Hello photographers and people frequenting this blog stalking Scott Kelby. My name is Matt Lehman. I’m a graphic designer at CMT (Country Music Television in the family of MTV Networks), and I have a small freelance gig called Invisible Associates. Here’s my guest blog. In the immortal words of Ron Burgundy, “I don’t know how to put this, but I’m kind of a big deal.” Minds will be blown. Poverty will be eradicated. Roofs will most definitely be raised (figuratively speaking, like when you push your hands up and down in the air). Yay photography!
Photo by Lee Steffen
I’m not a photographer in any way. I’m afraid of cameras really. They’re expensive. They break. Worst of all, there’s too much to learn… focusing, aperture-ness, ISO-ness, lenses, shutter speed, ambient light, other fancy words, etc. I took a photography class in college, and it was miserable. Most of my pictures involved me lying on the ground and tilting my camera at what I perceived to be an avant garde angle. Hey look, I just took a titled shot of that fire hydrant! Some things are in focus and some aren’t! Then I had to spend three hours in the darkroom to confirm that yep, these pictures are indeed pathetic. So I continued down the super-lucrative path I was on: the yellow brick road known as graphic design and illustration.
I love design and illustration despite the fact that the names connote some guy sitting at a drafting table with an airbrush kit turning around to give someone an affirming thumbs up. In a sweater vest. And a mustache. And not the ironically cool kind of mustache that’s currently en vogue. Photography. Just the name alone sounds so much cooler. In college, people who had earrings and ponytails and played in bands were photography majors. It was up there with actor, circus performer, or mime in “careers parents don’t want their kids to select.” There was and is a sexiness to photography. Remember the Lamborghini Trapper Keepers? Someone had to shoot that goodness.
Speaking of Lamborghini Trapper Keepers, can I interrupt myself to speak to some of my favorite things about photography? In no particular order…
1. Saying, “Digital photography!” It just sounds like the future. “Photography” is to horse and buggy and “digital photography” is to the Delorean from Back to the Future. Say it aloud in a robot voice: “DIG-IT-UHL FO-TOG-RAFFIE”. Awesome.
2. Saying “Adobe Photoshop” or even better “Adobe” when solely referring to Photoshop.
3. All black and white photographs that have one element in color. Especially if that photo is a image of a couple and that element is a rose. Aw snap.
4. “It” photographers under the age of 15. Real life Doogie Howsers! What if your accountant or surgeon was under 15 too? Somehow it only works in the creative fields.
5. Scrapbooooooooking! (this is the aforementioned part where you can raise the roof)
6. The iconic image of the cat hanging from something with the caption, “Hang in there!”
7. Flickr comments on HDR sets. I don’t know why these are so funny to me. Maybe it’s because most comments are something like, “Whoa amazing lighting! OMG x OMG x LOL x 2GOOD2B4GTTN! So what lighting do you use?!” The people posting appear to be the same rabid bunch flipping out in Oprah’s audience when she’s giving away things like cars.
8. All party pictures of people doing the Charlie’s Angels pose. It’s the YMCA dance of photography poses. Always a good idea, ladies. Always.
Okay, okay. At the risk of sounding like an Andy Rooney-esque crumudgeon, here’s the photography stuff I’m currently actually loving:
1. I wasn’t being facetious about the cat poster. I really love those. Same goes for saying, “digital photography” (the robot voice seals the deal on that).
2. Anna Wolf. I know this style is kinda everywhere, but I love it.
3. My talented photography friends here in Nashville (in no particular order) - Jeremy Cowart, Lee Steffen, Micah Kandros, Brad Davis (retoucher extraordinaire!), David Bean, Ben De Rienzo, Ben Frank, Tec Petaja, Josh Newman, and Skip Hopkins. Of course, my stylist wife, Amber Lehman, is the one making all the images these photographers’ work look so darn great.
4. “Bad” photography… overexposed polaroids, lomography, etc. Really most things done by amateur photographers feels fresh and untainted by the “Adobe Photoshop” trends of the day.
5. Help-Portrait. Awesome initiative to show love and give people dignity through photography. Get involved!
Photography and I are on good terms now. In college we were like Aaron Burr and Alexander Hamilton (minus the dueling and killing). We both said things we regret - there was no communication; it was a no win situation. Fast forward to the present day. We’ve made our peace and can co-exist in this topsy turvy world. For example, as a senior designer at CMT, I work with our art director to select photographers for our projects. Unless a photographer is exceptionally awful or exceptionally talented, it all sort of looks like…well, photography. (*** Full House teachable moment coming now… cue the soft keyboard music ***) So as the former awful photography student, here’s my charge to you… take really great pictures. You can’t lament the kind of gear you have (or rely on it for that matter), or tout how well you know Photoshop (easy on the over-sharpening there, friend). Just take amazingly good photos. In all seriousness, designers, art directors, and creative directors notice great work. Get published. Mail us a printed promo (go easy on the mass emails though). Keep shooting things from your unique point of view. Sure it sounds corny, but we don’t need a clone of so-and-so-fill-in-the-blank famous photographer.
Think of it like this. My mom has a true anecdote from her time as an elementary school teacher. She asked her 5th grade class to write a story about a baseball game. Almost all of the stories were the standard fare… a page or two long detailing the happenings of this fictitious game. However, one child did something fascinating. All he turned in was this:
“Rain. No game.”
Buh-rilliant. Take that, conventional wisdom. I love that story. This 5th grader had the gumption to write three words and three words only. That was it. I would hope that my design work would be so conceptual. Same thing applies to photography. Your concept and your voice are unique. See what everyone else is doing and try something different.
They’re giving me the “wrap it up, dude” signal. In closing, remember the best camera is the one you have. Dance like no one is watching. Love like you’re never gonna get hurt. Live like you were dying. Knowing is half the battle. Knowledge is power. Imagination is greater than knowledge. Reach for the moon and if you miss, you’ll land among the stars. Remember… just say no… but to drugs not your dreams.
P.S. A special thanks to Jeremy Cowart, Lee Steffen, Micah Kandros, and Brad Davis for their encouragement and help with all things photography related. Lee took the photo of me. I meant to do a better job of retouching me and my linty jacket. Sorry, Lee! Regardless, Lee is still the MAN. And another thanks to Brad Davis at CMT who’s heard most of this material many times over yet still chuckles. Even if it’s a courtesy laugh, I still appreciate it.