A few of the amazing portraits students in the Portrait Workshops have turned in. There are dozens of truly great portraits. I am choosing only 16 for this post.
I got a beautiful pen as a gift from a client recently. Thanks for that, Randi, it is an absolutely gorgeous writing implement. And, I assure you, I will write with it.
Because I am a writer as well as a photographer.
Millions of pens are sold daily in the world. How many people who buy them or receive them as gifts are writers? Probably not very many. In fact, they do not refer to themselves as “writers” even though that is what pens and pencils – and word processors – allow us to do.
We write with them, although few of us are writers.
I also received some art supplies for Christmas. A brush and some watercolors. I love to dabble.
I am not a painter. Seriously. Although I do know how to mix the pigments and how to use a brush to put the paint on the paper, it is as far away from being a painter than a kid in a big wheel is from driving an 18 wheeler.
An that’s OK. The words “truck driver” have not be co-opted by kids in plastic toy trucks.
Now – photographer – well, that is another story.
That word has more meanings now than a zebra has stripes.
And that is becoming a problem.
If no one knows what you do because the term has been changed to mean everyone with an iPhone, Android, Rebel, D810, Hasselblad, F2 or Pink Barbie camera, then there is a serious problem running through the very core of what we do. That uncertainty will tarnish your brand and make it more and more difficult to become seen as a professional in the eyes of clients.
Perhaps it is time for us to begin thinking of what we do in a different way – a way that makes sense to those who are not already doing what we do. Maybe we need to change the way we describe ourselves and what we do to be more descriptive and narrow.
We all know what a laptop computer is. Did you know that Apple doesn’t sell one? Nope, they sell MacBooks. “Books”, not laptops.
How about Dos Equis? Do they sell beer – or a chance to be the most interesting man in the world? Does that leave out a large population of earth dwellers? Yep, but they are only interested in their demographic.
It is time for photographers to rethink the term “photographer”. After all someone who shoots weddings, is quite a bit different than someone who is running up a hillside under gunfire shooting as a photojournalist. A family shooter simply has less stress than a fashion photographer and there is quite a bit of difference in photographing the sunset in your backyard and a travel photographer hiking down three miles in the dark after waiting all day for a perfect shot.
I say we focus on what we achieve instead of what we do. We are visual experts, image gurus, and lighting wizards. We help companies sell more stuff. We help entrepreneurs raise more capital. We help businesses grow by engaging more clients and getting better results.
Our visioneering, and image creation help tell stories, clarify processes, deliver value and change the minds of consumers looking to purchase goods and services.
Better photographs help companies sell more stuff… period.
And THAT is what we may start seeing in the more savvy photographers out there. A focus on the results oriented bottom line of the companies who hire us. No bullshit over pricing, no hand-wringing over bidding… a simple value proposition that says WE MAKE STUFF HAPPEN.
“Hi, I’m Don and I am a photographer” – images of wedding photographers, baby photographers, the lady across the street making iPhone photos of the birds in her yard go rushing through their heads.
“Hi, I’m Don. I help businesses tell their story visually” – they understand instantly what I do that helps THEM.
I know it has been floated before, but it is now getting to be the time for us all to take it seriously. In a way, we are going to rebrand this industry with a more modern, and business friendly job title for photographers.
Ten Things To Think About When ‘Re-branding’ Your Photography
- Nobody cares what you do… they want to know what you are going to do for them
- Focus on the benefit for the client, not what you do
- Think globally and position yourself as an expert
- Being an image expert, a graphics guru, or a visioneer is new, so be very open to explanation
- If you need to explain what value you bring to someone who is simply too dense to get it, move on
- Only YOU know what your value is worth, and YOU are the one who states it in the beginning
- Perception is everything – it just is
- Never underestimate the power of a great idea – always be looking for them
- Tell your story and show your strengths – a badly designed logo, ugly website, and typography that sucks doesn’t say image guru, does it
- Do more than you do now – charge more than you do now
In short, we all must think about a re-brand of the job of being a commercial photographer. The name is lost to us, the civilians don’t care, and the market is in real need of the services of a visual expert that can engage customers…
Hey… I can do that.
You can too.
The Best Photographs I Never Took
It was Christmas a few years ago. My father in law came for the annual Christmas Dinner at the Giannatti’s. We host about 20 people here throughout the day, and Floyd always came over with his warm and infectious smile. The dude knew how to work a room.
He was sitting near the window light, hunched over due to severe back pain and was smiling intently at a story my brother in law was telling him. An adventure story, I’m sure. The light was fantastic… a soft, wrapping light that brought out the features of his 82 years, and added a bit of sparkle to his eye.
“I should grab my camera and get that”, I thought, just as someone asked me to do something in the kitchen. I didn’t grab my camera at that moment, and when I finished in the kitchen, the moment was lost.
“I’ll get it next year”, I thought to myself.
We were on a small dirt road, in a forest somewhere north, a long time ago, when my mom and dad started playfully goofing around and tossing pine cones at each other. It was a sincere moment between them and something rather… rare.
“I should grab my camera and get that”, I thought, and I headed back to the truck. I stopped to grab a drink and when I had turned they had moved on to doing something else… each alone to themselves.
“I’ll be ready next time,” I thought. I will keep my camera at the ready.
On a very warm summer’s day, my next door neighbor, Mr. Bailey, asked me to come over and see something he had made. It was a magnificent stained glass window decoration that he had lovingly built by hand. The craftsmanship was stunning and he was very proud of the work he had put into it. At 90, working with your hands on delicate things like glass is no easy feat.
“I should grab my camera and get that”, I thought, it would be a great portrait.
But I got caught up in other things, and didn’t get back over to my neighbor’s house in time.
A true luxury, a gift of improbable proportions, a terrible foe, and an all around bastard.
Time is the currency we always underestimate. We think we are given vast quantities of it to spend as we want, whenever we want, on the most frivolous things we want.
“There’s more where that came from” is a wonderful mantra when thinking about money. It sorta sucks big time when thinking about time.
We can make more money. We cannot make more time. And time is even more relentless than the seas that pound rocky shores to sand over millenia. Nothing we can do, buy, beg or steal can stop time from simply passing.
Except… a camera.
To me the still image is the most powerful tool we have to stop time. Ineffective, lame, small potatoes tool for sure. But it’s all we have at the moment.
I got you now, time. In fact I preserved that moment, however simply and unsophisticated my capture of it may be, forever. That 1/250th of a second. Out of a lifetime… Yeah – I got that one, time dude… so bite me.
My first daugher at 4 days old, lying in a patch of sunlight on the floor near our window.
My girls laughing for their first “trio” shot (with ever so many more to come) on a small rock outcropping in the foothills. That rock is gone, covered over by a CVS Pharmacy and a Kentucky Fried Chicken franchise. And they are all oh, so much older… but I got that tiny little moment of our family lives. I GOT IT.
On a tiny piece of slide film, now scanned and printed and archived.
My wife, graduating with honors from her Master’s Program. What a day.
Those shots I got. I had my camera with me and I cheated time a bit. It was as fleeting as ever, but I snagged my 125th of a second of it and preserved it in the best way I know. Primitive and less than perfect, but better that we have it than not.
We turn our lenses on the things that matter to us far less frequently than we photograph things that in the end have no meaning at all. I would trade a terabyte of model shots for a gig of my folks, or more of my kids growing up.
I never made it back over to Mr. Bailey’s, and he passed later that week. My folks and I never went up to the little road in a forest again and they are now gone. My father in law never came to dinner again and passed later that year.
Those photos will never be made.
Time made certain of that. Time didn’t hear me say ‘next time’ because, well… there is no next time.
The moments we live are spent as we live them. We never know how much time we have, and yet we waste so much of it on things that have no importance, while missing those tiny moments that would have been cherished.
The still image is, for me, one of the most fascinating of art forms. Capturing a moment of time, and holding true to that moment as best it can, the photograph can help us feel, remember, and enlighten. Yes, it can trick and deceive us as well, but that is for another essay, at another time. For now, we are discussing the better side of the photograph.
Today is father’s day. Grab that camera and if you are fortunate to be able to make an image of your dad, do it. What I would give for an opportunity to make one last photograph of my father, my mother, my brother… what I would give.
Make photographs of the people you love, and the life you live.
Make the best photographs you have ever taken of those that mean the most to you.
Sometimes the Nonsense We Tell Ourselves Can Make Us Crazy.
Today, I have a challenge for you all. Not one that I make lightly. And one that comes from a deep and abiding point of wanting you to be successful. Really successful.
It has to do with barriers. Barriers to better imagery. Barriers to better clients. Barrier to a more lucrative and exciting business.
Barriers that we set our selves because we are very comfortable in where we are. And that includes being comfortable when where we are sucks. That is how we humans are wired. Staying in the status quo is far easier, and far more comfortable than breaking out of the bubble an confronting change.
We work hard to not change anything. Even if we want to change, there is a fear that holds us in a stable place without challenging the edges because fear says we will meet great harm if we do.
And in most cases this is pure bullhonky… (yeah, I heard that somewhere…)
We have built those barriers with our belief systems, and those belief systems are so often built on a base of fear instead of a base of knowledge.
Have you ever heard a photographer say “I can’t charge that much, my clients can’t afford it”? I have. Nearly everyday it is sputtered out on some forum somewhere on the net.
It is such a self defeating thing to say. And it will make success for that photographer come much slower.
Let’s take this statement apart like an old Chevy motor and find out why the sucker don’t run good.
- If you are trying to sell something to someone who cannot afford it, that makes you kind of a smarmy kind of saleswacko, right? I mean, what kind of evil SOB tries to sell stuff to people they KNOW cannot afford it. Now this may not run in the front part of your conscious brain, but believe me it is in the subconscious.So you are already setting up failure because to succeed in selling something to someone who cannot afford it makes you a slimeball.
- The assumption that you know what they can afford is also sort of a silly idea. You don’t know what they can afford or not afford. Just because you cannot afford it, doesn’t make it unaffordable to your neighbor or client. You may THINK they cannot afford it, but really you are saying “I don’t think my stuff is worth what I am asking for it – and no one else does either.”Maybe it isn’t – but that is for another discussion.
- Pre-disqualification is simply fear stopping you from finding out what other people think of the value of your work. Perhaps you are right, and they do not value your work at a rate that you want to charge. OK… fine. We would at least know that, and could work toward a specific challenge to fix it and raise the value in your customers view.
- This sort of negative talk has no upside. It has no value other than to further convince you that there is no reason for you to expect to be successful because you make stuff no one wants to pay for.
Now ask yourself if that sounds like a business that is going to succeed?
I don’t think so either.
Fact is, there are people who can afford your work. There are clients that WANT to afford your work. There are clients that would work with you if you doubled your rates before they would work with you now, because they want the BEST photography and they know that is not cheap or free.
How about the excuses/reasons we have for not marketing our work? From the feeling that it doesn’t matter anyway (see above), to ‘why bother, the business is dying anyway”, to a fear that if you do market, you will have to deliver something and that would mean moving from your comfort zone of doing nothing and bitching about it.
These are fear walls that keep us focused inward – unable to move to the next place and feeling that it is both a blessing and a curse. After all, if you never get a gig, you will never screw up a gig, and that makes you feel safe.
Success will put you in the spotlight and you will have to perform… to spec. That can be scary, but we know what to do to never be in that position, right?
We keep on doing what doesn’t work. And we keep on filling our heads with non-truth, fear based excuses and reasons why we can’t.
Man that word sucks the suck out of suck… “can’t”.
It is a word that means “throwing in the towel.” It is quitting before you even try, and admitting to the world that you are incapable of doing something you may very well have never tried.
It is also a lie. In many cases you surely CAN do what you need to do… you have chosen NOT to do it. A choice, not a disability.
Look… change is hard. Really hard.
But it is necessary. It is life. It is the very fabric of our world. Change brings innovation, new ways of seeing things, and possibilities that may seem endless… unless you ‘can’t’.
I think you can. I think you can be successful. I think we can all be successful. Damn the economy. Damn the restrictive governmental regulations. Damn what our parents and siblings and the people we work with say.
They may be right when they say they ‘can’t’ but we have to stop letting them make us think WE can’t.
We just have to change things up. Make new ways our ways. Develop strong ties to growing in ways we have not thought about before.
We do things differently than we have been doing them. We CAN make changes, of course we can. We CAN find clients who want our work – hell, other photographers find people who want their work. We can too.
We stop saying we can’t. We stop not marketing (our current method) and begin marketing. We stop telling ourselves that they cannot afford us, and look for clients that can appreciate the value. We stop sitting on our asses and playing on Facebook and get out there and make more pictures…. OK, that last one was for me… but you get the picture.
And here is the challenge.
What negative lines are you repeating to yourself that may not actually be true?
- Is it that you are not ready?
- Could it be that you are not good enough, and don’t want anyone else to find out?
- Is it that no one would like your work, so why bother trying to show it to anyone?
- Is it because your gear is not as good as that guy with the really awesome blog says it should be?
- Is it because someone on Flickr said you were terrible with composition (although eleventyhundred others think you do just fine)?
I know there is a negative phrase you are repeating time and time again. Tell us what it is… and tell us how you will fix it.
If you are interested in the “No Fear” last edition of Project 52, visit this page for more information. We will fill this group very quickly.
“Drive through your town and look at the businesses YOU DON’T go into and figure out why they work without you. Look at your business and ask why someone would want to come into yours. If you’re the only one that knows the answer to that it could be part of the problem.
I’ve grown up in family businesses we’ve built from the ground up.
Success is never immediate.
We owned a flower shop/tux shop/wedding chapel in L.A.. Massive square footage. Big lot. All ours. 4 rentals on an adjacent street, a cabin at a lake, and property at another lake.
It started by selling flowers out of a trunk of a Ford at a Shell stations parking lot.
Success is never immediate.
We lived in a single wide trailer behind the house we converted into a flower shop. The graphics on the delivery van were painted on by my father (He was artistically gifted. They DID look good, heh). No kitchen. We took out the wall for a walk in cooler. Christmas was a few gifts exchanged during a brief reprise. 4 A.M. trips downtown to get flowers. Friday night flurries of driving to other tux shops to fill rental orders with stock we were short on. Sweeping rice and dead birds (That’s why they don’t throw rice in CA anymore) Listening to my mom explain why our arrangements cost as much as they did and making sales.
THAT is family business.
Worked my first graveyard shift at 8 yrs old, taking out trash and taping wires and making bows during a busy June prom/wedding season. That’s what you have to be willing to do.
Success is never immediate.”
— Nick Giron, Photographer, Modesto, CA