As I mentioned before, around the age of eight, I would sneak my Mom’s 126 camera out of the house and shoot pictures around the Texas country side. When a birthday or other holiday rolled around, my Mom would be baffled that she was out of film. She’d be even more baffled when the pictures came back from the lab… I fessed up and was rewarded with my own little camera when Christmas came.
When I was 15, I spent the summer working to buy my first 35mm and when my Mom was picking up enlargements from my first two rolls of film, the lady at the local camera store (who happened to be the owner) said, “These are really good. Did you take them?” My Mom said, “No, my son did. He’s crazy about photography.” “Do you think he’d want to work here?”
So, I began a vertical learning curve. By the time I was 17, I was running their professional lab, assisting several photographers, shooting stills on film sets, shooting for the school paper and yearbook and having success in several gallery showings. Everything I know, I learned on the job, from someone I worked with or from reading and experimenting. When my personal work led me to a point where I was being asked to shoot, I started shooting…. and the fact that people were offering money for this seemed, well… incredible.
Instead of trying to impose “my style” on the “subject”, I try to find the qualities of the individual, group or product and let that inform how we shoot: outdoor or studio, composition, ward-robe, all of it. To that end, I’ve developed a client worksheet to help us figure out what to do with the shoot. This will help you (and me) define your unique stories or essences. Unless I am given free reign to “play” and then it just depends on the variables going into the shot. And sometimes, it’s just fun to show up and play, see what happens.
My gifts, I believe, are several: I am good with people, adept at eliciting a brief and I have a good eye — the stuff that’s more ethereal, maybe can’t be taught, maybe it can.
I specialize in people.
People are naturally fascinating. I can go to the mall or a coffee shop and watch people for hours. When we are in our own skin, thinking our thoughts, we humans are fascinating. The art of shooting people is getting them to that place where they can be relaxed and in their skin, thinking their own thoughts. The art of doing that involves psychology, creativity, intuition, discipline, acute attention, understanding and a deep love for people (for which I thank my Mother whose heart was, indeed, the size of Texas).
The topography of the human landscape is always changing, so even if I photograph or video you on Monday, I’d be dealing with a potentially very different person by Wednesday — there’s the challenge; there’s the fun.
Some tribes in Africa used to think a photograph would take a person’s soul — that’s what you want to aim for in shooting people. If you can catch a person’s soul, then you’re good– very good. It’s what I aspire to. And in telling the story of you and what you do, the more we can access that humanity, the more potent your story, the more it will “connect” with the humanity in those you are wanting to reach.
Here’s the problem: for many products and services the market place has grown to be world-wide, thanks to the digital revolution and that nifty little thing called the internet. In the past, you might compete locally with a handful of competitors, but now there might be hundreds — if not thousands — of other options for your end users. Yikes! So, how do you compete with that?
There is only one ‘you’, there is only one of your product. Even if there are knock-offs out there. The art is to define what it is about you, your product or service that makes it what it is, that makes it special. The thing that makes stars ‘stars’ is that they understand their personal uniqueness; that’s what builds their careers.
There are many good photographers in Los Angeles who will take great shots of you or your product and they’ll look good, but that’s not gonna cut it. Many of these photographers shoot everybody the same way; nice shots, but cookie cutter – next same as the last. Knowing what your product or service “does,” isn’t enough. We also must know how it will make us “feel.” That old reptilian brain, still does the lion’s share of driving when it comes to decision making and emotions are it’s GPS. If the shots or footage doesn’t tell us how we feel about your product/service, your end-user might reach past your cool gizmo to your competitor’s. Zoinks!
I try to tailor everything about the shoot to tell the unique story (or stories) about what you do. At the end of the day, you need a marketing tool that tells not only what you/your product/service looks like, but something about your being, or the inherent feeling with which your product/service will gift them.
Play is the essence of creativity. When I come together with a client and we both have a great time creating shots, that absolutely comes through. If we are shooting a person, it’s in the eyes, the windows to our soul; if it’s a product, then I believe the heart and energy that goes into creating something, shines through, giving it a little something “extra” — almost illusory, yet descernible.
The key to commercial photography and video is balancing the objectives of different people who have a good deal invested in the message (obviously the client and sometimes different departments within a client’s company– the agency, art director, producer, etc.) while forming enough space for inspiration to strike in the moment. Usually more than enough thought has gone into “what’s the story” which can sometimes lead to over-thinking and second guessing. I’ve seen some really cool concepts nearly come off the rails due to this. So, being crystal clear about what the story is that we are shooting for and having a sense of ease and play are so useful to getting effective and compelling images in a high stakes arena.
One of the things I love about shooting for the music industry is that the parameters are looser — we could be shooting a high concept CD cover, a straight ahead A&R shot, a high energy pop band, a soulful jazz singer, a moody music video or high energy pop music video, etc. But, whatever the brief, it needs to fit and reflect the tone of the artist’s music.
I’m told that I have a knack for listening to someone’s music and tuning into that creative space where ideas come from. It is a wonderful process, a creative puzzle for me to find a “visual peg” to hang the hat on. And creatively brainstorming how we do that with a client is great fun — a delicious challenge. Somewhat like a songwriter writing, the creative ideas come, but you’re not quite sure from where. However, at the end of the day, it’s almost always about interpreting someone’s music into compelling visuals that resonate with the work, the artist and the artist’s style. And sometimes the story in music shots is simply to translate the mood of the music into imagery whether the intended use is CD covers, tour posters, website shots, A&R or PR pics.
The key here is to understand the editor’s brief and the style of the magazine / publication. The question is: are we shooting a portrait, a concept or something else? I also love to do “detail” shots as extras for possible side-bar use.
If it’s a editorial portrait, it is part “capture the person’s soul” and part “what are they doing in the world?” that people would find newsworthy. Part of what is fun about this, is eliciting what the story is we want to tell, brainstorming ways to tell it, matching some of those ideas with the right tone for the publication and then executing it in the timeframe given.
If it’s a concept shot, say for example, an editor / art director wants visuals for an article on pharmaceutical regulations: I might shoot a camel going through the eye of the needle with a giant capsule strapped to it’s back. Another possibility: a square pill being forced into a round hole. Unfortunately, these days, the editor / art director will most often pull a stock shot for this type of imagery rather than hiring a photographer.
If I had advice to give to any aspiring photographers, it’d be to shoot, as much as you can. When you feel you are ready — jump. Great rewards come with risk. I started doing it and have found my way…. and I’m continuing to find my way. A great analogy: if I wanted to drive from LA to Boston and I had to do so driving only at night (so we could shoot during daylight hours, obviously), I’d only ever see the few hundred yards in front of me that my headlights could illuminate. And so, by only seeing the next stretch of road, I would find my way across the country. Even if you feel you are standing in the dark (perhaps you’re in a darkroom — old skool!), you only need to see to the next thing, and then the next. Explore. Play. Get curious and allow yourself to really mess up, repeatedly. That’s where growth and discovery lies. That should never stop — it’s the artist’s path. So, get started!!
The root of the word courage is from the Latin “cor”, meaning “heart”. The heart is the seat of love; so, find your bliss and shoot that, shoot what you love, what makes you happy. As you do, your voice or style will emerge, then you’ll have something to market. At that point, take a marketing and business class. Or you can marry a woman with a masters degree in marketing. Which is what I did and I have to say I recommend it …highly.