Writing the guest post for Scott Kelby’s blog is intimidating. Consider the giants of the industry who have posted here before – masters of lighting, composition and post production – skilled teachers who make complicated techniques simple and practical.
I thought about what I could add and kept coming up blank. I tried to work out the reason behind any success that I’ve ever had apart from blind luck and then it hit me, I’ve always relied on the strengths of someone else.
To have a career in photography requires competency in all sorts of disciplines; art, business, social media, networking – it’s a never ending list and those are just the general strengths needed. Specific fields of photography require specific competencies: consider how all the best wildlife photographers have an intimate knowledge of animal patterns and behavior. To have strengths in all of these disciplines is next to impossible for an individual. At some point it makes sense to outsource your weaknesses to someone else, allowing you to focus on your strengths.
Working in Iceland was one of the highlights of my career. Planning and coordinating shoots from another country required extensive planning and attention to detail, a weakness that I outsourced.
My love affair with photography began at the same time I met Tina, the woman that I would marry. Intuitively, I knew that if I was to spend any time learning photography, I would have to include Tina. She was so surprised when I arrived home with a camera for her (it wasn’t even her birthday). She was even more surprised to find out that I had booked a job involving both of us, leaving her two weeks to learn photography.
Our profile picture is a caricature of us at this point. I was technically competent and knew camera and lighting techniques whilst Tina had a well developed artistic eye. The job involved me setting up the cameras and lighting whilst Tina did the actual shoot – with all of 2 weeks’ worth of experience. Against all logic, the shoot went well and our photography partnership began. We’ve been working together for six years and in retrospect, most of what we’ve done wouldn’t have been possible as individuals.
Flawless Moves, a London dance group, commissioned us to create promo images for their performance in Street Dance. Whilst Tina worked with multiple lights to create the images for the brief, I noticed beautiful window light highlighting one of the members. I used the light to create a series of black and white portraits completely different from the setup scene. Working as a team enabled us to offer something extra.
Our first commercial opportunity was a dream job. At the time we were living in East London, South Africa. An advertising agency had been contracted to promote the city who, in turn, were looking for a photographer to create the imagery. The advertising agency contacted us after finding our Flickr stream through a Google Image search (this has happened more than once). We were to meet the agency the following day to discuss the possibility of working with them. I was so excited about the job that I spent the entire night going through every possible conversation in my mind.
By the time the meeting began, I was a wreck to say the least. I was over thinking every question and panicking that the conversation wasn’t panning out as it did in mind the night before. As I tried in vain to steer the conversation in that direction, it became painfully awkward and I expected to be dismissed without any further consideration. Fortunately Tina took over, laughing and joking with the client, showing them that we were real people who would be enjoyable to work with. Because of Tina, we were hired to produce imagery covering architecture, landscapes, portraits and in-water surfing. It is still one of the most challenging and exciting jobs we’ve ever done.
One of the images from that first job.
Later, we were contacted by SA Rugby magazine to photograph Butch James. I was delirious with excitement, being a massive rugby supporter and follower of the Springboks. Butch James is a Springbok legend, helping the team win the 2007 World Cup. Rugby is to a South African what football is to an American. When I told Tina about the shoot, she seemed mildly indifferent. As someone with no interest in sports, she didn’t even know who we were photographing.
On the day of the shoot, I was focused on meeting and exceeding the brief hoping to impress the magazine. After taking over 200 images, I passed the camera on to Tina to go and tinker with the lights. She took about 10 images and managed to do something I had completely overlooked – she connected with the subject and created an engaging picture. The editor chose one of her images as the cover of the magazine and I enjoyed the irony.
The image on the right is the cover image of Butch James. A month later, having learnt my lesson, I handed the camera over to Tina who once again shot the cover image on the left.
Now that we’re based in London, the bulk of our commercial work is fashion based. People who know me find this quite amusing. Whilst I enjoy working with people and love location based portraiture, I have never been called a fashionista. At the first London Fashion Week we attended, one of the fashion personalities did a triple take when he saw me in jeans and a hoodie. He literally needed three looks just to confirm how badly dressed I was. Tina on the other hand gets fashion. She understands that making the clothing look good is just as important as making the model look good. I can’t tell you how many times she has saved me from hours of retouch work, just by being attentive and understanding styling and fashion.
Fashion – an art that I rely on Tina to understand.
Recently we have been doing quite a few dance related shoots, another field where I am completely lost but Tina understands.
I’ve been saved by Tina’s sparkling personality, her ability to engage with people and her keen sense of style. So how have my strengths helped us? Well I can carry a lot of gear and generally take care of post production, but what I bring to the business is that I dream up crazy ideas and put us into the sort of situation that Tina’s strengths have to get us through.
This is one of those situations I put us in that felt quite scary at the time. We shot this guerilla style, getting the athlete in place than back to safety in under 30 seconds.
The biggest breakthroughs in my photography have not been as a result of a magic piece of equipment, new post production technique or social networking. They’ve resulted from passing off my weakness to someone else and focusing on what I can do well.
Thank you Brad and Scott for the opportunity to write this post. Both of you epitomize teamwork and my own story owes a lot to your example.
You can see more work from Jon and Tina at JonReid.net