Sunday, March 23, 2014

The Self - Assignment

The Self-Assignment


I often run into photographers who will make the remark during the course of our conversation that they are “coming up empty” with ideas to shoot. And, they wonder if it is time to retire their cameras and look for something else to do. Well … that would be a little hasty in my opinion. Every artist – no matter the chosen field of expression – runs into this situation in their creative lives … and more than once.

It is not uncommon for a creative individual to just not have an idea that they are really excited about pursuing. In one’s career it:  1) has happened,  2) is happening now, or  3) is going to happen. Get ready for it and learn to accept the inevitable.

So what does one do who is driven to be creative do in this “crisis”? My simple suggestion is to “self-assign” yourself a project to shoot. It can be a really simple concept that - at first glance – doesn’t really ring your bells. But accept the challenge you presented to yourself and just do it. This is not all that uncommon for the photographers of the world who get assignments to shoot or commissions to take on.

Okay, so you are going to considering this … good. But you still have nothing.  All righty then, let me offer some suggestions just to start the creative thoughts flowing:

1)      The Color Red …. Look for things that are red in color – you’ll start seeing red things where you never saw them before(you can pick any color you like),

2)      Groups of Three … look for subjects that are in groups of three (or any number for that matter),

3)      Reflections … look for reflections – they are everywhere; in windows, in water puddles, in mirrors, in metal surfaces, in sunglasses, in just about anything that has reflective qualities,

4)      Pick a shape … circles, squares, triangles,

5)      Look for repeating patterns …. Fences, light poles, parking meter,

You get the idea. Now, admittedly some of these sounds boring, stupid or just silly. But once you set your mind to looking for the common everyday kind of thing in the world around you, you will soon realize that they have been there all the time, you just never really took notice.

So what is the benefit from all of this you ask? Well, for one, this will start your creative mind’s eye working for you again. Seeing things in a way that you never really saw before. The world around you will take on a new look – and quite possibly you will find that something something that will take hold of your imagination and set you on a course of new photographs.

Does it really work … well I will share this with you: I know a few photographers who have turned self-assignments that really worked out well for them into coffee table books and art prints that they sell. I gave myself one such assignment a while back – one that I am still working on and that I will be releasing shortly as my second coffee table book …. So what do you think?

The self-assignment is a great tool for any creative person to try when they find themselves blocked for ideas. There are a great many things out in your world just waiting for you to see them with your unique vision of the world around you – find it, capture it and share it.  That is one of the reasons you are here.



Tuesday, March 11, 2014

The Professional Photographer - An Endangered Species?

The Professional Photographer –

An Endangered Species?


I’m thinking this title might be getting some photographers’ attention …

What made me think about this was a thread I was on with some other unit still photographers on Facebook. One of my colleagues had thrown out this question to the other still photographers that were out there:

“…are you noticing more and more bts (behind-the-scenes) images that are being used by the studios and networks for social media were not taken by the unit photographer assigned to the show?”

A fair number of fellow unit photographers replied that they had and some were and some weren’t troubled by this trend going on. It seems some studios and networks are using cell phone cameras and simple point-and-shoot cameras to capture candid shots of the actors on set and then posting them to social media sites to promote a new episode or film in production. And, they are getting these images not from the unit still photographer whose responsibility – in the past – it is to also capture these types of images for public relations and marketing. Some productions are getting around the normal process to get these type of images and are not having to cover the cost of having a professional photographer assigned to the show or production. So in the end the studio gets more images to use and saves money in the process. A win-win … for them.

Some who are familiar with the film industry might challenge the above and say that there is often a notice that is printed on almost all call sheets (the sheet produced daily that outlines the scenes to be filmed and who needs to be where and when and distributed to cast and crew) that states: “absolutely no cell phone cameras allowed on set”. Of course those that work on most sets know this is often not adhered to by anyone – and most of all by the army of assorted producers on a good number of the shows today.

So here is how I see this turning out for “all professional photographers” in the future – and not necessarily the distant future:

We Might Be the Next Endangered Species on the Planet!

And I see this as something all professionals in all the various fields of photography need to think about. It is not limited to the film and television industries … not at all.

Scary, I know, but this has been trending this way for some time now. In years past it was a slow but steady progression – partly due to the newness and learning curves associated with Photoshop. Agencies were soon realizing that a pretty cool and effective image for advertising could be conjured up in Photoshop by some computer savvy type and that all they really needed was a decent image to start with. Who needs to pay a pro to capture the starting image? After all, the real magic is applied in the post production process – according to them, at least. As more and more graphic artists got pretty handy with this new tool of the trade and started turning out images not possible in the camera, they started to gradually take over the responsibility of even creating the image to start the ball rolling. This allowed the agencies to cut out the costly professional photographer. Ah-ha … the first nail in the shooter’s coffin.

The second nail came about with the advent of the digital camera. Now while some of the professionals loved the introduction of a new camera intended to make their lives a lot easier, others were a bit leery.  The trendy hip cats who embraced the new toy (read: digital camera) thought this was going to make their lives easy and breezy; They will know immediately if the exposure is on the money, the composition is solid and the shot is acceptable to the client for their needs. Whew this will save a lot of worry over film processing, printing and the possibility of a re-shoot. To most, this new gadget that didn’t require film and all that went with it, was a gift from above. No more film costs, processing costs, no more need to carry different film stocks and filters to handle strange lighting situations … it was heaven on earth. But was it ……?

We don’t have to look very far back in the past to see that is was happening more and more and in industries we thought it could never happen it. Take for example the recent change in many of the print news rooms across America: entire photo departments have been “released” from service and the responsibility to capture that news photo now falls on the reporter in the field. And, I might add, this is also happening on the video side of news agencies and networks. I see more and more reporters carrying a small, easy to use digital video camera with a set of legs to location, setting up their own shot and being the on-air talent, the segment producer and camera operator all in one. Talk about saving money at the expense of a well-executed news story.

The introduction of some great digital devices to record images and motion has propelled the art of capturing images to new heights. And the learning curve has been simplified for just about anyone who thinks they have the talent to shoot pictures or record video and can get in the game. Need proof: go to just about “photographer’s” Facebook page or Instagram page and look at their list of “skills”. I saw one recently on Instagram that had me shaking my head. Here is what this individual listed on their page:

“… Atlanta photographer, videographer, musical producer, musician, talent agent, magazine publisher …”

All this talent in one individual that (who had reported in one of his earlier posts) had just turned 21. Really, I am curious about the number of years spent perfecting his multiple skill sets and building a legitimate resume. Just sayin. A further inquiry into this person’s “credentials” revealed: there was no website (he listed Facebook as his business page to contact andfor more info), no search results from a Google search, no listing in any source book and his potential clients need to text him on his cell phone to book a session – any session … this must be the new way the professionals are doing business. Don’t get me wrong, I wish him all the success in the world, and I wish his clients even more luck in getting what they paid for.

I’ve been hearing from friends that shoot weddings for a living. They lament that the number of “weekend warriors” who could afford a nice camera from their 9 – 5 day jobs is increasing and taking a toll on their ability to book a wedding. When I ask how can a couple compare your portfolios and years of shooting experience to someone they found on Facebook or Craig’s List, the response is: “they shop by price”. The wedding couple figures if the inexpensive/inexperience photographer shoots enough images, there are bound to be enough of good to decent quality shots to make a wedding album. Glad I’m not in that field of photography.

Now is this to say the photographers who do this for a living need to find a good street corner to start selling pencils on? No, not quite. But it should be a wake-up call to start thinking about a way to stay relevant in this ever changing business environment. You can see that the “competition” is growing, and not necessarily with qualified people. All today’s customer is concerned about is the cost. The dollar is dictating the way individuals and corporations are shopping for talent behind a lens. Granted, the non-pros will get a client now and then, and will most likely not keep them beyond the first assignment. However the credibility of the trade as a whole takes a hit – non qualified people putting themselves out there to do assignments that they are not really ready to be taking on. So a client gets burnt and starts to look for even more alternatives to meet their needs. Maybe someday they will realize the truth in the old saying:

“Quality work is not cheap, and cheap work is not quality”

…And hire a professional to do a professional job.

Monday, March 3, 2014

The Magic is in the Moment

The Magic is in the Moment


This week’s topic came about as a result of some back and forth communication I was having with a model who was coming to Atlanta to work with me on some new images. Once the day and time was established, the conversation turned to wardrobe. What to wear, what to bring, what was the theme of the shoot going to be, what accessories did she need to bring …. And so it went.

I wasn’t much help, I am sorry to have to admit. I told her I usually get the idea for the shot once I see the wardrobe, accessories, make-up and hair.

Now, this is not to say I do not have some basic idea(s) to start with – after all I’m the one responsible for what goes through the lens and gets captured. So, yes, I have some basic plans in my head, I am just not married to them – at this point of the session.

As photographers we capture tiny moments in time. Moments that come and go in the blink of an eye, the click of a shutter or the flash of a strobe. The image is but a tiny moment in time captured for eternity… never to be repeated.

It happens instantaneously – and I think a good photographer works that way as well: instantaneously and in the moment.

I have seen a great many images and have taken my fair share of them over the course of my career to date. On an average feature film, I often shoot over 15,000 images for the production company to select a handful from to promote the film. On an average TV production day, I will often submit over 500 images from my 10 hour day on set. So with as many projects as I have been on, the number of times I clicked a shutter are astronomical to say the least. I do wear out a shutter now and then.

But let’s get back to this magical moment in time we are capturing. Does it apply to model and talent shoots you might ask? Absolutely. You’re every move behind the lens and the talent’s every move in front of the lens is not unlike a dance to silent yet artistic music. Each and every move is different and will yield a different feeling and flavor to the shot. Some good, some not so good, and some capturing that “lightning in a bottle”. 

The point I am hoping to make is a simple one – yet scares many of my fellow photographers when they hear me talk about “planning” a session:

Do Not Over Plan!

Okay, I said it and I can hear photographers out there just yelling at their monitors or laptops. I even heard one say I was a “total fool”. Now, now, is someone ever a total anything? So let me back this statement up with my view (read: opinion):

You can over think an idea, a concept or future creation until it becomes stale and lifeless. You end up thinking the creativeness right out of it. After all it started as a flash in your head and got you thinking, right? So that was where the magic really began. Keep an open mind to the creative energies around you and let the energy of creativity move you where you need to go. Some will understand this concept of a creative energy around creative people – others might not. But to those who do, the rest of this post is for you.

What is this creative energy that drives creative people? Some have different names for it – call it what you want. The name given is not important, but the awareness of it is and the influence it can have on your work is very important.

I was introduced to a book that drove home this point by a model who I was working with in the studio many years back. She harped on me all during the session to read this book, and would call periodically to see if I had read her suggestion. Finally I gave in, got the book and read it – and my process in the creative world changed – for the better. At the core of the book is the contention that there is indeed a creative force that drives creative people to create. And, it is that force that puts all the pieces together at exactly the right time, at exactly the right location, and with exactly the right people to capture that fleeting moment in time for all the world to see and experience. It does not happen by accident, I can attest to that.

So if you trust this creative force to do the really hard part (putting all the elements together), why not trust this force to guide you through the capturing it part? The best thing you can do for yourself is to let go of the “must have total control” mindset. It’s a killer to the true process. When you think you know more than it does, your ego is going to knock you down to size.

Ever since I decided to just “go with the flow”, I have had easier shoots, more creative sessions, more fun and many more “I can’t believe we captured what we just did” moments.

I have seen many images that must have been very complicated to orchestrate and capture. Beautiful lighting, lush scenery, fabulous costumes, great faces/bodies in front of the lens …. But you know what I also noticed? They often didn’t have a lot of life to them. They looked staged, overly produced. They had no “now-ness” to them. They were beautiful images, I will give them that – but they were lifeless – the magic of the moment had long faded from that scene. It was simply a recording of a repetitive act or action.

I learned this many years ago while shooting on a feature film. One actor refused to rehearse for the camera time and time again. Most thought he was just being difficult – but later while I was talking with him he revealed his reason: he didn’t want to lose the magic of a fresh performance. The more he did it the better it was for camera, but the worse it was for the performance. He was trying to repeat a feeling over and over again until it was no longer a feeling he was expressing. It would lose its freshness through repetition.

This holds true, for me at least, with capturing magical moments in front of my camera. If I work it too hard and too long it will die in front of my eyes.  Yes, I got the image – but I failed to get the moment.