Question and Answer Friday at Lighting Essentials


I was wondering aloud on twitter last night and asked if anyone had any questions they wanted answered… four tweets later we had these. One I believe I answered by tweets, but these three were so strong that they needed more than the 144 character response.

Here goes:

@wizwow a lot of people say develop your own style. With so so many photogs b4 us, do any of us have a unique style? Discuss…

Do not confuses style with something that must be totally unique. Your style must be authentic to you. It may look similar to another photographer, but after a while, it will become very much your own.

I suggest that photographers make the photographs that make them the most happy. What imagery do you do when there is no assignment? If you didn’t have a Flickr account and a deep need for bazillions of comments, would you make the same shots you just did?

Authentic photography is what happens when you do your very own work. That is YOUR style.

And it may be similar to another photographer’s style. Who cares? Not important if you are bringing your own authenticism to the image. If you are simply copying a lighting style or some post-processing trick, that is not style. That is something any one can learn and do.

Meaningless.

How you approach the image to make it yours, from POV, to lens choice, to light and composition, to post processing to presentation. There are plenty of variables in their, and only ‘vary’ them if that is what you want.

Looking at the masters, Weston, Avedon, Penn, Cunningham, Karsh… you will see a lot in common. Looking closer will reveal what each brings to the medium, to the image, to the authenticity of the subject.

Do not think you must be totally unique, I think instead you should be totally you.

@wizwow I’m good with the technical, but I want to know how to push my photos to the next level. I want to fall in love with my own images.

Oh man, I really can identify with this one. Happens to me on occasion as well.

Recently I realized that I don’t really care that much about shooting another girl in a bikini. Just not interested… been there done that. I don’t see any reason for me to do that work any more.

And that is a hard realization. I have spent nearly 30 years shooting women: fashion, beauty, lifestyle. Now… I would rather shoot a 65 year old fat jazz trumpet player. (Now, look – if there is a bikini shot to be done and it comes my way, I wont turn it down. I may be older, but I am not stupid.)

In other words, I was no longer in love with my images. I didn’t even get excited about doing the work.

What did I do? I took some time to rethink what I want to do. What work would make me get excited about shooting again? So I took stock of what I liked about doing what I have done for decades – and what I no longer liked about it.

Take a piece of paper and write it out… don’t stop writing till you realize, on paper, what it is that is getting between you and your images.

I have a good friend who used to shoot product and macro work on all big cameras. After 25 years and a client list that allowed him a very pleasant lifestyle, he found he no longer liked doing that work. It was like rote to him and the images that used to make him proud, were just images to get a paycheck for him.

He decided to look into other forms of photography… to find his ‘muse’ again so to speak. He found he loved the smaller cameras, with very simple lighting on location. He spent a year shooting this new work at every opportunity. He was excited and rejuvenated by the lifestyle stuff he was doing. Over a period of a few years, the transitioned from a studio and big cameras to travel and lifetyle. He retired a decade later having had two very distinct, but still photography, careers.

It isn’t easy – but to get to the next level try this approach.

1. Pull 10 of your favorite images. (NOTE: NOT your most popular, or the ones that made you the most money… pick the 10 images you love for whatever reason.)
2. Write down what you love about them. It is important to write this – thinking ain’t gonna cut it – we need all the senses working on this.
3. Write down what you would do, if you could do it again, to make them even better. Is it the need of a good stylist? Would you crop them differently, or frame them with more dynamics? Would you still use the same lens and light you did?
4. Pick 10 of the shots you think you should love, but don’t. Write down what works about them, and what you don’t like about them. Be brutal – you can make up to yourself with a brewski later – and put it all down.
5. Plan a shot to put what you have learned to use. What was not in your images, you add. What you didn’t like, you leave out.

It isn’t an easy process. But just like downhill skiers begin to find ways to cut wind resistance to shave off 1/10,000 of a second, we start to look into the details of what we do. And we make it a part of our shooting habits.

@wizwow how to network your way into portrait or wedding photography? Just put an ad, and be cheap?

Well, yes. That is a great way to network. And if you do that, you will need a network of people to help find you a job when your photography gig dies.

Cheap is not an option that is even worth considering. Seriously.

I am not a wedding/portrait guy, but I do understand the network, so let’s look at how we can get some interest.

You need to have people talking about you. You need to have your name discussed along with terms like “perfect wedding”, “exciting engagement”, “exclusive”, “valuable”, and “must have”.

Think about that. These are not terms that go along with ‘cheap’, are they?

I will offer a few things to think about, and a few ideas here.

1. If someone is expecting to spend a lot of money on their wedding photographer, how would that photographer dress? I would suggest a pair of shoes in the $300 range, a suit in the $1000 – $1500 range and somewhere special to meet. Showing up in jeans at a Starbucks in a 10 year old Sentra does not say $8000 wedding. Turn it around… would YOU think they were worth $8K for a day? Of course not, no one else has paid him that much… obviously.

Dress for success. You are dealing with people in higher incomes, and they look at things like shoes, manicures, hair, car, clothes and labels. Want the gig? Be aware. (And before you go whining about how that isn’t fair blah blah blah… who cares. It is what it is.)

2. Who are you marketing to? Women. Be aware of that, and how that should influence all you do marketing wise. If there are grooms out there who give a rats ass who shoots the wedding (I mean really, not the ‘for show’ morons), they are rare.

3. Tell everyone you know that you are a photographer. If you think you have done that, ask your aunt if she knows what you do. Ask your neighbor. Ask the lady at the checkout at Safeway. Ask your brother in law.

If they don’t know or hesitate, you have work to do. Print cars and give them out like water. Be the guy with the camera, and make killer photographs all the time. (Look, I hear some people on forums go on and on about being taken for granted, and whining because their friends wanted him to bring a camera and make photograph and there was no money and wahh wahh wahh… Grow the hell up. Make images, put them on the FB and the Twitter and the blog. BE “THE” photographer.)

Some ideas:
1. offer discounts for returning service men/women. Let everyone know.
2. make sure your blog is about you and your pictures and your subjects, not lessons directed to other photographers (‘learn how to use your speedlight on manual” crap. Your clients don’t care and the photographers ain’t never gonna hire you. Focus on your clients.
3. find a project that will help your town or metro area, and do it. Maybe it is WWII vets, or occupants of the town that are over 80, or all the olympic medal winners in your area. It is important work, and you will get help in doing it from the local papers. Do I know this works… heh, yes I do. A former student did this.
4. Do some charitable things with your photography. Yes, charitable. It is important and it gets you noticed… a win/win for sure.

So there it is – my first of a hopefully ongoing project. I will answer three photographers questions on Fridays. I answer them from my own perspective, and others may have different ways of looking at them. That’s cool. Always room for different approaches.

If you have anything to add, go ahead and do it in the comments.

And remember the Wacky contest…

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About 

I am in love with light.

Also known as Don Giannatti, photography has been the focus of my life for most of my adult years. I have written three books for Amherst Media (available on Amazon and Barnes & Noble: keyword 'don giannatti'. Lighting Essentials is my flagship blog and ezine with a slightly different slant than most photography related blogs. If you are interested in becoming a better photographer, check out www.project52.org. Thanks for visiting.

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