Tuesday
Aug
2010
24

Going to Photoshop World Next Week? Don’t Miss…

by Scott Kelby  |  14 Comments

…these special bonus things on the Expo floor.

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1930′s Hollywood Glamor Style Lighting with Mike Kubiesy
Our good friend, and Hollywood pro shooter, Mike Kubiesy is teaching a class on how to get that classic 1930′s Hollywood Lighting look that you don’t want to miss (like Mike’s shots you see above). The class is Friday, September 3rd at 11:45 am on the Expo Floor at the NAPP Expo Theater. Mike’s a great teacher—you’re going to learn a lot. Plus, Mike’s got a class on creating Hollywood Movie Posters (I’m sneaking into this one myself). By the way—these are FREE bonus classes if you’re going to Photoshop World.

Contrast, Details, and Color Manipulations with Calvin Hollywood
OK, totally unrelated to Mike’s Hollywood stuff, is the amazing work of German retoucher, and Photoshop wizard “Calvin Hollywood.” This guy’s stuff is off the hook, and if you want to learn how to do the latest portrait post-processing stuff—this is the guy you want to see! (you might recognize Calvin from his kick-butt Guest Blog post here on my blog). His class is on Thursday, Sept. 2nd, at 2:00 pm in the NAPP Expo Theater. Again—it’s a FREE bonus class.

Studio Lighting: Behind The Scenes With…well…Me!
I’m doing a special presentation at the Manfrotto booth on the show floor about how I use Elinchrom Lighting and Lastolite modifiers in the studio and on location. This was a big hit in Orlando, and they’ve asked me to do it again in Vegas, but I’ve updated my presentation since then with lots of new stuff, so I hope you’ll check it out. It’s on Thursday at 3:15 pm at the Manfrotto booth. Hope I’ll see you there!

There are also Free Bonus Sessions from Cliff Mautner (the wedding photographer that everybody’s been going crazy over on KelbyTraining.com Online), along with a Portrait Lighting Class from the incredible James Schmelzer (ask anybody whose taken his class), and RC Concepcion’s class for photographer’s on how to get your photography blog up and running right now!, plus a whole bunch of other cool classes—here’s the full list of free Expo Floor Bonus classes, times, and locations. Don’t forget, you can still get your free Expo Only pass right here.

Monday
Aug
2010
23

A Few Shots From My Week in Maine

by Scott Kelby  |  76 Comments

Hi Gang: I took last week off and headed up to Kennebunkport, Maine with my family for a week of just doin’ nuthin’. It’s so hot down in Florida, my wife wanted to spend a week someplace where you didn’t break into a sweat just looking out the window, so off to Maine we went.

Although we were there for a week, I only went “shooting” twice (well, technically two and half times, as you’ll read in a moment). Once when we took a one-day trip up to Bar Harbor (about four hours away), and once with my buddies Scott Eccleston and his photography business partner Mark Hensley (both of whom I met on my first trip up there back in July of 2007). Here are a few shots I got along the way (I haven’t gone through all of them—I had a flight to catch).

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Above: So there I was—-it was almost sunset, and I’m all alone, paddling down a creek just outside Old Orchard Beach as a came upon this beautiful area of still water. I tried to keep the boat still as not to disturb the still water, I slowly reached for my D3 with a 70-200mm f/2.8 lens. Steadying the canoe with one hand, I did my best to keep my heavy camera still with the other, while a huge snake slithered right along side the canoe, and….aw, who am I kidding—this is a totally set-up shot.

Scott and Mark positioned the rental canoe at the water’s edge for me, while I got down on one knee, with my tripod, in the parking lot and composed the shot so you couldn’t tell I was two feet in front of our minivan. Hey, I had ya going for a minute there, though didn’t I? So, it’s all real, but I wasn’t in the boat, which is a good thing, because I would have capsized it for sure.

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Above: This shot above was taken in Bar Harbor one morning. I missed sunrise (which was at 5:45 am), and instead woke up at 7:05 am, got my self together and was out of the room five minutes later while my family was still asleep. Around 7:50 am I drove past this lake and I headed back, pulled off the side of the road, grabbed my gear and headed down to the lake shore. It was kind of a steep climb down through a bunch of slippery rocks and stuff, and sure enough—I fell and slowly tumbled down to the shore. Hit the ground with a thud. Luckily, I was fine (slightly bruised ego, but thankfully no one was around. My camera wedged in between some fallen tree limbs, so it survived too (just a little banged up—like me). At 7:50 am I had long since missed any great light that morning, but I kinda liked the shot anyway (especially since I had to take a fall to get it, so it probably looks a lot better to me than it does to you).

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Above: The foggy shot above was taken in downtown Bar Harbor. It was incredibly foggy at 1:00 pm in the afternoon (which is really odd to me, but apparently is very common there), and out of the mist the four mast schooner “The Margaret Todd” came in to the dock, and I snapped this foggy shot (though it was much foggier than it looks here). Just kind of a simple shot, but I like that you don’t see anything else.

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Above: There’s a little footbridge near a creek about 15 minutes from downtown Bar Harbor, and I got there right after the sun moved out of the nice cloud cover it had been in all morning. I waited for 45 minutes for it to move back into those clouds, but it never happened so I headed back for breakfast. On our way out of town late that afternoon, I came back, and the sun still wasn’t cooperating, but I snagged this one shot while crossing the bridge, which I thought was kind of interesting.

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Above: Toward the end of my stay, I hooked up with Scott and Mark, and they had a connection with a guy who owns an huge abandoned six story old factory, that’s about a hundred years old, and creepy as all get out (Well, only parts were creepy—the parts where we went down in the cobweb covered basement with only my iPhone 4′s flashlight to light the way), but outside of that—it was an amazing place, and I got SO many shots to use as backgrounds. The shot above is a five-shot HDR image toned in Photoshop CS5, and I tried to keep more on the photo realistic side (not totally mind you, but more that way). This place had a ton of old rusty machinery, and old pipes, and it was an HDR love fest. I literally shot more HDR that day than I had all year. It was an awesome place.

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Above While we were in the creepy factory, I did a video tip on shooting long exposure HDR shots for Scott’s “WeeklyPhotoTips.com” blog  (an excellent blog by the way, which I’ve mentioned here previously—here’s the link—it’s a must visit blog), and the shot above is the image I created during the video tip. I’ll let you guys know when Scott puts the video tip up live). Anyway, when you’re shooting this much HDR you have to push one or two over the limit, right? So, that’s what I did above. I couldn’t help myself. ;-)

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Above—here’s the 1/2 shoot part: We were leaving at 12:00 noon on Saturday morning to head to the airport, and it was such a pretty morning that once I was up (around 10:00 am), I thought I would walk into town (about a 15 minute walk from our cottage), and take some shots of the homes along the way. I couldn’t decide whether to take my 14-24mm and capture the entire home, or a 70-200mm and get it tight. I wound up taking the 70-200mm, so my idea of shots of quaint Maine homes, became shots of quaint doorways, and I used Lightroom 3 to put quickly put this 24″ x 10″ multi-photo layout together (it took all of three clicks). It’s far from finished, but I thought I’d give you this “in progress” look in the meantime (click on it for a much larger view).

Once I got back from wandering, it was off to the airport, and we got home by midnight (all, the joys of connecting flights). It was great to get away right before Photoshop World Vegas (since I won’t get much sleep while I’m there), and it was fun reconnecting with Scott and Mark, and enjoying such a wonderful place with my family (the kid’s absolutely loved it!).

Friday
Aug
2010
20

Your Lightroom 4 Wish List Comments

by Scott Kelby  |  77 Comments

Blue genie goes out of the laptop

Hi Gang: I wanted to do a follow-up to last Friday’s post about “What I’d Love to See in Lightroom 4″ because you guys came up with so many other great feature requests, ideas and enhancements to what’s already there, I wanted to share some of the ones that really resonated with me.

There is one that would be high on my list, and I totally forgot about it, until I read Bryan’s comment: “Why no Vibrance in the Adjustment Tool?” I second that. You can leave Saturation, but add a Vibrance slider.

Also, I sent my post to Adobe’s Lightroom Product Manager Tom Hogarty, and then Tom and I talked on the phone about all this on Friday (I was just happy we were still talking). ;-)

Anyway, while I can’t go into specifics about what what Tom and I discussed, I can tell you two things: (1) Adobe is listening. Big time. At a level that was unthinkable just a few years ago. The Lightroom team is full of photographers (Tom included), and they use the program themselves, and they want the same things we want, and they’re fully committed to giving us the tools we need. And (2) I was very, very, very happy at what I heard from Tom. That’s all I’m saying.

One more thing: There were a number of features that people are asking for that are already in Lightroom, which is a good thing (and some folks kicked in with their own comments pointing them in the right direction, which is something I love about the people who frequent this blog. They want to help each other out, which is really what it’s all about).

Now, on to highlights from your comments (By the way—-Adobe is reading all your comments. These are just my favorites):

Brent
“Relative presets. I don’t want a preset that setss my exposure to 2.0. I want a preset that adds 2.0 to the current value. Most presets are useless unless the original exposure is spot on. If presets could create relative values instead of absolutes, it would be so much easier to browse through lots of different effects until you get the look you want.”

Sherry
“A healing brush with Content Aware would be #1 on my list.”

Trevor King
“Watermark positioning is my other gripe. V. 3.0 limits where watermarks can be positioned through the 0-10% vertical movement limitation. Please allow 25% changes in positioning so that I get my watermarks in my preferred position halfway between centre and the bottom of the image.”

Marcel

“The ability to export as a file that you can burn straight to DVD would save me hours of work when doing slideshows for clients. Being limited to a compressed file format for the web is only half way there.”

Mark
“It’s not a matter of loyalty (for us photographers), it’s a matter of productivity and competitive advantage. Come on, Adobe…blow us away…and SOON, please.”

Eric Cote
“You forgot the most important: a real healing brush instead of the spot healing we have at the moment.”

Doug
“Make it easier to create folders and subfolders in the library. How about a right-click, new folder? I know, that’s so 1992.”

Levi Sim
“Clone Stamp. that’s all I want. I would never have to leave LR if it had the clone stamp tool.”

KC
“Identity Plates should snap to guides and grids. Photo boxes will snap to guides, but not to grids.”

Cindy
“I miss the ability to use more than one song in Slideshow, especially when I have more than three minutes worth of images to watch. Why was that ability changed?”

Simon
“Make the “Ad-hoc slideshow” [Impromptu] performance what it should be, in e.g. picasa I can just hit slideshow and it instantly starts showing. In LR 3, I first have to wait minutes while ‘preparing…’ That isn’t ad-hoc slideshow to me…”

Bill Gommel
“How about the ability to search multiple catalogs. My catalog is getting huge because I want to be able to search for a certain class images. It would be nice to have a wedding catalog, a portrait catalog, an every day catalog, but if I want to search for all images with keyword Chicago it would search all three catalogs.”

Robbie R.
“I’d love to see White Balance adjustment added to the adjustment brush tool. It would be great for fixing those shots where we have mixed light sources.”

Piet Van den Eynde
“The ability to fade a preset in Lightroom: just apply a preset, and have ‘preset strenght’ slider to add to the effect or diminish it. Also allow one or two levels of extra hierarchy to store presets in… Right now, there’s only one folder level… People with lots of presets have to scroll through endless lists…”

John Swarce
“Make the updating of watermarks easier. If I create a watermark and I make any later change to it (say…moving it from one side of the picture to the other side because it looks better), I have to save it as a new watermark. I could see if I changed the text or style, but just the positioning? I suppose I could create seperate watermarks as “Left Bottom”, “Right Bottom”, “Top Right, Vertical Orientation”, etc. but this would get messy really quickly.”

Brendan
“How about a larger navigator window so we can better see presets being applied. Paul adds:
Even better yet, how about an option to preview presets in the original image. The tiny navigator window just doesn’t cut it.”

Michael Tissington
“Stacks need improving … there needs to be a way of selecting the entire stack without expanding it first (and it does not need to expand, just because I have it selected).”

Ian Butterworth
“It would be nice if they could take the “backup” even further and backup all the settings, colour profiles, develop settings, plugins in use, etc. as they are scattered in different directories. In fact I wish Photoshop would do this too. Backup anything I have configured easily so if I did a fresh install I could restore the backup and have everything how it was.”

Waldek Chadzynski
“Please don’t forget about [the] request from Matt Kloskowski about being able to move vignette all around a picture.” [thanks Waldek----I forgot about that one---Matt's spot on!].

Matt Timmons
“Please put a patch tool in Lightroom that does the same thing that the Spot Removal tool does, but lets us draw our own selection around an area instead of having to use multiple adjacent circles clone/heal an area (i.e a patch tool just like PS, but allows you to change the opacity/location/size like the spot healing tool- maybe add feathering to it too). Often I have to go into Photoshop just for that one thing and I end up with a copied .psd file that can’t be edited in LR. (2) In the Metadata Module, include something that tells you which mode on the camera the picture was taken in (manual, Av, etc.) like in Bridge.”

Enrico
“I’d like to see RGB curves in Lightroom 4 both for accurate color correction and color toning in images, or at least the red-cyan slider.”

Dick Kenny
“Please add a vote for making Camera Calibration accessible in Library. To many the choices offered by this function are fundamental when deciding what to keep and what to reject. By the time one gets to Develop, its too late – and switching between both modules before you need to is a bore.”

Chris Newham
“[Add a] Gradient eraser brush.”

William Haun
“Export folders & collections with hierarchy intact. There is a LR/TreeExport plugin available for folders but I’d kill to be able to select a Collection Set and have its contents exported as a folder structure.”

Eric
“I would like to have the possebillity to use the lens correction Profiles from CS5 and/or to include new created ones.”

Regis
“We would need one think on top of that for video: a way to change the video date after importing! Right now, say you have edited a video, then the date of the modification is used instead of the date of shooting.”

Peter  [These are so well thought out, I have to imagine this is Peter Krogh, but I could be wrong].
“(1) There is no way to create custom metadata fields without developing a plug-in, and even then, the custom fields only live in the catalog. (2) – Add a shortcut to the straighten tool already, (3) Add an “offline” mode where I can edit image settings/metadata and then batch-apply them when my images are online again (that would be with the export metadata to XMP option active). You know, not the “metadata changed” icons in the library grid. Unlock the develop settings that would be previewed based on the low-res image anyway. (4) Add a “use last” button to the keywords field of the new import dialog box.”

Remko
“Also Pano stitching would be very nice to have in Lr itself.”

Zack Jones
“Custom File Naming on Import – Allow us to use all meta data for filenaming. For example {YYYYMMDD}_{Camera_Name}_{####} would yield 20100813_7D_0001 for my 7D and 20100813_T2i_0001 for my T2i.”

My thanks to everybody who took the time to comment on Friday. Even if you didn’t wind up as one of my favorites listed here, more importantly your idea may have wound up as one of Adobe’s favorites. :)

Friday
Aug
2010
20

Going to Photoshop World? Be Sure To Bring Your Camera For Westcott’s Photo Shootout

by Scott Kelby  |  6 Comments

Shootout-Booth

If you’re coming to the Photoshop World Conference & Expo next month; make sure you bring your camera, because we’re doing something really cool with the folks at Westcott that will totally make it worth your while.

Besides Westcott’s regular booth on the show floor, NAPP has partnered with Westcott to create a special “Photo Shootout” area. Here’s what Westcott has planned:

Four uniquely themed shootout bays will feature professional models, renowned instructors, commercial product set ups and more. Each day we will begin with four custom designed scenes all professionally lit utilizing the award-winning Spiderlite TD5 constant lighting system along with high-end modifiers, props and backgrounds.  Professional models with be styled by Candace Corey who has worked with such talent as Lady Antebellum, Danny Glover, Olympic Winner Shawn Johnson, comedian Chelsea Handler and more.   Her work can also be found in Rolling Stone, People, Self and Maxim. Stop by the Westcott booth and meet Candace in person as she provides instruction on the importance of styling for photography.

To help guide you through the shootout will be two amazing photographers who have both designed and created past Westcott catalog covers. Eric Eggly is a commercial, international and award winning photographer with more than 20 years experience. Michael Green is an artist, professional and award-winning photographer with the distinguished recognition of being a NAPP Guru Award winner as well as a current Westcott Top Pro. Don’t miss the opportunity to learn how these guys both became so successful.

Plus, while you’re there you can enter to win one of two complete displays used at the show valued at well over $8,000 each including lights, modifiers and backgrounds.

This is something we’ve always wanted to offer on the show floor, and I want to thank Kelly, Dave, and everyone at Westcott for helping to make this happen.

P.S.
Westcott has a really great presence on Facebook, and they’re always posting images, tutorials, and articles about lighting. If you’re into studio gear, friend them on Facebook (here’s the link).

Thursday
Aug
2010
19

It’s Pimpy Thursday!

by Brad Moore  |  37 Comments

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Hey gang, Brad here with the first weekly installation of Pimpy Thursday! Lots of goodness to pimp, so let’s get started -

  • Jeff Revell did a great post and tutorial on using the Photoshop World for iPad/iPhone App over at PhotoWalkPro.com. If you’re coming to Photoshop World you’ve gotta check this out!
  • In other Photoshop World news, John Loiacono (Johnny L) from Adobe will once again be the featured keynote presenter! Johnny and his team always wow the crowd with great previews of things to come from Adobe, and with CS5 just shipping (as well as Lightroom 3) it’s an exciting time to hear from Adobe! Sign up now to join Johnny, Scott, and all your favorite instructors in Las Vegas September 1-3.
  • If you’re in the Las Vegas area and just want to drop by the Photoshop World Expo, you can do so for free on September 2 & 3. Visit this page to register for your free Expo Pass.
  • Check out Jason Moore’s review of Scott’s Lightroom 3 Book for Digital Photographers right here.
  • Scott is bringing his Photoshop for Digital Photographers Tour to London on Friday, October 15 for a jolly good day of training and fun. Get all the details and register right here.
  • If you pre-ordered Scott’s Photoshop CS5 Book for Digital Photographers, you should be getting your copy in the mail any day now. (I was just back in our shipping department a little bit ago, and they were getting them packaged as quickly as they could :) )
  • Have you checked out the latest Kelby Training Online classes lately? We just recently posted four killer classes – RC Concepcion’s Configurator 2.0: Customize Your Photoshop CS5 Experience, Joe McNally’s Lighting for Environmental Portraits, Janine Warner’s Dreamweaver CS5 Crash Course, Part 2, and another RC Concepcion class on Portfolio Power!
  • Check out AdoramaTV for all sorts of great, informative videos on photography, from gear reviews to photo tips and more. (My favorite part is the “How’d They Do That?” series in which photographers walk through their setup for photos they’ve taken. Check out this one featuring Nashville-based celebrity photographer David Bean talking about his setup for photographing LeAnn Rimes.)
  • And a big thanks to yesterday’s guest blogger, Ryan Booth! I really enjoyed his take on vision, voice, and creativity. He has some great projects going on, but I’ll particularly be paying close attention to this one.

That’s it for Pimpy Thursday! Drop by again tomorrow and tell Scott how much you missed him today ;)

Wednesday
Aug
2010
18

It’s Guest Blog Wednesday featuring Ryan Booth!

by Brad Moore  |  31 Comments

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A PRE-SCRIPT…

I am sitting in Port-au-Prince, Haiti right now trying to work on this guest blog post, but all I can think about is that across the street from me at this very moment, not far from the collapsed National Palace and Ministry of Finance, taking up every available green space, there lies rows and rows of improvised tent cities. “Tent” is a generous phrase. These are mostly tarps strung loosely over sugarcane framed boxes. Discarded cardboard and worn vinyl. It’s hot and it’s raining. Water trucks show up nearly everyday to throngs of people clamoring for their allotted 700 ml. It is chaos, it is overwhelming, and most surprising, it is the new normal.

I say all of this only to remind us that in so many parts of the world tonight families will sleep on the ground without shelter. For many, clean water is a rarity at best. Many are hungry. Many are sick. The world is an impossibly beautiful place and photography is such a conduit to truly seeing that beauty. But the truth is that when you really start to see, and I mean really, really open your eyes to the world around you, you find dichotomy. Beauty and suffering seem to co-mingle. I only bring this up so that we may not forget the silent majority in this world that lack even the most basic of elements. Water. Food. Shelter.

A BRIEF INTRODUCTION…

Now I know that you don’t have any idea who I am. And for that reason alone, I am thankful that you are reading this post. I, like many have said before me, am honored that Scott and Brad have asked me to share with you today. I appreciate that they give the opportunity to those of us who may not be recognizable names. Most of us, as media professionals, hobbyists, semi-pros (or whatever moniker we operate under) labor away in the “shadows” struggling to get better, to create compelling images, to tell moving stories… We are explorers, adventurers mining the deep well of craft and experience. I know that it can feel like no one knows who you are or appreciates all the work that you put into developing, but trust me, it is worth all the effort.

When someone connects (and I mean really connects) to something that I’ve made, then everything just feels right in the world. There really isn’t a feeling like it. I believe that media professionals endeavoring to create things that cause people to pause and reflect more deeply on their lives and what they believe is important. When I think about it like this, I find that I don’t need to be a well known creator to find satisfaction in my work and in my life. I hope that you feel the same way.

A BRIEF HISTORY…

Five years ago, I began my professional life. I graduated school and essentially flipped a coin. Los Angeles for filmmaking or Nashville for music. You see, I still didn’t have a clue what I specifically wanted to do. The only thing that I knew is that stories were intriguing to me. I had a sneaking, yet-to-be-solidified belief that the chief function of art (of media, of literature and film and painting and photography) is that of conveying story. To help us to see the world not just as it seems, but as it really is. I knew that I wanted to be a part of this long tradition. I just had no idea the form (discipline) that it would take.

Through an interesting series of events, I threw my few belongings in the back of my car and was Nashville bound. I had the opportunity to work in a recording studio for an incredibly generous producer/engineer who took me on as an assistant though I had absolutely no audio training. I got coffee, I met and worked with some of my favorite bands. I wrapped cables. I worked late. I learned how to start and to finish a project. Then one day, a few months after starting in the studio, the first record that I ever worked on showed up in the mail. Standing there in the front yard, album in hand, leafing through the cover art for my “assisted by” credit, I knew that music would be part of my professional life.

My camera was my constant companion during my time in the studio. I used it for making portraits, documenting, and generally experimenting with storytelling through image-making.

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Then, through an interesting series of events, I found myself on the back of a Tuk-Tuk flying through the streets of Siem Reap, Cambodia, camera in hand, on my way to shoot under the direction of Gary Knight (a VII photographer). It was a ten day, life-changing experiment in visual storytelling. I created a photo essay over that ten days by wandering down streets and dark alleyways. I moved in and out of homes, shops, and shacks. I saw extreme poverty butting up against extreme wealth. It was overwhelming and exhilarating to really see the world outside of what was familiar. I knew right then and there, standing on a busy street corner during the Angkor Photo Festival looking at my work projected for the town to see, that storytelling through still photography would be part of my professional life.

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I bounced back and forth between audio and stills for the next couple years…

My producer boss in Nashville used to tell me over and over again; “The key to this job? When someone asks if you can do something, always say yes. Just use the time between saying yes and the gig to figure out how to do it.” Now of course he was exaggerating, but the general idea had already worked its way into my professional life. I said yes to the first video gig I was offered. I didn’t even own a DV camera. I had to scrounge up gear from friends and rental shops, hire an editor, and consult with some friends to help me with deliverables. It was terrifying. Yet, not long after that initial yes, somewhere outside of Chicago, sitting in the back of a tour bus making shot lists waiting to interview the band, I was suddenly taken with the three dimensional nature of storytelling through moving images. I knew that this kind of storytelling would be part of my professional life.

This began the next few years of bouncing back and forth between audio, still, and moving image projects…

“FINDING YOUR VOICE”…

I’m not sure if you dread the “so, what exactly do you do?” question as much as I do, but given that I make records, shoot still images and create motion projects, the question tends to come up.

I’ll be at a party or dinner or something (I live in a big city in Texas, so most of the guys are engineers for oil an company, or lawyers for an oil company, or in a service business selling to an oil company), and guys are standing around “talking shop.” Finally someone turns to me and says, “So what exactly do you do?” In the second before I answer, a loop begins to play on repeat: Should I answer photographer? Yeah, but what kind of photographer? Am I a documentary photographer? Sort of. I did just shoot that gig in Uganda. But I guess I’m shooting that album cover soon. Music photographer? Wait, but should I answer audio engineer? Yeah, I have tracked 5 albums this year. But I’m currently shooting a couple promotional videos right now. I guess I should say video. No wait, I’m starting that record next week… All I usually manage is some form of, “Uh, I’m a media producer…”

It isn’t that this isn’t accurate, it’s that it just feels incomplete. I haven’t found that succinct, tied-up-with-a-bow-on-top, elevator pitch length answer that both impresses and provides enough information to satisfy the question asker. Really though, I dread the question because it hints at a much more foundational issue. Not what do I do, but rather who am I as a media professional. In other words, what and where is my “voice?”

As a photographer/storyteller, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been told that you have to find that one thing that you have to say that no one else can. The thing that is yours. The “ah ha” moment, the place where style and substance intersect. And to be totally honest, I feel haunted by this statement. It isn’t that I don’t believe it. I do. I absolutely do. I know that our “voice” is what allows the images/songs/films/media we make to truly connect with people. Sure, we might make fancy looking stuff, but it is YOU, your voice, the way that you see the world, that is that undefined secret ingredient that makes stories stick. Your “voice” is what causes us to connect, regardless of whether or not we can relate to every facet of the story that you are telling.

Yet, given that my work is a mash-up of my experiences, my taste, my mood, my history, my age, I often stumble over questions. How do we know when we have found our unique “voice?” How do you know when you’ve arrived at that place? Do you ever arrive? How do I know when I am just making something derivative? I see the Boy (and Girl) Wonders of the world seem to figure out this “vision” part while they are still teenagers. I’m not intimidated by their talent because, amazingly, talent alone won’t get you there. And for that matter hard work alone won’t get you there either (though you obviously need generous portions of both). It goes beyond that. I shake my head in disbelief because it seems that some people are able to stumble upon their style, their substance, their sense of who they are and what they want to say so quickly. Because, for me, sometimes it seems that the only thing that I can really articulate is that I know, but know that I want to be a storyteller.

AN EXPLORATION IN SMALL VICTORIES/FAILURES (PERSONAL PROJECTS AS YOUR VOICE)…

This year, I have been taking stock of these first five working years. I’ve been thinking about where I have been and where I’d like to go. I’ve been thinking about what I’ll say next week at that party when the question inevitably comes up. I realized that I’ve really spent the vast majority of my time shooting paid gigs. I have been bouncing from one client to the next, one discipline to the next, meeting expectations, pitching ideas that fit within their directive, bringing their vision to life. It’s been wonderful practice, but without that “voice” guiding you, you tend to say yes to anything, regardless of whether or not it is a good fit creatively, financially, or professionally. I finally put it together that the sage advice from the pros to not wait for a paid gig and to shoot personal projects has less to do with practice, per se, but more to do with the fact that often it’s through the shooting and exploring and experimenting (and the inevitable missteps) that you begin to find your “voice.”

When you execute a personal project (and not just start, but FINISH it), you are forced to make creative decisions without someone else’s money or timeframe or direction dictating the choices. In other words, you don’t have anything to hide behind. Personal projects begin to reveal the patterns that lead you to this elusive “vision” that we all have tucked away somewhere.

For me, I realized that I had been neglecting this part of my creative work, and so I have set out on an exploration of sorts. An exploration in occasional, small failures. I’m making room for attempting things beyond my reach and for working without worrying about getting paid (what a novel idea!). 2010 has been the year of “personal projects” for me. I wanted to quickly share three of them with you in the hopes that you might join me on the journey:

The Anywhere Portraits:

This idea is simple. Anywhere is a good place to make a portrait. To set up a backdrop on a sidewalk in a random town to make portraits of those passing by isn’t a unique idea. I’ve seen Avedon’s street portraits. I’ve seen Irving Penn’s Worker portraits. I’ve seen Clay Enos’ Street Studio. But for this particular project, that wasn’t the point. The point is to set up and to practice being brave. It is terrifying to ask someone who is busy going about their day to stop. Especially if that particular someone doesn’t speak the same language (or particularly if that person is flying down a busy street in Manhattan).

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I have put up a backdrop in cities across Texas, SoHo, Uganda, Mexico, the Dominican Republic, and all over my neighborhood. I am rejected at least five times to every portrait that I make. Occasionally that rejection feels pretty personal. I give each of the subjects a card with a portrait number and an email address. If they email me later, I send them a copy of the photo. Nearly everyone who stops for a photo sends me an email. The interactions I’ve had throughout shooting for this project have been completely worth any of the rejection experienced.

Canon and Vimeo – Beyond the Still:

I am sure that you are probably aware of Canon’s Beyond the Still film contest running the past several months on Vimeo. It was conceived by Vincent LaForet as a way to provide a structured outlet for still photographers to explore the world of narrative filmmaking. In case you are unfamiliar with the contest, LaForet was supplied a still image by Canon and then created a 3-4 minute short film to expand on that image. He then ended his piece on a still image. That final still was downloaded by hundreds of participants who then used it as the jumping off point for their own 3-4 minute narrative short film (ending with their own still). Judges (some Hollywood guys with impressive resumes) select their five favorite films for the round and the Vimeo community votes on the winner. Then the chapter winner’s final still becomes the starting place for the next round. (There are six user submitted chapters).

I knew from the first moment that I heard about the contest that I had to enter. Of course I was terrified, but it was a perfect opportunity to try my hand at narrative filmmaking. Besides, being afraid of something is usually a good indication that you should go for it. I called some friends and batted story ideas around. I called friends to be my actors. Slowly a script emerged, a plan formulated. I had no idea what kind of coverage I needed. How do you shoot a two page dialogue sequence? How do you film in such a way as to ensure you have enough to cut together in the end? I ended up attempting a chapter and completely missing the deadline. I mean, not even close. I put in a ton of work and just completely missed it.

I had bitten off way more than I could chew and it left me with a decision to make. Should I start over for another chapter? Or perhaps I should just let this one be a lesson learned through failure. I was frustrated with myself. I had to regroup. I called my friends back, re-wrote, re-shot, re-edited, re-scored and this time, made deadline.

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And a funny thing happened… I won the chapter. I was completely taken aback. Is the film perfect? Of course not. I see all of the little mistakes. I see everything that I wish that I could change. However, I made something that I could stand behind. And now, sometime this fall, I will get to go make the final chapter with Vincent and an entire crew. I’ll get to watch and work with the big boys.

*A caveat: the above short film is part 5 of a continuing narrative, so if you feel lost, don’t be alarmed. The other winners’ films can been seen here.

SerialBox Presents:

I have long been thinking of ways that I could bring something to the table that combined my facets of experience in the music world. I share a studio space with a few other guys that is located within blocks of many of the major mid-sized music venues in town. I suddenly had an idea. What if we invited bands that were coming through town to come to our place to record performance videos. All of us had Canon 5Dmk2 cameras with various lenses, grip, and lighting gear. My audio engineering work meant that I had access to plenty of audio equipment, as well as engineers to run it if need be (including myself). We decided to record the songs as multi-camera, multi-track audio (mimicking a recording studio set-up), one-take live performance videos. No overdubs and no pickups. I asked the bands to play different arrangements of the songs so that it wouldn’t quite be what you would hear at a normal concert and it wouldn’t be quite what you’d hear on the record. It could be a new point of contact.

I knew that we had a shot at making something really interesting, so I got on the phone and pitched and pitched and pitched. Finally we had a band bite and come in and play for us. It was intense. The band only had half an hour to track. We ran four songs, made portraits, nabbed a quick interview on tape. Then the dominoes started falling. All of a sudden we had recorded eight sessions and had to think about how to present the project. We just launched with part one of our Paper Route session. We’ll see how it goes…

IN THE END…

Now, every piece of work I have shown you today was made as “personal work.” I haven’t shown you anything that was made for hire, under the direction of a client, or to pay the bills… This is a small body of work I’m making time to create in the in-between moments. The paradox, of course, is that these projects are paying out enormous dividends in my paid gigs. I have a clearer sense of myself as an audio-engineer/photographer/filmmaker. As a storyteller. I really do believe that we are all Storytellers. The particular disciplines that we choose to endeavor in are tools in the service of Story.

The reality is that very few of us will ever be just photographers. These days, even the pros are often what I call hyphenated content producers. We must learn to create across mediums. We are photographers-entrepreneurs. We are photographer-filmmakers. We are insurance salesman-photographers. We are teacher-photographers. This isn’t something to run away from, but rather, we must learn to survive in this brave new world.

Think of your life experiences as tools in a tool bag. I engineer records. I make photographs. I write and direct films. Not to mention all of the other life experiences I have been collecting. All the mountains I have stood atop, all the books I’ve read, all the road trips I’ve taken with friends. These all mysteriously add up to a unique “voice.” You have this voice and vision too. I don’t care if you sell insurance and shoot on the side. I don’t care if you are a wedding photographer who is beginning to shoot video. I don’t care if you are a photojournalist who is contemplating a buyout. I don’t care if you are stay at home mom who photographs flowers. There is that something that you (and only you) can say.

My opinion? These personal projects are one significant way in which we can undertake drawing that voice to the surface.

What are the tools that are in your tool bag? What are the projects that you are using to root around for this vision and voice?

I’d love to hear about them because trust me, we are all in this together…

Find me on twitter: http://www.twitter.com/ryanbooth
Read my blog: http://blog.ryanbooth.net
Look at my photography portfolio: http://www.ryanbooth.net
Check out my music project: http://www.serialboxpresents.com

PS: Thanks for reading. I know it was a marathon… :)

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