The “Long Game” in Photography

The “LONG GAME” Approach to Photography

One of the things I notice about the culture lately is that there is more focus on the easy route, the quick way, ‘getting to done’ without really knowing what got done. There is a quickness to many things we do, and we expect it to carry over into everything we do.

I can get on a plane and be in NYC for lunch. I can shoot an image, and have a print in my hands in only a few minutes. I can send someone a note halfway around the world and hear back from them in a second.

And all of this makes us believe that quick and fast is the only way things get done.

Wanna be a rock star? American Idol… only takes 20 weeks!
Wanna play drums? Sample a drummer and throw it into ProTools.
Wanna write something? Take a “Weekend to a Bestseller” workshop.

And sadly these are now considered by many to be the de-facto way of getting anything done. Quick, fast, and easy.

You all know how I feel about easy.

Easy is a fool’s charade. Nothing worth doing is easy. Easy means everyone can do it. Easy places mediocre at the top.

So let’s talk about how we get suckered into thinking it’s easy.

1. We see people seemingly doing what we want to do with little effort.
The photographer who goes from being relatively unknown to shooting covers for Vanity Fair. The stylist who bursts out of seemingly nowhere to take on the biggest celebrities. We see this all around us. We refer to them as the “overnight successes” of our business.

And we call them that because to USit seems as though it was overnight.

Guess what? It wasn’t. We only see them now, at THIS point in their career, not at all the gigs they did for free, or the screwups that made them feel like they wanted to quit. We don’t see the all-nighters, the reshoots, the failed projects.

We weren’t privy to that, we only see them now, and somehow we take our awareness of the world and slap it on to their reality. “Dude, I didn’t know you when you were struggling, so I guess you didn’t”.

2. We only see their highlight reel.
Those awesome portfolios that make us think “how in the hell do they make so many great images”? Well – they are only showing you their great images. The turkeys, bad shots, shitty images don’t ever get posted.

Why would they?

So we see their best shots and think they must be their only shots. And we know that isn’t reality, but it affects us anyway.

3. They make it look easy.
You know, those photographer’s BTS shoots of awesome adventure camping and gorgeous models and helicopters and a full on crew. WOW, that looks like so much fun. (It is, BTW… it really is.)

But… what we don’t see is the preparation, the weeks of hard work and decision making, the meetings that can seemingly go on forever discussing the most minute of wardrobe changes. We don’t see the years of experience that gets them to the point where they can bid and produce such a shoot.

And the screwups… again, they don’t usually make the BTS video. Unless they’re funny… heh.

That photographer and her crew up on the glacier shooting some professional models for a national campaign didn’t happen overnight, it didn’t happen because she was ‘special’ or because of luck. Sustained hard work put her there, and that same hard work keeps her there.

The “long game” is a sustained effort as well. It is working today with no return. It is shooting images that few people see. It is working on projects that fail and projects that succeed. It is deciding on spending $300 on gas and motels or to sleep in your car and get some roadtrippin’ sunrise shots instead of a new thingy for your bag… that never goes anywhere.

The long game is not a sprint, it is a marathon that rewards those who keep running, and simply ignores those who bail out at the first 10K. The long game is the only game in town for creatives.

Sometimes people attribute luck to others success. Or they factor in crap like birthright or who their daddy was or some sort of class delineation. And there is no doubt that some of that comes into play… hey, life is what it is.

But usually it falls to this basic truth: They are simply outworking you. They are doing what you are not. They are making while you are not. All things equal, it is the performance that counts. We do or we do not.

And lastly, one of the things that separate those who are seemingly doing better than we are is the fact that they jumped.

They simply jumped.

“We must be willing to fall flat on our faces. Fearlessly putting ourselves out there is simply a required part of the process. At the very least, it results in the gift of humility and, at best, the triumph of our human spirit.”
? Jill Badonsky

Imagine being on an airplane to do your first skydive. You have practiced and taken the training and now it is time for you to make your first solo jump.

Scary as hell, that’s for sure.

But also a very simple choice.

You can either jump. Or not jump.

You have prepared for this moment for a long time. From jump school, to practice jumps, to studying for the test and passing it. Then the endless mental preparation… all leading to this moment of ‘jump or not jump”.

If you do, you will have become a skydiver. You have done something very few others have ever done. You will have conquered fear, and proved that you were ready to move to the next level in your desire to become a skydiver.

If you do not, you will simply sit down in the plane… no shame in not jumping. You decided that the risk outweighed the reward, and chose to remain risk-free. And you may go on to do other great and noble things for sure. But you will not be a skydiver.

That is your choice and no one should belittle you for it.

But you should know that if you do not jump, you will not soar, you will not face that fear head-on, and you will most definitely not become a skydiver that day.

That doesn’t mean putting yourself at dangerous risk, but it does mean that in order to soar, you first have to jump.

Might as well… heh.

The “Long Game” approach means working your ass off to become the best you can be, preparing for the work ahead both mentally and physically and then when the moment comes, be prepared to jump and soar.


FIND PHOTO CLIENTS NOW
– is an online class that I have created to help you prepare for a good jump.

It is free for all photographers, and it comes in the form of one class per week so you have plenty of time to study and implement the material. For more information and to ‘jump on board’, check the site out here.

What We Can Learn from Portraits

What We Learn From Making Portraits

Portraiture Can Enhance All of Our Photography

Want to increase your photography chops? Try portraiture.

When we are working with another person, and trying to make a great portrait of them, we have many challenges that confront the photographic process.

The one that is largest, and seems to be one of the more difficult challenges is time. With a landscape or food or still life, we can take as long as we need in most instances. But with a portrait, time is of the essence. A bored subject can look tired or uninterested in front of the camera.

Add to that the challenge that so many of us put on ourselves of entertaining our subjects while they wait and we work to fix this stand or that umbrella… the stress can add up to an unfulfilling session.

Learning to work within this time constraint can make us better all around photographers, and lessen the need for vast quantities of Tequila and Rum at the end of a long day.

The cover image above is by Frederic Reblewski. Using a strong light behind the subject, his goal was a moody portrait of a young man in conflict. The light and shadow show a classical scenario that plays out well in this dramatic portrait. Close cropping of the image and the use of negative space help the mood along as well.


In this image, photographer Diana Lundin had a very short window to keep the sun on her subject. Notice the angle of the shadow that indicates the sun is already low in the sky, and to maintain the even light on the subject she had to work quickly. Using the graphical element of the lifeguard tower set the subject off, and provided another element of interest in the image,


With a large scrim and a speedlight, photographer Marjorie Decker was able to position her subject and create a flattering light quickly. This kept the subject more relaxed while Decker was able to finesse the pose. Large, soft light sources can be much more forgiving than small, direct ones.

Portrait photography helps you work on your composition as well. Having a subject that can move allows you to play with placement of the background elements. Trying several compositions quickly is much easier – just have your subject move a little to the left or right to see what happens,


Photographer Iryna Ishchenko moved her model into and out of the frame to find the point where the subject worked best in relationship to the background. Keeping the flow of the lines of the body, while making the subject nearly anonymous gives the portrait a sense of mystery and elegance.


This dramatic portrait was lit with only a window light. Photographer Linda Luu Kiefl positioned her subject to give extra dark space around him. This helps the feeling of isolation that is enhanced by the gentleman’s somber expression. Including a small part of the window shade in the photograph helps give it context and adds a bit of whimsy to the image.


Working with negative space on a plain background can be very challenging. Working the subject into and out of the light can help a photographer see composition happening right before their eyes. Working with the subject and space can be quite illuminating. Heh. Photographer Annely Silferwax worked with her subject looking off camera for added drama.

Portraits can encompass a wide variety of emotion. Photographers can use compositional elements to enhance feelings of isolation, elation, distress, sadness and joy.

Add to this the elegance of light, and the portrait photographer can work through all the challenges of photography in this one genre.

Texture, dimension, shape, color, and gesture are all within the purview of the portrait. Using light wisely and with intention helps set the mood for the portrait.


Adding texture and whimsy to the portrait, photographer Richard McDonald kept the light strong behind the subject and flattened it on the front side to present this portrait. Photographer and subject simply began playing with this interesting piece of cloth until something striking happened before the lens. The graphical element of the image is enhanced by the anonymous subject.


With the light fading fast, photographer Leonardo Ferri moved his subject between two pillars in the courtyqrd they were shooting in and pushed his ISO to capture the delicate ambient light from outside. The subjects haunting expression fit the mood of the light, and the soft texture of the background give the image a striking appeal. It has a timeless, tranquil quality.

These images are pulled from the student work from the 8 Week Portrait Workshop. The inspiration for this assignment was the work of Herb Ritts, an incredible photographer who left us far too young.

THE “REAL LIFE” MYTH

THE "REAL LIFE" MYTH

IT'S ALL A LOAD OF CRAP MEANT TO DISTRACT YOU FROM YOUR GOALS

Truer words never spoken:

“And lastly, never, never ever give-up. You must believe in you when, no one else does. You must hang-on to your dreams when there is no reason to even hope for the smallest of miracles. If you give yourself a backdoor, chances are you may fold and take it. Life can be full of regrets and ‘what ifs’. Don’t let your priceless dreams be relegated to the dust bin of ‘if only’. If only I had tried harder maybe, just maybe I would have built a professional career as a highly respected fine artist, and my work would become family heirlooms and highly prized someday … ”
— Dave Iles – fine artist (HOW I PAINTED MY WAY TO THE MIDDLE – PART II – Find Part One HERE)

I am such a believer in this. Too many times I hear and read about someone with great promise who throws in the towel because “real life” got in the way.

Real life is always going to get in the way. Every friggin’ day real life is in the way. The path to becoming an artist, a creator, a someone with something to say is a freeway, it is a path without markers much of the time. It is a messy, craggy, dangerous route not for the faint of heart. “Real life” has a clearly marked, signage heavy, overly used tarmac. Lots of “take this turn and buy a house… BECAUSE!” And “get a corporate job with bennies… BECAUSE!” And never forget the “max out the credit cards for Christmas… BECAUSE!”.

Because why? Because that’s the way real life works? Or because everyone else does it?

Real life? Real life pulls us from our dreams and gives us back squat, bupkiss, nada-dam-ting…. Sure you got kids, sure you got a mortgage, sure you gotta have insurance and a new toaster and make sure that you drive a better car than your neighbor and never miss a night on the couch watching sitcoms and reality shows… The myths and lies we hear and tell ourselves over and over begin to replace what is really real with – you got it – “Real Life”.

A marketer’s dream. An ad guy’s heaven. Real life where we can sell you a college degree for $100,000 (loaned with interest) but we cannot support your dream of being a photographer for $5k worth of airline tickets and a suitcase. We can encourage you to spend 40% of your income on a pile of bricks with a lawn to mow, but we will never encourage you to take some time to write that novel, or compose that symphony, or photograph that mountain… no… home ownership (albatross) is ‘real life’ buddy and you better STFU about any other way of living if you know what’s good for you.

But as you get older, you realize that much of that ‘real life’ that you used for a super cool, bigdaddy excuse was bullshit. Bull. Shit. A steaming pile of fertilizer they laid down in your life and YOU LET THEM. In some cases encouraged them. Pure crap handed to you wrapped in colorful paper and tied off with a bow with a card reading “welcome to real life”… sucker.

And taking that wrapping off was fun. Real life became a bench mark of nothing, and a valuable companion for doing nothing. Because “real life” had you by the balls and you simply were too concerned about who was watching to punch real life in the face, take his watch and wallet, kick him while he’s down and make an escape in your almost paid off car that with interest cost you about $70,000.

You were looking for an excuse to not do it. A grand excuse for not putting it out there and maybe having to face rejection. The fkn TV never rejects you when you plant your ass in front of it to see what is happening on “Storage Wars”… or the lameass news.

But the beauty of all of this is we have a choice to make every single moment of every single day. Until we don’t. And on that day it really will matter little what ‘real life’ did to you, or took from you, or robbed you of… that bullshit doesn’t work anymore on that day.

On that day the sum of your choices has been weighed – and measured, and you will never get a chance to choose something different for the next moment. You used all those opportunities up already. I hope you chose wisely.

So what are you going to do today to advance your art? What choices will you struggle with today? Which ones will win out?

Your art or your personal nemesis, both real and imagined, “real life’…?

(I hate mirrors…)

(H/T to David Wolanski for the heads up.)

Shooting a CD Cover: Front and Back (Project 52)

Shooting a CD Cover: Front and Back (Project 52)

This past week we have been reviewing the CD cover assignment for the Project 52 2015 group. The assignment was for a cover and back image for a String Quartet performing Samuel Barber’s String Quartet Op 11.

The assignment specifically noted that the string quartet members may not be available for the shoot, so a creative solution must be found. (I don’t give assignments that are impossible… and finding a string quartet to photograph may not be totally impossible, but damn close for many of us.)

When shooting a CD cover there are three main ways of approaching the image.

For pop music it is usually going to be a photograph of the artist. Rare are the covers that do not have the artist shown. The cult of personality, and celebrity demands that we keep the faces of the performers in the fore. In many cases, the celebrity is more important than the music anyway. See the covers below for Faith Hill.

faithhill

Another way is to show something that is reminiscent of the music, or an image that may be part of the title. Respighi’s “The Pines of Rome” cover could certainly have the pines of Rome featured:

respighi

And the third way is use art that is quite striking, but may not relate to the music but in the most obtuse of ways. This is usually done when there is no necessary correlation between the recorded music and a celebrity, or an album that is more about the music or genre of music than the actual performers.

windhamhill

Some labels like Windham Hill above was a full adopter of that approach to album design, and helped create the style as we know it today. Another company that also used art, although in many cases commissioned art, for their classical work was Nonesuch. Both of these legacies live in today’s music cover designs.

nonesuch

The CD cover is becoming less of a major label concern as streaming has taken its toll, but cover art will be around for a while longer and is very important for Indie bands and artists.

Here are a few of my favorites from the Assignment. Remember the cover is on the right side, back panel on left.

Continue on after the jump to see the class images.

(more…)

Now Enrolling for Two Different 8 Week Photography Workshops

Now Enrolling for Two Different 8 Week Photography Workshops

If portraiture is your interest, we are starting the 8 Week Portrait Workshop 102 in January. There are still a few openings if you are interested. See the workshop page for more information on this unique class. Lots going on in that class, and if you love portraiture, you should check it out.

The second course is a brand new one we decided to call the 8 Week Still Life Class. Most likely because it is 8 weeks long and focuses on still life and table top work. This is somewhat new for us, so we are looking at other disciplines that could be brought into the 8 week structure.

These 8 week units have been very popular and we love teaching them. I hope you check them out if you are interested.