Archive for '• Resources':

VisionMongers :: Give The Gift of Encouragement Contest

December 1, 2009 | News • Resources

I’ve just read the best book about being a photographer that I’ve ever read. It is the new book VisionMongers by photographer David duChemin.

I don’t even know where to start with my review of this book. I do have to say for the sake of full disclosure that I am one of 9 photographers profiled as a case study.  I know that there will be some folks who discount my review of this book because I have a few pages in it.  So for those of you who may feel this way, please buy this book and rip those pages out and throw them in the trash. Hopefully the majority of you know that I don’t jump up and down and scream from the rooftops about anything but I am about this book.

To do a full review of this book will take me a week to put my thoughts about it into words. VisionMongers isn’t a “how to” book.  There is no formula to follow.  There aren’t 10 easy steps to becoming a full time photographer.  This isn’t a “follow your heart and be passionate and go get ‘em tiger” book either. It is more philosophy than ….

Look, this review is stupid so I’m going to stop and get into the meat of this blog post.  I’ll do a better review later.

I only made it through the introduction of this book when I got on the phone with the publisher, Peachpit, to ask for 10 copies to give away on the blog here.  Seriously, it hit me right between the eyes from the first five pages and it kept hitting me there until the end.  So Peachpit sent 10 copies to give away.  Then I thought that many emerging photographers will not buy this book because it doesn’t tell you a damn thing about what lens to use, what settings are best, how to use a softbox, the best way to handle post production, etc.  This book has nothing to do with how to make photographs.  It’s all about why we make photographs.  It’s all about the demons inside that keep us up at night fretting with this “thing” that we have to do because we have no other choice but do it or die trying.

So if folks aren’t going to buy this because it has nothing to do with camera settings I thought I would give a OneLight DVD away with the copy of the book.  Then I started thinking about other resources that have been super helpful and inspiring to me as a photographer and to me as a business person.  So I got 10 copies of Drew Gardner’s Location Lighting DVD because I have watched that a number of times this year and it has been a massive inspiration to me.  So VisionMongers, a OneLight DVD, and Drew’s DVD.  Oh yeah then there’s this, and that, and the other… So I started making phone calls and this is what is going into each of 10 gift boxes.  These are hand picked resources that have been a help to me this year.

1 year membership to KelbyTraining.com

6 month membership to ShootQ

VisionMongers by David duChemin

The Moment it Clicks by Joe McNally

Trade Secret Cards by Chase Jarvis

Location Lighting with Drew Gardner DVD

Sessions with Joey L DVD

Best Business Practices for Photographers by John Harrington

OneLight DVD

That brings the retail value for each package to $1,100 plus change.

There are a few other things that are going to be added to each gift box that no one will know about until they are opened!  And, well, we might just get Willy Wonka on one or two of them. Who knows? :)

Here is the thing… It’s the holidays.  It’s the time to give and not receive.  So you CAN NOT win this for yourself.  You are going to win this for someone you know and give this package to them on (insert the big day of your holiday choice here.)  Like… Christmas morning or something. Right? All inclusive we are around here. :)

How to win ::

We love stories around here.  We want to hear the story of someone you know who would really, really, really be blessed by this gift of encouragement.  Someone who lies awake at night dreaming of becoming a photographer.  Someone who is doing all they can to make this dream happen but they just aren’t there yet.  Maybe they are just learning and dreaming about it.  Maybe they are 1 year into it and are having a hard time.  Someone you know needs a big ass package like this to help them get through the winter months and keep going.  Every single person listed above knows about this contest and are personally interested in giving this stuff away to someone who will appreciate it, love it, and RUN with it!

Maybe it is your spouse. Your friend. A photo student. You know someone who will jump with joy to get this package and YOU want to give it to them.  Maybe you can’t even afford a single book on this list and it would be a blessing to YOU to be able to gift this to a loved one.  We only regret that we can’t give 1,000 of these packages away.  We only have 10.

You figure out who it needs to go to and tell us their story in 750 words or less (or there about) and email us at stories@usedfilm.com.  You have until midnight December 10th to write in to us.  Include a link to their blog, their site, their flickr account, whatever.  If they don’t have a link, no worries.  Send in their story all the same!

Who better to chose the top 20 stories than our two brand new interns?  Two folks trying to get this madness of photography turned into a dream and turned into a vocation.  So Robin and Rhonda are going to pick the top 20.  One more intern may be added to the mix soon as well.  Then on December 11th we as a studio will pick the top 10 and start packing the boxes.

Once we have the top 10 chosen we will notify the winners by email.  The “winners” are the person who wrote in.  We will be shipping the winning packages on the 15th.  It will be the winner’s job to wrap it up and hide this away until big holiday morning of your choice.  Like, Christmas morning, or whatever.  Get it?  Got it?  You have until the 10th.  Let us know.

Happy Holidays everyone.  We love you a lot.

Cheers, Zack

PS – Buy VisionMongers.  I swear I don’t make a red cent off of it. I have no motives other than to say you have to read this book. Just buy it. Seriously.  I’ll do a better review soon.

PPS – Legal stuff about winning contests and stuff and stuff and legal mumbo jumbo and stuff and responsibilities and stuff. Blah, blah, blah. Not valid on the moon.

PPPS – If you write in about yourself in third person to try to win this for yourself then your teeth will rot, your transmission will blow up, and Jesus will know about it.  Just sayin’.  :P

Street Portraits :: NYC 09/2009 :: Video + Stills

I’ve been talking with some folks and the topic of street portraits came up. Some are scared to death to approach strangers on the street. I understand the feeling completely but there are times you have to get over your anxiety about talking to strangers and pursue what it is you want to do. While I was in NYC a few weeks ago I decided to practice what I preach. I gave myself the assignment of shooting 10 portraits of 10 strangers in 10 hours. I had to sandwich these in between other shoots I had on the books while I was there. I approached 15 people and 9 accepted my request.

For those of you who have expressed your concerns about approaching strangers lemme give you some advice.

1) Read David duChemin’s book Within The Frame. David talks in depth about pursuing and expressing your vision where people, places, and culture are concerned. It’s a fantastic book with lots of technical and philosophical meat to dig your teeth into.

2) Get over talking to strangers. I know your mom told you not to but seriously, it’s ok. You will be amazed at how many people open themselves up to you. It’s a great experience for them and for you.

3) Don’t try to approach people who are on their way somewhere. Find someone just hanging out. You won’t be interrupting their schedule.

4) Guys, know your limit with approaching females. Some of you are suave and can do it with style. Dorks like me look like we are just trying a bad pick-up line. Know your limit. Ladies, well, y’all have it easy. Talk to anyone you want. :)

4) As David writes in his book, be kind, smile, and extend warmth and friendship to the folks you meet.

5) Many will tell you “no”. Many will say yes. Listen to what Janet said in the video above. She had not had a portrait made of her in 35 years! She wouldn’t have one getting shipped to her if someone had not simply asked to take a portrait of her.Anyway, here are my portraits. They aren’t the most amazing portraits I’ve ever shot but I’m glad I put myself out there. I met some great people I would have otherwise never talked to.

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NYC street portrait half_spacer.jpg Cheers, Zack

Call To Action :: "When I play pretend, I'm an ambitious person…"

August 24, 2009 | • Philosophy • Resources

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If you are just coming to this blog post without seeing all of the blog posts that have led up to it then let me bring you up to speed.

• I made this video in February for a guest blog spot on Scott Kelby’s blog.

• A few weeks ago a dude named B. wrote to me and I answered him on this blog. That post set off quite a discussion in the comments.

• Then a door to door salesman showed up that same day. I interviewed him and made a short video. That led to more discussion. That video was viewed over 12,000 times in one week.

People wanted to buy this man’s soap so we sold virtual bottles of his soap on the blog. People were so motivated and moved by him they bought $6,000 of this virtual soap.

• I realized I need to sell soap instead of photographs. :)

• Last Monday I had a post about motivation.

That brings us to today’s blog post. First I’ll share how I’ve been motivated by all of this.

In preparing for this blog post I was searching my archives for some sort of image to open the post with. I never make a blog post without starting with an image of some sort. I twittered yesterday that I was going to make this blog post and here it is 10pm and the post still isn’t up. I wanted it up at 10am but I couldn’t find the right image. That’s my story. If it can’t be right then I won’t do it. So instead of trying to find the right image or go make a video you get helvetica in 36 points. Not having everything “just right” should not stop me from going ahead and getting something done.

Another reason this wasn’t up at 10am is because my awesome wife, Meghan, kicked me out of the bed this morning and we went to the gym. I have to lose about 40 pounds. Been talking and thinking about losing weight for a long long long time. No more thinking about it. Now I have to do it. So instead of blogging I was jogging. Or elipticallying to be more precise. For. A. Whole. Ten. Minutes. But that’s ten more minutes than I did yesterday (you see… that’s a joke because I haven’t exercised in years).

Meg has also been on me for as long as we’ve been together to write the stuff in my head down on paper or, preferably, white boards. I finally got off my rear a few weeks ago and put white boards up. Then I started writing stuff down on them. Goals. Ideas. Concepts. Things to do. Etc. It looks like this…

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I wanted to chart out the process of how a client is moved through our studio. From phone call to thank you card. [confession] I never send thank you cards. [/confession]. But I want to! I really do! I just never do. Once the job is delivered I’m off to the next thing which is always two steps behind from where that next thing is supposed to be. The last six years of my career has been a constant game of catch up. Well… no more. I’m getting my $!&^ together. All of this discussion on the blog is helping motivate me. This is the first time I’m actually getting the chaos in my head organized visually in front of me. First time! Meg is one part happy that I’m finally doing it and one part pissed off because she wonders why I took so long.

Note how small the actual taking pictures part of the process is. That chart above is the big picture. Every line item is associated with another meeting and another whiteboard filled with stuff. It’s amazing how writing stuff down actually works! If only I had known of it earlier! (cue Meg’s fist slamming into my arm.)

Ok… so we are motivated. That’s all fine and dandy but motivation without action is… not good stuff. Motivation without action is… some great sports metaphor. I don’t know.

Last week I asked you to think about stuff. Some of you just went from thinking about stuff to doing stuff in about zero seconds. Well done! Some of you need a push off the dock so I’m here to say that all of your fears and anxiety are getting old and it’s time you learn to swim whether you like it or not. You might be right back on your dock in about two seconds but damn it, you are getting in the water… over your head. Drenched. Your excuses for not doing something are now void of having any real meaning.

Here is what I want us to do ::

Serve someone with our cameras.

This week you are going to think about how you can do this. You are going to find a person, a family, a ministry, an organization, a place, a shelter, a movement, a something that needs pictures. These pictures are needed for advocacy or fund raising or simply giving portraits to people who can’t afford even the cheapest of the Wal-Mart packages. Follow what Jeremy Cowart is doing with his Help-Portrait project as an idea.

You are going to do this for zero money so that pressure is off of you. Attaching dollars to photos can be stressful so just take the money part out of the picture. You are also doing this on your own time with whatever skill/talent/gear you have and you aren’t going to get all anal about how good it will be because chances are you will find some people who will love your work because if you don’t photograph for them NOBODY will. Any picture is going to be a good picture at this point.

“But I’m not good enough yet.”

The only person who cares about that statement is you so go ahead and build a bridge so you can get over it. :p

Week of August 31st - You have now identified a few families, organizations, ministries, etc that you think could use some of your picture taking skills. You start emailing, calling, knocking on doors. You have seven days to get yourself and your camera in the door and pitch your service. Not everyone will need you. Some will reject free stuff! Who cares? Move. On. Dot. Org. with it and knock on the next door.

Week of September 7th - You have this week to get your schedule figured out and get some sort of service job on the books. I don’t care if you have a day job and 14 million kids. If you are so tied up in stress and anxiety about your passion for this craft AND you aren’t doing anything about it then your job is suffering and your 14 million kids are suffering because while you may be present in person your mind is kept busy thinking about all the photo stuff you aren’t doing.

Just tell the kiddos that “Mommy/Daddy needs to follow her/his heart for at least one day before Mommy/Daddy implodes.” A happy Mommy/Daddy makes for a happy house. If your job sucks a$$ you can make it through the day knowing that you have a project that has purpose and meaning tied to it unlike the TPS reports you are filing. Your kids can say one of two things when they grow up…

“I watched my Mom/Dad be miserable.”

“I watched my Mom/Dad serve people with what they had.”

Pick one.

This isn’t just a self serving “I need to make $50, $100, $200 shooting portraits of middle class families in the park” kind of project. It is something that serves someone or a group of people in need of being served. Keep that in mind… You are going to use your camera to “serve” someone so you can stop staring into your own damn naval because at the end of the day, this project isn’t about you. I mean, it sort of is about you but it isn’t at the same time. You need to get off your butt and do something but the “you” part of this will soon fade when you see what you are doing for others.

Week of September 14th – September 30th - Get the job done, edited, and delivered. You only get a pass if the project you are now pursuing can only be best served in a timeframe that doesn’t meet this deadline. If you have someone or some group on the line for a project but it has to be shot at X date then you are doing fine. But that’s your only pass.

October 1st – I’ll blog about what I’ve been doing along this same time table. Many of you will talk about what you have been doing to serve your community with your camera. Some of you will be kicking yourself in your ass because, once again, like always, as per usual, like you do, you got motivated and said “Yes!!! I’m going to do that!!!” and you won’t. Tsk. Tsk. If that is you then you need to hear this…

I spent about four hours with Derrick on Saturday and, as Derrick does, he said all sorts of amazing things. One great thing was this…

“You have to believe that your life has meaning and purpose BEFORE you see that it does. If you believe it then you will be doing the right things, and saying the right things, and putting yourself in the right situations to see that your life has meaning and purpose but if you HAVE to believe it before you SEE it.”

That’s a paraphrase. He said it a lot better.

IF you are standing on a dock and you don’t know how to jump… Don’t quit your job or anything crazy right now. Turn off your television after work and find someone to serve with your camera. You have until October 1st to get it done. No whining or complaining. Just go effing do it. I’m going to be right there with ya doing something too. :)

Cheers, Zack

PS – I’ve been having some amazing email volleys with B. The post title of “When I play pretend, I’m an ambitious person…” came from one of his emails. He’s a funny dude who has more talent than he thinks he has. He’s had a back log of stuff he has promised people he would do so he can be free to work on his own projects. He’s getting that done now. You may need to do that as well. You have 72 hours to get it done. Might need to make some coffee tonight.

PPS – Derrick can’t even begin to thank everyone. More to come on that.

PPPS – Don’t come around here asking how to approach someone for this project because you aren’t going to get any help beyond this point. Many of you reading this blog want to turn this passion for photography into a career option if you haven’t already. The community at large is here to help but there are some things you just have to figure out on your own. Like identifying markets, clients, needs and then figuring out how you are going to connect with those markets, clients, and needs. You can’t have your hand held through the entire process.

Consider yourself pushed. It’s up to you for the next 30 days. Go change some lives… including your own.

Momentum :: What are you going to do with it?

August 17, 2009 | • Philosophy • Resources

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It’s Monday and we are getting back into life. Last week’s series of blog posts really stirred a pot of emotions in all of us. I know that if you are like me then you get all excited and worked up and motivated about something and in a few days… all that momentum seems to fade away and you’re right back where you started. THEN you get all depressed because just a few days ago you had a spark bright enough to start a fire. Something stirred in you that was a call to action! You were ready to take that hill and now… Meh. Forget it. It was a stupid idea.

Thanks to the generosity of all of you, Derrick sold a whole lot of soap last week by taking his pitch to the Internet. Many of you acted on a feeling and did something about it. Donations from $1 to $50 and more came in. It’s going to make his day when I hook up with him later this week! The beauty of it all is it wasn’t an act of a charity but an act of gratitude because Derrick went all Tony Robbins on us and he helped spark something.

But what is that something? What is that spark? And more importantly… What are you going to do with it?

I tell folks at my OneLight workshop to not sit on this information for six months or it will be gone. When you get motivated you need to act. You need to move. You need to get that spark on to something flammable so you can start a fire.

We are going to make this some sort of series on the blog so we can hold ourselves accountable to this process. I’m going to be emailing B. on a regular basis to make sure he gets his a$$ up and makes pictures. My team of people around me are keeping me accountable because I want to do something with this as well.

Don’t answer this now but… If last week’s series of blog posts sparked something inside of you then what are you going to do about it? If you felt a call to action then how are you going to answer that call? How are you going to get off your arse and move in a direction that you want to go in? Don’t put this back on your back burner. Keep it right in front of you and ask yourself for the next few days…

“What am I going to do about this?”

Write down every idea you have.

Cheers, Zack

Derrick's Hope Soap Fund + B's Photo Of The Day ::

August 15, 2009 | News • Resources

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Needless to say it has been an interesting few days on the blog here thanks to everyone jumping in on the conversations. What an amazing community we get to be a part of!So, B. and I have been emailing back and forth and with tears shedding on both sides of the conversation, he mentioned he needed a “man tissue.” I said I knew what those were. “They’re made of sand paper right?” He ran with that idea and shot the image above last night. Good going B!

Also… Good news! Derrick made his way to blog here and has been blown away. He and his family are so grateful for all of your kind words. The video was viewed over 5,000 times yesterday. Now that I have his contact information I have set up a donation fund for him so that we can all “buy some soap” from him. Derrick doesn’t have an email address so the thought of setting up an e-commerce store to actually sell the stuff isn’t really an option at this point so let’s show some love and support by virtually buying a bottle from him!

Send a dollar. Send twenty. Whatever you want. I’ll make up the difference that PayPal takes so if you Give $20 he gets $20. He knocked on a door to sell a bottle so let’s make sure that door turned into the biggest sell he has ever made!

I don’t think we have heard the last of Derrick because we are all really interested in hearing more about his story and this man has a way of speaking. My good friend and colleague, Ron Dawson, and I are talking about collaborating with Derrick on a project. We aren’t sure what that looks like but I’m sure it will be interesting!

Thanks again everyone for being part of the conversation this week. It isn’t done yet.

Cheers, Zack

Dope, Soap, & Hope :: Teachers Are Everywhere.

August 14, 2009 | • Resources

Yesterday’s blog post was the most rewarding, challenging, and thought provoking post I’ve had on this blog yet and it had nothing to do with me. It had everything to do with all of you. At the time of posting this entry there have been 180 comments in response to an email I received from a photographer named B.

The outpouring of response has been amazing to watch and had me calling my web host at one point yesterday so that we could allocate some more bandwidth to handle the traffic. All of you who have joined in on the discussion here and on Facebook have been amazing. You have brought so much heart and soul to the issue at hand. Thank you. You all make this blog what it is.

Meg and I spent the majority of our day yesterday managing the blog and reading all the replies that were coming in. So many of you are standing on that metaphorical dock wondering if you should jump and/or wondering when you will make that jump. There’s a big risk ahead of many of you and anxiety seems to be cornerstone on which we all build things in our life. Meg and I felt some need to do “something” in response. How could we help? How can we be of service? We are blessed and grateful for our ship that we have at sea. We know the thrills. We know the storms as well but we keep charging ahead. I seem to have stirred something up that needs a response. How do we respond?

Gracie started barking and our door bell rang and God showed up on our front door in the form of a soap salesman. I opened the door and was bombarded by a well crafted 100 MPH sales pitch and I knew immediately that he was the response to many of our thoughts and questions.

This goes out to everyone who fears your past. For everyone who wonders if you can make it. For everyone who hates your poor, lush, desk job that seems to suck the life out of you. Do you fear rejection? Make sure you watch the video above.

B. had quite a day yesterday. He wasn’t expecting a response to his email and he sure as heck wasn’t expecting it publicly. :) He made it through all of the comments last night and left one of his own. I’ll copy it here…

Firstly, thank you all. When I pressed ’send’ I imagined the most that would happen was that the e-mail would get glanced at, added to the pile of responses, and/or deleted. When I woke this morning to see a response I was hesitant. I did my morning things, saw the wife out the door and checked to see what the response was.

When I saw the words, “I’ve kind of replied here…” with a link to the blog I panicked. Really. All of the issues surrounding years of anxiety that I wrote, re-wrote, and parsed down to a few paragraphs reflected my current state of mind as it relates to my creativity and getting things done was now out there. I’d effectively been called out. I’m grateful.

I think there were 17 comments when I first checked, and I’d gotten through about half of them when I started to tear up. It got very real, and it got personal. I’d always taken an outside view of my anxiety, watching it from a distance. I’m now staring myself in the eyes and it’s harder than ever to keep from looking away. For the first time, though, I think I’m ready to dig deep and find that thing I thought I was missing.

I couldn’t keep up with the comments at work. It was too much and I didn’t want to have a repeat performance from the morning. It was eating me alive to know people were talking about my words, and my emotions, and I had to wait until I got home.

Well when I got home, and settled, I not only sat down to read every single comment, but visit every one of your blogs, websites, and portfolios if you happened to link them. I owe you all at least that much for your words, your solidarity, and your encouragement. Thank you all, so very much. I wish I could respond to every comment, but there were some specific ones I’d like to address.

H: Make that call. I’m positive I’m not the only one who would be happy to hear you did it.

Jaxun: I can say that in my case this has less to do with making money doing photography than it does with achieving some very specific goals. I have yet to move towards making them real. If I can make a living creating images, I’d be glad to do that too.

Ed: You have no idea how right you could be. Anxiety’s a b*%ch, and I’ve been escaping so much for so long I sometimes have trouble putting my finger on who I am anymore. This day’s given me a bit of courage to stop running and face the things I’ve been trying to get away from. It sounds sentimental and kind of lame, sure. It’s also the truth. The truth has a right to be kind of lame every once in a while. I think. It may not be photography (though I’d really like it to be) in the end, but I am ready to grind my teeth and do SOMETHING now.

So here I am at close to 3am and it’s been a long, surreal day. If I’m a wise person I’ll wake up tomorrow with some motivation to work towards my goals.

Thank you Zack. Thank you everyone who commented. It means a lot.

Thank you B. for having the courage to put it out there. And thanks to everyone who reads this blog and jumped into the conversation. All of you brought the goods for sure!So… What is Derrick saying to you? Let us know and let him know. Derrick and his family are signing on and reading the replies.ETA – Also let us know how we can serve you.

Cheers,

Zack

PS – On a technical note about the video :: As much as I love my D3, I sure as heck can’t snatch it out of the bag and grab an HD video with it. My video rig (tripod, mic, scrims, etc) was not all here at my house so this was just shot with a 5d MkII, 50mm lens (which kept fogging up in the humidity), and the on board mic. Not too shabby huh? It’s a great camera!

ETA – So many folks have expressed an interest to buy a bottle of soap from Derrick! We can’t get into the business of shipping soap and Derrick doesn’t so much as have an email address but I am in contact with him. If his story has inspired you then buy a “virtual” bottle of soap from him by making a donation! $1, $20, whatever. Let the door he knocked on here be the biggest sell he’s ever made!

How Many Of You Are Standing On The Dock?

August 12, 2009 | • Resources

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I got an email today. I need to share it.

It has been six months since I dug deep into my funk and produced a video called Transform for Scott Kelby’s blog. Since that time I have received not only over 700 comments on my blog and over 500 comments on Scott’s blog but hundreds of emails and dozens of phone calls regarding the video.

I was on the peripheral edges of the photography industry when I put that video out there and now I can’t accept any more friends on facebook because I’ve reached the 5,000 friend limit. The video I was hoping would strike a chord with a few people went viral with tens of thousands of people. I had no idea the impact it would make. To be honest, I was scared to death to actually release it because I thought I would have a Jerry Mguire moment where everyone would think I had lost it. Quite the opposite happened.

Many have written to me saying it has helped them keep going. Today I got an email that has hit me in the gut and got me thinking and I want to share it with you because we need to hear from you who feel you just can’t keep going with the insane idea that you might actually become an honest to God working photographer.

Zack,

As late to the game as I am with this, I wanted to thank you. I’ve watched the “Transform” video a lot since stumbling upon it earlier this year. It gets me thinking, and now I’m approaching a sink or swim moment. I’ve never been closer to sinking. What I noticed when watching it, and it’s the reason I keep watching it as often as I do, is that it doesn’t seem to have the same effect on me as it does everyone else. I don’t feel relieved that someone else goes through the same sort of despair. Instead, I agonize over the following question: If someone so talented and together feels this way then what chance have I got?

February is a rough spot for me too, but for a different reason. With each February I track the years that I’ve been stagnating. February marks some milestones in my path along this thing called photography. It’s when I started seriously thinking about it. It’s when I got my hands on an SLR for the first time. It’s when I finally got one of my own. It’s when I started getting my lighting knowledge together. It’s also, with this past February, when I noted how little I’ve progressed in the past couple of years, and how afraid I am to do the things I want to be doing.

I started a 365 project that fell flat. I just stopped taking photos. I got busy with real life and just kept forgetting. I just had no direction with it. Often I’d get ready to go to bed and my wife would remind me I hadn’t taken a picture. I’d hurry and just shoot something around the house. Eventually I just stopped trying. I was too tired. I’ve been thinking of picking it up again, or starting from scratch, but I already know how it’ll turn out.

I’ve gone from being interested in photography, to getting brave with a P&S, to being self-conscious with a DSLR, to learning light, to having big ideas, to being ready to sell my camera or put it away for good. “Transform” reminds me that there’s something others have within them that I don’t. What inspires them to get things done that I’m missing? I’ve been analyzing and comparing for far too long.

I never went to school for photography. I don’t have an encyclopedic knowledge of the great photographers or their work, I don’t make much money. I have very little gear and can’t afford anything new. I don’t drive. I can’t get anywhere. I don’t have time. I’m spread too thin. I have too many interests and hobbies. I’m too old to start now. I’ve missed my chance. I have no confidence. I have no ambition or drive. Is it any of these things? Is it all of them?

I know all of these things are excuses and that if I truly wanted to become a photographer I’d just shut up and do it. But how do you DO that? Nobody teaches you how to have that thing that actually makes you DO it. To this day I have no idea why I’m fighting off the urge to just quit. I just keep dreaming, and I keep fretting, and I keep making excuses.

I mainly wanted to just get this out of my system and finally thank you for your video, and for how what you do inspires me. It may not seem like it from what’s written above, but it’s true. You’re doing what I’d love to be doing. I’m not interested in a ton of gear and gigantic, expensively produced photoshoots or extensive photoshop work. You remind me that people can just get out there and do it. I’m just not sure I’m one of those people, and “Transform” reminds me how much I have to think about.

B.

P.S. – I’ve re-written this three times, each time deleting it because I felt really stupid writing it. I’m finally sending it because, of the things I’m tired of, being afraid of appearing stupid is near the top.

B. After all my schooling and years of assisting photographers I sat around for a long, long time wondering… “Yeah, but how in the hell do you have a career doing this?” I’ve heard the stories of others but what about MY story? When does mine start? How do I go from understanding apertures, shutter speed, flash power, softboxes, and the like to actually going out and producing work that I am proud of AND work that pays my bills? How do I do that?

Seriously. I had all the technical. I knew how other people had done it. It’s like sitting in a bar in a harbour town hearing people come off the ships telling stories about new lands they have found. You know what a boat is. You know how it works. But you have no idea how to go get your own boat and set off to find new land of your own.

Currently we are rebuilding the way we do business in our studio. I have been on a research path for two years to go in a direction that I was getting ready to launch in the next 60 days and with a few words from the sweet lips of my wife’s mouth I have just about scrapped that last two years of preparation to strike off into uncharted waters. I’m heading out to a place that I’ve heard plenty of stories about but I’ve yet to experience on my own. Plenty have gone before me but now it’s time for me to set sail with my own boat. Will it sail? Will it sink?

There is only one way to find out.

You are standing on the dock and you can always stand on that dock. Always. Or you can get in a boat and push off. A well known photographer once said that they dove in over their heads and swam for the top. That’s pretty inspirational. I’ve done the same thing. However… I don’t think they said anything about how many dead bodies that they had to swim by to get to the surface again.

Want to climb to the top of Mount Everest? You’ll be passing the dead bodies of those who wanted the same thing and never made it.

But damn it all… Those dead souls died climbing. How many explorers have died exploring? Countless. How many explorers have died sitting at home? Countless still.

How many of you, right now, are wondering the same thing that B. is wondering? B. wants to hear from you. Tell us your story. Drop it in the comments. All of us just want to make sure that we aren’t alone.

Cheers, Zack

PS – B. – I’m glad you didn’t delete the final draft. It’s good to just put it out there. It’s therapeutic. I know this from experience.

Interviewed For Tech Tock by Jack Howard ::

July 9, 2009 | News • Resources

 

I had the pleasure to be interviewed this week by Jack Howard who runs the Tech Tock podcast. We talked about the Transform video I did for Scott Kelby’s blog earlier this year, the problems with the cult of personality in our industry, 6º and social media, balancing home and work, cameras, lights, etc. 

Also check out the rest of the Tech Tock podcast lineup.  

Cheers, Zack 

PDN Virtual Trade Show Q&A :: Bring Your Questions Here!

May 21, 2009 | • Resources • Technique

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Just finished my presentation for the PDN virtual trade show. That was the fastest I’ve ever had to talk! Thanks to PDN and B&H for making it happen!

This post is to answer questions that we didn’t have time to cover during the presentation. Go ahead and post questions here in the comment section. I’ll be working through your questions here on the blog through the weekend.

From what I’m being told… starting today all of the virtual PDN presentations from yesterday will be archived here. You have to register (it’s free!) and Mac users you need to use the latest version of Firefox. If you would like a copy of the PDF I used for my presentation, you can download it here. The PDF link is a link to the actual file. You PC users probably need to right click on that link and “save target as”. If that doesn’t work just his cntrl+alt+del and that should take care of it. ;p

Thank you all for being a part of this! I’m sure I wont be able to get to every single question but I already know that these questions will bring on other blog posts.

Let’s get started on some questions. Check back as I’ll be adding more to this post. I’m adding new replies to the top of the post so you don’t have to keep scrolling down and down and down.

Q :: I wanted to know, how do you deal with over-powering a sun on a clear sky day. If all you’ve brought is a strobe and your 50” Softbox, what would you do?

A :: A small hotshoe flash and the 50″ softbox isn’t going to overpower the sun on a clear day unless the face of the softbox is about three inches from your subject or you are shooting with a D70 or similar camera that has a faster sync speed than 250th of a second. Even then faster sync speeds might not cut it since the softbox sucks so much light to start with. If I am heading out into mid afternoon sun AND I want to overpower a very bright ambient light source like a bright sky then I’m going out with my Alien Bee 1600 and the Vagabond battery pack.

Now then, I’ve been shooting full time for 5 and a half years and I’ve only had the AB 1600 and Vagabond for about the last year. So what did I do?

• I didn’t book shoots that would have me out in the sun at a time that I couldn’t control it.

• If I just had to had to had to shoot in bright sun light then I used straight flash, backed up, and made the shot more environmental in nature since straight flash isn’t the most flattering quality of light most of the time. See the last image of my presentation to see what I’m talking about.

• If shooting straight flash doesn’t cut it, then I shoot available light. Typically backlighting my subject with the sun.

Hotshoe flashes are awesome. They can do SO much but they can’t do everything. You will quickly find their limitations when shooting in bright ambient environments. When I spend money on lighting it isn’t for features, it’s for POWER! Don’t give me TTL and digital this and that. Give me raw stinking horsepower. I buy lights to get the most light per dollar instead of “cool” features.

Also remember that YOU are the pro. You are in charge of making the decisions that will yield the best results for your clients. They are paying you to know what you are doing. If they want portraits on the beach and want to book the job at noon but you know the better images are going to be at 6pm then it is up to you to educate your clients and book that job at 6pm instead of noon. Clients want great images but they also want connivence. If you know the limits of your gear and the images you are wanting to create just can’t be created at noon then it is up to you to drive that boat and get that noon shoot booked at 6pm instead.

Q :: Did you say to DO talk to the model about things like a TV show etc. or just talk to her in the sense of what you’re doing and how many more shots are left and how well she’s doing.

A :: I talk to my subjects about anything and everything! If I’m doing a corporate shoot then I make sure to glance at the business and sports sections of my local paper before the shoot. I’m not a sports fan of any kind but I find talking sports in the corporate arena will keep a subject’s attention off the camera and lights for a little while. I’ll talk about my kids, my dog, a new album I am listening to, etc. I ask a lot of questions as I’m starting a shoot as well. “Married? Kids? Pets? What kind of music do you like? Did you see that movie 7 Pounds? Wasn’t it dark yet beautiful? I’m going to adjust this light. Just sit tight for a second. Are you keeping up with Idol this season?”

I will talk through my thought process as well during the shoot. Things like “I’m going to change this angle, I need you to rotate just a bit this way so I can keep that light pole from growing out of your head.”

The key to all of this is to make sure I’m not worried about the technical aspect of what I’m doing. If I start tweaking out in my head about my gear or about camera settings then I can’t stay focused on keeping a conversation going with my client. I get quiet. I start sweating. I get all up in my head about some technical thing and the flow of the client to subject relationship stops. I avoid that at all costs.

Q :: what would be the essential lighting that you would bring to a wedding? Assuming you are doing both indoor and outdoor photos.

A :: I take 3 Nikon speedlites . 2 SB-25′s and 1 SB-800. I only own the SB-800 because I HAD to have a flash for a job the day after my SB-80dx fried. I had to suck it up and pay $320 for a flash that I don’t use half the features of. I’ve shot entire weddings from formals to receptions with just a handful of these small flashes. I now take an Alien Bee 1600 and a Vagabond just in case I need more power. I rarely do though and it sits unused much of the time but I have it just in case. I have a blog post about what’s in my bag. Just add another bag with the AB head and battery, 3 stands, a 60″ umbrella, a 28″ Westcott softbox, and that is my wedding gear.

Q :: How do you come up with the effect you hope to achieve? Is it all trial and error or do you have an idea when you come into the shoot?

Answer after the jump! ——> (more…)

I'm freaking motivated! :: Drew Gardner DVD Review

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Well I’m freaking motivated now. Meg and I just watched London based photographer Drew Gardner’s DVD entitled “Location Lighting with Drew Gardner.” I picked it up from Midewst Photo Exchange for $24.95. That is a grand theft video right there and it is an introductory offer. I think it is going to sell normally for $34.95 or $40. For UK readers you can purchase it from the Flash Centre for 20 pounds.

Synopsis of this DVD :: You follow Drew on two big location shoots. He walks you through the location, the lighting, the thought process, and finishes each section with a quick look at the post production. The reason the post production is a “quick look” is because he does as much as he can at the time of shooting instead of relying on Photoshop. Granted, these images “require” some compositing. I mean, where are you going to find five perfectly trained badgers? The following images are the final images from these two shoots…

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These are big production shoots with a station wagon full of gear. Drew uses a Phase One medium format back, Elinchrom Ranger lights, the beautiful and remarkable Red Wing boom (I really want one of these), grids, Chimera softboxes, a smoke machine, and assistants to help him get all of this together. Here is the thing though… Do not think that you HAVE to have this gear to get something out of this video. I don’t have any where near the type of gear he uses for this and I’m completely inspired to get off my arse and step up my game.

So what does that mean? That means I pick this information apart and retrofit the techniques Drew uses with the gear I currently own. That means I shoot 35mm based digital instead of medium format digital. It means I use my Alien Bees with a Vagabond battery in addition to my used Nikon flashes. The Rangers are incredibly wonderful and powerful lights but I can’t yet justify the cost of them and chances are you can’t either. It basically means I step up my skill set with whatever gear I have. I work within my limitations and that is going to make me a better photographer.

Another thing I think about is I can rent bigger lights if needed! I can rent a Ranger and a head for $55 a day here in Atlanta. Plan your shoots well and you can sometimes pick up rental gear on a Friday afternoon, return it on Monday and only pay for one day of rental. That gives you 2 1/2 days to shoot.

Some of you may be saying, “But I’m a wedding / portrait photographer. Why would I go to these lengths for my shoots?”

Because you could absolutely separate yourself from the pack of competition if you slowed down and thought through sessions with the detail Drew goes into. When you show up with something completely different than the standard you attract a client base looking for something different. You also attract better rates for your services because you put more into it than the new kid on the block with the camera from Best Buy.

Slowing down is something I have to be doing these days. I’m the kind of photographer who feels he must shoot, shoot, shoot and get this angle and that angle and the other angle. A lot of times this is great and keeps me on my toes but I know that I’m not getting exactly what I want because I feel some sort of internal pressure to move on to the next scenario BEFORE I get the best I can get from what is in front of me. I’m really attracted to tethered medium format digital right now because it makes you slow down and really think through the shot in front of you.

Seriously, exchange the girl on the water buffalo with a bride and you have a John Michael Cooper meets Drew Gardner kind of thing. :)

This DVD is NOT a down and dirty, nuts and bolts technical video. If you are new to lighting and photography in general then this one is going to go a bit over your head. This is best suited for those of you who are comfortable with lighting or at least you have the knowledge and understanding of f-stops and shutter speeds. If you are new to lighting then check out the OneLight DVD and/or the Strobist DVD for the foundations of lighting and gear.

It is currently being offered at MPEX in the US for $25 and that’s a steal. I suggest picking one up before the introductory price is up.

Find out more about Drew on his blog at www.TheDarkArt.com. And here is a quick trailer for the DVD…

Cheers, Zack

PS – Yes… I taught with Drew in Dubai. NO… I’m not getting any kind of commission / kickback for posting this review! I really do love this DVD as does Meg. Yep! Even Meg got excited about photography after watching this and she isn’t a photographer! :)


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