That’s A Photoshopped Photo, No? When I started photography in 2005 and was proudly starting to share my work with the world – that was a common reaction to my photos.
Most of the people enjoyed my work, but I would get this comment:
“This must have been Photoshopped.”
Indeed it was, for example:
This is a photo of the Carrousel at the Louvre. I added some clouds and a sepia look, but kept some of reds as natural colors.
This is an HDR shot of the Eiffel Tower where I added some magenta in the sky to make it more dramatic.
Here is a photo of the Pont Neuf in Paris. I changed the sky and did a lot of dodge and burn on it, love the photo. I’m selling this photo to one of the biggest network galleries in the world – it has 85 physical galleries. The gallery really liked it despite the “Photoshop effect.”
I always felt a little guilty changing skies, or adding too much dodge and burn. I felt like I violated some kind of sacred oath that photographers had signed to not use any of these tricks on their photos.
When somebody tells me, “You used Photoshop!” I hear, “You are just good with software, but you are not actually a real photographer.”
Then one day I started using an ND filter and doing long exposure which lead to this kind of photo:
The magenta came mostly from the use of the filter. The stretchy clouds and the silky water came from the long exposure. So this time the drama did not come from software but from a dark piece of glass that you screw onto the camera.
I wondered, “Is using an accessory to create an effect more legitimate than using software?
Then I started using an 85mm f/1.4 lens that gave a very shallow depth of field and a superb bokeh to my photos.
This is a portrait of me taken by a friend. Do you notice how the bokeh in the background is a special effect which was created by a lens? This is not something natural that you can observe with your eyes.
I came to the conclusion then, that no matter what you use to create your image, whether it is in-camera, in-software, or with the use of a filter or a lens, what matters is the emotional impact that the photo creates. Do my photos tell a story? Do people like it? Would they like to have it in their homes or offices?
In the end, for me, these are the questions that matter.
I also realize that sometimes people react to saturation, like some people used to react in the early 80’s when color television came out. I remember at home the brand new color TV seemed fake to me, I was only used to black and white.
Sometimes nature gives you very strong sunsets with amazing colors. When you manage to match them using Lightroom or Photoshop to the feeling you experienced at the time, they might feel fake, but to me they are a representation of what I was seeing.
This is a beautiful sunset in Clearwater, Florida. I spent quite some time in Lightroom tweaking this photo until I felt like it was as saturated as my eyes remembered.
A horse close to Chantilly France, looking straight into the sun, my eyes were almost blind, I corrected the color until I got the same impression.
What confused me even more – is black and white photography. I remember talking to the owners of Yellow Korner and they seemed to have a lot of admiration for black and white as being a noble photographic art.
So I started studying Ansel Adams’ workflow from his book, the camera, the negatives and the prints and realize how much he really controlled and retouched his photos using the zone system with a very complex printing process. I also saw some old black and whites from famous photographers who spent dozens of hours retouching them, much more then what we do today. This was mainly due to tools that were hard to use at the time. Try taking out a negative and skin spot with a needle!
Here are a few photos I took recently in Yosemite as homage to the work of Ansel Adams. I’m a big fan of his work.
Then one day it hit me: When you do black and white, you are participating in an art form that has been here for decades and has been established as a form of fine art.
Even though I felt satisfied that the emotional impact was all I cared about, and that I would be creative with my photos, whether or not people enjoyed them, I still felt guilty when someone asked me if I used Photoshop or not.
One photographer fascinates me for his image and his success and that is Peter Lik.
He does beautiful photos that are very saturated, beautifully printed and, per what I have read, he is the biggest seller of fine art on the planet in recent years. I know some people love him and some people hate him (they are probably jealous.☺)
I get a lot of inspiration looking at his photos and I like to listen to what people say when they see his photos at his galleries. He has galleries all over the place New York, Vegas and I have spent quite some time there for inspiration and eavesdropping.
The public at his galleries usually don’t say “These are Photoshopped!” but more like “What a beautiful tree, or island or beach.” etc…
I’m sure Peter’s work takes a lot of Photoshop work, but that is not the response that he is getting.
I realized then, that as long as you retouch your photos to what people are used to seeing, you can get away with a lot. But when your skies start having a blue that the public is not used to seeing or too much magenta in my case, they react as if your photos are computer generated. But, if you managed to make fabulous color correction, within what the general public is capable of believing, you have created a whole different impact.
So that’s my game these days, to retouch my photos in such a way that they look dramatic (and hopefully nice), but the color has to remain within the realm of experience of the human race ☺
This photo has quite a bit of dodge and burn, but I tried to keep it to an “acceptable to the human experience” range.
I shot this from a helicopter at 8000 ISO.
A sunrise in Paris just a few days ago.
All of this being said, next month I might go back to some super HDR like this:
I just completed a full course on Landscape Photography that you can find right here.
I’m giving a super discount, for a limited time, to all of Scott’s readers by using the code: KelbySR at check out.
This is by far the training course I’m the proudest of, 48 videos with lots of live and examples from start to finish.
How do you like to retouch your photos? Leave a comment below!
Creative Studio Lighting: Constant, Strobe Mix “Dress on Fire’ Light gives you such control in the studio. You have the control to flatter your subject, set the mood, and even create ‘special effects’. When I first began photography I spent years trying to master traditional lighting including my desire to really understand the direction of light, quality of light, and how to flatter my subject. Eventually, however, I wanted to get a bit more creative and advanced.
Seeking to take my lighting up a notch, I start to research advanced tutorials or creative lighting and I really didn’t find very much.
This is why I’ve spent the last several months to create my brand new ebook, The Creative Studio Lighting Guidewith 30 creative studio setups. Whether you have one light, 4 lights, or unusual modifiers, it is going to help introduce you to entirely new worlds in the studio.
For this article I’d like to share one of the lighting setups you can find in this guide, and how mixing constant light and studio strobes can create stunning results. This setup is in the sample section of the guide that has 5 completely free creative lighting tutorials to get you started on your path to creativity in the studio!
Light 2 – Profoto zoom reflector with barn doors + gels (modeling light only)
Other Gear Used:
Rosco gel kit
Avenger D600 mini boom arm
Distance of Subject to Background:
Distance from subject: 32 inches
Distance off center: 9 inches
Height above eye level: 12 inches
Power (Fstops): F/9
Distance from subject: 52 inches
Distance off center: 20 inches
Height above floor: 24 inches
Power (Fstops): F/3.5
Camera Gear & Settings:
Camera: Canon 5D III
Lens: Canon 24-70mm 2.8 II at 24mm
Shutter Speed: 1/4 sec
The goal of this studio lighting setup is to infuse energy and motion into the frame by mixing one constant light, one studio strobe and a long exposure. The end result will help this dress and the scene to come to life, making the dress appear as if on fire!
Let’s take a look step-by-step at considerations for building this two-light setup filled with movement and drama!
Step 1: You’ll want to begin by completely removing all ambient light in the shooting space. Be sure no light is coming through the windows and that overhead lights are turned off. This will affect the look of the final photograph.
Step 2: Next, you’ll start with your main light. Place a strobe with a beauty dish with a grid as the main light illuminating your subject’s face. The beauty dish will create crisp but glowing light on the face. The grid will focus the light primarily around the subject’s face and torso.
As you can see in this image, by adding the grid the entire lower half of her body is completely in shadow. Since grids focus light and create more rapid fall-off of light, this is going to be perfect for adding the next element of the scene.
Step 3: Next, you need to add a second light pointed at the lower half of the subject’s body. For this light you will turn OFF the strobe capabilities and only use the modeling light. Here I have used a zoom reflector with barn doors and a red gel for creative effects. This light will be used to illuminate the dress, and I use the barn doors to make sure this light does not hit the subject’s face. This is one of the benefits of placing gels on barn doors: you can control the spill of light more precisely.
Now that the strobe capabilities are turned off and the ambient light in the room is eliminated, be sure the modeling light of this second light is turned up to its fullest power.
If you take a photograph while shooting at a ‘normal’ studio shutter speed (around 1/200 sec) you will see almost no light added to the bottom of the dress. This is because your exposure does not let in enough ambient light to record the color of the dress. In the next step, we will change this.
Step 4: In order to achieve see color/detail on the bottom of the dress, you will need to use a long shutter speed (aka ‘dragging the shutter’) to allow the background light to register in your exposure.
By using a longer shutter speed, in this case 1/4sec or 1/8sec, you leave the shutter open long enough to pick up the light from the modeling light.
With the longer exposure in this image you can see the red illumination registering on the bottom of the dress.
Step 5: Now is the time to get creative in this shot. Because of the long exposure, you now have the opportunity to add movement to your scene. In these examples I have thrown the dress in the air to create movement in the frame that registers through the long exposure. The moving fabric combined with the red gel results in a fiery appearance for the dress. Also try zooming your lens in or out, moving your camera left and right, or physically moving your body in and out during the long exposure. Each will produce different creative results.
Tip: Once you get all your settings right, you may want to turn off the modeling light on the beauty dish. During the long exposure the constant light from the modeling light may register on the subject’s face and create unwanted motion blur.
One thing to keep in mind for this shoot is that the subject’s wardrobe choice will make an impact on the final image. The subject will need to be wearing a clothing/items to pick up the light from the constant light (modeling light). In this case a shimmery dress is perfect for the effect. You’ll want to avoid dark colors or matte fabrics. Sequins, light colored clothing, or anything that shimmers will best showcase this effect.
By combining the constant light of a modeling light, a studio strobe, and a long exposure you can create truly striking and creative studio results. By dragging your shutter you are able to move your camera and/or subject to create interesting blurs and shimmers to your images that open up endless creative opportunities with just two light sources.
Mentorship is Invaluable I’ve known photographers who hold their cards very close to their chest for fear of showing their proverbial hand. I’m not sure why they’re fearful. After all, you can teach someone a technique and they will not produce the exact same picture implementing those techniques. You see the technique may be replicated, the art and vision cannot. That’s solely distinct from one individual photographer to another.
On the other hand, I’ve met photographers who pass it on freely without any expectation of return. In fact, I’ve been the recipient of such mentorship. That’s why I’d say I fall into the latter group. In my mind, there’s no harm in it. Some may argue that I’m grooming competition that could take food from my table. That’s a valid point, but I’m unafraid. I’m secure enough in my abilities to share with others without fear they’ll overtake me. I am who I am. They are who they are. Besides, I’d be very proud if they became uber-successful. That’s just another form of accomplishment – to have impacted someone’s life so greatly would be an honor. There’s also the old adage that healthy competition brings out the best work in all of us!
To that end, I don’t view it as creating competition. Rather, I’m giving back to my profession. That’s why mentoring others is so important to me, and I do it in many ways. I’m listed as a mentor with the National Press Photographers Association, and I’ve written books and blogs, and I do podcasts, webcasts and public speaking. I talk to middle school, high school and college level students and teach professional photography workshops. Any way I can help, I try.
Over the last 15 years, I’ve developed many fun, unique ways to mentor and teach. I’ve had middle and high school photography student internships, college internships, first assistant opportunities for newly graduated photographers and more. There’s something to be said about improving yourself by cultivating others.
Most recently I’ve used my program, the Veterans Portrait Project, as a learning tool. With the support of Nikon Professional Services, we provided Nikon DSLR cameras to 66 Raritan High School digital photography students so they could learn how to take studio portraits. For two days, we taught the art of portrait photography, how to communicate with strangers, types of lighting techniques, posing and exposure fundamentals. On the third day, the class culminated with a Veterans Portrait Project event where the students stood shoulder-to-shoulder with me and took portraits of local-area veterans. It was amazing to see how much the young students flourished behind the camera, and in front of our eyes. It was a huge success. Check out some of students’ work. I think you’ll be equally impressed.
At this point, you may be asking what’s the purpose of this post. This is my attempt at inspiring you to take someone under your wing, and be a mentor too. It’s also my round-a-bout way of saying we’re all responsible for the future of photography and we should all be contributing to its success. Whether photography is old-hat to you or you’re new to the game, you’ve got something to offer someone. Let’s be open, ready to share and inspire each other. Let’s flourish in this art together. See you at Photoshop World 2016!
I always advocate experimenting in Photoshop to see what happens. Sometimes the results are not at all what you might have expected – in either a good way or a bad way. If you don’t like the results you can always undo, delete or start over. But you may love the results – or at least see some potential that encourages you to keep going down that path of experimentation.
One example of experimentation is using a common technique in an “uncommon” way. Here’s a technique that I’ll be teaching in my Photoshop World class called Photoshop Textures, Borders, Edges and More. It involves using Refine Edge, but to make an unusual edge rather than a perfect selection.
First we need to find an image that will create a cool edge effect, so look for an image with lots of detail like stone texture, branches etc. – a photo with a plain blue sky would not work as well.
NOTE: You could use this technique to create a mask on the same photo, but I’m going to use it to create a mask for a different photo.
In this example I’ve chosen a photo and rotated it 90 degrees since I’ll be using it in landscape orientation.
STEP ONE: Use the Marquee selection tool to make a selection that leaves a small area not selected. (This is one of the factors that you can experiment with as you try this method).
STEP TWO: Click the Refine Edge button, and in the dialog move the radius slider quite high, and experiment with turning on the Smart Radius option. Take advantage of the preview to see the results you’ll get from different settings. Change the Output to Layer Mask.
STEP THREE: Drag the layer and mask into the second document. Unlock the Background layer, and then drag the Layer Mask onto the unlocked layer. Finally, delete the copied layer.
Here’s the final result with a white layer added below to simulate what the edge would look like when printed.
VARIATION: After the mask has been created, you have one more opportunity to edit the effect: double-click on the mask and in the Properties panel click on Refine Mask. Then you can experiment further with different settings.
In this example, I used a small radius and increased the Contrast to change the look of the edge.
Remember, once a mask has been created, it’s easy to copy it into another document and resize or tweak as you need.
Of course a key part of this ability to experiment is to work as non-destructively as possible. This means using layers, layer masks, smart filters etc. to give you as much opportunity as possible to try multiple operations, knowing that you’ll be able to go back if you’re not completely happy with the results.
Remember, by nature Photoshop works in a very linear way – you have to choose to work in a non-destructive manner to give yourself the greatest ability possible to experiment.
Dave Cross shares his favorite non-destructive Photoshop techniques – and much more – on his online training site: online.davecrossworkshops.com. He adds new content each week, often in direct response to member questions. You can also follow him on Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube.
At Photoshop World Dave will be teaching 3 classes: Photoshop Textures, Borders, Edges and More, The Power of Using Photoshop, Illustrator and InDesign Together, and Smart Objects, Layer Comps and Libraries — Oh My!
A while ago I posted the following online: When you look at carpenters, you will not see them laughing at each other because of the brand of hammer they use. They know it’s all about the work they create, the end result.
Still in almost every workshop I teach, I will have attendees who think they can’t do something because of the camera (or even the brand) they use. In essence it’s all about the work you do, it’s just a tool.
Much to my surprise, some carpenters responded and told me that this was not true and that there are indeed (just like with photography) people that talk down to carpenters using a certain kind of hammer. To say my dream was destroyed goes a bit far but… Well I was actually a bit surprised.
Of course there are fields where gear is incredibly important like biking, racing, etc. that are highly depending on the gear. Fine tuning the car a bit more can be the difference between placing pole position and all the way at the back. The driver is also vital, but sometimes I wonder what the combination is; I think it’s mostly machine “helped” by the human driving it.
Now, with photography I won’t tell you that the gear isn’t important at all. I wish that were the case because that would make our passion a lot lot cheaper! But what I do want to tell you is that the human factor is incredibly important.
Our History When my wife Annewiek and I were still living in our caves and I came home from the hunt with my dinosaur and could relax while Annewiek was preparing our meat on the BBQ, I couldn’t watch TV so I started drawing on the caves walls. I didn’t draw beautiful women in tiger skins (realize the women back then were also carrying weapons). What I drew were literally stories about my heroic adventures and how I discovered fire and later the wheel. Fast forward to our pyramids and we also used drawing/imaging for story telling.
For me photography is not only story telling, but I do like it if most of my images (if not all) have an element of story telling.
What Is Story Telling? When you talk about story telling, for a lot of people this means letting the model/sitter do something. Add a REAL element of a story and this is 100% true. I would rather call this a concept shoot, meaning you really tell a story.
For me story telling is more adding some elements in a shot that make the viewer go, “Mmmm I wonder what he/she is thinking?” or, “What is going on?” It can be done with a simple element like a camera, but it can also be done with something like an expression.
Sometimes people ask me why most of my models look away from the camera. I think this is actually part of that story telling element. If a model looks straight into the camera, this can be incredibly powerful (don’t get me wrong). However it can be even more powerful when the model isn’t. Then the immediate question becomes, “Where is she looking, what’s going on over there?” Hence your story telling element.
You don’t have to write a book with your one image (or more), but just try to give your model something to work with. You can give her a camera in her hand, but you can also make her work that camera like she is taking selfies etc.
Backgrounds The story telling can also be with your backgrounds. We all know seamless backgrounds right?
For me they were awesome when I started with my model photography. Then slowly (but surely) they lost a lot of their appeal for the simple reason… There was nothing going on. BUT…. You can use your backgrounds in a totally new way and combine some ideas, and you have a totally different image.
Whenever I teach a workshop where I “have” to use seamless I always ask them if the seamless can be destroyed after the shoot, and luckily they always say yes. I see it as my “trash the dress” shoot. You can actually start very easy.
Combining different options really creates something cool in my opinion. For example combine this with the camera.
Or let the model do something more….
In the end it’s all about your creativity and your mind.
I don’t always work on concept shots because most of the work you see me posting online or find in my portfolio is shot during workshops or during trade shows where I often don’t have the options to do elaborate shoots with big sets. I literally have to work with what I get.
But even then just working with a little bit of styling and proper coaching of your models goes a LONG way.
As you can see in this example, it’s a shot that isn’t hard to create, it’s just in our studio. But I’ve added some smoke to blend everything together and I mixed light sources to create a more surreal look. The whole idea of them looking somewhere and the male model holding a “device” makes it a bit more mysterious (story telling). Your mind will fill in the blanks, and the fun thing is… Everyone will do it differently. That’s also why I hardly ever name my images or add stories to them. I think it’s more powerful when the viewer does that. Because your imagination is much stronger than what I can write down.
As you see in the example above, although it was just shot during a workshop with the concept of mixing light sources, a BIG part of the image is that you as the photographer determine the outcome. I could have just mixed light sources and explained the effect and technique. But by also pushing myself for a cool shot I also inspire the group to start doing this at home, because they see how “easily” it can be done. Don’t get me wrong… creativity is NOT easy, but it CAN be done.
And sometimes you are just incredibly lucky and everything falls together.
As you can see in the shot above I was very lucky. I shot this just before Photoshop World in Vegas during a trip to Nelson. We brought a model to film a scene for an instructional video. Iasked her to bring a red dress, however by happenstance she also brought these angle wings. Lucky me there was a plane, so my mind immediately created… well fill in your own story there (see how easy it is? :D)
Do You Plan? This is probably the most asked question… And my answer is… Well, yes and no.
Sometimes we plan a shoot and we will plan it from A-Z (and during the shoot it will be different). But we will have an idea for the clothing, location etc. and sometimes… It just happens. Remember that shot we opened with, Nadine sitting on a pumpkin with the sign pointing down? Believe it or not, NOTHING in that shot was planned. It was shot during a workshop I taught in the UK last year and we happened to stumble on this cute little shop creating props for kids attractions. We asked if we could use it for a shot and they said, “Sure but what do you see in this junk?” We just said, “Trust us.” Nadine combined the clothing and literally built the set herself in mere minutes. The only thing I had to do was to “blend” everything together, pose and lighting wise. You don’t want to know how many people ask us how much preparation that shoot took and I think half of them don’t believe the story I just told you, but it’s 100% true.
At one point you develop a sense for story telling.
During the workshops at Photoshop World you will see the same thing, I ALWAYS go in blank, I have a theme and things I want to teach, but everything else is 100% blank. This is also why my workshops and demos are always different, even if I teach two or three in a row.
During the workshop/demo, I guide my group exactly through my thought process and show them what I see/think/feel about a setup and what would work or wouldn’t. The fun/interesting thing to see is how everything is build up and how often we do change things during the shoot.
Now this is during workshops/free work where it’s all about the learning process. If we work for clients this is often too “risky” and I will actually create a moodboard for the team and client and try to stick to that moodboard. What I do always build in is options to change things. If you promise smoke to a client and the smoke machines don’t work or are not allowed you’re…. well…. you know what I mean :D If you however promise the idea/suggestion of smoke you can always solve this by for example using lensflare, breathing on the lens etc. So never pin yourself down too much.
Conclusion The human mind is a crazy thing. It’s incredibly flexible and creative if triggered, so learn to play with that. But don’t go in like a blind horse, make 100% sure you also have the knowledge to pull things off. Although I’m a very creative shooter I know all my techniques, I know how to meter, how to make sure my color and exposures are correct, I know how to create the effects I need. I hate to rely on the “pffff we pulled that off but I don’t know how.”
During workshops I always tell people to bring everything when they ask me what to bring. It often happens I’m only shooting with a 24-70 the whole workshop and one light source. But it also often happens I’m using a 12-24 and several lights. With creative people you never know. Look at the set and let your imagination go wild, but most of all… If you know something works, use that as a backup and start with something new, something exciting. You can also go back to safe, but if you only shoot what you know will work, you will always end up with the same images.
Evolution – Growing Without Losing Direction Next year will mark my business celebrating its 10th year, and it has been a roller coaster that’s for sure. It all started at my dining room table with a blank sheet of paper, no knowledge at all of Photoshop, and no clients. From there I mapped out a company called AmbientLife that I wanted to create, a business that would be based around high end transport and high end prestige cars.
When I first started out the research phase, lots of people said I didn’t have a chance because I was too old to be starting a totally new career, I didn’t live in London, and even a few that said I would need to change my style of photography because my own natural style was, “Too dramatic and artistic,” to be commercial. I had a pretty good knowledge of business having worked in high level management positions in blue chips. I also had a background before that serving in the Royal Marines which gave me the greatest edge, the belief that I could achieve and conquer anything if I pushed myself hard enough and trusted myself not to be afraid to be “different.”
So here we are 9 years on, and it’s fair to say that hard work pays off! I have clients across most continents and I have been fortunate enough to work with some amazing people and see some truly stunning places all in the call of duty.
I have been commissioned to shoot some of the world’s most expensive and desirable cars, I have hung out of helicopters shooting super yachts, and I’ve been responsible for creating the photography for some huge campaigns like the recent “fractal” prototype car that my client Peugeot launched recently.
So things are all great and everybody is smiling… And that’s great, but for me it was time for a change. It felt like it was time to push out and allow my business and style to evolve more. This might seem a little strange to some people because, why change a formula that’s working?
The simple hard fact is that the world never stays the same, markets change, politics change and industries change. Even though I am a commercial photographer, I am also a businessman, so I keep a close eye on what’s happening around the world and take note of things that can change or affect the industries and sectors that I work in. The most effective business models are those that ‘lead the way’ and those that ‘recognize change’ and are not afraid to adapt to it and be prepared for it. Apple probably being one of the most famous examples of this.
The high end car market is going through change, this is brought on by exchange rate changes globally, unrest politically in some regions of the world and also the changes that we have seen in oil, its cost, and the downturn in profits for those areas involved in producing it. All these factors will have an impact.
So I’m just a photographer, why should I care? Well I guess that’s the key message here; being a photographer is great, and if it’s your passion and even your natural gift in life then it’s a superb space to exist in. But you also need to make a business work, and good business comes from knowing your market and having the right cassette in your head to deal with it. It’s about knowing how to ask yourself the right questions and it’s also about being able to be honest enough with yourself that you will answer yourself honestly.
I have been talking about this ‘journey’ in my business talks at Photoshop World with KelbyOne for a few years now. Every time I do they get massive positive feedback and requests for bigger and longer seminars on this ‘massive’ subject. This year I will be in Vegas and will be actually doing a whole workshop on this to talk through the process, but also the mindset of how to approach this. I can’t tell you all the answers, but I can help you to understand what the right questions are that you need to ask yourself and base your business development on.
I’ve been doing live shoot seminars for years now across the world from the US to the deserts of Dubai. It’s great to help people understand how important lighting can be, and also how lighting and your style of lighting can impact so much on the overall feel to your actual visual style. One thing that has grown massive over the last three years from a seminar point of view is the whole conversation around ‘succeeding’ and understanding your path as a working photographer.
You see, the thing here is that we invest a huge amount of our lives in creating the very best work that we can, we love it, it’s our passion, it’s our purpose, it’s what drives us. It’s that thing that makes us feel like a kid on Christmas morning to get out there and do a great shoot of something that we love. If you can learn to match that passion and drive with your business side, then you achieve one HUGE thing moving forward… You take control of your future rather than letting commissions dictate what you are shooting and how that’s being presented. One of the most important factors for a photographer’s work is your style. This is yours, nobody but you can create it. And only you can take that and grow and evolve it into what you ‘feel’ that it should be next.
It’s based on your view of the world and how you record what you see in front of you. It’s based on your imagination, and it’s also based on all the things in your life that influence you. What I mean by the last part there is that I believe that photography is in some ways a view inside your own mind. It’s guided by choices that you make, and these in turn are a result of things that influence you and your attitudes. When I am traveling to a gig, I will often listen to music; music I choose that gets me into the right frame of mind for the type of shoot that I am about to take on. I work hard to remove as many negative influences and people from my day to day world, “mood hoovers” is the affectionate term I use to refer to such people ;)
Your personal life, and what is contained within that, can duly have a massive impact on your work, its growth and its creativity. In October last year I got married to the love of my life, my wife Angela. We were married in a 17th century castle in the Highlands of Scotland, a setting that’s been used a few times in Bond films… the irony!
Anyway, we had a perfect day in every way and we have an amazingly happy and stable life. My wife works really hard at what she does and we respect each other’s stresses and commitments to our career roles. She is my rock but she’s also my best friend. When you’re a photographer, especially in the early years, having that support can make a massive difference to the probability of you driving yourself forward and succeeding in the way you want to.
So how did I decide what ‘Evolution’ was required? If I’m honest, and people who know me know that I say things as they are, a little too much sometimes… But this was a lot harder than I first thought. So I found my own way by first starting to look at my entire work to date as a single body of work. What was my strongest work? What did I have a natural ability or infinity to shoot? And where were the gaps…?
Over the recent years a huge amount of my work has been location based. It’s popular, and one epically huge point here that I want to make is that you can ‘evolve’ without losing or moving away from what you’re good at or what is popular. Think of it as having a guitar with only three strings… You’ve learned over the years to bang out some pretty awesome tunes on that and people love them, but its time to maybe get another two strings and see what you can do with those added!
My approach to look at my work was to force myself to put together a body of just 40 pieces of work that I would then use to have a bespoke portfolio book made from. This book would then be used in subsequent months when I was in meetings with new clients and also agencies as I pushed forward into new ground with new clients. WOW that’s a tough thing to do, and after about 3 days I started to see the gaps, my interiors work was okay but not driven forward that well compared to the other work. I have a reputation for being able to shoot detail really well and the interiors usually come off the back of doing that. But I hardly ever did any shoots that were just based on getting amazing interiors.
It also became very apparent to me that I was really spending all my time out on location, and whilst I had spent time ‘in studio,’ it was only about 10% of what I was doing. The result of this is that whilst my studio work was on the money for what the clients wanted for their brief, I had not really explored enough of this part of my work to develop my own unique style around it. A big reason for this is that I was shooting a massive amount of work for Aston Martin, and indeed many people had started to refer to me in magazine interviews as ‘the guy that shoots all the Astons…’ Hey, I know there are worse things in life, but this was a driving factor that was stopping me evolving to some degree. Last year I made the radical decision to back away from Aston. While that might may seem like madness, it has been the very best thing that I ever did.
Over a period of months between client commissions I pushed myself hard to plug the gaps that I felt were there. I spent a lot of time in studio developing my own work, but also most importantly developing my own lighting techniques so that my work was ‘different’ than other work that was shot in studio. There is no point at all in just trying to reproduce what somebody else does no matter how well you do it. You need to own it, make it yours and do that in such a way that people will look at it and think of you.
Agencies looking to commission high value shoots for campaigns are 90% looking for ‘style’ when they view work from photographers. They want to see your view of the world and if it’s something that fits in with what their vision is for the campaign. If it is, then it’s a no brainer that the shoot is heading your way and costs etc have little impact, as long as it’s nothing silly of course!
I also spent time investing in my BRAND. I designed and had my portfolio book handmade after sourcing all the materials, and that has been a very worth while investment because my brand has to give out the right message. Agencies and clients need to feel that I really care about what I do and how I produce it. It’s true that they are hiring you to shoot photography for them sure, but it’s also very important to understand that they are investing in YOU…
My 2016 Portfolio book became a reality and is made of the finest materials, all of which have some relevance to my industry. It’s a pretty big beast, but when it lands on an art directors desk it’s like an event opening it (that’s a quote from 3 recent art directors). It’s that sort of message exactly what I wanted to send so for me I am really happy with that.
Updating a portfolio once a year is not enough for me. I’m busy, and whilst some of my work is under embargo because of the nature of what I shoot, there is plenty that is not. Every quarter I update a digital version that can be mailed anywhere in the world as a link, as a PDF book or whatever is required. It’s a carbon copy of the physical book but it’s updated as the year progresses and I shoot more and more work. Clients and agencies absolutely love this because not only does it keep them up to date with what you’re doing and how your work is moving forward, but its also gives them insight into the fact that you are ‘a very busy boy’ and you’re in demand. That is a key factor and it’s also related to human nature, but the fact is that if you are busy and people are chasing you for shoots, then you become more desirable.
Remember… Your Professionalism is your logo
Your Personality is your business card
How you make your clients feel is your Trademark
The whole human nature thing is pretty big for me, and it’s something that I talk about a lot in my business seminars because it not only allows you a better understanding of yourself truthfully, but it also give you ‘superpowers’ when it comes to negotiating and winning contracts. If you want to hear more, then you are going to need to join me at Photoshop World in Vegas for my Business Workshop ;)
The last 8 months… In the last eight months several things have happened, and I would like to think that has been because I took control and allowed myself the time to evolve.
I’m taking on a lot more new clients, I’m doing more diverse and interesting work that is pushing me both creatively and technically, and also the business returns on that mean that I am pulling in more revenue as I grow.
I am finding my own unique approach to shooting studio based work. I am also finding that having those ‘extra strings’ is really paying dividends with both my current clients, and also new ones that are seeing this for the first time. Agencies are recognising that I have the ability to ‘bang out some new tunes’ whilst maintaining my own unique style, and, most importantly, stay focused on a continued direction for my brand and my business.
Finally I am finding the time to shoot for myself, shoot personal projects, and experiment with things. Photography may well be my business and my living, but it’s also a passion. I still get a massive amount of fulfillment from just getting out there and shooting stuff for no other reason apart from finding out what that looks like shot!
The road ahead…
The Last Word… Thanks for reading through my blog, and I hope its been entertaining and perhaps some of it will open up a few questions within your own life that you may have been thinking about. If you would like to learn more about lighting cars in different ways or hear me talk about business and what inspires me, then you can do so right now by hoping over to KelbyOne where I have 7 video seminars and 2 interviews recorded for those that can’t make it to live events. I hope these help you guys.
Whatever you do, be passionate about it, believe in yourself and what you can achieve, and above all else accept that ‘failure’ is just part of the learning process and it’s moving forward that counts!
I think you can always tell the size of a man by the size of the things that bother him…
Stay positive, be mindful of the things that influence your space in this world and if you really want to do something, go out there and get it with all you have!