Photography: Too Many #%*#$ Rules!

katleyn-on-the-docks-smI was talking with a couple of photographers this week and we were discussing their output… or lack thereof, and I was commiserating a bit with them. I have been mired deep to the elbows in stuff that doesn’t involve cameras for the last six weeks. Very little shooting, lots of other stuff that HAD to be done.

I realized after I had spoken with them that what we were all talking about were the rules we have put on ourselves for the creation of our work. We couldn’t just pick up a camera and make images… nooooo, we have rules in place that dictate exactly when, and how, and with what that should happen.

We have rules that say we only shoot on road trips, or that there is too much going on, or that there is not enough time or not enough access to models or we don’t have the newest camera so our pictures will only have 18MP instead of 24MP so they will automatically suck the suck out of suck.

We need to follow all the rules before we shoot anything.

“I would love to make a photograph today, but I am unable to find the model I need to make the photograph so I will not make a photograph, but instead go on FB and make light of the situation all the while NOT making any photographs.”

There’s this ‘rule’, you see.

The rule of ‘if what we plan doesn’t pan out, we stop doing ANYTHING AT ALL. Because… err… well… uhh”

“I wanted to do some photographs this weekend, but my trip to Payson was put on hold for a week so I am unable to venture up there with my camera. So – I know – I will just mope around and kick rocks off the driveway because… because… rule! I can only be creative when on road trips to places I want to go to because… Tuesday.”

Rules are a form of self talk… self smack-talk that is. We have set up some litany of bullshit bullet points that must be met in order for us to, you know, be creative.

That’s like scheduling “Spontaneous Thursdays – from 9am – 10:30am, all middle managers must attend” meetings in the culture of cubicles.

Rules are resistance at work. Rules are insidious forms of resistance – and what makes them even more vile and disgusting is that we made them up.

We made them up from nothing other than a desire to not perform at the moment. So we let resistance form itself into some sort of limiting rule. Of course that is redundant… all rules are by nature, limiting.

We begin to let the rules live inside our heads for a just a little while, and they begin to make themselves right at home – rearranging the furniture of our mind until it is theirs and then they stop paying rent. They squat there in our brains, forcing themselves into our minds like drunken bikers at an open bar. And every time we think about doing something creative, they begin tearing up the place and bashing stuff with cue sticks and bar chairs.

I would love to make some photographs today, but:

“My camera is too old.”
“I don’t have lights.”
“I don’t have time for a road trip.”
“Not enough time to do a 10 course meal shoot.”
“If I had the props I wanted, it would be better.”
“No time to find a model, so what is the point?”

Each are examples of ‘the rule’.

THE rule.

“If things are not optimal, there is no reason to attempt anything at all.”

One rule to, err… rule them all. (sorry)

If things are not perfect, ducks lined up like a North Korean military band, there really will not be any reason to attempt anything at all. It is all so much simpler when we follow the rules.

Rules, resistance, excuses… whatever we want to call them, force themselves into even the most creative amongst us.

We call it writer’s block, or photographer’s block, or “in a rut-ism”.. or a dozen other names for the fact that we have a rule in place that is stopping us from doing something we want to do…

And the worst part, the absolute worst part of this whole thing?

We created that sonuvabitch ourselves. We made the rules that are now keeping us from what we want to do. We crafted and molded and polished and finessed them tlll they were custom-made just for us and fit like a glove.

Good move, us.

Of course those of you who know me a bit know that I don’t get along well with rules. I hate them… telling me there is a rule is like waving a red flag in front of bull named “Widow Maker”. I will always try to find a way around the so called ‘rule’ and create almost in direct opposition to it… because rules are generally made for breaking.

(And don’t get me started on the ‘rules’ of photography itself… that would be a six-pack plus of me blustering on about how they are fabricated by statists and such… nawww… we’ll go there another time.)

I hate rules.

However, I will confess to you guys that I have succumbed to the rules in my head as well. I am now in the midst of spring cleaning and calling the Sheriff to get them evicted – and the Sheriff in my county is one bad mutha. I work on it first thing every morning. I listen to my brain tell me what I cannot do because of whatever and I methodically work to get rid of those ideas. I force them into the open and then force them to disappear.


Action. Taking action will always make the rules fade into the background.

I think it is easier than ever to let the rules get implanted and ingrained. Social media, websites, the idolatry of the celebrity, the overwhelming amount of ‘information’ that simply couches more and more rules. We begin to believe that we truly cannot do _______ because we currently do not have _______ and our work will simply suck because ______.


It is all BS.

I taught workshops with a Rebel. I used my Rebel on the first CreativeLIVE I did. Why? Because of the ‘rule’ that you had to use a ‘professional’ camera to make good images. I never wanted my students to think that gear had anything at all to do with lighting and creating photographs that speak to the viewer. I wanted to show by example that those rules are simply marketing and bluster and elitism marching in lockstep.

I ‘broke’ that rule pretty well.

Now let me ask you something.

What ‘rules’ are manifesting inside your head and keeping you from doing something you want to do. And be careful when identifying them… they are not all based in photography.

“Too old to do something?” BS rule.
“Not enough time to do something?” BS rule.
“Wrong time to start something?” BS rule.
“Not enough ____ to be successful at _____?” BS rule.

Take action against them. Look for the examples where the rule was broken, then take the same or similar action yourself. (NOTE: There are examples of people breaking those rules and being successful all around you.)

It is not easy, but it is also not THAT hard.

It simply requires some action.

What action will you take today?

Josh Ross on Marketing and the Life Cycle of a Product Shoot

My friend Josh Ross and I got a chance to talk a bit about marketing and project life cycle of a product shoot. This was an invite only (Project 52 members) and you will hear some questions at the end of the webinar. This is NOT a flashy look at photographs webinar, it is a listen and learn webinar.

Find Josh at his website and these social media places.






Here is the previous discussion with Josh and me.

New Directions, Multiple Channels

New Directions, Multiple Channels

A few things have caught my attention lately. I mean really caught my attention. One was the great chat we had with my friend Rosh Sillars on how to price a gig in the new economy, and the other was his discussion we had off mic about photographers being able to do more than just a still image.

Now before anyone gets their feathers all ruffled out of place and sheds them all over the carpet, let me explain that I love and worship at the sanctity of the still image. I think it is my favorite form of art. And I will continue to develop my skills toward that end, hoping to become pretty good at it someday.

But just as changes in the way jobs are billed is becoming something to think about, so is the offering we make to our clients. Possibly this is something for you to think about as well.

Channels of creative output. Plural… ChannelS…

I have always been afflicted with a high degree of ADD (thank the Lord) and it keeps me looking for things to do and creativity to work with. I am a designer and a writer as well as a photographer. I play the drums (once good enough to be in a band or three… these days I simply scare the cats) and am learning how to play ‘standards’ with a jazz groove on the Tenor Sax.

I make money from photography, designing and writing. The other stuff is for fun, but I practice pretty hard. Ask the cats.

We all know that video is now a staple of the digital DSLR, the Mirrorless cameras, P&S and phones as well. Video is the newest channel to offer itself up for our additional channel of creativity.

A lot of us do not want to get into video for variety of reasons… some good. Some rather stupid. Mine have been on the ‘rather stupid’ column for too long. I need to add motion to my work, and the more I see of this new intersection of stills/video/writing the more I see how I must integrate it into what I do.

Do I want to make movies? Nope. Nor do I want to do commercials… but… still shots that move… yeah, that kind of has me intrigued.

And that intrigue took a big dose this week when I stumbled upon “Hollow” a Documentary about a single county in West Virginia. Once the richest county in America it now rates as one of the poorest counties.

A group of writers, photographers, audio techs, videographers, cinematographers and producers descended onto this unique place in the universe and produced a fascinating look into the places and lives that make up this small, rural, extremely poor county.

Through the use of the medium of a website, the power of ‘scrolling’ and visuals that ensnare the sensibilities, this ‘experience’ piece simply knocked me into a new mindset.

I must learn more about the video/motion side of things. This type of thing is one of the directions I would like to go… story telling. Rich, fantastic, sensory story telling.


A rich blend of audio, video and still photography, Hollow is the new direction for long form story telling.


Using Parallax scrolling the images move vertically and horizontally and slowly reveal more and more content to the viewer.

See more at Hollow Documentary. (Be prepared to spend some time.)

Another example of this deep story telling is found on the (now famous) NYT website. It is called “Snowfall” and tells the story of an avalanche in Washington that killed several snowboarders. The in-depth reporting, character studies, charts, graphs, video and stills bring life to a long content text piece. Where Photojournalism is going, I believe.

Take a look at this one about a shipwrecked boat and the Geopolitical importance of it. “A Game of Shark and Minnow” mixes journalism, blogging, photography and video into an in-depth look at this very interesting, and possibly explosive area of the world.

While “Snowfall” was one of the first of this type of presentation, and represented hundreds of hours of work, we can now do them rather quickly and with less effort with WordPress and the many different plugins available.

Here is a post on one of my favorite blogs, Elegant Themes, about the new forms of Storytelling using WordPress.

And here is a plugin for WordPress that facilitates this type of technology… for free. The “Aesop” story engine allows nearly anyone with a WordPress website to produce a content/media rich story. And that can be a game changer for some of us.

So how does this impact us still shooters?

Well, it does give us some new channels for creating imagery. It allows us to show our story telling abilities if that is something we want to do.

And it gives us a unique way to show a portfolio, to show our work as a ‘story’ instead of a group of disparate images.

A food shooter may choose to do a ‘story’ on a fictional (or non-fictional) area and illustrate it with wonderful still shots, some video of pouring wine or cheese tray fun… add some audio recorded on his iPhone with RODE mics and we have something different, something more robust… for simply showing the still shots.

A fashion shooter could have a ‘documentary’ of the prep of the shoot (and not a cheesy BTS video of the makeup artist painting lip liner… give it a rest, will ya…) along with audio and text… then show the images that were created much in the same way a portfolio would be shown now.

Introducing a product / portrait portfolio with some audio, some BTS, a few shots of the photographer at work, some video of the careful placement of props… then the still shots. Or intersperse them with video intros of preparing the shoot.

CAVEAT: We are not talking about videos that exist to show other photographers how to use a boom or the 10 smart ways to make a white background ‘pop’… we are showing clients what it is like to work with us, our attention to detail, our commitment to excellence while still having a fun and relaxed environment.

The stuff that beginners and CL shooters don’t do. We set ourselves apart with the way we present our work.

(And we subtly introduce the idea that we do motion into the mind of the buyer… heh. See what I did there?)

Look, I don’t want to tell you what to do. I only want to introduce you to my ideas and things that I think could really work out for creating something new, something different and possibly more interesting than what we are doing now.

I suggest you develop better writing skills, video (motion) skills and think about the different ways you can present your work… tell a story, even about telling the story.

Until next time… make photos.

Dennis Dunbar: Retouching Secrets of the Pros


In Charlotte, NC, October 25

Presented by APA Charlotte

If you are in the area, you should check it out. Dennis is an excellent retoucher.

“Dennis Dunbar is a Digital Artist with extensive experience in digital issues and techniques. Since 1991, he has been working extensively in creating finished artwork for movie posters as well as commercial ads from his studio, Dunbar Digital, in Santa Monica, California. On Saturday, October 25, APA-Charlotte will be hosting a workshop, conducted by Dennis entitled, Retouching Secrets of the Pros.”

Saturday October 25, 2014
Doors Open: 9:30am
Workshop: 10:00am – 2:00pm
Water will be provided and there will be a 45-minute break for lunch (not provided).

UNC Center City • 320 E. 9th Street • Charlotte, NC 28202