The Homogenization and Commoditization of Photography: Guest post by David Esquire
David's using some big words here and killing my spacing on the title...LOL
Here's what I love about this post. It's simply a great rant. David walks the talk and is active in a number of different forums. After one of his comments I picked up the phone and called him. That led to a lengthy conversation about the challenges in the industry and in turn the importance of making yourself and your work different. I offered him the opportunity to do a guest post and here it is.
You'll find more about David on his site. I wanted to share two of David's videos with you, because he's anything but a commodity item. After you've watched either or both of the videos, put yourself in the shoes of his client and imagine their excitement and enthusiasm. We're a word-of-mouth business and you've got to make your work standout.
To preface my note - these thoughts are stemmed from a photographer who went public and shared how today's brides are better off buying disposable cameras and having their guests take the photos, instead of hiring professional photographers! Perhaps, guests should all bring cupcakes, iPods and their own floral arrangements too?
Here are my thoughts about that particular article... What really bugged me is that the article is from a photographer. I keep saying it and I know photographers keep on saying "nuh uh!" - but photographers new, old, student and everything in between are nearly at 100% at fault for the industry being the way it is.
I keep saying quit being all open source, sharing all the "individualism" of one's own style, how they process and how they shoot, because the photography industry is flat-lining at an exponential rate. But! I get it though... new photographers and lazy photographers want the quick buck, the easy way to do something. BUT! And here's the big jagged pill that the egocentric photographer doesn't want to swallow. All this open sourced'ness is resulting in the homogenization and commoditization of photography.
Combine that with photographers stroking their egos with self importance of "look what I can do" - sharing every effin thing they know about how to take a photo, how to process a photo and how to do anything in photography - creates two words that come to mind - Flat Line. No peaks, no valleys, no individuality. Just a bunch of presets, actions and over-processed glib crap. But hey, let's all jump on the ship of sharing ideas, how to do our work and be popular telling clients all they need are crappy disposable cameras, give our colleagues the keys to each other's kingdoms on doing things and keep on driving down the photography industry.
Just imagine if BMW, Ferrari, Apple, or any other company did the same thing that many of today's "photographers" do. Everyone's cars would look even more the same, our computers would be more the same, and everything else would be all the same. What a very grey world it would be filed with lazy, conforming people lacking all the genius our human minds were given.
Like I shared with a college class in San Diego. If you can start with a blank canvas and fill it with our own ideas, our own identity and our own perception of the world. Why the hell would we as a creative collective want to copy each other's ideas, identities and perception of the world? That doesn't make someone a photographer, it makes them just a lame-ass and no better than what Milli Vanilli did back in the 80's.
So I challenge anyone who is reading what I'm sharing to get behind the camera, get your shot right in the camera and then go home, get on your computer and use whatever program you use to edit your photo and NOT use a preset, action or someone else's idea on how to process your photo.
Then, when you're totally satisfied with how you processed your photo with your own take on things, your own identity and your own creative mind. KEEP ALL YOUR BLOODY CREATIVITY TO YOURSELF. Quit short strokin' your ego with self importance and then go back out and out do yourself with your next shoot. Rinse and Repeat each time until what you do is your own self expression and not some copycat cloned piece of crap that you got lazy on.
Of course, this is my opinion. But I still stand firm & don't believe that the great masters in the photography industry or any other creative industry that has stood the test of time - ever sought out to ape or parrot another artist because they're too lazy to do it themselves.
It's 3 AM - Do You Know Where Your Customers Are? Guest Post by Arthur Rainville
Intro by Skip Cohen
I need to give you some background on this special guest post...
One of the finest presentations on creativity I've ever heard was with Arthur Rainville many years ago at a program in Boston. As I watched and listened, I found myself taking notes about ideas that Arthur was sparking all along the way.
One of the reasons I consider myself one of the luckiest guys in photography, is the privilege of being able to hang out with people like Arthur. Well, it's a new year and I'm very excited to be working with Tamron and was delighted to see Arthur on their list of iconic artists. So, I did the obvious, checked in with Arthur to see what he wanted to write about.
Arthur sent me the guest post below and this was the first line of his email..."OK.... I wrote most of this at 3am so I'm actually afraid to look at it in the morning light...." And that's the best example of what I love about him. Passion doesn't punch a time clock! At 3:00 am he had an idea and just went to work on it.
So, as you read the attached, think of it as being a little like that movie years ago that took us inside the head of John Malkovich. Arthur's going to take us inside his head with thoughts on creativity and dealing with some of today's biggest challenges, making your work different from the other guy!
A big thanks to Arthur's insomnia and Tamron USA for their amazing and continued support of education!
The client of tomorrow is for sure, not the client of yesteryear.
A paradigm shift of evolving tastes and traumas is leaving many a photographer shaking and quaking, searching for the latest and greatest. Creating ‘With-It’ Photography and growing your business in an ever-changing world of consumerism, is today’s biggest challenge.
Our stage is set -
Our solution is twofold -
Yes it’s a daunting task. this re-invention thing but there are steps.
We are all aware of the need to get more, fresh ‘know-how’ into our head – we can never have too much information to work with. Technology of this day and age is truly our friend – a worldwide open door via on-line learning. But personally I don’t think anything can compare to the in-your-face experience – sitting in a live lecture or demonstration or better still – in a hands-on class with a passionate instructor.
You've got to be able to recognize and act on the spark. It's that spirit-moving spark received that will propel us to create our next masterpiece, be it in our work or our business.
It all starts with…Inspiration, new ideas that will challenge us to make work with a fresh face, unique from our competition, that will make clients take notice. Where do we look? Well it always works to look outside our own world.
The innovative artist Pablo Picasso once wrote; “Good artists copy, great artists steal.” …not literally of course, but the spirit of the idea.
If you’re a portrait/wedding photographer look to the world of fashion or ‘lifestyle’ magazines… heck your customers are already there. Just reading photo mags doesn’t make you any different than the next guy. Go ahead, be brave, spend the money and buy a ‘Euro’ version of Vogue - you can be cutting edge too.
We can get the idea from another place, but ultimately we have to make magic ourselves. What is step one?
A successful jump-starter we often use in class is photographing to a word. Try a little over-the-top…MELODRAMA.
Substitute the word...Exaggerate, and you have yourself, MELODRAMA, or as the 19th-century French would say.... mélodrame! Let me offer you an example:
A hero (always the fearless one), heroine (the love of the hero, usually the one that the hero saves), villain (usually lusts for the heroine too) and villain's sidekick (typically gets in the way of the Villain).... ya, nothing so simple as ‘hey baby...let’s go do this thing.’
Melodrama’s essence lies in a few obvious but not so simple characteristics:
Now you have a cool new look, you need to turn it into a cool new product. Yes your lab and suppliers are trying to help… but their offerings are being marketed to all the other photographers too. Find a novel way to show your imagery for your clients. Everything that’s old is new again… Try a spin on the ‘Six Days of Lovings.’ Embracing technology – your customer has you electronically send another part of the story you’ve created to their recipient each day for a week – a new portrait every day to wake and say Heh – I love you. On the sixth day they get to open the framed, matted, complete composite…ya, let the lovin’ begin. If you make it special… they will still need you, appreciate you and pay!
In the end I always come back to the prime focus of what we do for each and every subject that crosses our path – we share a spirit and preserve a memory. “A picture is of someone but a portrait is about someone.” Anyone can take a picture and record, but only a Portraitist can make a Portrait and reveal. The best days of our profession, your best days are waiting… it’s 3 AM.
Images copyright Arthur Rainville. All Rights Reserved.
The Nightime Sky - Tips and Tricks: Guest post thanks to Photodex and "Romin" Roman
With permission from Photodex, I'm delighted to share this post on night photography with tips from Roman M. Kurywczak. Most of what's usually posted here on the SCU site is business and marketing, but if your skill set isn't top shelf, all the marketing in the world won't help you go beyond a few initial clients.
Shooting the night sky is a little out there for a lot of you, but this is about expanding your skill set. Roman's done an outstanding job in taking you through the basics and the video he closes with brings it all together.
A big thanks to Amanda and the team at Photodex for their never-ending support of education!
This post, from the Photodex archives, comes from photographer Roman M. Kurywczak. He shares his top tips and tricks for shooting great night photography.
I have been fascinated by the night sky since I was a child. Living in NJ I really wasn’t able to see that many stars because of all the light pollution. My parents had a place in the Catskills and I spent my childhood summers there with my brothers and extended family. That is where I first gazed at a star filled sky and marveled at its wonder. Once I took up photography, I made it my goal to try and capture that beauty on film. I had decent success with star trail photography but wasn’t able to capture the Milky Way or star filled sky like I had always dreamed. That all changed when I got my first digital camera from Hunt’s Photo and Video in December of 2008; the Canon 1D Mark lll.
All the gear you need to get you started photographing the night sky is some basic equipment you probably already own! A digital SLR body with high ISO capabilities, a very sturdy tripod and ball head, a wide angle lens in the focal range of 10-22mm (depending on crop factor) and a cable release. Your night exposures will vary from 25-30 seconds for star images with the long star trail exposures ranging from an hour or even longer. A shaky tripod will be devastating to the final image during these long exposures so a rock solid tripod is a must. A cable release capable of being locked open for at least an hour and a bubble level for the hot shoe is also a great tool to have as this will allow you to level the camera much quicker when working at night.
I like to use my lenses wide open or close to it. For the Canon 17-40mm lens I use it exclusively at f/4 or f4.5. If you have a wide angle lens that is 2.0 or 2.8 then by all means use it as the additional stop of light may allow you to drop your ISO! I use ISO 6400 for all the star point images and an ISO from 100-200 on my star trail images. You can use this formula for determining your exposures times for star point images; focal length times shutter speed = 500. So with my lens at 17mm that would come to; 17 x 30seconds = 510…..which is close enough. If you used a 50mm lens the formula would be; 50 x 10 seconds = 500. The stars won’t be that bright as you have lost 2 stops of light so that is why I recommend using a wide angle lens. For star trails, keep the f-stop the same but drop your ISO to 100-200 and set the camera on bulb. I like to point north to achieve circular star trail patterns and keep the shutter locked open for an hour or more!
Other Important Considerations
Light pollution plays a big role in the success of your night images. It is always an issue here in NJ, so you have to travel away from the city lights to get your best results. In the image of Delicate Arch below, that is the city lights of Moab you see on the horizon and not the moon!
Sometimes, it is nearly impossible to avoid light pollution. In the image below, the barn was located very close to a street lamp. I had to cover part of the lens during the exposure to balance the exposure of the sky with the foreground. The red glow on the horizon is light pollution from the town of Lake Placid.
Some Final Thoughts
The thing that I enjoy about night photography the most is the solitude and lack of crowds! You can hear all the sights and sounds of nature without the hustle and bustle of the crowds of people you find at iconic locations during the day. It also allows you to capture a different take of those natural icons. In the image below of the Virgin River and the Watchman, the crowds are often unbearable at most times of the day. I was all alone with my group the night I captured it.
Many times, just a few hours can make a big difference. I arrived around midnight at “Old Faithful” only to find about 2 dozen people on the boardwalk flashing the eruption with their phones and point and shoot cameras! I went out for a while to some other locations in the park and came back at 2am to find that I was the only one there!
One way to avoid the crowds is to travel to a location in the off season months of winter. I time many of my trips when visitation to the park is at its lowest. While it may be cold, the added benefit is that the cold helps keep the sensor from overheating and generating noise.
Night photography opens up a whole new world to us and gives us a chance to capture a unique take of some often photographed locations. It provides us with a glimpse of what the parks were once like, without the crowds and noise. Extra care should be taken when venturing out at night as the possibility of an accident greatly increases but in my opinion, the rewards are well worth it.
To see more of my work or to purchase my night photography e-book please visit my website at: www.roaminwithroman.com and stop by my blog to check out my updated tour schedule, newest images, gear reviews, and more at: http://roaminwithroman.wordpress.com/
Watch this video featuring a collection of Roman’s night photography >>
All images copyright Roman Kurywczak. All rights reserved.
Joe Farace might be new to the SCU faculty, but as an author, educator and photographer he's sure not new to our industry. In this archived post from a while back, he really hits four solid tips to help you better define your niche in the new year.
For most photographers, we're in the slow season. It's the perfect time to redefine your goals for this year, do a little house-cleaning and lay out your marketing strategy for the new year. Joe's advice in today's guest post couldn't be more on target to help you define your own target! Skip Cohen
Most entrepreneurs start a business because they’re passionate about something. Book lovers launch e-publishing enterprises, shutterbugs start photo studios (that’s my story), and art lovers open galleries or design studios. But you need more than passion to become a success in the coming year. You’ll also need to set yourself apart from other businesses that offer similar services.
Be an original. Don’t be like everybody else. Look at your competitors and make sure that you have nothing in common. If the only thing that separates you from the competition is the name on the front door, the color of your carpet or website background, you reduce your products and services to a commodity and all commodity purchases are based on price alone. Don’t just look different! It’s important you express this difference to potential clients.
Look for a gap in the marketplace, then fill it. It may seem unlikely that there could be anything new, but the opposite is often true. Look for new technology and develop products and services around it. If you think the Internet is finished growing you are wrong. The Web is a toddler taking its first, halting steps. You can leverage Internet technology, along with wireless communications and hand held devices to offer new photographic services and products, as well as market the ones you already have.
Don’t practice on your clients. Know what you’re doing before you hang out that shingle or website. Knowledge of your craft and having the technical skills needed to successfully complete an assignment must be a given. Over time, you need to develop policies and practices that will enable you to do a better, faster job for your clients. Enthusiasm alone will not sustain your enterprise. You still have to know what you are doing.
Treat clients the way you want to be treated. These days bad customer service is the norm and one way to set yourself apart from your competitors is to treat clients like the gold they really are. The temptation with a start-up is to worry about cash flow and the thought of refunds or even giving a client “something for nothing” sounds suicidal, but customers are the reason you're in business. Every product or service that I “gave away” to satisfy a client complaint has been returned to me ten-fold. Most clients were astonished that instead of giving them the expected grief, I was understanding and gave them something for their trouble.
Illustration Credit: © bbbar - Fotolia.com
The fun of social media, which I've written about before, is the "social" part. Meet a relatively new friend, who's very quickly becoming a great buddy, Steffi Smith. I "met" Steffi in Facebook Wedding Photographers and later she agreed to help us as an administrator in Advanced Wedding Photographers. In fact, that's her ring shot in the header on the AWP page.
Besides being an outstanding artist, she's very focused on giving back to the community and that includes being helpful to new and old photographers alike in several of the different forums. She doesn't believe in just standing on the sidelines watching the world pass by, but likes to be involved.
My post from yesterday about the basic ingredients of success still being the same, prompted her to finally share a thought she mentioned that's been on her mind for a long time. She sent it to me and I immediately asked for permission to share it with you.
If you're rushing the process, including building relationships with your clients then you're missing one of the great gifts of being an artist and Steffi definitely walks the talk. Here's the link to some of her favorite albums.
In this day and age of instant gratification everything has to go fast or at least that is what some photographers think.
Did the old masters in photography really push their work through their labs at the speed of lightning? I don't think so........ Somehow it seems to me that all this rush in post-processing and album designs invites for a less then perfect outcome.
I visit photography forums all the time and one question I hear all the time is, "How can I do this faster?" It should be, "How can I do this better?" Not too long ago somebody requested information on a program to design wedding albums and several people answered and suggested programs and the answer always contained these words...."I can do an album in no time."
Being a photographer who designs her albums without the help of such a program I of course got curious and asked to see such an album from some of the photographers that made the recommendation. One of the women actually told me "Sure I will show you, but it is just another album." That statement sent up a red flag.
"Just another album" ....To me each album I create is special and designed with love. After all, the photos I will put in the album are of each couple's special day and I believe the album should reflect the love they have. Granted, it might take me a couple of hours longer than if I used one of those speedy programs, but how could I justify giving my clients something less then perfect after they put their trust in me and our company?
These days photographers are everywhere and the only way we as professionals can successfully book weddings is to make our work stand out from those who think speed is everything. People who are successful in this business are the ones that put quality before speed.
As I always say, "What are a few more hours, if the end product is beautiful and the clients are super happy with your work?" Word of mouth is still the best advertising and if a client is happy she/he will show off your album proudly and that is how you'll book more weddings.
Not long ago I sent one of my brides her completed album and she opened it up at her place of work and one of her coworkers, who had been married about the same time as she was, said to her, "How beautiful, I wish my album looked like that!" That statement says it all............. Yes, taking a little bit of extra time equals money in a way, but think how much it would cost you to advertise.......I think in the end getting a friend or friends of a bride loving your work is far more profitable in the long run. It will give you far more exposure and interest then any commercial advertising you could ever do.
So next time when you cover a wedding and do an album, remember all the beautiful photos you took during the wedding will never have the same impact if the album you give to your clients is just thrown together. Let the love for your work show on each and every page. Maybe not everybody will see your work, but trust me when I say the extra effort will get you more bookings in the long run.
All images copyright Steffi Smith. All rights reserved.
Intro by Skip Cohen
I've written a lot about the social side of social media. When it comes to meeting new people, communicating and sharing images and concepts, there's very little that's more fun than the Internet. It gets even better when you take the extra step and actually meet somebody from cyberspace, or at least contact them with a phone call.
Meet Mike Allebach who I initially "met" through Facebook Wedding Photographers and Twitter. His twitter handle is @TattooedBrides and after a comment or two that reflected his love for weddings, I went off to check out his site. I loved his work. Over and over again, he demonstrates his skill set and understanding of the craft. Mike creates a solid reminder that it doesn't matter what your niche is - you still have to be able to tell the story.
His footer on his email says it all...Mike Allebach: Founded Brandsmash as a marketing resource for small business owners with his mantra “Your story changes everything.” Hailed by a Rock n Roll Bride as “the Original Tattooed Bride Photographer” Mike Allebach crafted one of the most distinct niches in photography. Ariel, author of Offbeat Bride said “It’s obvious that Mike Allebach so totally gets offbeat brides.”
People ask me how I found my niche, rather I think my niche found me in high school.
So there was this moment when I was in high school, where I stood outside the group and waited for someone to say “hi”. Maybe I was too shy, too eccentric, didn’t have the right clothes, didn’t have my shit together, didn’t like “their” music and I wondered why I had to play by their rules….and I waited…
Part of me has always felt like an outsider. The stories I tell and the photographs I take are a way of me bringing people from the outside in. In high school I also joined a punk rock band that was influenced by Minor Threat, Rancid, Sick of it All and The Dropkick Murphy’s. We played for 4 years, released 2 CDs but my dreams for punk rock stardom turned into photography as the years went by. I’m still a punk rocker - at least that's what I tell myself.
In my heart I’m instinctively inclusive, always looking for ways to draw others into the circle and make them feel wanted, heard, and appreciated. It’s my punk rock ethic. And damnit I’m tired of wedding magazines telling people to cover up their tattoos.
When I started photographing tattooed brides, no one was showing off wedding photos with tattooed couples in them. Tattoos were something to be covered up and hidden. One of my tattooed brides was told by another photographer that she met with “I’ll airbrush out your tattoos for a fee.” She lost the deposit she put down and went with me. I’m glad that I could be a part of the Offbeat Rock n Roll wedding revolution that Ariel of Offbeat Bride and Kat of Rock n Roll bride helped create. Mike Allebach
Images copyright Mike Allebach. All rights reserved.
Intro by Skip Cohen
I just received my copy of Don Komarechka's new book, Sky Crystals. It's the study of snowflakes and it's far more than just a book of stunning images - this is a full tutorial on a totally unique subject, but with universal applications for any project you take on. However, here's what I love about Don's work - from microscopy and photographing snowflakes to the extreme opposite with a fisheye lens, he demonstrates how his creative gene, along with his teaching and presenting genes, kick into overdrive with a great subject.
Is he an artist, a teacher, a writer or just a guy who loves what he does? I'll let you be the judge. And, if you've ever thought about some day publishing your own book, listen to the tips he shares in the newest SCU podcast.
In the mean time, it's time that fisheye came out of your camera bag more often. It may well be one of the most fun creative tools you've got.
Fisheye lenses have long entertained and confused photographers. It’s a unique piece of equipment that can create a very different perspective and composition. The novelty of distorted faces and warped walls quickly wears off however, and the fisheye lens as a creative tool often lays forgotten at the bottom of your camera bag. How and when to use this type of lens isn’t easy to pin down, but keep these tips in mind when considering your options.
A fisheye lens will typically achieve a 180 degree field of view. Some lenses create a completely circular image while others offer corner-to-corner detail. In both cases, you have a lot to take in. In order to reach this expansive field of view, fisheye lenses introduce a large amount of distortion. Straight lines near the edge of the frame become incredibly warped and rounded, so not all subjects will suit the style created here.
So, what works?
The night sky is a perfect subject to shoot through a fisheye lens. The field of view allows for more stars, and the point-sources of light doesn’t reveal the distortion to any great degree (unless you’re an astronomer drawing lines in the sky). In the case of auroras, the same applies – and angling the camera upward can create an even greater impact. You’ll notice the curved horizon in the above shot helps to guide your eyes upward – the distortion is forgiving.
With the same thinking we apply to static images of the night sky, star trails can also benefit from a wider field of view. In this image however, a curved horizon would not pay any compliments to the subject matter. Using primarily the warp tool in Photoshop, the horizon can be straightened without affecting the sky. Automatic lens correction tools would also work, but would remove a significant amount of stars from the sky by uniformly correcting the entire image at once. A bit of editing care is required, but the results are worthwhile.
Architecture shots usually don’t work, but there are always exceptions to the rule. This abandoned structure in the mountains of Bulgaria, for instance, was a perfect candidate. In order to capture the soviet-era emblem in the center of the ceiling as well as the surrounding walls and deteriorated floor, a fisheye-lens made the perfect alternative to shooting a panorama. The circular dome design of the building worked in favour of the distortion introduced by the lens. Be warned: This distortion us quite unflattering to lines that should be straight.
If you’ve got the opportunity to take to the skies, using a fisheye lens outside of an aircraft can provide a perspective unlike anything else. Keep in mind that the field of view is so wide you’ll likely get the aircraft in the frame as well. This aerial image of Toronto was taken from a helicopter, with the camera held outside the frame of an open window – as far out as I could safely hold it. The camera was pointed slightly downward to create a bowed horizon, giving the false impression of a very tiny planet Earth.
A fisheye lens can be a great tool in the right situation. Pre-visualizing the shot can be tricky, and nauseating compositions can occur regularly until you get the hang of it. Give it a shot, but only share your best results after the novelty has worn off; the world has more than enough cringe-worthy fisheye shots.