I read Seth Godin’s blog daily. He’s usually concise and right on target. His post entitled,”Clawing your way to the bottom” really hits the mark as far as what professional photographers and other visual creators are up against.
I used to make a lot of money shooting stock – that is before the consolidation of agencies and the commoditization of stock. While it’s understandable why that happened when the world went “digital”, the prices and value of images has dropped so far that an “average” stock shooter can no longer make a living shooting stock.
I’m grateful that I never relied solely on stock photography to make a living. However, commissioned photography has not escaped the race to the bottom as far as photographers pricing themselves out of business. There’s only so low one can go on their fees. It’s a short fix to nowhere.
The solution is there for anyone who is willing to do the work – that is, make the effort to stay at the top of your game. Focus on the big picture. Be curious. Don’t panic. Stay away from trends., Focus on the story – not on the gear. Tell them a story. Live life because if you don’t – your work will show it.
I have a love/hate relationship with video editing, depending on which point I’m at. My initial ingestion of content and first edit is always tedious, but once I’ve edited the time line sound bites, I feel as though I’m more than half way there. But sometimes I lose sight of some critical thoughts in the process. Here’s a few:
Remember your commitment / story. Your story gets told and comes alive in the editing. If you don’t have a clear and concise message or story that you want to tell, then go no further, until you do. I have found when editing the latest short film in the Like A Woman series, that there is more than one message to relay. This video is about Simona de Silvestro, one of the few female professional race car drivers who races for the Andretti Autosport Team in Formula E (electric). It has two themes – one, about a woman in a man’s profession and another about electric racing. It’s tough to get across one theme in a film that is less than 3 minutes long, let alone two themes. I knew that I needed to be concise and to deliver the messages organically without forcing the issues. As much as Simona is one of the few females in this profession, she still wants to be known as the best driver she can be .
Let a piece breathe. I always make the mistake of trying to squeeze too much dialog into a short piece. It took me a dozen cuts, each time, taking out soundbites and stretching them over added b-roll to get the balance just right. Breathing gives the audience a rest and allows them to digest the information better.
Don’t try to be perfect. In an effort to leave no stone unturned in regards to my b-roll, I initially went through everything and then put all the selects on a timeline (or in a event). It was the first time we shot 4K GoPro footage and I put that in a separate event on a timeline. It was a big mistake. It took me a long time to make the timeline and an even longer time to look for a clip within the timeline. Next time, I will edit my clips from my bin and mark “favorites” as I go along, which is what I usually do, and is much faster.. Not sure why I departed from that approach, but I learned my lesson.
Audio is everything. The interview with Simona was challenging. We were literally in a tent set up on the side of an active roadway. Even with a shotgun mics and a lavalier with an undercover we still picked up some background noise of the traffic. I did everything I could think of to blend the sound including S-Curve transitions and adding another noise track to fill in the dead air spots. I’m not totally happy with it, but I’d like to up my skills in audio mixing. My only consolation is that the story is about racing, so the audio is somewhat acceptable.
4K – What a memory suck! I love the results from the GoPro Hero 4 Black but the clips are difficult to view as it can be sluggish. But, because my final output is HD 1920X1080, I was able to crop the 4K and/or blow it up and it looked great.
I’ve been shooting both mediums – video and still photographs – for over a decade. Some may say that I was an early adaptor of motion, but that’s now how I look at it. In a way, I’ve been a motion shooter ever since I became a still photographer – not in the literal sense – but in how I approach the craft of photography.
I’m a storyteller; in fact that’s why I made photography a huge part of my life. I want to utilize my craft to tell the stories that I feel compelled to tell. I think in terms of paginations, like pages in a magazine or scenes in a film and I realize now that I have always approached still photography like a cinematographer.
Here are some tips I learned from shooting motion that will make you a better still photographer:
Cover it – Get comprehensive coverage – a variety of perspectives, focal lengths (wide, medium, tight and close-ups.) When shooting video, you always need plenty of b-roll to work with when editing a story. My still photography clients enjoy getting the variations that I shoot. It gives them an abundance of choice and I benefit by making more money.
Get sequences – Get mini stories of people interacting within the whole story. When I’m shooting, I think about how my shots will come together as part of the whole video. I approach still photography stories the same way – in paginations. How will I connect the still images to make the whole?
Get storytelling images – With still photography I need to make sure that my independent shots (or moments in time) will also be able to stand on their own and tell the story. They can’t just be “wowy zowy” images as Bob Gilka (former Director of Photography of the National Geographic) used to say when I showed him eye catching, colorful photos that didn’t say anything.
Action/motion – make the images feel. I started exploring motion because there were times when I found it difficult to convey the feeling of motion that I was trying to express in a still image. I find it is easier to convey the feeling of movement in a still image now because my eye is trained to look for the opportunities.
Give the images sound – (like a hammer hammering). Natural sound gives a video the element of reality. It’s almost like it gives the video a well-needed extra layer or dimension. When I’m shooting stills, I look for images that will illustrate the sound of the environment.
I usually incorporate both video and still components when working on personal projects. For my current project, Like A Woman, I’m shooting still environmental portraits and short 2-4 min. films. And when I travel, I’ll always take a digital audio recorder and microphone to capture good sound.
I’m headed to Vietnam tomorrow to shoot stills primarily, but I’ll be shooting with the eye of a hybrid.
People who have been to my home/office in Brookside, NJ:
Are surprised they are in New Jersey
They think they’ve gone back in time
Can’t believe they are only 38 miles from New York City
I live in a small semi-rural town in Morris County, NJ. There were more people living here in the 18th century than there are now. We don’t get mail delivery, but we (about 120 homes/addresses) have our own zip code, 07926.
Our big event of the year is our 4th of July parade. On a good day, I’m 40 minutes to EWR and 75 minutes from Manhattan. If it weren’t so expensive to live in New Jersey, I’d be here forever.
I came across an old blog I wrote in 2006 about my town. Written July 5, 2006
I live in Brookside, New Jersey 07926. Brookside is a small town of about 1100 people located approximately 35 miles due west of New York City – or as some may say “the greater New York area”. But when you’re in my town, you not only feel like you’re a thousand miles from NYC, you feel like you’ve just stepped into a Norman Rockwell painting.
When I moved here in 1994, residents told me that there had been more people living in Brookside during the time of the American Revolution, than there were now – 1994. I don’t know if that statistic still holds true because we’ve grown in the past twelve years, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it does. Back in the mid to late 1700’s Brookside was not the quiet, bucolic town it is today. Because of its natural resources, water, forests and iron ore, it was the site of sawmills, gristmills, iron mines and other supporting businesses of its day. During the American Revolution, it was a dangerous place for a loyalist to be. Washington’s troops were camped about 5 miles down the road at Jockey Hollow, which is now New Jersey’s only National Park.
Brookside, is a small quiet community . The 4th of July is Brookside’s big day. Yesterday (just like every 4th of July) the residents of Brookside turned out to watch the tractors, antique cars, fire engines, homespun floats and marchers (including about a dozen pooches dressed for the holiday) parade down Main Street. Anyone can be a part of the parade, and most people watching know at least one person in it. Afterwards there are field games for the kids and beer at the firehouse for the adults. The “beach” is free to all on July 4th. Yes, a beach – Brookside Beach, which is the local watering hole on the grounds of the elementary school. In the late afternoon most people try to sneak in a nap between the picnics and bingo that starts at 7:00 sharp. July 4th is Brookside’s biggest day and even locals who have summer homes at the shore, make it a point to be back in Brookside for the 4th.
There is no commercial zoning in my town. The only thing you can buy in Brookside is a newspaper from the machine in front of the post office.
We have our own post office and our own zip code – 07926. We don’t get mail delivery in Brookside. We go to the post office to retrieve it. I don’t really know anyone who minds that – gives us a chance to catch up on the gossip with postmaster Pete or run into friends, especially on a Saturday morning. It’s fun to scan the bulletin board inside – read notices neighbors have put up, announcing bake sales or music lessons or that sort of thing. Shortly after 9/11, the Ten Most Wanted poster with Osama Bin Laden’s photo on it was tacked on the board along side a picture of someone’s lost cat and someone else’s ad for a piano they wanted to sell. There’s a wonderful collection of vintage photos of the post office in its early years when it was a general store. A couple of people in town still decorate the windows for each season or holiday
Recently, a small protest was staged down at our little post office. An angry but not unruly mob of about two dozen people chanted “no standardization”. What caused this dissention? Apparently, a postal inspector had ordered the removal of pictures, notices and other personal items displayed on the walls of this “federal” building in accordance with the new Postal Office policy “retail standardization”. I don’t think these officials were prepared for the outcry that arose from a community whose roots go back to our country’s original dissenters. After our US representative sent a strong letter to some high level postal officials, things began to quiet down and return to the status quo, at least for the time being.
Brookside is part of Mendham Township, which is about 17 square miles with a population of around 5000 people. What’s amazing is this township has over 55 miles of walking trails, 850 acres of parks and natural land and a beach. It also has 9 zip codes – some people say more, but I will stick with the conservative estimate of 9 separate zip codes that residents use in their addresses. Gets a bit confusing for surveys and fund raising. My zip code, 07926 is unique to residents in Brookside. Unfortunately, there are times when this zip code is extremely problematic. For instance, American Express sends my bills to me regularly at this zip code. But if I try to purchase a “Be My Guest” (a gift certificate to be used at a restaurant) I can’t do it. Amex will not deliver these certificates to a post office box. The other time living with the “07926” zip code became a problem was during the last Census. Apparently there’s a law that census forms must be sent to a physical address. So each form sent out that year was addressed to the physical addresses for all the residents of Brookside – with no supplemental zip code or box number – just the physical address. Well, when the forms arrived at our little post office – our postmaster (who at the time was “large Marge” – at least that’s what I call her – but that’s another story for another time) sent them all back to the Census Bureau because they didn’t have post office box numbers on them and thus in her eyes, not deliverable. Therefore the residents of Brookside were never counted in the census.
I love it here. I complain like other citizens of New Jersey that our property taxes are way too high, but I think I have found the nearly perfect place to live. A place full of history, wonderful historic homes, great schools, an old fashioned swimming hole in the summer which transforms to a skating rink in the winter, an abundance of natural beauty and neighbors who know you and look out for you. The kind of town you expect to see in a Frank Capra movie starring Jimmy Stewart.
When I’m asked “what exit are you from in NJ?” by people whose impression of New Jersey is based on bad jokes from comedians and now the TV show The Sopranos – I answer “the pretty part”. I try not to be any more informative about exactly where I live because I prefer at times to keep it a secret. But every now and then we get “new” folks moving in and sometimes they want to change things – like erect a new cell tower because they can’t get a signal on their cell phones. Most of us try to gently “enlighten them” about such foolish notions. And so far it’s working.
I call Brookside my home. But home is where your heart and that can be anywhere.
Have you ever looked back at your life and wondered “How would things have turned out differently if…..I hadn’t have moved to a new part of the country when I was 13 years old or if I had stayed at Syracuse University instead of leaving school after completing my sophomore year and traveling around the world? Or if I had taken the job at Boeing after graduating from Brooks Institute…..or if I hadn’t seen that article in Time Magazine about “Indie” media ventures, referencing the 1st Digital Video Symposium that was going to take place at the American Film Institute?” Every one of those events at pivotal points in my life, carved out my next “chapter “ – determining who I was going to be and where I was headed. Some of my life’s twists and turns, I had no control over – like moving from Rochester, NY to the greater NYC Metro area when I was barely a teenager. But there have been a lot more pages turned in my life since then, and along with that a whole lot of decisions to be made along the way. The best decisions I’ve made in my life happened when I was open minded to possibilities and I listened to my gut. Last week I coached at the NPPA’s Multimedia Immersion Workshop. It was a perfect example of peers helping peers and a wonderful collaboration between NPPA and ASMP, my trade association that I’m about to be President of next month. Even though these workshops are exhausting in every way, I get as much as I give on so many levels. Ultimately the workshop is about learning good solid video journalism storytelling, but the technical learning curve can be daunting to many coming from a still photographer background. Many of the students were totally green when it came to audio, movement, sequencing or the post-production editing process. Some became so overwhelmed by the gear that they lost focus of the most important part of the workshop – “the story”. It’s easy to lose sight of the “story”. At the workshop, Bruce Strong from Newhouse School of Journalism gave a talk about “Storytelling Basics”. He said something that really resonated with me “Ask the why behind the why. Look for the emotional core of the story”. I realized that I needed a reminder at this particular time in my life, as to what was the essence of a good story. I’m currently working on a documentary film about a family that has a deep and rich history. To be honest, I had been floundering on the story aspects of the film as I had begun to get lost in the details and facts. I had an epiphany as I listened to Bruce and realized that my job wasn’t to document the timeline of this family, that had already been done in written form – my job was to “tell a story”. That epiphany may sound obvious and simple, but sometimes I get blindsided by the daily consumption of life, and the “obvious” gets overlooked. But if I put myself in a different place, in body and mind, at a time in my life when I am open and receptive, the “right” path does become obvious. That path was there the entire time, but perhaps it wasn’t the right time for me. As Orson Welles once said “If you want a happy ending, than it depends on where you stop the story”.
Yesterday, I took a look at my United Airlines frequent flyer statement, and realized that I had flown 822,571 miles with that airline!
I was 177,429 miles away from a million lifetime flight miles. And that’s just the miles that I’ve flown with United! It doesn’t include all the miles I’ve flown on other airlines, nor any of the miles I’ve flown using reward tickets. And it doesn’t include the miles I flew traveling around the world during the making of my film, Opening Our Eyes.
As I looked at that number, and thought about all those miles, I couldn’t help but think about the destinations, the purpose and the motivation behind them. When I set out to live the life of a “traveler” at the young age of 19, I had absolutely no idea of how that would mold my life. As a professional photographer, I’ve gone to the corners of the globe on dream assignments for magazines and corporations and loved every bit of it – my work has always been my pleasure. When I wasn’t working, I’d still find a reason to travel, whether on a press junket or simply exploring the world with my husband and daughter. Some of my favorite family memories are from our travels to Peru and Egypt.
I will always be a traveler. I am a nomadic creature and I have a huge curiosity about our world and its people. For me, travel is more than going from point A to point B. Sure, there are plenty of times, on corporate jobs when I travel somewhere to photograph a particular person or a place and I’m never there long enough to get a sense of the place I am in. But, for the most part, I travel to a destination to find out more about that place and tell the visual story of that particular place and its people.
As I thought about all those miles traveled, I started to think about reaching the “Million Miler” status with United. I was only 177,429 miles away! That may seem like a lot to many of you, and it might seem like no big deal to others, but to me it seems like a very attainable goal. In fact, when I started to think about reaching that goal, I thought that I could easily attain that in 3 year’s time – just in time for a milestone birthday. That’s something to consider and I shall. I certainly have the motivation; I just need to define the destinations and more importantly the purpose.
I have lived in the house that I am in for 19 years. For a kid who grew up going to a new school every year until the fourth grade, this has been the longest I have ever lived anywhere. My husband and I raised a child in this home. We also work here, running our photography business out of a separate section of the house. What that means is that we’ve done a lot of living in this house and with that comes the accumulation of “stuff”.
When you live the kind of life I do, always moving forward with new projects and exploring the world, you don’t realize what a past you’ve had until you begin the process of getting rid of things you no longer need. That’s what I have been doing recently, sorting through years worth of “stuff” and tossing what I don’t need anymore.
I spent the day yesterday, taking on just one small corner of my office, going through folders that contained everything from old stock photo delivery memos, caption information for dozens of destinations, financial information, old contact info, lists of goals and good intentions and LOTS of correspondence.
And that’s where I got totally sidetracked from my mission, looking through almost 20 years of correspondence. There were many letters from a friend who died long ago. My friend had also been a mentor to me, and his letters were thoughtful, insightful and full of encouragement. I suppose I have kept those letters all these years to remind me of where I was at during that time in my life.
There were plenty of other letters and note cards from people who have been part of my life, including a card from my daughter with a crayon drawing inside that she had made. It brought back of vivid memory of when I had received it. It was my birthday and I had been on a very long assignment, shooting in France, and as great as that sounds, (and it was) it was also hard because I missed my family terribly.
It was a bittersweet experience, going through decades of correspondence, but I’m grateful that I kept some of it. It was like tangible evidence of chapters of my life and it somehow felt more real than my electronic archives do. And so, while I spent hours shredding documents, feeling like I was in the movie Argo, there’s just some things I’m not quite ready to let go of. For now those tangible memoirs will stay in that corner of the office until the next edit.
I have always been a visual communicator. For over 35 years I have been making a living taking photographs for magazines all over the world. I have always “seen” the world and captured its stories through visuals. Somehow, it was far easier for me to communicate with images than with words. But it was also a bit frustrating for me because many times when I was photographing a person, I felt like I was leaving a portion of their story untold.
When I photograph people, invariably I spend a good deal of time talking and listening to them. It’s this rapport that usually enables me to capture a more intimate photograph. For me, this has always been my favorite part of the “process”, yet I never had an outlet for my subjects’ words, other than through the captions of my photographs.
When I started producing documentaries, my conversations with my subjects finally had an outlet through their recorded interviews that became the backbone of the “script”. Even though the script was not something that I wrote using my own words, I was instrumental in the process because I was selecting the words and giving them an order. I was involved in the process and structure of screenwriting.
In recent years, I have become fascinated with story structure and screenwriting. I have read numerous books on the topic of screenwriting and this past weekend I decided to immerse myself in an intensive 3-day workshop with John Truby. John has taught some of the best screenwriters around. I knew going into this, it was going to be a great and informative workshop, but I had no idea how rewarding it would be. Essentially, John gave me knowledge of the “process” and the structure of storytelling to enable me to take an idea and turn it into a really good story.
I have come away from this workshop with a deeper understanding and respect for a well-written story. We can all spot poor writing in a film. It stands out. Even the layman who knows nothing about “the process” or story structure can identify really bad writing. The audience may not know why the story or the film doesn’t work – they just know it doesn’t and they’re not buying it. Like any other craft, screenwriting has gone through stylistic changes over the years, but the fundamentals remain. After all, telling stories is as old as time and there has always been a constant – and that is “the audience”. Ultimately the audience will decide if a writer has done their job well.
I think those of us who are “content creators” in this era of multi-media communications need to broaden our understanding of all kinds of mediums in order to effectively communicate. Many times, I see creatives become too narrowly focused on their one set of tools and in the process lose sight of their end goal – and that is to deliver the message or story to the audience. Ultimately, the audience will always let you know if you’ve hit the mark or not because they are looking at the “whole” and not the “parts” of the story.
I’ve been a professional photographer for over 35 years. While some may look at that sentence and think I must surely be “over the hill” – others may look at that and say “wow, she must have been doing something right, to stay in business that long”. I suppose, it all depends on the outlook of the person.
Personally, I truly believe that the secret to longevity in any career field is to be open-minded as to how they define themselves. One thing I have never done is define myself by the tools I use. Just because one has expensive camera gear, it doesn’t make them a “professional photographer”. If that was the case, then who are you if you have a camera that happens to shoot both still images and video?
I’m really amazed when photographers define themselves by the tools of their trade. I think with the way things are going in terms of how technology continues to affect our industry, if a photographer defines him/herself in such narrow terms – it’s the kiss of death.
When technology enabled me to explore video production without having to make a prohibitively investment in expensive “tools”, the creative part of me wanted to take full advantage of those new opportunities that were coming my way. After all, I’m a storyteller and I shouldn’t have to limit myself to one medium, but rather choose the
right tool (camera) to use that best tells the story that I need to tell. Sometimes that means delivering the message in video and sometimes the story is better told with still images.
Because I was an early adaptor of video (at least from a still photographer’s point of view), many of my peers equate me with just shooting video. Many assume I’ve abandoned still photography, which couldn’t be further from the truth. The real truth is, my clients see me as an imaging professional, who is able to deliver their message with the medium(s) that is best suited for the job. These days with print publication giving way to electronic delivery, clients are delighted that I am able to fulfill their needs because I am proficient in both video and stills and most times they need both.
My curiosity for exploring a variety of mediums and tools has not only kept me in business – it’s kept me from getting jaded and stale. I am a photographer. I am a director of photography. I am an imaging professional and am thrilled to still be in business at a time when we have so many tools and options in how we are able to deliver a visual message.
They talk themselves out of things. – Telling themselves that it wouldn’t matter if they learned new skills or shot new images or whatever they didn’t want to make the effort to do.
They try to “educate” their clients (sometimes a bit too much) instead of collaborating and possibly learning from them. A lot of “older” photographers are like this when they are working with younger art buyers or directors. I think the energy needs to work both ways.
They give themselves an A for effort for starting something but too many times their starts lead to nowhere if they don’t have an end goal in mind.
They don’t open themselves up to networking with others by attending industry meetings or events.
They treat their clients like their enemies where one needs to win instead working toward a positive outcome for both.
They make the mistake of creating for an audience, instead of creating for them selves. (Thanks to Seth Godin for that thought)
They take workshops or pay for a service and then don’t utilize them. I’ve been guilty of this too many times.
They don’t shoot for the pleasure of it.
They rely too much on commissioned work instead of taking advantage of new opportunities and ways in which to market and sell their own projects.