Cavalia :: Controlling The Work You Show

My dear friend, Marc Climie, often says…

“Let your work determine your clients. Don’t let your clients determine your work.”

In order to live by that philosophy you have to be very careful what work you show to the world through your site, blog, and book.  If you don’t want to shoot family portraits, then don’t show family portraits. If you hate selective color photographs (as you should) then don’t show them.  Here is a good scenario…

You want to shoot portraits of bands and musicians for press kits and promo work. You are a struggling photographer just trying to get started and you get a call from a friend of a friend and they would love for you to shoot their family portraits. You need the work so you agree to it and, hopefully, you do a kick ass job.  You just shot the best family portraits of your life. What do you do with them?

Continue reading and seeing after the jump ::

Aside from delivering those family portraits to the client, you bury them in your local hard drive and you don’t show them to anyone else.  Why? You want to shoot bands (or headshots, or editorial assignments, or documentary weddings, etc.) not families. You have to show the work that determines your clients. If you put those family portraits out into the world then you are saying “I shoot family portraits”. Is that what you want to say with your work?

Let’s add another layer to this and say the family loves, loves, loves their photos and REALLY wants to buy a huge print of one AND they want some selective color goodness on it.  You know the kind. Everything is in B&W except their jeans or eyes or whatever. I hope that you cringe at this request knowing that there have only been two acceptable uses for selective color. One was in the movie Schindler’s List and the other was the original Live Strong campaign. So the family really wants this to happen and you really want to cash their check because rent is due in 14 minutes. What do you do?

There are times we do this for love and there are times we do this for money. That is the mash up of art and commerce. Especially for emerging photographers. As you are starting your career your ability to hold your artistic ground isn’t solidified and you will find yourself bending to the will of your clients more than you may like. I’m here to tell you that it’s ok. You aren’t that much of a whore for doing it! We all have to do it at some point all throughout our career. After all we are in the service industry. Our clients may have a very specific need or desire and while we don’t like what they are asking for, we need to keep collecting a check to keep our family fed.

Off you go to Photoshop… to selective color… a family portrait. And what are you going to do with these pictures? Deliver them and forget ’em. The rest of us don’t have to look at them.

My point? As my business has grown the number one genre of photography I am so pleased to say no to is event photography.  I hate event photography.  Hell for me would be a non stop corporate cocktail party with 14 billion awards ceremonies thrown in all requiring grip-n-grin shots with the CEO.  Guess what I just shot last week? Grip-n-grin pictures featuring media mogul Ted Turner and key members of his family.  At least it was Ted Turner right? Wrong. There I am, camera in hand, lining up a group of folks and asking them to smile for the photo.  Here is the picture…

(crickets chirping)

(crickets chirping)

(crickets chirping)

(crickets chirping)

(crickets chirping)

Guess what? I’m not showing that picture. I’m not showing the pictures of him or pictures of he and his family or the shot where he hands flowers to the cast of the show he was attending. Why? I don’t want to shoot those pictures. I’ll tell you I shot them but I won’t show them to you. Want to hear something even more terrible? I did it for free AND I paid an assistant to go with me. Shooting pictures I hate to shoot cost me $120 after it was all said and done. Maybe I am in hell already. I most certainly delivered those images to my client but I’m not putting them out in the world to see.

So if I hate shooting events then what in the hell was I doing shooting an event for free? I was seizing an opportunity.

I love anything Cirque. I fell in love with their productions the first time I saw one of their shows in Vegas some 10 years ago. When I found out that one of the founders of Cirque had a new show here in Atlanta called Cavalia that introduced horses to the mix I HAD to go.  Better yet, I had to photograph it. I’ve been wanting to do a personal project with horses for awhile now and what would be better than mixing horses with acrobats?  I told my lovely wife, Meghan, that I really wanted to get access to Cavalia while it was in town.  Meg knows the folks handling PR for Cavalia so she got to work on it. The reply?

(more crickets chirping)

Until a month later. The PR company reached back to Meg with an opportunity for me to have pretty decent access to the cast and the show. For one night only, Jennie Turner, daughter for Ted Turner, would be performing in the show and they needed pictures of her performing, taking a bow, and then cover the grip-n-grin photo-ops at the end of the show with the Turner family and cast of Cavalia.  Did I want to shoot these pictures? No. Did I jump at the opportunity? Hell yes. Taking the photos I didn’t want to take was my key to getting in to take the photos I did want to take. Well, almost.

Shooting this event turned into an opportunity to make a relationship with the good folks who put on the show. Around the big tent there are these massive banners with the horses and cast of Cavalia performing their routines in some sort of mountainous desert. They are gorgeous and I can’t find them on the web but somebody shot those images. THAT is the access I want.  You get that kind of access by making relationships and NOT showing grip-n-grin event photos in your portfolio. I would love the opportunity to shoot the promo work for any Cirque show. I have to figure out who makes those decisions. Once I find that person or group of people then I have to show them images that I want them to see. I do not, under any circumstance, want them to see after the show happy snaps.

After all this blabbling, here is a small set of images from my evening at Cavalia. I did my research before I went. I looked at all the photos I could find of the show and I was determined to not replicate any of them. I wanted a unique set of images from a show that has been shot numerous times by lots of photographers. For me this meant concentrating on behind the scenes, B&W, and motion.

The last image in this series is just about my favorite.  I went in looking for a picture that you would not expect to shoot at Cavalia.  I was shooting the performers but kept seeing movement out of the corner of my eye. Then I saw the shadow and ditched the action for the shadow play on the side of the stage.

So now what? How do I use these images beyond blog fodder? I’m going back this week with an armful of prints. My goal is to shoot portraits of the cast.  I need more access and more time. I’m hoping that these images combined with individual images I shot of the cast members as they performed will add to all of the smiles and hand shakes I gave out the night of the performance. They are such an amazing group of people I am really hoping to gain a little more access and have a little more time to create something a little more unique. We shall see how it goes!

How many of you are willing to lose money on an opportunity? Have you done it recently? What type of work would you pay to shoot? That’s basically what I did here.

Cheers, Zack

PS – Winning Vision Mongers Christmas stories coming up soon!


  • Martin said on December 28, 2009

    Very nice,

    just saw Cavalia couple of montsh ago here in VA – you’ve really captured the mood of the show; Great to have access to the performers as well….


  • Jennifer Grigg said on December 28, 2009

    Outstanding! Shoot everyday is my new year’s resolution. Hopefully I can apply what I have learned, and continue to learn from you! What type of work would I pay to shoot…….?
    Love to yours,

  • Danielle said on December 28, 2009

    Thanks for making me feel like “whoring” is ok. It’s good to know even you do it.

  • Nick Lopez said on December 28, 2009

    Heh. Thank you. I just shot the best family portraits I’ve ever shot in my life. Three different families in fact. Nailed every one of them and had no idea what i was supposed to do with them because I hate shooting family portraits but the work is super solid. Good info. I knew it already but I almost felt like i was the unemployed guy holding out for the management position by holding true to this theory.

  • David Getsfrid said on December 28, 2009

    This post immediately inspired me to dump 4 images from my portfolio and delete several old blog posts. In my attempts to boost SEO by blogging about every tiny job I’ve done, it’s easy to lose sight of what people are going to actually see once they get there.

    Thanks, Zack, and those shots are absolutely gorgeous.

  • heather mckay bowes said on December 28, 2009

    HC!! those images with the horses are fantastic, especially the one of the man on the large ball and the white horse. And the man standing on the backs of the two. I should print this blog entry, it is very good to read. Thank you!

  • brent... said on December 28, 2009

    honest, insightful and inspiring.

    great work as usual.


  • KCV said on December 28, 2009

    Great story! I like how “fluid” the entry is.
    Awesome photos as always.

  • Julia said on December 28, 2009

    Wow your images are jaw dropping, Zack!!

    I am a huge fan of air travel. I’d pay to be able to shoot from areas of an airport that are inaccessible from the public.

    PS – Whew! Glad to know I wouldn’t be that much of a whore to cave to hideous client requests like selective B&W.

  • Melissa Blue said on December 28, 2009

    In my hopes of shooting more fashion photography, I am planning to do a model shoot-out…loosing money on the process, but getting good portfolio builders I couldn’t get any other way. And yes, thanks for letting us know that you do some “whoring” too!

  • Jonathan Martinez said on December 28, 2009

    I’ve been willing number of times to lose money or do a job at no cost because of a perfect opportunity to expand my relationships with different individuals. As i read your blog I’ve began to think of what i want to do now in my photography and the demographic i want to penetrate and run with. Although i will consider doing other jobs even it if requires me to do it for no cost, I’m all up for it. Also I love to try to give back for the community as well so don’t get me wrong I’m not all about trying to get me to look good but its to help me stay humble to my photography and enjoy every min of the moments I get.

    Thanks for the kick ass blog.


  • kent corley said on December 28, 2009

    Beautiful work Zack. Some of my favorite stuff I’ve seen here.

    I’m happy to say I jumped at an opportunity recently that won’t be a money-maker… I loved the work though, and had a nice confidence boost/inspiration re-up in the process. It’s already a win.

    Thanks for putting yourself out there like this and good luck with your social-media blackout!

  • Martin Ayón said on December 28, 2009

    Right on the money again man. I guess the work I would pay to shot is probably spending the day shooting portraits of people like you…

  • melissa said on December 28, 2009

    such good advice!

    I micro it down to what kinds of images are shot during a session and what I show. I like more relaxed, family moments, nothing too posed, the family sitting on the fireplace looking straight a head and all fake smiles has been requested… I’ve shot them but I choose the images that are the ones I LOVE and LOVE to shoot for sharing. Future clients see that work and eventually, no more stilted fake family portraits (or whatever it is you don’t want to shoot)

    (shooting cirque is a dream assignment for me, when we went to Las Vegas I was fantasizing about meeting someone and getting back stage access lol rock on they are great)

  • Chris said on December 28, 2009

    I hear you loud and clear! I want to get into the local music and concert scene, and to do so I was presented with the opportunity to shoot a local radio morning show DJ’s wedding. I’m taking a bath on the job, but I’m shooting the wedding and setting up the studio style photobooth for the reception. This move gains me access to multiple radio personalities and radio management of vearious stations since they are all part of the same family. And with a local band playing the reception as a wedding gift to the bride and groom, I get a chance to capture some shots that I can use to open those doors more after all is said, done and delivered.

  • edd carlile said on December 28, 2009

    Very insightful post here.
    Your words are helping me zero in on where and what I need to be doing with my camera….at an impasse just now and am floundering around trying to figure out if I should take myself more or less seriously with a camera in my hand.
    Your blog post has given me more to ponder.
    Great series of images you shared here.
    Thank you.

  • Ian said on December 28, 2009

    Thanks for sharing that Zak. I always choose what I shoot for free VERY carefully which I think is an essential approach. I’ve not yet actually payed (sort of indirectly but paying none the less) to lay down the foundations to get to where you want to be, shooting what I want to shoot. Maybe I should. Another well wrote, thought provoking article.

  • Steve G said on December 28, 2009

    Thanks Zack for provoking some meaningful soul searching. What you said really hit home with me…perfect timing with 2010 approaching. Awesome stuff as always- Happy New Year!

  • Just Another Girl With a Camera said on December 28, 2009

    Beautiful work, great advice.
    Love the envelope on the makeup table in the first shot. Tres Hitchcock. Nice. :)

  • Sean McCormack said on December 28, 2009

    Excellent post Zack..

    You also left out Sin City as a reasonable use of selective colour 😉

  • Nicholas Franklin said on December 28, 2009

    Good points Zack. Kinda the dirty secret to photography… you’re gonna take alot of photos you don’t want to take. Even worse, some of them will suck.

    Sometimes ya gotta be willing to do that tho, and be willing to do at your own cost for the sake of learning, a foot in the door, relationship, whatever. Long term benefits have to outweigh minimal short term losses.

  • Rory Laubscher said on December 28, 2009

    Congratulations on getting a foot in the door, and for having the foresight to get that far.

    I myself have been mesmerised by Cirque du Soleil for ages; to think that there are so many people doing things that are supposedly not humanly possible boggles my mind!

    Good luck with your pitch, I hope you get your chance to rub shoulders with these amazing individuals.

  • Clayton Borah said on December 28, 2009

    Thanks Zak. As per usual what you have to say is a great reminder for where I am at. As a photographer just starting out I am not sure exactly what I want to focus on. Is it ok to post most anything to my blog as I try and figure out what kind of stuff I want to shoot?

    Anyone can chime in here.

    Great shots btw.

  • Carol said on December 28, 2009

    Great advice ~ Thanks for sharing & love the pics, especially the last 1! And I agree; sometimes “FREE” is really an open door of opportunity into a whole realm of the unexpected… I’ve tried this recently & am gonna keep going for it, because I don’t want to ever limit myself!

  • Ole M said on December 28, 2009

    Good story =)

    In early december I paid for studio rent, so I could shoot a up n coming artist. I now get to shoot her cover, next year =)

  • Ryan Scott said on December 28, 2009

    Nice post. I keep telling myself to show what I want to shoot, but I need to start listening.

    Semi-unrelated question: What lens was the shadow photo taken with? f/2.2 @ 105mm? Hm…stumped. Sounds like it’s not in my pay grade…

  • Mark Weaver said on December 28, 2009

    Great article concerning the human contact side of the business. I’ve been doing some pro bono work with a local SWAT team which is slowly opening doors for me into the law enforcement community. Fun, dynamic pics of determined professionals is where I want to be. Wonderful insight on the topic and striking images, well done!

  • michelle said on December 28, 2009

    Genius! :)

  • michalfanta said on December 28, 2009

    Awesome quot! And wonderful photographs.

    Thank you for sharing.

  • Russell Climie said on December 28, 2009

    Zack –

    Great post about what to post and what not to post. After watching some of your critiques we went back through our galleries and are currently updating them for a website rollout the first week of 2010. We photograph weddings and events, but happen to get a lot of requests for families and seniors. We trade services with the local Chamber of Commerce and other local b-2-b organizations that gain us access to tons of business clients that hold events.

    Thanks for the post and keep it up!

  • Kris Hollingsworth said on December 28, 2009

    Amazing stuff. As always. But that’s the only stuff you show us, right? :)

  • rob hammer said on December 28, 2009

    awesome post zack.

    I think a lot of photographer’s ego’s are too big to work for free.

  • Darrell Harris said on December 28, 2009

    stern and usable advice. Never really thought of that – brilliantly simple.

    By the way – love those cirque photos you posted. I think when you put out a book that you should incorporate a where’s waldo-style them – I enjoy examining your photos, reverse engineering lighting…and trying to fin your logo in all those shots! Thanks for sharing all your experience.

  • Jessica said on December 28, 2009

    Lovely shots and death to selective color!

  • Luke Copping said on December 28, 2009

    I agree wholeheartedly, concise Editing and controlling what work
    your potential clients see is a great way to manage how they perceive your work. Especially in those situations where a face to face meeting or relationship building opportunities cannot be put
    to use. I wouldent send my beauty work to a music client, or my music work to a fashion client. Editing can be difficult though, sometimes it’s hard to divorce yourself from a certain image because of what it means to you persoanally, when
    it may be taken in a very different context by a viewer. I’m a firm
    believer in the showing what you want to shoot philosophy that zack promotes here. And it’s better to show fewer great images than
    a lot of mediocre ones.

    P.S. Zack, the cirque images look exquisite.

  • Megan Case said on December 28, 2009

    I’ve been whoring around for a while now trying to obtain a little money for the equipment staples I desire….. : )

    I’ve learned that I simply must have a connection to what I’m photographing…Music is something that I’m very passionate about, so I love to shoot lives musicians. Interesting enough, I thought I would really get sick of family shoots, but I’m actually really enjoying it. Seeing a mother and father tear up when I show them a gallery of their newborn is the highest form of flattery to me…

  • Marlies Anastasia said on December 28, 2009

    I have zero problems doing freebies or even paying to be able to get the opportunity to get the shots I want – either cash or blood, sweat and tears. When I dipped my toes in politics they called it “goodwill”. It is so true though, a bit of goodwill can go a long way in opening doors previously locked.

    This is a very timely post and has made me rethink my websites and some of my goals for 2010. I had been contemplating putting images up just for the sake of having them which I now realize is asinine. Better to wait until I can be proud to sign my work.

    So jealous you took pictures at Cavalia! I am a huge fan of Cirque and would love to be able to get access to photograph during dress rehearsals. While nowhere near the same, practicing my equine photography at the Georgia Renaissance Festival and Medieval Times is on my to-do list this year.

    Best of luck with the networking!

  • Bryan Mitchell said on December 28, 2009

    “How many of you are willing to lose money on an opportunity?”
    Not me. Can’t afford it and don’t have the time.

    “Have you done it recently?”
    “What type of work would you pay to shoot?”

    I think it just sets you up as the “free” shooter.
    Also, there are a few things I have had as goals to shoot like the NBA finals (did) NHL finals (did) Superbowl (nope) and the Olympics (Nope).
    If someone said we have full access credentials for any events you want to shoot this upcoming Olympics but you won’t get paid, you have to pay to get there and stay and we can use the images how we want before you can license them. Would I go? I really want to shoot the Olympics but no, wouldn’t do it. Can’t do it. Would cost to much.

    I sometimes wish it was different but thats the way it is right now.

  • deb schwedhelm said on December 28, 2009

    love this. every last bit of it. don’t show what you don’t want to shoot!! amen.

  • Joshua said on December 28, 2009

    I couldn’t agree more with Zack.
    I’ve come to realize this over a long time, and now am just searching for my own “cirque.”

    Great work, Zack.

  • Raymond said on December 28, 2009

    Z: Thanks for sharing from your heart. I agree with Heather, the man on the ball with the sitting horse shot is… magic.

  • zack said on December 28, 2009

    Someone asked about the lens I shot some of these with… It was a used Nikon 105 f2. One of my favorite, can’t live without lenses.


  • JVL said on December 28, 2009

    I’m with you – I went to a cirque after party in Toronto years ago. I still recount it as one of the best nights of my life. I wasn’t into photography at the time, but I was into building relationships… those kids know how to party.

  • Kevin Rogers said on December 28, 2009

    You and David Bean always know the right thing to write about, just as I need it!

  • Parris Whittingham said on December 28, 2009

    Thank you so much for sharing this story Zack. I found myself reading it aloud to a buddy of mine who is NOT a photographer…he LOVED it! These images are amazing. The sense of the outdoors and the free-spirited nature of these images really captivates my focus. Your ability to “keep it real” with photographers and yourself is so admirable and quite humbling. Thanks again for the sharing :)

  • David Redding said on December 28, 2009

    You paid to shoot something…..I think that pop I just heard was John Harrington’s head exploding!

    Great work Zack! In some of the wedding forums I read you see people go on about clients wanting cheesy things all the time. They try to pull the “Artist” line and such. Just because you do something for a client doesn’t mean you have to announce it to the world.

    In the wedding world it is a little less restraining with the ability to hold down a day job which in turn give you a little more leeway to turn down gigs and only work the jobs you want….It can take longer to go full time…but you are a little happier I would think.

    Then again a shit photo gig is 10 times better then a soul sucking day job lol

  • David said on December 28, 2009

    Thank you for sharing those images of the action. I absolutely love number 82 and 112. Having been to a Cirque show, 82 make me feel like I’m in the audience; experiencing the event. Number 112 makes me feel the speed, the grace and the beauty of the show and horses. Truly inspiring work. Thanks again for sharing.

  • Max said on December 28, 2009

    Zack, don’t get me wrong but, what will happen if each photographer or aspiring photographer on earth goes out there and shoot for free even once? Do you think there would be still enough paid works for everyone? It’s not a rhetoric question, it’s a real one. I would like to know what you and others think.

  • cary norton said on December 28, 2009

    the shot of the makeup, dude. the fucking shot of the makeup.


  • DB said on December 28, 2009

    Thank you for indirectly being my mentor. You have inspired me, made me think and made my head hurt from all the information you provide.

    I hope to one day have the opportunity to thank you in person.

    Your student from Okinawa Japan

  • MoodyEve said on December 28, 2009

    Fantastic advice. Especially useful for those of us just starting out.
    I have an ongoing debate with my partner about what pork should be in our portfolio and what shouldn’t.
    This was an interesting insight.

  • Jef said on December 29, 2009

    Are you kidding, I trade for opportunity all the time. I’m in the very early stages of starting a business and I shoot 90% free right now, and NO I’m not quitting my day job if I put my photos up against yours.

    The thing I want to hear from you is about portfolios. It relates to what you are saying about showing your work. I NEVER give my clients all the pics from a shoot. Only the ones I think are good.

    But, if I only have a handful of shots for my portfolio, and I don’t want to duplicate poses or models, but my portfolio sells my work, what do I show?

    Thanks for listening.


  • Charity said on December 29, 2009

    “How many of you are willing to lose money on an opportunity? Have you done it recently? What type of work would you pay to shoot?”:

    Wow, way to hit close to home Zack! I recently financed a trip to Paris, France. I’m a food photographer, wanting more exposure in fine food and travel photography. I’ve been here two months so far, and have morphed my blog and my portfolio into what has so far become a very impressive spread. Not only has this project got me shooting more, but it has also lead to access into some of the finest restaurants in Paris. I’m building contacts, impressing a slew of people back home (not just my family), and I’ll be lucky if I’m not in debt up to my eyeballs upon my return next month.

    Was it worth it?
    Heck yes. :)

  • Lee said on December 29, 2009

    Zack, great words of advise. Your pics from the show are absolutely incredible. Keep doing what you do and I will continue to admire. Thanks!

  • Photographer Staffordshire said on December 29, 2009

    Hi, This is really a great collection of pictures. This work is truly admirable.

  • damien said on December 29, 2009

    wow, you nailed it. great job.

  • Brian Davis said on December 29, 2009

    Great insight as usual Zack. I’m glad you let us know that sometimes doing something that isn’t your favorite can turn into something else that you may want to do.

  • caroline said on December 29, 2009

    Beautiful, beautiful photos. Definitely worth a little whoring for access to that, eh?

    And I’m so with you on event photos. The very nanosecond I was getting enough business to start turning those down, I did.

  • Brian said on December 29, 2009

    I’m with Bryan Mitchell and Max on this one.

    I use to get the calls that usually contained the phrase “this’ll be great exposure for you”. So I gave it a try a few times for all the reasons you outline in your post and for all the reasons others have posted. I never got a job from any of them. I’ve also never got a job from a photo credit.

    But, hey. Maybe I’m doing it all wrong.

  • Catalina said on December 29, 2009

    thanks for sharing your insight into grip-and-grin work turned into relationships and what-you-want to shoot work.

    i’ve got a plan in mind similar to what you describe here, which i hope will open many doors here in NYC.

    beautiful photos, Zack. i always enjoy searching for your watermark in them :)

  • Julie Mixon said on December 29, 2009

    Thanks Zack…I needed to read that.

  • Darin said on December 29, 2009

    Its out of control….heres an email from a client this morning.

    Ok I am def down for some pics but not til spring….I can’t wait!! My sister in law just got family pics done and they looked awesome, some were done in black and white but her daughters dress was bright red, does that make sense? Do you have the equipment to do that sort of things?

    We may not like it, but some people do, and thats what they are asking for.

  • Adam said on December 29, 2009

    I’m so glad you wear your heart on your sleeve. Even if you do hate selective color… You dog.

  • Marta Locklear said on December 29, 2009

    Perfect advice once again. I have dug deep these last few months in search for something…creative truth I guess. 2010 is my year and plan to shoot for me as much as possible. Thanks…and Brilliant images.

  • BC said on December 29, 2009

    hey, Zack – thanks! i am just beginning to think abt photography as a possible profession, and i need all the advice i can get! in a few weeks, my son is getting married. i will have access that the official photographer won’t, AND a 1st-person perspective. and, while i won’t be paying for that op, my work is as a labor of love, not money [o/c]I was thinking of it as an occasion to build my portfolio, but, i don’t know if weddings is what i want to shoot, so who knows? whether anyone but family and friends will see them! [cause this piece is really good advice!]

  • Edd said on December 29, 2009

    I am so glad I read this. I want to move into music and alternate portraiture and as I am new to this its difficult to pick enough images that fit that bracket (nearly none yet as I just started) but reading this has made me think how much more I need to shoot. So you gave me a new years resolution – shoot more – shoot well – shoot what I want to shoot.

    Thanks Zack!

  • Warren said on December 29, 2009

    What gear did you take to shoot the BTS? I’m eager to learn.

  • said on December 29, 2009

    Great read!
    Very informative and inspiring. I especially love the shots you took of the horses…. great job as always Zack!

  • TimR said on December 29, 2009

    I recall seeing in a book once pictures that Ansel Adams took of men’s dress shirts for a department store ad in a newspaper or something like that. They’re not hanging in exhibits, but I guess they paid the rent.

  • ConnorS said on December 29, 2009

    How many of you are willing to lose money on an opportunity???

    im great at this :)

  • rashawn woodgett said on December 29, 2009

    Those photos are stunning and unique. Shooting events in this way are no way near for free. Tickets are purchased to see the show. The view from your angle is priceless. more less 120 bucks. Looking forward to more inspiration. I will keep checking in.

  • mcjobby said on December 29, 2009

    Hey Zack great shots especially the ones with the horses. So I was just wondering if you could shoot some shots of my horses I was thinking a lot of selective color.

    Haha sorry but all joking aside great post and amazing shots.

  • claude etienne said on December 29, 2009

    Hi Zack,

    Beautiful pictures. The choice of black and white was a great one. I love how you incorporated the Used Film logo onto the letter on the makeup table in the first picture. At first I thought it was an actual letter with the Used Film logo on it. My favorite picture is the one with the performer standing on the huge ball with the horse a few feet away. I has an old silent film feel to it.

  • Sina said on December 29, 2009

    Thanks Zack… I love your advices and pictures…

  • EricT said on December 29, 2009

    Actually Spielberg regretted using the red color on the little girl. He thought it was a good idea a the time though but commented in some interview that he would prefer not having done it…

  • EricT said on December 29, 2009

    Actually Spielberg regretted using the red color on the little girl. He thought it was a good idea a the time though but commented in some interview that he would prefer not having done it.

  • Martin said on December 30, 2009

    damn zack! that shot of the make up is one of the best photos i´ve seen this year!!

  • Brian Bateson said on December 30, 2009


    Many photographers have inspired me through their shots, however, none can quite inspire me with words like you do. You have an amazing ability to predict and allay the fears going through my mind as I make the transition from salaried office drone to photographer. Thank you and keep it coming, Kind regards,

    p.s. your shots are pretty sweet too!

  • chris.h. said on December 30, 2009

    well thats a kick up the behind I needed. I just posted a load of posters up in my area advertising ‘family portraits’. Im getting them taken down tomorrow!
    Thanks(again) Zack.

  • Nathan Clendenin said on December 30, 2009

    I got to shoot Cirque a few years ago, just normal media access, but it was awesome! Bravo on being strategic and for sharing your insights with us.

  • Stephen said on December 30, 2009

    amazing work. and better yet, amazing perspective. It’s easy for me to want to blog every shot from the work I’m shooting, just to show that I’m busy… but you’re totally right… I’m branding myself as that type of photographer… not the type of photographer that I want to be.


  • Vithaya said on December 30, 2009

    Thanks for sharing your philosophy and photos Zack. It’s encouraging and inspiring. I look forward to seeing more from you. I’ve seen a few Cirque shows and I saw Cavalia years ago. Love those shows. I’ve paid a little $ on a few ops and a lot of work promises “exposure.” There are other ways of compensation and I trade and might even pay a bit for “all access.” I’m up for doing the big events and the portraits, to where I’m the official photographer. It is about the relationships to me, but I expect to be paid for what I do. I’ve invested a lot and desire to see returns on them. It’s a process and a journey.

  • jen berry said on December 30, 2009

    thank you for the candid perspective once again.

  • Hubert said on December 30, 2009

    Hi Zack,

    I agree. And I don’t know why somebody would want to show the images they don’t want their clients to define by them.

    I do am a staff photog at dinner cruises doing mostly portraits and etc. Really boring and mundane staff. Am I proud of it? Nope. I am not ashamed of the job either. Hell I get paid for it. I am shooting a gig for Discovery Channel this New Years. I get paid for it, that’s all that matters.

    The point is that we should have only those images in our portfolios that we want to be defined by.

    I am a street photographer and a photojournalist, why in hell would I put something bland and just brain crippling as event photography in there as well.

    PS- Great work on those shots.

  • Kyle said on December 30, 2009

    Truly great shots! Very inspiring!

  • Sree said on December 31, 2009

    you really need to do some sort of blog book with all the advice you’ve given and the images. i’d buy it.

  • Julio Arboleda said on December 31, 2009


  • Mandie Haberman said on December 31, 2009

    I love love LOVE the shot of the guy on the ball with the horse. Amazing photograph!

    This was a great piece to read today, heading out of 2009 and into 2010. It’s a good reminder to us all to keep our minds AND our web presence focused on what we WANT to shoot. Thanks for posting, Zack!

  • John Shim said on December 31, 2009

    Zack –

    You should’ve been a family photographer. 😉 Just kidding.

    I’m glad to know that I’m not a “whore” for shooting anything and everything. I think your blog definitely speaks volumes to all of us out there that are starting out and trying to find our niche in this market. Thanks for your encouraging words and sharing about your professional struggles with us all!

  • Wendy Mayo said on December 31, 2009

    Zack, you are my hero! I have been a photographer for the masses, even shooting corporate events (I hate them too!). I really just want to shoot high school seniors. They are so much fun that I sometimes do it for free. You have inspired me to only show my senior photos and to market specifically to that group! Thanks!

  • Charlie said on January 1, 2010

    This is both excellent and inspiring. Thanks.

  • CHad Pennington said on January 1, 2010

    Zack this is Chad from Jersey and I have to say you always make think and I love that 2010 bring a new dynamic for me and a place I have never been but I am still going there. Thanks ZACK for being true to the GAME

  • Aditya said on January 2, 2010

    Actually, I do a lot of work with the local Rotary Club for free. Shoot their charity dinners, a LOT of grip-and-grins. you bet your sweet bottom i wouldn’t put it up on my portfolio though. I’ve got a few decent assignments out of contacts I’ve made from that group of people, and feel good doing it as well

  • Broderick said on January 3, 2010

    Beautiful shots, loving hearing the story behind them as well. I always learn so much from your blog.

  • Jessica Cudzilo said on January 3, 2010

    I think you’re brilliant. I don’t 1. comment on blogs very often or 2. compliment people much. In this case I can’t help myself.

  • Wilfredo said on January 3, 2010

    Hey Zack..

    Man since Fall of 2008, you’ve inspired me to be not only a better photog, but more importanly a better person. I can’t thank you enough. The most important important information I got from my photog instructors was NOT the lesson taught, but rather the name she mentioned —> Zack Arias “Altlanta Music Photographer”…..that was a pivoting point for me..Thanks again….see you out on the snap road.

  • numbeos said on January 4, 2010

    So enjoyed reading this..thank you Zack…

  • Jeremy Sale said on January 4, 2010

    Best post in a while (for me). Great info, fantastic pictures, great advice.

  • Jim Rand said on January 4, 2010

    Thank you Zack! Another in a great series of posts. Refreshing to know that we all struggle with the same chalenges in our profession. This post and the “Transform” video really hit home for me! Keep up the great work!

  • seth goodman said on January 4, 2010

    Well said. I am going to have to look at my portfolio again.

  • Eurila said on January 6, 2010

    Zack You are HILARIOUS! I enjoy reading this blog. thank you for loow me into your world. Your fam is beautiful, god bless those rambucous boys and your que linda chica 😉 Keep up the good work. I am learning so much from you and if “biz” os good will see you when you come to NYC in Otc.

  • Michael Ririe said on January 7, 2010

    Wow! Don’t the pictures you take for yourself have a different feel to them? I think there’s an additional subliminal message attached when the photographers passion is really behind them. I LOVE the eighth photo from this series, of the horse seated and the guy on the ball! Amazing!

  • Jeremy Bechthold said on January 8, 2010

    Wonderful advice – can’t wait to meet you and hear your presentation at PhotoCamp Utah in March!

  • Ian W said on January 9, 2010

    Surely the answer for a new photographer is *two* websites? One for the stuff they want to do, one for the stuff that pays the bills.

  • Don Giannatti said on January 9, 2010

    A wonderful example of creativity applied not only to the images but to the ability to create the images. Without access to the venue or subjects, the work would not have been created.

    (BTW, I really love the horse photos… both the stall and the white horse in the dark field… wow!)

    To those who think this is shooting for free, point missed. Access is never free… always something given up. I can sit in the audience and watch Andrea Bocelli for about $175. No photographs permitted. Or I could shoot the arrival of Bocelli for a local PR firm for not much more, AND have access to the backstage, AND get pictures of Bocelli warming up and going over the score with Maestro… and on and on. Maybe 4 hours for $200… a joke as far as my rates go… BUT access to Bocelli has its costs.

    It isn’t shooting for free, nor does it set me up as a ‘free shooter’ (unless I make a habit of it) and the images I have now in my portfolio would be IMPOSSIBLE to get in any traditional manner.

    Zack got access, paid for it by doing what he does – photography – and left with more than he started with.

    Fresh thinking for a lot of photographers.

    Nicely done, Zack.

  • Peter Kruvczuk said on January 9, 2010

    Excellent points here. Just makes you want to stand up and shout “You tell ’em!”

  • Dan Baker said on January 9, 2010

    Always a good feeling to hear some one you admire agree with your own philosophy. Great work Zach!

  • TC said on January 9, 2010

    Good job Z. Love the guy on the ball… (that came out wrong…)

    Somebody asked what happens if everybody goes and does free shoots… The answer is … nothing. The photobusiness isn’t a zero sum game, where we are only going to get to take (and get payed for) a specific amount of photos/year.

    Every wedding I’ve done (both the first freebies, and later payed), the choice was between me and no wedding photographer.

    By shooting for free (which this article wasn’t about) – we teach more people that there may be value in a real photographer, and there a reason somebody with talent and experience, can do better than uncle Bob.

  • Raf said on January 9, 2010

    Well. Good point here. 50 years old Indian artist who is just about release his album going to India to promote it. I told him that I will be his personal Photographer for this journey. Only one thing I need… Pay me his fly ticket. Will I show his pictures? No. Do I want be personal photographer of some one? No. Will I show my stuff from there. YES ! :)

  • RyanStruck said on January 9, 2010

    That was a great read and I enjoyed the images you included that you were after. It’s about the access to what we want to shoot!

  • Dave Keating said on January 11, 2010

    Great images Zack. These show that great images are not always about pin sharp and perfect light. Shape, action, grain and shodows can sometimes make a truly jaw dropping image. Well done.



  • silberstudios said on January 11, 2010

    Great read Zach. Very informative and helpful. It is important to have field vision in this game of photography. being able to see where your photography is- and where you want it to go, are very important skills. Great job in helping photogs find that eye…

  • guphotography said on January 12, 2010

    Cheers for sharing the excellent photo story, Zack.

    Artistically speaking, I think they are by far the most aesthetically appealing and most inspiring body of work you have produced, IMHO.

    I’ll match you up one day :)

  • Daniel Solorio said on January 16, 2010

    This just give me energy to keep shooting a project, don’t know if you remember me, but after the “r u sitting on the dock” post, i pull myself go to a jazz gig and talk to the organizer of the show (whom organizes most of the jazz gigs on the city) The objective was getting access to the gigs, slowly getting acces backstage, so i can finally get access to the musicians in order to shoot portraits, so the last couple of months last year i’ve been to more gigs than in the past two years, got full access, and then I started to feel used, the guys would invite me to their gigs mainly for the free pioctures i think, and then felt like they would demanded like if they’ve already paid letting me in. But i have to keep positive, i’m getting free access to the gigs for free, getting to know people, and who knows maybes some work can come from that.

    Thanks for inspiring me as always.

  • Louis Hebert said on February 16, 2010

    Bravo! The photographic world seems to have become saturated with people looking to make fast bucks with overly photoshoped images. In the end, I see a lot of lifeless images that reflect no personal relationship with the subject. Your article is well written and spot on. I absolutely agree that many photogs armed with prosumer DSLRs don’t seem to realize that the difference in being a a professional and an amateur is not in taking a proper picture but in building a relationship with the subjects you photograph. Thank you.

  • moonie said on February 18, 2010

    i’d pay to assist for someone acomplished. theres so much to learn. trying to find a place as an assistant in the industry is tough buisness. there are so many photographers looking for the same thing, and many of those can kick my butt behind the lens. but yea, since schools not an option, and i don’t feel confident enough to actually shoot the people i’d pay to shoot, then i’d have to say i’d pay to stand next to someone who reaaaally knows what they’re doin. ha, guess thats what one light is for… on my way

  • Lydia said on June 8, 2010

    Wow, these are amazing! I think you accomplished what you set out to do. This is the push I need to do what I love to do and show it.

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