and well suited for tripods (unless you have upper body strength to spare). They make a 6x7cm image on a roll of 120 or 220 film, and you must have the correct film holder for either one of those. This means 10 shots on a roll of 120 and 20 shots on a roll of 220. The other feature is that the lenses are mounted on bellows, so they are focused by moving the bellows in and out with the wheels on the side, not by twisting the lens.

One of the features of this camera is that the back rotates so the camera is always shot in the same position, while the photographer rotates the back for a vertical image. They are affordable and present a whole new way of making images for those who are used to shooting SLR’s of any kind.

Bronica GS1

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These very sleek medium format cameras also shoot 6×7, but the photographer must turn the camera from horizontal to vertical. The lenses are also focused with the traditional twist. There are a whole host of accessories for this camera, from lenses to prism finders. If you are looking for something with a lot of punch, but not as heavy as the RB67, look at these sweet cameras.

Running from about $350 – $700 on Ebay.

Hasselblad

Hasselblad_1600F

The big tuna… The Hassies are classic cameras that take a square 6×6 format image. That is 12 images per roll of 120. You must have the correct film holder for both the 120 and the 22o films. Extensive lens collections and amenities are found for this prestigious camera. They are running from about $500 to $900 depending on the condition.

THE 645 FORMATS

These are remarkable cameras as well as lighter and easier to carry than the ones above. Because of the way the film loads, the image is 6cm x 4.5cm – which results in 16 images per roll versus the 12 of the square format cameras.

All of these are great deals as well, with lots of lenses and additional tools available.

Bronica 645 – these run from about $250 to $600.

bronica_sqa_80mm_1

Mamiya 645 – these run from about $250 – $600 as well.

045

Pentax 6×7

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An esoteric favorite, the Pentax 6×7 handles like a giant SLR. There is an extensive lens line and many accessories. The lenses were considered second to none. This is still one of the cameras I coveted but never owned. It may be just the thing for you if you want to move into MF Film and like the handling of an SLR. This camera shoots a 6×7 image (10 per roll of 120). These cameras are in high demand, running between $500 to $1200 with a lens.

(Edited to Add)
Yashica Mat TLR (Twin Lens Reflex

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This is a 6×6 image camera (12 shots on a roll of 120) and is also a unique type of camera. You look through the top lens while the image is taken by the bottom lens. This camera focuses on bellows so there is no internal movement of glass within the lens. Inexpensive and quite fun to shoot. You are already used to shooting with one… the act is very similar to chimping, looking straight down into the camera to see the image on the ground glass. Image is reversed. From $100 – $400 on Ebay.

Shooting Film

Most of the film shooting I do these days is on C41 films (color negative). Most of the film I shot back in the day was chrome (E6), which is transparency film. I rarely shoot that these days as transparency and digital look so much alike. Color negative film has a different patina, a different color space than transparency.

I shoot Ektar 100 film in both the 35MM and the 120 roll sizes. Fine grain and very nice color range.

And I shoot Kodak Portra as well. Note, Portra comes in ISO 160, ISO 400 and ISO 800 flavors. I shoot the 160 ISO film at ISO 100… always have. I find that this film can take a bit of over exposure much better than any underexposure.

It is also fun to shoot traditional black and white ON black and white film. I recommend a set of filters if you do, but for many projects, filters are not needed. (I am referring to Red, Green, Yellow and Amber filters for darkening skies and lightening greens in landscape.)

My favorite Black and White films are the Kodak T-Max line, an Ilford film or two and a couple of Fuji’s.

NOTE: You can get all of these films in higher ISO’s, but I like the ISO 100 flavors for a lot of reasons. Choose the ISO range that works for you.

Shooting with film, things to remember;

  • You cannot see what you just did. Don’t try.
  • You must shoot the whole roll at the same ISO
  • When you get the film processed, it is somewhat fragile and can scratch. Be careful with it.
  • Film has more latitude, but prefers to be over exposed than underexposed
  • I prefer to get my scans at the time I process the film. Yes, it is more expensive, but I do not spray and pray with film.

Well – that is a very short list of cameras and film that I use for shooting film images. Use the comments below to share your favorite camera and or film… and let us know why.

See you next time.

 

“What Should Photographers Charge in 2014?” – A Discussion with Rosh Sillars

My bud Rosh Sillars’ recent article on “What Should Photographers Charge in 2014?” really hit home with me and a lot of my Project 52 PRO’s. Pricing and figuring out what to charge is always a very difficult part of starting a photo business, and Rosh takes a very pragmatic, and value producing look at this timeless conundrum.

A significant truth:

“Here is the bottom line:  You can’t win if you play the lowest-price game. You can’t beat free and stay in business. Friends with cameras, cell phones and free stock photography are going to win every time if you don’t have something better to offer.”

Rosh makes the point that setting ourselves apart from the mediocre, and the mundane is absolutely necessary. Whether in the work we do or the way we do business, bringing value to the table for our clients is a game changer.

Another real world challenge is that the day of the ‘button pusher’ is over. Amateurs with talent can make images that are far beyond what the best shooters were able to make 20 years ago. The technical skill involved is learnable for free, and there are many, many talented people with great ‘eyes’ for imagery.

You simply cannot be “average” anymore.

“Just because your friends and family tell you that you have a good eye doesn’t mean people will pay you for your photography.  We are in the heyday of photography. Photos are everywhere. Unfortunately, being able to create an in-focus, well-exposed and nicely composed photograph is not enough for a photography career.  You need more.”

I hope you enjoy this interview and the great questions that were asked by our Project 52 PRO’s.

Thanks for watching.

On Change Changing What was Changed…

hiway
… or something.

My friend Jan Klier (NYC) and I were discussing the recent Getty move to grant access to millions of images for only a byline. He feels it is a good move for photographers, and while I am still somewhat ambivalent we both agree that the worst thing is the overall message that photographs are not worth much anymore.

We also agree that message will fade as photographs are becoming more and more valuable all the time.

No, I am not talking about wedding photographs or baby shots, brochure covers or even ad shots for the newest wizbang gadget.

I mean as a value to our lives. The communication and interaction they facilitate. The shared experiences and cultural manifestations of images are not to be ignored.

From Jan’s post this morning:

“Photographers lack that scale in their marketing. How many portfolio reviews have you been on in the last year? How many people have seen your entire book and seen the majority of your photos? How many people’s opinions have you gotten about your work? Is it a statistically significant number? Doubtfully. Yet, how many people have seen some of your images in some form or another without you knowing about it? How much better could your business be if you could reliably create and market your next photo with the accuracy of an Amazon recommendation?

So while Getty’s latest move may not yet be the photographer’s meta data solution, it’s a move in that direction. Paul Melcher has been involved in Stiple, another smaller endeavor in the same vein.”

From my half of the email exchange this morning:

Change is hard. Change is always harder when multiple models change at the same time. The traditional ‘dollars for hours’ model of the service sector is being tossed on its head. The traditional ‘licensing’ for use’ model is being challenged and in many cases eviscerated.

When we take today’s market and look at it from today’s perspective (rather than one of 20 years ago) we can clearly see that if we began this industry now, we would be using a far different set of tools to create the values we want to maintain. We would not be looking at day-rates, licensing, and controlling access, we would be looking at reach, engagement and open access.

Business models that made no sense 20 years ago, and will make a lot of sense 20 years from now. Or something else entirely, change is indeed constant.

Simply said, the old models don’t work smoothly in today’s environment. It will not get smoother.

And yet that failed model of trying to shoehorn an unworkable model into a clearly bad fit is what so many spend their time and efforts on.

The old model of the business of photography is breathing its last breath. Mediocre photographers who got by in years past are today’s roadkill. Big time shooters are finding other models to follow (McNally the celebrity, Heisler the sage etc…) and this is the natural progression of disruption, be it good or bad not withstanding.

The new model of photography is also quite difficult to see at the moment. It is still in flux, and in fact may never again ‘gel’ into a single, describable entity. It may remain ethereal and erratic, shifting forever without a clear and discernible set of parameters.

Quickly changing cultural beliefs and communication standards will be entering and weaving for quite a few more years… and the pace will most likely not subside (barring a catastrophic failure of society, which may not be out of the question these days).

The fear that photographers have over losing what they had is misplaced. It is already gone. Looking back and wishing it were not so is of no value, and it will avail nothing but more distraction and pain and time lost from moving ahead.

Looking forward may indeed be painful, but it will at least be a start toward understanding the changing nature of photography, how photography is perceived and used, of what value is photography to the culture and how one who creates imagery fits in.

This of course requires more effort, so we will continue to bitch and whine, which of course provides nothing of value, but is far easier to do.

Notice the amazing hit counts on the ‘oh poor woe is us’ posts at Petapixel, VSL, f-stoppers and such. Doom and gloom are still the big attractions for the human race. Early newspaper owners knew it. Media organizations know it. Nothing different in the photography realm.

But we are all aware of those that ignored the doom and gloom fascination of the day to move into a more prosperous tomorrow. Instead of wringing hands and enjoying each other’s suffering, they went out and did… something else. A choice we all have an opportunity to make every single morning we open our eyes.

Today I am trying to figure out how to incorporate Snapchat into my business… not sure I have a breakthrough yet, but I believe there is a way.