While some pros are worried about kids shooting Facebook and concert pix for free, I think that the perspective is really skewed when we start to become more interested in what non-consequential folks are doing and forget to be excited about this wonderful thing called photography. To make photographs is a joyous event, something I love to do. I don’t want to sit around kvetching about some dude who shot his company picnic. Hope he had a blast and made good shots. They couldn’t have paid me enough (well, they actually could have, but they probably wouldn’t have regardless of the product manager’s awesome handling of the formidable D-Series camera… and what if he had a Pelican case… Judge Brown would have made him the winner anyway).

I have made my feelings known on the ‘working for free’ thing on several posts. It isn’t for ‘free’ if value is gained… and if it can be a win-win… then take the damn win.

So today we aren’t going to worry about that $400 wedding (with CD and proofs) that happened yesterday, or the IT guy who shoots for the local ice-cream parlor for trade (Mmmm – Rocky Road). Who cares anyway. Did you really want those gigs? Today we are going to focus on what we can do that is positive and fun.

Ten things to POSITIVELY affect your photography that you can do NOW.

1. Shoot something totally out of your comfort zone.
Are you a portrait shooter? Take some gear out and shoot landscapes. If you normally shoot still life, grab some stuff and go somewhere to shoot street portraits. Do something different. Shoot something different. Try a totally different subject matter… and try to bring your aesthetic to it.

Do it with the seriousness of an assignment. Work toward something that would be ‘portfolio’ worthy. Make the date and keep it. Whatever the impending challenges, meet them and create a shot. If it is raining… cool, make that work for you. No excuses… bring back a shot that you love.

Dave Hill’s Landscapes
Arthur Elgort’s “Jazz” (you will have to click on it on the navigation. Stupid UI (flash) doesn’t allow for deep linking… but then this is Arthur so he probably isn’t looking for SEO… heh)

2. Do a “series” of images on something new to you.
Or something familiar, I don’t care. But make it a true series. Tell a story. Five or more images that work together. Not a ‘comp’ card approach, nor am I wanting you to write a ‘story’ and make illustrations for it. (Although, that sounds like a possible #11 to me… hmmm.) I am talking about images that ‘belong’ together.

Plan a couple of excursions to that place or event, or some time blocked off to work out all the shots you need. “Cover” the subject with enough shots that when you edit them down, you can get to a set of images that says something about what/who you shot.

Joni Sternbach’s Surfers
David Eustace’s Trip with his Daughter
Chase Jarvis’s Songs for Eating and Drinking

3. Rent a Tilt-Shift lens and spend a week with it.
This is a somewhat unique tool. It can change the perspective on an image and allow you to control converging lines and depth of field. Still life shooters use it, as well as architectural shooters. Here is a link to a tutorial I did on how to use it.

Take it out as your single lens for a day or a weekend. Find things that it can do to help make your images different. Play with it. Experiment with it. Shoot portraits and exploit the tilt to alter DOF.

Resist the urge, if you can, of tilting it back and making landscapes look like toy scenes… yeah. Cute. OK… maybe one or two, but don’t get carried away. Oh, and BTW, if you do a google search for Tilt-shift photography you will find a ton of these lameass shots and articles. And most of them are too that silly ‘toy’ look, that is ONLY tilt, NO Shift involved… but hey, stupid runs rampant on them interwebs.

Rent it from these nice folks if you live somewhere they are hard to find. They make a few flavors of wide to semi-telephoto and each do their own thing. I would say start with the 24MM, but that is only a suggestion.

How a Tilt-Shift Can Change Your Work
From Luminous Landscape, this great post.
Wiki has some good info as well.

4. Plan a large-scale shoot. Then do it.
This is great for the soul and great for the commercial shooter working on building a book.

The planning and production of a large-scale shot is one of the things that is so hard to learn from a book, or a blog. It is something that takes practice and experience. And it has a ton of learning associated with it.

Working out the set, the models, MUA’s, stylists needed. Then the time and coordinating the shoot with the realities of time. Three models and one makeup artist means you better have the models on set waaaaay before the shoot. Scheduling them for a half hour before shooting could be a terrible mistake.

Do you need permits or permissions? Get them. It’s good practice. You will have to do this more and more as you move into larger commissions, so get comfortable with the system now.

Do a casting… not a MM thing where people simply show up (if you are lucky) – but a real ‘casting’. Find the people you need and KNOW will work for the shot. Look for the look you want. Settle ONLY as a last resort. And then resist it like hell.

Need props… find them. Find rental houses, if you can. Ask friends and family. Somebody knows somebody with a Harley if you need one. Getting the resources together to make a big shot happen is as important as understanding what it takes to pull a big shot off.

Be tenacious and make the shot happen. If you are lucky and prepared, you will get something for your book. And you will learn a ton of stuff to do differently next time. And then start planning the next time.

Make the jump, there’s more on the other side.

5. Make a Book.
Seriously. Make a book.

Take your images and edit them down to 30 or so, then edit them into a ‘flow’. Take your time and develop the images in a sequence that makes sense. Hint: Cheap 4×6’s are a great tool for finding the sequencing. I cannot do it on a computer… back and forth is not the same as grab and switch.

I generally use Photoshop to create full page designs that are to my liking, and really not use their design software. It isn’t bad, but it is not my preference. You, however, may enjoy their templates. Make a hard cover book and show it around to everyone.

What you will learn is the so valuable as you go through the process. Flow of images, color matching, layout. There are a ton of things that you will face to get it right. And in the end you have a book to go on the coffee table. You can spend as little as $30 on it.

Want a really fun idea? Do the book in conjunction with a road trip, or a series of images, or stuff you don’t shoot very often. If your kids skateboard, spend an afternoon with the lights and get them and their friends doing cool stuff. No matter what you do, where you live and who you know… there is something cool going on around you.

Book Makers to consider:
Asuka Book (a little more pricier, but very nice)

I have made books with all of the above. I have been happy with what I received in all cases.

6. Make a Portrait of Someone Famous (or nearly famous).
Yeah… get on the phone, send an email, show up at the door – and make it happen.

Maybe it is a local musician, or the symphony conductor. A local chef who is renown for his cooking. An author, painter, heck – even another photographer. Just make it happen. Could be you set your sights way high… Catherine Zeta Jones for instance. OK, you are going for a big name… can you pull it off? I bet you can… it just takes legwork and time and energy. And if you need anyone to, you know, hold the lights or something, I am available for that one. Yep. Sticking to local celebrities may be easier.

The shot MUST be killer, so make sure your stuff is up to par. But the point of this exercise is to work out how to make this happen. It takes guts. It takes initiative. It takes gumption and the ability to sell yourself and the gift of gab and more… It won’t happen while playing Farmville, and it won’t happen sittin’ on your ass watching re-runs of American Idol (the white-hair guy wins, can’t remember his name.) It surely won’t happen while you are spending every waking moment at your BF/GF… that is for damn sure.

You may also learn a thing or three about celebrity shooting. It isn’t nearly as easy as you think it is, and you already don’t think it is that easy. Correct. Egos, time, PR flacks, weenies with too much power because they glom on… it is quite an interesting world. Get your feet wet locally and see how it goes. However it goes, you will learn a ton about the business/production side of photography.

7. Get a List from Agency Access.
Oh, and then use it. This is for people who have already got their book together and are ready to make the rounds. Get a list. Get a good list. It may cost a few hundred bucks, but it is so worth it. Agency Access.

1. It eliminates that lameass excuse of ‘not knowing who to show’ the work to.
2. It is tailored to what you want to do (magazines vs ad agencies for instance)
3. It gives you a target and a real tangible sources for your efforts.
4. It becomes the foundation for your marketing efforts – and is worth 10 times what you paid for it.
5. None of the above count if you get the list and continue to NOT do a damn thing with it.
6. Read #1 again.

You should have your mission statement, marketing tools and drop-offs and leave behinds ready as you begin this process, so we are going to simply let that stand as a very important pre-cursor of this exercise. If you are not ready, what is your time frame? Don’t tell me – tell yourself. Oh, and you should have some ideas of rates and billing.

Now get after it.

8. Create an EMail Marketing Campaign.
If you aren’t totally ready for the big time yet, you can start by creating an email marketing campaign and get it ready to go.

Finding a template there for your photography by not be the easiest thing to do – even though there are several billions of templates or so. Know what you want to send. Work with a designer to get the look you want, testing it to yourself and a few friends. This will take a while and you can be getting your other stuff ready in the meantime.

You can find some pretty cool templates for email at Envato. Or look for a designer you like and find out what something custom would cost. Not as much as you think, probably. If you are good with html, you will most likely be able to customize one of the templates provided.

Try it out on a few customers or a circle of prospects. This is a list of the ones I have used and recommend. You may find others that you love. That’s cool.

Constant Contact
Mad Mimi

9. Road Trip.
Oh yeah, man. I love them. They get me going. Apply the road trip to any of the above suggestions in as liberal a dose as you can handle.

10. Work With a Designer and Create a Direct Mail / Leave Behind
Get that direct mail piece into the works.

It can dovetail with the list above, and of course the email list as well. It may take a while to get together, and it may cost a bit (tradeout?), but it is worth it. This piece is your calling card, it is YOU when you are not there. It says who you are, and shows your attention to detail, aesthetic, style, vision, presentation and relevance.

Start to research the different styles and methods of these important parts of your business. I would recommend these sites to see examples of direct mail and leave behinds.

A Photo Editor
Heather Morton Art Buyer
Graphis (print as well)
Communication Arts Magazine (print as well)

Getting this vital piece of the puzzle done before you start to get calls is very important.

And anytime you start to actually ‘work’ with your own images, you find out a lot about yourself. We can miss holes in our work, and stylistically out-of-place images when we are simply shooting and storing. But going in and working with them to make a book, or a direct mail piece, an email campaign and other things we can do, can bring them to us in new and different ways – ways that transcend just being an interesting photograph.

Or we can sit around complaining about other people who have no more consequence to professional photography than the man in the moon.

And this should be #11, but it is a reminder that you will probably not spend a hundred bucks on anything more valuable than Selina Maitreya’s 12 hour long audio series, “The View From Here” on success and vision and style. She has examples, road maps and more in this baby, and it could be worth 10 times what she is charging.. and you get half off her price of $200 by purchasing it through Lighting Essentials. Just enter FOSLE in the checkout and you will save $100. I don’t do a lot of ‘selling’ on this site, but I so very much believe in this information that I really do think you should get it.

So that wraps it up for this post. Follow my bloviations on Twitter, and come to a lighting workshop to pop your chops up another notch.

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