Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Keeping It Fresh

I had a beer the other night with a dear friend and fellow photographer. One of the things we touched on was personal work, the importance of it and how much it has helped both of us grow as artists. Check out this posting for more on the Importance of Personal Work. Expanding on the theme of personal work I want to talk about something that I struggle with as a photographer - The idea of constantly keeping my work fresh.

I go crazy if I don't have personal projects in the pipeline. And I panic at the idea of not constantly producing new work. As a photographer I think it is essential to consistently be producing new work, not least for ones own sense of creative well-being but to demonstrate, as I have said before, that you are a thriving artist. I get nervous when I look at my images and they have been on my website for too long. In response to those nerves I grab a piece of paper and start listing out all the shoots I want to do in the next two months. It makes me feel better....for a while. But it can be a struggle turning the list of ideas in to actual productions. One has to find the right location. Then there's the models or athletes. Scheduling dates. Monitoring the weather. The list goes on and on.

When I voiced these concerns to my friend over beer, he said "That's important. You should write about those concerns and frustrations." So in an attempt to provide some useful information I want to share four tips and a little insight into how I create my personal projects.

I've just about fallen asleep, conscious only of my coming rest and slumber when BAM! An idea comes out of no where and its amazing, I love it. I say to my self "Ok thats awesome, I'll deal with the details in the morning." If only. I spend the next hour trying to sleep but the idea is like a wet eel, slipping between all of my tired attempts to shut down my brain. I rise and I put pen to paper. I never forget a good idea, but I sure as hell can't get a winks sleep when my brain is on fire. So I write it down. And so should you. Make a list and keep it safe. I read once that if you write down your goals, hand write that is not tapping into a computer, that you are far more likely to achieve them. Seems stupid but deep down you know its true!

GEEKERY: I keep a spreadsheet of my ideas with categories like 'Creative Concept', 'Potential Talent', 'Locations' etc. It allows me to keep adding details and notes to the ideas as they evolve and it keeps my ideas organised so my brain can be freed of such administrative tasks. More room for being creative.

A lot of the projects I come up with are seasonal and require certain weather/climatic conditions to achieve. I can't shoot an endurance runner up in the alpine in May (even though it feels like spring at sea-level) because the snowpack is still solid. I can however shoot that cyclist video project. Timing is everything. But the ideas must be written down save forgetting them come July and the snow has melted!

Once you have your ideas you need to find your talent and more importantly find dates and schedules that align. This can be a nightmare. We are all busy people and personal work often relies upon those who are generous enough to donate their time. Patience, persistence and praise goes a long way. It is the little things in life that make a difference. Always treating your team with the utmost respect and consideration is so important.

It can be tough to keep on top of, especially when balancing personal projects with work, but I have a pretty consistent stream of personal projects in the pipeline. I keep the ideas on simmer so that when the time comes or the opportunity rises I turn up the heat and I can can quickly get them into production mode. This requires constantly ticking over on admin tasks like location scouting, monitoring schedules, developing the creative concepts so that you are ready to roll when conditions are right.

GEEKERY: I have a big, BIG calendar on my desk. It never closes and the sections for each day are big enough for me to make plenty of notes. It also shows me an entire month at a time. Seeing a month's worth of weeks is so helpful and again this is great for my brain.

3. PRE-, PRE- and PRE-

I dedicate a lot of time, pencil power and recycled paper to sketches and doodles. I like to preconceptualise a variety of images that I want from a shoot. I might not shoot all of them, circumstances during the shoot will certainly change them and others will end up looking shit once they move from my head to my sensor. But, having a series of sketches and doodles gives me a really solid frame work to enter any shoot with. I have mile markers I can check off and I have a sense of accomplishment as I move through the shoot.

I am always looking for potential shoot locations. The old, cliche that photographers see the world with a nice little frame around the edges. Well take that idea and every time your out think about the locations you find yourself in and how you could us that location for a shoot. Maybe its a heist shoot in an alley behind a bank, a great forest location for a child/parent moment or a gorgeous landscape. Keep a list!

It is really easy to get complacent with your preproduction and preparation for personal shoots. There is no client and you are the master of your shoot's destiny. Thing is, personal shoots are a great way to refine your craft and that also means refining your production skills. Being organised is not easy for many of us, practice makes perfect, so I use these shoots to nail down my skills and stay in good production-shape.

GEEKERY: Personal work is hands down the most important part of my creative process. PRE-, is so important for the success of any project. I'm sinking my own money, sometimes large sums of it, into these shoots and I can't afford to throw it away because I wasn't prepared.


Sometimes I procrastinate over the execution of my ideas because I am scared to death that after investing in all of the above it is going to hail stones the size of hedgehogs or rain all over my lighting gear. So I wait, and wait, and wait until the conditions are "perfect". Someone once said to me that there is never a perfect time to have a child. But once you do you wondered what an earth you were waiting for. There is never a perfect moment for anything in life, and even if there was such a thing most likely it would have been down to things way beyond our control.

GEEKERY: If you have a problem biting the bullet, find someone who you can be accountable to. A friend, a marketing consultant, a fellow photographer, your mum. Make yourself accountable to someone and stop the excuses.

Bite the bullet! You won't regret it, I promise.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Seasons of Subsistence // Bristol Bay Portraits

Back in March I traveled up to Bristol Bay, Alaska again as part of my ongoing personal project SEASONS OF SUBSISTENCE. Typically I travel light when I shoot for this project. But after some great results with location lighting last summer I decided to go fully loaded with Profoto 7b packs and a bunch of heads.

Bristol Bay in Alaska is a very special place, not only is it home to the world's largest sockeye salmon run but the Native People of the region live a remarkable lifestyle. Hunting, fishing and gathering are second nature to them. They know how to track animals with their eyes closed and the intimacy they share with the landscape is staggering. Every time I go up there I am blown away by my experiences from the kindness and warmth I am always greeted with to the quite extraordinary things that happen.

While we were up there this time the village of New Stuyahok ran out of fuel. No gas in the whole village. Not one drop. It meant we and everyone else in the village were homebound. No hunting, no fishing. During the winter snowmachine is the preferred method of transport, you'll even see 10 year olds driving them, so without fuel things quickly come to a stand still. For three days we waited for some to turn up. The constant chitter-chatter of conversation across the VHF radio's was dominated by speculation on when the fuel might turn up. In the end 5,000 gallons of it was flown in from Kodiak on a vintage DC-6. Yours truly below along with my partner in crime Wade F. Jackson sitting in the cockpit geeking out hard!

We also shot a short documentary piece while we were up in Bristol Bay, and I am super excited to share it here when its completed in a few weeks time. We are calling it Yuuyuraq and it delves into the nut and bolts, blood and heart of this project I have been working on for the past couple of years. Stay tuned!

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Sneak Peek

A little sneak peek of a new project I am working one. Lots more of these to come!

Monday, May 2, 2011

Marketing // How? What? When? Where?

Recently, I downloaded and read a white paper from Photoshelter, "WHAT BUYERS WANT FROM PHOTOGRAPHERS" (Click to download it yourself).

A few things I found surprising and then interesting:

- 37% of buyers said email was the best method for capturing their attention, compared to just 10% who said direct mail was the best approach,

- Only 33% of buyers use social media to find photographers

- 74% of buyers DO NOT follow any photographer's blogs

First off, while I think these reports are super useful and insightful, one must digest with a pinch of salt. Tastes vary wildly in this magical world of photography and art buying and so must our recipes for marketing.

1. Lets start off by looking at the first point. Just 10% of buyers think direct mail is the best way of reaching them. I have to say I felt a little disheartened by this. Not only do I love designing, producing and mailing my print promos but I definitely prefer it as the method that my audience consumes my imagery. Don't get me wrong, I love the iPad and big screens but there is something a little more evocative and sensory about touching, smelling and seeing the printed piece.

I have read on countless blogs and heard from buyers that many still LOVE receiving printed promos. My guess, email when on target and done well is super convenient and quick. You can view it, check out the website with one click, bookmark it if you like it, delete and move on if you don't. Email is quick and easy. That said print promos have a chance to stand out, make a much bigger statement and leave a lasting impression. Print still has a place in my marketing toolbox.

WHAT TO DO: I'm not going to change a thing. I think email and print promo's have their place. They both need to be used strategically and they both serve a unique function. Any marketing plan would be weaker if you removed print promos.

MOVING FORWARD: I am going to be even more diligent about refining my print promo mailing lists. Print promos are expensive so it is vital that they reach the right people.

2. Number two, only 33% of buyers use social media to find new photographers. This surprised me a little at first. My first thought was that perhaps this represents a generational gap of some sort. What would these number look like in 5 years as younger buyers rise through the ranks? Another thought I had relates to the supermarket shopper. Finding photographers via social media is a little like going shopping on the highstreet. You know what you want but you have to search past loads of irrelevant shops to get it. The supermarket on the other hand has everything you want in one convenient place. As a buyer if you know your are looking for new talent then heading somewhere dedicated to photographers, well that's just way more convenient.

WHAT TO DO: I think it is important to recognize that social media is complex and subtle. It is not going to make or break ones business. That depends on whether we make good images. But, social media is powerful if we wield it strategically. Ultimately, social media thrives when we share, talk and engage on things we are passionate about.

MOVING FORWARD: 33% or 100% social media has a place in the marketing toolbox.

3. 74% of buyers do not follow any photographers' blogs. What!? Now this really did surprise me. Again it also made me think about a possible generational gap...? But without demographic data from the report it would be hard to verify this. On the other hand it also important to note that Art Buyers have a million and one things to do, one of which is keep a breast of new talent. Perhaps it is not surprising then they aren't spending most of their time following our blog postings, as much as we would like to think the opposite.

WHAT TO DO: Writing a blog is more than just marketing. It provides an outlet, a chance to share, a platform to express ones self and try new things. Blogs build community, support networks and a chance to engage with people who would otherwise remain unknown to each other. I love writing my blog and I love reading other people's blogs. It is a little disheartening to read that so few buyers follow photographer blogs, but...

MOVING FORWARD:...that doesn't mean I'm going to stop blogging.

Lastly, here is a BLOG POSTING from a "buyer" actually a Creative Director at REI, Jason Sutherland who has just started a cool blog theme on photographer print promos. I was thrilled that he included one of my promos as his first posting on the theme and even more thrilled to see that my promo's are getting noticed. Its nice to know that they are going out into the world and meeting friends.