SEE LIKE A DANCER… Many moons ago, I met a gorgeous young ballet dancer during rehearsals for a stage play. Naturally, as a young man myself, I tried my very best to impress her, showing off my (what I thought to be excellent) dance photography. She quickly glanced over my shots, a polite “hm” and “oh-key” here and there. Bottom line: She was far less impressed than I had hoped.
Since that day in February 1997, my ignorance (you may call it youthful arrogance) has given way to grey hair, and I’ve taken on board the many lessons I’ve learned in these 19 years. One of them is to “see like a dancer.”
Of course we have to understand exposure, composition, lighting, and a bit of sharpness never hurts, but no matter what subject we photograph, the more we know about it, the better our images will be.
In sport, those who understand “the game” will be able to anticipate what happens next, where to position themselves, when and where to pre-focus, to get that “extra special” shot that others might miss. More than that, they know what moments and images will tell the finer details of the story.
When looking back at the photos I’ve created during my time working as a sports photographer, it is clearly visible which of the sports I played myself (or at least had a good understanding of). As a boy I played tennis, private lessons and all, and as a Swiss native I followed Roger Federer’s career from the beginning. Not surprisingly, my tennis images turned out better than photos of other sports I covered. This in return allowed me to shoot higher ranked events over time, ending up accredited to shoot Grand-Slam tournaments from the sidelines.
So – what happened to the gorgeous ballet dancer? We got married and enjoy life with two beautiful daughters in Australia. While my photography didn’t win her over initially, amazing food at a fine Italian restaurant, a bottle of red and a luscious tiramisu did the trick eventually.
Being married to a professional classical ballet dancer allowed me an insight view of the world of ballet, their training, their persistence, the good and the ugly, from endless repetition to perfect their techniques, bloody toes and training injuries to the magical ease and elegance during performances.
As a man with two left feet myself, I was always in awe of the big jumps of dancers, their grace and balance, their beauty, strength and stamina. What I’ve learned over the years however is the fact that what impresses the layperson (me) may mean little to those who understand the finer details of what we photograph. When you look at dance photographs, do you see beauty, or do you analyse hip placement and turn out? Trust me: They do.
Let’s be honest here, I’m the first to admit that I’ve been very lucky many times in my life. Sliding into sports photography, especially in an area where I actually knew what I was doing, certainly helped, and I completely understand that it is indeed difficult to gain access to the sidelines of the big sporting events. I was also more than blessed by getting married to a ballet dancer who eventually opened up her own dance academy, giving me access to photograph many amazing dancers over the years. All of this was not something you could plan for.
What you can do however is leave aperture, shutter speed, and ISO on the sidelines for a while and spend some time studying what you want to photograph. Learn the rules of the game, analyse the amazing images of those who have done it before, not to copy but to learn. If you’re just starting out, talk to the local junior sports clubs, the ballet school in your neighbourhood, ask if you could watch a few training sessions, offer free shoots, practice and learn. I don’t see it as “offering to work for free,” but “having fun at no cost” instead.
Nothing happens without effort. What happens afterwards is a question of time, passion, talent, persistence and an unpredictable whisper of luck. I certainly wish you all the above.
Camera Essentials: Nikon D500 with Larry Becker Get the most out of your Nikon D500! Join Larry Becker as he walks you through the important things you’ll want to know about your new D500. This is not a class for seeing every menu option and obscure function, but instead Larry focuses on the things you need to know to get the camera to do what you want it to do, as if a good friend was showing you how. You’ll learn the basics of navigating the buttons and dials, how to access various shooting modes, where to find key settings, and along the way Larry shares a wealth of tips, recommendations, and insights to help you feel like a master user by the end of the class.
In Case You Missed It If a Sony A7R II or A7S II is in your future or already in your camera bag, then this class is for you! Join John McQuiston as he gets you up to speed on everything you need to know to get started on the right foot with your camera. From getting oriented to all of the buttons and dials to changing exposure settings, and from explaining the focus modes to how to shoot video, John steps through the features and functions you need to know, while explaining its purpose and showing you how it’s done.
The Good, The Bad, and The Great – How To Vet Your Clients In Order To Save Your Time, Your Sanity, and Your Career
I don’t think there is a moment associated with as many jumbled emotions in a creative’s career as the first time you tell a potential client, “No thanks, I’m going to have to pass on this assignment.”
On one hand, we want to work, shoot, and create. But on the other hand, we want our relationships with clients to be positive experiences that move our career goals forward and leave us feeling valued and respected – allowing us to make a living without bringing unnecessary stress into our lives (or in the case of some truly toxic clients, waking nightmares.)
Some clients are a dream come true – they value your contribution to their projects, are enthusiastic to work with you, have similar communication styles to yours, and are eager to pay your rates because they understand the inherent value of what you do for them. These clients are rare and beautiful – so hold on to them when they come along.
Most other clients are just fine. You may have a hiccup here and there along the road, but for the most part they act in good faith, are easy to communicate with, and are open to resolution when misunderstandings or disagreements do arise. With a good process in place that establishes realistic client expectations you will have no trouble dealing with clients like this throughout your career.
But there are some clients you should run from – the ones who devalue your work/process, overstep the boundaries you set in your professional relationships, make unrealistic demands based on unrealistic expectations, operate in bad faith, and drive you crazy with little to no rewards. There’s an old saying about “the clients who cause 90% of your problems will generate 10% of your income.”
The simple fact is that most photographers get so excited by the prospect of even being offered an assignment that they rarely stop to think if the assignment is something that will be helpful or harmful to their careers in the long run. This lack of foresight is why you see photographers excitedly start relationships with toxic and in some cases abusive clients for little more reason than they are offering work (and in the worst cases, those photographers will end up working for these clients for free – either through getting on board the free work carousel or by plain being stiffed on payment.)
You need to put a system into place for identifying which types of clients and projects are the right ones for you. This system should be integrated into your client research/on-boarding process, be data driven, and based on key attributes and values that are important to you in a client. Some things that you may look for in a great client are:
Enthusiasm for working with you and your specific style
Trust in you and your skills
An understanding of what you offer that leads to them understanding its value
Responsive to questions about project specifics
Their deadline is one that will allow you to do your best work in the time allowed
An understanding of how your rates correlate to your output
An understanding of the goals of their own project
A realistic understanding of their budget
Are verbal and written communicators
A client who possesses many of these attributes is highly likely to be a dream client, while one who does not (or even exhibits the opposite tendencies) is one that, at best, may require a great deal of education and, at worst, may be a client you should be hesitant in working with.
Another important skill to develop is learning to recognize red flags in how your potential clients communicate. A few months ago when I was developing Project Prescription For Photographers with Shauna Haider and Paul Jarvis we focused a lot on what data points and warning signs one could identify in client behavior to help them decide if the client was a good fit or not – and this became the core of our client evaluation module, a data-driven scorecard of sorts for photographers to use internally when deciding if they should work with a new client. Here are just a few of the major red flags we identified and what they could signify.
Have they at any point in your relationship used the phrase “We can’t pay you, but…” I’m not a fan of working for free, except with a select group of non-profits where I truly believe in the organization’s mission and WANT to donate my time to it (mostly animal rescues these days), and never because of a vague promise of future work or credit. This is one of the easiest and most visible warning signs of a client who needs photography but simply does not value it (or you). And the worst part is that once you work with a client like this, they will have a tendency to call again and again – often increasing the scope of the free work and breeding further resentment over time that can lead to a very toxic relationship.
Have they asked you to provide prices before outlining the scope of the project? While not always a deal-breaker, these clients have a tendency to see all photography as one-size-fits-all arrangements. You will often receive inquiries from them that are accompanied by almost zero information and followed by an immediate request for a price. These clients tend to be focused on price rather than value, service, and results.
Do they make a lot of “just” or “only” statements? Clients will often use statements that include the words “just” and “only” as a means of devaluing their own needs as a means of getting you to lower your rates. Classic example phrases include “We JUST need a few portraits,” or “We JUST need you to shoot for an hour or two,” and “We are ONLY using them for social media.” By creating the sense that they don’t value the assignment/usage themselves you may be more inclined to assign less value to the work they are requesting when assembling your estimate.
Are they asking you to do work way outside of your specialty/comfort zone? You likely have a goal in mind regarding the type of work you want to be shooting – and while they may be offered out of good intentions, not all assignments will move you towards that goal. For example, if you want to primarily shoot portraits, it is unlikely that you will want to take on several product photography assignments (unless you have a dire need for the money) because it will divert focus away from your primary goal, provides little opportunity to develop portfolio work, and may be time better invested in marketing to relevant clients. This can also indicate the client is unfamiliar with your work and just looking for ANY photographer.
Do they respect your boundaries? This is a huge red flag that encompasses a large scope of behaviors. In its most extreme form it may include being inappropriate/rude towards you in speech or action during your collaboration, or asking you to do things that you find unethical. And in lesser examples it could include not respecting your business hours or calling you at inappropriate times. It is very important to be vocal and firm in setting the boundaries that you expect your clients to adhere to.
Do they want you to work without a contract? This is business 101 – never work without a contract. I would be highly suspect of any client who actively insists that you work without some kind of agreement in place that sets the terms of your working relationship.
Are they asking you to do spec work? Block their number.
All of what I just wrote comes with a caveat – I totally understand that rent needs paying, food needs buying, and families need taking care of. Sometimes you have to bite the bullet and deal with an a**hole for a while in order to take care of your responsibilities (and hopefully these will be the first clients you cut loose once your situation is more stable). But once you are in a position where you are comfortably able to turn down work when it isn’t a good fit, being picky about your clients will allow you to do all of the above with more clarity and success as your business grows.
So say it out loud right now: “Not every client is the right client for me!”
Seize the Night: Night Photography Techniques with Gabriel Biderman Seize the night! Join Gabriel Biderman and gain a solid foundation for creating better images once the sun goes down. In this class Gabe discusses all of the tools you’ll need, the importance of scouting locations, how to play with time and movement, and how to shoot everything from cityscapes to fireworks and start trails to moonlit landscapes. All along the way Gabe shares insightful tips, guidelines, and techniques to help you get the most out of your gear and your experience. By the end of the class you’ll be inspired to venture out and do more night photography.
In Case You Missed It Join Dave Black for some lightpainting under the stars in Mono Lake and Bodie Ghost Town. Dave starts off with a walk through of all the gear needed for lightpainting before taking us through the importance of a site survey. Over the course of six different shoots in a variety of locations Dave shares all of the steps and settings needed to create stunning lightpainted starscapes. Each lesson is packed with tips, tricks, and lessons learned from Dave’s decades of experience. Dave is a master teacher, and his love for creating these photographs is truly infectious.
[Editor’s Note: On October 7, 2016, we lost not just one of our favorite photographers, but one of our favorite people, Tim Mantoani, to his battle with cancer. In his honor and memory, we wanted to share Tim’s first guest post from 2009 again today. Tim, thanks for all you did over the years, for your kindness, and for sharing your thoughts and ideas with us. You’ll be greatly missed.]
A few weeks back Brad Moore, Photo Studio Manager at Kelby Media Group dropped me a line inviting me to be the Guest Blogger. I first met Brad while he was working with Joe McNally in New York. Brad came with Joe to the 20×24 Polaroid Studio, while I photographed Joe for my Behind Photographs Project. So, thanks Brad and Scott for giving me the stage for the day.
Photography is part of my soul, it is not my job. Simply put, I love it. Richard Avedon said it best, “If a day goes by without me doing something related to photography, it’s thought I’ve neglected something essential to my existence, as though I had forgotten to wake up.” So today I will share some images and some thoughts that help put a smile on my face and make me feel complete.
BE WHO YOU IS Ian Summers is a great business coach in our industry. He loves the quote, “Be who you is, cuz if you ain’t who you is, then you is who you ain’t.” As a photographer it is easy to try to imitate another shooter’s work and to try to be all things to all people. I am based in a smaller photo market in San Diego and often have to shoot a variety of styles to satisfy my clients. However, when it comes down to the work, I always try to give them what they want, then shoot something they way I see it. At least at the end of the shoot, you have something YOU are happy that you created. Put YOU into your work. It is important to sing in your own voice. Think of yourself as a musician. You can place a guitar in the hands of any person and it is just a box with a hole in it, the same is true of a camera. What is the sound of your photography? U2 does not sing Rap, Folk, R&B, etc… They don’t sound like another band, they sound like U2. Be YOU too!
There are people that shop for “photography” and people that shop for a “photographer.” If you are just selling photography, then the cheapest price will get the job. Make your clients buy YOU. Find time to shoot personal work and promote it.
These Polaroid shots were taken on an assignment where I had very limited time with each player and a specific shot that the client needed. Once I knew I had what my client needed, I snapped two Polaroids of each player. In the end, they were my favorite images from the shoot.
These images of Luchadores are part of an on going personal project. I love the funkiness of these characters. What do you love? Go shoot it.
ROLL THE DICE When I was a student at Brooks Institute, Gregory Heisler was a guest speaker. I remembering him say, “Take the biggest chance when you have the biggest opportunity.” It is easy in this business to play it safe. If you do so, people will not remember you or your photography.
I started my Behind Photographs Project in 2006. I had always wanted to try shooting with the 20×24 Polaroid camera, so I rented it for an afternoon. It was expensive to rent and I knew I wanted to shoot something that was important to me. So, I called Jim Marshall and Michael Zagaris. Both legendary photographers, I asked them if I could make a portrait of each of them holding one of their iconic images. Jim told me I was “f***ing crazy.” It was intimidating, expensive and challenging, but it was also exhilarating, priceless and contagious.
Over the past two years, I have shot over 100 photographers and now own a 20×24 Wisner camera. It has been the most rewarding project I have shot to date. I do not have a trust fund, I am not independently wealthy, I refinanced my home to do this. (Did I mention I have the greatest wife in the world?) Believe in yourself. Remember, the rollercoaster is more fun than the merry-go-round.
YOU ARE THE AUTHOR OF YOUR OWN LIFE STORY One thing I really enjoy about teaching workshops is not what my students learn from me, but what I learn from them. At the end of one of my classes, a student approached me to say thanks and told me that she was a teacher. She said, “I tell my kids that they are the author of their own life story.” I though it was such a simple idea, yet so true. If you don’t like where you are in your life or with your photography, turn the page tomorrow and start taking it where you want it to be. If you don’t, no one will.
A few years back I had hit a creative wall and wanted to shoot some new images for my book. I took off for five days on a trip with a friend from Brooks and we traveled to Cuba. There were many reasons not to go, time away from my family, the cost, etc. But, there were far more reason to go. The trip pushed me out of my comfort zone, forced me to look at a new place in a new way and got the creative juices flowing. It made me feel alive. This image of Leonard is one of my favorites from the trip. I later sold it as stock to a national car company for an ad campaign.
JUST ASK Years ago, my friend Greg had just gotten out of the Navy as a photographer and was taking a motorcycle trip down the California coast. When he got to Carmel, he stopped at a McDonald’s and thought to himself, “I think Ansel Adams lives here.” So he picked up the phone book and looked up his name, dialed the pay phone, it rang and Ansel answered. “Mr. Adams? I didn’t think you would answer, well…..I am a fan of your work and was in Carmel and just dialed your number.” Ansel asked where he was and it ended up being a few blocks from his home. He invited Greg up to the house, gave him a tour of the darkroom and later had him up for workshops as an assistant. I believe people in general are good and want to help. If you are afraid to ask, you are probably onto something interesting. Don’t be afraid to ask.
When Lance Armstrong won his sixth Tour, I really wanted to photograph him. So, I called an editor that I knew at a sports magazine and asked him if the opportunity came up, would he please consider me for the job. A month later we did the shoot.
PLAY AND REJUVINATE When I worked for Dean Collins, he used to say, “You get into photography the same way you get into being a prostitute. First you do for fun, then you do it for friends, then you do it for money.” Remember the feeling… The first time you picked up a camera. The first time you saw your image published. The first time you watched an image appear in the darkroom. These moments made us feel alive. Shoot things that make you feel this way again, the energy and passion will become apparent in your images.
One of the greatest things about being a father is watching your kids play and discover the world. Through them you see the world from a fresh perspective and you can become a kid again. I watch cartoons, play with Legos, draw with crayons and make funny faces at myself in the mirror. Become a kid again. The world is less complex, more fun and the food is more colorful. Play.
This series of portraits was taken for USA Softball of the Olympic Team.
A while ago, I took a wetplate workshop from Will Dunniway in Corona, California. I have always been amazed that early photographers figured out how to make tintypes. At the time, most of my assignment work had become so “digital” I was thirsting to get my hands dirty again. Each plate is a unique image that cannot be repeated. They are hand-made. They are special. Find a way to make your work special.
LISTEN TO THAT VOICE I’ve been in this business for almost 20 years and learned the hard way in some cases. If someone is calling you for a job and it just doesn’t seem to be a good deal for you, it probably isn’t. If it looks like a turd and smells like a turd, guess what? Walk away or you will be sure to step in it. Conversely, when you have an idea that you think is good, run with it. Trust your instincts and shoot it. Make the time, spend the money, see if it has legs.
For this image of Tony Gwynn, I had the idea to reflect baseballs in the top of his silver bats. These bats are given away each year in MLB to the hitter with the highest batting average. To achieve this, I took an image of a baseball on a black background and made a 3×3 foot backlit enlargement of it. This print was then placed over the top of a 3×3 softbox, turning the light source into a giant baseball. The light was then positioned to reflect in the top of the bats. I shot this with a 90mm on a Sinar 4×5. It is now part of a featured exhibit at The Lousiville Slugger Museum.
PUT IN THE EXTRA TIME As I write this, it is now 12:30 a.m. My family has been in bed for hours and I am putting in my time. If I don’t someone else will.
For this shot of triathlete Linsey Corbin, I was hired by a magazine to shoot the cover of their annual wetsuit issue. They originally wanted to do a shot that was similar to a image they had run on the cover a year prior of a woman running out of the ocean in a wetsuit. I could have easily shot this type of an image, but I really didn’t want to because it wouldn’t be anything special. Linsey was the top finisher from the US at the Ironman World Championships so I pitched the magazine with the idea of doing an under water shot of her with a flag. This idea required far more production, testing, scouting and time, but in the end it was different and made people in that industry talk. As Yoda said, “Do or do not…there is no try.”
HALF FULL My friend Mark Mosrie is a photographer in Nashville and is one of the most positive minded people I know. He came out to visit me in January and had on a t-shirt that had a simple line drawing of half full glass with small type in it that read “half full”. So often, I hear photographers say, “If only I had a ______( Insert: new camera, a new website, more money, the latest light, gizmo or gadget here), I could ________ (Insert: show my portfolio, start my project, get more work, get a rep, etc. here.” Work with the gear you have, market with the resources you have, show the portfolio you have. You will always be waiting for something and if you wait for that new website, that new promo piece, that new camera, you will be missing out on NOW. You can take some amazing images with the sun and last time I checked, it has a much faster recycle time than any strobe system on the market. Focus on what you do have and what you can do, make your glass half full.
Oscar Pistorius is a world-class runner, enough said.
THIS IS NOT A DRESS REHERSAL Nine years ago I was playing in a soccer game. Late that night, I had a sharp pain in my knee that lasted through the night. In the morning, I called my doctor and he told me he was out and I could go to the Emergency Room if needed. I wasn’t shooting that day, so I decided to go in and have it checked out. Within the course of several hours, I found out that I had a tumor in my left femur, it was most likely cancer and that the doctors would do their best to “salvage my limb.” At that moment, nothing else mattered. I underwent five weeks of radiation, had half my femur and knee replaced with titanium and spent six months in and out of Chemotherapy. Just in case that was not enough to handle, my wife gave birth to our son, Lucas, 10 days after my surgery.
This life experience has taught me that you need to do things that you dream about NOW. Every photographer reading this blog has a project they have always wanted to shoot but haven’t. Start it tomorrow. No matter how many reasons you have not to, start it. Make that first call, send that first email, make that first picture. You will be amazed how your life will change and how you will grow both as an artist and as a person. You only get one chance, one life, this is it! You can’t change yesterday, but you can change tomorrow.
Lightroom Killer Tips with Scott Kelby Time for some Lightroom killer tips! Join Scott Kelby as he digs deep and shares dozens of tips, tricks, and workarounds to help you work faster, more efficiently, and have more fun while using Lightroom. From little known features to time-saving techniques, Scott will help you get more out of Lightroom than you knew was possible. Feel free to jump in with any lesson that catches your eye, or take it from the top. These killer tips can be found almost every corner of Lightroom and can be applied to any workflow.
In Case You Missed It Whether you are a professional or a hobbyist, there’s no getting around the fact that photography gear can be expensive. Join Larry Becker in Inexpensive and DIY Photography Gear Solutions as he shares all kinds of cool ways you can save money on a wide range of photographic accessories. Larry is always thinking of clever alternatives to conventional gear and do-it-yourself ways to make the things you need at a much lower cost. Sometimes we can save money just by learning from the cautionary tales told by our peers. In this class Larry has gathered up a ton of his favorite tips, tricks, and projects to help you find low cost solutions for things all photographers need and use. By the end of the class you’ll be ready to head out to your local hardware store and start experimenting with your own solutions and alternatives, so that you’ll have more money to spend on the important things.