Archive for '• Philosophy':
I can not believe that it has been nearly four years since I made the short called Transform for Scott Kelby’s blog. It was an honor to be asked to guest blog again this month. As Transform came from a place of things I was struggling with then, Signal & Noise follows that lead. I’ve been off social media for a little over two months now and the smoke is just starting to clear.
Visit Scott’s Blog to read more on my progress of clearing the noise from my head. A big thank you goes to my wife, Meghan, for working on the music. Big thanks as well to Deke Spears for being instrumental (punny!) in helping with the music as well.
Visit Meg’s site to download the song if you’d like.
Feed your soul. Not your feed.
Recently a guy made a web site touting a top ten list of things you can do to help start your photography career. I’m going on a rant and it’ll be the last one for awhile. If you care to read it, hit “more”. If not, no worries. I need to get this out of my “system” and then I should be good to go.
I put a call out a few weeks ago to see if anyone would let me shoot their wedding in any way that I wished to. There’s a reason I want to shoot a wedding or two this year as an experiment. I’ll get into that in a bit but this blog post is more about several conversations this request sparked, both online and offline.
No. I’m not starting a wedding business. Just doing an experiment and having a bit of fun.
Let’s get in the WayBack machine and go ALL the way to 1999’ish. Digital was coming of age. DSLRs were now hitting the $5k and below mark on pricing and a number of photographers were jumping out of the film ship and into the binary seas. The photojournalism scene back then was dying and many daily paper jobs were being cut. Day rates for the wires were less than I was making as an assistant. Photojournalists were looking to the editorial world but rates there sucked as well. They still do. Anyway…
This week Complex Magazine named me as one of the top 50 street photographers right now. I’m part honored and part embarrassed by this. Part of it has confirmed something inside of me. Part of this has depressed the hell out of me. On one hand I feel empowered to go deeper and on the other hand I feel I owe a lot of street photographers an apology. If I had a third hand I owe some photographers a big thank you. Let’s see. Can I be more random? How about this. This post is best read late at night while listening to “Last Confession” by Hilltop Hoods.
I’m currently in the process of updating and printing a new portfolio and I thought I would take a
moment half day to talk about the process.
My dear friend, Marc, has said of editing, “It’s like lining up your children and deciding which ones you’re going to shoot.” That quote isn’t going to end up on the front of a greeting card anytime soon but it does get to the heart of the matter. Andy Lee rephrased it to, “…deciding which ones you love more.” Either way, the process can suck but it is a process you need to go through on a regular basis. At least twice a year. Minimum.
I know many of you are wondering why I’m working on a print portfolio. What about web sites, PDFs, iPhones, thumb drives, laptops, etc, etc? Are printed portfolios still relevant? In my opinion they are. That opinion also is held by many in the editorial and advertising world. I know of two leading Ad agencies that won’t meet with you if you walk in with only an electronic portfolio. They want to see your book. The printed output of your work. Anything can look good on an iPad. Can it print? Can it run larger? The devil, and the jobs, are in the details. Wedding photographers know this all too well. Do you want to deliver a disk of zeros and ones or would you rather deliver a beautifully printed album? What is going to live in plain sight? A thumb drive or a book? Which one will be cherished? Which one has lasting value? Which one makes you more excited to deliver? Which one is instant? The book. That’s which one.
A printed book is a thing to take pride in. There’s something tangible about it that holding an iPad doesn’t compare to. Note that I’m a big believer in electronic forms of showing your work. I walk into every meeting with a print book AND an iPad. The book is the best representation I have of the work I do. The iPad holds expanded galleries of work that support the book and hold other galleries of work that don’t find their way into the main book. Things like personal projects, travel photography, video, etc. Eventually I want to have a series of print books that show a range of the work I do.
I’ve lived as a photographer for some time without a book. I wanted a book but didn’t have the time, money, discipline, etc to get it done. Going from having no book to having a book you’re ready to show is a pretty large mountain to climb. Choosing the physical book and making the prints are the easier parts. It’s editing the book that will make you cry and leave you feeling completely inadequate as a photographer. You’ll pray for your strengths while constantly focusing on your weakness through the process but I can’t stress enough how invaluable the process is. For me it’s more about the process of building a book than actually having a physical book to show. Let’s talk through the physical process.
The full discussion can be found after the jump…
I’m in Chandler, Arizona today teaching a workshop. This is one of our shots from today. All you need is a dumpster.
Yesterday I spent about three hours walking the streets around here shooting 2 rolls of film. Well, I shot nearly two rolls. I shot 22 images and finished the other 2 images today. I’m working on a mini portfolio currently called “Chandler F*cking Arizona.” It’s inspired by a t-shirt that my previous studio manager, Erik Dixon, would wear. It looked a bit like this but with better typography. I have no idea really why I want to call this mini portfolio by this name. It’s kind of against my style yet it’s just something I feel like doing. Who knows. I’m sure I’ll play it safe when I’m actually putting it together. (I really hope I don’t)
So yeah, more walking around with film. Why film? Here’s the deal…
Film costs money and film takes time. So when I’m out shooting with film I’m asking myself a series of questions.
1 – Is it a good picture?
2 – Is it worth the money?
3 – Is it worth waiting for it from the lab?
4 – Is it worth giving up this frame of film for a shot that I might find later that I’d rather have than this one I’m about to shoot?
5 – Will it be worth cleaning the scanner, loading it in the carrier, and making a scan?
6 – Will it be worth spotting in Photoshop?
7 – Will it be worth posting or printing?
8 – Is it a good picture?
If I answer “no” on any one of these questions then it’s not worth shooting in the first place. It’s not worth the money. It’s not worth the time. It’s not worth giving up that frame for a frame I might get later. It’s not worth sitting at the scanner and dorking with all that. It’s not worth waiting for. It ain’t worth shooting in the first place.
How much do you think I concentrate more on each photo? A lot. When you shoot digital who cares? Just go ahead and shoot it and if you don’t like it later then no big deal. So you shoot and shoot and shoot and don’t really stop and think about the process. You also don’t feel really invested in it. At least, for me, right now in my life, I don’t feel invested in digital. I’m just in that phase where I’m adding limits to my work and simplifying. I need to grow. I need to move forward with my craft, my vision, and my work. DSLRs bore the shit out of me right now.
Boy, I’m getting a potty mouth. Probably due to shooting film.
Not only that, but I want better quality. Back in the days of film 35mm was for run-n-gun photography and newspapers. Medium format was the ruler of the pro field. Of course large format has even better quality but MF was the format that could give great quality and still be portable. 4×5 and up isn’t all that portable and you sure wouldn’t shoot a wedding with one. Or would you? If any wedding photographer out there would attempt it, it would probably be John Michael Cooper.
It used to be a $5,000 or so investment gap to move from 35mm to medium format. In the days of digital that canyon to cross from 35mm format DSLRs to MF cameras and backs has been $30,000 or more until recently. MF manufactures are getting the prices down. You can get into a system for about $10,000 and that is really amazing. Just as amazing as when the Nikon D1 came out and an unbelievably low $5,000. $400 Rebels shoot circles around the D1 these days. I’ll move these Hasselblads to digital as soon as I can but I got into the classic 500 series so that I can switch from digital to film with a click of a release button. The back I’m looking at is $14,000. That’s a heck of an investment but a few years ago it would have been $30,000 or more. Prices are coming down. Pentax and Mamiya both have systems starting at $10k and I know one of you (@MikeSeb) is rocking that Pentax. You need to do a review on your blog!
If you ever shoot digital MF and nail the shot then DSLRs will seem like toys. DSLRs have their place in my bag. They always will but I shoot portraits for a living. I’m not running and gunning through events so much these days. I don’t need to spray and pray anything right now. I sit my subject in place and do my thing. I can work slower and be more deliberate with what I shoot. That’s what I need.
The image above? Digital. Just shot that a few hours ago. The film I shot yesterday? I won’t see it for at least a week. At least. Then I have to scan it and I won’t have time for that for another two weeks. And then I’m going to want to print it. Really print it. Myself. In a darkroom. Damn it. Stupid film.
12/09/11 – UPDATE – I was looking at the Hasselblad CFV 39 back for the V series cameras. It sucks. I’m not spending a dime on that stupid back. Sometimes it works! Sometimes it doesn’t. All for the low low price of $14,000. Yeah, no thanks. I am however moving to a Phase One it looks like. I’ll know in a week or two and update this entry and make a new one about it.
Question… Does it have to be perfect? Can the best image for the job sometimes be blown technically but executed perfectly for the job at hand?
Wrong shutter speed.
Just right photograph.
As technically strong as I try to be I’m always drawn to the work of others and myself that blows “technical perfection” out the window in lieu of “emotion” “movement” etc. Thoughts? Each photo above is technically wrong. They should be dumped yet they are in the first edit of my new portfolio.
I wouldn’t want to buy an “imperfect” house. Why do I like “imperfect” photography? Thoughts?
PS – More on the business coming up. Just needed a break from all that.
First, thanks for all of your input on the first blog post of this series. As usual, your comments are far more interesting, entertaining, and thought provoking than anything I write here. If you haven’t read through those yet, you should. What’s interesting to note in the comments there is how the tone of comments changes through the 100+ of them. They start off friendly enough and then somewhere in the middle a few feathers begin to get ruffled. That’s fine. That’s welcomed. It’s a very interesting time in our industry right now and it’s good to have passionate discussion about it. The smart photographers will sit with open minds and get a bit introspective and take a look at their own business practices. The stupid photographers will sit from on high and just point fingers OR sit at the bottom and think, “I’m banking an extra $1,000 a month that I don’t claim with my $800 camera!”
Anyway. Check out that photo above. It’s some stop light advertising for a wedding photographer advertising weddings starting at $350. Man… that’s cheap. Is this person part of the problem in our industry? Absolutely not. I admire the hustle. I admire the fact that they are trying. Now – if you are the type of pro photographer that looks at that and says, “This is everything that is wrong with this damn industry! You can’t be a pro charging $350 for a wedding! What an A-hole!” Yeah, if you’re that photographer let me challenge you.
Think of the brides out there who don’t have a budget but want some photos of their weddings. Maybe there are young couples getting married who don’t have the parents to pay for a big event or they don’t want to start their young family in debt but they would like someone to come take some pictures. Are you saying that if they can’t afford a $3,000+ photographer then they don’t deserve photos? Are you saying that if they can’t afford a Mercedes then they shouldn’t be allowed to drive? Shame on you. Not everyone can afford pro level prices. That doesn’t mean they can’t have some level of photographic services available to them.
Let me tell you a little something about my journey being the cheap photographer after the jump…
Everyone wants to be a photographer these days.
Let me warn you now that this blog post is currently in it’s third state of revisions. It’s a real rambler. If you’re up for it, I’m up for it. More after the jump.
If you hang out on Twitter, Facebook, blogs, and the like enough you can “stumble upon” some trends without even trying to. Lately I have seen a number of articles flying around about the over saturation of the photography industry, the unsustainability of the microstock market, and the pros and cons of working for “free”. The “abuse” we photographers receive at the hands of our clients and totally absurd Craig’s List postings of people wanting work for free or photographers giving away the farm for nothing.
Here are a few of the articles that most people are talking about these days.
• Photo business guru John Harrington over at Black Star Rising talking about the 12 excuses for shooting for free. This article is the one that got me thinking about doing this blog post.
• David Hobby (Strobist) about working for free. Another must read.
• Rob Haggart (A Photo Editor) about the unsustainability of the micro stock industry. Canary in the coal mine?
Let’s start with the “over saturated” market premise.
I, Zack Arias, am part of the over saturated market. I am one of the many who are filling the waters of this industry. Every job I take is a job off of the table of another photographer. I am a working photographer in large part due to the prevalence of affordable DSLRs, the expense of film and development being removed from my up front overhead, and the Internet.
I’ll be so bold to say that if you have entered this industry in the last ten years then you too are part of the over saturation equation. If you are thinking about becoming a pro photographer, whether part time or full time, then you are over saturating the market as well. I would say the “standard saturation” photographers are the ones who have been in the game, full time, without gaps, for more than ten years.
Let’s break this thing down.
In the days of Kodachrome and dinosaurs there were some pretty set rules of engagement and paths of entrance into the photography industry. You usually started by going to photography school or you started working in a lab. You had to get your feet wet somewhere and school and photo labs were a good place to get started. Once you were ready to move forward you started assisting working photographers. Many times you would have done this for free. I have assisted and interned for free many times and I have met countless photographers who started by schlepping bags and fetching coffee for nothing or next to nothing in pay. It’s what you did. It’s how you got to see how a “real” photographer worked. It was called… get this… “paying your dues.”
These days those paths aren’t so clearly defined. You can go to school via blogs, workshops, YouTube, and DVD’s. You can upload pictures to flickr and suddenly get a message from an art director wanting you to shoot a job. You can be a kid from Canada, travel the world, shoot some bands and end up shooting campaigns for a company you aren’t even old enough to buy their product. You can be inspired by your own wedding photographer, buy a camera, a fast lens, and rise to the top of your zip code within a year. You can go to Wal Mart, buy a cheap DSLR, shoot your friends and family, shoot their friends and families, put a blog together, and start a business. There are so many easy entry points into the market now. There is an abundance of inexpensive cameras, free learning portals, and free advertising routes that allows just about anyone with a camera to get out there and make a little or a lot of money with it.
The worst part about all of this is you don’t even have to be all that good of a photographer to get into the game. That really is the worst part about it all but hang out at enough photography water coolers and you’ll hear stories from “back in the day” about the same damn things. Being a crappy photographer with a profitable business is nothing new. There were just more up front costs to deal with back then. Now it’s just easier to be a crappy sucksessful photographer. Add insult to injury… You can be a fairly mediocre photographer these days and have a workshop teaching others how to be just as mediocre as you are. Meh. Whatever. It is what it is.
Add to all of this the deteriorating morale in the corporate workplace, the need of many to make an extra $100 here and there, unemployment, the recession, blah blah blah, and the fact that a lot of people find it a whole lot cooler to say “I’m a photographer” at social gatherings instead of saying “I’m a systems analyst at a health care company.” Bring this all together into the perfect shit storm of an industry filled to the gills with Joe and Jane Photographers trying to do something cool with their lives AND make some money doing it. I mean, Quicken and Quickbooks didn’t really over saturate the accounting market did it? Maybe I’m wrong.
I’m right here part of it all. I’m part of the over saturated market. You’re part of the over saturated market. Don’t bitch and moan and complain about it because you’re in it with the rest of us.
What do we do with that information? Here we all are. Up to our necks in each other. We watch ten leave because they can’t take the pressure and twenty more take their place. It all gets just a little tighter around here. The last thing in the world you need to do is complain about the situation… unless of course, you’ve been at this for twenty or more years. In that case, my apologies to you. I know you’re feeling the pressure of all of us new kids in the pool but here we are and it’s the only pool in town for us. Complaining about us isn’t making us leave and don’t think for a second that I didn’t just notice the water around me get a lot warmer.
Blah blah blah. Metaphor upon metaphor.
So it’s competitive. Guess what? Photography has always been competitive. I don’t know of any other time in this industry when it wasn’t competitive. The nice thing about the industry these days is it seems that most of us are now open to share our experiences with others. Gone are the days of everyone playing with their cards close to their chests. If you are still trying to stay in this industry with that sort of attitude your days are numbered. It’s a real hippy love fest around here these days and we young punk kids ain’t got no time for your old ways of doing things.
Us young punk kids actually really need you to stick around. We need the long established pros to help us out. I know you want us out of your pool but that isn’t happening any time soon. The better you can adapt the better you can survive. Part of adapting is now requiring you to kind of be a life gaurd even though you’d probably just be as happy to watch us all drown.
So. Yeah. Over saturated. Your attitude should shift from “This sucks.” to “So what?”. Big Deal. More at the party dude!
How can I run a business will all these $500 wedding photographers in my town?
That’s the next thing we are going to look at. I’ll let you in on this… I’m all for $500 wedding photographers. For many different and sometimes conflicting reasons. Then we’ll look at the micro stock situation. Is it the canary in the coal mine? Then let’s have a conversation about what it all means at the end of the day and will the industry adjust and what will that look like?
*I actually like to listen to the song above as “The dark days are over” and the horses coming aren’t here for destruction.
Friend and colleague, David E Jackson, has recently published this video on his blog about his thought process behind a recent conceptual shoot.
As you are starting on your photographic journey many of your questions will be dealing with cameras and lenses and their settings. What lights were used and with what modifiers. What photoshop actions were used. Etc. Then the day will come when cameras, lenses, lights and all of their settings don’t mean a damn thing to you any more. What you want to know from other photographers is what was the thought process behind a certain photo or series of photos. Dave does a good job breaking that down. Watch the video to hear how he thinks… not which aperture he used.
I’ve been saying for a long time that Dave is “one to watch” and this recent shoot of his only confirms that. Check out his blog for photos and more BTS action for this shoot. Great jorb homestar!
That guy above is hip hop legend 8 Ball. I had the opportunity to photograph him about three years ago. We shot in the studio and then headed out on location in his completely tricked out Hummer. * Ball came up in Memphis with MJG. You may not have heard of 8 Ball. If you like any sort of hip hop coming from the south then you most definitely have heard his influence. Everyone from T.I. to Luda to Andre 3000 all talk about how they were influenced by 8 Ball and MGJ early on in their career.
I was, of all things, folding socks this morning thinking about anything but folding socks. There are some who look at me and say, “Wow. Zack has made it.” From my view point I will say I’ve “made it” when I don’t have to fold socks ever again in my life. That got me thinking about 8 Ball and I thought I would share this interesting personal story…
As I was steaming Ball’s 6XL shirts for this shoot I was asking him about his career. I asked one question and he told me something that has stuck with me ever since.
I asked… “When did you know your career was to the point that this was now your job? Like, you made it.”
Ball stopped rolling his “smoke” and sat back and told me about growing up as a kid in a poor neighborhood in Memphis. He lived with his mom and grandmother in a shotgun shack. He slept in the den. One of his daily chores was going around the house and collecting the mouse traps in the house, take them outside, and get rid of the dead mice. Then he had to reset those traps and put them back around the house. He told me that he knew he had “made it” when he could throw away the whole mouse trap and reset a new one. He was making enough money in hip hop that he could just buy a new bag of traps every week instead of using the old ones.
8 Ball bought his mom a house. He’s doing well. He’s influenced an army of rappers. He knows he made it when he didn’t have to use a used mouse trap.
It doesn’t take a whole lot to make it does it? He made it but still had to set those traps. He still had a long way to go before he could just buy his mom a new house. It’s such a great story. For those of you who just discount hip hop as “crap” you ought to listen beyond the ho’s and rims and hear the stories of people who came out of nothing and into something. There are a lot of stories of redemption that come out of hip hop. Not exactly your Sunday school stories of redemption but redemption all the same. Go watch Hustle & Flow. It’s one of my top three favorite movies of all time. It’s about a small time pimp coming up in hip hop in Memphis. 8 Ball, of course, is on the soundtrack.
Here’s another one…
I get asked a lot about where I get my inspiration. That’s a hard question to answer because there are so many things and people in my life that inspire me. Let me tell you a story about a white guy from Arkansas that raps.
More after the jump ::.
Last night Meg and I were able to get a babysitter and go see our friend Dan Smith play a show. His project is called “Listener“.
Dan has a schtick. A persona. A presence on stage. He does this “thing” that is amazing. Dan does “talk music” and it is his own thing. Love him or hate him, when Dan takes the stage people get off their phones, stop chatting, and watch. His stage persona is mesmerizing. It never bleeds into background music. His music isn’t ever going to make the top ten on the billboard charts and I think that’s just all right for him. He’s not following. He’s not replicating. He’s not trying to find what is popular and pursue that.
I met Dan about six years ago when he was more of a hip hop artist than folksy/indie/something/talk music artist. I was introduced to him through this cat in Nashville named KC Jones. KC said to me, “You gotta hear the Listener. He’s a white dude from Arkansas that raps.” That introduction was enough to pique my interest.
The first song I heard was Train Song (mp3 download). “It’s my habits that make my fingers weak…” Listen closely to the story. Pretty amazing.
It’s been interesting to watch him change. To watch him find who he is. To start at one place and end up somewhere else and to see he’s not “there” yet. Dan has always been Dan, yet with each new part of his project he is becoming more true to his core. He’s walking through the shit of life and stripping off the non essentials and building back from there. It’s really an amazing process to watch from the outside.
I need to sit down with him sometime and see what it’s like from his perspective because I know for a fact it will be much different than my perspective. Maybe I’m wrong about how I see Dan. Maybe Dan is wrong about how he sees himself. Sometimes people on the outside see the real you. The “you” you can’t see. And sometimes people from the outside have the wrong idea about who you are. Hmmmm. This reminds me of something Meg is working on but that’s not for this post. (Dan, next time you’re back in Atlanta let’s talk it out)
If you listen to his older music you can hear the framework of his newer work. Meaning, you can look back and see the progression but you never see it when you are moving forward. The same thing goes for photography. It’s called personal style and it takes years to develop and you can’t really see your style until you have some years under your belt and can look back.
Dan is a huge source of inspiration for me. That inspiration doesn’t change how I look through my viewfinder but it changes how I look through the eye in my brain if that makes any sense at all… Which it doesn’t. I went to public school so trying to flowchart how inspiration works for me is a bit difficult. My brain eyes connect to my face eyes which connect to my viewfinder so maybe he does inspire how I see the world. How “inspiration” like this works for me is the music gets in my head. I listen to the stories in the lyrics. I connect the dots from the songs to the dots of my own life and those thoughts sort of lead me down a path of more thoughts that eventually lead to actions with my camera and with my business. Inspiration for me isn’t seeing one person do something and then I go do something similar to that. I think that’s more like plagiarism than inspiration.
Dan’s magic really comes through his show. He’s brave. He’s full on. He doesn’t hold back. He doesn’t care what he looks like. He just lets the f#ck go and pours it all out. I’ve seen him perform to a packed venue and to 8 people in a living room and he brings everything he has to the stage with every performance.
You can find his new album here. Be sure to give “Wooden Heart” a listen. Buy a copy and support an artist. Don’t you want someone to give you some support in your endeavors? Pay it forward.
You can stream his new album. Sorry iPhone/iPad users. These are flash embeds.
This is his last album. It’s called “Return To Struggleville” and it’s about a traveling knife salesman and it’s brilliant.
His songs are stories. They are pulled out of his head and out of his experience. He’s living his story. Are you? Are you aware that you’re walking out your story? Are you keeping your eyes far out ahead and busting your ass to get there or are you sitting around on said ass looking backwards? How’s that working for you? I saw a great quote on Twitter yesterday…
“Don’t ask God to guide your footsteps if you aren’t willing to move your feet.”
Dan’s played more than 800 shows and he has 800 more to go. He’s doing it. He’s sharing his life. He’s changing. Growing. He’s moving his feet. Stripping it down to the essentials. He’s inspiring thousands. He’s just a white dude from Arkansas that raps and he is a really important character in my own story. Fun trivia – His 800th show was at a Mexican Restaurant. 800th show.
Where are you getting your inspiration from outside the photography world?
Are you moving your feet or sittin’ on your ass? I’d rather have sores on my feet than on my ass. There’s a t-shirt.
I’m going to share a story about shooting crappy pictures then share a recent comment from one of y’all regarding our last critique that’s worthy of taking some time and thinking about what we do.
At the turn of the century I was photographer for Apartments.com. The image above is one I shot for them in 2001. It was shot with the then amazing Olympus C-3030. You should have seen the camera we upgraded from. My iPhone takes better pictures.
Ramblings after the jump…
Want a sneak peak into the life of a successfull commercial photographer?
I made this for a few reasons. I’ll go into that later.
HQ QT version of the video here.
Cheers, Zack Arias. Sucksessfull Commercial Photographer
The Setup ::
Last week we assembled a crew to help us on a three day shoot in an old abandoned mansion. I set one day aside for everyone on set to have time to grab some gear, grab a model, and shoot for themselves as payment for helping me on the other two days of shooting. Knowing that competition can bring the best out in a person I decided we should have a shootout. I posted the images here on the blog and had you all vote.
Before shooting we decided to pick one word that we all had to shoot an image for. The first word that came up was “pain” but then someone said “fear” and we decided that would be a good one and off we went. Each photographer could interpret that any way they wanted and what happened in the comments of the original blog post has been an interesting conversation of whether any of us actually shot an image that communicated fear. I feel that some of you wanted far too literal of an interpretation. Fear can go a lot of ways. I think we all gravitated toward the “horror’ish” route based on the location we had to use but it doesn’t have to be the ONLY way to interpret it. More in the discussion.
The Results ::
The winner is… (after the jump)
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