This past week we looked at the work of Yousef Karsh. The students in the 8 Week Portrait Workshop are learning a ton and putting it to practical use. Here are their images from last weeks assignment.
“What makes a photograph “Portfolio Worthy”
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.
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
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.
This one is done on 8.5 x 11 and I used a setting of 12 images per page.
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 Hiram Chee for finding this great quote.)
Shooting for the web has created some interesting configured imagery. From very wide and narrow images for banners to tall and skinny images for side bars, shooting to layout is as important as ever.
Here is a simple video for making a viewing tool that can help you when shooting for banners or whatever layout you may have.
Jake Chessum is a portrait/celebrity photographer working in both editorial and advertising. I like his style and his approach to portraiture.
Jake Chessum Website.
Jake Chessum’s Rep (Supervision)
Interview with Jake Chessum by Professional Photographer Magazine
“What Makes a Good Portrait” - Jake Chessum.
Jake Chessum Instagram
“The Daily Chessum” – photo a day.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
- 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 I am noticing:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Behance. Be there. Yes, it is so important I am mentioning it twice.
- 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.
- 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?).
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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: