The fun of this industry is often about the friendships that come out of everyone's love for the craft. Michael Gilbert and I go back a whole lot of years to my early Hasselblad days. He's a third generation photographer who's creating a lot of noise in the fine art world. However, there's one consistent quality in Michael's work that been present throughout his father's and grandfather's careers - it's all about passion. There's nothing else that any of them would love doing more than being an artist and photographer.
This guest post is part of a "daily double" thanks to our friends at Tamron USA. If you'd like to find out more about Michael, check out today's new podcast and then visit his Facebook page. Skip Cohen
Taking a look back a few years ago, my work and business was just like everyone else in photography. Weddings, Family Groups, Children, a few Bar Mitzvahs and the odd commercial job made up my business. I pretty much photographed everything that came through my door and had built up a pretty successful business.
But, like so many photographers, my passion for getting into photography had nothing to do with any of those things. So to be honest and fair, I did what I needed to do to earn a living and it wasn’t bad. Making money allowed me to buy the gear I wanted and stay cutting edge on my skill set.
One big difference from most photographers, I saw myself as an artist. I have a really good art background. By the time I turned 18 I was already collecting photography. I was lucky and through my Dad met with and worked with a lot of the greats including Josef Karsh and Arnold Newman, just to name a few…but that’s another story.
If you are photographer and you do weddings or young children take a moment and ponder this. Each wedding you do is usually a young couple just starting out in life. Many buy a new home or move into a first apartment. Now, consider the fact that over ninety six percent of home-buyers will be making an art purchase to put on all those blank walls.
That was my key segue into fine art photography and changing my subject matter to taking images of things I wanted to photograph as opposed to being hired to photograph. I started to create images of things I liked. I surmised if these young couples were already buying my portraits, why not show them my fine art pictorials that in a frame would look great on their walls.
I’m betting most of you reading this have amazing shots you have done. In fact I’m positive you do., but you’ve never really thought about doing much with images you just did for your own enjoyment.
So that’s where I started. I had images framed and ready to show on my walls and I started by giving one away for each job I did. I had to make an investment in the dream I was hoping to turn into reality. I wanted my business to morph into fine art photography.
Who would have guessed all these years later I actually make a living at selling Fine Art Photography?
Over the last five years i have lectured at WPPI three years in a row and I did a program at Imaging USA called Selling your Photography in the Fine Art Market. There wasn’t one photographer I met who didn’t have amazing images to show me. These were images created from their heart and soul and often, just to use an old cliché, with blog, sweat and tears.
I know all of you have images like this. So, get out there and make me happy…no, make yourself happy… and sell a few!
Images copyright Michael Gilbert. All rights reserved.
One of the greatest assets of traveling through cyberspace is the people you meet. Steffi Smith is a wedding photographer from Georgia who I first "met" in the Facebook Wedding Photographers forum. In regards to an email she sent me, I called her directly and had an amazing conversation about her background as a photographer.
One thing led to another and in the process, I invited her to do a guest post on how she made the transition from an accomplished artist to professional photographer. Keep in mind in this case "accomplished" means some of her paintings went for as high as $20,000.
Steffi's attitude about being an artist has carried through to her present day wedding work and this past year she won first place in the album design category at Southeastern PPA. Her philosophy reflects so much of her passion for the craft. Skip Cohen
"If you love something enough you can do anything you want, just do your best.
Remember, you have to start somewhere or you will never live your dream"
Imagine these paintings by Steffi Smith full size at 40 x 50!
If you would have told me I would become a wedding photographer 15 years ago I would have laughed and told you no way. Having lived in the Florida Keys for many years and being an avid diver and artist I had become known for my colorful underwater paintings which were represented successfully by 5 galleries and a corporate agent in the South East.
So how did I become a wedding photographer? The answer is simple, I was burned out from painting the same thing over and over again. The galleries did not want me to paint anything but what I was known for. One day I just
had enough and my husband, also an artist and always understanding said, "Why don't you take some time off and decide what you want to do?"
So I did...I gave myself 2 years to decide what I wanted to do with the rest of my life. In that time I spent every day from morning till night teaching myself Photoshop and some of my early work was actually published in Photoshop Magazine. I would travel to Europe and take photos of details for my pieces that I created in Photoshop sometimes in as much as 20+ layers, so photography was a big part of those two years, but I never even considered taking photos of people.
One day I got a call from the owner of Chota Falls, one of Georgia's most beautiful wedding venues. She asked me if I would consider photographing the wedding of one of their couples, they could not find a photographer on short notice. I turned them down. The next day she called me again and I decided okay, but only this one time.
The wedding came and I went with my two Sony Cameras and photographed the wedding and even created a book for the couple. They were as happy as can be, but when I look at the book today (I made a copy for myself) I shiver. But, the seed had been planted and to make a long story short, I loved being part of that wedding and capturing the couple's special moments. I could not believe how much I enjoyed the entire process.
The following week I was asked by a local couple who somehow found out I shot a wedding if I would photograph theirs. This time I said very willingly, "Yes!" Boy, was I nervous when the day of their wedding arrived, but everything went well and again the couple was more then happy with the photos. Being an artist I knew that the photos were not perfect, but I did capture some lovely moments.
First thing I did after that wedding was to order three high end DSLR cameras, a Fuji, a Nikon and a Canon and of course a couple flashes. For the next wedding that came along I was prepared ........at least I had great cameras and enough knowledge to shoot the next wedding or so I thought. Were the photos great, of course not, but the couple once again was really happy.
I knew I needed to get help if I wanted to do this more often, so I bought lots of books and read everything I could get my hands on about photography and especially wedding photography. Maybe my artistic eye was a great help, but as I started to get better I also knew I needed to get more help if I wanted to do this professionally.
We did not have any photographers in the area who were willing to mentor me so I did the next best thing, I signed up for a 3 day seminar with David Ziser. I admired his work and knew that I could learn a lot from him. I actually went back again for another 3 day seminar the following year.
That was the start of it all. Over the years I have taken more workshops and also learned lots from my friendships I formed through my new venture. I never went back to painting even though some of the galleries tried hard to get me to paint again. Why would I when I had found the love of my life, Wedding Photography?
My life is all about my work and with each wedding I grow. I believe when you allow yourself to grow you will. I will never be stuck on the same thing again as I did in painting. My hope is that I will get better with each wedding. I get my inspiration from other photographers, but just like with my paintings I do my own thing.
My albums are especially unique. I don't believe in copying anybody, the photos have to be an extension of my feelings and not the feelings and visions of another person. I have photographed weddings for 13 years now and the butterflies I used get before each wedding have been replaced by excitement and anticipation for all the shots I hope to get for each couple on their wedding day.
With my knowledge of Photoshop I do all of my own editing and I also design each and every album without the use of templates. I want each album to be a piece of artwork, different for each couple.
Many things have changed in my life. While some people have a midlife crises, I decided to make a major career change in mid life and have never looked back.
All images copyright Steffi Smith. All rights reserved.
The fun of the Internet is how it keeps making the world smaller. Brian Malloy is a buddy from Boston. I don't remember where we first met, but it's not my age causing the problem, just the number of conventions, workshops and cyberspace forums I've been to. We share a similar love for this industry and photographers who are raising the bar on quality, not just in imaging, but in customer service, communication and business. Over and over again, Brian has caught links that don't work, typos in my posts and taken the time to connect to let me know. He's a great shooter, passionate friend and most of all he walks the talk.
I told him a few months ago if he ever wanted to do a guest post, SCU was his. Here's his first post as it relates to getting the most out of a trade show. The irony is that he left off one key point - "use every show to set up meetings with friends". PPE is less than two weeks away and one of the highlights for me this trip will be catching up with Brian in New York!
Check out Brian's work on his site or join us in NYC for a coffee! See you at PPE! Skip Cohen
Who's going to Photo Plus Expo in NYC this month? If you have never been, it's totally worth it to see what's new in the photo world. When I went my first time in 1990 it was an eye-opening experience as a new photographer, and I felt like a kid in a candy store.
Whether you go or not, sooner or later you’re going to be at one of the major conventions. Time is your most valuable commodity. So, here are some tips to make the most of your show experience:
1.Plan out your must see companies and products first, but leave room to wander and discover products and services you may have never heard of.
2. Only take the marketing materials you are really interested in. If you don't, you'll find yourself carrying around a bag of crap that weighs ten pounds and your fingers tips will hurt after a couple of hours. Bring a messenger bag or a cheap backpack, it's much easier to carry.
3. Don't get sucked into every sales pitch at every booth, it's a major time suck. Remember you can politely decline and just walk away. Your time is valuable and so is the exhibitor's time, don't waste it.
4. Take a look at the seminars and pick one or two to attend. PPE has tried and true speakers such as Bambi Cantrell, Joe McNally, and Dane Sanders. You will also find photographers in NY that you don’t find at WPPI or PPA such as Mark Seliger, Michael Grecco, and Vincent Laforet
5. Take advantage of some of the companies who have guest speakers doing mini seminars at their booths, sometimes you might pick up a great nugget of knowledge from some of the industry experts.
6. Touch base and introduce yourself to some of the companies you do business with. You will now have a human connection to that company and that person might help you out when you need a situation resolved or an album expedited.
7. Keep an eye open for your heroes, and don't be afraid to introduce yourself to them. I have met photographers whose work I have admired for years and finally had a chance to chat with them personally and thank them for inspiring me.
8. Look for events outside of the trade show, such as Shoot-NYC sponsored by Hasselblad and Broncolor, they have two days of great speakers such as Roberto Valenzuela, Skip Cohen and Rick Friedman, and here's the catch, it's free, you just need to pre-register.
9. If you are planning on making any purchases at the show, make a budget and stick to it. There are deals to be had, but remember you may be walking around with it. It might also be easier if the seller is able to ship it to you directly
10. Most importantly wear comfortable shoes, you'll walk at least 5 miles that day.
I've made this comment numerous times. The best part of this industry has little to do with photography, but the friendships that come out of everyone's mutual love for the craft. Well, meet a new buddy, Liz Huston. Liz and I have never met, but we've had a couple of great phone calls about her guest post.
Liz is part of a remarkable team of artists Tamron USA put together. As a partner in the SCU project, Tamron had her scheduled for an October guest post. Well, here's the surprise for me and soon to be for you.
Liz wrote one of the best posts I've ever read about dealing with what most of think of as "burnout". What makes it so on point is she recognized the challenge before she crashed and burned. She backed up, took a look at what she was feeling and made a conscious decision to refocus her creative energy.
There's so much to this guest post that applies to different aspects of all our lives, not just as photographers. Liz set out to "rediscover inspiration" and in the process she not only rekindled her passion, but created a whole new path for her journey as a photographer, an artist and oh yeah - a hell of a writer!
A big thanks to all my friends at Tamron USA for great glass and bringing some terrific people into our lives! You can check out more of Liz's work on her site. You won't be disappointed.
After 20 years of being a photographer, somewhere along the way, I lost that sense of wonder in it. Perhaps that was a natural result of turning passion into full-time work; it became just that, work. Making great photos continued to be the mission, but somewhere, somehow, it was no longer my passion. Wedding after wedding, head shot after head shot, my camera became a burden, not the freeing creative tool I had come to know and love for the past 20 years.
This is uncomfortable to admit. As creative professionals we want to believe that our passion is inexhaustible, enthusiasm is our fuel, and talent is natural. When we bump up against the places where it’s not fueled by passion, it can get a little frightening. The questioning begins and one has two choices; to look for inspiration or to simply give up.
I chose the former.
It’s like any relationship, when you think about it. Passion waxes and wanes like the cycles of the moon. The moon, like my passion for photography, was never gone, just hidden.
The first step was to discover what subjects excited me, where I felt the flicker of passion. The answer was surprisingly easy, once I actually asked the question.
The answer was travel photography. I wanted to travel the world; to walk on foreign soil, see new wonders and immerse myself in a brand new culture. I wanted to gaze in awe at something tangible, yet slightly inconceivable-- something much larger than myself. I knew the sense of wonder was still alive in me, and only needed to be rekindled. But, where on this beautiful blue-green marble in space to nourish it?
The Sacred Valley in Peru has been calling me for years, and when I asked the question, it was Machu Picchu who answered. Ancient Machu Picchu, with its terraces, grand sense of scale and secrecy beckoned me like a lighthouse calls to lost sailors. Immediately, I purchased a round-trip plane ticket, made hotel reservations, connected with guides, and my trip was planned.
The next step was to fall in love with photography itself, once again. In order to do that, I did what any good cameraphile would do. . . indulged in a new lens. Obviously that’s not the only way to rediscover one's photography passion, but it’s a pretty fun way. There is nothing like a new toy to motivate one to play, and thus rediscover passion.
The Tamron, f2.8 24-70 full frame lens is the lens I’ve been wanting, yearning for, for years. It’s a full frame, wide angle zoom lens, and with f2.8 it’s fast both in aperture and reaction time. Plus, the price was so good that the purchase didn’t affect my travel itinerary. It’s the best new addition to my camera bag in years. I have quite a collection of gear, and don’t make that statement lightly.
Ticket and passport in hand, camera and new lens in tow, I set out to discover something. It was June of 2013 where I experienced the 2 weeks that would transform my life, outlook and creative impulses.
The mountain tops with their side expansive views inspired awe, and quite literally took my breath away. Ancient walls supported more modern walls, and the cities in Peru taught me that history can live with the present if the present can accept its history.
All in all, I don’t know for sure if it was the exercises leading up to my trip (thinking about passion, creativity and getting a new lens) or the act of walking along ancient terraces on foreign soil for 2 weeks. Perhaps it was the culmination of all those things. I know one thing for certain, my passion for photography is back, and it has never been stronger.
Through this mini-crisis of faith in my own passion, I learned a valuable lesson. The quiet, uninspired moments are perhaps just as important as the active, inspired ones. It’s like breathing; you need to inhale and exhale to experience life.
All images copyright Liz Huston. All Rights Reserved.