Thursday, October 21, 2010

PYC: Pay Your Creatives

Lately I've been doing a lot of thinking, and rethinking, regarding my approach to business and marketing. There has to be more opportunity out there for more steady work, but it's very hard to find. On top of that, living just outside of NYC puts me at a great disadvantage at times. There are lots of chances for work in the City, but the problem lies in the over-saturated market. I keep going though, picking up clients here and there, but I'd be lying if I said I was completely content with the state of things.

One thing we creative professionals hear a lot is "Our budget is tight, can you work with us?" or "I didn't really have money for it, I was just hoping we could work something out." There are lots of other variables, but they all mean the same thing: "Your work is great, I just don't want to pay for it."

Before I go on any further, I'd like to call your attention to a post I found today, written by Rebekka Guðleifsdóttir on the same topic: We Really Love Your Stuff, But We're on a Really Tight Budget. It's a fast read and well-worth the time. Check it out and then come back for more.

Well-written, right? I thought so. Personally, I don't mind doing work for free if I truly believe it will present me with a great opportunity down the road, or even at the next traffic light. I just get very irritated by people who have no intention of ever contacting you again, or ever using what you give them in any way that might actually promote you. Lets face it, times are hard, and I know that as well as the next guy, but if we don't help each other, who will? The government? Not likely. We need to start working with one another again. The concept of mom and pop businesses was sold off long ago so they could bulldoze those avenues and put in big box conglomerates that sell everything from mattresses, to portrait services, to clothing, with some luggage, pharmaceuticals, and groceries in the mix as well.

Here's the problem that most people don't realize: Creative professionals, such as writers, painters, photographers, and craftsmen of other types as well, all carry a huge burden. The burden to make you happy, or to look good, or to sound intelligent, or to entertain you, etc. From a photography perspective, I have spent not only money on education, but I've also spent countless hours which I'm sure cumulate to months, if not more, honing my craft. I hone my craft for myself and for my clients, but nobody pays me. I've done dozens of personal projects that eat up my time and my money, just so I can be prepared for any situation that may be even a slight bit demanding on me and my skills. We break our backs, some of us literally, to get "the shot" and at times it's not even for a client, it's for ourselves, so we can learn to better serve you, should you ever need us to recreate a situation. We need to know how to do a job going into it. We're not office temps, we don't go after work where we can be trained when we show up on day 1. People expect more of us, we are expected to know lighting, lens selection, camera settings, tricks of the trade, thinking on our feet, rigging equipment, and how to set everything up and tear it down in the most time efficient manner, all while calculating all of the environmental variables as we do so. Oh yeah, and we have to make the end product look good, too.

All this, for you to nickel and dime us? We decide what our work is worth, and it's not easy. We don't just pull numbers out of thin air. We factor in our experience, what we've done over the years to get to where we are, we factor in materials, labor, hired help if any is needed, overhead costs, hours spent proofing and editing, finished deliverable medium, plus lots of other things that go into your project. We're not looking to get rich and retire off of just your job, we aren't trying to rip you off, or ask for more than what it's worth. It wouldn't make any sense if we did because we actually like what we do. We aren't trying to make one big, huge sale and then retire. We look forward to ongoing projects and repeat clients. The truth is, most of us still under-charge for fear we may not get what we ask for, and then we still hear resistance. We train as rigorously and as regularly as any start athlete, yet we're paid a teeny tiny fraction of the relative dollar amount.

There is a link at the bottom of the article I posted, and if you didn't get to watch the video that it links to, it really sums a lot of this up, so here it is:

The bottom line is, we put in our time, effort, and money to get where we are. You wouldn't even like us enough to want to hire us if our portfolios didn't impress you. We weren't born knowing how to do all of this (well, maybe Chase Jarvis or Joey L, but that's it.), it takes lots of hard work and dedication, and yes, even some literal blood, sweat, and tears. We're always flattered when someone appreciates our hard work and talents, but flattery doesn't pay the bills, it doesn't put food on the table. You want beautiful portraits of your wonderful family, and if your boss didn't pay you for whatever it is you do, you wouldn't be able to feed your wonderful family. We just want to be able to feed ours as well, and I really don't think that's too much to ask.

Thanks for listening to my rant.

More soon.

Friday, October 15, 2010

365 Days of Photos

(Warning: This post is quite a ramble, and it's very photo-heavy)


Finally, a year later from the start of my 365 project, I'm done. I made it out alive, but most importantly to me, I made it through the whole project without ever once missing a day or cheating in any sense. It's probably one of the hardest photo challenges I've ever had. It was also simultaneously the longest year of my life, and the shortest year of my life. Confused? Here's why:

We all pride ourselves on being creative, whether we are considered "creative professionals," just hobbyists, or even just dedicated parents helping your children with an art or science project. We all feel, and utilize the little sparks of creative inspiration that pop into our heads from time to time. But can creativity be forced? I'd like to say, for certain, it cannot. It can be coerced, it can be coaxed out of hiding, you can certainly bargain with it. However, it is as stubborn as a mule and if it doesn't want to come around, well, it won't.

This project gave me many almost-sleepness nights. I'd be up until 4 or 5AM at times, trying to force creativity to deliver some magical idea to me. Most of those nights it did not. I would settle for less, if absolutely necessary, but I was never happy about it. Some of the toughest days were the ones that I didn't have anything in particular planned. Some days I'd wake up with an idea, or it would hit me at lunch time, or I'd finally have the time needed to go after a planned photo idea that maybe had come to me weeks prior. Sometimes it would depend on the weather, sometimes it would depend on my day-to-day schedule, sometimes it even depended on my location, or even my health.

The bottom line is that I really wanted to stick this out. There were so many nights that I thought I may fall asleep just trying to think of something, and to me, if I didn't have a new photo before I officially fell asleep for the night, then I failed. There are some shots in here that I knew I could have done better if I'd had the time to bust out an entire lighting setup with stands, modifiers, clamps, background holders, and other items that only photographers would know by name; but quite simply, I was too tired, or in too much of a hurry, or something was in my way that could not be helped. So I did my best and uploaded the least-worst of the batch. This was meant to be a learning experience, and sometimes the only way to learn is by missing the target from time to time.

So, what did I learn? In no particular order:

  • You can't force inspiration, you have to feel it. It will find you, not the other way around.
  • Anything can be made to look great if given the time to really set up a shot with meaning
  • When you rush, you can still complete a masterpiece, but it's hit-or-miss
  • Having no experience what-so-ever with a particular photographic method is all the reason in the world to finally give it a try
  • When in doubt, grab a flash
  • In the words of Zack Arias: "What really is a studio? A floor and a couple walls? You got a floor and a couple walls? You got yerself a studio!"
  • A-clamps are absolutely invaluable
  • Always carry at least one light stand and a tripod in your car at all times.
  • In general, things start looking different after the first few weeks. You notice more photo opportunities where you never thought of looking before.
  • Learned how to plan more involved shots into smaller spans of time
  • Invaluable lessons in timing and quick setups
  • The first time you try something new, it's going to suck, unless you get lucky, but it's the only way to get started. You always need the first building block.
  • Any photo can be interpreted in a thousand different ways. If you have a specific message to get out, you need to put as much into it as you can.
  • If you lock yourself into one specific style, you will fail. You don't have to master everything, but you have to be open to trying new styles and ideas
  • You can improvise backgrounds out of anything as long as you can get enough blur from an open aperture.
Hell, there's probably lots more, but that's most of it. Most importantly though, I'd say about 90% of these photos had no real "Photoshopping" done to them. Sure, maybe I'd boost some brightness, bring out some more shadow detail, change the saturation; minor tweaks that you would do even with film in a darkroom. Aside from one photo where the purpose was to layer 2 images, I did no recompositing; there are no sharks jumping out of the water attacking a helicopter in this gallery. Everything was displayed the way it was shot. If you can't learn to get it right in-camera, then you're not bettering your photography, you're bettering your editing skills, and that is opposite to the purpose of doing a project like this in the first place.

Were there days when I wanted to quit? Sure, of course. There were times when I was sick, physically sick and stuck in bed, but still dragged myself out to take a shot. Many nights I'd pace my house for hours before something hit me. I had people telling me I should just let it go so I could get back on a regular sleep schedule. Hell it took me a few days just to write this entry. I needed to finally get my mind off of it. The funny thing is that I still get that panic-like rush when the sun starts going down and I forget, for a moment, that I'm done and don't need to take a photo for the day. Then the calm washes over me and a sense of accomplishment rushes through me.

The project finished Tuesday night. Originally I was going to grab a picture of my cat's behind, sort of as a "kiss my ass" to anyone who thought I couldn't pull this off (myself included, believe me) but instead I had the chance to get out and photograph Sevendust's concert that night. I think it's incredibly appropriate that a project like this end with a concert photo, since concert photography is what got me started in the first place.

If I had to give any advice to people wanting to do something like this, the most important thing would be to make sure you've got the strength to go through with it. Anyone who doesn't understand probably thinks I'm over-dramatizing right now, but it's the truth. It's very taxing on your nerves, on your thinking, and on your time. If you don't make time to use the creativity that hits you, you'll fall right off the horse. Try planning shots over time, that way one days when no inspiration hits you, you've at least got a backup list of things you can shoot. I only figured that out more than halfway through, and even then some of the ideas I had were too intricate to pull off when you've barely got one eye open.

Not all of the images in the gallery are masterpieces, but they serve a purpose. some of them tell a story, and some of them were just nice ideas in-and-of themselves. I am proud of each and every one of them. In fact, some of the crappiest shots are very important to me because those are most likely the ones that came to me at the very last minute in the early morning before I could barely stay awake any longer.

Finally, the images. Here are some of my favorites:

Day 14: 10-26-09 Lemon Ice

Day 36 11-17-09 Sparks (probably my absolute favorite of all)

Day 52 12-03-09 Seasons Greedings (first attempt at bokeh)

Day 61 12-12-09 Identify

Day 71 12-22-09 Butcher Shop

Day 79 12-30-09 Down In A Hole

Day 121 02-10-10 Snow Day

Day 136 02-25-10 Someone In The Oven

Day 167 03-28-10 Ignite

Day 174 04-04-10 Infinity

Day 181 04-11-10 What Does This Do?

Day 202 05-02-10 Lost In The Summer Sky

Day 216 05-16-10 How Could You?

Day 262 07-01-10 Paradise

Day 285 07-24-10 Drill Sgt.

Day 320 08-28-10 Ferris Wheel

Day 358 10-05-10 Crimson

Day 361 10-08-10 David Ellefson

Day 363 10-10-10 Coexist

Of course, there are others, but it would take too long to go through all of them.

I am definitely going to make myself a photo book of this entire gallery. I don't know if anyone else would care to own a book full of all these shots, but they're definitely special, and important, to me. If anyone has any interest in a photo book full of my 365 shots, please contact me ASAP. I will try to order a few at once to keep the pricing down, but due to the cost of putting something like this together I probably can't make it available indefinitely just yet.

Thanks to everyone who supported me by sharing kinds words about my photos and by visiting the gallery every so often to catch up on what's new. Extra special thanks to Lisa, my fiancee and best friend. I wouldn't have the determination I have without you, and I certainly wouldn't be the person I am without you in my life.

More soon.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Inspiring Nights: Part 1

Sometimes you get what you ask for, sometimes you don't. Other times you get more, even though it may be different from what you expected.

I had been in kind of a slump for a while now. Lots of "things" have been getting in my way and my day-to-day was getting unbearably frustrating. I continued doing what I had to do but it was really starting to wear me down. Then one day a couple of weeks ago, I was posting to my Twitter account via HootSuite when I noticed a search column I had set up a while back had something interesting in it. HootSuite is my third-party program of choice for managing my social networking updates, and one of the great features is that you can have permanent search results in their own column that refresh constantly. I had set up a search for the terms "need" and "photographer" about 6 or 7 months ago when I first found out about the site/program. All along, the only thing I'd ever found were people looking for photographers, but with no budget to actually pay for services. The few times anything even halfway promising would appear, it would always fall through at some point.

This time, though, it was different. I had no idea at first, but the person looking for a photographer was an employee at In De Goot Entertainment. I only found that out after they responded with their email address so we could talk over details of what they needed. In De Goot manages a bunch of bands that I really love, but most importantly, Shinedown. Anyone who knows me, knows that I'm a HUGE Shinedown fan;, their music really has meant a lot to me over the years. Needless to say, I was more than happy to help with whatever they needed.

Two days later, I found myself at a private rooftop party for In De Goot, surrounded by dozens of very important people in the music industry. There were reps from HBO, MTV, VH1, Myspace Music, the list goes on. I even got to grab a photo of Brent Smith of Shinedown with his lady, since he was attending the party as well. The party was to celebrate In De Goot's band American Fangs, who just started up a major North American tour.

I was just there as a photographer, grabbing candids of people drinking, eating, chatting, having a fun time; I was also one of 3 photographers that were snapping portraits of people in front of the step-and-repeat wall. I stopped to look around and really take it in every few moments, and realized that this is what could have been if Paragon Magazine had really taken off. It really gave me the boost of inspiration I needed to pull myself up by my bootstraps and go back at it with full-force. The site is going to be redesigned, we're going after content with more vigor, and we're going to try to get it back up to and beyond where it used to be.

After the party, I made sure to get my photos out to my contact immediately. I knew stuff like this would be time-sensitive. The next morning, I got over 200 hits to my web gallery because the link went out to everyone that was invited, as well as posted and re-posted all over Facebook and Twitter. Lots of great comments on the photos, and Brent Smith of Shinedown even posted that he attended the party and the photo he used of himself was one that I shot, and had my watermark on it. Talk about social media and viral marketing!

Will it get me a ton of new jobs? Maybe, maybe not, but I'm happy that I got as much exposure as I did, and of course I'm delighted that my client enjoyed the photos enough to share them immediately the next day.

Sometimes you just have to stick things out and hope for the best. I had already given up on the idea that Twitter would ever find me anything redeeming, but when I least expected it, a great opportunity came my way. This one chance that I was given made up for the hundreds of tweets that went unnoticed and all the people that ignored me even when I was sometimes the only photographer to respond to their posts.

Oh and on top of that, I got to photograph American Fangs performing that night. The shots came out pretty cool, the band liked them, and now we stay in touch via Twitter. I'll be shooting them again when they play NYC or NJ again down the road

If you want to see some of the photos, you can check them out in this gallery.

This is part one, I've already got a part two for this post. But most importantly, I want to know what inspires you? Is it photography? Videos? Painting? Nature? Music? Struggle? Maybe you're inspired by colors around you, or certain sounds? Do your pets seem to telepathically lead you towards different moods or thoughts? Sounds like crazy talk, but I've noticed over the course of the last year that inspiration can come from lots of different places. We all think we can put our finger on the big influences, and most of them would be correct, but sometimes it hits you clear out of nowhere. So what does it for you? Let's make a discussion out of this.

More soon.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Surfing To Venus

Been sitting on this post for a while now. Got it started and wasn't able to finish it and get it up. Enjoy!

I've known NJ native and Ibanez Guitar endorser Steve Bello since 2003 when he first contacted me at Paragon Music Magazine asking if we'd be interested in checking out his new album. We've been good friends ever since and I've been lucky enough to hear and see his music evolve over the years. 

I've photographed and interviewed Steve and his bandmates on a few occasions, and back in March I decided to head up to the rehearsal studio they rented for the day to check out the new tunes as they ready them for the new album. I brought my Canon 5D Mark II with me and some video lighting and decided to put together a music video for Steve so that he could share it around the web and give people a taste of what the new music will sound like.

Like many artistic endeavors, when I got ready to edit it, I wasn't seeing exactly what I had hoped I'd gotten, so the idea had to be redrawn in my head. Life took over and it got pushed back to make room for other projects. Then, late last week, I got a message from Steve saying a Rock zine in Japan is interested in running a feature on him and would like some photos and video to use with it. Steve already had plenty of photos that I'd taken for him, but the video was still unfinished. This was the spark under my butt that I needed to finally complete the piece. 

So over the course of about 3.5 days I sat back down and re-edited the video. I posted it to my Vimeo account and we've been spreading it around the web. It's gotten over 250 hits in less than 3 days, which is a great number in our minds, as we're both still pretty unknown outside of our own circles. This could be very good for us both though, as it makes a great portfolio piece for me and a great way to build some hype around the new album. Recording of the new music will begin September 12, and the CD should be out late this year or early next year. Grammy Award-winning producer Johnnie Truesdale will be at the helm making sure all the sliders are in place.

Here's a little background info on how it was shot and edited:

  • Canon 5D Mark II
  • Canon 28-135mm f/3.5-5.6 Image Stabilizer  Autofocus Lens
  • (2) 500w Impact continuous tungsten lights
  • Rode VideoMic
  • Shot in 3 takes, one of each band member
  • Edited in Final Cut Express

Special thanks to Joe DeMott (bass) for supplying me with a dual copy of the audio from each take. He recorded it on a rack recorder that he brings around to all practices and rehearsals. It allowed me to double up the audio in sections where the VideoMic failed to pick up certain sounds or tones.

Without any further delay, I give you: Surfing To Venus