It was an honor to be approached again by the editors of Digital Photographer Magazine to give my input into their “Secrets to Success” Article.
IN THE BEGINNING THERE WERE MANY: – early in your career –
“SCRATCH MY BACK” – be willing to do favors for the people that are giving you their time. You’ll be remembered for it and appreciated.. Having said that, be wise and use your judgement, there will always be people ready to take advantage of goodness.
“HUMBLE PIE” – be aware that you (meaning the whole crew) are all in this together, its a learning process. The other individuals in your crew are starting out too, so try not to be too critical about them if something is not up to your perceived standards. Maybe in the beginning, you may not have it all together either..
“THE PERFECT STORM” – Don’t wait for the “perfect storm”, or the ideal situations and circumstances to start shooting.. “Make it happen” with what you have in front of you.. My first studio was a large shed in my backyard.. i emptied it out, built a flat wall in the back, painted it and painted the floor, and with my terrible lights and lens that had a small chip in it, I started shooting…
“BE TRUE TO YOURSELF” – If you focus on shooting what makes you happy and aim towards making the kinds of imagery that you are excited about, it will show in your work and you will be asked to do those jobs in return. You’ll be noticeably excited about your work, and the cycle will continue.
“KNOW THE RULES BEFORE YOU BREAK THEM”. – Even if you are self taught, as I mostly am, it’s still very important to know the basic rules of your craft before you can go about breaking them. This way you know the core building blocks and can build upon them in your own way. Also, it’s good to be aware of the peoples work that have come before you, as opposed to revisiting an idea that has already been done in the past, all the while thinking you are the first one to do it..
“REPUTATION IS EVERYTHING” – Always meet your promised deadlines, and be sure to thank everyone appropriately who has worked for you and given you their time.
PRODUCTION VALUE: – Pre, during, and Post.
“BE SKETCHY” – Sketch out all your ideas for your shoot on actual paper and keep these sketches with you.. – A lot can happen throughout the life of a shoot, before and during, and your attention can get spread very far.. so keeping your ideas on paper, and close at hand, will keep your shoot going on track, and you’ll accomplish what you’ve set out to do.
“BACK UP THE BUS” – Always have back up plans in mind…. for everything. Equipment can fail, plans can be altered due to circumstances that you have no control over.. So having backup ideas for all sorts of things will save you when the unthinkable happens, – because that unthinkable thing will certainly happen!
“SAY WHAT?” – Clear communication is essential in all parts – don’t assume other people know what you mean, or know what is expected of them from you. Explaining exactly what you mean when asking questions of all crew is very beneficial. We photographers have our own language and often times we make sense to ourselves, but not to others… Furthermore, communication with your model is very important. (along with everyone else on set) As the photographer, we need to talk to him or her, or them (multiple models) like they are other humans working with us, not just something in front of your camera that has to perform for you.
“WHERE THE #&LL”? – have an exact file system and workflow set up within your computer.. This will help you keep track of everything.. Try to include as many things into your routine as possible – especially when working with outside people. (retouchers, producers, etc..) you need to keep your files together. I have a Hierarchal Folder system set up, a Main job folder, with sub-folders that are planned for RAW, PROCESS, BTS, etc.. and all those with sub-folder for other specific things.. This way, I make a blank copy of the same beginning folders at the start of every new job, and never have to wonder where something is..
“THE FINER POINTS OF LIFE” – Retouching… make sure that if you are not a great retoucher, that you find great retouchers to work with.. In this digital age, retouching is just as important, (or more depending on other issues, which sounds silly to say, but seems true sometimes), than the photography itself. – At the start of some jobs, this is always a big question. (and retouch the WHOLE photo, this includes background, hair, skin, clothing, color tone, etc… ) It can be a simple task some times, but don’t forget to look at everything.
“HUH?” – Don’t be afraid to ask others to explain themselves to you.. For example, with estimates and rate quotes. Everyone is always trying to get as much money as they can for everything, so if a quote seems out of the ordinary, it’s good to speak up and ask about it. You can be sure that you’ll be asked to justify many many things..
“AND I’LL SCRATCH YOURS” – Make sure everyone is taken care of on set.. Either do it yourself, or delegate to others, be it assistants, production crew, etc.. – water.. food.. prep…payments… – it’s all on you as the photographer… if a shoot goes bad or people in your crew aren’t treated the right way, there’s a good chance that you as the photographer will be remembered as holding responsibility for it. – When all aspects of the shoot are fun and nicely memorable, in turn, you’ll be remembered for that too.
“CLIMBING THE LADDER” – Work with talented people that want to work with you and can work within your budget. But don’t be afraid to ask for favors.. people ask favors of photographers all the time… but remember to make good on those favors later.. also, when starting out in your career, work with other people that are on your same level, your peers… of course we all will reach higher in time.. but be realistic about who you are contacting to work with while you are building your book..
“PRESENTATION IS KEY” – Make a standard for your final image presentation, Naming and Delivery system. Too many times, i’ve seen images from other photogs where their naming system is all over the place, and makes no sense… Images are crazy sizes and resolutions.. completely chaotic.. Make a great no-brainer system, and your clients and crew will love you for it.. (we hope)
“AND THE AWARD GOES TO..” – Always give credit where credit is due. Stylists, Hair and Makeup, Crew, Models, Producers, etc.. as much as possible and in the proper places. We all want it for ourselves, so do it for others…
ITS GO TIME: the Shoot itself….
“CAN YOU….” – Make sure you delegate responsibilities to your assistants.. this is something i struggle with myself.. I fall into the trap of trying to do everything myself.. Your assistants and production crew (if you have them) are there for a reason, give them things to do..
“ROCK ON!” – You may love your own music, but everyone on set may hate it.. Just because you like to work privately to a particular style of music doesn’t mean it works well to shoot to.. – If your model and crew are miserable with your music selection, then you’re gonna have bad vibes on set, and a poor shoot..
“CHECK 1..2..” – Don’t assume your camera has the correct settings.. – Check and double check before, and during the shoot.. on some cameras it’s too easy to accidentally change controls and dials. If you find yourself always nudging a dial the wrong way and changing f-stop without knowing, just tape it down.. it’s your camera, make it work for you.
“STOP, CALIBRATE AND LISTEN” – Make sure you and/or your Digitech in on top of everything color wise.. Color calibration, color tone of prints (if you do during the shoot).. etc.. Wrong calibration can make your lighting different that what you think you’re doing and It will affect your relationship with your client if it’s off by too much and not noticed.. – If a client takes prints back to the office, and the colors are way off, the other people in the office won’t know why, nor will they care.. They’ll just see you as incompetent. The buck starts and stops with you, the photographer
“TRUST” – Let the people you have chosen to work with expand on your ideas with ideas of their own.. Control is hard to let go of.. but you trusted them enough to work with them in the first place.. trust and allow their creative ideas as well.. you will grow with it and with them..
“CHECK YOURSELF” – Keep an eye on the overall picture – the crew, clothing, clamps, hair, makeup, nails, everything.. These are all issues that ultimately the photography will be held responsible for if anything is wrong.. Watching all these things will lessen that amount of retouching to do later..
“I ONLY EXPERIMENTED WITH IT ONCE!”- experiment with different lenses if you can.. each has it’s own characteristics, and you might find one that really has the tendencies that speak to how you want your images to feel. Maybe you’ll like lens filters? – and also play around with different objects in front of the lens.. You are creating a fantasy world (sometimes) and your identity, so have fun with it!
“FIRE!”- It’s still a good idea to use light meters.. In this age with digital cameras and large monitors, we can get complacent with not metering light.. photography is all about light and it’s manipulation.. at some point you’ll find yourself without the ability to have a screen in front of you, and you’ll need to know how to read the light surrounding your subject. My favorite is the old trusty Minolta V-F, simple and does the job. Plus keep in mind, the small screens on the back of cameras are rarely anything you should really trust.
“CHILL OUT MAN”
If your not shooting to a tower while tethered, and shoot to a laptop instead.. get a Fan cooled platform to go under it.. This will keep it cool, and keep you shooting at decent speed, and also protect the life of the computer.
“YOU WANT ME TO DO WHAT?” Surprisingly, some legitimate top ad agencies from around the world don’t always ask legitimate questions or have honorable expectations of you. – on a recent occasion, an agency asked me to lower my estimate due to fears of it being too high for clients approval.. (this is not abnormal thing to ask).. but then after the estimate was trimmed, they proceeded to ask me if I would then add a hidden 10-15 % back into it, which would be then expected to be paid back to agency after paid to me.. REALLY?? – there’s many terms for this practice, pick one…. – needless to say, I didn’t do it and passed on the job..
“DON’T TREAD ON ME” – don’t let yourself get walked on.. Don’t be an jerk about it, but stand up for yourself as a person and a business.
“START AT THE BEGINNING” – educate yourself, know your industry, it’s ups and downs, current rates, etc., and be prepared for crazy requests, and others’ lack of knowledge. If a situation comes up that your client is not knowledgable about, it’s our job to educate them. If we don’t know our own business, how can we enlighten others?
“AND IN THIS CORNER” – Portfolio presentation: I get asked about this a lot. We live in a world that is all over the place with preferences and options for portfolios.. Know that you will get a different answer from each person you ask as to what is the best option. Do what is right for you at the time and for your budget, and always aim higher with cleaner more precise presentation. No matter what format you pick, your images should speak for themselves, not how fancy your book is.. Also beware of sending iPads unless you are right there to show it directly.. Books are easy to open and read and don’t need instruction. Not everyone knows how to use an iPad, (or other devices) nor do they know what seems “simple to view” like you do on your own machine..
“GET THE JOB”. Know your own boundaries of what you can live with.. It’s a cut throat business at times, so know yourself and the kinds of things you can live with doing to “get the job”