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You Can Lead A Photographer to Water…AND You Can Make Them Drink

February 20, 2009

I’m confused.

If you’ve read this blog you will already know this little fact, but I thought I would state it again, just to cement my position.

I don’t get photographers. I don’t. Well, a few I do, but the rest, not so sure. Including myself sometimes.

The last time I did any research, I came to the conclusion that the photo-industry was supposed to be a creative industry, filled with pioneering individuals who bring to the table style, vision and creative direction. Perhaps times have changed, but I think the basic idea of this is still…somewhat valid.

But, what I don’t get, the confusing part, is how many of us stand around waiting to be told what to do?

I think we should all stop using these phrases, “I can’t.” “I have to.” “I’m stuck doing it this way.” “I have accepted my fate for better or worse.”

Let me give you an analogy. When the plumber comes to your house at 2 am because your friends put fireworks in your toilet, do you tell the plumber you would prefer him to use a wooden plunger as opposed to his metal snake tool? No, because if you did he would either ignore you, leave, say “no” or ask you what your problem was.

Also, when he has finished snaking the M80s of your pristine bowl do you turn around and say, “Well, I think that job was worth about $30.” No. It doesn’t work this way. The plumber says, “Look, your friends are maniacs, and this is going to cost you $300 to fix.” You have choices, call around for another plumber or pay his, or her fee! Plumbers don’t stand around being told what tools to use and how much their work is worth.

But photographers do. Our first dreaded question tends to be, “What is your budget?” I always found this a really odd question because what should we ever expect to hear? “Aahhh, I’ve got eight dollars and a coupon for free ribs.” “Great! I”ll take it.”

I can’t tell you how often I speak with photographers, globally, who are so trampled I can’t stand it. I feel bad for us, in a way, but also realize we need to change the way we do things. Nothing will improve unless we adapt a new plan, starting from today.

“I hate digital but I have to use it.” I’ve said this myself and have heard it HUNDREDS of times from other photographers. Take a look around, there are A LOT of really fantastic photographers NOT using digital and doing just fine. In fact, check out a few of the major magazine profiles, and often times, the featured person is using film. In fact, I’ve seen magazines where EVERY feature was presenting film users, but every add in the magazine was highlighting digital equipment. We have been sold that digital is “just another tool,” but behind the scenes we are told you have to be using it, and in reality it is the ONLY tool. Many of us are faced with clients who think they have to use it, but really don’t have valid reasons for why. “Wait, I thought digital was better?” How many times have you heard that? This is simply an education issue, educating yourself, and your clients, in regards to what tool works best for what job. If you like film, stand up for yourself and make your argument. You might lose a job, but so what, in the end what benefit is it to make yourself miserable when doing what you love?

And as for budget. I think the “what’s your budget” question should be put to rest. Clients, like us, are in business, something that you can’t forget, even when clients are your friends. If the gas station attendant asks me today, “What do you want to pay for those ten gallons?” I would love to say, “Ummmm, nothing?”

Lastly, we need to stop being conformists. Many of us seem to stand around, look what everyone else is doing, then get in line to try and haggle away with everyone else, then wonder why people lowball each other on price. Well, if your work, and my work, and my Uncle Melvin’s work all look EXACTLY the same, why would anyone really want to pay a decent rate for ANY of us? Anyone? Anyone?

I think we all must stop, perhaps Saturday at 11:23 am and asked ourselves, “What is it that I REALLY want to do?”

If you pursue what is in the DNA of your creative heart, and I do as well, we will develop our styles and our signatures, thus creating unique work, which in turn has an inherent VALUE.

Here is the most important part of this. IT AIN’T EASY.

It is far easier to conform and fight for scraps. It takes boldness to go alone, but in the end what benefits is the INDUSTRY, as well as what you leave this Earth with, and what you leave behind. In the end the images are the only thing that matters.

Look at the history of our industry and those you can remember, those that left their mark, were those who stood tall and demanded to be heard.

Maybe I’m wrong, or off base here, but I can’t imagine a client saying to Salgado, “Your black and white work is okay, but we want you to shoot tethered digital.” I have a feeling he has more creative control than that. But I don’t know him, and could be wrong.

A few days ago I was able to attend a June Newton lecture, the wife of legendary photography Helmet Newton, and someone asked, “What freedom did he have while working?” She responded, “The clients told him to do whatever he wanted to do.”
Why? Because HE was the photographer. HE was the creative one. HE was the one who brought vision. The clients realized if they wanted a fantastic Helmet Newton image, the best thing they could do was get out of the way and let Helmet Newton create it.

Think about it.

The idea of this rambling mess is that our personal work SHOULD be our commercial work. How fantastic, and fun, and thrilling is it to work on “your” work?” It is the best. And, get this, clients, friends, family, etc, are equally as thrilled when you create this work. They really are. How fast does your heart race when you are working on something you KNOW is good. How fast does that heart race when you know you are making “real” pictures? It’s the coolest thing in the world!

So, to practice what I preach, I have begun marketing, using the same techniques I’ve used in the past, but now sending links to my personal work, and fewer regarding my “commercial” work. I’m sure this will be PAINFUL, akin to hammering my thumb with a fence post driver, but it NEEDS To be done. If I had to guess, I will be faced with irate people receiving my emails, angrily asking to be removed from my list, additional people thinking I’m out of my mind, and those who are just confused, but I think, in the end, justice will prevail.

I think if I don’t do this I will continually be bound only by the needs of the people viewing my work, instead of the limits of my imagination.

Now, I gotta go bang out a digi headshot on deadline. JUST KIDDING!!!!

Go forth, be strong.

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