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Fall is Here…Enjoy it While You Can!

Thank goodness Fall still has a few days of nice weather left in it. The nights have been cold…below 30 degrees in surrounding areas. And lots of grey days. However, I was able to get James Dodsworth out in the waning sunshine for a very nice portrait session. When we started, the Northwest skies were threatening rain, but the more I shot, the more James loosened up, and the more the clouds cleared. In fact, we ended up with a beautiful evening with fantastic light. The only bummer was that light was gone quickly and early — darkness took over by 6:45. That always takes me by surprise this time of year after I’ve gotten used to our 8:45 Summer sunsets. I know Winter is on its way, but I’m enjoying this Fall stuff. I just need to get out in it while it’s still light out!

To CD or Not to CD, That is the Burning Question!

I’m considering changing my mind…and for anyone who knows me, that’s a big deal! See, photographers have complained for some time about clients who want their pictures delivered as hi-res files on CD. In theory, the customer would take these hi-res files to a quality photo finisher to get their prints made. The main argument against this practice has been financial. For a hundred years or more, photography studios have operated on the model of attracting customers with cheap sitting fees, and then charging higher prices for prints.

I typically price my photo sessions so I break even on the sitting fee, and hope for some profit on the backend when my customers love their pictures and order lots of prints. However, in certain cases, I have given in to customers who want their final product on CD. I charge for this service based on the average print order that I am forfeiting, and extract a promise from the customer to use a quality photo lab. 

Recently though, I’ve realized that when a customer’s prints aren’t top notch, it can still cost the photographer plenty. One of my clients lives in my neighborhood — if they didn’t, I probably never would have seen their final print. The framed print on their wall was a disappointment to them and to me, and we talked about that. Their print (A) to the right was too dark AND too light (overly contrasty) and lacked the color vibrancy of the original.

When my customers picked up their print, they were told that the color in the original file was too subtle, and that the look on their computer screen wasn’t reproducible on paper. The tech explained that the photo was underexposed, and that the photographer should have used a neutral density filter on the sky portion of the photo. He blamed the bad print on me!

To satisfy myself, and to show my customer what they were missing, I had a print made from the same file using one of my trusted professional photo labs. The print (left) looked great!

So what is the real cost of allowing customers to make their own prints from CD? When the customer shows their photo to friends, and tells them “we had our portrait done by Jackson Scott Studios,” their friends may not see my best work. My customer may not be getting the high-quality that I strive to deliver, and that ultimately hurts my reputation. I may be losing not only that customer’s future business, but potential referrals from their friends who should have seen the high quality professional prints that I would have been proud to put my name on. I may stop delivering photos on CD even in special cases, because in the end the only thing on which I have to build my business is my reputation. And I don’t want to put that in the hands of an unknown photo lab technician!

Debating the Darkside: Business vs. Art


Art and business have coexisted since at least the time of the Renaissance. Newly rich merchants, families with old money, and the ultimate business — the Catholic church — have long financed the lives of artists thus providing the means that allowed them to keep creating. 


Well known artists like Michelangelo definitely ran businesses, complete with accounts payable and receivable; professional facilities in the form of a studio/factory; and students and apprentices acting as employees. These early professional artists even marketed themselves by becoming members of royal courts, and cultivating relationships likely to bring them lucrative commissions — an early form of social marketing!

But artists have long hated being labeled. So the debate about being called an artist or a business person; as well as deciding what is art and what is not, continues to rage.


I think about these issues a lot. But an article written by an acquaintance of mine is spurring me to respond with my two cents on the difference between art and business. Josh’s original article can be found on his blog.


First, I think I can clarify the debate by starting with some definitions from Merriam-Webster online:


  1. Business: a usually commercial or mercantile activity engaged in as a means of livelihood: dealings or transactions especially of an economic nature.


  2. Hobby: a pursuit outside one’s regular occupation engaged in especially for relaxation.


  3. Art: the conscious use of skill and creative imagination especially in the production of aesthetic objects; also works so produced. 


One concern of Josh’s article is the importance of deciding whether your pursuit of art is a business or a hobby. M-W’s definition of hobby says it is an activity pursued mainly for relaxation, while a business is an activity engaged in as a means of livelihood. What I think Josh misses, is that not every artistic pursuit falls into these two categories. In fact, the word hobby can have truly negative connotations — often being used as a put-down by those who consider themselves serious about art when describing other less serious artists.


In the art world, who doesn’t fall into one of these two categories? How about artists who use their creativity to deal with evils and injustices they see in the world — and sometimes to thrust this work into the public eye to shine a spotlight on these issues? These artists may not be interested in turning their creations into a business, but their work can not be considered a hobby. Or how about that little-known artist Vincent van Gogh? He passionately devoted his life to painting, but never sold a single work while he lived. Was painting a hobby for him?


So what happens when the art of a so-called outsider (like van Gogh) is discovered? There are modern cases of shut-ins, or secretive graffiti artists whose work is suddenly discovered and embraced as true art. Their work can end up in public and private collections, and the work can be represented by professional art dealers who make sure the artist is well compensated. Consider the very secretive street artist Banksy who is likely getting rich while few even know his true identity. Just because an artist begins making money from their work does not mean they automatically become a business person in the traditional sense.


In Josh’s article, he goes on to say that as an artist, if you sell your work you have a responsibly to “consider what the customer thinks is valuable and change your work accordingly.” This statement is completely wrong, and I think it’s important to make the distinction about what separates an artist from a business person in other industries.


In most industries, a product is created to meet a need. If that product meets the needs of enough people, and the business can reach enough potential customers, that company has a good chance of being successful. Then if the business stays tuned into the needs of the public, they can tweak an existing product or invent entirely new products to sell. Speaking from personal experience though, as an artist-first/business-person-second, it’s critical that I begin by creating a work of art that is unique to me. It first needs to communicate what I want to say, and look how I want it to look. If I’m going to put my name on this “product” it has to be completely true to my vision.


Only after I’ve created MY work of art can I think about how to sell it to others. The moment I start taking the pulse of the market first and creating second, I have reversed my emphasis and become less of an artist. If I were to start creating art and tweaking my output because I thought it would sell better, I would have to reverse my formula and become a business person/artist. It’s a small but important distinction!


To wrap up today’s discussion of this issue (I’m sure the debate will continue for a long, long time) I want to make a point about how this discussion relates to another even BIGGER issue — the ongoing debate to answer “what is art?” While I can only answer that question for myself, the longer I’m around the easier it gets to say what is NOT art (think Thomas Kinkade). This art-as-a-product is any work that is created because it is likely to sell, and not because the artist felt a deep need to express themself. 


As an artist, I am not merely creating products. I create because I have a deep need to express something that is unique to me. I hope that others appreciate what I create, and that my creations make a lasting impact. But if that doesn’t work out… I’ll just keep doing what I want. Satisfied that I am doing what is right for me.

The short, sweet season

The Franke family enjoyed one of the nicest evenings we’ve had in the Northwest this summer, and got some really great family pictures to boot. I met them at one of my favorite locations in Steilacoom, and shot into the start of that magic hour.

There were the usual challenges working with a three-year old, but their daughter is adorable, precocious, full of personality, and quite a talker. It was really fun working with them. And though they’re moving away soon, they’ll now have some beautiful visual memories as souvenirs of their time living here.

Here are just a couple of the photos we got.

It’s the busy season for outdoor portraits, and it doesn’t last long around here. Who’s ready for their family portraits next?

Group Dynamics

I took part in a really fun group photo shoot last weekend at the graffiti garages in Tacoma, WA.

The group shoot was organized by #Gary Walmer, and we were joined by model/jewelery designer #Emily Blodgett (plus more models, jewelry designers and makeup artists).

Usually when I’m photographing people, I have to stick to the script, and give them what they want…a professional portrait, cute pictures of the kids, etc. Group shoots like this though are a good opportunity for me to experiment, and work with other photographers. This time, I was able to do some fairly experimental shooting (using remote off-camera flash, shooting in low light, and using a very shallow depth of field).

Here are just a few of the shots I really liked of Emily. I feel that shooting like this gives me an opportunity to grow as an artist, and as a professional. Besides, it’s just good fun, and in this case, I really like the results! To see more of these shots of Emily,click either of the above photos to go to my Facebook page, click on “Like”, and leave a comment if you’d care to.

Hope to hear opinions from my “fans” soon!

Photo Ops for All (In Tacoma Area Only for Now)

Come by King’s Books in Tacoma on July 16th and get your picture included in my newest project. (I’ll send you a copy as well). Hope to see some of you fabulous people there! 

My Favorite Book Ever!

I’m proud to announce my newest photography project: My Favorite Book Ever! I’ve begun seeking out interesting people — who like books — and photographing them with their favorite book. Picking the ONE favorite seems to be hard for many people. Dressing the part and posing for a great picture is the next challenge. 

How about you? Want to be part of the project? My first goal is taking pictures with an exhibit in mind. Maybe one day it will be a book? A major motion picture, or…

My first effort was pretty wild — and a blast! If any of my Western Washington peeps haven’t had the pleasure of meeting Sweetpea Flaherty at King’s Bookstore, I highly recommend you seek him and his great shop out! This is a rough edit of the first photo in this series:

Who: Sweet Pea Flaherty,         
Owner, King’s Bookstore, Tacoma WA

Favorite Book: Taiyo Matsumoto’s Tekkon Kinkreet


As I continue working on this project, you’ll see more here and at facebook.com/favoritebookever
Why not go there now and click “Like”

Sometimes the Passing of Time is a Good Thing

I often don’t notice the passing of time. Sure my daughter continues to grow up too fast, and everyone (but me) looks a little bit older with every passing year. But it struck me recently, when I ran into one of my first portrait clients, that there is at least one good thing about the passage of time.

Penny stopped me while I was out on a walk to ask if I was available to shoot her portrait right away. My first reaction was to think that “she can’t need another portrait already, why we just did her last one 1…2…3…4…?? 4 years ago?” Well truthfully, it didn’t seem possible. She hasn’t changed, and I haven’t changed. But my skills and experience have. They have in fact gotten better with time!

When Penny arrived at the studio, I asked if she had any suggestions for a different look. “Well,” she admitted, “I want this portrait to look a little more friendly and approachable.” In fact, she confided that someone had commented that her old portrait looked a bit like an “Ice Queen.”

Looking back at the portrait we did in 2007 (and knowing Penny to be the warm person she is) I had to agree. My idea on that original portrait was to make her look professional. I accomplished that with the pose, but she also looks stiff. Looking at the picture again, I also notice that I didn’t have real command of my lighting setup. I blew out the highlights on Penny’s blonde hair, and there’s an odd shadow falling across her nose.

For Penny’s new portrait, I used a much softer lighting setup, and a pose that made her look much more approachable. I also realized that being more comfortable as a photographer, I could concentrate more on making my subject comfortable as well. I think the changes in my skill are noticeable when you compare the two photographs side by side. I was happy with the results, and so was my client. Take a look at the comparison, and tell me what you think.

Marriage in the Time of iPhones

I photographed a really fun wedding last weekend for friends Miki & Joey. I think I must be getting old though. I haven’t been to a lot of weddings in the last five years, but things seem to have changed. And not for the better.

Before the ceremony, there was an announcement to “please turn off or silence your phones.” Okay, that made sense…of course there was that one person who didn’t and we all knew it when their phone started loudly playing “Cocomo” during the ceremony while they fumbled around trying to turn it off.

But I digress. What I want to comment on is the growing number of people who feel the need to document every moment of their existence. During the ceremony, I counted about ten people taking photos and video with their phones. I swear a few of them never actually looked at the ceremony except on  the screen of their iPhone. I mean, really? What ever happened to just being there and enjoying the moment?

So as the official photographer, there I was moving around the room, trying to be unobtrusive as I sought out a variety of good angles to capture the beautiful ceremony. All the while I was working around people holding their phones over their heads to get good video, or even getting out of their seats and duck-walking up the aisle to get a good photo. Oh yeah, and cue the guy with the phone that plays “Cocomo” for the second time in a 20- minute ceremony!

As a photographer, I know I’m often guilty of hiding behind my camera and not simply enjoying life au naturel. But as I grow more aware of the ever present nature of smart phones, I’ll remind myself as I now remind you readers…

Please put the camera down occasionally and just appreciate the feeling of being part of the life that’s happening around you. If you miss something, I’m sure somebody else got a picture and you’ll likely find it on Facebook in five minutes!

There is a Message (and Sunshine) Out There!

I find that I am not very inspired to take pictures (or do much of anything) when the weather is grey and damp. Thank goodness I could escape for a short while to the #Palm Springs Photo Festival last month. This was my first trip to the festival, and proved to be a great opportunity to recharge those creative batteries, and refocus on the business and marketing side of things. (Did I mention there was also lots of sunshine out there?)

When I wasn’t enjoying the sun, I learned a few things in Palm Springs, and met some great people. The most important message I’m bringing back and delivering to you is this — marketing is hard, but necessary. Even for artists! Although my professional background is in marketing, I don’t do well marketing my own work. This is one of the hardest things for most of us. And it just might be the magic that separates successful artists from the millions who toil in obscurity.

My advice is to learn everything you can about marketing, and apply it to your work and your life.

Here’s just one quick lesson on “branding.” It’s a buzz-word that’s been around a long time, and it really just means creating an identity that encompasses everything from the colors a company uses, its logo, dress style of its employees, and lots, lots more. It’s about consciously presenting an image that helps people remember you in a positive way, and makes a positive association to whatever it is you have to sell. And yes, artists do have something to sell!

I took the adjoining picture on Palm Canyon Drive. And while the gentleman with the flag may have a powerful message to communicate, his lack of branding hurts the delivery of his message. First of all, dressing as a tourist may make him appear less threatening, but makes it hard to take him seriously. Let’s focus on his sign: The slogan is not bad “Help Save American’t.” Catchy! But the hand-written font is hard to read, the choice of color is weak, and taping his banner to an old Ron Paul campaign sign undermines its importance.  I considered giving him some advice, but it turns out the guy was a little crazy and just wanted to ramble on about the state of the country. For him, ignorance of branding is bliss, and I’m not sure I want to help him to more effectively deliver his message.

You’re different. Think about the way you present your work. From the style of display you use, to the style you wear, your business card, website, etc, etc. Everything about you makes an impression on how people remember you and your work. We can all do better. And being aware of that is the first step to improving.

Online Image Stolen and Now Viral!

Just wanted to post a short update on my earlier copyright posting.

Really interesting story making the rounds about an Israeli photographer whose picture was stolen and went absolutely viral. Whatever your feelings about an artist’s right to his or her own work, this is worth taking a look at just to understand the times we’re living in. As always, my opinion is if your work is important to you, slap a copyright on it before you put it online.

VIDEO HERE:
http://vimeo.com/20718237

How Much Self Should Be in a Self Portrait?

I don’t spend much time in front of the camera. Even for family events I’m often behind the camera and have to be reminded to pose for somebody else’s pictures. So what’s an inveterate behind-the-scenes person to do when the need arises for a “good” picture of them?

It’s self-portrait time!

As I put more of my work out in the world for art shows, contests, and publication, many ask for an artist bio that includes a photo of the artist. I did this for the first time last year. I set up the scene, set the camera on a tripod, and had my wife snap the shutter. I rather liked the result, but I got feedback that it was difficult to see what I looked like. (Thinking back, I’m pretty sure this was partly on purpose.)

The headshot

I decided this year it was time to try a close-up picture that showed more detail. This prospect was a little scary for me. (Knowing that no portrait is complete ‘till it spends time in Photoshop eased that fear a bit). After a recent portrait session, I sent the client on his way and took my seat under the lights with my trusty camera remote. I hadn’t had this kind of portrait done since college, and I was a bit surprised how much the results looked like a school portrait. A little self-conscious looking, for sure…but overall not a bad photo. I took a more playful take from that session, and adjusted the contrast, converted to black and white, and got results I liked even better.

An artsy alternative

For my last self-portrait try, I decided to use a technique I’d wanted to experiment with for a while. Using a slide projector as my main light source, I set myself in the path of a projected slide and shot five or six takes. The results are cinematic, and very much to my liking.  But maybe too far back in the direction of not showing enough facial detail.

All in all, this exercise in self-portraiture was a good experience, and I think it will improve how I shoot portraits of others. I encourage other photographers to try this yourself. But for anyone who needs a business portrait, find out how great a professional photographer can make you look.

By the way, if you have an opinion on my self-portraits, please share your comments below or visit my website at jacksonscott.com