My wife, a painter, recently became involved with art groups that provide highly social and creatively rewarding, collaborative working environments. Her experiences with these groups got me thinking about photography.
On the surface, my photographic life seems to have been mainly solitary. I haven’t run a studio with assistants around. Nor have I worked in wedding or portrait photography, which are inherently people-oriented disciplines. When I shoot, I do so mainly for myself or to illustrate articles I am working on, so I mainly shoot alone. Yet this is only on the surface.
I actually do not always shoot alone. My 11-year old daughter is often with me, because I am teaching her photography. This is rewarding, not only in terms of strengthening family bonds, but also to my own photography because I get to see things through new eyes.
Occasionally, I shoot with other photographers who I have met online. I am very active online in photography discussions and discussions with my own readers, here and on my own site www.dimagemaker.com. Some of my online relationships with other photographers and digital artists go back many years. Many of these relationships are quite rich and deep, with ongoing discussions of our work, methods and aesthetics in general. I also teach photography, now mainly through workshops, and enjoy rich interactions with my students.
And I interact with other photographers more distantly by seeing their work at exhibitions, in books and magazines, and online. Not only is this type of relationship more remote, but it is really a three-way relationship between me, the other photographer and his or her work.
Plus, I talk to other photographers at various meetings, exhibitions (both mine and others’) and conferences.
There are definitely great rewards in working alone. For example, you get to develop uninfluenced by others and more easily gain the meditative benefits of photography. But there are many benefits from social interactions, too. Some of these benefits include:
· Exposure to new ideas, ways of working, and interpretations;
· The ability to work through photographic problems by asking others for suggestions;
· Relaxation and stress release;
· The discovery of new shooting locations;
· The ability to try out equipment before buying it;
· The opportunity to give and receive criticism of photographs;
· Introductions to other people who can help;
· The opportunity to learn through teaching and assisting others;
· Multiple opportunities to join exhibitions, publication, and new work.
The number of ways to broaden your photographic social network is huge. Some of these are:
· Posting online portfolios and discussing the images on sites such as flickr;
· Participating in online discussion groups and forums;
· Joining camera clubs;
· Attending or teaching workshops and courses;
· Interacting with fellow attendees at exhibitions;
· Exhibiting your own work and getting feedback from viewers;
· Using networking sites such as meetup.com to find and join face-to-face get-togethers of photographers;
· Getting acquainted with painters and other visual artists;
· Joining professional associations, either general photography groups, or those that specialize in your area of photography;
· Attending conferences and trade shows.
People are fundamentally social creatures, so it’s not surprising that there are myriad ways to interact socially even in what seems to be a solitary avocation.
We all can become staid and stagnant sometimes. Thus, it can be beneficial to shake up the status quo from time and time and try doing something new.
Even if you already have an extensive network of photographic contacts, keep in mind that those contacts can also become stagnant. Just as a trip to a new country can stimulate the creative juices, so can bringing new people into your life.
Why don’t you reach out tomorrow?
However, since this blog is about photography I started thinking how photographers could use Twitter and which users were the best to "follow." My list is short right now, but as Twitter continues to grow as a social media site, more and more photographers and photo-related companies will undoubtedly start using this technology.
If you have heard that all people "tweet" about is what they ate for dinner and if they are drinking too much coffee that morning you are mistaken. Sure, those tweets still populate but not everyone uses Twitter for their daily digestible activity.
Industry trade shows such as PMA and Photo Plus Expo are using Twitter to let attendees know about product announcements as well as information regarding the show. Manufacturers such as HP and Kodak have substantial Twitter followings and communicate directly to their followers in the form of announcements and "meetups."
Lesser known but growing Twitter updates from Photojojo and DP Review are also very popular. Here is a list of a few I have taken notice and am currently following.
Photo Marketing Association: @pma2009
Photo Plus Expo: @photoplusexpo.
HP Imaging and Printing Group: @hp_ipg. Anyone who uses HP print technology like we do at encompus will get up-to-date news and information regarding all things HP imaging and print.
Kodak: @kodakCB. This is run by Kodak's Chief Blogger Jennifer Cisney. At the time of this post she had 3,400 followers and 1,600 updates. Her updates range from announcing "tweetups" at industry events to updates on the latest products. She also tweets about other users who influence the imaging industry.
Photojojo: @photojojo. This is run by employees of the very popular photo newsletter service (250,000+ subscribers) based in San Francisco. Photojojo is worth following because it gives you conventional photography ideas and reminders of where to find the best deals on equipment. It has over 6,800 followers and 656 updates.
Digital Photography Review: @dpreview. This is updated by the popular website of the same name. Its tweets usually consist of announcements of product reviews. I like it because it keeps me updated as new reviews are written and I can search tweets via Twitter Search for relevant keywords.
Mac Group: @macgroup. This is a source for photographic tools such as Toyo, Tenba, Sekonic, Mamiya, Profoto, PocketWizard, Iduro, Eizo, and X-Rite. Tweets consists of links to blog posts on equipment and training as well as industry reviews.
Magnum Photos: @magnumphotos. This cooperative photography agency with offices in London, Paris, Tokyo and New York was founded in 1947 by Henri Cartier Bresson. Mangum provides photographs to the press, publishers, advertising, television, galleries and museums across the world.
Photocritic: @photocritic. This is all about learning more about photography, from the incredibly insightful to the mundane via just about everything in between.
JPG Magazine: @jpgmag. This leads you where 202,475 photo enthusiasts share their photos and stories and vote for the best in various themes. The best work could be published in JPG Magazine!
phototweets: @phototweets. This is run by Darren Rowse and is associated with the Digital Photography School which provides useful tips for photographers of all levels.
photonews: @photonews. Here you’ll find links to news articles from all over the web relating to photography.
If you know of any other interesting photography-related Twitter users please share. Photographers like to be in the loop on everything related to photography and technology and the use of Twitter is growing daily. And if you want to follow me, I’m @colorcritical.
Amateurs and professionals are very different beasts. Amateurs can do whatever they want without the need to sell what they do. They can chop and change their focus (pun intended) as the mood suits them. Professionals must please their clients, even if that means doing work that they, themselves, don’t overly like. Although the conventional wisdom is that amateurs can learn a lot from pros, it actually works both ways.
In the time I have spent interviewing professional photographers I have come across many who have lost touch with what got them excited about photography in the first place. They have become jaded and tired. It is now just a job. And of course it is. It puts food on the table and roofs over their families’ heads.
But if it is only a job, how will they maintain the creative spark that makes their work stand out in a crowded and highly competitive marketplace? How will they keep their sanity as well?
Creative people can, in my experience, be perhaps more prone to depression than less creative types, especially when they are not creating. So professional photographers need to find a way to keep their creative juices flowing. One way to do this is to allocate some amount of time to shoot purely for themselves with absolutely no idea of selling the images. That may happen down the road, but selling the images shouldn’t be the first thing that comes to mind.. Personal projects are essential. They provide some structure, some motivation.
Amateurs are often immensely undisciplined. They waft from one subject to another on a whim and their spouses are often critical that they bought gear that excites them for a month and then sits unused. Amateurs sometimes work on something for awhile, but when getting the results they want becomes too hard, they move on.
Thus, what amateurs sometimes need is discipline. They need the discipline to push a piece of gear as far as they possibly can before even thinking about something new. Discipline to keep pushing for results that may be hard to achieve but, once they break through, will move their work to a whole new level. And discipline to keep themselves on track despite what others may say.
Of course these examples are broad generalities, and don’t apply to all amateurs nor all professionals. But they do illustrate my point that not only can an amateur learn from a professional, but that a professional can also learn some things from the amateur.
I can think of other examples. Amateurs sometimes have very deep technical knowledge in a particular area because they can. The pro may stop learning a particular subject as soon as they know enough to get by with it in their work.
A pro often has a more critical eye because they have needed to develop one. Pros must identify issues and correct them before a picky client spots them. Amateurs can be sloppy in their self-assessment and can benefit from the pro’s eyes. And so it goes on.
As in other areas where there are both amateurs and professionals, such as astronomy, each can learn and benefit from the others. All that’s needed is an open mind.
Mistake number one is trying to do business using a Yahoo, MSN, or other free email address. These just stink of being either a spammer or an amateur. Because using these sites suggests a lack of stability (and thus unreliability), you can really limit your marketing opportunities.
Mistake number two is relying on the free or low-cost photo-hosting sites to present your professional portfolio. Yes, some people do this, hard as it might seem to believe. Again, it immediately conveys either that you’re an amateur or someone who has no idea of business.
Mistake number three is developing a totally unsuitable custom website. This might be unsuitable in many ways, as we’ll discuss later, but such a site can actually turn some potential customers away. So, how do you do it right?
Step 1: Register a domain name with a reliable and major domain registrar (so you will have no dramas later). The domain name is not critical but ideally needs to be something you can tell people over the phone without a strong likelihood of them getting it wrong. This can be your business name or something else, so long as it makes sense.
Step 2: Set up a website hosting service with a reliable company. This should not be your ISP, the service you use to connect to the Internet. Look for Linux hosting rather than Microsoft servers. This will give you more free options and is often cheaper. A good hosting account will allow you to easily create multiple email addresses and monitor traffic to your site (statistics). It will also make it easy to control other features, such as installing open source gallery software.
Step 3: Set up a number of email addresses for yourself. For example, you might want to have one you can publish on public forums and another address that you use for direct business contact. Multiple email addresses also allow you to create the impression that you have a larger organization than you actually have.Step 4: Do some research. Clarify why you want to have a web presence, who the most typical and most important users of your site will be, and what equipment they are likely to use to view your site. Keep in mind what information matters most to them, not you. Look closely at a wide range of other photographers’ websites, and not just the ones you personally like.
Step 5: Develop a website to suit your customers, based on the research you did in Step 4. When I look at photographers’ websites, I usually see a lot of over- engineered, fancy, and time-wasting sites that don’t work for the site visitors. Sadly, many photographers won’t listen to recommendations for improvement, because they think they know it all visually. But if you are a small-town wedding/portrait photographer, for example, your clients are likely to be local people with slow Internet connections, old computers, and small screens. The site must be designed accordingly, or you might lose business. Conversely, if you are a big-city fashion photographer, your clients are ad agencies and magazines, with fast Internet connections, larger screens and a sense of style (plus attitude). This requires a very different type of site than that required by the small-town wedding photographer.
Do you get the idea? It’s not you and your aesthetics that matter with a website, it is your clients. If you have diverse clients perhaps you need two websites that you market to appropriate audiences.This client orientation will help you determine elements such as: what screen size the site should be designed for, whether Flash (an overused technology on photographer sites) should even be considered, and whether you can stray too far from normal navigation conventions.
Unless you really know what you are doing, pay someone to design your website for you. Don’t skimp on this. During the design process, look for alternative ways of doing things. For example, many of the sites I develop now use a content-management system so that photographers themselves can upload new images or change text. This way they aren’t reliant on me to make changes to the site except to update the look. It costs them a little more up front, but reduces costs long term.
Finally, plan to revamp your site on a yearly basis. This doesn’t have to be a major overhaul every year, but a bit of a touchup keeps the site looking fresh and in line with current trends. If your site is well designed by your web developer, a yearly update shouldn’t be a costly exercise.
Step 6: Market your website. The website itself won’t bring you much work on its own. It actually just forms part of your marketing effort; it is not the complete answer. If you have followed these steps, your email address should help promote the site. The site URL (www.cosshall.com, for example) should be on your business cards, car, all ads, etc. Keep fresh content on your website and never put a visible visitor counter on your site.Done well, a website is a great asset. Done poorly it is a liability. Which is yours?
You can read more on this topic on my online magazine The Digital Imagemaker.
In part 1 of this article, we looked at how photographers could free themselves to be more creative by becoming better organized. In that post, we talked about organizing equipment, shoot planning, and contact lists. Let’s continue getting organized.
Tracking payments, debts and invoices. Tracking and managing all these business details is critical if photography is your business, either full or part time. You have compliance and tax obligations to meet, and must stay in control of your costs and income.
Here you have three choices: (1) do it all yourself; (2) do some of it yourself; or (3) hand it all off to a bookkeeper or accountant. The last is a great option, because most of us creative types find anything like bookkeeping to be instant death. However, an accountant costs money, so it may not be an option.
Alternatively, you can invest in some appropriate accounting software, learn it, and then use it either to do the whole job or just parts of it, with an accountant or bookkeeper doing the rest. This gives you more control and reduces costs. Accounting software such as QuickBooks or MYOB, can do the job for you.
Whatever solution you use, get an accountant to set it all up for you, including choosing the software. Then go to a training course or send the person who will be tracking your payments, debts and invoices. This is important, as even the simplest program of this type is quite complex. You need to get it right.
Planning image manipulations. In the old days of working in the darkroom I would do straight proof prints in 8x10 size and then, much later, sit with a chinagraph pencil and mark up areas of the print for burning in or holding back, dropping in another negative with masking, etc. I didn’t do this in the darkroom, but only after the print was completely dry and in the sort of lighting in which I would eventually be hanging the finished print. Free from the darkroom, I had my choice of lighting and could consider the image in comfort and over an extended period of time. I could even put the print on the fridge door so I could consider it over days.
Today, I do all my manipulation work on the computer. There is a great temptation to do all the work at the computer. I believe this is a mistake.
It is far better to mirror the darkroom approach and make a proof print in a smaller size. Then, consider it carefully and mark it up only after you’ve allowed yourself time with the image. It doesn’t all have to be a rush.
Getting things done on time. In today’s fast-moving 24/7 world, there is so much to keep track of. You need to keep track of deadlines, research, contacts, trips, websites, models, locations, timelines, client appointments and more. All of these can be tracked on paper. But as a computer nerd, I look for computer solutions.
Keeping track of everything you have to do is important. You can use a diary or calendar program but not all tasks are best kept that way.
I like to-do lists and I’ve tried a variety of programs to manage them. Most calendar programs have basic to-do capabilities, but these are very limited.
I’ve started using a program called iGTD. This is a Mac-only program, but it suits me because I work mainly on a Mac. The name comes from a book by David Allen called Getting Things Done, which describes a methodology for managing all the things we have to do. There are many other programs that implement these ideas for both Macs and Windows PCs.
iGTD lets me create tasks, and assign end dates, priorities and level of difficulty. I can also write notes about tasks, and set up tasks to repeat on a set schedule. When I complete such a task, it automatically reschedules to the next date.
iGTD is donationware software and works amazingly well. I love it, though I am still exploring all it can do for me. For example, it can also synchronize with a calendar program and generate alarms or reminder messages.
Tasks can be assigned to Contexts and Projects. Contexts divide tasks into those that need to take place in certain locations. Projects are particular activities. Both Contexts and Projects can be hierarchical, giving you further organization options.
Getting organized is not a burden. In fact, it frees you from worrying about all the things that must be done. Getting all that out of your head and off your shoulders frees you to create, and to enjoy the creating.
It can take time to turn something of little interest into something of beauty. This is especially true of creativity, which you can't do in a rush or with millions of other things on your mind. Get better organized and you are free to play.