Ah, “photography”, you loosely defined word that everyone seems to have their own definition of. It’s amazing how polarizing you can be, isn’t it?
And one of your most polarizing aspects seems to be exactly how much retouching is considered reasonable. Purists claim no retouching of any kind is allowed (then they usually reference Ansel Adams, which is quite ironic considering the amount of dodging and burning he brought to the field), while others gladly accept Photoshop as a regular part of their photography tool-belt.
In general though, there’s a viewpoint around the photography community, that too much Photoshop is a bad thing. That it destroys photography as we know it, and those who retouch an absurd amount should be banned or beheaded or at least mildly reprimanded (depending on which Facebook group you happen to be in). But before we all start gathering our pitchforks, can we maybe examine this concept of over-retouching for just a second?
First of all, let’s all admit that the term “over-retouching” is pretty specific to the type of photography in discussion. In photojournalism or documentary style photography, even the slightest adjustment in Lightroom may be completely off-limits, yet for someone such as myself, who makes a living on work that admittedly straddles the line between photography and photo-manipulation, the definition of “too much” is entirely subjective.
And speaking of subjectivity, this brings me to my second point: we each have a preference for a particular editing style. I, for example, am not a huge fan of HDR. Actually let me rephrase that: I loathe the use of HDR. I can’t stand it. Out of 1,000 examples of what would be considered “well done” HDR, I’d only admit to liking one or two photos…and that’s strictly on the occasion that the photographer whose photos they were was standing right next to me and I didn’t want to completely crush his soul. But I’d be lying, because no matter how far down I dig, I just can’t bring myself to like HDR treatment of photographs.
However, as much as I hate this particular editing style, that doesn’t mean it should be banned from ever being used. It doesn’t mean I should be breaking down other photographers simply because they do enjoy it as an editing technique. If anything, it only means that I won’t be using HDR anytime soon on my own photographs. It’s a personal preference and nothing more.
Lastly though, the real issue I have with such hateful rhetoric of “over-retouched” photos is this: doesn’t everyone start off with a little too much adjusting?
Granted, if you started in the days of film and you didn’t have your own darkroom, it was probably pretty tough to manipulate anything in post-processing. But let’s talk about the 21st century, when most new photographers started out with access to both a camera and at least a decent version of Photoshop or Lightroom. Didn’t we all go a little crazy in the beginning?
I know I did. I was burning up those saturation and clarity sliders. Everything needed to be brighter! More color! More contrast! More, more, more, MORE!! (Cue evil, maniacal laughter here.)
My early work, like so many other photographers, was awful. I wasn’t experienced enough to be able to see color casts or recognize the breakdown of color information from over-manipulation. My skin tones were severe and unnatural…and I had no idea. I tried my hardest to get the best possible shot in-camera, and then adjusted however much I needed to make the photo “better” in post…or at least what I thought was better. Looking back though, everything looked pretty damn…well…amateur (in fact, if you scroll to the bottom of my Flickr account, you can see exactly what I’m talking about – I haven’t taken one photo down since the beginning).
People tried to help, but their feedback fell on deaf ears. It wasn’t that I was trying to be stubborn; I honestly just had no idea how to tell the difference between good and bad photography, and I simply couldn’t understand their critiques. They said the skin tones were bluish – I couldn’t see it. They said the vignette was too strong – I didn’t know what a vignette was. In short, I was exactly like the vast majority of the general public, because in terms of photography skills, I wasn’t a photographer yet. I was still a member of the general public…except with a camera in my hands and Photoshop at my disposal.
As embarrassing as it is to look through my early photos, I’m glad I spent the beginning of my career in the “overly-retouched” category, because it was the only way I was able to learn. All of that experimenting brought me to where I am now, where I rarely, if ever, use the saturation slider. My editing style leans towards a much softer and much more natural aesthetic – especially the more I shoot film.
Looking back though, if people had consistently destroyed me for my use of over-retouching, I may have completely avoided Photoshop altogether and I wouldn’t have learned near the amount of useful information I know now.
Therefore, after all this examination, I raise the question: why the constant bashing of overly-retouched photos? Either it’s overly-retouched according to your own personal preference, in which case your bashing serves only to prove your own photography superior in some conceited way, or the retouching really is awfully done, in which case it’s probably a new photographer simply feeling out their own editing style, and your bashing serves…well the exact same purpose.
So can we call a truce? Can we just admit a few simple points here:
1.) Every photographer has a different editing style, some that we find pleasing and some that we don’t. If someone’s editing style doesn’t match your own preference, certainly you can agree to disagree in a somewhat respectful manner, right?
2.) Some photographers simply haven’t reached the point in their development when they’re able to recognize their own over-retouching, in which case surely it’s possible to still offer them help without completely crucifying them for it as well?
3.) We were all there too at some point. None of us started out with perfect shots straight out of camera and we certainly didn’t have the perfect editing skills to accentuate the decent shots we did take. We’re all probably a little embarrassed to go through our own early work, and mocking other photographers because they might be in a different stage of development than you is really a pretty dick move overall, agreed?
I sure hope so. Because I really don’t have a problem seeing a cluster of poor, “overly-retouched” photos scrolling through my news feed from a new photographer excited about learning how to dodge and burn for the first time. Are they probably grossly overdone? Of course they are, but I’m sure we all overused the dodge and burn technique just as much the first time we learned about it too. It does bother me though, to see a collection of pompous, bitter “professional” opinions about how honest editing mistakes and experiments are destroying the industry. For the love of Ansel just let people play around and find their style, and in the meantime, remember where you came from and don’t be such an ass about someone else’s journey.
But that’s all just personal preference, of course ;).
I have had a shitty, shitty week.
Not like the kind of week, where you have a flat tire, an overdraft fee and get gum stuck in your hair, but the kind that makes you question everything about who you even are in the first place. The kind that leaves you feeling lost, confused and hopeless.
It all came to a point yesterday at 7:00 am sharp. Our cat, Study Buddy, had been sick for some time and in and out of the vet about once a week for the last month. He was in pain, but no one could figure out what was wrong. I woke up at 7:00 and went to check on him on the floor at the foot of the bed, and he couldn’t even move. I called the vet, they fit us in at 9:00 (first appointment of the day), and I curled up on the floor next to him with a blanket and pet him for the next 2 hours. I cried the entire time…I knew I was saying goodbye.
Sure enough, 9:00 came, and the vet ran through our options – none of which were treatable. I held him in my arms and Chris and I both pet him and talked to him until he fell asleep, and then was gone. I kept holding him and petting him while they went over cremation options (burying was out of the question – we’re planning on moving in a few years and I didn’t want him to get left behind). I headed home from the vet’s office and Chris went to work.
I cried all day. Like uncontrollable, body-shaking sobbing. All day. I ate nothing, I drank nothing. I tried to work, but it was futile. Then around 2:30 I decided to chop off all my hair. I cut 12 inches off. It didn’t help. The loss of my hair, did not in fact, bring back my pet. I cried some more.
*And before a single one of you says, “Come on, it’s just a cat, pull yourself together.” No, no it’s not, and fuck you. It’s a member of the family, and I’ll grieve in whatever way keeps me out of jail.
Problem is though, yesterday was just the cherry on top of the shit-filled sundae that has been my week…and it was only Wednesday. Rejection letters, broken gear, taxes, a broke down car, canceled workshop seats, wedding refunds, medical bills, a debt collector trying to collect a debt that isn’t mine and more fucking snow – it just kept adding up. And on top of everything…I’m pregnant (which I haven’t formally announced yet, so that’s just a little secret for you blog subscribers) which means lots of exhaustion and time spent in the bathroom, hugging the toilet. By the time yesterday rolled around all I wanted to do was stand on top of a very high building and throw watermelons over the edge…but instead I was in a vet’s office, saying goodbye to my best friend. I was done. With everything.
When Chris got home I had crawled so deeply into a hole there was little chance of reaching me. I wanted everything to stop. I wanted to be able to go to work at a meaningless job, do meaningless tasks, come home and leave everything at the office. I wanted to be able to go for a run again without puking. I wanted to stop stressing over how much our lives are going to change at the end of September when we come home from the hospital with a new baby. About how much more money we’re going to need to make to care for an infant. About how much more art I was going to need to produce, and sell, in order to make that money. I wanted to be responsible for nothing. Fuck paying for the car to get fixed, they can keep it. I just wanted to be done. Done, done, done.
Now I know I signed up for this. I know this is the life I chose and I know I’ve actually got it pretty damn good. Don’t get me wrong, I am grateful. I make art for a living. Not a lot of people can say that. I come home every day to the most supportive, loving man I have ever known, and after about a year and a half of trying, we’re finally going to be able to start a family…and that’s a pretty amazing notch in the good news column too. But if one more person asks me to work for free, or refers to my pregnancy as a “magical time” and then proceeds to give me unsolicited advice about how to raise my future child, I will murder them in broad daylight.
I’ve been going back and forth about sharing this. Mostly because I follow a lot of very famous photographers, and none of them ever write about imploding in on themselves like a dying star. Their feeds are bright and shiny and happy, happy, happy. “Look where I’ve been featured! Look at what I’m selling! Check out how awesome I am! Buy my book, attend my workshop, click this link and spend money on whatever it leads to!” Surely if they are all following the same formula, and they are all very successful, wouldn’t it make sense for me to follow that formula too? To hide these ridiculous insecurities? To pretend, even on the days I want to throw in the towel and apply for a job at Target, that everything is sparkling with awesomeness?
Maybe. But I’d rather not. It’s unrealistic to think that everything is always perfect and awesome because a lot of the time, it isn’t. And even though there are ways to help with a little self doubt, there are also times when none of that works. When the only thing that is going to help bring you back to reality is crawling under your desk, having yourself a good cry and then approaching even the smallest of goals. I remember a little while ago I was sick, in Walmart, standing in the cracker aisle in front of the Saltines, absolutely bawling…because I couldn’t find the Saltines. A lady came, asked why I was crying, I mumbled incoherently and she pointed in front of me. And just like that, I was fine. All it took to calm me down, literally, was a box of Saltines.
I’m not writing this to vent. Or even for a little sympathy. Trust me, I vented a lot yesterday, and sympathy just reminds me of stuff I want to forget right now. I’m writing this because I want you to know that everyone has times like these, and to let you know that if you’re in the same situation, it will eventually get better. While yesterday was a horrible, horrible day in an already awful week, today is a little better. I’m still sad, I’m still overwhelmed, and I am wondering where all my hair went, but for the most part, I’m okay. And hey, I’ve never had short hair before, and it is kind of fun. I guess I was due for a change anyway.
Support is a funny thing.
As an artist, 96% of our career is spent dealing with rejection. Rejection from friends, family, other artists and even the art world itself. Making a living from art can be a very long and lonely, misunderstood journey, especially in the beginning, and having a decent support system can help make that early journey a little more bearable.
But just as we’re often learning the ropes of how to be an artist, we also know that you’re learning the ropes of how to best support us. We need you, and here are the best ways you can help us out.
Please Respect What We Do
All of that time you spent devoting yourself to learning your craft, whether it be accounting, nursing or even actual rocket science, we’ve devoted to learning ours too, so don’t diminish our ability by saying your kid could do what we do, or you yourself could probably do the same thing if you just had a little extra time. No, you couldn’t. I certainly couldn’t carry out nursing duties for a full day anymore than you could shoot an entire wedding or make a composite of 60 photographs into one believable art piece. Every profession has a learning curve that people spend years to overcome, and ours is no different.
This IS Our “Real” Job
Any job that puts real food on the table and real money in our pocket is a real job. Some of us have part-time jobs, some of us have full-time jobs and some of us have reached the point where we can survive off our art alone. Some of us don’t want to strictly survive off our art. We’re all different, and no matter how we bring income into our home, including from our artistic endeavors, it all still counts as a real job.
As a photographer, I have several real jobs. I sell prints through galleries and license images for use on book covers, but I also teach and even shoot the occasional wedding. Each of these jobs are just as real as any other – none of them better or worse.
It’s Okay if You Don’t Understand
We know we’re odd. Frankly, if we weren’t at least a little quirky we’d probably make some pretty boring art. So even if you don’t understand our process, like locking ourselves in a room and listening to the same song on repeat for 16 hours, or hiking back to some remote cabin to get us out of a slump, that’s okay. You don’t need to understand it, and we really don’t expect you to. All you need to understand is that this is our process, and this is what we need to be most creative and most productive. Please don’t criticize us for the weird things we do to find inspiration – we promise we’ve already attempted the more socially acceptable ways, and they just didn’t work.
Don’t Ask Us To Work For Free
Please, please don’t ask us to work for free. We have to put the same amount of work into each piece we create, regardless of the price. The fact is, asking us to work for free puts us in a really awkward situation. It’s tough to say no to close friends or family. Don’t do that to us. If you want a piece of mine hanging in your home, buy it just as everyone else does. If you want several of my pieces hanging in your office, ask to lease them, just as everyone else does. It may seem like great exposure, but really, it’s a couple thousand dollars to print a whole collection and have it hung. On the off chance that one is sold (not a whole lot of art buyers walking through the halls of a tanning salon), it still doesn’t make my money back. Please, please don’t ask us to work for free.
Promote Our Work
And if you can’t buy our work (totally understandable) than at least try and promote it. Sharing my work through social media is the easiest way to help me out. Seeing that someone pushed the little share button next to a photo of mine is an incredible boost of encouragement.
Get to Know Our Craft
Sometimes, the reason it’s so difficult to support us is because you don’t realize what we really do. My mom thought it was impossible to make any money as a wedding photographer until I had her tag along one day on a 12-hour wedding shoot. The next day, I had her come over to the house while I showed her the process of culling down the images and editing them to perfection, then briefly showed her how I order prints, albums and everything else. I still had a good week’s worth of editing to do, I explained. She looked at me with complete exhaustion in her eyes, and asked how much the couple paid me for this amount of work. About $5,000, I replied.
Of course there’s more to it than that, but just those 2 days were enough to open her eyes a little bit. I’m doing a lot of work for a comparable amount of money, just like any other job.
When I slowly moved out of weddings and concentrated more on the art and teaching side of photography, she didn’t doubt me for a second. Now that she knew the logistics of what I was doing, she trusted me enough to make a smart decision for myself.
If you’re having trouble letting us pursue our dreams for fear that you’re watching us “throw our lives away”, get to know our profession first. You might be surprised how similar a career in art is to other, more traditional career paths.
Accept That Our Work Will Evolve
I started out my photography business shooting weddings, but then I started making singular art pieces and after that I began teaching. Now I absolutely love teaching and I can’t imagine giving that up. I’m very, very selective about the weddings I now shoot (I maybe only do 2 or 3 a year), and I spend most of my time creating and selling art and teaching others.
It may seem like we’re bouncing all over the place, but that’s okay. Just as anyone tries to find their niche, we’re trying to find ours too.
Stop With The Jokes
Let me be very, very clear on this one – your jokes, as lighthearted as you think they are, are not funny.
To you, it may seem like a clever bit of humor every now and then, something we just need to “lighten up” about, but understand that you are not the only ones making fun of us. Those little jokes don’t seem like much, but when you’re getting them from all angles, all the time, they can really add up. From an artist’s point of view, it’s a never-ending, constant bombardment of utter humility. For our entire lives we’ve been a little different, and people have always been very keen on making sure we’re well aware of it.
When we chose a career on the artistic side of the tracks, we knew what we were getting into. We accepted the fact that we’re going to have to put up with a lot of negativity and a lot of ridicule – but not from you. If you’re going to be on our side you’ve got to be on our side all the way. No backhanded comments, no sly double-meanings; and no slipping back and forth between encouraging and demoralizing. If someone makes a joke on our behalf, we expect you to stand up for us. That’s what a supportive person would do.
Allow For Open Lines of Communication
It’s going to be tough for us to make a living, especially in the beginning. And if we’re constantly trying something that isn’t working, while we bang our heads on the counter and our life savings slowly drains away, we’re going to need someone to talk to. Don’t berate us with “I told you so” and suggest we hang this shit up and get a “real” job already – help us with the logistics. Is there a reason why we aren’t making sales? Maybe we need to adjust our marketing campaign. Maybe our work just flat out sucks right now and we need to supplement our income in other ways while we work on improving. If we’re not making money, suggesting we get a second job isn’t mean – it’s realistic. Help us brainstorm ways to make this work.
Actions Speak Louder Than Words
Your words and your actions speak very different. You can’t give us the thumbs up but then point and laugh as soon as we can’t see you.
Think of it this way: if you were a football coach, you’d want me to come to your games. It shows I support what you do. It doesn’t matter if your team is any good or even if the game is an important one; just the fact that I come is appreciated. But everything gets canceled out if I’m ass about it. If I sit in the stands and complain that football is the most boring, pointless sport ever, and keep asking when we can leave, that’s not supportive. If I crack jokes with friends about how sad and pathetic your fans are for actually enjoying this, that’s not supportive either. As a coach, you’re part of a community, and respecting that entire community is part of supporting you.
It’s the same in the art world. You can’t come to my show and then sit in the corner, complain about how bored you are and make fun of the other artists. You can’t come to my live music performance and then mock the “idiots” in the crowd that “actually like this kind of music”. This is my community, and I’m a part of it. If you’re going to support me, you’ve got to support my community as well.
Speaking of My Community…
While we’re on the subject of community: all those people that come to my shows like the men with the weird beards and the funny scarves or the girls with crazy makeup, odd haircuts and homemade clothes? Yeah, a few things about that:
1.) These people are either my friends or my clients, both of which are incredibly valuable to me. Without them, I’d have a pretty difficult time making it in this industry. So if you want me to succeed, you better hope more and more of these strange little misfit creatures keep showing up, and on the off chance you get to interact with one, be nice.
2.) Keep in mind – I’m one of these misfit creatures too! I’m just as slightly off-kilter as everyone else, and when you make fun of them you’re also making fun of me.
3.) Take a look around – you’re in very, very unfamiliar territory. We might seem like awkward, fragile little things in general everyday life, but at one of our shows – we’re kind of the shit…and you’re vastly outnumbered. As Seth Rogan’s character wondered aloud in the movie Funny People:
“I wonder if Tom (from MySpace) and Craig from Craigslist ever got in a fight, who would win? Tom has more friends…Craig has weirder friends though…Craig has friends that are willing to do a lot more for cash, I’ll say that.”
Trust me, you do not want to piss off a collective group of people that don’t follow the same logic that you do.
Know That We Want You With Us
In the end, you’re more important than you realize. Sometimes we’ve got to just shrug it off, say we don’t need any kind of approval from anyone and who gives a shit what anyone thinks (believe me, I’ve been there too), but no one wants to do this alone. We want to be able to come to you when we make our first print sale or when we book our first huge event. We want to be able to talk to you when we’re feeling frustrated and hopeless. We want you on our side. In all honesty, we’re doubting ourselves 90% of time we’re creating anything, so having someone standing beside us is a really, really big deal. Even the slightest bit of encouragement from you can really go a long way towards helping us along, and that’s what you can provide for us.
Plus, a healthy support system also helps us create better art. New and interesting interpretations of our work help challenge us and help us to develop further, and as someone that we know has our best interests in mind, we can fully open ourselves up to your input. That’s a pretty safe space we’re letting you in there.
So keep supporting your artists, and we’ll keep putting great art back into the world :).
And if you’re looking for a little support yourself, know that I’ve been there too! Feel free to send me a message on my Facebook page, Instagram or Twitter, and don’t forget to SUBSCRIBE HERE for more posts like these!
I love New Year’s.
Halloween, Christmas and National Cat Day (obviously) are high on my list too, but New Year’s holds a special weight for me. It’s the resolutions that I’m so addicted to.
I love making them. I love hearing them. I write them down and put them in tables and graphs and color-coordinated folders and oh my god resolution party at my house tonight, don’t be late. The idea of a clean slate, filled in with good intentions and exciting possibilities just makes me bubble with anticipation. Yes, I realize I sound like a delirious 12-year old, but my entire personality is a bit like a delirious 12-year old…plus the New Year is here and I’m all sorts of giddy!
Now, my own personal resolution list is broken into categories and then subcategories with smaller, realistic goals in each step (like I said, I love making resolutions), but when it comes to photography, these are the New Year’s resolutions that I credit for the largest leaps in my photo development over the years.
Stop Hiding Behind Self Doubt
I’ve been there. I know how terrifying it is to submit to your first publication or to contact your first client. How scary it is to post a photo because in social media terms, zero positive comments can feel just as shitty as the possibility of one bad comment. Putting your work out there, putting yourself out there, especially in a field that is bombarded by a never-ending stream of insanely skilled and talented people, is terrifying.
But no one gets anywhere by playing it safe. You will never be completely confident trying something for the first time. That fear will always be there, and believe it or not that’s a good thing – it means you’re in a new realm outside your comfort zone. Acknowledge it, calm down, and take another tiny baby-step forward.
One way to start those baby-steps, is to do things as a practice run, then count to three and push the button. If you want to submit something to a magazine, for example, write out the email, include all the images and everything, telling yourself the entire time that it’s just for practice. Then at the end count to three and push send. Who cares if there’s a typo. Who cares if they never write back. This is just to get you used to the process and actually pushing “send” at the end.
Just remember, you get nowhere if you don’t try and as scary as it is, it gets easier every time.
Organize your shit. Assemble your gear so you know exactly what you have and where to find it. Classify your photos on separate hard drives in folders by dates and tag-words. Set up an interactive calendar and update it constantly. Classify email contacts as they come in. Ever heard of 17Hats.com? or PhotoFern.com? They’re amazing. Sign up and start using them.
Seek Useful Critique and Shut Your Mouth in Response
As I wrote here, in Dear New Photographer…, my fiance and my mom love me to the moon and back, but they’re horrible people to give me feedback on my photography. They’re waaaaaay too biased and they don’t know the first thing about what makes a good image. I’m guessing, your rock solid support system is the same way, so this year ask a real pro – not a Facebook “pro”, but someone established and reputable within your specific area of photography – to review your work and give you feedback.
And when they give you feedback, shut your mouth. Don’t argue, don’t try to defend yourself and don’t shut down. Really listen to what they are trying to say. You don’t have to use it, but if you’re asking for advice, don’t fight them on every little bit they try and give. Helpful feedback isn’t usually easy to hear, but it’s how you develop and move forward. Suck it up, take it like a champ and get better. This year.
Don’t Let Your Gear Impede Your Development
We all want bigger and better gear. The quality of photography gear out in the world today is astounding, and it’s improving so fast you’ll barely catch a glimpse of the latest and greatest before it’s overshadowed by something even better. Even as I’m writing this article I’ve got an Ebay tab open just to stare at things up for auction…stuff I drool over but can never realistically afford…maybe just pet through my computer screen. It’s so pretty…
But the gear does not make the photographer. When someone says, “I could take photos like too that if I had your fancy camera,” hand them your camera. Go ahead. They usually snap one or two photos (if that), panic and hand it back. It’s not about the gear itself, it’s knowing how to use it to create the vision you see in your head.
And the fact is, amazing images can be created with very basic gear. Yes, there are certain things that are essential to certain fields (a pro sport photographer is going to have a very hard time getting competitive shots of a Braves game with just a 50mm lens), but I’m talking about the bigger picture. Let this be the year you blame your gear no more: examine all possible options for improvement before asking yourself if it’s your lack of megapixels that’s holding you back.
And speaking of gear…
Come to Terms With Photoshop
Stop hating on Photoshop. It’s just another tool to add to your belt for Christ’s sake.
There has been push-back at every stage of photography. When digital first came out, diehard film addicts declared it the “death of photography” and that it “doesn’t count” if you aren’t shooting on film. Even when the first zoom lens was introduced, people complained that zooming any way besides moving your feet was lazy (that last one is hearsay of course, it’s not like I was alive when the first zoom lens came out). In any case, you get my point.
Photoshop is not the death of photography. It’s just another tool that allows you to create the image you’re going for. Keep an open mind and learn to use it in a way that best suits your photography goals.
Shoot Personal Projects
“All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy…”
People get into photography for the fun of it, but the less you shoot for fun and the more you shoot for work the faster you can get burned out. Personal projects allow you to get back to your creative side and embrace photography for the reasons you originally started. Seek out that which you love and shoot it; once a week if you can, once a month at the bare minimum. Put together a creative fashion shoot or try out some crazy technique you saw on YouTube at 3:00 in the morning. Follow some of your favorite photographers and get inspired! Personal projects are the best way to move forward with your skills while reminding yourself why you started in the first place.
Get Along With Other Photographers
For the love of God let this be the year you stop avoiding other photographers. Not only are they great networking (one wedding photographer can’t shoot all the weddings in a season, they have to be referring to someone), but they’re also just awesome people! You will learn a ton and develop an amazing sense of community. Yes, some of them can be dicks but every town is bound to have at least a couple sour grapes. Avoid the assholes and you’ll be fine. The vast majority of photographers in your area are probably some of the most awesome people you could ever hope to meet.
If you’re a beginner, don’t be intimidated by pros. Reach out to them and start a dialogue. If you’re a pro, welcome the newbies. They just want the same thing you do. Slamming them for low prices isn’t doing anyone any good; they don’t know any better and they would very much like to get out of the low price nightmare, so help them out.
Take More Photos of Your Loved Ones
As photographers, a strange thing happens when we look at the end of our year in photos. Typically, we have plenty of new images in our portfolio of brides and seniors and parents with their smiling children, but we don’t have a ton of our own lives. The vast majority of photos I took of my fiance last year were iPhone photos. And they definitely weren’t very good ones. How awful is that?
So this year, turn the camera around. Take just one day, set it up on a tripod, set the 2-second timer and set the shutter to just keep clicking. Sit in front of it with your kids or your dog or spouse or whoever and just let it run. Do this and everyone will be thanking you for it for years to come. Which actually brings me to Resolution #9…
Print More Photos
How long have you owned a picture frame containing the photo it came with?! Are you kidding me? You’re a freakin’ photographer for crying out loud!!
I yell because I care…and also because I’m really yelling at myself. I continue to make this exact same mistake year after year after year. I have so many unused frames right now it’s downright shameful. I’m so embarrassed.
Stop looking at your photos on a computer screen and print the damn things already. Blow them up and plaster them all over your walls. Print out little sizes for Grandma and Grandpa to keep in their wallets. Print out a whole truckload of 4 x 6’s and 5 x 7’s and mail them to your friends and relatives. Print. Your. Photos.
Use Your Photography For Better
Photography is an amazing thing. There’s a reason people run back into a burning building for the family photo album; because photos are a part of our identity. As a photographer you have the ability to create an image that someone will cherish until the end of time. What an amazing power!
So this year, use that power for something more than paid family sessions or artistic creations. Donate your time and skills to a local charity (I shoot for the Rimrock Humane Society and Help Portrait). Run your own fundraiser for a good cause or use your photography to tell someone’s story that desperately needs to be heard. The ability to take a great photograph is more powerful than you know – embrace it and use the crap out of it.
Did I leave any off that deserve to be in the top 10? Let me know!
I love December. I love Christmas, I love all the sparkly lights and gingerbread everything, not to mention the fact that snow makes for fantastic photos. But besides all of that, I also love that it comes right before clean-slate January.
I’ll be honest; I make a lot of mistakes during the year. I’m either completely missing that little voice in the back of my head that warns me not to do something, or it’s completely drowned out by the other voice screaming at me that it’ll make for an epic story later. Either way, it’s not exactly a fool proof way of going through life, so by the time December rolls around, the mistakes have added up, and I’m very, very ready to see just how many of them were worth it.
That’s where these people come in. See I’m not necessarily interested in assessing measurable forms of progress at this time – that’s for later. This is about evaluating whether or not I’m anywhere closer to the kind of artist and person I want to be. Call me crazy, but after 7 years of college and 3 degrees that I don’t use but definitely pay student loans on, I’m no longer interested in just drifting along and hoping “things will work out.” No – if something isn’t working, it’s up to me to do something about it.
So at the end of the year I turn to my biggest inspirations in photography and business, and ask myself these questions:
– What qualities do they possess that I find so rousing, and am I any closer to possessing those qualities myself?
– What do I need to do to further become what I find so inspirational in others?
– Where have I strayed from the artist I want to be and how can I do better in 2015?
And to answer these questions, I give you my top 5 inspirations in photography and business, and exactly what I’m hoping to take away from each of them.
My background is in psychology, which might give some insight as to why I love Kubrick’s work so much. To him, everything is important. In The Shining, there are several long camera shots of Tommy riding his trike throughout the hotel, alternating between carpet and hardwood. The sound he makes on the carpet is barely audible, while the sound of the hardwood is enormous and uncomfortably loud. That rhythm: peaceful, near silence broken by harsh, jarring uneasiness is an actual torture tactic used to break people. How brilliant then, to include it in the early scenes of a horror movie.
In addition to his painful attention to detail, his work ethic was unparalleled. He used to shoot the same scene hundreds of times, until the actors were completely exhausted and even delirious. That scene where Jack Nicholson breaks down the door with the ax and yells, “Heeeeeere’s Johnny!” was a complete improvisation. If you watch the behind-the-scenes footage, just before the last take he was waving the ax around the room like a madman, laughing and dancing and making everyone pretty damn nervous. After 100 takes, that was the mental stage he was in, and it worked.
Kubrick actually holds the Guinness record for most takes in a dialogue scene in a movie (also for The Shining), and he was working on film! That kind of work ethic is pretty tough to find anymore. Where others may have shrugged after 40 takes and thought to themselves, “We’ll just make one of these work”, he didn’t. If something wasn’t working he stuck with it until it did. He was obsessive, detailed, persistent and never settled for anything less than his original vision – a perfect artist philosophy if there ever was one.
Alton Brown is a chef and author on Food Network. He originally had a show called Good Eats but you probably know him more as the host of Iron Chef America.
Admittedly, I love Food Network, for some right reasons and some wrong reasons. I love to cook, and I really do attempt the recipes I see on Giada’s show, though I’m saving Ina’s recipes for a time when I’ve got some extra cash to burn and am comfortable enough in my cooking skills not to royally screw up any ingredients I’m paying top dollar for. On the other hand though, Food Network is also my guilty pleasure. I don’t watch reality shows and I don’t watch dramatic soap operas, but when I’m in a horribly bad mood I watch the crap out of Food Network while texting my mom memes of the various “stars”.
But Alton Brown is an entirely different person altogether. On his show Good Eats, puppets explain the discovery of saffron while he builds homemade cooking contraptions that require the use of goggles “just in case” something goes wrong. It’s like taking a cooking class from Bill Nye the Science Guy. With puppets. And a shitload of valuable information.
What makes him so inspiring though, is he doesn’t just show how to put a recipe together, he shows why that recipe exists in the first place. I don’t know how many times I’ll be watching someone cook something and think to myself, “Screw that, I’ll just stick it in the microwave and then I won’t have to wait 3 hours.” During Alton’s show he explains the chemistry of why you definitely do not want to put this in the microwave – and that’s what makes a great educator. It’s not about giving you a quick fix, it’s about giving you a solid foundation to build upon so you can move forward on your own. The more you understand how something works, the more confident you are in experimenting with it.
So many “educators” are actually very stingy with the information they hold, and I hate that. They want you learn, but not too much – that would be threatening somehow. Alton Brown doesn’t care about any of that; he genuinely wants people to get as much information out of his show as they possibly can. That is a true educator: someone that is entirely unselfish about sharing their knowledge in the most effective way possible.
I hope I can live up to that standard; of being so utterly passionate about my field that I can’t wait to share the information I collect over the years. And I hope I get to meet Alton Brown someday. He makes homemade cooking equipment and I make homemade photography equipment. Maybe we could work together to build a camera that also cooks you up a grilled cheese sandwich. Don’t you want something like that? Of course you do. Make the meeting happen and it could be a reality.
Anthony Bourdain & Hunter S. Thompson
A few weeks ago I received an email that told me I have the same, “snarky, cynical writing style as useless ex-cokehead Anthony Bourdain, and the same rambling incoherence as Hunter S. Thompson.” I was thrilled. When my fiance got home I read him the good news and he congratulated me. Relating me to either Anthony Bourdain or Hunter S. Thompson is a joke of a comparison; they’re both actual, published writers and I’m a photographer that occasionally pens a rant-style blog post at 3:00 in the morning, but who cares?! As far as step one goes, it was a very good day in the Martin household.
Anthony Bourdain is another chef, author, and traveler of virtually everywhere. You might know him as the host of CNN’s Parts Unknown or the Travel Channel’s Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations. I idolize him because he’s curious, has an in-depth knowledge of food, an open disgust for convention and corruption along with a deep respect for other cultures. Hunter S. Thompson is another brilliant writer, most famous in my generation for writing the book the movie Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas was based on. He did a lot of other noteworthy things (some good, some very bad), but if his name sounds only vaguely familiar to you, there’s a good chance that’s where you know it from.
More importantly to me though, both of these men have been brutally authentic and have made no attempts to hide the parts of their past that others may have found “unsavory”. Instead of censoring themselves or creating some fabricated public persona, they’ve lived their lives essentially the same way they would’ve had they not been famous.
All of which make them two of the most “real” individuals on the short list of people I have never met but still look up to.
See, by traditional standards, I’m not a very perfect person. I’ve been fired from a number of jobs for what we’ll call a “lack of verbal filtration”, I believe any personal conflict can be solved with fire and besides the last 6 years (when my fiance realized he was dating a klepto and gave me an ultimatum), I didn’t really pay for much of anything. Once you’ve become fairly skilled at stealing shit, it’s pretty tough to make a conscious decision not to. But I can proudly say I’m about 6 years sober – besides a small relapse a couple years ago when I did some damage on a bottle of tequila and unsuccessfully tried to steal a cop car…while dancing…
But all those little imperfections and mistakes are also what attracts me to others. It’s how I relate to people. The fact is, if you’ve got a squeaky clean background…I don’t trust you. I’m not very interested in meeting, or learning from, an overly happy, lab-engineered, fake-as-shit personality meant to sell me some fantastical, non-existent concept of reality. How can you trust someone who is always, cheerful? Who describes every, single life experience as breathtakingly awesome? You can’t, because you know at some point or another, that person is lying. There is no way I can rely on one’s sincerity to convey life’s most truly stunning moments if they use the exact same vocabulary for life’s shittiest moments. It just doesn’t add up.
(Of course, no one says it better than Louis C.K. Push play. Trust me.)
That’s what I find so inspiring: they support my theory that censorship is boring, that value can still be found in a genuine voice with a candid message and that sugarcoating is completely overrated. When Anthony speaks highly of a specific restaurant, I know I can trust him, because if it were an absolutely shithole that should be avoided at all costs, I know he would tell me it’s an absolute shithole that should be avoided at all costs.
I like that my writing reflects almost perfectly the tone in which I speak: blunt, slightly sarcastic, fairly grammatically incorrect, inappropriate at times and usually dotted with some (if I may say so myself) exceptionally placed profanity. These two give me the green light to embrace that style; to write exactly what I feel needs to be written, minus the flowery language that would make it more digestible to the more delicate-minded masses. They inspire me to be honest and authentic to those that matter, and unapologetic to those that don’t.
As a sidenote, I really do hope I get to meet Anthony Bourdain in real life someday. Typically, on an occasion such as this, I’d crack some awkward, sexually explicit joke that no one gets, laugh at myself for too long and then look up only to wonder where the hell everyone went. I have a feeling he’d appreciate an awkward, sexually explicit joke though, so in the hypothetical world I’ve created (and frequently visit), Anthony Bourdain will think I’m hilarious and we’ll spend the day bullshitting while getting plowed on Montana brewed beer.
Without going into too much detail, let’s just say my childhood wasn’t really all that great. If we’re going by statistics, the probability of me becoming a heroin-addicted stripper was undoubtedly much, much higher than the probability of me gaining an income through legal means, dating a nice respectable young man and driving a car that doesn’t double as a getaway vehicle on the weekends. But hey, somehow I ended up on the happy and productive side of society, so I’ll take it.
But, as many of you probably know, those demons don’t just go away, and my personal theory is you can either get very, very good at hiding them (for the short period of time before you spontaneously combust), or you can embrace them and put them to good use. My mom is a perfect example of putting them to good use. She turns that craziness into straight focus. When I was in high school she wanted an ice cream truck, but she couldn’t find one, so she bought the pieces and built it (we run it every year here in Billings, it’s called Mr. Pugley’s Ice Cream). When she wants something she goes out and gets it, and when something is in her way, she either finds a way around it or she quite literally goes out, buys a torch and welds her way straight through it.
Honestly. I’ve seen it done. Welded the doors clean off.
She doesn’t see her past as a crutch, she sees it as a badge of honor. From what she’s been through, there is no possible way of breaking her now, and she knows it. She’s afraid of no one, she’s intimidated by no one and she wastes no time dealing with people that don’t have her best interests in mind. When there’s a problem, she fixes it. She’s basically Winston Wolfe from Pulp Fiction if he had been an Italian/Basque woman with a flair for cooking and a much better sense of humor.
Those two life perspectives of living through a horrible situation and using it to better yourself, as well as openly accepting whatever demons might be there is what I find so inspiring. Over the past few years I’ve learned to take a bad situation, pull a few lessons out of it and apply them. Once you’ve been through some real scary shit, the idea of being afraid to submit a photoshoot to a magazine is a joke. There are much more frightening things in the world. I know because I’ve lived through them. Push the button, send the email, move on with your life.
I’m proud that I am becoming more and more like my mother every day. Last year, my future mother-in-law and I were talking about how your childhood can shape who you are, and she asked if there were any parts of my dad that stuck with me. I said no (probably not entirely true, but I like to think so anyway), and she said, “But you’re not afraid of anything! And you’re…kind of crazy…” I thought for a second, then smiled and said, “Nope. That’s still all Mom.” 🙂
I am, hands down, my mother’s daughter, and if I grow more and more like her every year, I’ll count that as a win in my book.
Decide For Yourself…
Now that you know my main inspirations, and what I hope to gain from them, I want to hear from you! Who are your inspirations? Who do you look up to and why? What characteristics do your greatest inspirations possess? We all have someone we have in the back of our mind that does something right, so who is yours? Take a second and let me know in the comments who your greatest inspirations are and why you choose to follow them. I want to know! 🙂
Oh, internet, you bright and shiny fantastic thing, you…
Please don’t hurt me.
Let me be very clear here: I’m not exactly what you might call a “delicate flower.” I thrive on the idea of being in over my head, of being the underdog or flat out being told I can’t do something. I’m cool and calm when shit hits the fan and I’m scrappy as all hell in a fight. Trust me, when the zombie apocalypse is upon us, I’m the one you want holding the machete. Ain’t nobody taking me down.
When it comes to online negativity though, it’s a whole other animal. Not only are my preferred coping mechanisms (usually something involving fire) rendered completely useless, but for some reason, when someone writes anything negative on one of my posts or photos, it kills me.
Maybe it’s because I feel like if they knew me in person it would be different…like if I could just explain where I’m coming from, any compassionate human would naturally agree with my point of view and we’d hug it out and then spend the rest of the day eating cheesecake, climbing trees and throwing little rocks at bigger rocks (yes, I am 12).
But that’s not what happens. And even though all published scientific data points to the undisputed conclusion that it’s 100% impossible to please everyone, I can’t help but try. So when a troll inevitably finds their way into my happy little circle, here are a few ways I keep from losing my freakin’ mind:
Understand The Audience
Want to know why I don’t read the comments when someone else reposts one of my articles? Because it wasn’t written for that audience. I’ll read the crap out of the comments written on my own page and posts, but that’s because everything I post has been curated just for you guys. I know there will be mostly positive comments, and if there are any negative ones, I know they will be respectful and have a point that can actually be discussed. I’m not guaranteed any of those courtesies on another person’s platform. Their audience hasn’t been interacting with me for the last 6 months. They don’t see me as a real human being with 6 pets and an obsession with dancing and jet-skis, they see me as a an author byline. And 99% of the time, their anger and contempt isn’t even directed at me, it’s directed at the person that shared something of mine in the first place.
No Content = No Attention
Do you really think someone that types, “u suk ass 0/10 wud not bang” really has any chance of being reasoned with? Of course not. The same goes for the folks that use the opposite approach; just because something is eloquently written with long, intelligent sounding words and perfect grammar does not mean they have a relevant point. There are a lot of very, very bitter English majors sitting around in their parents’ basements right now making “ur face look like fish taco beiber rocks” sound like glorious, glorious poetry. Don’t fall for it.
Agree To Disagree
Just like every other human on the planet, I don’t like hearing negative things about something I’ve created and put into the world. If I write a blog post, it’s mean to be as informative, useful and helpful as possible. It takes me days, if not weeks to write a single blog post because I research the crap out of it before posting. Dear New Photographer took forever to put together. Everything You Need To Know About Selling Art in Galleries took even longer. I want to help people and I want to inspire people. So when someone leaves a comment pointing out how I’m a talentless fuckface, I gotta say it sure doesn’t feel that great. But that doesn’t mean it’s true. There will always be at least one person that rejoices in the opportunity to take someone down a peg or two, and if you can’t have a civil discussion about it either agree to disagree or move on to step 5.
Find The Humanity
Last year one of my old high school friends commented on one of my photos on my Facebook page. I hadn’t spoken to him in years besides random online chit-chat, so when he left a bitter, rude and downright mean comment completely out of the blue, I messaged him and asked what the hell his deal was.A few seconds later my phone rang with him on the other end, crying. Turns out his dad has passed away a few days before, and he was in a horribly dark place. He wasn’t some internet troll – he was a real person going through a terrible time.
As hard as it is to try and feel any sense of compassion for “DCyogurtman2640” lighting you up on YouTube, just try and think about the person behind the avatar. They may be jealous, threatened, depressed, lonely or maybe the only sense of joy they ever feel comes from sitting at their keyboard at 3:00 in the morning desperately trying to break someone else’s soul. This is not a happy, functional human being, because happy, functional human beings don’t participate in that type of behavior; they have families and jobs and friends and other awesome things to attend to. So as hard as it is, cut them a break.
Learn To Love The Ban Button
The ban button is your very best friend. The ban button does what you probably wish you could do in real life: make assholes disappear indefinitely. If someone is spending their Saturday night filling your feed with unwelcomed, nasty critique, ban ’em and never look back.
Personally, I find the act of banning pairs nicely with homemade peanut butter cookies and a healthy glass of Cabernet Sauvignon :).
The occasion will happen where you’ll receive a negative comment that makes perfect sense, and in that case, own up. Sometimes genuinely useful feedback comes in the form of a counterpoint. If you’ve got a whole swarm of people begging you to reconsider your position, it’s probably for good reason. It takes a big person to admit when they’re wrong or when something needs improving, but you’re an adult and that’s what adults do.
Once It’s Gone, Let It Go
The great thing about the internet is it’s quick to blow over. Whenever I post something on my page that I’m hoping to receive a lot of interaction, I know I have to leave it up as the top post for that to happen. The second I post something else and it’s moved down by just one slot, the interaction completely stops. That’s how quick things change online. The second something new comes across the news feed, everything else is old news. So if you’re still stewing about something someone wrote last Wednesday, you’re wasting your time, because you are literally the only person still thinking about it.
Online negativity can make you feel rotten, alone and paralyzed, but it doesn’t have to be that way. For every troll there is always 10 genuine people who are fully supporting you. Focus on the good, weed out the bad, and as always, come join me on my Facebook page, Instagram and Twitter if you’re ever feeling completely hopeless. There’s a great group of artists/photographers over there who are more supportive than you could ever imagine :).
And don’t forget to SUBSCRIBE for more posts, tutorials and giveaways!
I’ll admit, there is a lot to learn if you’re hoping to start selling art in galleries. How do you approach a gallery, and then if you do finally get a meeting, what do you say? What are they even looking for? When they ask to see your portfolio, what does that even look like? Do you price your work or does the gallery price your work? How much commission is the normal amount for a gallery to take?
And on and on and on and on…
Well, I’m going to try and answer all of those questions and more, all in a single post. Wish me luck.
Where Am I Getting This Information?
I’ve displayed in several galleries throughout my career, but the most I learned about this subject was at Fotofest.
For those of you that don’t know what Fotofest is, I’ll give you a brief description:
Basically, it’s a biennial (the next one is in 2015), 4-session festival where there are portfolio reviews, workshops, art displays and much more. Each session is a 4-day period with different reviewers, workshops,etc. Each portfolio review session, you meet with anywhere from 20-30 reviewers. These reviewers are fantastically well established people in the photography/art/publishing community. They are gallery owners and curators, book publishers, magazine editors and private collectors. You sign up for a session (and pay about $1000) and you get a 20 minute slot to meet with each of the reviewers on your list. You have exactly 20 minutes to pitch your portfolio and get feedback. At best they love you and either buy some of your pieces or book you for a show. At worst they hate you and you leave feeling them burn a hole in the back of your head with their very disapproving eyes.
That last part is an exaggeration. The vast majority of reviewers I met with were full of incredibly useful feedback. One was a complete witch, but she’s been banned from ever reviewing again, so good for Fotofest!
Here’s the other thing though, there are 2 very important lessons of Fotofest I wish I had known:
1.) The only reason you would attend 2 sessions instead of only one is if your work is extremely well-established and you’re looking for connections, not feedback. Trust me, after you’ve been through one session, you don’t want to show your work to anyone ever again until you’ve gone home and worked on it. No matter how well you do, having your work picked apart by 30 people in a 4-day time frame is brutal, and you definitely need some rebound time to go home, get drunk under your kitchen table, reevaluate every artistic decision you’ve ever made and then get back at it the next day.
2.) Each session naturally becomes very specialized; the photojournalist/documentary reviewers naturally all gravitate to one session, the abstract/conceptual art reviewers all gravitate toward another, the book publishers all gravitate to another. They all know each other, they’ve all communicated before hand to see who is going to which session, and they book their own tickets accordingly.
Quick tip: there is a Facebook group for people signed up to go – join this group and ask other photographers what kind of work they do and which sessions they are attending. If this is their third time and they do the same work you do, sign up for whatever session they are in, because they probably made the same mistake I did the first year and they’re still having nightmares about it.
I didn’t know either of these rules so I made both mistakes of attending 2 sessions instead of one and signing up (on accident) for both the abstract/conceptual group and the photojournalism/documentary group. Needless to say, my style of photography did not go over too well with the documentary group.
No…that did not go well at all.
But, after the first day in the documentary group I learned what was going on, and knowing these people were very knowledgeable in the art community, I didn’t want to waste my time showing them a useless portfolio. So instead, I’d sit down for my 20 minutes, push my portfolio box to the side and say, “Look, you don’t want to see that, I’m in the wrong group and I know it. But I do know you’ve owned a gallery for 25 years, so instead I’d like to talk to you about the process of pricing, sizing and limited editions.” They’d respond with “Absolutely!” and we’d get down to business.
I met with over 50 reviewers in my two sessions at Fotofest, and combined with my own experience of working with galleries, here is the gist of everything I’ve learned:
Finding the Right Gallery
Even if you get into a gallery, if it’s the wrong fit you’re in for a giant waste of time and money. Here are a few things to do before even approaching a gallery for display:
Check their website – Is it updated? Do they have photos and descriptions of current artists?
Any gallery you are going to work with needs to have a strong online presence. That means they need a calendar of events, up to date artist bios and portfolios, pictures of the actual gallery space, functioning social media buttons and a newsletter signup link. You want to know they make it very easy for people to keep in touch with them. The less steps a buyer has to make to buy the art, the better.
Also check out the overall look of the gallery. Is it well lit or dark and dungy? Is it clean and clear of other items, or does it appear cluttered and messy? Do they have a million little trinkets on desks, tabletops or even draped over other art pieces (aw hell no), or do they have clear spacing between one art piece and the next? You want as little distraction as possible. People are there to see your art, not to dig through budget finds at a flea market.
Do they sell something other than art?
Let’s say they are also a coffee shop, or a furniture shop or a restaurant. This usually means their main business is not selling art, it’s selling something else. If your art is displayed in a furniture store/gallery, for example, you are accepting that most of the people walking through their doors are coming there to buy couches and dressers, not art. There is nothing wrong with displaying in a combo gallery/other business, but it does affect the amount of commission they can ethically collect each time you sell a piece (we’ll get to that later).
Visit them in person – how does the staff treat you?
If you walk in and the owner waves to you in between a conversation they’re having with a friend in the back, and then you do a complete circle, walk towards the door and receive a half-assed “Thanks for stopping in!” as you leave, this is not a gallery you want to display in.
You want someone to meet you at the door and ask how your day is going, if you’ve ever been in before and if there’s anything specific you’re interested in. If you’re looking on one display, someone should be there saying, “Doesn’t he do amazing work? You should see his next collection, Memory Fields, that’s set to go up next month on the 21st. He’s got a few sample pieces on his website (listed right here on his business card she gently hands you). I’d be happy to show you more if you’re interested.”
This is important because this is how they will act when you have art hanging in the gallery. Do you really want to be showing in a space where someone just sits in the back and bullshits with their buddies? No. You want someone that is going to treat every person that walks in that door as a potential sale – because they are a potential sale.
Exactly what kind of art do they sell?
If you specialize in, let’s say, surreal portraiture, a gallery that displays strictly Japanese flower photos is not going to be interested in your portfolio. Don’t even try and push it on them; they know what they like, and it isn’t you.
What kind of price point are they selling?
If the art they have displayed is upwards of $30,000 and you’ve never made a sale, just keep moving. Those works are selling for that price because they are established artists. And you are definitely not an established artist…or you wouldn’t be reading an article about how to start displaying in art galleries. Find a gallery that is selling art for something at least relatively similar to your own price point.
Approaching & Submitting to a Gallery
Approaching a gallery seems intimidating, but in reality…actually never mind, in reality it’s just as intimidating as it is in your head. But you’ve got to remember, gallery owners are people just like you and they would much rather be approached by a proactive enthusiastic artist than drag along an insecure artist that has no idea what they’re doing. So suck it up, and do the following:
The In-Person Approach
If you’re hoping to schedule an appointment with a gallery owner, go in person. All you’re doing is asking if they ever meet with potential artists or do portfolio reviews. DO NOT bring your portfolio to the gallery. This is essentially saying, “I am so unbelievably talented, you’re definitely going to want to stop what you’re doing and take a look at this.” It’s cocky and presumptuous. Bring a business card in your back pocket and leave your portfolio in the car.
They will either respond with 1 of 3 things: 1.) No, they are currently not accepting artist submissions, 2.) No, they do not do in-person appointments, but they do have an online submission process (which they will direct you to), or 3.) Yes, they do offer portfolio review sessions that cost (x) amount and they have an opening on (x) day and time.
If you are asking for a portfolio review know that you’re going to have to pay for it. Their time is just as valuable as yours and they aren’t in the business of handing out charity review sessions. A portfolio review is a great way to get your work in front of them though. They will either give you great feedback or like you enough to talk about a future show.
The Online Approach
Most likely, they will direct you to an online submission process. This will be on their website and will have very specific instructions. Follow these instructions – they are there for a reason, and chances are if you don’t follow them exactly as they are written your application will immediately be thrown out – this is no time to go rogue.
Usually, they will ask for a CV (this is your artist resume), your artwork list (title of your collection, medium [the type of paper it’s printed on], your piece dimensions, edition sizes and pricing for each), your contact information, links to your work and sometimes a few low resolution example images.
Your artist resume is basically exactly the same as any other resume. You’ve got your contact information, your website, a short bio and description of your work. Then start adding on anything that is relevant, like art/photo-related education and awards, publications you’ve been featured in, teaching experience, recent exhibitions followed by recent solo exhibitions. Do a quick search for “artist resume” and you’ll see plenty of examples of the layout.
Sizing, Editions & Pricing
Everyone has specific sizes according to their art, so this is going to be very general, but there is basically one rule that every, single, gallery owner told me to follow: have no more than 3 available sizes. The reason, simply put, is so you aren’t (accidentally) taken for a ride for other galleries.
Let’s play the hypothetical game for a second. Let’s say you have square format photos, that come in 5 sizes (in inches) 10 x 10, 20 x 20, 30 x 30, 40 x 40 and 50 x 50. Great. Now let’s say you’re applying to 20 different galleries and 2 of them love you and want to feature you. One wants you January – March, the other from April – June. The first gallery prefers the 30 x 30 size, the second gallery prefers the 20 x 20 size. That means you have pay for the cost of printing, framing and shipping a whole other show (which can range upwards of $3000). Limiting your sizes isn’t going to cause a gallery to shy away. If the second gallery likes you and you only have 30 x 30 instead of 20 x 20, they’re going to take the 30 x 30 – which means you can just move the first show to it’s new location when it’s done. This keeps you from having to pay a fortune for 2 different shows in 2 different sizes.
Your sizes also need to be spaced enough apart to be used for different purposes. You want one small size (10 x 10), something people can hold. A “little jewel” as it has been explained to me by curators. Then you want your main size (30 x 30) that is large enough to hang comfortably in someone’s home – this is the size you will be displaying most often in galleries. The largest size (50 x 50) is specifically for art collectors and for lease agreements. This is usually the largest size you can print without losing quality. Your large size will probably seem a bit comically large, but that’s kind of the whole point – it’s a statement piece.
You don’t have to edition your pieces, but…let’s just say I’ve never met anyone who suggested against it. Having limited editions increases the value of your artwork. People aren’t just paying for the actual art piece, they’re paying for the exclusivity. Edition sizes range anywhere from 3-500, and it really depends on the kind of art you’re doing. A photographer that has one size of print, may have a total edition size of 25, for example. That means they can only sell 25 prints of that photo, and then they’re done. No more selling of those prints once the edition has run out (there are reintroductions of an edition, but if you’re ever in the situation to reintroduce an edition, you’re probably super famous…and also dead).
Sound kind of scary? It’s supposed to. In all actuality, you rarely sell out of editions, but it creates a sense of urgency and exclusivity among buyers. The edition sizes also get smaller as you go up, creating even more significance. My pieces, for example, follow this basic pattern:
Size (in inches):
10 x 10, Limited Edition of 15
30 x 30, Limited Edition of 7
50 x 50, Limited Edition of 3
Pricing can also be a tricky subject, and needs to be dealt with on a very case by case basis, but at least this will give you a jumping off point.
Labor + costs of production + printing & shipping costs + profit = Price.
It’s also important to research your local market to see what comparable art is selling for. While some people may advise against this, since art sells for virtually anything nowadays, I still think it’s just plain smart to know what your competition is doing. The art market in Montana, for example, is much different than New York. If I were to price my art in Montana for the New York market, I would probably have a very, very hard time being taken seriously.
I also take the gallery’s opinion into account on my pricing. The reason being, they know the market better than anyone and they know exactly what range they can sell to their current client base. They need your prices high enough to show value, but low enough to be comparable to other artists they’ve had in the past. If you’re priced the same as a well-established artist they just showed in their gallery but you don’t have near the track record, it makes it difficult for them to pitch your work to clients. They have their own credibility and reputation to protect, and that means they can’t sell on potential alone, so price your work accordingly.
It’s also important to note that you can move up, but not down. I say to ask local galleries about the local market because if this is your first gallery, this is probably where you’ll be displaying. But know that if you start in New York, then try and display in a gallery in Montana, you can’t lower the cost of your pieces to match the market. That’s illegal.
Some artists also raise their prices as editions start running out, since they are, in fact, more valuable. It’s up to you.
Costs & Commissions
Typically, it’s up to the artist to pay for the costs of the show. This includes printing, shipping and framing. Since you’re selling your pieces as art, they need to be printed on archival certified paper. The gallery typically handles all of the hanging of the art. It’s important to work with the gallery on this process. My fine art pieces are typically either matted and framed or simply mounted and hung floating off the wall, depending on the gallery. My underwater photos have been displayed both mounted and floating off the wall or hanging on clear fishing line so they have a slight sway and movement to mimic the surreal motion of the water.
Every gallery is different, but most galleries take somewhere around a 50% commission from pieces you sell. Some take 40%, but rarely do any take more than 50%.
Some galleries take a very small percentage in exchange for a monthly payment. Say it costs $300/mo to display in the gallery, but they only take 30%. If you can, avoid this type of gallery – and here’s why: you want to show in a gallery that only makes money when your art sells. By charging a monthly fee to display, they are essentially covering their costs without having to worry about the art selling, which means it’s taking away their incentive to promote the art. If you don’t sell anything they don’ t really care – they’ve already covered their costs on your monthly fee, get it? You want to display where they don’t make a dime unless your art sells.
Let’s also revisit the idea of combo galleries: places where they run a completely separate business while also displaying art for sale. Places like this should be taking no more than 30% commission at the most and here’s why: their commission is your way of paying a gallery for all that they do. That’s all the promotion to bring in potential art buyers, their contacts of past buyers that will be interested in your work, events that are specific to the art-buying community and much more. All the promotion a gallery does goes toward selling your work, and that is worth 50% of the commission.
In a combo store, however, a very small portion of their income might go toward bringing in potential art buyers. If they’re a coffee shop, for example, the vast majority of their marketing and promotion is going to getting people to come in to buy coffee. If someone happens to walk in and buy a piece of art, fantastic, but they aren’t actively pursuing it. Since only 20% of their income goes to promoting the art in their store, they should receive only 20% commission.
Contracts can be pretty complicated, and while there are many details that ideally you’d have your lawyer look over (you know, the one we all have on retainer), here are a few things to at least make sure of:
How much you will be paid and when. This is generally your percent commission and a date your commission will be distributed, usually at the end of the month.
How long the contract lasts for. Most contracts are about 3 months long. If your contract has a possibility of being renewed, most galleries will need new work to display in the new period.
How your art is displayed. You want to make sure either your entire collection or at least 50% of your collection is always on display. Some galleries show part of the collection and then rotate pieces out throughout the contract period. In this case you need to know exactly how many pieces are guaranteed to be on the floor at all times.
How soon you are notified of a sale. I require to be notified within 24 hours of a sale. This is extremely important to make sure you don’t sell more than you have available and that your clients will get the exact edition number they were promised.
Who is in charge of damages while the art is held at the gallery. If the gallery catches on fire and your art is destroyed, that should be up to the gallery to cover. Some require you to have insurance of your own to cover any damages that may happen while it is in the galleries care, but to be honest, it’s very difficult to file an insurance claim for a piece of art that you haven’t even seen for 2 months. If it’s at the gallery, it’s the gallery’s responsibility.
How the contract can be terminated. If something happens, you need to know what the penalty would be for terminating the contract on either side. Just as you could be liable for a fee if you pull your art before the end of the contract period, the gallery can also be held liable if they don’t display your art for the entire contract period.
Who can sell your art. This will cover who else is allowed to sell your own art, including yourself. If this is a solo show, for example, you may not be allowed to release any images online or have them displayed at any other location. This is also relevant because if you are selling art on your own, without any referrals to the gallery, they can choose not to promote you…which is fair.
Think about it – if they spend all of their efforts handing out your business cards and sending potential buyers to your website and then a buyer contacts you to buy a piece and you make the sale completely independent of the gallery, all that work on their end would be for nothing.
Therefore, it’s good to have an agreement that if you have pieces in a gallery, and buyers come to you that were clearly introduced to your work through the gallery, you need to refer them back so the gallery can collect their commission. It might feel like a very difficult thing to do (especially when it’s cutting your profit from the sale in half) but it’s the right thing to do, plain and simple. Plus, the more loyal you are to the gallery, the more they will promote you, because they know they can trust you to send potential buyers their way.
Ask for previous artists’ references. I have been in galleries before that have been very unethical in the way they do things (I don’t want to name names or anything so let’s just make up a pretend one, like, I don’t know, the BeHuman Gallery located in Houston, TX). Had I spoken to previous artists about how this gallery does business, I probably would’ve come to the very obvious conclusion not to display there. Lesson learned.
Selling Your Work at the Opening
One of the most stressful parts for any artist is selling their art at the opening. You’re going to have to convince who knows how many people to try and buy one of your pieces, all without conveying that if they don’t buy anything there’s a good chance you will be homeless by the end of the month.
I get it, and thankfully while I definitely struggle in some areas, selling my own art at an opening is most definitely not one of my weaknesses. Not even kidding – I can sell the shit out of my own art at an opening.
And so can you. For those of you that are terrified of even the thought of talking about yourself for 4 solid hours to complete strangers, here’s a little script:
Step 1: Introduce yourself, thank them for coming and let them know you’re available to answer any of their questions.
Step 2: Answer any question they ask in great detail.
Step 3: Refer to more of your work for as examples.
Step 4: Answer following questions in great detail.
That’s it. Really. You want to go into great detail with your answers because the more they know about it, the more they want to buy it. They don’t want something they can hang up in their hallway, they want something they can point out to guests in their home and explain how awesome it is. Here’s an example dialogue:
Me: “Hello there! I’m so glad you took the time to come out tonight. If you have any questions on anything, don’t hesitate to ask, I’d more than happy to answer them!”
Client: “Oh! Thank you so much! Are you the artist?”
Me: “I am! This piece right here is mine, it’s called Insomniac.”
Client: “Oh I see! I was looking at these tree roots here, that’s so interesting!”
Me: “Thank you! I actually had to individually draw those out of a different photo. It took about 100 hours of straight editing time to achieve that effect.”
Client: “Wow, I had no idea! Hey honey, did you know this took over 100 hours of work?”
Client’s Spouse: “Oh you’re kidding!”
Me: “Not at all! This piece over here, called Keeper of Spring, took about 80 hours. It’s a combination of 46 separate photos.”
Client: “Crazy! So how does that work exactly?”
Me: “Well first I set up a tripod, and then I have to click the first photo, and then (yada, yada, yada).”
See how that works? Now, instead of just looking at an interesting piece of work, they are thinking of everything that went into it. The excitement they feel right now is the exact excitement they want someone else to feel when they tell the story later. And that folks, is how you sell an art piece.
I know working with galleries seems like a very intimidating and complicated process, but the important thing is to take the first step and understand that they are people too. They got into this business because they genuinely love the art community, and they want to help in any way they can. Don’t go in with guns blazing thinking you’ll get taken advantage of. Just let your work speak for itself and keep an open mind. Hell I got my first show by walking into a gallery and showing them a photo on my cell-phone. True story.
If you know anyone that might benefit from this post, feel free to share below!
One of the great things about shooting weddings along with fine art, is you get to meet a lot of incredibly creative people, including florists. When Katie from Mac’s Floral asked if I wanted to work with her to create a dark and ominous ballet inspired shoot for Halloween, of course I said yes! We called up a few models and our awesome makeup artist, Sydney, put together the outfits and bouquets and scheduled a time at Billings Open Studio. Anna and Jessica (from the Billings Terpsichore Dance Company) did an amazing job. They did everything I asked, all while tangled in a ridiculous amount of fabric…in pointe shoes.
In the end, this was the final result. This shoot was so much fun and I cannot wait to work with these amazing girls again!!
If you’re reading this article in secret, calm down – we’ve all been there. We’ve all struggled with that little voice in the back of our heads that takes every situation and spins it around to show us everything that could possibly go wrong:
“You know no one is ever going to print this…”
“Have you seen their work? Wow you’re so far behind…”
“What if no one hires you? Like, literally…what if not one single person hires you?
“What makes you think you know the first thing about running a business? Give me one example of another business you’ve successfully run.”
“What if all of this has been for nothing?”
These sentences are barely the tip of the iceberg when it comes to negative self talk. And even with the abundance of articles gently suggesting that you just, you know, “trust yourself” or “think happy thoughts,” I wanted to offer something a bit more practical. So instead of sticking with the rainbows and butterflies approach, I’ve made a list of my top 10 tried and true methods for combating self doubt.
1.) Find The Source
I’m not saying you have to go all the way back to childhood to figure yourself out. Sure, there was that one time when you were 8 years old and you drew a picture of a rainbow for your grandma and she told you it was rubbish and ever since then you’ve been unable to feel a sense of self-confidence. Get over it. You were 8, you’ve probably done better rainbow work since then, and we both know your grandma was usually drunk anyway.
But there is always a starting point. Is it the second you hear about a new assignment, or are you usually pretty excited about it until you get home and a concerned family member starts worrying aloud? Or are you an “end of the project” kind of person, like myself. I’m excited the entire time and then just as I finish up the editing process I begin thinking of everything I should’ve done differently.
By identifying the exact moment negativity starts creeping into our minds, you’re able to start nailing down a pattern, and this helps you determine if there is a specific situation or person that is making you feel this way. The sooner you know the source, the sooner you can nip it in the bud.
2.) Write It Down
Sometimes self doubt is all in your head and sometimes it isn’t. Writing your fears down allows you to see them as tangible problems in the real world, which is the first step in addressing them. Go ahead and write down any thoughts of self doubt. Then begin to examine them.
Let’s say you’re afraid of submitting to magazines because you’re afraid no one will write back. Ok, fair enough – now let’s examine that. What would happen? Would your career be over? Would you ruin your reputation? Would you lose money? What is literally the worst thing that could happen?
3.) Plan For The Worst
Go ahead. Think of the worst possible case scenario and then plan for it.
Let’s go back to our magazine example from Tip #2. First of all, understand that you will receive some rejections. Hell, just while writing this article I received a submission rejection. But what’s the worst thing that could happen? Drumroll please…you feel shitty. You feel a little embarrassed because no one liked your work enough to publish it. Okay, that’s life, but that doesn’t mean your career is over or you’ve ruined your reputation as a photographer. In this worst case scenario, the risk really isn’t as terrifying as your mind is making it out to be.
And in other cases, that risk really is a pretty big deal and planning for the worst case scenario is absolutely necessary. Maybe you’re considering taking out a loan to open a studio, for example. In this case, your partner isn’t being negative when they ask if you might go broke, they’re being a realist. By writing it down and discussing it, you can address many of the issues you both may have and determine whether or not this is a risk really worth taking. And if it is, you can plan for the worst in case things don’t work out how you hope they do. By creating a plan, you take away the fear of the unknown that naturally comes with so many of these risks. This will allow you to focus on what you need to do to move forward.
4.) Take It Step-By-Step
I’m a runner. I usually run a minimum of 6 miles a day, but other days I’ll go all the way to a full 13.1 miles, just to see if I can do it. I never walk out of my front door knowing I’ll be running 10 miles today though, instead I tell myself I’ll run for 20 minutes. I run in one direction – ensuring I have to also run 20 minutes back. At the end of the first 20, I’ll decide if I feel good enough to run another 10 minutes, and then maybe another (always in the same direction). The farther I run in one direction the farther I have to run to get back. I don’t think about the total 10 mile stretch, only the first 2 miles, and then one mile at a time after that.
It’s the same with business. In the beginning, it can feel overwhelming: build a website, create a price list, make social media sites, order sample items, streamline your portfolio, order business cards, draw up client contracts, contact other vendors and businesses, create marketing flyers, and so many other things. But you can’t look at it that way or you’ll never get past the first mile. Make a list of steps and then break those steps down into even smaller steps. Create a timeline. Determine exactly what it is you need to do and set a goal date for each step to be completed by. By creating a clear cut list, you simplify the process in your mind, thereby leaving less room for doubt to creep in.
5.) Set Yourself Up For Success
I write in the morning. As in, 2:30 in the morning. I don’t know what it is, but writing during the day is incredibly difficult for me. I can’t find my vocabulary, my brain is fuzzy and it takes forever to bust out an article. I get nowhere and I feel like a complete failure. Early morning hits though and I’m on fire. So I don’t write at 2:30 in the afternoon, I write at 2:30 in the morning. Don’t make things harder on yourself than they already are.
6.) Cultivate A Support System
We all need a little push now and then, and that’s where your support system needs to kick in. Are you dragging your feet for serious reasons or are you just being a pansy? Do you need someone to gently feed your ego or do you need someone to light a fire under your ass? Your support system can help point you in the right direction and help give you what you need when you need it most.
7.) How Would I Say This To My Best Friend?
The main problem with negative self talk is we say to ourselves what we would never say to anyone else. You’d never, in a million years tell your best friend, “Are you kidding me? No way you’d get accepted into that gallery! What are you even trying for? God, just give up already.” But when it comes to critiquing ourselves, our manners go right out the window. Next time you hear that voice talking down to you, try and think about how you would phrase it to someone you really care about, you know, like yourself. And speaking of being nice to yourself…
8.) Take Care Of Yourself
It’s pretty easy to think poorly of yourself when you’re already in a downward spiral. I can choose to start a project after I’ve binge-watched the entire last season of Game Of Thrones while eating a stuffed-crust pizza, or I can start a project after I’ve run 6 miles, taken a shower and had a fruit smoothie. Which one do you think is going to have a better effect on that little voice in charge of all my self-talk?
9.) Get Answers
The main reason we doubt our ability to do something is because we have no idea where to start. So figure it out! Find someone that knows something about the area you’re struggling in and ask them for help! Get on Google or spend some time on YouTube. Stop wasting time feeling sorry for yourself for not knowing anything when there is this thing called the freaking INTERNET right at your fingertips.
10.) Just Do It Already
Yes, you’ve gone through all the planning and you’re still unsure of yourself. Well…suck it up. I’m sorry to say but that is probably never going away. It’s likely there will probably never be a time when you will feel completely safe and comfortable as an artist, but isn’t that part of the excitement of it all?
If you’re really stuck in the mud, here’s a little tip: count to three, and when you reach three, go for it. Press the send button, sign the papers, post the image. It’s like diving into a pool or trying escargot for the first time. Sometimes you just have to go ahead even with that little voice screaming like mad.
“They stole my idea.”
Oh, honey, sure they did.
Ok, bearing in mind that we all tend to get a little defensive when we think of something brilliant and then aren’t given credit for it, yes, getting your idea stolen sucks. But here’s another little tidbit to keep in mind:
Get over yourself.
Side note: I understand this can be counterintuitive in the world where our art is our living. A person going around and stealing our work could be a very dangerous thing. But I’m not talking about straight up stealing our work. I’m talking about someone that creates something, all on their own, that ends up looking remarkably similar to something you have already created.
Your Ideas Are Not As Unique As You Think They Are
Yeah, this might sting a little, but we’ve got to address it. Thinking you were the first one to ever think of a concept is just plain egotistical. Just because you’ve never heard of a concept doesn’t mean the thought hasn’t already existed – all it means is that you don’t know anyone in your immediate circle with the same idea. In fact, it really only means that you haven’t casually come across anyone else, online or in person, that has actively expressed the same idea. And when it comes to having the “original” – all that means is that of all the people in the world with the same exact thought, you were the first one with the resources to execute it.
Having the “original” doesn’t make anyone any better or worse than any other artist out there. It doesn’t give anyone the right to shame all those that come after them for being “unoriginal” or “uninventive”. Contrary to popular opinion, the timestamp is not more important than the art itself. Who executed it first, who marketed it first, who put it out into the world in a widely receivable form before someone else could claim its “genius” – that’s not what makes a true artist.
A true artist creates. A true artist is inspired by something, then puts the effort into creating the concept they have in their mind. They don’t do it so they can stalk the web and condemn anything similar that comes their way. Having the “original” doesn’t devalue any work following it. They came up with an idea, all by themselves. They babied it, they took care of it, they molded it into perfect piece of art they had dreamt up in their head. Why wouldn’t they deserve to have just as much credit as anyone else with the same idea that just happened to post their finished artwork first?
I remember the first time I saw an image similar to mine. One of my fans left this comment on my photo on the left, “American Beauty”, on my Facebook page: “Reminds me a lot of this image” with a link to the image on the right (belonging to Mandy Rosen). As innocent as it seems, I was crushed. I genuinely thought I had created something that hadn’t been done before. I put in so much work, so much blood, sweat and tears, only to find my whole world blown apart. .
Now come on, these look pretty damn similar. Granted, her dress is made of butterflies and mine is made of rose petals, but look at the bigger picture. The colors (red standing apart from a muted, brown palate), the horizon line, even the arm positioning. If I were Mandy perusing the internet at 3:14 am, with maybe a small bottle of tequila, I might have a bone to pick.
And here’s the weird thing – even though I hadn’t even slightly copied (I’d never seen the image before, nor had I ever heard of Mandy Rosen, who does awesome work, btw), I felt like I had. I felt like even though I’d had a brilliant idea and spent countless hours bringing it to fruition, I was too late in executing it. All that work I had put in was wasted because someone else had already posted something similar.
It’s the same feeling I got when I wanted to show one of my friends my “Dreaming in Key” photo – so I Googled it, thinking it would come right up. But instead, I found many others, like this one by Anka Zhuravleva, and was again, crushed. You mean someone else thought of this photo idea? I wasn’t as brilliant and creative as I thought I was? I had been so proud of myself…
It took awhile to get over that shot to the gut, but soon I realized that just because someone else had the same idea with a timestamp earlier than my own, it doesn’t mean that my image is any less significant. Plus, I made leaps and bounds in editing skills putting this thing together. If I had seen her photo before mine, I probably would’ve scrapped my idea and done something different. And I’m glad that didn’t happen. I love the image I created.
Here’s another example. My image, “Rough Drafts” is on the left and Von Wong’s is on the right.
I actually did get called out on this one, with a random message in my inbox reading, “Hey, you didn’t happen to see our image, did you?” Which, honestly, was pretty annoying. Not because of the message itself (which I still haven’t been able to figure out the tone…), but because the photo I ended up with wasn’t even my original idea. In the image I wanted to create, I was going to be standing on the beach with the typewriter floating in the air in front of me. I didn’t want to be sitting on the ground typing; I figured it would be too easy. After hauling it down to the beach though, it became very apparent; that typewriter was heavy as fuck, and there was no way I was going to be able to hold it in any kind of realistic position in front of me. So I said screw it and sat it on the ground in front of me instead. This wasn’t a copy – it was the result of a botched idea to begin with. An entirely new idea was concocted in just enough time to get something done as the light was running out.
And this is one of my favorite photos I’ve ever made, regardless of how similar it accidentally looks like someone else’s. Which brings me to my next point…
An Idea Is Not A Physical Object
If you stole my camera I’d have a real problem. I wouldn’t be able to take pictures, and I wouldn’t be able to pay my bills. I’d also have to buy a new camera, and in the meantime I would spend a large portion of my day figuring out what the hell I could steal of yours that would ruin your life. Not to be vindictive or anything, just because…well, I’m a little crazy.
Also I like to steal shit.
But ideas are different. Ideas aren’t all-inclusive objects that come in a nice, neat little package. If you steal my idea it’s still just a concept – it’s up to you to nurture it, mold it and bring it to realization. And if you do have the dedication and drive to bring it to fruition, good for you! That kind of work ethic should be respected, not condemned.
Just a couple weeks ago I was browsing Instagram when I came across this image, belonging to Brei Olivier (once again, fantastic work). Mine is on the left, hers is on the right.
This is freaky – this could literally be the same model in each photo! And if I had run across this earlier in my career, I would’ve freaked the hell out. I was still so arrogant, so full of myself, that I probably would’ve thought she had copied. That there was no way anyone else on the planet could’ve possibly come up with a similar concept all on their own.
But I didn’t freak out, because of the examples above. The fact is, this kind of shit happens, and it’s no one’s fault. After I contacted her I learned that even as similar as these two images are, the thought process was even more similar. She said she was inside and wanted to practice dropping an image in the background. In my case, I was locked inside doing literally the exact same thing. So how the hell does that make mine “better”? Just because mine was “technically” posted first on some social media site doesn’t take a single thing away from her photo. In fact, if anything, it shows how similar we both are. If we ever get to meet in person, I’d have to have a pic of both of us holding up our own version of this photo – proof that we were meant to be friends from the beginning.
What’s more, are so many artists are feeling paralyzed, because they come up with an idea, see it already done and then scrap their own concept even though they thought of it with no influence from anyone else. They were just so afraid of being accused of copying, that they stop producing work. How the hell does that facilitate growth in the art community?
To be honest, I’m glad there are so many ideas already out there. Not only does it force us to be even more creative, but it forces us to develop our own specific style. Plus, it helps us discover other artists that are similar to ourselves. I have met an amazing community of fine art photographers, and I never would’ve met any of them if we didn’t all start out with somewhat similar images. We actually laugh about the fact that so many of us have similar images in the beginning of our careers:
Yup, two of those are mine (the other two belong to Tara Denny and Two Creative Birds). What’s really funny, is the one on the bottom left is a stock image. That means there are enough images on the internet of people floating through windows that it’s become a stock image. Does that mean people are all copying each other? No, it probably means they are creating the same idea. And good for them! It’s how you learn! Is each image copyright? Of course! Is the concept of levitating through a window copyright? Of course not.
Now I’m not saying copying in general is a good thing – yes, be original, and push yourself to come up with new ideas, but don’t be so arrogant as to think that every idea you have ever had is original – it isn’t. Sometimes, believe it or not, someone else has already had the same idea and brought it to life. And in that case it’s not copying; it’s two people executing the same concept – a concept they each dreamt up without any help from each other.
Here’s another example: a few years ago, I thought of a book that I wanted to write. I wanted to interview various photographers about the best photo they haven’t taken. What was the photo? Why didn’t they take it? Maybe they didn’t have their camera, or maybe the situation was one that warranted no pictures, but I wanted to write an entire book where photographers had to describe, in words, the most amazing photo they missed. I would call it “The Photograph Never Taken.” And it would be awesome.
Then, while buying some photo gear on Amazon, the little, “Other people that bought this also bought…” tag came up, and look at what was right there, staring me in the face:
My first thought was that this was my idea. Someone else had “stolen” it. But no, they didn’t. I only told maybe 5 people about this idea before. Surely Will Steacy wasn’t hiding in the bushes the day I decided to tell one of my friends about it. And honestly, I may even still write the book I have in my head, but this book, already being published, doesn’t take away from my own creativity. He had the same idea, with the means and resources to execute it. And I’m glad he did, because my second thought was, “Damn…I really want that book…”
So if you see one of those articles where one artist is bashing another for “copying” their idea, tell them to shove it. We don’t have copyright on our ideas, we have copyright on the result of the execution of that idea, and no one has any right to destroy another artist for having a similar artistic thought process.
How about you guys – have you ever run into this before? Have you ever seen another image that looked uncannily similar to yours? How did you feel? What did you do? I want to know!
And if you ever need someone to talk to, feel free to talk to me – I answer best through email or on my Facebook page, Jenna Martin Photography :).
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To quote a recent article I read titled “Do What You Love” Is Horrible Advice: “It’s easy to confuse a hobby or interest for a profound passion that will result in career and business fulfillment. The reality is, that type of preexisting passion is rarely valuable.”
If you haven’t read that article go ahead and take a trip over there when you get a chance…or not, if you’d rather not be fuming the rest of the day. The author is a great writer, with many other fantastic articles, but this one was just so…wildly inaccurate. I tried to just label it as one of those unfortunate things orbiting the internet, but it was just gnawing at me. How many potential artists are out there now, squashing their dreams because they’re reading fear-mongering articles like this on the internet?
Well hopefully not a lot, but still, the thought of some teenage kid selling his guitar because too many people told him music was a “hobby” and not a career choice just kills me. He’s a teenager. Anything is a career choice.
Of course people are all entitled to their own opinions, right?
Exactly, which is why I’m going to spout mine off right now.
Unconditional Support May Fade Fast…
As we’re growing up, we’re told we can be anything. We’re told we can be astronauts, painters, unicorn tamers and anything else our little minds can dream up. A 5 year-old proudly proclaims she’s going to be a “rockstar” and the adults laugh and smile and say, “My goodness honey, of course you are!”
Then somewhere down the line, we’re told to get real. We’re told to “get our heads out of the clouds” and start putting our efforts towards a feasible career. The idea of following our passion becomes a joke, and we’re told that art, in whatever capacity, is a hobby. People list off countless things they themselves are “passionate” about but could never get paid for, and then recite a mountain of inaccurate, old wives-tale statistics:
“You know you have a greater chance of getting struck by lightning than you do of ‘making it’ as an actor…right?”
Now there are two arguments here: 1.) Passion alone doesn’t get you anywhere, and 2.) Where is the market? If there is no one to pay you for it, even if you are good, how can you make a living?
And for those points I have two responses: 1.) The concepts of talent and passion are widely misunderstood, and 2.) There is always a market.
Now this is the part where many people will say I have entirely overstepped my boundaries and have finally reached the point where the advice I give new, emerging and struggling artists does them more harm than good. That in this era of realism, dreams serve the sole purpose of glittery fairy tales we tell our children until they reach puberty and then we shove a spatula and a job application in their hand while cynically smirking, “Life’s not fair, deal with it.”
Well, fuck that – and here’s why.
1.) Talent and Passion Are Not What You Think
Talent is no more than a word people use to describe a person’s skill level when they haven’t been around to witness first-hand the process of developing that skill. Musicians, dancers, painters, all of them, did you see their work when they first started out? They sucked. The hit wrong notes, had two left feet and couldn’t paint between the lines to save their damn lives.
They were absolute shit.
In fact, it wasn’t until they had already put hours and hours and hours of time in, before people started saying, “Wow, you’ve got a real talent for that.”
Because here’s the thing, while some people do naturally gravitate to box of colored pencils instead of a calculator, the act of producing art itself is still a skill, and I cant stress this enough – skills can be learned.
In fact, many features we take for naturally occurring personality traits (i.e. willpower, creativity, focus) are actually skills; all of which can be further developed with deliberate practice.
Quick side-note – I promise I’m not just blowing smoke up your ass and I would gladly link to peer-reviewed journals listing the relevant scientific data for all these claims, but it’s 3:30 in the morning and I just don’t want to. I will tell you though, that I have personally studied all of this, as I have a Master’s in Psychology, specializing in neurological processes and behavioral health. If you don’t believe me I encourage you to schedule an appointment with your local psychology professor.
Okay, so what does passion have to do with anything?
The word “passion” is far overused in today’s common conversation. You hear people say, “I’m incredibly passionate about rock music,” when what they really mean is, “I, like, really, really like this one band I saw in concert last week.”
Passion is not just a love for something, it’s an obsession: an obsession capable of motivating people to practice a specific skill for an unrealistic amount of time. All those things that people list off to you as examples of things they are “passionate” about but could never get paid for – they’re right! But those aren’t passions they’re just stuff they like…as a hobby. And yes, if photography is your dream job but you dedicate the same amount of time to it as you would to any other hobby, you absolutely won’t be able to find anyone willing to pay you for it. However, if you’re really passionate about photography, you’ll spend every waking second trying to improve. You’ll stay up late on YouTube researching various lighting setups and editing techniques, you’ll make your own gear when the real thing costs too damn much (like this underwater camera housing) and you’ll take classes and workshops to further your skills, and all that extra time really adds up.
To put it bluntly, passion can get you everywhere, because it means you have the desire to put in a highly abnormal amount of work to excel at a particular skill; a skill, that when taken to a whole new level, is absolutely marketable.
So while you may suck right now, that’s okay, you already have the most important tool to producing amazing results. What you need now is practice and time.
Now on to my other point…
2.) There is ALWAYS a Market
The article above (along with countless others spanning the internet) lists one question as the one you should be asking when pursing your dream job: “Will people pay me for it?”
But that’s not the right question. Instead, what you should really be asking yourself is, “How can I prove to people my work is worth paying for?”
I’ll explain. Here’s a line I’m sure we’ve all heard many times: “Well maybe you should still get an accounting degree or something. You know… just in case.”
Ah, yes. If I had a nickel for every time I’ve heard someone give me “just in case” advice to prepare myself for inevitable failure…well let’s just say I’d own an impressive collection of jet skis by now.
You never hear people tell accountants to get another degree, “just in case.” No one ever tells med school students that maybe they should learn welding, or construction or some other trade skill so when this whole “being a doctor” phase wears off they’ll at least have something to “fall back on”.
The fact is, people only pay for things they either want or need, and when your passion falls into a field that meets an obvious market need, following it is completely acceptable. People need doctors. People need accountants. Supply and demand; it makes perfect sense.
Art, on the other hand…
Art is seen as a “want”, which means that people have a harder time understanding the market for it unless they themselves are a part of that specific target audience. Someone that would never consider buying a piece of art for $1000 will have a very hard time reasoning how anyone else could possibly make a living selling art for $1000.
But there surely can’t be a market for everything…
Yeah, actually, there pretty much is. You can make money doing virtually anything nowadays, provided you market it correctly. Ever heard of the NYC Naked Cowboy? He plays a guitar and sings songs in his underwear and a cowboy hat. And now he’s sponsored by Fruit of the Loom and has a net worth of over 2.5 million dollars.
Take that, guidance counselors of the world.
The point is, whether the market exists or not isn’t the problem – it’s real and it’s there. Reaching it is the issue. So develop a strategy – figure out what the hell you have to offer and how you’re going to get it out there. Who is your target audience? What value are you offering them? How do you explain to them that what your selling is going to benefit their lives in some measurable way?
I’m not saying that you can quit your day job, buy an art kit, take a modern watercolor class and begin a successful painting career next week – I’m saying that creating a career out of something you’re genuinely passionate about is a very, very real possibility, and contrary to popular opinion you’re not doomed to a life of waiting tables while you try and make something out of those “doodles” you’re always working on.
Put in the effort to hone your skills and create a comprehensive marketing strategy to sell the application of those skills. That, is how you begin a successful career of doing what you love.
And for the future photographers of the world – here’s a little something I made just for you to get you on your way.
Probably shouldn’t have done that…
From time to time I like to browse some of my favorite photographers’ work to see what they’ve been up to. It gives me inspiration, new ideas, and also lights that competitive fire under my ass.
But sometimes it has the opposite effect. Sometimes I see something so unbelievably good that I sink into a deep chasm of self-doubt and frustration.
Today was one of those days.
Now when it comes to underwater photography, I am obsessed. So obsessed in fact, that when I learned the cost of underwater camera housing apparatuses ($2,000?! What?!), I built my own. Hell I’ve been obsessed with water itself for as long as I can remember. I think it’s the weightlessness of it mixed with just a touch of danger. Swimming to me feels like flying – if the air could kill you at any moment.
Even in my above ground portfolio, you really don’t even have to look very hard to see watery influences. In almost every photo, there are people and objects floating around, and water is consistently a central theme. I’m either standing in it, sitting on a car in it, put someone else under it or have it coming out of an umbrella (multiple times). It’s actually pretty funny to look back and see that unintentionally, I’ve always had water somewhere in my photos.
So one of the photographers I casually stalk (read: intensely dream about working with someday) is Zena Holloway. Her work is stunning. Like, crazy good. It’s so gorgeous that it actually pisses me off on a certain level and if I ever meet her I already know she’s going to hate me because I will either completely freeze up and say something creepy and inappropriate (my default mode) or I will ask a million questions and annoy the bajesus out of her.
So two great options, really.
But last month she posted a behind-the-scenes video of one of her underwater photography shoots:
As always it’s amazing, but shortly after watching I found myself frustrated. Seeing her models gracefully pose while I consistently flail about made me think of the countless “Nailed It” moments you find on Pinterest. I should’ve known just from reading the description what I was getting into.
“750,000 litres of water
One 5m high bed
Six hours to set up
Eight hours to shoot
Nine underwater crew
Seven underwater cameras
53 seconds without drawing breath
1,609m of hair extensions
217 Valsalva manoeuvres
…and 62 wet towels!”
I spent all day yesterday setting up and shooting. My list was as follows:
Dresses from Goodwill
Light from Home Depot
Bottle of Jameson
And then comes the self-pity party. “If only I could just borrow some designer clothes. If only I knew a qualified hair and makeup person that could do the look I’m going for. If only I had access to a better lighting system, a different lens, or a better location.”
“If only, if only, if only, blah, blah, blah, blah blah!”
See, this actually happens a lot. The pity party hits, and then I calm down and remind myself of a few solid points: 1.) All of this awesome stuff does not make an amazing photographer, these are tools that amazing photographers have acquired over the years. I’m very doubtful anyone has access to all this amazing equipment and vendors from day one, and 2.) It takes time. Photography is an art that takes for-freaking-ever to learn and there is no rushing the process. Eventually, slowly but surely, I’ll get there.
And you will too :).
Essentially, the video below is all you ever need to keep in mind. Trust me – I watch it anytime I need to pull myself out of a bit of a slump :).
And if I ever do get to meet Zena, maybe we can just hangout. Nothing serious, just, like, drink some tea, talk about photography, get matching tattoos…that sort of thing ;).
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The more I shoot, the more I find myself annoyed by the clothing options. I have an idea in my mind, but the clothes are nowhere to be found. More often than not, I end up making something out of fabric. For “Gone With The Wind”, I knew I wanted red fabric floating in the background, but I had little idea how to make an actual dress out of it. Thankfully, Kate is pretty damn good at making a long sheet of fabric look like a kind of relevant article of clothing :).
The challenge for this shoot wasn’t just the dress though, it was the lighting. I knew I wanted there to be light falloff in certain areas and because of the height of the fabric I also knew we would need lights placed very, very high. With a lot of experimentation, we finally ended up with a Mola beauty dish low in the front, and then a strip soft box flagged off in the upper corner.
Ted then stood on a ladder where he dropped the fabric from high while Kate did her selected poses. Turns out fabric doesn’t just fall perfectly every time, so there was a lot of trial and error. Plus timing the drop, the pose and the flash took a bit of practice. Here I am demonstrating to Kate the exact way I’d like her to jump (while Ted laughs…a lot):
After a while though we got the hang of it!
Huge thanks to Kate for all the jumping and bending in a very makeshift dress, thanks to Ted for finding the perfect way to drop a long piece of fabric (just adding to the wafting resume, aren’t we?) and to Jenna Master’s for the BTS pics. These were some of my favorites yet!
So after a VERY long day of shooting, everything was cleaned up in editing to create what you see below. Awesome job to everyone, I couldn’t have done it without you! 😀
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I am a complete and utter failure.
I have failed in relationships (both romantic and platonic), in plenty of career opportunities (still have just a teensy problem with authority), in schooling (I left my Master’s program with only one internship left), and in countless other areas, including photography.
Especially photography. Hell my first photo composites were replacing friends’ drinks with cats so we could post them on Facebook.
No…scratch that. Those non-alcoholic cat photos are brilliant.
But nonetheless, the fact remains: I have failed at virtually everything.
And thank sweet baby Jesus that I have.
Let’s backtrack for a bit to my freshman year of college. If I had been successful in everything I set out to do, where would I be right now?
Let’s see…I’d be an aerospace engineer (my very first major) married to a very, very abusive man (my first serious boyfriend). I’d still talk to my father on a regular basis (no, trust me, this is probably the worst thing about this little flashback) and…actually, I don’t even want to think about my possible alternate life. That already sounds pretty horrible.
The truth is, if I had stuck it out for the sake of avoiding the dreaded “failure” stamp, I would be pretty miserable right now. Failure, as it turns out, is not that bad of a thing. Boil it down and you see that failure is really just another way of saying whatever your end goal might be, your current track isn’t going to get you there. It gives you the opportunity to recognize something isn’t working, make an adjustment, and try again.
You know what’s worse than failure? Inaction. Standing aside and doing nothing. Making the decision (yes, inaction is a choice), to literally do nothing about your current life situation.
Falling on our face is natural, having an idea go horribly wrong usually makes for an amusing story later, and stopping in the middle of something that isn’t working and starting over is just plain good time-management. But without action, we are stagnant. We cannot grow or develop. We experience nothing, we learn nothing and we gain nothing. Sure there’s the possibility things might not work out, but the sting of embarrassment is a helluva lot easier to swallow than the sting of regret. That shit lasts forever.
So from this point on, redefine how you see failure and redefine how you see success. Don’t stress so much about the end result and focus more on the process. As long as you’re trying, you’re still moving forward; no matter how slow it may feel.
And if you’re still a little wary of the whole idea, think of this fun fact: a high failure rate is actually what sets apart the most successful people in our society. The more you fail, the more you learn, the more you improve.
So with that being said, yes, I am a complete failure. Come join me down here, the future looks pretty fantastic :).
Get anything out of this? Share it so someone else can too!
And if you ever need someone to talk to, feel free to talk to me – I answer best through email or on my Facebook page, Jenna Martin Photography :).
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We’ve all heard of the “365 Project” for photographers. And while I attempt to do one every year (I’m in the middle of another one right now), let’s be honest for a second here – not everyone has the time to take and edit a photo every single day. So instead, I’ve created a 52 week project that’s a bit more realistic.
If you head on over to my Facebook page (Jenna Martin Photography) you’ll see an album titled “52 Week Photography Challenge”. I upload a single photo each week to introduce that week’s theme and then you leave your photo in the comment section! Don’t worry if you missed a particular week – just leave your photo in the comment section anyway! You all know I’m not a huge stickler for rules. ;).
So if you’re in the mood to up your creative game, head over to my Facebook page and see what you can come up with! I look forward to all the different interpretations every week!