Dance like no body is watching when you know that they are watching

Well, I’m packing up for a week in NYC to bang on some doors
and hopefully meet some new editors. This trip is a long time coming and I’m
pretty excited. I’ve gotten some great response from my hand made promo dealy –
Whoo-HOO! – and a couple of appointments before I even get on the plane. It’s all
very encouraging. But the process of going and showing your folio isn’t like
going to apply for one of those job things that I hear people talk about. No
sir.

 

Ya see in a job interview you try to dress like you didn’t
need your mommas’ help and hopefully look like you might not freak out the clientele.
 Then you are polite, attentive and show enthusiasm
about the job without seeming desperate for work even if you are. You try to
present yourself on paper through your resume and hope that they don’t notice
that bit you fudged to make the award seem more impressive than it really was.
In essence you try to seem professional and have enough positive experience to
handle the position. Pretty easy overall.

 

But when you are an artist looking for a new patron, wow it’s
different. There is almost never an “opening” that you are trying to fill. Nope
they already have people doing what you do. If anything they really don’t have
the time to see if you are, maybe, a far better guy for the job then the dude
they have been using for years. Maybe that dude isn’t really so hot but they
are comfortable with him. He’s a known quantity where as you, Mr. Hotshot,
could be a very talented but egoistical and artistically inconsistent flake. Even
if you are cutting edge they will often continue to hire their old standby
because he always comes through and is the nicest guy. Nobody takes chances and
certainly not on you.

 

Consider this: your portfolio is your resume and you can’t
very easily fudge that. If your work stinks it’s all right there for everyone
to see. Ok as a photographer there is always the magic of Photoshop to help you
fudge the fact that your exposure on that shot was off but if the image is
boring, then the image is boring regardless of what you did to make it. Did I
mention that they can tell if you “shopped it”? Boy-howdy does that say
something about you as a professional.

 

There on that art directors desk is not just what you’ve
been up to lately, it’s your soul and it’s being scrutinized. Joy! Every image
you put before them and everything that is in that frame says a ton about who
you are as a person and an artist. Your choice of subject matter, your physical
approach to the subject, your tendencies both compositional and technical, how
you relate to your subject and the list goes on. Heck just how you pair images
together says something so the pacing of your book is in itself a small treaty
on you. And you need to sell them on yourself in about a dozen or so images that
they will go through flip-flip-flip … “thanks for coming by!”

 

It is good to know that every meeting to show my folio is
like the “final interview” where they wouldn’t bother to give me ten minutes
unless they were actually considering me for work. There just isn’t the time to
meet with every Guy With Camera out there. Wheat from chaff ya know? For me it’s
a pretty tough experience and I never enjoy going through it. Unless that is if
the person holding my heart in their hands is enthusiastic about my folio and promptly
decides to give me work. That’s the rush that all the pain and suffering is
worth. He likes me! He likes me!

Doris … take a memo!

Well my little promo is finished and out the door. I’ve
spent two solid days just typing simple little promo cards with 2-3 sentences
on them to try and set up appointments for my upcoming trip to New
York
.  I have such
respect for the secretaries of the “old day” before word processors and “correct-o-type”.
Those people were trained beyond what most of us would have thought possible. I’m
so happy that some brilliant people have made spell check because otherwise I’m
certain that my attempts at typed communication would make most people think
that I’m, uh, “special”. Granted my hand writing is to some an unbreakable code
but that’s another deal. Oh and just to make things harder on mu-self I couldn’t
use correction stuff because my fancy-schmancy paper is not white, it’s tan
with flecks of colored paper in it. One type-o and it’s start over. Gad I had a
lot of those!

 

As I mentioned in a prior post I decided to type my promos
on “Diana” the manual type writer that I got the other month. I wanted the
editors who get these to know that I spent some time putting it together. Let
me tell ya brothers and sisters did it ever. I am an abysmal typist but I got
it done. My buddy asked me why I didn’t just use a cool type writer font and
print them out Ka-ZAM! on my nifty laser printer. Well you can tell when it’s a
font, you can see the perfectly even spacing and you can tell that it wasn’t
written with the impact of the font hammer. All that stuff. With the promos I’m
sending out you can see the delightful lack of accuracy inherent to Diana and
that, I hope, gives it a hand made touch that makes them different. I didn’t
just send out a bunch of cards from a database that rolled off the press at
some slick print house which were summarily addressed and uniformly shipped
out. Nope I labored over these babies – and how!

Cards

 

I hand cut the speckled paper, made and trimmed the prints,
manually fixed the print to the upper flap and signed each one next to my biz
card which is stuck to the lower flap. Doesn’t sound like much but to me it is.
I just hope that the recipient “gets it”. I certainly put myself into it. But
then, isn’t that the idea I’m trying to get across – that I put myself into my
work? Either that or I’m just plain crazy. Hard to tell as they look a lot
alike.

It’s not magic, it’s hard work

I was walking down the street yesterday pushing a cart filled
with my strobe case, light stands and tripod, loads of power cables, oh and
camera case too, when two ladies meet me at the crosswalk in the middle of a
conversation.

 

The lady with the dark hair says to her friend, ”The problem
with technology is the people who don’t understand it.” Well this gets me
thinking so I butt in and say, “That’s because they confuse technology with
magic”.

 

Well that gets a laugh from them and they agree. As we get
across the street I mention that people who don’t understand what a technology,
or technology in general, does is that they always seem to expect more from it
than it actually does. With a nod of understanding we part ways. As I’m walking
along my head is ticking away that I’m walking along with a lot of technology
that those ladies most likely don’t understand: digital cameras, wireless
digital triggering systems for my strobe lights, which use a variety of light
modifiers – of which the grid spot always seems to get a “wow!”, so that I can
do something that everyone takes for granted: make photos of something that
looks better and more interesting than the subject itself.

 

Ok, by that statement I don’t quite mean the common thought that “Well, with Photoshop you can make the picture look like anything so what's all the fuss?” but the simple and quite old
photographic aspects of lighting, composition and moment. The fact that basically
everyone walks around with a cell phone and they pretty much all have cameras
built in does not mean that everyone is a photographer. Rather it means that
just about everyone has a camera. Big difference. You have a word processor on your computer so does that make you a writer? No? Ah.

Yet it has become so simple and common for people to make a photographic image that more than ever I have to explain to potential clients that professional photography still costs real money to do. The belief is that with our camera and processing technology that anyone can make great photos so why should I pay you all this money to do what anyone can do with their cell phone?

 

If we were still in the film era and everyone had a disc or
110 camera, you need to be an old dude like me to remember how horrible they
were but they still took better quality pictures than most cell phone cameras
do, people wouldn’t be feeling jaunty about how they are “a photographer”. Back
then they knew better. Their pictures were awful but did capture a usable image
regardless of its lack of artistic qualities. Now a days people produce loads and loads of poor
photography but maybe it’s the immediacy of “point, click, look” that makes
them feel differently about it. The technology hasn’t made their photography
any better, only faster and the gear a bit smaller. Yet the way that they feel about
what they produce with the new photo tool is very different.

 

I said tool because a cell phone camera is a usable tool. I’ve
posted plenty of photos made with my cell phone that have artistic merit. I’ve
made a little book with photos taken from my cell phone.  However putting a cell phone camera in my
hands is different than putting it in the hands of, say my 9 year old nephew. In
my hands it’s a photographic tool and with him it’s a toy and the results will
dramatically different. Just like putting an average driver behind the wheel of
a Ferrari F60 isn’t going to turn them into the next Formula 1 champion. If
anything the poor fellow behind the wheel will find himself quickly in the
ditch. It’s not the tool but the craftsman who is using the tool that makes the
tool useful. But if that tool is small, sleek, digital and has a neat-o
interface then why does it change it’s nature in the minds of so many people?
It’s still a tool. A few years ago people would say "Huh, if I had a camera like that I could make great pictures but all I have is this little point-n-shoot" but now it's "Who needs to spend money on a fancy camera? I got one here in my phone!"

 

I was talking to my buddy a bit after that street side
conversation about it all and he added an interesting aside. He was relating
about how another photographer made a blog post with a very boring image from
his phone and then proceeded to show how much more interesting it would be if
he put some lens flair and a warm tone overlay on the shot. Now it was a jazzed
up boring shot. Saved by technology. Yeah that’s the ticket!

 

We thought it was silly but the
dude in question was absolutely serious about this bit of P-Shop fiddle. It’s a
kind of “Oh, I don’t need to spend the effort to worry about lighting, background
and all that, I’ll just “Shop it” into shape. Well it usually looks “shopped” after
the fact so what’s the point of going through the effort to elevate the mundane?
Oh right, because we can. (Shudder!)

 

Anyhoo, it just compels and repels me this whole Church
Of Technology
thing. I’m a nerd and
love high tech stuff don’t get me wrong but I don’t see it as anything other
than what it is – a newer way of doing things. Any maybe that’s why we are
seeing so much nostalgia these days. Especially the static composition, muted color, warm tone, late
afternoon with glow-y lens flare images that has become popular in advertising.
Maybe that is in response to all the shiny immediate go fast stuff that most
people are agog with. I dunno. That feels false to me as well. A conceit. Trying
to make us teary eyed for a time when we remember things being slower but being
fed to us at our current high speed rate of consumption and often made with the
latest gadgets. Now that’s a lovely dichotomy huh?

 

So I will leave you with two images both taken with my
phone.

 

I saw this weathered bill board while I was walking down the
street to an assignment. I had two cases of camera gear with me so I whipped
out my phone and did this.

Paper on the wall

In the essence of the classic snapshot this is my good buddy
Rylund and me at the Avery Brewing anniversary party over the weekend. Oh and ladies, he’s
single!

Ry and I

My new little friend – read as: a personal touch

I'm not much of an ego kinda guy so I really don't like "tooting my horn". Thus marketing myself is always tough when I'm not meeting someone in person. It just feels, well, impersonal and that puts me off. So I have been thinking of some way to make my meager attempts to get new business more personal and more like, well, me. Sending out postcards and e-mailers really has a mass produced feel to me. I mean if you are going to print out, say, 500 identical cards with the same image on them how do you get around the cookie cutter aspect of it? Well you can, as I do, write a note directly to the person. That's cool but writing 200+ little notes reminds me of some kind of penal sentence rather than some form of human outreach.

But the little things matter. Editor who gets something like this knows that even if the image isn't quite what they are looking for you took the time to pick up a pen and jot something down.

Even a: "Hey there Mr. Gill. Loved the April issue. That feature on autism was amazing. Would love to work for you. Cheers!" let's them know their work and that you are paying attention. It's the little things. You aren't going to get that from a service that mails postcards from your database. Nope.

But the rub is: I have to hand write them and my handwriting has been called many things except for "elegant". Scribble, chicken scratches, not-so-short-hand, a total mess, illegible … that kind of thing. So when I'm writing out my cards I'm printing so slowly and concentrating so hard that it not only takes me a very long time to write out a few sentences but after a dozen or so cards my hand is cramping and I need a nap. Well maybe not that bad but still!

So enter "Diana".

Little friend

I picked her up today. She's a little green Royal model "Diana" from the early 1960's and came complete with the neat brown leather clam shell travel case. Twenty bux! I'm going to do my next promo deal-y on her. It will be just as personal as doing it by hand but might give people the idea that I am eccentric. A plus! Artists are supposed to be quirky right? Most importantly they will be able to read what I'm sending. Super bonus with that.

When I get my next promo going I'll post it here. Should be fun.

I’ll cover your flank or not a back seat driver

I met Lindsay Lack about 3 years ago, I think, when I put
together a gathering of local news and documentary photographers for a night of
drinking and pictures. She and her hubby had just recently moved to Denver
from Iowa where she had finished a
few internships after graduating from the Missouri
journalism school. Great gal, good shooter. I kept in touch with her and she quickly
became my assistant and friend.

Continue Reading →

Do not adjust your set … we are in control

As I have said before photography is about control and as
such the photographer makes a host of decisions in order to make a successful photograph.
When dealing with a human subject there are even more factors that come into
play. When the image is a portrait and not a candid the photographer is taking
control of the situation for the expressed purpose of making that portrait. One
of which is getting the cooperation of the subject.

 

For me there is a clear line between taking control of your
decisions to make a good photograph: choosing your settings, lens, light, angle
of view and most importantly the moment, and then there is directly taking
control of the situation outside of your head. One is documentation and the
other is a portrait or illustration.

 

The joke that we news photographers have is that we know
when the TV people have already been with our subject because when we arrive
the subject asks us “What do you want me to do?” That’s because TV basically
doesn’t just go in to a situation and visually capture what is already in
progress. TV, because it needs a set of sequences to provide some kind of narrative,
figures out while on location and in editing what it wants to see to produce
the narrative that they want. You can just go in a shoot a lot of video and
eventually produce enough footage to make a story but it takes a lot of time in
the field and that basically doesn’t happen in any kind of deadline situation. So
as I think of it, TV news is a name but just about everything that they show,
except for spot/breaking news real time coverage, is in one way or the other an
illustration and not documentary. When working for a newspaper or news magazine
my response to the subjects question is “Do whatever you were doing before I
rang the door bell”.

 

Now I was thumbing through the winners of PDN’s Topknots,
which is their big wedding photography contest and instead of just looking at
the pix I actually read the text that goes with them. Insert your “I read it
for the articles” joke here. Anyhoo, what I found was that for every category
all the winning photos except for just, I think, two the photographers explained
how they set up the scene, directed the subjects and did usually heavy post
processing to get the image. Ok these are wedding photos and not news so they
are not trying to tell the journalistic truth for a Pulitzer. I will cut them
slack on this. However they were generally shot in the “photojournalism” style
and yet they do not show real moments. They are just as contrived and set up as
the staid wedding photos of old, only with a different visual look. When you
spend time to arrange the elements on a table and then enter it as a “details”
shot it is a details shot that was designed by the photographer  to me more of a “still life” where all the
elements are chosen for the image, some or all of which weren’t there to begin
with. Ok let’s call that a quibble. But when the photographer admits to having
an assistant whose job it is to tidy up things in the ready room to make for a
cleaner image and then tells the bride and her mom to “do that over here and
face this way” as part of general event coverage I’m speechless. Yeah yeah,
that’s just me being the documentarian guy but I just think how that couple
will feel in a few years when they are going through their wedding photos. Will
they come to photo after photo and not think about the wonderful moments the
photo shows or will they say, “Oh yeah, that’s when he had me go over there and
do that with your uncle and then he had you get behind us and jump up and down …”
I could not and would not ever let myself be that photographer.

 

It must be that way for the people on so many TV shows when
they watch them afterwards. “Remember when the TV crew came and rearranged our furniture
for that interview? Yeah then they had us sit on the bed pointing at things in
our scrap book. Oh and they made us walk down the street holding hands looking sad
… yeah what was THAT all about?” Ugh!

 

Now I have been enjoying doing portraiture where I put
together a locale, props and such to evoke a particular look, mood and what not
but I’m never going to call something that is manipulated to be “a found moment”.
It may be a moment within the context of a contrived situation but that is
different.

 

We are so used to seeing images that are in one way or the
other controlled, manipulated or outright scripted that we have a hard time
seeing wonderful little slices of life and time as uncontrived. Altered reality
is almost normal to us now. (shiver!) As such, I will never do anything that
will prevent me from sleeping well. Honesty is my policy. Both to my clients as
well as my subjects. How quaint!

Copy cat, copy cat!

“It
is better to fail in originality than to succeed in imitation.” Herman Melvile

I had a very interesting thing happen the other day. I went
to my mail box, the physical one, and on the cover of a publication was an
image that stopped me in my tracks. So I went inside and showed it to my wife
whose eyes got very large upon seeing it. “How can they copy you like that?”
she cried. She was rather upset at it all and I thought it was funny. Why?

 

Well the deal is that the cover shot was what appears to be
a poor imitation of one of my images. How can I say that? Well it goes as
follows: I have a photo in my folio that I produced a little over a year ago
where the same subject, but not same exact person, is standing in essentially
the same spot, facing the same way, posed in a very similar manner, shot with
the same angle of view, from the same perspective only without my better and
more dramatic lighting.  Big deal – it’s
a co-inky-dink. I’m not so sure.

 

Ya see I know the publication. I know the editor who
assigned the photo. The editor has seen my folio. The person who made the image
may not be fully aware of me and my work but the editor is. I’m not sure whose
idea it was but the person in charge had to have known in the back of their
mind that the image was familiar.

 

Or it was intentional but not as a “copy” so much as an
inspiration. I get that. I have lots of inspirational images that float around
in my head. Inspiration is important. I never tried to imitate anyones work let
alone copy an image. I did and do look at other peoples work and learn from it.
As I’ve said before I will sometimes think to myself “What would Joel Sartore/Albert
Watson/Joey Terill/some other cool photog/ do with this complete mess of a
situation?” Then I’d put my twist on that bit of inspiration.  

 

Truth be told I’m just about to go to a shoot that was inspired
by someone else’s work. Well not a single image, more like 2-3 different ones
from different photographers, and what I’m going to be doing will not look like
the shots that gave me the “Ah-HA!.” Similar kind of location but, different
lighting, different subject, different mood and my own twist on top of it all. That
will end up being a shot that is mine and not one where you can say “Mmm, didn’t
Whatshisname shoot something like this?”

 

Still for the photog who may or may not have been inspired
by my image: either way I’m flattered.

I’m not Gary Larson, or “How big of a pigeon do you think I am?”

I'm in the process of putting together some new folios for the spring marketing push and as chance has it there has been some interesting talk lately about promotion on the interwebs. I was reading how one photog mentioned that he annually spends enough promoting himself to buy "a nice German luxury car". Zounds! I think to myself, "Self! If you had $50,000 to spend every year just to let people know that you exist and do good work I'd think that you already have loads of people who are paying you good money to do what you do." I mean I'm talking about photographers here not companies with production lines and distribution networks and dozens of people on the payroll. The big car companies spend 3-5% of their annual budget on advertising and it's thought that 10% is a big amount for marketing your biz. So even if this guy and his buddies are spending 10% to keep their rep going they are still billing a half million dollars a year. Excuse me buy my head is swimming here. (Deep breath!)

So the whole idea is to reach out to potential new clients to let them know that 1) you exist and that 2) your work is good and 3) they should hire you because you are better and more interesting than the guy that they currently use. Something like that. Also to keep you freshly in the mind of the folks who already adore you. That's important too ya know!

But that is where things get funky. The people who hire photographers seem to have a funny way of seeing us creative types. They want to hire the guy who does that thing. Ok, cool. But if said guy decides that "that thing" is now kinda boring and starts changing up his style it can freak out the guys who hire him because he's not doing that thing anymore. Or the hiring guys get bored of "that thing" and stop hiring the guy who does it because, well we've seen it already! Can a brother get a break?

So this one shooter who mostly shoots lit location portraits gets the idea that it would be funny to shoot some farm animals in the same style as his people and does it as a lark for a promo piece. In one he shoots a cow and up to that point was the only cow he's ever photographed. Well low and behold that little post card gets him a job because to the art director at the ad agency he obviously knows his cows! (giggle)

He hires the same animal wrangler as the promo shoot and even uses the same cow for the big job. All goes well. Then the ad person moves to a different company and he sends a note to say something like "congrats on your move". He gets a reply that says "If I need any cows photographed while I'm at this agency I'll be sure to call you." Wha? Right. Check the guys folio, website and all his promo material and except for that one cow there are no animals to be found. He shot one cow twice and now he's pegged as The Cow Specialist. (Are you on dope?)

Right. A folio full of portraits of people and all he's know for at that agency is a guy who photographs cows.

They want specialists because it's easy to figure out. Need a cow shot? I know the dude to call! Need the guy who does that thing? I've got his number. Easy as eating pie. Or not. It's a bit of a catch 22: if you shoot cows, or any one kind of subject matter usually in a particular way, you can get work for doing that one thing but if you don't shoot that subject matter in a particular way you won't get that work even though you can shoot it and well. The blinders are on it seems.

But where does that leave guys like me who have to be able to shoot just about anything at any time? How do we fit into the ultra narrow vision of the people who hire us without becoming artistically leaden?

It all reminds me of this quote:

"A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion,
butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance
accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give
orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem,
pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently,
die gallantly. Specialization is for insects."

-Robert A. Heinlein

That sums it up for me as I sit here writing, sipping one of my fine home brewed beers (a Belgian golden), having finished a nice dinner that I made for the wife and yes my gravy is that good, and am putting together a set of fashion images for the a few lifestyle magazines that I'm targeting. Tomorrow I'm shooting a video in the morning and then in the afternoon doing a portrait of a guy who in an inventor. If I can do all these things, and if you can too, why is that not an asset but instead a hindrance to getting a broader client base?

I think that it come down to risk. We as artists risk all the time. We risk emotionally with each piece of work we take on. We risk financially with every project we do because we believe in it. We risk creatively to push ourselves as artists. But the ones on the other side don't want to risk. They want a sure thing. If they hire the guy who does the thing they get exactly that and it's comforting. 

The only ones who don't seem to have this problem are the newspapers. They expect their photographers to be able to do anything they throw at them and at any time. If you are, say, a large format portrait photog who only works with available light you will never get work from the newspapers because you can't shoot sports, news, features, food/product or any of the other things that will come you way on any given day. But if you are a news guy and are therefor not a specialist you are locked out of work that you surely can do because you don't have a book that is essentially the same shot over and over. Gad!

So I will be stubbornly me. I will show what I do and what I can do and if they don't get it – fine. In that spirit I the guy who photographs people will submit another of my still life camera-phone-o-roids.

Freedom! (or cookies. That's good too.)

FxCam_1267197937362

2010 – I’m so excited

Huh? Am I crazy? Nope my eyes are open and my heart is eager
for the upcoming year.

Yes everything is in flux and moving too fast. Yes the
economy is still faltering and markets are precarious. And I’m certainly aware
that clients are tightening their already taught purse strings. I don’t care.

 

Why? Because we photographers, especially the ones who work
on location, are used to adversity. Things never go “as planned” in our work so
why should any of this really bother us? We always have to think on our feet,
adapt, adjust and bring back the goods.

How is this current state of transition any different? If
anything because of the newfound glory of all the digitally inspired niches and
their various info pipelines we have more opportunities for work.

 

Ok some venues are just not doing what they used to and as
such some kinds of photography are becoming “rarer than an honest politician”
but that’s not that big a deal. There was never really a big market for gritty
news and documentary work ever. Even during the 50-60’s with Look and Life
battling it out that was only a tiny fraction of all the photographic work out
there. Frankly I wonder where all the death and dying photo stories that get
the big photo awards ever get published anyhoo!

 

My prediction is this: With all the venues for reaching
potential customers now the power of compelling imagery is even more important to
cut through the din. This will require a different way of pricing/licensing
since your photos won’t be used in a specific given publication/advert space.
The photos will be used essentially everywhere but for a very short period of
time because in a blink everyone will have seen the image and the next time
they see it it will loose its impact. Ads will have to be generated more
quickly to keep up with saturation and as a result the photography will have to
be new.

 

That’s the ad/marketing dude stuff. For the news dudes we
are going to loose the vertical image because 99% of the venues for our work
will become screens which are horizontal. Forget the cover shot as there aren’t
covers anymore. Cool! We never liked verticals and cover shots, although
lucrative, were a ton of work and never really any fun. Also just as with the
advertising mess people are getting tired of sorting through all the
information clutter and are wanting a focused source of news that is relevant
and vetted. Newspapers/news magazines will mostly stop being printed and will
be online but not the same as they were. But their need for serious content
will be just like the old days if not more. With things happening so fast we
need to be plugged in to the news stream more than ever. I mean who are you
going to trust to give you the skinny on that mess in City Council, some dudes
blog? Who is going to sort out this whole deal with the scandal with the Governor?
A “citizen journalist” who by day works at the car dealership? The guys who run
news organizations are going to realize that the simple puff pieces that they
ran for the last decade don’t cut it anymore and they have to go back to doing hard
news, investigative news to survive. Now from a classic news photographer’s
perspective, how can that be bad?

 

I’m not a soothsayer by any means. I have no crystal ball but
peering into my beer glass of wonder I’m still pretty certain that although
things are making many of us feel rather sea sick, it’s going to be a fun
although bumpy ride.

 

As for me I have 4 personal projects in the works, one quite
long term, new energy and fresh ideas and a decidedly confident attitude about
2010. New work, new clients, new horizons.

 

Happy photo to go with the prior delusional rant: A quick
snap from my phone. BTW this is an ice cream shop made to look like a milk jug. The thing is about 35 feet tall.

 

Jug

BTW, it cracks me up to think that my phone has more resolution,
although not as good, as the Nikon D1 which changed everything for photographers
a decade ago. The D1 made millions of film photographers cower in fear that the digital photography revolution was at their door while others embraced what it brought. My phone,
my lovely Google G1, seems to represent the current digital fear – compact and
instant information access and “The death of print”. With its 3G/WiFi
connectivity with full web browsing and e-mail along with a digital camera and
camcorder that allows me to shoot a photo/video, write a story to go with it
and upload it all from a device that costs less than $200 and fits into my
pocket. Our tools are pretty Sci-Fi so shouldn’t our mentality be too?

Archiving: feeding the beast / lightening the load

As I mentioned in the prior post about how our storage tech has gotten
smaller/faster I realized that I had to do something that I've been dreading
for the last two years: putting all my image DVD's into my mirrored hard drive
archive system. Not that long ago large hard drives, i.e. bigger than 100gig
were seriously expensive. When we first started seriously shooting digital
around year 2000/1 drives were in the order of a $5 per gig and a 40 gig drive
was considered to be pretty big at the time. To run a mirrored backup/archive
you need two of the buggers. So that got rather expensive rather quick thus a
lot of us were burning our files to CD and then to DVD because it was just a
lot cheaper. Well time and technology marches on at a blistering pace and now
I'm buying 500gig drives for about $70 a pop but I've been eyeballing this
shelf full of DVD's knowing that one day I'm going to have to put them onto
disc.

Well that day happened and I've been feeding the machine disc after disc
after disc and have noticed a few things in the process.

1) I'm really glad that I was smart and burned things to mirrored discs. The
writable CD's and DVD's have a limited shelf life. I found that some files on 3
discs were somehow unreadable but since I had the smarts to put them on two
discs I could read the other one.

2) Good doG but reading files off of DVD's is so slow. They used to be
wicked fast but in comparison to our current hard drives and flash cards the
transfer has taken a painfully long time.

3) I'm going to have to go through essentially this process again in a few
years but with everything in my archive. The simple fact is that I've already
done this before when I went from CD's to DVD's to archive. About every 5 years
the storage technology changes so much that things start to become
non-backwards compatible. CD to DVD wasn't that big a deal as the interface was
the same: IDE. Hard drives were initially IDE then EIDE which was the same
cable but different guts luckily they talked to each other. Now we have been
using SATA drives which are going to be replaced soon by solid state drives.
When that happens I'll have to move all my SATA drives that that format. Gad!

4) In the early days I was really worried about how much storage I was
using. I made brutal edits for archiving. It's funny but as I was scanning
through some of my old shoots I could remember lots of vivid details about the
shoot and I could remember some shots that I didn't save. Ugh!

5) My old "system" of archiving was horrible. I didn't even give
folders good and easy to understand names. Never mind that I wasn't key wording
my images or even the shoots. What a maroon!

6) In the early days I shot stuff JPEG! Wow was I ignorant. Granted we
didn't have the ability to shoot RAW+jpg like we do these days and a 256mb card
cost about $500 so that made RAW tough but still it gives me the shudders.

So now all those shiny discs in their little plastic cases are gone.
Replaced by a single, well dual actually, hard drive. It was an exercise that I
will go through again in a few years and for all that rot it was an interesting
stroll down memory lane for my early digital years.

 

How are you, how you are

I had an interesting meeting a bit ago with a potential new rep and afterwords I was told that she was pleased to see that how I write here on the blog and how I present the world through my work is actually how I am in person. I was at the same time both pleased and taken aback.

Pleased because I consider myself a humble person and my integrity means a lot. I don't have much of a ego, certainly by modern hype standards, and want to treat every single person as I want to be treated.

Taken aback because this honesty seems to delight many but confuse some. I don't play games unless you are talking about Scrabble. I don't pander to my subject or my clients. I refuse to be two faced yet some people seem to be very used to "creatives" doing and saying anything to get the assignment or shot regardless of honesty, accuracy or whatnot. Some people get big jobs not because of the quality of their work but by the force of their personality. They are hired because they are "cool" or find a way to ingratiate themselves to the client. Frankly I couldn't sleep at night if that's the way that I'd have to be in order to be successful.

I told the rep that it's important to me to work for and with people who I like and trust. Yeah, yeah "it's just business" but to me it's a lot more than that: it's my life and how I choose to live it. I don't have to do anything I don't want to, ya know? I say that "even if there is a gun to your head you have more than one option – it just may not be pretty". I think that some of this attitude comes from my news/documentary background. The adage is "a journalist has nothing but their reputation for honesty to stand on". Once you blow that reputation you are just a guy with a camera or note pad. So I try to be as open and fair with everyone as possible.

So if that means that because I don't want to "play ball" with a certain client or subject's ego and I loose the sale, so to speak, that's fine with me. There is a big difference between being friendly, pleasant, deferential and being a suckup, disingenuous or simply hyping. I know lots of people who have gotten far by being, well, great salesmen even though what they are selling isn't very good. However eventually the hype gets old and the quality of their stuff leaves us flat. Then the hotshot has to regroup and reinvent themselves often with less than stellar results. I know that there are lots of egos out there that want to be stroked but I'm just not the guy for them. And I'm cool with that.

Meanwhile here's a shot that I made on my G-phone a while ago while shopping with the wife.

Oddness

What’s it worth

I got a call the other day from the PR rep of a company that just won an award related to their sales growth. They do something very well and as a result have grown a very impressive amount over the last few years. The guy wanted to be able to use the photo that I made of their CEO recently to go along with their PR blitz about said award. I asked what their intended usage is because that's how you figure price. It's about value. The more valuable the image is to the buyer, the more you charge for it. This isn't a huge company but they are not a "Mom and Pop" either. Oh and they had an over 500% increase in business in the last two years so I knew that they couldn't honestly give me the "but money is tight right now" argument. The guy wanted 6 months web and limited print use. No problem.  I had told him that I needed info to formulate a fair price and explained that I would send along a contract that spelled out the terms and rights involved. He was cool with all that but when I quoted him a very fair price, not "chump change" but very reasonable, he acted shocked.

"Oh," he said, "can you just give it to us and we will only use it for a few weeks?" Now let's be serious. This is a PR dude for a fast growing and profitable company and he balked at a very insignificant amount of money to better help him promote their achievement. How is this?

I explained as politely as I could that I do not give my work away. I am a professional and I earn my money because what I do has value. They did not get to be as successful as they have by giving their goods and services away so why should I? If my work has value to him then it certainly has value to me and I could be compensated for it. Makes sense right? Well not to a lot of people who are in powerful positions in successful companies who understand that the image of their business is important. "I want it but don't want to pay for it" is short sighted and selfish. That is the impetus for millions of people who have been hurting the music and movie industry for years with piracy.  Heck I had that one guy call me up to ask me to give him one of the images that, he admitted, he was trying to steal from my web page. Yeah, he was having a hard time ripping me off so would I be so kind as to just send it to him! Gah!

Well anyway the PR guy gave me the "I'll call ya back" and I'm pretty sure he will never call back even if he realized the logic and correctness of my position. Frankly I think that I embarrassed him and that's cool to a degree. I hope that he never tries to low ball someone who will make him and his people look good/better. It makes him look like he is the one who doesn't understand business and marketing. I know that I will have this conversation on the value of my work over and over and over again for years to come. Educating clients about how the business of being a creative person works is a never ending process. As soon as you get that one new client up to speed, here comes another one who is baffled that I'm charging real money to "just snap a few photos".

What’s my motivation?

In the editorial world there is a pretty tight ethics boundary that just about every publication that has a reputation for being a news source adheres to. Basically, you don’t mess with reality. That often makes your job as a photographer easy because if it doesn’t happen you can’t be blamed for not photographing it. However it is also a tough thing when nothing is happening, the light is awful, the environment is worse and time is short. That’s when you start pining for your lights, a good wardrobe for the subject and maybe a gothic cathedral to shoot in. But that’s not reality. That’s portraiture.

Being both a personal and professional Gemini I have two sides to me: the documentarian who likes to show up with nothing more than a D700 body, my 24mm, 50mm and 85mm lenses with a flash that usually doesn’t leave the bag. Then there is the portrait photographer who shows with a backpack full of cameras, lenses, a big case of high powered strobes, a big bag or two of lighting modifiers and stands along with maybe a case of extra stuff so that I can put light in tough places or remove light if I so choose. Then there is the makeup artist and a concept that is often bounced around at a meeting with atleast one editor type and a pre-arrainged location that is deemed to convey the idea that we have for the photo. Oh and there is some person to be in front of my lens. 

But given all that extra junk used to switch from “reality” mode to “created reality” mode the guy behind the lens is still the same dude and I try to be the same ethical fellow regardless of how much artifice is brought in.

Since the lens points both ways how you photograph a subject is a indicitive of what kind of person you are. Portraits often say as much about the photographer as they do the subject – so many choices are made by the photographer about the image before the subject even wakes up that day. However to me the subject should not be the photographer. All the work that goes into making the photograph should, in my opinion, reveal something about the subject and not be about the wacky idea that the photographer convinced the subject to go along with. 

However many of the “top” editorial portrait photographers are about the idea behind the photo and not really about the subject. Well that may be ok for them but it’s not me. Even if I have a great idea for a portrait I still want you to look at it and see anything except the subject. I want to be a conduit for some aspect of the subject be it their strength, humor, prestige, frailty, sadness or whatever. I want to be drawn to them as a photographer so that my viewers will share that fascination.
I ran across a very thought provoking piece on NPR the other day that was talking about the ethics of portrait photography. Give it a listen and few thought cycles.

More than just a handshake

So here I am in D.C. making the rounds with some editors. In some cases they are new faces, in others it’s putting a face to someone I’ve had prior contact/work with. I could just send them the usual: e-mail, post card, promo thing-y, printed portfolio, blah, blah, blah. But quite often it’s not that I/you can make good photographs that gets you the assignment but the little things that have nothing to do with cameras and lights and such.

For instance: Does the editor/client like your energy/personality? Are you brash/sensitive/funny/crazy enough for the subject? Are you the kind of person that they feel has enough hustle and independence to send out into the field for a few days and make the best of what could be a tough situation? These little things are often important and nothing is like ten minutes of face time to solidify the client’s impression and knowledge of you not as a photographer but as a person. They are hiring a person and not some robot with a camera ya know! I had a long time client tell me that they like to hire me for emotionally tough stories because they like how gentle I am. There also was one who told me that they like to hire me because I’m a tough go-getter who doesn’t take “no” for an answer. Uh, ok. Which one is right here? Wait!Don’t answer that. Let’s keep the illusion going for a while longer.

So the moral of the story: The relationship that you have with your client is indicative of the kind of relationship you will have with your subjects.  So don’t be faceless – make real relationships with the patrons of your art. Yep that’s a tip kids … write it down.

Book ’em Dano!, or “I want you to want me …”

Well I'm getting set to head to Washington D.C. in a few weeks to do a shoot and while I'm there take the opportunity to meet some editors and NGO's that I want to make contact with. One of the great things about our web based world is that if you are looking for me, or just about anyone else, you can find me with a few key strokes into your favorite search engine and "Ta-DA!" there's my web folio. But what if you don't know that you need me? That's when you need to reach out to the people who you want to need you. There are lots of ways to reach new clients but nothing is as good as a 10 minute meeting. That's when you whip out our book/folio.

I have a new editorial folio that I'm having printed by a couple different on-demand press companies, a full post on that when they get here, because I want a book that looks like – well – a book. It's not going to be anything more than 20 pictures that condense my visual approach. If you can't figure out where a photographer is comming from in 12-20 photos the photographer need to work harder. 

The little book is simple so that we can talk about them quickly 'cause you really only get 10 minutes with these guys. In this process the potential client can get a sence of me and how my images ingetrate with my personality. You may have great pictures but if the client thinks that you are not someone that they can see working with, you don't get the job. Connecting to and haveing some kind of relationship with your clients is critical to getting and keeping work.

So I'll be tucking my book under my arm and hitting the bricks. There's no substitute for knocking on a door to get it to open for you.

Now I’ve gone and done it

Well folks I’ve been waiting to get my skill set together, since I’m a practical kinda guy, and am about to take the next step in my storytelling abilities. No, not that whole "learning to spell" thing it’s still visual for me. It’s video. I’ve been doing audio/visual presentations for over a year now and that followed a number of years where I was waiting for technology and the culture to be ready for such things and have realized that having video as one of my means of telling a story was going to happen it was just a matter of when. Well I have a few projects in the germination stage that will really benefit from moving images so I went ahead and placed the order for my video cam today.

The deal is that newspapers have been trying to throw as much video on their web pages as possible while magazines have been taking their usual more calculated approach and putting videos up that, unlike most newspaper sites, aren’t junk. I see video as clearly staying viable but in the next year or so online publications will figure out that quality sells and crap doesn’t. A wild notion, no? So since I’ve seen the whole online multimedia presentation as the rebirth of the long form photo essay I’m simply broadening out my palette of colors if you will. Video is not the answer but it is an answer for "how do I want to tell this story?". Also since I have been using my multimedia story telling for commercial web use this is also a good thing.

This should be a lot of fun and I’m excited on how I can put together short features that combine all my skills. I just need to practice my speech "Ahem! I’d like to thank the Academy for this honor. Wow … an Oscar for Best Director (shiny isn’t it?). I of course couldn’t have done this project without the support of my rabbits, alcohol and lots and lots of self aggrandizing delusion …"

Oh! You’re are photographer. Do you shoot weddings?

Man I hear that all the time. It's funny but so many people, even when I'm on assignment, tend to think that if I make photographs professionally I must therefor shoot weddings. Well the answer is: "Uh yeah but only if I like you and think that it's going to be fun". That totally takes people by surprise. I love to document events like weddings. They are wonderful times that are very emotional and are designed to be pretty. They are also a lot of effort packed into one day but that's ok. The main reason why I don't try to shoot weddings is that they are too much like work. Yep. Meeting with a stream of clients who are only "kicking tires" isn't fun. Trying to sell yourself to that same stream of people is tiring. Dealing with a load of people who are expecting to haggle to get a bargain gives me a headache. Having to expect to hold their hands through the process is not good. Knowing that I'll have to do lots of work on the back end of the shoot doesn't thrill me. But when some nice couple tracks me down and wants to hire me to go nuts at their fun filled wedding – that's cool.

So I shoot a few a year and that suits me. I look at it as a commercial shoot with a certain amount of post production built in to the pricing. I spent 3 years a long time ago as the chief assistant to a, then, very big name in the wedding photography industry and got the inside look at the wedding photography racket. It made me pretty sick to my stomach frankly. So when I'm approached about weddings I tell my potential clients what the real costs are and where the profit margin is and how huge it is for most wedding shooters. Since I'm not one I price myself as a commercial photographer. I don't set a fixed price. Rather I ask them what they want from me and what their total wedding budget is. I then price myself as a percentage of that just as I would if I were on an advertising campaign. That tends to shock the clients too but in most cases the numbers are on line with what they can afford and everyone is happy. I like happy.

Ron

Watch yer back(up)!

It’s silly how much we rely on technology these days. There was a time where a pager seemed like something that only surgeons and generals needed and having one made me feel like my clients had me on a leash. Yet now with my primary phone being my mobile I am not only reachable anywhere and anytime but I can send immediate e-mails to the client with contracts, search the web and have a tiny portfolio all on my phone. Pretty kuhl, huh?

Then there is the down side: when our lovely technology goes awry things tend to not go more slowly but rather stop suddenly. Now that almost every editorial photographer is digital we have a load of machines that are critical to getting things done. Last night I was doing my weekly file backup to my external mirrored drives humming to myself how nice it is that should something happen to my main workstation I can take all my files to any other computer and work on them. I was pitying the poor guys who dump everything onto an internal drive so that they would have to dig it out and install it into another computers drive bay to get things rolling again. Foresight friends … always a good thing.

So backup completed time to play. I fired up Call of Duty 4, a very hip (read as violent as all get out) game if y’all like that sort of thing, and half way through a rather hairy round of playing "hey … catch this grenade!" the system shut down. Wham-o! Hmm … tap-tap-tap … uh, … not good. Yep – nothing. She tried to reboot but wouldn’t do it. Now being the total geek that I am I did a "happy dance" thinking: 1) I just did my back up … every thing’s fine!, and 2) Yeah baby! … now I can justify my system upgrade!

Well I had a feeling that it wasn’t a big deal since my system is rock solid. I easily diagnosed the problem and went about my evening sans main workstation. Fast forward to today with one new power supply bought and installed and I’m up and running again. But it made me think of all the folks who would have been totally shut down for a few days while they took their workstation to "the doc" to fix the problem.   What if a drive failed? What if the CPU died? Those things happen. If anything like that did happen last night I have all my work and important files backed up in a way that in 2 minutes I could be working again on the other desktop or my laptop.

It makes me feel good that I’m such a nerd that I think about that kinda stuff so that I can sleep at night. Besides, a client never wants to hear that you can’t get them what they paid for because it’s stuck on your broken computer. That tends to make them allergic to hiring you again.

Let’s talk about it …

I love it when my clients network for me. It doesn’t happen all the time but few things make you all warm and fuzzy inside like having people who hire you recommend you to their friends. It goes back that that reputation thing I mentioned a while ago. So the other day I get an e-mail about a potential commercial client from a good regular editor. I send a note to the lady in question and later on got a reply that she had already found another photographer but she wanted to keep me in your database because she really liked my folio.  She asked about my pricing and would I work at a reduced fee for non-profits.

So I sent the following reply:

"Thanks for keeping me in mind. For non-editorial work I
don’t quote hourly but by the job. Hourly rates are bad for everyone
when it comes to photography since an efficient photographer will get
done faster than an non efficient one. So given that the "pro" will make
less than the "amateur" while the client pays more for lesser quality
work. I do work on a sliding scale depending on what is required and who
the client is. If I’m hired buy, say, Megacorp International then I’m
going to charge a whole lot more than for a shoot for Bob’s Corner
Boutique. Non-profits are a tough thing as many of them have plenty of
money and know full well that they have to get rid of it by the end of
their fiscal year. However just like the corporate deal above many are
small operations and I take their budget into consideration. I will
bring out of my pocket the "Starving artist/startup discount coupon" for
people/clients who I want to work for but they can’t afford my regular
rates. If I believe in the client then I often want to make my fee work
for their photography budget. So the short of it is: give me a call, get me excited about the project and
let’s see if we can make it work out. Very likely the answer will be
"Sounds like fun … let’s do it!"

I swear two minutes later she called me and after a quick discussion I got booked for it. The job in question is for the website of an assisted living community and the lady is their new PR person. I gave her a good quote for web only use both of us knowing that they will most likely want to use images from the shoot for print ads later for additional compensation. I’m thinking "stock" for my agency since they whole aging baby-boomer thing is starting to hit hard in the news cycle. Bonus all around.

Negotiation is always a rough thing for us artist types. We don’t like to put a monetary value on our work since it’s something that we love yet it’s so necessary. Business sense is usually the thing that photographers, like any other artist, either lacks or doesn’t want to bother with. I try to always keep them simple but have plenty of contracts on hand to pull out if necessary. Personally I want to work for fun and understanding people who will let me "do my thing" without any fuss on either side. I decided a long time ago that I didn’t want to get work because I was: available, cheap, or good enough to emulate another photographers style. I want people to hire me for what I do and how I see the world. Price is a matter of what value the work has to the client – pure and simple. But still I often cringe when I quote a client especially when I’m excited to be considered for a cool project.

The value of your work and reputation

Well I got two calls just now both of which left quite an impression on me. The first was from a client who I haven’t done a lot of work for but has been one of those good ones where you honestly want to work for them. They didn’t need my services but needed a referral for someone to do video. They think enough of me to know that anyone that I recommend will be more than good enough and professional enough for them. I was happy to channel them to my buddy and it gave me a chance to tell the client about a project that I want to pitch to them. They showed interest in my project and we are going to talk more about it after they are done with this video emergency of theirs. So that’s a good thing: client calls on my reputation with them and I get to get work for a friend as well as maybe get a place for my project. Sweet!

Then the phone rings a few minutes later and the voice introduces himself as the editor of a publication out of Portland that was referred to me by yet a different client. I love it when people speak well of me, ya know? He saw some of my work on the clients website and wanted to use it in their upcoming issue. I told him that it was very possible and in fact I have tons of work from that project that wasn’t published that might suit his needs better. No, he says, that one is perfect. He then told me that they didn’t have a budget for the photo so they "were going to just copy it from the website but they have it in Flash so it’s a lot harder so we called you" Wha? You admit that you were going to steal my work and are asking me to simply hand the photo over… are you nuts? I let that go and said that I can let them use it for a very reasonable price. No, he says, I can’t pay you ya see we are a non-profit but I will give you credit – will that be ok? Well I explain that although they are a non-profit I am a for profit business and if my work has value to them then it certainly has value to me. To that I have a policy to not give my work away. I can give it to him for next to nothing but I will charge him. Let’s face it, if you are a high-school student getting a byline is a cool thing but when you are a working professional a byline from a pub that can’t afford to pay you even $50 doesn’t mean a thing. Well the conversation quickly winds down and off he goes to figure something out.

It’s almost as if I called, say, the NY Times and said that I want a subscription but won’t pay for it. That I was trying to steal an issue but the box is too hard to break into. So they should just give me the paper for free … but don’t worry – think of the value of people seeing me reading it. Now THAT’s a sales pitch that won’t go anywhere. Ugh!