A few weeks back Brad Moore, Photo Studio Manager at Kelby Media Group dropped me a line inviting me to be the Guest Blogger. I first met Brad while he was working with Joe McNally in New York. Brad came with Joe to the 20×24 Polaroid Studio, while I photographed Joe for my Behind Photographs Project. So, thanks Brad and Scott for giving me the stage for the day.
Photography is part of my soul, it is not my job. Simply put, I love it. Richard Avedon said it best, “If a day goes by without me doing something related to photography, it’s thought I’ve neglected something essential to my existence, as though I had forgotten to wake up.” So today I will share some images and some thoughts that help put a smile on my face and make me feel complete.
BE WHO YOU IS
Ian Summers is a great business coach in our industry. He loves the quote, “Be who you is, cuz if you ain’t who you is, then you is who you ain’t.” As a photographer it is easy to try to imitate another shooter’s work and to try to be all things to all people. I am based in a smaller photo market in San Diego and often have to shoot a variety of styles to satisfy my clients. However, when it comes down to the work, I always try to give them what they want, then shoot something they way I see it. At least at the end of the shoot, you have something YOU are happy that you created. Put YOU into your work. It is important to sing in your own voice. Think of yourself as a musician. You can place a guitar in the hands of any person and it is just a box with a hole in it, the same is true of a camera. What is the sound of your photography? U2 does not sing Rap, Folk, R&B, etc… They don’t sound like another band, they sound like U2. Be YOU too!
There are people that shop for “photography” and people that shop for a “photographer”. If you are just selling photography, then the cheapest price will get the job. Make your clients buy YOU. Find time to shoot personal work and promote it.
These Polaroid shots were taken on an assignment where I had very limited time with each player and a specific shot that the client needed. Once I knew I had what my client needed, I snapped two Polaroids of each player. In the end, they were my favorite images from the shoot.
These images of Luchadores are part of an on going personal project. I love the funkiness of these characters. What do you love? Go shoot it.
ROLL THE DICE
When I was a student at Brooks Institute, Gregory Heisler was a guest speaker. I remembering him say, “Take the biggest chance when you have the biggest opportunity.” It is easy in this business to play it safe. If you do so, people will not remember you or your photography.
I started my Behind Photographs Project in 2006. I had always wanted to try shooting with the 20×24 Polaroid camera, so I rented it for an afternoon. It was expensive to rent and I knew I wanted to shoot something that was important to me. So, I called Jim Marshall and Michael Zagaris. Both legendary photographers, I asked them if I could make a portrait of each of them holding one of their iconic images. Jim told me I was “f***ing crazy”. It was intimidating, expensive and challenging, but it was also exhilarating, priceless and contagious.
Over the past two years, I have shot over 100 photographers and now own a 20×24 Wisner camera. It has been the most rewarding project I have shot to date. I do not have a trust fund, I am not independently wealthy, I refinanced my home to do this. (Did I mention I have the greatest wife in the world?) Believe in yourself. Remember, the rollercoaster is more fun than the merry-go-round.
YOU ARE THE AUTHOR OF YOUR OWN LIFE STORY
One thing I really enjoy about teaching workshops is not what my students learn from me, but what I learn from them. At the end of one of my classes, a student approached me to say thanks and told me that she was a teacher. She said, “I tell my kids that they are the author of their own life story.” I though it was such a simple idea, yet so true. If you don’t like where you are in your life or with your photography, turn the page tomorrow and start taking it where you want it to be. If you don’t, no one will.
A few years back I had hit a creative wall and wanted to shoot some new images for my book. I took off for five days on a trip with a friend from Brooks and we traveled to Cuba. There were many reasons not to go, time away from my family, the cost, etc. But, there were far more reason to go. The trip pushed me out of my comfort zone, forced me to look at a new place in a new way and got the creative juices flowing. It made me feel alive. This image of Leonard is one of my favorites from the trip. I later sold it as stock to a national car company for an ad campaign.
Years ago, my friend Greg had just gotten out of the Navy as a photographer and was taking a motorcycle trip down the California coast. When he got to Carmel, he stopped at a McDonald’s and thought to himself, “I think Ansel Adams lives here.” So he picked up the phone book and looked up his name, dialed the pay phone, it rang and Ansel answered. “Mr. Adams? I didn’t think you would answer, well…..I am a fan of your work and was in Carmel and just dialed you number.” Ansel asked where he was and it ended up being a few blocks from his home. He invited Greg up to the house, gave him a tour of the darkroom and later had him up for workshops as an assistant. I believe people in general are good and want to help. If you are afraid to ask, you are probably onto something interesting. Don’t be afraid to ask.
When Lance Armstrong won his sixth Tour, I really wanted to photograph him. So, I called an editor that I knew at a sports magazine and asked him if the opportunity came up, would he please consider me for the job. A month later we did the shoot.
PLAY AND REJUVINATE
When I worked for Dean Collins, he used to say, “You get into photography the same way you get into being a prostitute. First you do for fun, then you do it for friends, then you do it for money.” Remember the feeling… The first time you picked up a camera. The first time you saw your image published. The first time you watched an image appear in the darkroom. These moments made us feel alive. Shoot things that make you feel this way again, the energy and passion will become apparent in your images.
One of the greatest things about being a father is watching your kids play and discover the world. Through them you see the world from a fresh perspective and you can become a kid again. I watch cartoons, play with Legos, draw with crayons and make funny faces at myself in the mirror. Become a kid again. The world is less complex, more fun and the food is more colorful. Play.
This series of portraits was taken for USA Softball of the Olympic Team.
A while ago, I took a wetplate workshop from Will Dunniway in Corona, California. I have always been amazed that early photographers figured out how to make tintypes. At the time, most of my assignment work had become so “digital” I was thirsting to get my hands dirty again. Each plate is a unique image that cannot be repeated. They are hand-made. They are special. Find a way to make your work special.
LISTEN TO THAT VOICE
I’ve been in this business for almost 20 years and learned the hard way in some cases. If someone is calling you for a job and it just doesn’t seem to be a good deal for you, it probably isn’t. If it looks like a turd and smells like a turd, guess what? Walk away or you will be sure to step in it. Conversely, when you have an idea that you think is good. Run with it. Trust your instincts and shoot it. Make the time, spend the money, see if it has legs.
For this image of Tony Gwynn, I had the idea to reflect baseballs in the top of his silver bats. These bats are given away each year in MLB to the hitter with the highest batting average. To achieve this, I took an image of a baseball on a black background and made a 3×3 foot backlit enlargement of it. This print was then placed over the top of 3×3 softbox, turning the light source into a giant baseball. The light was then positioned to reflect in the top of the bats. I shot this with a 90mm on a Sinar 4×5. It is now part of a featured exhibit at The Lousiville Slugger Museum.
PUT IN THE EXTRA TIME
As I write this, it is now 12:30 a.m. My family has been in bed for hours and I am putting in my time. If I don’t someone else will.
For this shot of triathlete Linsey Corbin, I was hired by a magazine to shoot the cover of their annual wetsuit issue. They originally wanted to do a shot that was similar to a shot they had run on the cover a year prior of a woman running out of the ocean in a wetsuit. I could have easily shot this type of an image, but I really didn’t want to because it wouldn’t be anything special. Linsey was the top finisher from the US at the Ironman World Championships so I pitched the magazine with the idea of doing an under water shot of her with a flag. This idea required far more production, testing, scouting and time, but in the end it was different and made people in that industry talk. As Yoda said, “Do or do not…there is no try.”
My friend Mark Mosrie is a photographer in Nashville and is one of the most positive minded people I know. He came out to visit me in January and had on a t-shirt that had a simple line drawing of half full glass with small type in it that read “half full”. So often,
I hear photographers say, “If only I had a ______( Insert: new camera, a new website, more money, the latest light, gizmo or gadget here), I could ________ (Insert: show my portfolio, start my project, get more work, get a rep, etc. here.” Work with the gear you have, market with the resources you have, show the portfolio you have. You will always be waiting for something and if you wait for that new website, that new promo piece, that new camera, you will be missing out on NOW. You can take some amazing images with the sun and last time I checked, it has a much faster recycle time than any strobe system on the market. Focus on what you do have and what you can do, make your glass half full.
Oscar Pistorius is a world-class runner, enough said.
THIS IS NOT A DRESS REHERSAL
Nine years ago I was playing in a soccer game. Late that night, I had a sharp pain in my knee that lasted through the night. In the morning, I called my doctor and he told me he was out and I could go to the Emergency Room if needed. I wasn’t shooting that day, so I decided to go in and have it checked out. Within the course of several hours, I found out that I had a tumor in my left femur, it was most likely cancer and that the doctors would do their best to “salvage my limb”. At that moment, nothing else mattered. I underwent five weeks of radiation, had half my femur and knee replaced with titanium and spent six months in and out of Chemotherapy. Just in case that was not enough to handle, my wife gave birth to our son, Lucas, 10 days after my surgery.
This life experience has taught me that you need to do things that you dream about NOW. Every photographer reading this blog has a project they have always wanted to shoot but haven’t. Start it tomorrow. No matter how many reasons you have not to, start it. Make that first call, send that first email, make that first picture. You will be amazed how your life will change and how you will grow both as an artist and as a person. You only get one chance, one life, this is it! You can’t change yesterday, but you can change tomorrow.