Procrastination, Fear and the Fine Art of Growing Your Business in the Digital Information Age: Guest Post by Michael ONeill.
I've got a favorite quote from Zig Ziglar that goes, "If you wait for all the lights to turn green, you'll never get started on your journey!" In today's guest post from SCU Faculty member, Michael ONeill he hits the topic of procrastination right on target, but I disagree with only one point - his advice is directed to newbies. In reality, it's just as much of a challenge with seasoned veterans.
With newbies it's often fear, as Michael talks about, but with veterans, it's even more insidious. Procrastination can be the result of frustration, burn-out and apathy. That enthusiasm that once burned brightly has been over-shadowed by challenges in the economy, changes in technology, marketing and consumer trends.
What I love most about this guest post is simply Michael's honesty, a trait of great photographers and educators. If you're looking for a chance to get to know Michael a whole lot better check out the programming for PPE in New York next month. Michael will be presenting a brand new program "Portraiture and Weddings - The Beauty of Commitment" on Thursday, October 24, 2013, sponsored by Fujifilm North America. This presentation will be made twice on Thursday, October 24, 2013 at Fujifilm's booth on the trade show floor at the Jacob Javits Convention Center. Times to be announced. Skip Cohen
A few months back I was named to the faculty of Skip Cohen University, taking my place alongside some of the greatest talent in our industry. I greeted this opportunity with pride, excitement and a promise to Skip to get to work shortly on an important article to add to the incredible library of great resources that make up the SCU knowledge base. Days turned into weeks...then months, and said article still hadn’t materialized.
Excuses took the place of accomplishment. “I’m too busy with my bustling photography business” (an anomaly in today’s competitive marketplace...one which I’m very grateful for). Doubt crept into my mind. “What can I say that hasn’t been said already?” Fear of disapproval started to take it’s hold on me. “What if people take exception to the things I want to say?”
Then the inspiration came to me...write an article about procrastination and write it now. Don’t be afraid...write an article about fear. I needed to write this for myself as much as most of you need to hear it. You see procrastination is a killer, folks. Nothing will undermine (and eventually destroy) your business like procrastination will. The reason we’re all guilty of it is because it’s easy.
It’s easy to come up with excuses not to do the things we need to do, and most of those excuses stem from fears...particularly fear of failure and fear of criticism from those around us. Get over it, get past it and get on with living the life you really want to live. Most fears aren’t even valid because they deal with things that haven’t even happened yet. We fear what might happen. There’s no proof that the things which we fear are even going to transpire. Yet we spend so much time worrying about what the negative outcome of our actions might be. Then we spend a lot of energy (creative energy) coming up with excuses for why we don’t pursue our goals. Instead we should be putting that time and energy into making plans and carrying those plans out. The outcome will be much different...I guarantee it!
OK. Enough of the self-help lecture. Let’s get on with some of the basic things you newcomers can do to launch and grow your photography business while dispelling some of the lame excuses most aspiring photographers are hiding behind:
1. “I don’t have enough experience. I don’t have a strong enough portfolio yet”. Then get some experience and build your book. It’s that simple. Practice! Buying some camera gear doesn’t grant you the privilege of calling yourself a professional (and commanding professional compensation). Learning the fundamentals, practicing them to the point where their application becomes second nature, then combining those proficiencies with your own unique creative style does. Practice every chance you get with every different subject you can coax to stand in front of your lens under every different lighting/weather/environmental circumstance you can imagine. A true professional will create extraordinary images under any scenario...not just the perfect ones. Practice and you’ll be ready to handle anything that comes your way. Back in the dark ages, when I started in this business, practice required spending money on film, processing and printing. Today’s digital environment has removed that daunting obstacle. Get out there and practice & perfect your skill sets.
2. Find yourself a mentor. Again, a trip back to the dark ages of the late 70’s. There was no internet...there were no webinars, DVD’s or YouTube. We learned our craft by associating with established photographers and assisting them on their assignments, absorbing every bit of knowledge we could extract from them while exposing ourselves to a multitude of photographic experiences. Yes, the internet has shortened the learning curve for sure, but there is still no substitute for hands-on experience. There is no “fast track” to the land of accumulating real world experiences. Spend some of your valuable learning time with professionals who are actually doing it...not just the one’s on your iPad talking about it.
3. “I don’t have the right camera, lens or (fill in the blank with whatever gadget/app you think you need) to create the images I want to create”. Again, you’ll get no sympathy from this old-timer. Photography is both an art and a science and the icons in our craft established those criteria long before any discussion of megapixels ever transpired. Yes, the word digital has redefined our industry but it has not rendered a single photographic fundamental obsolete. Concentrate on building your skill sets, learning the basics of good lighting, posing and composition. You can’t break the rules unless you know what they were in the first place. Don’t get emotionally attached to the gear you’re using or coveting. In this ever-evolving digital world it’s already obsolete. That amazing DSLR system you own now is going to be a paperweight in a couple of years. (My friends laughed at me when I said the same thing about their Hasselblad medium format cameras 12 years ago. Some of them are still using theirs...as paperweights...today). I, for one, have already started to transition into the new breed of mirrorless compact cameras. You will, too. You’ll have to. Embrace the craft...not the gadgets.
Get over your fears, get past your excuses, do the right things and DO THEM NOW! Don’t wait for the timing to be perfect. It never will be. Waiting is just prolonging your agony. Contrary to what some doomsayers may want you to believe, this is still a great business...one that will need exciting, knowledgeable and inspired practitioners for many years to come. I hope to see all of you at the top of your creative game.
Illustration Credit: © Kheng Guan Toh - Fotolia.com
I love these educational pieces Photodex posts on their blog. They're a great company to work with because they believe so strongly in helping photographers raise the bar on their presentations. Here's one I hadn't seen before, thanks to Amanda Eddy at Photodex and Rebecca Danzenbaker. Skip Cohen
Today’s guest post comes from Virginia-based photographer Rebecca Danzenbaker.
There are lots of tips flying around out there on taking good family photos, but I wanted to give you some gems that you might not stumble across as often.
1. Locations, locations, locations (yes, plural)
When scouting out a spot for family photos, be sure there’s a lot of variety. Though family photos at the beach sound great, having the ocean in the background for every single image becomes monotonous both during the session and when looking through the photos later. So, if you are at the beach, go toward the pier, an inlet or a grassy hill to vary the scenery.
I’m blessed to live in a neighborhood that has a farm, tons of conservancy land with wildflower fields, tree-lined paths, and some amazing rustic buildings and fences. Not only does the variety of locations bring diversity to the photos, everyone also gets a nice break while walking from place to place.
Think of how much stress everyone was under trying to look nice (and stay that way) to get to this session. I have so many families who arrive 10-20 minutes late because, let’s face it, getting young children and yourselves beautiful and into the car at a specific time just isn’t realistic.
Instead of telling people to smile, where you get the forced “cheese” grin and no light in the eyes, I tell people to take a deep breath and relax. I would much rather have a “no-smile” photo, than one with strained lips, eyes, and foreheads. After everyone is relaxed, and I get a few great shots that way, I inevitably do something to make a fool of myself (like a goofy dance celebrating the photo we just took), which brings out the real smiles. The camera comes back up to my face just then.
3. Watch out for that crazy sun!
Yes, you can get great photos in the middle of the day! Here’s how: Find a location with bushes, trees or anything else dark in the background. Place your subject with their back to the sun anywhere from 10-100 feet in front of the background, but in the sunlight, not the shadow. The sun will cast a gorgeous halo all around them and your dark background will ensure they remain defined by that light.
Here’s an example, two hours before sunset, where I was shooting with the sun to my right instead of behind them:
But then I moved around so that the sun was behind them:
So much better, right?! There’s nice even light on their faces and a glow all around them. If you shoot like this close to sunset, you’ll also get some really pretty lens flare, but beware of your camera’s auto-focus acting up when you direct it toward the sun. Just be patient, and make some small adjustments in your position. It will come around.
4. Connect everyone together.
Have mom lean on dad’s shoulder and daughter take mom’s hand. Let the little guy hug dad’s leg or sit on his lap. Make sure everyone looks included and connected. Heads should tilt slightly toward one another.
5. Remember why you're there.
When you do a family session, don’t forget the main reason why you’re taking the photos – to show the love and relationships between everyone in the family. Though a family is one unit, it is also made up individuals who each have a unique relationship with the other people there. Try pairing up people for photos to capture the bond between the two of them. How great would it be to have a photo of just you and your dad, no other siblings or people in it? That is priceless.
Watch this family's slide show for even more inspiration!
Shortly after this year's Summer Session ended, Mark Gunter sent me this guest post in an email. I saw it, got busy and missed posting it in a more timely manner. Even after reading it, I'm a little torn about posting it, because I'm not looking for anybody to "give back", as Mark puts it.
I started the Summer School project the summer of 2009, because it was something that was needed and continues to be needed. We set out to build a community and with so many different people supporting the SCU project, it's obvious we've done just that.
The community Mark refers to is primarily represented by the Skip's Summer School page/forum on Facebook. It's a No Troll Zone with a remarkable group of photographers all supporting each other. They coach, advise and help encourage each other through all of the challenges this business seems to throw at us. Skip Cohen
We are in the business of nostalgia. We capture those split seconds of time where memories never die. We strive to master a craft that transforms a single image into a flood of emotions. We seek to pluck at the heart strings in ways that redefine how the public views photography. In the end, we must always remember that we are not longing for that amazing photograph. We are longing for the relationships they describe.
The SCU Summer Session for 2013, fondly referred to as Skip’s Summer School, has ended. For those of us able to attend, I think we can agree it was a tremendous experience. Looking back on those few days, however, there is a looming shadow: Is this the last Summer School?
Skip made it clear that he wasn’t going away. Simply put, the weight of putting on such an event is more than most of us realize. I know it must go beyond the burden of finding a venue, finding instructors, and juggling financial aspects. It is abundantly clear how important our education is to Skip. He wants each and every one of us to succeed and he has gone to great lengths to empower us.
It is our turn to give back.
Let me step back to nostalgia for a moment. What is it that draws us back to Skip’s Summer School? Yes, the instructors and speakers are phenomenal. I submit that they are what drove us to attend in the first place, but we return for a different reason entirely. I do not believe it is a coincidence that so many of those individuals constantly refer back to one defining element of our craft: relationships. Have we really heard their message?
We stand on the cusp of something new. We can choose to look back at the “good ol’ days” of Skip’s Summer School or we can work together to find ways to carry some of the burden. On the alumni facebook page ideas started brewing almost immediately after the event wrapped up. I have more than enough things to feel nostalgic about. Join me in standing alongside those who want a future where we can plan for a few days each August with Skip, the world’s best instructors, and an extended family of supportive photographers.
The best part of the photographic industry has little to do with photography, but the friendships that come out of everyone's love for the craft. It's actually a very industry. We all go to the same rubber chicken dinners, retirement parties, convention and often workshops. I had completely forgotten about my past relationship with Hernan Rodriguez, until he reminded me.
In my early Rangefinder days, Bill Hurter, then Editor-in-Chief of RF, worked a lot with Hernan on content, print judging, just about anything Bill ever needed help with. There's one of the first characteristics of great photographers, they give back to the industry and that's exactly the way Hernan lives his life.
This guest post is part of a Daily Double. The podcast with Hernan airs at the same time as his guest post and it's all thanks to Tamron USA! They not only make some great glass, but they believe in helping photographers raise the bar on their skill set and education!
Hernan and Tamron USA, both need to be on your radar. Check out the Tamron site for lots of great information and updates on workshops around the country. Keep tabs on what Hernan's working on by visiting his site and follow him on Facebook. Skip Cohen
Many times we are caught up on the extreme. High defenition, (HDR), mega-pixels, and technology. We sometimes consider the success of an image is by its razor sharp quality. Sometimes this is can be characterized as a "style".
Photography styles are many times determined by social influences such as music, fashion, technology and many other trends.Thus as photographers, we begin to emulate such styles. I personally believe though that the true honest characteristics of the "Classic" , whether art or photography will always transcend time. This is why images from some of the greats such as Richard Avedon, Herb Ritts and Irving Penn are still relevant today, even after many decades. I speak of an era when mega-pixels were not even part of the equation. The true soul of the subject was the essence of their images whether it was a portrait or a fashion editorial shot. Sometimes the call of the day is a shallow image.
By this I am referring to the depth of field. Early on in my career, most of my work was shooting commercial head shots. The only thing the agents wanted to see on an 8x10 print were emotion and expression. . Everything else in the image was just to hint at something. Clothing, color and background were added just to add or subdue a particular mood. This particular style of shooting can also characterize a photographer. I begin with the eyes
and decided how much of the subject I want to convey to my viewer.
When shooting shallow, I find myself assuming most often three different approaches. Firstly, if I am shooting outdoors under direct sunlight, I will use large scrims and diffusers to cut the light. This approach allows me to shoot any time of the day as some clients don't care about the perfect light we sometimes seek. It's essentially creating a studio outdoors. As the conditions in this scenerio are quite bright, background selection is as important as the subject. I usually seek for a background that is subdued with some brighter spots that can be used to separate my subject and add interest. This also creates a well balanced portrait.
I also use my Tamron VC 70-200mm to compress my background. In short, I let my lens do the work. It pulls all the planes of focus forward at the same plane as my subject, bringing the background out of focus pushing the focus onto my subject. Compression. I also will often use almost the maximum zoom of 200mm and maybe less. I find pulling the lens barrow slightly back at 180mm, will not push my lens elements to the max. I also place a silver or white reflector under the subject to add sparkle to the eyes.
In this scenerio I will shoot wide open at F2.8 or F4. I find shooting at F2.8 keeps only the eyes on focus with everything else falling off. Using this approach is a bit more critical as any slight movement from the subject will throw one eye out of focus. I try to keep my subject facing me directly to keep both eyes on the same plane. I might also use center focus on my setting and focus in the spot above the nose and center between both eyes. I also will shoot at burst mode as there will be a few misses on focus. If i shoot my subject 3/4 view, I will push back to F4 to keep both eyes focused.
My second approach which is also outdoors will be in open shade, and not just any open shade. Light has direction and quality, and can vary depending on the placement of your subject. I usually place my subject where the sun is blocked by the edge of a rooftop, trees, or any overhang. This spot is usually the brightest spot in the open shade scene and will have a direct quality of light that can be used to illuminate your subject which also is a soft quality. I then use a white board or reflector under my subject to open the shadows a bit and add brightness to the eyes. This is also important if the floor is of dark nature. I am usually shooting in the ballpark of 1/60th of a second at f4 in this type of scenario.
The Vibration Compensation of my Tamron 70-200 will allow me to go tripod free at slow shutter speeds. I have recorded hand held at 1/30 of a second with amazing sharpness. I might also start my session using an ISO of 200 to allow me some range if I need to use slow speeds.
This exact approach I used for a cover of Scott Kelby's Photoshop User Magazine.
Note: Since I quite often shoot many strobes on a subject, I find shooting these two approaches will allow more freedom to interact with my subject, which at the end of the day is the main priority.
My last approach in the great call to "shallow" is using continuous lights. I use Wescott's TD6 Spiderlites and their studio LED Skylux which has a dimmable control. These are both daylight balanced. These lights work well as they are less intrusive because they do not flash. I also shoot many bursts as I am interacting with my subject and I don't have to wait for recycle times. I really find using the continuous approach to be quite magical. Why? Because I can sometimes drag my shutter speed really low to allow the natural light in a scene to "burn - in" interest in my portrait.
Stray light from a window can highlight my subject as an accent light, or the light bouncing off walls can also add depth and dimension to my scene. I just simply do a custom white balance by taking a shot of an 18 percent grey card for accurate skin tones. Again, my Tamron VC is the key to shooting these images which I use for the Vibration Compensation and for compression. I can also pull in for tight shots to capture expression and pull back to 70mm allowing the scene to be part of the narrative. When shooting with continuous lights, I will usually shoot at F4. Again, the eyes is what I want to capture. When shooting at F4, once I capture the expressions I am after, the plane of the face is in focus, and the compression will begin from the ears back. The effect is almost painterly. I sometimes use Rosco Pale Bastard amber gels to add warmth to the highlights. In occasions when I find a subject with captivating eyes,
I will shoot wide open at F2.8 and loose focus on everything else. I always have a round silver reflector on hand to add those very important reflections on the eyes.
At the end of the day what have I done? Figuratively speaking, I have created "Shallow Images", and only in relation to "depth of field". I have created images that are story-telling, captivating and alluring. Seeing things from the shallow side can also evolve your photography to new depths.