My friend Bob Knill wanted a bit of a hand on building his site. He chose the them Santino, and I did these videos for him, and you, to see how to build and maintain a WordPress website for photographers. We will add additional movies as we go through SEO, but this will give you a good idea on how to set up a WP theme.
NOTE: All themes are different, but most are pretty similar in function and tech.
Let’s get started:
Would it surprise you that what we think is more powerful than reality? That mere thoughts can be as powerfully uplifting or critically damaging as what we actually do?
“I don’t think I am ready to get out there and show my book” he said to me.
It didn’t matter that he was indeed ready to get out there. He did have a good book to show. Hell, it wasn’t perfect, but it didn’t have to be. It had to be as good as it could be for the place he was in his life.
And it was.
But he had convinced himself that it had to be as good as some of the photographers on his list… the ones that are shooting every week. The ones that were ‘ready’ ten years ago. Or twenty. Or five.
He wanted to ‘catch up’ to them before going out with his wonderful work. Catch up is not possible, as there is no race involved. No comparison between his work and any number of others was valuable in any way.
Except to convince himself that he wasn’t ‘ready’. And not being ready means we have nothing to fear. We can never lose if we never try. We can never face the pressure to succeed if we choose not to bother succeeding.
Choosing not to be involved can be rationalized a lot of other ways as well. We have heard them all, haven’t we?
“Terrible time to start a business…”
“Photography is dead.”
“Everyone is shooting for free, so there is no hope for me.”
I am so tired of reading about the death of photography I could bang my head against the wall. While I guess the theme serves a purpose for link-bait posts on PetaPixel and DSLRLounge and other online publications, the reality is that photography is growing in leaps and bounds.
Unfortunately it is not growing as fast as the excuses, reasons, fabricated mythologies and link-bait articles about impossible success is are.
You know there is an entire industry out there devoted to keeping my friend from thinking he IS ready? No, they don’t have an association or annual meetings, but the reality is that they coordinate in insidious ways. And we can see those in action if we look closely.
From “pop-culture” to the news organizations to the specialized media that we tune into because we THINK they have our back.
And they may have our back on occasion, but there is no guarantee that they will be there when we are in need. They are not in business to help us succeed, they are in business to sell advertising and advertising likes big reach and nothing gets big reach like whining about failing.
The ones who have succeeded are turned into pop-stars. Bigger than life celbrities that are really succeeding because – well, they’re special. Special people make it. Special people get to be celebrities and have groupies and you…
… You are not special.
NOTE: Have you ever seen a sitcom or movie or play where the actors have to play the part of a ‘regular’ person who has to appear in some sort of ‘acting role’? The part calls for the ‘regular person’ to appear on TV or in a play… and the actor portrays them as fumbling, moronic, stupid and absolutely incapable of that ‘small part’ they are asked to play. Do you think that is by accident? Or could it be that they want you to think that acting is such a demanding, incredible, nearly impossible art that regular people are simply incapable of even attempting the smallest of parts.
Because ‘regular people’ are not special.
You are as special as anyone, as capable as anyone – all you may lack is the PR department.
But this fear of being thought of as not ‘special enough’ can keep us cozy in the knowledge that we probably wouldn’t have been good enough anyway, so trying to would just have proven it and why prove it if it is just the way it is… – even better in the voice of Eyore.
We choose not to play in the arena. We choose not to engage. We choose not to flex our creativity but instead to hide it, bury it, and ignore it. For fear of being found not special enough to have it.
Brene Brown told Chase Jarvis something in his interview with her that stuck with me like glue. “Unused creativity becomes toxic.”
Think about that… unused creativity becomes toxic.
Hiding behind that wall of uncertainty, failing to enter the arena of challenges, and staying cozy in the warm blankets of ‘status quo’ can actually be dangerous and poison the mind.
“Hold on there, Don… what if we truly are NOT ready…?”
Oh that can certainly be the case. Beginners are not ready. The ones that open their ‘studio’ after shooting for 11 months on auto and have no idea at all about how the world of photography works are not ready. (They will be featured on one of the online forums of an example of why you shouldn’t think YOU are special and try it because they did and they failed and if they can fail you most assuredly will too. Because Craigslist!
Getting ready to enter the arena means knowing what you can do, and how to do it. It means being open to learning – and learning quickly. It means giving up things that may not be of value to you as you engage. It means understanding what I mean by that.
We are all as ready or as unready as we prepare ourselves to be and tell ourselves we are.
And let’s be really honest. We KNOW when we are ready. It is not rocket science. It is not mystical… and it is not something that only ‘special’ people know. The folks I am talking to here are the ones that know all they need to know, and find excuses to somehow ‘need’ more… the never ending, all encompassing “I’m not ready…”
Is my friend ready from a photographic standpoint? Yes. Is he ready from a business perspective? Yes. Is he capable… of course.
But what is stopping him is not those areas, it is the fear of being found wanting. The fear of failing publicly. The fear of being branded… a loser.
I just read something interesting. In Silicon Valley there is a group of venture capitalists looking to invest in the next big thing. Criteria to get in front of them… you must have failed TWICE at a business and lost more than a million dollars in each. They wanted someone who had risked it all, lost it all, RISKED IT AGAIN and LOST IT AGAIN… they wanted a fighter, a scrapper, a dreamer with some hard won STEEL in their gut. Someone they would feel confident was ready to enter the ring with the scars and broken bones of failure.
We may not be that guy, but we can enter the same arena. Rocky didn’t win. They went a bridge too far. The Ronin saved the reputation of their master.
Let’s gear up. The arena of life calls.
(Watch this video of Chase Jarvis and Brene Brown having a discussion about vulnerability, critics and putting yourself in the ring… consider it homework for the soul.)
At Project 52 last week we had an assignment to shoot a specific image of a perfume bottle. You can see the assignment here.
These are some of the great images the students shot for this assignment.
The crew at Project 52 (2014) shot some environmental portraits last week.
Thought I would share them here.
The US Forest Service is BANNING all Photography and Videography done with bent iPhone 6’s and 6 Plus’s.
“Where photographers can succeed is if they abandon the consumers and editorial world who has been over-run by these value perception changes, and instead turn towards the same brands that still pay developers premium salaries for exclusive solutions. As Paul Melcher wrote those brands will drive the future of pay-to-play professional photography in the next decade, feeding photographers who successfully reinvent themselves.”
— Jan Klier, photographer, NYC
The assignment was to shoot a portrait with one light.
Studio Portrait: Clean background, Simple Light; Forceful, Expressive Portrait
A very clean portrait shot on a flat field background (wall, seamless, cyc, material, cloth, canvas…) Tightly focused and stylistically within your style. This image should be created to show how you handle strong personalities in front of your lens.
There should be special attention placed on the expressiveness of the portrait: Sadness, pain, angst, joy, humor, intensity… ENGAGED.
We want to see more than a smile, more than a beauty shot. This is a glimpse into the soul of the subject.
It is important to make the lighting something that enhances the look / feel of the subject. Whether it is soft or hard, single light or multiple strobes, natural or mixed or whatever, the light and the subject should be something that makes sense – to you.
To me, one light is a way of presenting a subject free of the hand of the photographer. A light is a light, and the subject has a relationship to that light that is in many ways more organic than when additional lights are added in. Of course, I am referring to lights on the subject, not background lights or ambient or location specific lighting.
This week the August group took on the “one light portrait” challenge:
“Here is a photographer that is infinitely patient, and interested in the stubborn core of things. Her images are captured in single exposures of up to half an hour, then painstakingly printed in her darkroom on large format, silver gelatin paper. The methodology is unapologetically old-fashioned, and the results extraordinary powerful.”
“The Numbers”: Part Two
It’s a numbers game… part two of our series.
Last time we discussed the numbers of getting people to see your work, and how that is so important to build a business. It’s been two weeks since that post.
How many of you:
1. Made the minimum commitment to getting to 6 people per day for three days (Tue/Wed/Thurs)?
2. Exceeded the minimum commitment and got to more than 18 people in those three days. Which means you have contacted 36+ people about your work at this point.
3. Found excuses and other things more pressing to get done.
No judgement here, only asking you to face resistance in the eye and either kick its damned ass or continue being acquiescent to it.
Resistance is NOT your friend… and if you found every reason under the sun not to do the minimum of 3 emails and 3 calls over 3 days, then you know what you have to work on.
Today’s discussion is on the numbers of contacts you make to individuals who you want to work with. We need a number of people to see our work, but we also need to touch those people more than once to get that work.
It is a process. A journey. A vision quest.
OK, so it may not be a vision quest, but it is still a process.
“Only 2% of sales occur at a first meeting
People in business often hope and expect to do business the first time they meet a prospect. Yet studies reveal that only 2% of sales occur when two parties meet for the first time.
The 2% who buy at a first meeting tend to be people who have already looked into the subject matter, and already know what they’re looking for. If they meet someone who ticks all the right boxes and they get on well, then business may well be transacted. But that is far from the norm. The other 98% will only buy once a certain level of trust has been built up.
Read through the link above. Giving up because there is no sale is counter to what you want to achieve. Remember, the people they are discussing above are selling something the client needs or wants.
We are selling ourselves to be considered for something the client can get from a whole host of other talented competitors. We aren’t really ‘selling’ in the traditional meaning of the word, we are promoting ourselves, sharing our work, becoming acquainted with the AD/PE/CD… not ‘selling’ them toner cartridges or accounting.
We cannot really ‘sell’ our work anyway. If there is no gig at the agency that is right for us, or no gig that is requiring photography, no amount of sales techniques or tricks or secrets can get us into a purchase order.
There is NO work that day for us.
So why go?
Because we want to be top of mind when a job DOES come in to the art department. When they think of a photographer to shoot tractors, we want to be the one that comes to mind since we shoot farms and farming equipment so dang well it makes cows give more milk.
THAT is the purpose of the meeting. The touch point.
Top of mind and becoming the one they think of when the time is right.
To do that takes more than one showing of your portfolio.
(Right about now someone is sitting out there saying “Yeah, you ain’t seen MY portfolio… I will show it and get the gig.”)
Yes, you are probably taking the reigns of your unicorn and heading out over the rainbow freeway about now too.
That rarely happens. Really rarely.
Instead what happens is that there is a slow and steady courtship of sorts. You show your work, they ignore you (or seem to) and you keep on showing your work. They may keep on ignoring you… or not.
That ‘or not’ moment is the first of several milestones.
They call you in to see the book. And to size you up.
Are you fun to work with? Are you neat and orderly about your work? Are you trustworthy? Will you be on time and on budget and not insult their client or get drunk with the models and run off to Bermuda with all the cash in hand.
Hey… it happens.
So you go. Show the book. Meet the people.
Entering phase two:
Now there may be more showings in the works, some email contacts, some phone calls, coffee meetings for new work… all kinds of direct mail.
“Once a response form has been filled out, now is the time to engage in peer-to-peer discussions with the prospect. Start by building a relationship. Launching immediately into the BANT questions (Are you the purchaser? Do you have approved budget?) is a turnoff. First leverage the digitally collected information as a bridge to determine where the prospect is personally. Open-ended questions (rather than buttons on a web form) will accelerate this qualification process. What problem is the prospect trying to solve? Where does it hurt? What is going on in their world that triggered the need? What would be their perfect solution if they could describe it? Are they collecting information for a team? What’s their timeline they are working with? What information would you need from us to be considered as your solution? Great phone/social skills are a huge plus here. And for most Sales teams, the earlier your prospect is in the buying process, the better—it gives your team a chance to be consultative and influence the specs, thereby gaining the inside track. Once you have enough data to determine BANT, try to move the prospect toward meeting with a sales rep. As a result of this process, most real prospects will see the meeting as a mutual best next step, and that’s where most Sales teams want to be.
The article above is relating to traditional sales, but there are some great points to be made in there. Read it.
Some say it takes 7-8 touches by a photographer before you get called back. Some say it takes ten or so.
I say it takes more than five and less than 1,247. (Note, if they haven’t contacted you after about a hundred, it may be time to pull them from your list and move on. But for those of you really, I mean REALLY committed, 1,247 is the magic number.)
So what counts as a ‘touch’ for a client?
- Portfolio review.
- Thank you note.
- Direct mail.
- Phone call.
- Promotional item.
What may not count are tweets or RT’s, facebook “likes” or pinning their latest designs to your pinterest boards… seriously?
This is why making the process INTO a process makes sense. Have a way of working that allows you to think about the amount of touches you make with a prospective client. And keep them coming, as there can always be new images and things to share.
NOTE: Spamming them is as bad… no, it’s worse, than seeing them once and never going back cause you are all butthurt over not getting that $100K gig you wanted.
Consider what you think of as being too much.
Yeah… don’t do that.
Sales tools and automated sales software. I don’t use it. I still use a simple spreadsheet in Excel. And my trusty notebook. That is not to say you shouldn’t, only me confessing it takes so long to learn all the things about those software solutions that I lose interest too fast.
Been doing it my way for way too long… heh.
So let’s get real here for a moment.
You make a contact with an art director… this means you have a conversation with them. Whether email (OK, but not best) or a personal review (best) and then you start the count.
Show the book, leave a piece for them at the showing, send a thank you card (print?), send a follow up email (2 weeks or so) with another photograph attached. Then wait 6-8 weeks and send another email, and a direct mail piece. Repeat that until you have some new work to show. I count four ‘touches’ there… five with the follow up a few weeks out.
Call for an appointment to show the new work.
Show new work. Send thank you card, follow up email… you know the drill now.
You are making new work, right?
Especially you guys who didn’t make the lousy 18 touches per week… it is because you were heavily shooting… right?
Look, this is not the easiest profession you have chosen to go down. Not sure what that would be unless you like delivering pizza in your Nissan, but this one will wrap you up, chew you to a nub and spit you out in the time it takes that pizza to get cold enough to deliver free.
The winners fight for it. The winners put in the hard, droll, and sometimes messy work of doing what others don’t.
92% of sales people quit after the first ‘no-sale’ show.
Be the 8%… it’s a numbers game.
PHOTOGRAPH ABOVE BY VIRGINIA SMITH: BRIANA AUSTIN AND DON GIANNATTI (NO LICENSE IS GRANTED FOR THE USE OF THIS IMAGE)
Briana and I spent a lot of time making photographs all over the country. We have decided to give some of these away to creatives who may want to do something with them. Our first freebie give away are ten shots from all over, and we have no idea what you all will do with the images.
But if you do use them, you must link back to this page, and give credit to Briana Austin and Don Giannatti. That is important and we have the following details for you to consider.
All ten images are in a zip file, and you are free to use them for any online use, even commercial.
You may use these images for online publications, websites, blogs or ezines.
You may not use them for print publications (we’re working on that for the future).
You may not include them in any collection or as part of another product that is licensed for sale (website template for instance).
You may not alter the photographs by any digital means other than to resize them for your usage. you may however, use them in designs with typography over them. Cropping is also allowed.
You may not refer to them in derogatory manner, nor use them in correlation to pornography, hate sites, or in any way denigrate the model. We are very serious about this.
Send us what you have done with the images on your blog or website.
READ AND UNDERSTAND THE LICENSE BEFORE USING THE IMAGES.
BY DOWNLOADING THESE IMAGES, YOU ARE CONSENTING TO THE USAGE SPELLED OUT IN THE LICENSE.
AND BE SURE TO LET US SEE WHAT YOU ALL CAME UP WITH!
How to Play “The Numbers” Game Part One
We have all heard the words, “It’s a numbers game” before. And most of us know what it means. In order to get to a certain level, more attempts than successes must be used.
Selling door to door is a numbers game. The more people a sales person talks to, the more they sell. It may take 10 “No’s” to get to one yes. So the goal is to get through those ten as fast as you can to get to the one yes. Knocking on ten doors a day nets one sale. Knocking on 50 doors nets 10 sales.
A ‘numbers game’.
Not much difference in photography, you know.
The more art directors you show your work to, the more chances you have of closing an assignment. The more times you interact with a specific art director, the higher the probability that a gig is forthcoming. The more gigs you complete with excellence, the more excellent gigs you get.
I chat with photographers who do none of the above.
They don’t show their work. They don’t ever go back to someone who didn’t immediately hire them. They don’t get enough gigs to make delivering excellence count.
It is… a numbers game.
Of course there are a few givens.
Your work must be top notch. This is a given. All the door knocking and emailing in the world will not work as fast as good work will.
(Now this is where it gets crazy a bit. I think a mediocre photographer who has mad skills at marketing will do better than an ultra-talented photographer who sits in the studio waiting for the phone to ring.)
It. Is. A. Numbers. Game.
If your work is good, it all falls on you to do the work to get it in front of people who would buy it.
Of people, that is.
We have discussed the ways we can find clients before, and how to think about marketing, but in this dispatch, I want to play with numbers.
I recently read where fewer than 80% of photographers spend more than an hour per week marketing. And only a few percent spend more than 15 hours a week marketing.
If we apply the 80-20 rule (20% of the businesses in a niche make 80% of the money) we can see that there may be, just may be a connection between not marketing and losing out on the bulk of the revenue.
We know this stuff works, and yet few of us can ‘find the time’ or ‘get ready’ or ‘bite the bullet’ or fight off whatever last minute resistance pops into our heads that prevents us from moving on this magnificent factoid: it’s a numbers game.
Let’s stop procrastinating and get to it.
The book is as good as it is gonna be for next week. The site is done, and the images up there are up there. Changes can be made tomorrow, but it is what it is and we move forward. If this is too fast for you, set a date. April 1? June 15th?
It doesn’t matter… set a date and keep that date.
We are going to begin by making three contacts per day, and sending out three emails per day. Three days a week.
We can pass on Mondays and Fridays as these are not traditionally good days for marketing. People are either planning for the weekend or recovering from it. Let’s give them some air.
Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday.
Three contacts and three emails.
Six contacts per day x 3 days equals 18 contacts per week, 72 contacts per month, over 950 contacts per year. To see how that may affect your current status, figure out how many potential clients you contacted last year. Chances are it is less than 950… substantially less.
And yet we can do that with minimum effort. Three emails per day and three contacts per day is cake! It will take less than an hour – a lot less.
So what happens if we double that?
Six Contacts per day, and six emails. Just imagine.
Six contacts and six emails is 36 contacts per week, is 144 contacts per month. Nearly 1500 contacts per year.
What would that do to your business? What impact would that have on your income?
And how long would it take? Less than an hour a day for three days.
Go ahead, tell me how that won’t work for you. Go ahead and tell me that you are so busy not being busy that it is simply not possible to spend an hour a day MAKING YOUR BUSINESS successful.
I am not listening, but go ahead and try. You are only trying to convince yourself.
And really, you are the only one you must convince in order to get this change implemented.
At this point, I will sound a bit rude to some, and I really do not mean it to be rude. However, only you have the control over whether you play the numbers game or do not. Change from non-engagement to being engaged – or not. And in the end, it only affects you.
There are still lots of gigs to be commissioned. Lots of look-books to be shot. Thousands of pages of editorial and thousands of ads both local and national.
And here is another numbers game for you.
While the chances for getting a gig may be lower than they used to be due to the sheer numbers of competition, the fact is that there is a 100% probability that you will not get hired if they do not know you exist.
So here are a couple of questions for you.
Will you commit to 18 contacts per week?
Will you commit to creating an environment that will help possible clients find you?
Or will you simply let resistance take you off the grid?
I hope you never let resistance win. I really do.
It’s a numbers game.
DO THE MATH.
Crowdsourcing… that is the new name for spec work, but worse than spec work this involves an outlay by the ones being expected to be used for nothing.
FORMER ADVOCATE OF PROFESSIONAL PHOTOGRAPHERS, Photo District News and Rangefinder have decided it is a great idea to have people send them money.
I mean, hell yeah… I like that. I would love to have people send me money.
Oh, you have to send some of your work in too… at $20 a pop. Seriously?
You are going to pay them for the opportunity to be turned down – and of course they keep the cash.
I wonder if they would consider it a good idea to crowdsource the editors?
I wonder if they would consider it a good idea to crowdsource the art directors?
I wonder if they would consider it a good idea to crowdsource the writers?
I wonder if they would consider it a good idea to crowdsource the advertisers?
I wonder if they would consider it a good idea to crowdsource the printing?
I wonder if they would consider it a good idea to crowdsource the distribution?
Yeah, I guess those would be bad ideas for – you know – a photography magazine.
But hotdamn boyhowdy it is a SUPER IDEA to crowdsource the photography – and get PAID to do so – which is the whole fkn point of the magazine to begin with.
What does this tell us about the people at these magazines that they feel they should be paid to look at the product they promote? Shouldn’t discovering new talent BE the reason for the magazine?
Or is it simply too much work to seek it out on their own. (Hey, there’s this thing called the internet, and you can find all… oh, never mind.)
Or perhaps it is those thousands of twenty dollar bills flooding in with the images. And we KNOW the images will get looked at, right? Right?
I am saddened and angry about this. it is wrong on so many levels I can’t even believe it.
Betrayed is the word that comes to mind.
And no, I won’t link it… you wanna enter, there’s this place called google and… oh never mind.
The above is snarky… yeah, I can be snarky.
But instead of criticizing without constructive ideas, let me add this.
FLAK does it too. They take submissions for their online site here.
So does Jorge Colberg at his Conscientious site.
Some of these magazines have submission fees as well, but nowhere near the steep ‘pay-to-play’ fees of this proposed publication.
In these days of photographers being taken for granted, downisized fees, challenging market conditions and rising costs, it is very disheartening to see one of our own go this way. PDN and Rangefinder are publications that know what it is like for photographers out there. We should be able to turn to them for support, and call on them to be an ally.
“Crowdsourcing” is simply another word for “Spec” work. Something both magazines have taken a stance against. Something which most photographers consider working for free. Or worse when expected to pay for the opportunity to even get considered.
What would happen if ad agencies asked for a submission fee? Or magazines… want to see an AD with your book? Pull out your Mastercard.
Is that what we want this business to turn into? A feeding frenzy of self annihilation?
I sure hope not… but time will tell.
Been reading a really interesting book this past couple of weeks… lots to digest. “The Power of Visual Storytelling” by Ekaterina Walter and Jessica Gioglio is about how visuals are beginning to dominate not only our news and information channels, but the ways people interact with each other on many other social platforms.
If you are a photographer/designer, this is very good reading for you.
Pick it up for Kindle or in paperback.
Another book I am really enjoying is “The Freaks Shall Inherit the Earth: Entrepreneurship for Weirdos, Misfits, and World Dominators” by Chris Brogan. If you are an entrepreneur in life or in spirit, this book is for you. I am most definitely all those things… and still working on the ‘world domination’ thing…
Also for Kindle and hardcover. I think you will really enjoy it.
Joe Sample passed this week. He was a pianist with a lot of charm, and I have many of his recordings. Funny how you can go back and listen to music made by people no longer with us. The power of technology that continues to surprise me.
Hey, did you know that Photoshop has a “Background Eraser”? Heh… this is pretty cool.
This from Graphic Design Blender:
Freelancing is a legitimate business model, which means you need to treat it like a business. Here’s a brief look at the various roles you need to fulfil in your day-to-day operations:
- The CEO – the person who does the strategic thinking and calls all of the shots.
- The Designer – the person who actually puts in the work and ships client projects.
- The CFO – the person who manages all of the finances for the business.
- The HR Manager – the person who manages all of the people you bring in to help grow your business.
- The Administration Assistant – the person who takes care of all of the emails, bookings, file management to ensure things are in order.
- The Marketing Manager – the person who actively markets your business to ensure you always have new leads coming in.
There are 6 main roles in total, and in case you haven’t picked up on it already, you are all of these roles. I don’t want to freak you out, but this is the reality.
How we handle all these different rolls of our business persona is all important for the freelancer.
I love Instagram. I should use it more, but I get so caught up with writing and other things that it sometimes skips my mind.
However, I love following good image makers there and I am surprised that some of the fun photographers I follow are not being followed by many other photographers… what is up with that?
I think you should take a look at these folks and see their wonderful photos.
Mike Moore @mmoorephotos
Paola Thomas @mirrormirrorxx
Tomas Jansson @tomastoj
William Cohea @coheaphotography
Hiram Chee @hiramchee
Katherine Gooding @katherinegooding
Simon Wodwyer @simonwodwyer
Irene Liebler @ireneliebler
Tammy Bogestrand @tammybogestrand
Shane Ernest @rarerthan
Should We Listen To Critics or Show Them The Door?
Ahhh… the world of the artist. A place where we can nurture our ideas and share our bountiful creativity to others who will accept it into their lives with open arms, and smiles of gratitude.
There seems to always be someone who doesn’t get what we are doing. Someone who finds it so desperately wanting as to cause them to sit at a keyboard and tell us that we are wrong… our work is wrong… our art is wrong.
“It’s just wrong, dagnabbit!”
And all this time, we were laboring under the impression that we were creating something that others would find appealing, not wrong. What does that mean anyway?
How can a piece of art, a photograph, a frame from our experience be “wrong”?
I will answer this in a few, so hang tight.
Critics. They produce nothing. They rarely know much about the art we create. They are usually not prepared for much of anything in the way of actually having much to say, rather it is the saying of that nothing that is their reason for being.
Now, I am not talking about critics who actually know a bit about the work, who delve into the motivations and the artistic goals of the artist, who can compare and contrast and understand the value of the work as it stands before them. There are a few of those out there, and while we may not agree with them all the time, we do know their knowledge runs deep, and that counts for something.
No, I am discussing the critics that are unsolicited noise brought to a higher volume with the social media frenzy of armchair experts. Followers of movements, online gurus, and phocelebs who create a frenzy with every “off camera flash” image they create. Being a devotee of someone else seems to be all that is needed to have permission to spew unrelated criticism of others work, or make judgements as to its value.
How we deal with this noise is important. Many budding artists have been sidelined by the nagging doubt as to their spot in the art world brought on by a casual remark on Facebook, or an unflattering note made by ‘someone on twitter’… and that, that is wrong!
A couple of interesting phenomena here.
Artists seem to give more weight to the negative remarks than the good ones.
Why? Why do we do that?
100 people see our image: 90 people like it, 8 people are non-committal, and two of them do not like it. One of those detractors adds a personal note like “This work is getting boring to me. I think you need to kick it up a notch or you will never be any good.”
Who does the artist seem to remember the most? Those ninety people who love it? Nope. The ones that didn’t? Nope… the one who decided to add a bit of criticism to the mix. The artist will focus on that one negative and bring themselves to a panic wondering if they really do need to ‘kick it up a notch’ even though no one on the planet has any idea what that really means…
How do we stop that from happening?
We stop it. Ourselves.
Having detractors is part of the way we know we are doing something right. No artist can please everyone. Avedon did not get every job he wanted. Spielberg has had to ‘sell’ himself as a director, and even the greatest actors around still have to audition.
The creation of art focused on the smallest common denominator usually produces art that is of no value anyway. If you want to make photographs that fly off the shelf at Walmart, you will be sad to find out that there are still those who will not buy them.
Detractors are not important. We simply stop giving them power. Know they exist, forget about any usefulness for them other than to remind you that you are not creating work for everyone.
And you shouldn’t.
The end of the ‘expert’ phenomena has not been of much help, that is for sure. People have gone through a lifetime of believing that every opinion matters, everyone’s ideas should be heard.
While that may play well in the skules, it is pure bullshit in the real world. An opinion that 4+4=9 is of no value, nor should we give accolades for being close. If I want to know why my refrigerator is acting up, I need not bother with my 10 year old daughter, nor the guy who sells slurpies at the QuikMart. I need someone who knows refrigerators. An expert.
Today, too many people think they are experts in photography. They are well versed in the lingo, have themselves an “off camera flash” and can ‘beat the sun’ for a cool looking picture. So naturally they have all that is needed to tell you what you are doing wrong. And they want to do it from the anonymity of the interwebs… safe from all retribution or inquiry.
If I want to get portfolio help, I will go to someone who I respect, who has similar sensibilities, who I can believe in for realistic ideas and motivations. I would not seek out someone who simply did not meet that criteria.
Nor would any of you…
So why do we even listen when the criticism is offered without our solicitation? Is a remark on Facebook telling us to ‘work on our processing’ really worthy of much attention?
If it comes from Rob Haggard or Selina Maitreya, then perhaps it is worth exploring. If it comes from someone who lacks the credentials and experience of those two, perhaps it is simply an opinion… and opinions are like… well, you know that line.
Opinions are not criticism. Opinions tell us more about the one who has it than of what they have an opinion. An ‘opinion’ that Avedon was a terrible photographer tells me more about the one with the opinion than it does about Avedon.
Stop confusing opinions with genuine critique.
A critique is something that you request. It must have parameters around it that indicate what the artist wanted to create what the goals of the work were and how well they think they accomplished that mission. Only then can a critique be given… with care and acknowledgement of those stated goals.
Critiques have value, opinions are are personal polls. And polls don’t mean much to artists, especially when they are a poll of one.
At least, they shouldn’t.
Lastly, those who love your work and what you do should be rewarded by your faith in them, your attention and goodwill toward them. Haters are hating on them by proxy. It is the detractors gift to themselves to turn someone who is a fan of yours into a non-fan. Giving the detractor fuel by ignoring those who care is not productive. Forget the detractor, pay more attention to your fans.
Let’s wrap it up with a small list, shall we.
1. When you receive an unsolicited critique, first remind yourself that it is not a critique, but an opinion. Ask what that opinion means to you or your work. Weigh it against what you know to be true, and dismiss it.
2. When you get an unsolicited opinion, investigate your detractor a bit. Click and see… do they have the chops to really give this opinion? Are they really worthy of the power they are trying to wield, or are they simply sharing their complete lack of tact and knowledge with you?
3. Understand that having detractors is a good thing. Nothing of value can please everyone. A photographer must create work that they love themselves, and not try to create a ‘one-size-fits-all’ image that will offend no one. Those images are used for picture frame sales and cheap calendars. And even then… heh
4. Know the value of your own opinion of your own work. If you believe in it, do not let someone who does not detract you from your work. Instead, let it be a force for creating more images that you love.
5. Turn your attention toward those who support you. The 90% of your followers, fans, customers who love your work. Don’t insult them by giving more weight to the detractors than you do to those who are on your side. Reinforce their commitment to you by ignoring those who are denigrating them by criticizing you.
6. And lastly… don’t let them win. Don’t let a week, small, petty person with nothing to do but try to make those who are actually out there doing stuff feel bad. Never give someone like that any power… not over you, or your work, or your fans and tribe… ignore them. And that is what destroys them the most. Not angry responses or tears of shame… ignoring them brings them the self awareness that they really have nothing to contribute, and they have even less power than they think they do.
Stay committed to your work, and be true to those who support you.
Have a great week, everyone. And tell the unsolicited critics not to let the door hit them on the way out.
“Since clients haven’t held me to the lowest bid, other things factor in such as how the photographer allots the budget. How much money is going into casting, scouting, model-making, travel? What kinds of fees are they looking for? What usage are they including?. The creative call/treatment are very important too. Are they connecting with the art director and how are they approaching the job? Are they (or their agent) flexible regarding any changes in usage or scope? Let’s be honest here, if I like working with their agent I am more likely to recommend them for the job.”
The Project52 Pros knocked it out of the park with this assignment to shoot “The Infinitely Amazing, Always Tantalizing Sandwich”.
With layout provided, type in place on a layer, they had to shoot to the specs of the shot and keep it all perfect. That means the type had to be readable, and work within the layout.
When shooting to layout, it is important to consider those items furnished to be PART of the image delivered. You will see several ways the photographers used the shape of the typography to work with the image behind it.
The lighting ranges from full natural light, to multiple strobes, and the approaches are all within the parameters of the assignment. We give VERY strict assignment specifics on some of our shots, and they did well within those restrictions.
I am quite proud of these shooters.
Becoming a “Photographer” – or being a “Photographer”… what does that mean, really?
Does it mean that you now have a top of the line camera? Does it mean a bag of lenses? Does it mean an awesome set of studio lights? Or a light meter? Boom?
Storbs? (inside joke, sorry)
Nope. Sorry, none of those things mean a damn to whether you are a photographer or not. What matters is that you make photographs. Images. Snaps… whatever you want to call them.
And that is ALL that it means.
And the emphasis for photographers is the making of and viewing of their images. The goal line is the image. The product is the image. The whole enchilada is the image!
And I am not sure that we are all on the same page with that.
Look, I love to ‘make’ images. Working with lights, being in the studio with booms and stands and all that those tools entail is a thrill. I love to work on making a photograph.
But it is the photograph that is the ultimate thrill. The image that was created, not the effort that went into its creation.
I remember being at a workshop with Bret Weston. It was an exquisite time for me… 8×10 Deardorff and a stack of film holders at the ready. We were at a small beach near Carmel and it dawned on me that we were where Edward had made some of his most incredible images.
We spent time looking first. Before anything else, we looked. We looked in order to see. Before we make the image, we have to “see” the image. That ability to find the photograph in a full 360 degree scene is quite difficult when you are used to only looking through the camera when taking photographs. And we were asked to ‘see’ as a camera in order to find the image we wanted to make before seeing it through the camera.
I will say that the ability to do that was not won on the beach that day. But it indeed was won over several years of shooting and seeing and seeing then shooting. I look at the world much as a camera would now before bringing it out into the world.
I still refer to it as pre-visualization, although Ansel Adams rightly noted that was a term that was redundant. Visualization is what it was. To add the ‘pre’ was to allude to the visualization twice.
No matter, I am stuck in the redundant of the redundancy of pre-visualization so if you hear me say that at some point, you can be aware that I am aware of the redundancy of saying it that way. Sorry, Ansel.
The goal of the visualization is to take the camera out of the equation for a bit, and be deliberate in the choices to be made. Of course serendipity arises, and one can certainly make changes with the camera at the ready, but in many ways the deliberate choice becomes the correct choice over time.
We become the master of the tools, not at their mercy. We choose to make the photograph we see, not the photograph that simply appears in the viewfinder.
In other words, a photographer is a photographer even without the camera, because they are always visualizing the photograph that would be taken.
After a wonderful morning at the beach in Carmel (which included a berating from Mr. Weston with the most colorful choice of four lettered terms) we returned to the studio to process our images.
I had taken eight sheets of film with me, and had managed to expose only four.
Processing and printing took a little over two hours and the rest of the afternoon was spent pouring over each of the students work. My berating still stung, but the subtle compliments paid me by Mr Weston took most of pain away.
Imagine a workshop where the taking of the images is but one small part of the day, and the viewing of, dissecting of, criticising of, and joyously immersion of the imagery was the greater.
We talked about composition, and compared images to see how putting the subject in different areas actually gave it different contexts, and different relationships to the surroundings.
And different relationships to the viewers. We looked at how exposure could change the mood of the shot as well as create an emotion – intended or not.
Framing, light, shadow and viewpoint were discussed in length. We spoke into the night and slept with dreams of images, tripods and Dektol…
I would suggest such a workshop today would be somewhat difficult to sell. The emphasis in many circles seems to be more on other things, the taking / making of the image, not the image itself. “How do I do it” becomes the main question when “what will I end up with” should be.
There are noted exceptions of course. Jorge Colberg’s wonderful Conscientious for one. I do not always agree with him, but he always makes me think about imagery. And thinking about photographs, looking at photographs and understanding photographs is what a photographer should do when not actually making photographs.
I think, anyway.
John Szarkowski wrote a book entitled “Looking At Photographs” in 1973. This was a seminal book for this newest of art forms. I suggest you pick up a copy and spend some intimate moments with great photographs (at least taken previously to 1973).
Here is a link to some clips of Szarkowski discussing many of the contemporary and modern photographers featured in the book. It is well worth an hour or so of your time, believe me.
No discussion of camera gear can hold a candle to the actual examination of the images produced by those cameras.
The image is the culmination of all that we experience in our lives, and how we bring those experiences into the medium of the photograph. The photograph gives us context for our vision and we give the photograph its own context with our experiences.
Shared experiences and personal experiences are the basis for the extraordinary image that we strive to make with our cameras. Whether they are iPhones, P&S’s, ‘grampacams’ or extraordinarily expensive professional tools, the end product is a two dimensional ‘glyph’ captured with the personal context and values of the photographer.
The most successful of them are created with a deliberateness that is unfathomable to most beginning practitioners, even if they are shot in an instant of a moment. The seeming grab-shot can be as deliberate an image as the most deliberate tripod mounted view camera shot.
The long practiced synapses are simply firing quickly, and the vision is the driving factor. The time it took to make the shot is of no consequence to the emotion it evokes in the viewer.
The image can stand on its own.
I love photography. I love photographs even more.
If I could no longer make them, I would immerse myself in the best of them made by others. They are precious to me. Always have been, and I see no waning in my intense love affair with the photographic image.
How about you?
Look at photographs. Print photographs. Put photographs all around you. LIVE with photography. Live as a photographer.
It sure is an interesting life.
PHOTOGRAPH BY ALICIA BONTERRE
One of the recent assignments at Project 52 PROS was to make the worst photograph they could make. The assignment was designed to make the students think about what makes a good photograph in order to negate that in order to make a terrible photograph. You can see the assignment here.
Alicia Bonterre turned in a perfect example. The image of the bottle and the glass on the left were not staged. Simply set down and shot. She then worked her magic on the image to the right. I think this would be a very good way to show clients the power of what you do as a professional photographer. Think of some ways to show before and after shots that educate and inspire your clients.