Project 52 PRO’s: Summer to Summer

Project 52 PRO’s: Summer to Summer

We are starting a new class for Project 52 PRO – Summer to Summer…

And at this point we have 5 openings left. You can sign up or get more information at the Project 52 site.

I thought I may share these images with you. A recent assignment from the current Project 52 PROS. The assignment was to shoot something to fit this catalog page. The page was furnished, along with information on the products we were needing. As you can see, the photographers stepped up pretty well.

This is not the usual “shoot something pretty” online photo class. We give you real world assignments, and expect only the highest quality images be submitted for our weekly critiques.

Some of these photographers had never shot to a layout before, nor had ever been given a ‘brief’ for shooting a photograph to specific requirements before Project 52.

It is hard to break into this business, and many of the old ‘mentored through assisting’ paths are not easily available. Project 52 tries to fill a bit of that gap by working with assignments that are similar to the type of work a commercial photographer may get in the course of a year.

We are also mixing in a lot of business information… again this is reality based client work, and not silly marketing tactics.

We shoot people, product, location, catalog, still life, food and more. A taste of it all with real world learning in each assignment.

If you are interested in this sort of continuous learning, check out the Project 52 page – and remember that we have a free version as well.

Images from a recent assignment at Project 52 PRO. The layout was furnished in a layered PSD, and the photographers had to choose from a small selection of subject genres.

Pricing to the Value of the Work

Pricing to the Value of the Work

I heard a very talented photographer say she charges less than others because she is new to the business and doesn’t think she should charge as much as the older, more established photographers.

I think she is completely and totally wrong. The value of the image to the client is neither less nor more depending on her time in business.

If the image is good enough for the client to use to sell more of his custom colored, whizbang widgets, it is good enough to charge rate for. If it is not, the photographer is wrong to be charging anything at all and the client is an idiot for running an image that will not help him sell his widgets.

The viewer of the ad has no idea the age of the photographer, nor should that even enter into the discussion of the value of the image… that value is intrinsic in whether or not it works to convince, convert, entertain, mystify or indulge.

My thinking is this;

If the work is good enough to charge anything for, then it should be regarded as an item that has the value of being priced in the current rate climate.

If I show you a photograph, and you love it, do you love it less when i tell you the photographer was only 16, or that the photographer had been shooting less than 2 years?

If I show you a photograph and you hate it, do you like it better if when I tell you that the photographer is an experienced, well respected photographer, or that the same piece is hanging in a local museum.

To me it makes no difference… If I like it I like it and if I don’t… well…

In other words the work created has no relationship to the creator’s status unless it is attached by the creator themselves. There is no intrinsic ‘beginner’ value to the image, nor is there something automatically inherent in an image shot by an old timer.

When we create images for people they can only fall into two camps in my opinion. Good or bad, and should considered that way for our clients and ourselves.

To provide a less than excellent product is in my mind a bad way to build presence, create a fan base or even grow into an artist. The reason is that since the artwork doesn’t carry any intrinsic information as to why it is less than stellar, the viewer sees it as representative of the work of the artist. The print doesn’t have a disclaimer “Well, I was just starting out.”

This is not to ignore the fact that artists grow and work that was acceptable before becomes less interesting as the artist matures. That is a different situation though. The artist still held that work in high esteem when it was created.

I know that it seems like I am rather pedantic on this, but I think it is important and can be quite a challenge when one is trying to establish a price that doesn’t make one look like a dork.

(Yes, I used pedantic and dork in the same sentence.)

And remember that when one begins pricing, all other prices are based on that model… so if you start low, it can be seen by your clients and fans as a challenge or “issue” to raise your rates. If you start high, it is seen as a value when you ‘discount’ or ‘gift’ lower rates. The value of your work stays high, but you can always bequeath a lower rate for any reason you want.

A $25 shoot fee is a bargain when your normal rate is $100.
A $25 shoot fee is a steep rise when your normal rate was $10.

Same shoot, different paradigm based on where you started your pricing.

The photograph is loved, used, published, viewed, and scaled to the users wishes… no matter how much you charged or how long you have been in business. The image now lives as its own entity, with no ties to anything but its own value.

So stop tying things that have no relationship to the finished image into your pricing. If it is a good image, it is worth as much as you say it is… and hopefully you will say it is worth much more than the amount of time it took to make it and print it.

Say it is priceless… but you will make them a deal – yeah – do that.

Are You Making YOUR Photographs?

Are You Making YOUR Photographs?

Imitate. Assimilate. Innovate.”

- Clark Terry, Jazz Trumpet Legend

Always a concern for beginning and emerging artists. Where do we draw the line between inspiration and appropriation (stealing)?

In our examination of what makes an image portfolio worthy, we begin to look for authenticity, and not merely a ‘me too’ approach to the art.

Jan Klier, a friend and photographer in NY sent this to me after last weeks newsletter:

“The question of whether it’s worthy to be in your portfolio is harder. You may put the 24 images that best describe you in your book, or more precisely the 24 images that best describe your sensibilities to the particular audience you’re showing this particular book to on that day. But for an image to be worthy it actually not only has to be describe your sensibilities, but it also has to be in the 1% of your best work, and you have to be convinced that you pushed yourself to create it, that you couldn’t have done it better at the time. I think we all have images that have a rightful spot in our book, but not all of them are actually worthy to be there, and they be booted as soon as something better has been shot.”

While this is very true, and should be regarded as excellent advice, we first must get to that point where the images in the 1% Jan describes do more than emulate what is already out there, but begin to define us as photographers in our own right.

I have heard the questions “what is my style”, and “how do I find my style” from beginning photographers and full time professionals as well. The answer is simple… look at your photos and tell me which ones you love (not like, love) and then tell me what makes them so loved?

Wait… I did say it was simple, didn’t I?

Yeah… I lied. It is not simple or easy, it is a complex decision making process that combines what we know with what we feel and adds in a bit of whimsically applied aesthetics along the way.

Finding the good images is one thing (as we discussed last week) but finding the authentic ones are a bit more challenging. While it may be a good technical photograph, the goal is to achieve something more than mere technical competence.

We want to make images that look as though they came from us. This doesn’t mean that our images are totally unique to the entire world of imagery, but instead that they are uniformly identifiable as ours. They belong to us, and are a part of how we see and present the world through photography.

And while that is a noble and excellent goal for our work, we are now challenged with how to get there.

As the quote above by Clark Terry says, imitate, assimilate, innovate – and that means that now we have a path to follow. A road map for creativity. A plan.

Imitate: In jazz it is important to gain the ‘chops’ to be able to play some licks or patterns that our heroes play. We learn to do a cool fill like Elvin, or a blues change like Trane. We are copying them not from a point of stealing their music, but from the experiential learning method so important for all forms of art. In order to understand,we do what they did.

In photography, the goal is to learn the exposure qualities, what ratios look like, and make images that look like others have made them – others that we admire. That doesn’t teach us to steal the work, but to imitate the technique, and get better with our tools.

Assimilate: Just again as in jazz, we learn so well that the techniques become second nature to us. We can hit that riff just right, and play the turnarounds just like Monk, but with the beginnings of our own flare.

We have assimilated the techniques. We are no longer stymied by exposure, or how to get ‘that look’ or where to put the umbrella. We have imitated to the point of assimilation. The techniques are a part of us, and are called into service without much ‘thinking’ about them.

Unfortunately the first two are the easiest. They require practice and faithful study of something that is currently out there to be studied. The model exists, so we have the base upon which to build. But this is not where we quit. Assimilation is not the goal.

Innovate: Innovation is the goal.

We take the techniques that are now second nature to us and we begin to build our own sound, our own riffs, our own blues turnarounds. And we make the images that are ours, fully and completely ours.

Yes, the homage may be present. Yes, there may always be some areas of crossover, but the images are more “us” than the ones we studied. They are authentically ours. We have broken through the limitations of mere assimilation, and created something unique and ultimately much more powerful. We have innovated.

Innovation comes hard. It requires more study and more practice than the first two levels did, and the payoff may not be visible so quickly. This is where we get to words like ‘vision’ and ‘style’ and ‘personal work’.

The previous LE post discussed making sure the images were portfolio worthy, this one is asking ‘if they are worthy, that’s good. If they are YOURS that is even more good. Gooder, so to speak.

The method we discussed about looking at your work is the first process, now we have to dig deeper into your vision and see the work that is presented as a group. A ‘body’ of work. More than a collection of ‘good’ images, this body of work is a collection of related images that show an authentic connection to the photographer.

Photography can be quite a challenge when you get to the ‘innovate’ part, but it is so rewarding when you do. To create something uniquely yours is very cool, and very much a confidence builder.

Look at your body of work. Lay prints out on a table… the best of the best. Do you see a style emerging? Is there a unique way of looking and seeing the world that connects the images somehow?

Can you say with confidence that someone looking at the group would state… “yeah, those are all yours?” That is the goal we are looking for. That point where we stop making images that look like ‘theirs’ and make images that are ‘ours’.

And remember that your style doesn’t mean a unique to the world style, it means it is YOUR style. It is also not how you process your images, or what lens you use, or how off angle the horizon is. While a little of all three can be involved, your style is more about how you see than the gear/actions/presets you use.

Where are you on this path? Are you still imitating to find the technical control you need? Or are you in the assimilation section, having the skills and using them to make images that look like everyone else’s? Have you begun to innovate – to create something that flows from you as a personal extension instead of looking outward for validation of your work?

And, BTW, here is Clark Terry teaching a master class.

And a younger Terry cooking along with a big band from a little TV show that was on late nights. The man could certainly play that trumpet.

What Makes an Image “Portfolio Worthy”?

What Makes an Image “Portfolio Worthy”?

That is the essence of a big source of discussion by photographers. There seems to be a lot of hype and ‘science’ bandied about regarding this question.

I want to talk about what makes an image worthy of your portfolio today, and have you think about your work in possibly a different sort of way.

What is your portfolio, anyway?

It is the repository of the work you have made, and limited to be the outstanding pieces from the volume of work created. It is the instrument you use to say “this is what I do.”

Whether it is a printed book, a ‘traditional portfolio’, an online gallery or your website, your portfolio is a collection of your best work. And hopefully one can see a style emerging from that collection.

A portfolio is not a congregation of your most popular shots, nor is it the ones your mom or boyfriend think ‘rock’. Those are great compliments of course, but the portfolio images should show more of another viewpoint.

Yours.

The images should be chosen with care and the knowledge that they reflect your sensibilities, with your unique vision stamped across them clearly.

In fact, they may not be the most popular shots in your collections. They may be a bit on the obtuse side, or more challenging in composition and design. They may show your more experimental choices or they may be the quiet nature of simplicity that you love so much. They can range from mild to wild, black and white to HDR, people to landscapes to interiors to food.

But they are yours. They represent the images you want to make, how you want to make them and with all of the parts genuinely yours.

Why? Because that ‘genuinely yours’ approach will help you as you begin to develop a style, a vision and a body of work that you will be proud of.

Shooting what other people like will make you madder than the proverbial hatter. There is no style in the world that will satisfy everyone. No matter what you shoot, someone is not going to like it. Changing your work to match their needs only means you will alienate someone else.

So don’t bother.

Shoot your work. Shoot it your way.

Find out what the images you love have in common.

Here’s a little assignment for you;

Put 20 of your favorite images onto a single large image… a collage. Photoshop can do that for you now (again) with a tool under the File menu.

File/Automate/Contact Sheet II

photoshop_contactsheet2View Post


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Put the twenty images into a single folder and run the Contact Sheet II script. Choose the largest paper size you can print (or take to Costco/Sams Club/Walmart… whatever) so that all of the images are displayed together on one sheet.

Now take that sheet and look at it closely, with the intent of really seeing each image.

What are the similarities between your images?
What are the differences that jump out at you?
Which images, if any, look out of place in the selection?
Which images, if any, look wrong or not as good as the others that are similar?

Show the sheet of images to people you trust to give honest feedback. Even your mom, BFF, buds, and the guys you hang out with and discuss photography. As long as it is honest, it will be good feedback.

It is not a good critique, however. Critiques are done with intentions in mind, goals determined, and a frank discussion of what the images were created to do.

But feedback is good, and if you don’t know anyone who can give a good critique (yet) they are a good place to start.

The last thing to do is to analyze the ways the feedback made you feel about your work. Do you agree with their assessments? Do you believe they see what you shot the way you see what you shot? Does an image still stand up in your mind as being a strong image even if others say it was not their favorite?

Do this repeatedly with 20 images at a time. Find the ones that really resonate with you. The ones you want to show to everybody, everywhere, every day.

I’ll close with this quote by Photographer Bela Borsodi:

“If it touches you, if it excites you, if it makes you cry, if it makes you smile. A good photograph is something you cannot resist looking at. There might be a sense of surprise or discovery. something pleasant or painful. There is this quote by Oscar Wilde: “I can resist everything except temptation” In a way a good photograph is what you can’t resist and want to engage with. It doesn’t matter if you take photographs of your dog, or girlfriend, or whether you’re in a big studio with supermodels in it. If it speaks to you, then that’s when you know you have a good photograph.”

(Thanks to Bonzer for finding that… great quote and very true.)

Well, This Cliff Jumping Thing Worked Out Well

Well, This Cliff Jumping Thing Worked Out Well

On Jumping Over A Cliff…

So this guy tells me… “You should jump off that cliff, Don.”

I stare incredulously at the guy cause I am not good on cliffs. Not as bad as my bud Charles… but that is a different story. I am not crazy about heights.

“Are you crazy”, I say… “jumping off a cliff can hurt, or even kill me.”

“Nawwww”, this guy says… “I have jumped off a lot of cliffs and never got hurt. Ever.”

“Really…” I am now intrigued… still skeptical, but intrugued. “How did you manage to do that?”

“It’s really SIMPLE”, he said, “all you have to do is know the secret of cliff jumping, which is a really easy method that I can teach you.”

OK, so now I am all in.

“Teach me”, I said. And then forked over $467.93 (still don’t get that price, but another topic) and we began.

He showed me all the techniques he used and we studied his methods of leaping and preparing and ‘thinking’ about his process.

On jump day, I thought the right thoughts, prepped the correct way, ran for the cliff exactly how he showed me, and did a perfect rendition of his ‘cliff-leap’…

On the way to the hospital, he sat next to me with a concerned look on his face. I was bandaged and bent, and had a tube in my nose.

“What happened?” I was going into various stages of consciousness.

He shook his head an looked at me with a look of pure patronization.

“You chose the wrong cliff.”

You can learn all the cliff jumping techniques you want from famous cliff jumpers… or whatever. But you better know what cliff you are leaping from.

They are all different, you know.

After 10 days in ICU, and two months of therapy I realized that he was right. The tactics worked fine, but not on that cliff.

“Ahh, yes, I remember you. Your the one that chose the wrong cliff”, he said as I called him on his private line.

“Yes… I want to learn how to choose the right cliff.”

We set it up for the following week. He had a group put together for an advanced workshop ($964.86 – ???) and I found myself in the company of various folks who have been in and out of physical therapy and chiropractors. They too had chosen the wrong cliff.

We spent the next 3 days learning to judge distance, find height and figure out velocity of falling imbeciles versus the depth of sand. This was grueling work, and we finally could judge the right cliff for the incredible cliff jumping to come.

As we were hoisting brews to a job well done and saying our goodbyes, he casually tossed out this little nugget; “I hope you all don’t kill yourself from doing the wrong thing in the air between the cliff and the sand… and goodnight.”

We looked at each other incredulously… “What do you mean… in the air…?”

He stopped and looked at us with a quizzical stare and said… “Look, knowing what to do and which cliff to choose is one thing, but the true power of cliff jumping is knowing how to fly and what to do to keep yourself safe.”

$3672.94 later I had mastered the skills of cliff jumping, the art of choosing the right cliff, and the science of what to do during the jump.

I haven’t done a jump yet, though.

I am quite busy working on my next workshop on “Cliff Jumping for the Young at Heart” which is based of course on all that I learned from those wonderful workshops.

It’s gonna rock… stay tuned.

First Be A Photographer

First Be A Photographer

I follow a very nice group of people on a forum on Facebook. They are all trying to start their businesses with varying degrees of luck and success.

One of the things that is emerging is that many of them are simply not ready to be professionals and in business. And that is a shame.

It is not a shame they cannot be in business, it is a shame that they thought it was as easy as buy a camera, get some business cards on the way home from the camera store and then shoot like one of their heroes shoots.

Not having any understanding that their hero spent years, decades even, learning and honing their craft, they think that if they copy the light and methods, success will be right around the corner.

It usually isn’t.

And while the perky workshop husband and wife teams go merrily out the door selling young photographers on how ‘easy’ it is to become rich shooting families and babies and weddings, the reality is that it is anything but easy.

Yes, they may have opened their doors five years ago, but they were shooting a lot longer than that.

Marketing plays a huge role as well, but that is a discussion for another time.

My take on all of it is that first, before the business cards and the promos and the vouchers and the awesome website and the perky videos… one must first BE a photographer.

Being a photographer means shooting technically and artistically without encumbrance. It means knowing the gear, how it works, how light works and how to use it to make the images you see in your head… or on someone else’s Pinterest.

Being a photographer means not struggling with simple light, and being able to concentrate on the shot at hand. Being a photographer means knowing what the shot is going ‘to turn out like’ before committing it to the film or sensor.

It takes time. And a lot of shooting and failing and screwing up. It takes understanding the win, and working through the challenges.

Football players generally play more than 8 years before they are considered by the pros. Tennis players play for years and years before getting to the pro circuit. Cello players and rock drummers play and woodshed and practice for decades to get to the point of becoming a paid musician.

Why would anyone expect photography to be any different.

I think it is important to shoot a lot of photographs, and love making photographs so much that it is all you want to do. Live photography and breathe photography and dance photography.

When you are shooting photographs that matter, photographs that everyone thinks is awesome, photographs that YOU think are awesome, you may turn around and realize that you are already a professional photographer.

That’s when the fun begins… really.

Thanks and see you next time.