I was on the University of Washington campus earlier this week, when my client pointed out the display posters around campus."Oh, are those mine?" It must be really startling for the subjects when they come across them.
It's not as if we didn't know this already, but Paul Melcher sums it up well over on Thoughts of a Bohemian. Stock photography as a career option for photographers is over. Dead. Done. Not that this is a big surprise to me, but it feels particularly definitive now. I'll still get my Getty Images royalty every month, but the amounts will continue to get smaller every month. I haven't bothered to submit new work that way for over a year.
Cheryl Nicolai is a Denver photographer, shooting only film (hence the "dinosaur" appellation) who has been getting a lot of attention lately on TOP and A Photo Editor, for good reason. Here is her "Advice" piece, the first entry on her new blog.
What Every Aspiring Photographer Should Know
- Cheryl Nicolai
These are my thoughts, nothing more and nothing less.
I get asked all the time, during workshops, in e-mails, in private messages, what words of wisdom I would give to a new and aspiring photographer. Here’s my answer.
- Style is a voice, not a prop or an action. If you can buy it, borrow it, download it, or steal it, it is not a style. Don’t look outward for your style; look inward.
- Know your stuff. Luck is a nice thing, but a terrifying thing to rely on. It’s like money; you only have it when you don’t need it.
- Never apologize for your own sense of beauty. Nobody can tell you what you should love. Do what you do brazenly and unapologetically. You cannot build your sense of aesthetics on a concensus.
- Say no. Say it often. It may be difficult, but you owe it to yourself and your clients. Turn down jobs that don’t fit you, say no to overbooking yourself. You are no good to anyone when you’re stressed and anxious.
- Learn to say “I’m a photographer” out loud with a straight face. If you can’t say it and believe it, you can’t expect anyone else to, either.
- You cannot specialize in everything.
- You don’t have to go into business just because people tell you you should! And you don’t have to be full time and making an executive income to be successful. If you decide you want to be in business, set your limits before you begin.
- Know your style before you hang out your shingle. If you don’t, your clients will dictate your style to you. That makes you nothing more than a picture taker. Changing your style later will force you to start all over again, and that’s tough.
- Accept critique, but don’t apply it blindly. Just because someone said it does not make it so. Critiques are opinions, nothing more. Consider the advice, consider the perspective of the advice giver, consider your style and what you want to convey in your work. Implement only what makes sense to implement. That doesn’t not make you ungrateful, it makes you independent.
- Leave room for yourself to grow and evolve. It may seem like a good idea to call your business “Precious Chubby Tootsies”….but what happens when you decide you love to photograph seniors? Or boudoir?
- Remember that if your work looks like everyone else’s, there’s no reason for a client to book you instead of someone else. Unless you’re cheaper. And nobody wants to be known as “the cheaper photographer”.
- Gimmicks and merchandise will come and go, but honest photography is never outdated.
- It’s easier to focus on buying that next piece of equipment than it is to accept that you should be able to create great work with what you’ve got. Buying stuff is a convenient and expensive distraction. You need a decent camera, a decent lens, and a light meter. Until you can use those tools consistently and masterfully, don’t spend another dime. Spend money on equipment ONLY when you’ve outgrown your current equipment and you’re being limited by it. There are no magic bullets.
- Learn that people photography is about people, not about photography. Great portraits are a side effect of a strong human connection.
- Never forget why you started taking pictures in the first place. Excellent technique is a great tool, but a terrible end product. The best thing your technique can do is not call attention to itself. Never let your technique upstage your subject.
- Never compare your journey with someone else’s. It’s a marathon with no finish line. Someone else may start out faster than you, may seem to progress more quickly than you, but every runner has his own pace. Your journey is your journey, not a competition. You will never “arrive”. No one ever does.
- Embrace frustration. It pushes you to learn and grow, broadens your horizons, and lights a fire under you when your work has gone cold. Nothing is more dangerous to an artist than complacency.
I shot 60gb worth of photos yesterday. That's about 1600 images, and a little video too. Why so much, given that I never shoot with the motor set to continuous mode?
One is that I'm on assignment, and I'm on the job for many hours. The other is that I'm also photographing some dynamic situations that I'm not familiar with. Yesterday it was sailing. I've never shot sailboats before, particularly from a moving boat, with multiple boats in the frame, with good expressions on the faces. Oh, and good light and the right exposure. Of white sails. On dark water.
I had a little bit of learning to plow through.
One can just overshoot this kind of situation to hell and hope against hope something comes through the muddle. Sometimes it's not the worst strategy. I did some of this in this situation, as I figured out what was working and what wasn't. Typically, failure is the fastest route to success, and the more you fail the closer you get. If you're paying attention.
In this case, I had to learn what worked and didn't work and what I liked, and didn't like. Quickly. After a couple rounds of the boats making their course I understood where the best picture likely lay. It took awhile. Looking through the take I can say that I could throw away the first half of the shoot and not miss anything.
I chimped the shots more than I typically do, mostly to nail exposure. With the huge dynamic range and shifting big white objects, auto exposure wasn't going to work, so I hunted for the right manual setting and left it there. Once I was confident with my exposure I mostly left it alone.
I shot 500 exposures to show for the hour we were on the water. And I have a ton of respect now for the photographers who specialize in this subject.
I have chosen to drop the practice of blogging about my college assignments, after a couple of incidents of too much candor that have gotten me in some hot water (one of my favorite aphorisms is: “Good judgement is the result of experience, and experience is the result of bad judgment.”). But this anecdote, relayed by a student, is too good to not commit to posterity.
I am in Annapolis, MD, at St. John's College, a stunningly amazing institution with which I am quite smitten. It sits adjacent to the U.S. Naval Academy. “Johnnies,” as they call themselves, consider that a week of academic pursuit on their campus is equivalent to a year of study by their next door neighbors. Consequently, every Wednesday night, at midnight, they have a loud and boisterous New Year's celebration, directed toward the Academy.
I am unlikely to stay up late enough this Wednesday to verify this in person. Even if apocryphal, it's a great tradition.
I had finished my assignment at St. John's College in Santa Fe and, cruising the web, discovered that the next morning there was a big balloon launch 50 miles away in Albuquerque. My flight wasn't until 11. The balloons launch at 7. I could do this.
The Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta is, by some accounts, the most photographed event in the world. The place most photographers seem to want to be is on the launch field. It's also where 100,000 other people like to be at too. This did not sound like enough fun. I wanted my own take of the event, not like the shots that show up in a Flickr search.
I looked at Google Earth and figured out, roughly, where I'd want to be if I wanted balloons against the sunrise and the Sandia Mountains. I left early enough (4:30am) so that I could scout on the ground when I got here.
Traffic was backed up for a mile on the freeway, at 6am, for the launch field exit. Using my car GPS, I navigated in the dark on roads west of the launch area. Several balloons were taking off in the dark, looking spooky as they blinked off and on in the night sky. They gave me a fix on where the field was.
Once it got light I finally found a warehouse district with a decent sight line, along with locals who knew that this was the best viewing spot. The balloons lifted, and I got the shot that I had planned.
Will Shortz's puzzle came on during the drive to the airport. This is Sunday morning sacred time in our household, and one of us (the one who's good at puzzles. Hint: it's not me) must not be interrupted during the segment. This one was spectacularly easy for me, involving two words and finding the common third word that made two compound words. Robin found it hard. This from a woman who can do Sudoku while talking on the phone, a puzzle who's abstract logic I find thoroughly opaque.
“Didn't you see the pictures that went with the words?” “I don't do pictures . You do.” When Will said “coffee,” I saw a mug of coffee. “Cup” a child's sippy cup. Linked with “cake” I saw a cupcake. A chocolate one with chocolate frosting. I could feel the buttery texture of the frosting on my tongue. “I'm aural. No pictures for me,” proclaimed Robin. “Maybe you have synesthesia. Our minds work differently. But we knew that.”
It's wonderful to be surprised by my spouse this way (“Really? You couldn't do that?”) after 17 years together. I'm now at the airport, on my way for a week at St. John's College in Santa Fe. Watch the Daily Photo for the updates.