What Changed in Professional Photography and Why I’m Grateful

In a word – digital. The digital revolution has been a game changer, and not just for professional photographers, but just about anyone and everyone who has been in the “workforce” for more than 10 years.

When a “change” is so profound that it creates a cultural shift, as digital has in the way we do business and communicate with one another, we can’t ignore it. It’s pretty tough to be, as Joe Walsh says “I’m an analog man in a digital world”. It may seem like the “digital revolution” happened over night, but in fact it started many decades ago. Technology’s pace has risen exponentially over the last decade and will continue to escalate, thrusting change upon us. I think what we are experiencing now, is merely the tip of the iceberg.

Tom and I have been spending time recently “purging” ourselves of all the things we’ve accumulated over the last 3 + decades that we really don’t need any longer. One of our biggest tasks has been to cull through hundreds of thousands of analog images – from 35mm “chromes” to 4×5 transparences as well as B&W and color negatives. It’s a daunting task and it’s super easy to get sidetracked down memory lane. But, we are steadily making progress sifting through the analog archives – digitizing anything worthy – Old transparenciesand tossing the rest.

When we first began our careers in still photography, we used to toss our assignment rejects (chromes) into big wire trash bins, like the ones you’d see on NYC sidewalks. Back then, photographers had to pretty much “nail” their exposures or the images got thrown away. Those were the days before auto focus cameras and many images also got tossed because they were out of focus. These bins filled up a long time ago, but for whatever reason we held onto them. So, now we are asking ourselves – should we take a 2nd look or just haul the bins of images out to the trash?

No doubt, we’ll just trash the images, but we did take a look at a few of them and I could see in an instant how our profession has changed for good. The technological skills that a professional photographer needed to learn and master just 10-15 years ago, have been replaced by highly advanced gear and software, making just about anyone able to shoot a reasonably good image, and call themselves a photographer. And whether we like it or not – that’s our competition.

In looking back, I realized that the single one thing that has kept me in business all these years, is that I never put technology first. Rather, I always focused on the “idea”. Nowadays, people call it “vision”, but regardless, the idea always came first and then figure out how to use technology to execute it. Funny thing is a lot of my ideas were ahead of the times, in terms of the possibility of making them happen – but that has changed. It seems like anything is possible now. I am grateful for the perspective I’ve gained over the many years that I’ve been in this business. One thing is for certain, change is a constant and I look forward to a future where I can make more of my ideas and dreams come true.



Commitment is everything.  It’s what makes us get things done.  It’s what makes relationships work.

Gail in bamboo hut in hill tribe village, northern Thailand
Gail in bamboo hut in hill tribe village, northern Thailand

It’s what makes us not give up, no matter how bleak it may look at times. It’s what gets us to stay focused on “the story” and be true to ourselves.

To some people, commitment can be frightening.  Their heads are filled with negative “what if” thoughts of failure that hold them back.  So, they plod along through life letting things happen to them instead of going after what they want. Those are the people who let resistance win.

I’ve always been a determined and committed person – if I say I’m going to do something, you can count on me to do it.  It’s tough sometimes though, to stay committed to myself and to what my true purpose is – it’s far too easy to get caught up with the regular flow of work and life.  But every now and then I get an idea for a creative project that just won’t go away.   When I finally decide to stop ignoring the idea and do something, I have a mechanism I use to help me make the commitment – I tell someone about it.  I’m the type of person that feels, once I’ve told someone I’m going to do something, then I have to do it – just to save face.  I call it “forced accountability.”

Seth Godin writes today about commitment: “One way to play in the digital age is to appeal to those that browse, the window shoppers, the mass audience that can’t and won’t commit.  The alternative is to focus on impact, not numbers and impact comes from commitment. “ He says: “ price is more than an exchange of coins. Price is a story.” Essentially, Godin is saying that in our noisy digital world, where ideas and content are free – we’ve got to be better, to make an impact.  In order to connect with the buyers on an emotional level, we’ve got to be “better than free”.

Every commitment that I’ve ever made has come with tremendous personal growth.  When I traveled around the world a couple of years ago making a feature length documentary, Opening Our Eyes, I not only challenged myself physically and creatively, but spiritually as well and I feel that I became a better person because of it.  I would not have been able to endure the hardships of that journey, nor the intense workload of post production had I not been committed to the idea.

What are you willing to commit to?  Commitment may be frightening, but without it, you may be spending your later years wondering, “what if I had”

Rejection Therapy

©Mike Rode
©Mike Rohde

A few weeks ago, I attended the World Domination Summit in Portland, OR.  Any time I‘ve mentioned this conference to my friends, their eyes get wide and they all want to know more about it.  Essentially, WDS is a worldwide gathering of creative, unconventional people who want to live a remarkable life in a conventional world.

This was my second time attending WDS and I was inspired, enlightened, invigorated and awed by the speakers like Jonathan Fields, Nancy Duarte, Tess Vigeland, Chase Jarvis and many others.  There was one speaker Jia Jiang that really resonated with me.  He talked about his 100-day “rejection therapy” project. You can watch Jia’s talk online. He must have struck a chord with a lot of other people as well, because he brought the house down.

I’m certainly not a stranger to knowing what rejection feels like.  The last two years of my life I have been rejected more times than I have probably in my entire life.  It’s not that I’ve been seeking ways to get rejected.  It’s because I’ve pushed myself into new and foreign territories – I mean that both literally and figuratively.  For example, I challenged myself in my career by producing a big film project that literally took me around the world.  But when I think about the “journey” part and the production of that film, it pales compared to the hard work, time, blood, sweat and plenty of tears on getting the film seen. I got scads of rejection letters and emails from film festivals, distributors and agents but most outsiders see only my successes.

When I heard Jia talk about his rejections that led to his “rejection therapy”, I understood exactly how he felt.  In a way, I’ve lived my life like Jia’s rejection therapy. But, it wasn’t because I set out to heal myself from some missteps and misses that didn’t work out for me.  As I look back at some of the things that I’ve done in my life, I realize now that I was simply naively bold enough to do them.

I can’t really say that I have ever gotten used to rejection.  It continues to hit me hard at times.  But when that happens, I stop and I think about all the wonderful and crazy things that I’ve done in my life that never would have happened if I had let my past rejections stop me. I suppose I’m like one of those blow up punching bags that keeps popping back up.

5 Tips for Filmmakers (and other artists) for Building an Audience

The good news for Indie filmmakers, musicians, photographers and new media artists is that technology enables us to take control and distribute our own work to the masses or a more targeted niche audience.  The bad news is that even though we are able to reach a global audience without giving the lion’s share of our profits to an agent or distributor – it’s a lot of hard work.

When I completed final production on my first feature documentary, Opening Our Eyes, I knew I was hardly finished with this film, not if I wanted people to see it. theater interioeIMG_0150Since most filmmakers make their movies to be seen, they need to decide how they want their movies distributed and marketed.  As a filmmaker, do you want to delegate this task to a distribution company or do it yourself?  Will you be one of the lucky 1% of filmmakers who get their films picked up for distribution?  If not, do you have a plan on how to do that?

1. Identify and build audience – Regardless if you decide to sign with a distributor or distribute your work yourself, the most important part of marketing and distributing a film is to identify and build your audience – and you should start building your audience before the film is finished.  As soon as I made a commitment to make a film, I started blogging about it.  I created a blog specifically about the film where my daughter and I talked about preparing for and taking a 99-day journey around the world. I also wrote about the making of the film on this blog where I talked about gearing up for it as well as the post-production process.  I didn’t realize it at the time, but I was building our niche audience.

2. Have a social media plan:

  • Decide on platforms – Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, Google+, YouTube, Vimeo
  • Carve out the time to engage
  • Decide where the content will come from – behind the scenes photos or footage, blogs, podcasts?
  • Who and where is your audience? Find other Facebook groups or pages and followers who are interested in the same topic as yours.  Collaborate. Build your Twitter followers same way.

3. Finding true fans – Since most filmmakers will most likely NOT have a mega hit with huge profits, the best thing a filmmaker can do is build their “true fan” base.  First you should ask yourself how many “true fans” would you need to sustain yourself as a filmmaker? And by true fan, I mean people who are willing to buy whatever you are selling, be it a book, a DVD, a music download or a t-shirt.  The key to growing your core “true fans” is to engage them by sharing interesting content as opposed to just selling something.

4. Be consistent and stick with it – Like anything else, building an audience takes time.  Be prepared to constantly interact and engage your audience by sharing relevant and interesting content with them.  You’re building a tribe or a community.

5. Find likely partners – Making films is a collaborative effort.  Similarly, for filmmakers to be successful in marketing their films they need to find their core niche.  One great way to find your niche audience is to identify like minded groups and share links.  The non-profit my daughter works for partnered with us and we frequently share each other’s news with our followers.

Polishing a Trailer

A trailer can attract someone to see your film or not.  It can determine if a film lives or dies. I just got back from Hawaii.  I had been visiting and working with my friend PF Bentley in Molokai and PF was color grading my trailer, balancing the audio and creating new title graphics.  I had been wanting to do that ever since I made the trailer over 2 years ago, but I didn’t have the know how, nor the proper software to do it.

Here are the BEFORE and AFTER versions of the trailer. Before and After These clips only illustrate the before and after in terms of color grading. PF also changed the title slates as well as greatly improved the audio, but these clips only show the “after” results as far as those changes.

Generally, a good trailer will peak your interest and make you want to see the film. But sometimes a trailer makes you feel like you’ve already seen the best parts of the movie, and that’s not good.  Trailers set the tone of the film.  They tease and introduce us to the characters and a bit of the story.  Thrillers evoke suspense with fast cuts while romantic love story trailers let shots linger on the screen.  Choice of music is integral to setting the tone, pace and rhythm of the trailer.  All these things combined is what makes a great trailer.

There are editors who specialize and only edit trailers.  Editing a trailer is different than editing the full film.  You don’t need to be concerned with explaining the whole story of the film. You need to tease the audience and make people want to see more. I have gone through a few variations of this trailer since the initial cut, each time shaving off a bit of time on it’s length. This latest revision was just to give the trailer more polish, smooth out the color and sound and create better graphics.  Overall it has made the trailer look more “movie” like and less like a video.

The best way to learn about making trailers is to watch a lot of them.  It’s pretty easy to find trailers online.  You can watch them on a film’s website or on a site like moviefone.com.  Check them out – It’s a great way to see first hand what makes a great trailer.

How a Film Can Make a Difference

I never fully realized the power that is within me to make a difference, until recently.  Last summer, my daughter and I spent time with extraordinary people who were providing homes for orphans, feeding the hungry and curing the ill.  They were all people we met while making a documentary about the change makers in our world – people who are making our planet a better place.

Our goal was to inspire and motivate others as to what they can do to make a difference in their own communities. Our goal was to cause a shift, in culture and in thought – from “what in it for me?” to “what can I do?” We’ve just begun to submit this documentary to film festivals and show sneak previews to small audiences but I can already tell that this film has affected change and the potential it has to move people to action.

From our first sneak preview at the beautiful State Theater in Traverse City, MI to a recent screening at MIS in Sao Paulo, Brazil, I feel the energy in the room and the collective desire to strive for a better world.  I feel the power of film and the power within me as a storyteller and filmmaker. I feel the time for this film is now and that people are hungry for hope.

Many documentaries take the critical point of view and certainly have more conflict. Opening Our Eyes is different from other docs in that it shines a light on what IS being done to create positive change by individuals all over the world.  Somehow by showing the small acts, this film makes all of us believe that we can create change as well. It empowers us to believe in the possibilities and gives us the hope we seem to be yearning for these days.

When I first conceived of the idea for this film, inspired by friend and neighbor Maggie Doyne, I was looking for some positive hope myself.  I was tired of listening to the hundreds of “experts” on TV talking and all of them needing to be “right” – and nothing was getting any better. That was long before the Arab Spring and the Occupy movements. What I was sensing was the rest of the world was feeling the same way I was and decided to do something about it.

Time will tell if the film continues to create awareness and moves people to action, but at least I’m hopeful again.

Please consider supporting our effort by making a contribution to our IndieGoGo campaign, which only has a few weeks, left to go. And it’s tax deductible.

We can’t do it without your help.

Add to FacebookAdd to DiggAdd to Del.icio.usAdd to StumbleuponAdd to RedditAdd to BlinklistAdd to TwitterAdd to TechnoratiAdd to Yahoo BuzzAdd to Newsvine

Being Grateful but Overwhelmed

What’s the old saying – “be careful what you wish for?”

I have a lot to be thankful for this Thanksgiving morning, because so many of my wishes are coming true.  But they haven’t come without a cost or a compromise somewhere along the line.

For example, I’ve been highly focused on the making and promoting of my film Opening Our Eyes.  While that has brought many rewards into my life, it has also taken time away from my business.  It’s helped my business by bringing awareness to it. But it’s also hurt my business because it’s taken some of my attention away– or at least for the time being. There are only so many hours in the day.

When I take time to take a breathe these days, I wonder how it will all turn out.  I feel that I’m taking a risk for once in my life. I’m listening to myself and not questioning it or pulling back at the wrong time because I’m doubting myself.

I think we all have to decide the kind of life we want to live and live it the best we know how.  The older I get the more I realize that.

On this Thanksgiving morning, I’m thankful that I’m living a full life and open to possibilities.

Happy Thanksgiving everyone.

Resources, Sharing and Good Karma

I love the time we are living in.  If there is anything I want to find out about – and I do mean anything – and I can get “connected” online – I have access to a universe of information. For someone like me who always has a hundred questions running through my mind – it’s like the “time of Aquarius” – only better.

This morning I was poking around ASMP’s CameraCake, a cool new social bookmarking site.  It’s kind of like getting references to all sorts of interesting people, ideas and services from your colleagues. I posted a link to a great new online magazine that I had heard about from friend, David Sanger on Facebook.

So, now that information and link to Once Magazine will be shared with a lot more photographers and motion shooters than if it just appeared on my blog.  Why all this sharing?  I don’t know, but I do know that when you give, you get more in return and on many levels.

I spent two years, giving seminars for ASMP about transitioning to video.  In those two years, I got a lot of emails with questions from photographers as they added motion to their businesses and I  hope I answered each and everyone.  I’ve also shared a lot of info about video on this blog . That’s why I started it and titled it “Journeys of a Hybrid”, almost 3 years ago – it was a journey for all of us. I’ve recently started offering seminars in The Business of Video, because I see there is a hole to fill. There’s plenty of  “HDSLR” workshops out there, but rarely do any provide practical business models and/or guidance that speaks to the new media opportunities that are opening up in the hybrid area.

Giving seminars doesn’t provide me a living but it does help me in a business sense because by providing knowledge to my competition and people just starting out, I am helping all of us to sustain a decent living, working in a creative trade.

I also like to share because it makes me feel good.  I’ll be speaking at the PACA conference on Oct. 22nd, in New York.  ASPP asked me to talk about my film, Opening Our Eyes in a seminar entitled “Passion to Profitable Distribution”.  I’m delighted to do that because there’s nothing I like doing more than talking about what we as creatives are capable of doing and the global reach we have as individuals.  It’s an empowering time.

I’ll close with one small request and that is to share this link to our recently launched
campaign for Opening Our Eyes on IndieGoGo. The film is finished and is already making a difference, but we need to give it a push in order to “get it out there” and to be seen.

As Marian Kramer, one of our subjects said “We just have to shine each other up.”

Add to FacebookAdd to DiggAdd to Del.icio.usAdd to StumbleuponAdd to RedditAdd to BlinklistAdd to TwitterAdd to TechnoratiAdd to Yahoo BuzzAdd to Newsvine

Crowd Funding and What I’ve Learned

There’s a scene at the end of my favorite holiday movie “It’s a Wonderful Life”

It's a Wonderful Life

where George Bailey, a character played by Jimmy Stewart is surrounded by his friends as they come to his aid and bail him out of his financial shortcomings, caused by his crazy Uncle Billy. I’ve seen this film at least a dozen times and ok – I admit it – I cry every time George Bailey’s little girl opens a book that mysteriously appears under the Christmas tree with the inscription “No man is a failure who has friends”.

I felt like George Bailey today when I saw the email from Kickstarter telling me that my daughter’s and my film project, Opening Our Eyes had been officially funded.  We actually exceeded our goal of $7500 and raised just over $10,000! What a feeling – what a triumph and all possible because of our “friends”. Through crowd funding – our friends had helped us reach our goal and made our film a reality.

This would not have been possible just two years ago.  But, Kickstarter and other crowd funding sites like it, provide other options for artists and entrepreneurs who are seeking funds to make their creative ideas come to life. Many times these ideas might not fit within the confines of what a traditional bank would finance, but there are some great ideas that have a chance now of becoming a reality –  and we all benefit by that.

Here are some things that I have learned through the process of getting our film funded on Kickstarter.

•    You have to do the work.  Once you launch your project page on Kickstarter, you need to let potential backers know about it, using social media or email blasts or word of mouth.  Just like getting traffic to your website, you can’t expect people to stumble upon your project and fund it.
•    You have to make it fun.  Have fun with the “rewards” that you offer your backers, and on Kickstarter every project must have rewards.  People love to give, but they also love to feel like they are part of something or that they have helped to make something happen.  If a backer contributed to my project at the $500 reward level, they will receive an Associate Producer credit in the film and on the project’s website, along with DVD’s of the film when it’s completed, as well as a signed print and an e-book from the project’s journey.
•    Keep your financial goal realistic.  Look at other projects that are similar to yours and see what the “market will bear”.  See what has been successful and ask yourself why. Remember that if you ask for too much money and don’t meet 100% of your goal by the time the funding period is over for your project, then you won’t receive anything.  Only projects that are successfully funded at 100%, will receive funds.
•    Use social media and email blasts with common sense – don’t be obnoxious.  If you do send emails – don’t send  an email again to someone who has already backed your project.  Ask people to share your project link on social media but don’t overdo it.
•    Post updates on your project to keep your backers and potential backers informed.  Use visuals if you have them,  both on your page site as well as in your updates. Photographs and videos really give a project presence and are a must have. You want to stand out from the crowd.
•    There is no such thing as a pledge too small.  They say the average pledge on Kickstarter is around $25 and I can attest to that.  Out of our 161 backers – 69 had made pledges of $25.  It all adds up.  And every time someone backs your project there is also the opportunity that they may share it with someone they know who may in turn make a contribution.
•    Be grateful and appreciative.  I made it a point to send each and every one of my backers a personal thank you note.
•    Have faith – because anything is truly possible these days.

Add to FacebookAdd to DiggAdd to Del.icio.usAdd to StumbleuponAdd to RedditAdd to BlinklistAdd to TwitterAdd to TechnoratiAdd to Yahoo BuzzAdd to Newsvine

Everything That Moves

Don’t ever underestimate the power of the simple idea. Sometimes – my best ideas happen when I’m not trying to come up with one. Like last night – I was watching a reunion of the group Blind Faith on TV. I was caught up in the music and nostalgia for the era that music represented and an idea hit me. Video is about everything that moves.

It’s a simple thought – video is about motion but yet an often overlooked one. Most people’s first inclination is to pick up the video camera and start moving the camera itself. They pan – they zoom – they jiggle their viewers into motion sickness.
They have forgotten that video is about recording motion – or everything that moves. Simple thoughts are the best.

%d bloggers like this: