Checklists, Formulas, Learning, Socializing, Spotting Emerging Trends, and Feedback — Stuff That May Sound Boring but Makes You A Better Photographer (PLUS It Can Improve the Bottom Line)
The title says it all, but let’s dig in a little, so this stuff makes sense.
Whether you’re a working commercial photographer, or simply an enthusiast who enjoys the art and craft of photography, there is a huge benefit to improving and staying on the leading edge of the craft. In the business world, it means you can make a better living. And if you’re an enthusiast, it keeps things fun and keeps you learning and growing. The tools I have used as the manager of a video production team, and now as a solopreneur, can be adapted and applied to just about any photographer or videographer to improve your skillset, and speed up your workflow.
Really? Checklists? Everybody knows about checklists. But that’s why they get ignored so often. We used checklists when I managed my team filming video segments for commercial clients. That’s because it was easy to forget something small, like a camera setting, and then the video would have to be reshot. But the problem happens when we do something often enough that we think we remember everything, and we don’t need to take the few seconds to go through a checklist. I fly small planes, and one thing you learn very quickly is that, no matter how many times you’ve flown a plane, or how often you fly, you ALWAYS go through an actual checklist. Because if you miss the wrong little checklist item, you die.
Now, nobody’s gonna die if you forget to set your white balance correctly, but it can cost you at least some time. Maybe that’s extra time you have to spend post-processing your images or reshooting. And I don’t know many photographers who enjoy the idea of going through all the necessary setup to do a shoot, only to have to redo the exact same shoot. We want to move on and shoot new things.
You should have a checklist for each kind of photography you do. For example, one for senior portraits, one for daytime landscapes, one for products shots, etc. And if you do any photography on the road, you’ll want a checklist of all your gear. If you do commercial shoots which require model releases, be sure to include those kinds of things on your checklists too.
I suggest you create all of your checklists on your smartphone. That way they’re with you all the time. I use an outliner program called CarbonFin Outliner. It’s iOS, but I’m sure you can easily find an outliner for Androids too. The reason I like this approach is that with an outline layout, I can show or hide sub-categories, and all my photography checklists can be in one small place, rather than having some giant text file somewhere, or trying to make them fit in my Reminders app.
Formulas / Recipes
These days I’m doing video production and teaching photographers how to add simple video productions as a part of their photography. Beyond checklists, simple formulas have been a key to helping my clients understand what they need to do without getting overwhelmed. That’s because most still shooters want to be still shooters who are capable a little simple, professional looking video production.
They don’t want to know everything about cinematography and filmmaking and camera moves. If you want that kind of thing, then you want full blown film school. So, without going to film school and learning all about various kinds of shots so they can plan out and visualize a project for a client, with a few simple formulas, it’s much easier to plan the project and capture the necessary footage.
For example, a lot of commercial photographers and wedding photographers have clients ask, “Do you do video too?” While most photographers have shot some video with their cameras, they understand that there’s a lot that goes into professional video productions, and since they haven’t been through film school, they usually say no. But if they can learn how to create a few simple kinds of projects, then that ‘no’ becomes a ‘yes,’ and that means a better bottom line.
It’s fairly easy to learn how to capture interview style footage for a testimonial video, or product footage for a product demo video. And if you shoot weddings, Justin Wojtczak has some great training on KelbyOne about how wedding shooters can capture great footage for their clients while shooting stills at the same time. By the way, if simple video recipes sound interesting, I have a free eBook for still shooters you can download here.
Here’s another one of those things we all know intellectually, but we tend to not follow through like we should. It’s like diet or exercise. We understand the benefits of learning, but we don’t always follow through. Then when we do, a lot of the time, the results are beyond what we had expected.
I saw it for years when I worked at Kelby and I still see it every single time at Photoshop World. Attendees, especially first timers, come up to me and say how excited they are to have learned something new about Photoshop or photography that will save them hours or that sparks a whole new creative interest.
When I was the Executive Director of the National Association of Photoshop Professionals, and Photoshop World was planned for Orlando, I invited my brother (who lives in Orlando) to be my guest for the event. He’s a designer and uses Photoshop daily as a part of his job, but he couldn’t convince his boss to let him off work for the event. We were both kind of amazed because this was free training, in his field, with no travel expenses, and even the cost of admission was covered!! Wow! — So the next year we started planning a few months early and did a bit of a campaign to get the boss to let him go to the next Photoshop World.
We could tell the boss wasn’t totally on board, but my brother was finally able to convince his boss to give him the 3 days needed to attend. But the big victory happened 2 weeks after Photoshop World. My brother’s boss dropped by his office one afternoon and said, “When is the next one of those conferences? Ever since you got back from there you’ve been cranking out great designs and getting things done so much faster!! I want you to keep going to that conference every year!”
Whether you’re an introvert or extrovert, there are good things that come from socializing. And you’ll want to keep your photography business in mind when you socialize. I’m not saying you should be pushy and obnoxiously ‘always selling,’ but if you are thinking about your business while you’re doing something social, you can learn from others or possibly find prospects. Socializing might get you in front of a prospective client you never knew about, or it might just push you in a direction you had never considered. As my friend Rick Sammon points out, there are things you can learn from non-photographers that you can apply to your photography. The bottom line is that some of your best ideas, inspirations, and connections could come from people outside the world of photography.
Spotting Emerging Trends
It takes a lot of work to be on the “Bleeding Edge,” but it’s not so hard to be on the Leading edge, and it’s just as effective. If you can spot a new look and master it before everybody else does, that can give you an edge in the photo world. And if you look in the right places, it’s relatively easy to be ahead of the curve enough that you can leverage a new technique or style to your advantage.
Over the years I’ve seen some really amazing things happen with emerging styles, and I’ve also noticed that new looks are happening faster and faster. Back when I was NAPP’s Exec Director, things like selective color images or photos that had a painterly look and feel (created in Photoshop) were really compelling. But back then it was only pros and advanced amateurs who were creating these images. And when a pro was known for a particular look in their local market, they could get a lot of business because people hadn’t seen that look all over the place.
I specifically remember when HDR photography started to roll out. Everybody who was a NAPP or Kelby Training member wanted to know how it was done, and the best tips and suggestions for workflows that allowed for variations to deliver images from slightly wider dynamic range images to extreme, supernatural looking pieces. The Photoshop Guys did countless tutorials and classes on best practices and tips and tricks for nailing the effects people wanted. But these days, most DSLRs can do in-camera HDR, and social media image filters can recreate just about any kind of HDR look, not to mention everything from antique photos, to line drawings, with a click or two.
So that leads us to a couple of important questions… Where do you find out what new looks and image processing techniques are emerging so you can capitalize on new trends? And, how can you even find something new today? Something that that people can’t already do on their smartphone with simple apps?
The answer is far easier if you aren’t a Photoshop or photography instructor. In my view, people who work at KelbyOne (like Scott himself) have it really tough because they have to consume a LOT of images to see new looks and emerging trends. Then they have to determine how people are creating those kinds of images. Then they have to create training to pass along these emerging styles to their customers. They stay relevant to students by constantly helping discover and teach the new trends. So that’s the answer. Pay attention to what the leading trainers in our field are teaching and you not only learn what’s new, you learn easy ways to do it yourself.
And it turns out, that’s the answer to the second question too. For example, there’s an image animation process that allows most of your image to be frozen, while a part of the image, like the flowing hair or gown of a model, billows softly with a smoothly repeating animation. The term I’m familiar with to describe this is “Cinemagraph.” But as I learned from a Trey Ratcliff class that came out on KelbyOne six months ago, Cinemagraph is a term that refers to something that was originally a movie that has parts frozen in place with other parts that move around it. The new technology is called a “plotagraph,” which starts as a still image and has things within the image animated so they appear to flow or wave. And Trey points out, these get 20 to 50 times more engagement on social media than still images!! If you’re a photographer who’s looking to capture people’s attention on social media and get some jobs as a result, you should definitely look into plotagraphs!
There’s a reason people hire coaches and pay professionals to critique their work. That’s because our friends and loved ones usually just tell us what they think we want to hear. And unless your significant other is a photographer as well, you probably won’t gain too many helpful insights to improve your work. But a good, honest critique, from a true professional, can push you in new directions and reveal shortcomings in your work that you don’t even see yet.
Critiques are available in all kinds of places. Taking your portfolio to a tradeshow or local photography meetup group is a good start. Online groups (maybe Facebook groups) are another place to go for insights. The challenge as the artist whose work is being reviewed, is that you have to consider the skills and the agenda of the critic. If you’re at Photoshop World and you’re a landscape photographer and you have a sit-down critique session with somebody like Rick Sammon or Matt Kloskowski, you’ll probably get some really solid insights and instruction for what to do next. On the other hand, if you post your work in a Facebook photography group, you might get a few helpful tips mixed with some awful, hateful comments, or some random BS that’s totally irrelevant. Throw away whatever doesn’t serve you to grow your craft. Ignore the trolls!
And even when a “professional” reviewer has your best interests at heart, their suggestions might not line up with your style or your goals. You might very well find that their insights don’t direct you where you really want to go. Listen. Consider the advice. Then do whatever YOU think you should do next. Even the best in the industry might not see what you see.
We talk about the business side of things, the emotional impact, the technical skills, and the things that influence our photography. And in my regular conversations with Rick, as well as our interviews with leading photographers, I’m constantly learning. And when I talk with photographers I admire, and who I consider to be at the top of their game, they readily admit that they are constantly learning and improving too. So whoever you look up to and admire… whoever you think is at the top of the photographic world… they’re still learning just like you and me. So use these tools: Checklists, Formulas, Learning, Socializing, Spotting Emerging Trends, and Feedback, and keep growing.
That’s where the fun is!
Working on both sides of the camera, Larry Becker is primarily known for this on-camera presentations for Fortune 100 companies, as a spokesperson, as well as a camera reviewer. Larry hosts Photoshop World annually, he has hosted countless web based photography shows, live webcasts, authored camera and software tutorials, and served as an official NAB Show Live anchor again this year.
Larry spent years managing a video production team in a multi-million dollar studio, with clients including Canon USA, B&H Photo NY, and others. These days, when Larry isn’t on camera as a spokesperson, he coaches still shooters wanting to learn video, and on-camera talent, helping them produce quality business videos.
According to Becker, “Video is exploding as a communications tool for business online, and I help photographers and other business people understand how to maximize profit using video, with very little extra effort. For presenters, I help beginners craft their message and develop their persona, and I help pros adjust their style to connect even better.”