It was recently pointed out to me that a critical piece is missing from my photography resume — contest wins. The only response I could muster was the excuse that, “You can’t win if you don’t enter. And I never enter.” I laughed when I heard myself, because the statement is literally true, but it also revealed some barely hidden feelings I have regarding photo contests. I love my photography. Other people love my photography. But not everyone loves my photography. When I look at the pictures that win contests, the winning photos are usually amazing, and very different than my work.
I’ve never felt that I make the kind of pictures that please judges. Now I will tread lightly here, because I definitely don’t want to disparage anyone’s work, and I don’t want to be unrealistically high-and-mighty about my own. But here goes: there are some freaking amazing photographers out there — those who consistently see, create, and capture scenes that stand head and shoulders above the rest. Some of them are pros. But there are a whole lot more who remain staunchly and proudly amateur despite doing very, very good work.
If we face facts, the “pretty good” amateurs greatly outnumber the relatively few professionals. Many amateurs have the means to travel to exotic places (because many day jobs are better compensated than the job of pro photographer), they can afford to attend high-priced photography workshops, and/or they shoot millions and millions of pictures per year — it’s their obsession. (I know plenty of people who fall into several of these categories).
Out of those billions of pictures taken by the hundreds of thousands of “good” enthusiasts, it’s mathematically likely that you’re going to end up with quite a lot of truly “amazing” photographs. (I’m not a mathematician, but I’m sure somebody can back me up on this.) A lot of amateur photos that win contests seem to be the result of being in the right place at the right time, and having enough skill and presence of mind to point and shoot at what’s happening in front of them. And with the shear number of photographers walking around with cameras, those amateurs are often the ones who are most likely to be present and ready to capture the amazing moment when it happens.
One highly respected pro I spoke with had this to say: “if you put the vast majority of pro work up against the best of the best amateurs, the amateurs win every time.” He went on to say, “the pros are usually pros because they can produce ‘good’ work consistently. But there’s a lot more to being a pro, like understanding the needs of your client, managing your photoshoot team, budgeting (both time and expenses), processing and archiving images, bookkeeping, and everything it takes to run a small business. The amateur shoots exactly what he or she wants to shoot, and can spend as long as they want (and as much money as they want) to get that one shot that ends up winning a contest or going viral.”
So what about my work? I exist somewhere on the periphery of the pro world. I have a full time job that has nothing to do with photography so I can feed and house my family while spending some of my free time making, framing, and selling my work as art. I make rather quiet pictures that a lot of people find pleasing — but I do it mainly because it pleases me! So when I do consider entering a contest I look at my pictures differently, and instead of printing what I want to print, I print what I think will impress the judges. And editing my work in hopes of pleasing a judge is not something I enjoy. I get that it’s important for a resume to show that others have thought highly enough of my work to give it awards. This seems to be the only way that some have of evaluating the work of others. So I will be entering contests and juried shows throughout this year, and I will be carrying my camera everywhere and hoping to grab that one killer shot that could win a contest, but I am not altering my style just for the sake of getting an award.
I’m constantly striving to learn more about the art market in an effort to understand and master it. For my readers who are also interested, I’ll share this short and informative video I found with tips to help us be more “successful” artists. Of course as an artist, sales are only one way to measure success (and for a lucky few, sales mean nothing). But for those of us who were not born with a silver spoon and are looking for a way to practice our art full time, sales are essential.
Please give this video five minutes of your time — like I did — and you just might be closer to becoming a full time artist, or just a more successful artist.
What made me think I was up to mounting a solo show of my photography at Fulcrum Gallery, Tacoma? Massive over confidence… blind ambition? I really don’t know what I was thinking! Luckily I do have a really strong work ethic. So even though my procrastination meant I was up till midnight the night before the show, and hung the last wall the day of the opening reception, it turned out great. The reception was really fun and successful thanks in large part to the contributions of my wife and several friends. As they say, “it takes a village.” Check out the video tour of the front room of the gallery, or better yet check the gallery hours at fulcrumtacoma.com and come on by. More to come later…
Just a preview of an art piece I’m working on using dandelions. Hundreds, and hundreds of dandelions!! I’ve been obsessively collecting and preserving all these fluff balls for about a month, and finally filled the tallest jar. One more smaller jar to go! I believe art can be made out of just about anything… even dandelions. How about you? Is this a decoration you’d be proud to display in your home? Would you like it more and consider it worthy of the label “art” if I explained the ideas behind it? Will it stand the test of time? Can wishes really come true, or like these dandies should we just preserve and bottle up those childish dreams? Let me know what you think!
Early spring cherry blossoms at the Chinese Reconciliation Park, Tacoma, WA.
I have the opportunity to produce a gallery show of my photography this year. Can’t say when or where just yet, but it’s in the works and is definitely going to happen. To that end I’ve been reviewing a lot of my new and previously unproduced work looking for common themes and something I can pull together into a cohesive showing that says something larger about my art.
What I keep coming back to is my basic ethos that I want to be able to make a good picture wherever I am — to remind people that beauty is all around us. Secondarily, but maybe more importantly is the limiting factor that attracts me to photography in the first place. Unlike painting or drawing, photography begins by capturing a single, actual moment in time. Sure that moment is affected by how I use my eyes, my brain, and camera. But a painting or a sketch are more truly the artist’s interpretation of a moment, or can be made up wholly from the artist’s imagination. What I choose to make is art that could not exist without my collaboration with a force that’s outside of my control.
In fact, I’m fascinated by time and humankind’s relative understanding of it and need to control and measure it. The most common belief is that time is an endless one-way stream. Once a moment is gone, it will never be repeated exactly in the same way again. I might choose to put myself in a beautiful faraway and exotic place, or a few steps from my front door — that’s just geography. But wherever I am, when I choose to take a picture I step into the flowing stream and pick my moment as it flows swiftly by. When I’ve done my job as an artist, I hope to have captured that moment and found a way to say something universal that exists completely outside of time.
Anyway, that’s a lot to think about right now. All the above messy stuff that goes on inside my head, as well as my evolving views on photography, art, time, and life will be the subject of my next show. I look forward to making an announcement soon, and hope you’ll find a way to join me!
Looking back on the pictures I took this past summer, I find that I focused quite a lot on the sunshine itself. While, it’s kind of a trend I’ve noticed in other photographer’s work, I wasn’t consciously copying. It’s just now that I’m reviewing that recently past work that I notice. Fact is that I was pretty busy with photography these last few months, and if I didn’t shoot for a particular assignment, nothing happened with the resulting pictures other than to get cataloged in Lightroom.
So now that the sun is mostly gone from the Pacific Northwest sky (at least for awhile) I have a moment to breathe and I’m enjoying reviewing what I shot. Get ready to see a lot of sunshine in my upcoming print work. Here are just a couple examples…
Have not kept up with my blog… sorry all you faithful readers. But now at least I have a word cloud illustrating all the posts I have done. I have been busy photographing. Now I’ll have to start posting about it again!
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.
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.
I’m not over this cold yet, but I am back to work. On my plate today is continuing to explore movement in still photography. I find it interesting that our minds can make the leap between seeing an image of a blurred object, and knowing that what we’re actually seeing is an object in motion. It’s not how we see motion, yet we know that’s what’s pictured. Has the human mind always been able to make this leap, or is it only through conditioning and repeated viewing that we now recognize the blur for what it is?
On the flip-side, when we see a photo of something perfectly frozen in mid-motion, our first reaction is often momentary confusion. If you see a picture of a person jumping, and both feet are caught off the ground, it often causes a double-take moment where you have to engage your brain to decipher what you see. How is that person frozen in mid-air? Why does their hair seem to defy gravity? Similarly, when we see super-slo-mo video depiction of fast movement, we suddenly see details we never imagined were happening – it seems unreal, but because we’re seeing the full movement we don’t questions whether it’s real. It’s just an undeniably weird thing to see. The Discovery Channel has a fascinating series on movement called Time Warp.
A different take on movement comes from an arts collective in Los Angeles that goes by the name of Syyn Labs. They did brilliant work last year in creating a Rube Goldberg machine for the song This Too Shall Pass by Ok Go. The video has been a huge YouTube sensation, and really good fun.
There are my thoughts on movement and still photography for today. Now I’m going to take advantage of the beautiful day we’re experiencing and get myself in motion to go find some interesting movement to photograph.
I am one of those people who needs people. As a landscape/nature photographer, I often work alone. When I shoot portraits, I enjoy my time working with my subject, their friends, and families. But then after a shoot, I often spend far too much time alone again working at my computer.
Our current economic recession seems to have caused a lot of people to pull away. To retreat into their shell for comfort and safety. Like a turtle. I decided to do the opposite. First I joined a co-op art gallery so I could be around other artists to exhibit (and hopefully) sell my work. As happens with many ventures associated with the arts, the gallery was already in hard times when I joined, and ceased operations at the end of 2010.
Now I’ve decided to start my own co-op project. Is that an oxymoron? The truth is, it was my idea, I organized things, but it does not belong to me. We’re still in very early stages of deciding what we are and what we’re going to do, but I decided to use this space to declare publicly that we exist. We don’t have a name yet. But after our third meeting, next week, we will know our purpose. I’ll let you know more later — including the name.
At the last minute last year, I threw together (and sold) a calendar using my images of DuPont. It turned out pretty good, and I sold enough to make it worthwhile. This year, however, I am resolved to make it a 10 month project in which I will take pictures throughout the year with the intent of including them in next year’s calendar. In short, I resolve to be more professional, and to produce an even better calendar for 2011. Here is my first image from this Winter in DuPont, WA. More to come (obviously).