I started shooting behind the scenes video during shoots (while the model was in hair and makeup) to give me something to do. On most occasions a model will spend 60-90 minutes in the chair which gives me a lot of free time. The more I shoot and edit this footage, the more I learn. I learn by doing. I’d make a video and get to edit and realize it would have been better if…. Next time I made sure that “if” was taken care of. On this particular occasion it meant getting some more action direct to the camera as opposed to finishing the video with stills from the shoot.
This was shot back in June with Jordan Colton and Stacey Ellis. stacey has recently started a new venture. Be sure to check her out at Ellis Salon
When I shot this photo. I was working for free. Seth painted the wall for free. I paid for the supplies and installed the wall, for free. Seth used his own paint. Seth painted the wall on a separate occasion from the shoot. I shot and edited the video for free. Kyara was paid, but if this were a circus she would have been paid in peanuts.
From that free shoot we licensed this image to chefrubber.com who ran it as a full page ad in So Good Magazine. We split the money and got a nice tear sheet out of it. Seth sold a print at an art show. A plastic surgeon contacted me for an assignment after seeing the video of the shoot. His website and office will be decorated with images shot by me. My lab will make hundreds off my prints. A fine art framer in Australia will make thousands when they frame the prints. All in all I can directly correlate about $50,000 in income as a result of that one FREE shoot. Don’t get me wrong, not every test and for-fun shoot results in income. If there isn’t value in working for free I wouldn’t do it.
More than any other industry I can think of the the creative industry is built on the backs of free labor. It goes by numerous names: tests, trade, TFP, TFCD, intern, spec, portfolio, for credit, for my reel…We all do it. As long as I find benefit in working for free I will continue to do so. As I mentioned, I’m getting paid, it’s just not always in the form of dollars.
If you haven’t already read Malcom Gladwell’s book The Outliers he introduces the concept that excellence comes from practice, lots and lots of practice. He refers to it as the 10,000 hour rule; excellence comes after practicing/doing for 10, 000 hours. As a freelance creative how am I supposed to reach 10, 000 hours unless I create my own assignments? How does a photographer, filmmaker or graphic artist practice? By working for free.
I first learned the value of working for free when I interned during college. I interned for Merrill Lynch and learned first and foremost that I DID NOT want to be a
stock broker financial adviser. The next lesson I learned was that interning is about building relationships, not “learning”. I didn’t gain knowledge at Merrill; I made contacts. Those contacts and relationships led to me getting a job and building a successful career as an analyst.
When I was first started to shoot I needed subjects. I started with my friends, then I moved on to testing with models, makeup artists and stylists. We would work for trade; I’d shoot images for our respective portfolios and in turn they would model, style, do hair, or makeup for me. It’s a win win. I get to practice my craft, experiment, test new equipment all while building relationships and making new contacts. Am I working for free? Yes, but there is a huge intangible value I have gained by doing the work. First and foremost I got better at photography. In a lot of cases the relationships I made led to paid job. I shoot for free only when I know there is some value in me doing the work. If you can’t see value in doing something similar, might I suggest a new pair of glasses?
When I started to get serious about my photography I took a class/seminar about building a portfolio. This was in 2005. I had been shooting long enough that I had amassed a body of work that I thought was worth showing and wanted someone else’s opinion on how best to present my work in hopes of booking jobs. The class was worthwhile and I left with some good information; I also left with some misinformation. I don’t remember hearing much constructive criticism during my portfolio review. One note was that I was shooting too many landscape images and if I wanted to shoot for magazines I should shoot more portrait shaped images to match the layout of magazines. When I think back to my “skill” level in 2005 and look back at the photos I was making around that time, most of them were shite and it makes me wonder about the validity of her advise during my review. Did she not want to tell me my photos sucked because I payed for the review? Or because I was in a “class” with other photographers on the same level were mine were slightly better than the rest?
The photography industry is rife with people ready to give advise and tips. Some of the advise and education is free and invaluable. Some costs money yet is still a huge value. Look to CreativeLive and Strobist for great and usable photography know-how and education. One is free the not really free but a huge value. Along with an industry of photographers trying to sell me advice there are tons of trade magazines with full of industry “standards” and suggestions…How to show your work, what to put in your portfolio, how much to show.
In that portfolio review in 2005 the photography consultant cautioned about showing more than one image of the same person in my portfolio. Up until recently I adhered to that but as of late I call bullshit. Case in point; Devon. I met and first shot Devon in 2009. In the past four years we’ve shot together six times and every time we’ve worked together we both come away with great images.
There are a handful of other actors and models that I share the same experience with. When I’ve got a relationship with someone and we work well together I tend to work with them over and over since I know the results will be great. Why not show multiple images of the same person in my portfolio or on my website? That rule was dumb.
I bring this up because as I grow and learn about myself and my photography I have begun to make my own rules based on my own experience and information.
As much as I hate updating my websites I’m due for an overhaul. Stay tuned and plan on seeing more than one image of the same person. Especially Devon.
I currently have 585 photos on my iPhone. I love my iPhone. It’s an amazing tool to have in my pocket; so much so that it’s the camera I use the most when I’m not being paid by someone. When it comes to dragging a seven pound chunk of metal to Grace’s ice skating lesson I’d rather just reach into my pocket and pull out my phone. If you think the quality isn’t up to par, the following photo was printed at 20×16. I bring this up because, like me, the majority of my clients have hundreds of photos on their phones and in their digital library that they never do anything with. If you are like me, most of those images don’t see the light of day. Maybe a couple end up on a blog or on Facebook, some end up on Instagram but for the most part they are left in digital purgatory and after a few months the special moment you wanted to document is lost. I took it as we were heading out the door to have our family portraits shot.
Like most two year olds, Charlie doesn’t smile for the camera. He gets uncomfortable and goofy and often moves his eye-line away from the camera. This moment was special because both of my kids looked great…at the same time… and in the same photo. I love seeing this every time I walk in the door. It’s a reminder and a keepsake.
When it comes to hiring me to shoot your wedding, children, family portrait, fill in the blank; I want you to leave with something you can touch and cherish. This is a 16×24 Giclee canvas I recently made for a client.
In 2011 I started using this image of Tutu in my promo material. When Tutu’s mom saw the mounted 18×12 print she loved it. I asked her what she did with the CD of files she purchased from me; she confessed that she hadn’t made time to do anything with them. Life is full; we all get busy….I want your experience with me to be easy and result in photos hung in your house that make you smile when you stop to look at them.
I shot this (riveting) video to show the results of one of the hard cover press printed books I offer. This is the fourth book in a row I’ve made for this client and when I dropped this off she remarked how special they are and that she loves having them to look back on.
By handing over a disc or a digital file I am handing you work. It means you have to make the prints, buy the frames, frame the prints, send Grandma a copy of the prints…..I don’t want your experience with me to be sullied by the stress of added work after the shoot is over. This is the reason I offer the products and services that I do. I want you to enjoy your photos. Granted clients still want copies of their digital files which are available, but as a photographer I want you to have something you can touch.
A few years ago I made a slideshow using photos from every assignment I shot during the year. The idea stuck and has become a great way for me to reflect on what I did right and what I did wrong during the year. 2012 was both challenging and incredibly rewarding. All of those experiences brought one theme to the forefront – Family is Everything. And by family I’m not limiting myself to the family I was born into or married into. It’s the people that I have chosen to surround myself with. This year we have had the warm blanket of family wrapped around us when we needed it and we were able to be that same blanket of warmth and strength for others when they needed it. This year was life-changing for so many of our friends and loved ones.
Over the past couple years I’ve skipped using photos of my family in the slideshow, after all they weren’t paid assignments and so many were just snapshots. This year I’ve included them because my wife and kids are my world and are definitely the most photographed subject in my life. I also opted to include more than one image from the assignments. Limiting myself to one single image per shoot didn’t represent the scope and the fruits of my labor.
As with every slide show I always struggle with music. Each year I want to use a song that I fell in love with during the year. This year there were a couple of contenders.
Mumford & Sons – I will wait
Macklemore & Ryan Lewis – Thrift Shop I dare you to not bounce your head while listening to this song. I was bouncing my head for a couple weeks before I even listened to the words.
Ryan Adams – From The Ashes In January NPR streamed a pre-lease of this entire album. I listened to it over and over until the day it was released. Go buy it directly from his label/website.
Walk the Moon – Anna Sun This is probably my favorite song on the album but I opted for Tightrope becaue it matched the tempo I wanted for the slideshow.
For those of you that supported me and helped me create this year I owe you a world of thanks. Without you I’d be stuck behind some desk.
During a recent family portrait session a mom asked me what was harder – shooting weddings or family portraits? Hands down shooting family portraits is one of the hardest photography jobs. A wedding may be stressful and complex but at least there’s a plan. People are there to celebrate an incredible occasion and they are there to have fun. I can’t say the same for family portraits. Many family portrait shoots are controlled chaos. Sometimes people don’t want to participate or in the case of kids they can’t help being kids.
Like a lot of my clients I don’t like to have my photo taken. If I ask myself why, I realize that statement is only half true. I love it when someone captures a genuine moment and I happen to look good. What I don’t like is the feeling of having to perform while someone points a camera at me. I take that knowledge and use it during my sessions to make it, at a minimum, bearable and if I’ve done a good job the client leaves having had fun. So how should you prepare for your family portrait session?
1. What to wear. Wardrobe tends to be one of the biggest questions I get from clients. What should we wear? It’s hard for me to answer because of personal tastes but I can point out what works and what doesn’t.
- My goal is for everyone to look like a cohesive group. For me wardrobe doesn’t dictate that feeling. I’d prefer everyone be comfortable and wearing an outfit they feel great in rather than wearing something they don’t feel great in.
- Matching wardrobe. Some love it, some hate it. But if you want everyone to match, my suggestion is to shop weeks before the actual shoot. Your hope of pulling out matching colors from everyone’s closet the night before is a wishful thinking. One of the easiest places to prepare for this is Old Navy or The Gap. Start fresh with new clothes. Both stores offer sizes for kids and adults so you’ll know that you all look great and that all the colors will match.
- Pick a color palate. If you aren’t a fan of everyone being so matchy-matchy pick a couple colors to base wardrobe decisions on. If you pick a couple colors each person can still express their individuality.
- Stay away from busy patterns and logos. As much as Johnny loves his spiderman costume it’s better to start with a classic look. If he insists, let’s make sure we start with a classic look and then let him wear the costume at the end of the shoot.
- Plan weeks ahead. A good time to think about wardrobe is immediately after our initial consult. Waiting to the last minute is stressful and associating that stress with family portraits is one of the reasons people don’t like family portraits.
2. Kids will be kids
- I don’t know “how to smile” so there’s no way I can expect a five year old to know what that means. They grow up associating saying “cheese” with smiling for the camera. To them that’s a smile. It may not look genuine or natural but it’s what they know how to do. My job is to get a genuine smile from them without having to specifically ask. Sometimes that means letting go of hope to get a shot of the perfect smile. I want them to relax. Sometimes it even works in my favor to tell them not to smile.
- It’s hard for kids to stay still and “be good”. The last thing my daughter wants to do if we are at a park or the beach is sit still. My job is to be quick; I only have their attention span for a couple minutes at a time. I typically let the kids run the show. I’ve found that by asking the kids what they want or how they want to be photographed they feel like they are participating and not being bossed around.
- Let me be the heavy. There’s nothing relaxing or fun about your mom or dad barking at you to smile or sit still. As parents, if you can handle it, let me be the heavy. If your kids are like mine they tend to listen to strangers better than me. Typically I find that the kids want to impress me and do fun and cool things for the camera. I’ll use those feeling plus a little slight of hand to get great shots. Take a break and play good cop. If I get in a situation where I can’t handle them I’ll ask you to step in.
- If you want to help, stand behind me. I appreciate and love when a parent has a trick to pull a smile or reaction out of their kid. That works even better if they are looking at the camera. If you aren’t in the photo, stand directly behind the photographer.
- If you are in the photo, keep your eyes on the camera. Let the photographer try to elicit smiles and get everyone’s attention. If you are looking down at your kid trying to get him to look at the camera, you aren’t looking at me.
3. Time of day
- Location plays a big part on the best time to shoot. Locally I typically shoot at the beach or the park. If we are shooting at the beach my suggestion is early morning. During the summer that means around 8:00 AM. I have young kids and the idea of getting them dressed, fed and to the beach by 8:00 sounds impossible. As much as it’s a pain, you are paying for great photos and I wouldn’t suggest it if it wasn’t important. The reason I start so early is for good and manageable light. If it’s so bright that everyone is squinting the pictures won’t look great. An alternative at the beach is an hour before sunset. Locally that has it’s own drawbacks because it tends to be windy and chilly. If I’m shooting at a park there’s a bit more flexibility assuming there’s good shade. Typically the grass is too wet during the early mornings so I like to start around 9:30-10:00.
4. Keep moving and shoot quickly. I want to put my clients in a situation where I can get my shot, maybe spark a little fun and catch the reactions. Most of the shots my clients are drawn to are the reactions; a laugh, a smile a genuine moment.
- I always start with the “safe” family group shots. Most of my clients want a great portrait to hang on the wall and I want to make sure I get that shot before the rails fall off. Once I feel like the family shots are done I give the kids some freedom to act like kids and change things up. During a lot of shoots I ask kids to do something physical; sometimes it’s jumping, other times it’s piggy back rides or a human pyramid. My goal isn’t to get a great shot of the family stacked like high school cheerleaders it’s to catch the reactions when people let go and have fun or when things fall apart.
- Because I know what it’s like to be in that situation I shoot fast. I don’t want my clients to sit there so long that they wonder if they are doing it right. Set up a situation, shoot, move on, repeat. Eventually people start to let go. If I set up the right situation or make the right comment I get the reaction people want to see in their photos.
- I’m not a fan of really long sessions. I can do what I need to do in about an hour. Having the attention of young kids for more than an hour is too much to ask.
5. Sometimes it just doesn’t work out as planned.
- When it comes to young kids I’m at their mercy. Some kids aren’t into it and I may not get that great family shot you wanted. That’s the reality. It doesn’t always work out. If I’ve done my job I make up for it in other ways with fun and natural shots but sometimes the kids win.
- The more people in the photo the harder it is to make sure everyone looks great. It may be cost effective to invite aunts, uncles and their families to the shoot but often there’s a price to pay. Every time I add one more person to the photo the odds of getting a shot where everyone looks good gets smaller. It also makes getting the natural reactions that make the photos work hard to elicit.
Ian is a runner. You set him down and point a camera at him; he runs. This is the best of forty two frames trying to get a shot where everyone is looking at the camera, has their eyes open, is smiling and look good. Sometimes this is as good as it’s going to get.