The bottom is getting crowded.
I read Seth Godin’s blog daily. He’s usually concise and right on target. His post entitled,”Clawing your way to the bottom” really hits the mark as far as what professional photographers and other visual creators are up against.
I used to make a lot of money shooting stock – that is before the consolidation of agencies and the commoditization of stock. While it’s understandable why that happened when the world went “digital”, the prices and value of images has dropped so far that an “average” stock shooter can no longer make a living shooting stock.
I’m grateful that I never relied solely on stock photography to make a living. However, commissioned photography has not escaped the race to the bottom as far as photographers pricing themselves out of business. There’s only so low one can go on their fees. It’s a short fix to nowhere.
The solution is there for anyone who is willing to do the work – that is, make the effort to stay at the top of your game. Focus on the big picture. Be curious. Don’t panic. Stay away from trends., Focus on the story – not on the gear. Tell them a story. Live life because if you don’t – your work will show it.
Most folks would write about what they would say to their 20-year-old self, but I chose to address myself a decade later when I’ve had some time to experience more of life.
You’ll be OK – How many of us have thought at times that things will never work out? I have survived a lot of experiences that I thought I would never get through. I’ve done some stupid things and made some dumb decisions. Some have taken their toll but I’m OK.
Don’t confuse “young” with “emerging” – It’s common in our culture to equate youth with fresh or emerging. Don’t tell yourself that this will be the only time in your life that you will “emerge”. I was young when I first started out but I am only now “emerging” in terms of my craft. I am creating from a lifetime of experience and my authentic self.
Business is personal – Relationships are what it’s all about. People will come and go in your life in both business and personal. Be mindful of the relationships that have value and keep those connections secure. As singer/songwriter Don Henley wrote, “you get the best light from a burning bridge”.
Don’t preach to the choir – Don’t just hang out with likeminded people. It’s boring and provincial. Broaden your perspective by connecting with people who are different ages, genders, races or religions. It will bring more understanding and tolerance in your life and others.
Don’t be a quitter – but know when to walk away – I tell folks, “I’m not a quitter. I don’t even walk out of a bad movie”. I’m tenacious and it has gotten me far in my life. At a film festival where I won best documentary, I told a filmmaker that I might have never started to make my movie if I knew that I would still be involved with it, 3 years later. He told me “that’s normal” and then said “you’ll know when it’s time to walk away”. I have found that to be true with all kinds of things – not just making movies.
Make each day count – I’m paraphrasing a bit,
“Hey, it’s an ice cream man – who’s a lady!” I was the lady…
It was the first year that Good Humor hired women as ice cream truck drivers. It was the summer after my freshman year at college, when I applied for a job as a driver. I fibbed and said that I could drive a standard transmission so I would get the job. I got the job and as I bucked out of the Good Humor lot on my first day, I learned how.
I have always been the “token” female in my professional circles throughout my life. To be honest, I never set out to be a front-runner for my gender or to prove a point. I simply followed my interests and and didn’t let the naysayers stop me from what I wanted to do. I just went for it.
In my profession of still photography there are definitely more women in the business now, than when I started. At times it has been challenging and no doubt many opportunities were lost simply because of my gender. But I was tenacious and I was passionate about photography and the access my cameras would give me to the lifestyle I wanted. I wanted to explore the world and experience places and events and share them with others. I’ve spent a lifetime doing just that.
I’m amazed at what technology has enabled me to do in my life and in my profession. I have been able to utilize the tools of today and the plentiful electronic distribution portals to bring awareness to various issues or cultures through my still images and motion. Currently, I’m working alongside my partner, Tom Kelly on a project entitled Like a Woman. It’s a series of short films and environmental still portraits of women who are working in male dominated professions – a subject I can certainly relate to. We’ve just finished our
latest film about Taylor Laverty, a female pilot for the Goodyear blimp, the Spirit of America. She is one of only three female blimp pilots in the world. Taylor amazes me with her skills and professionalism and I am grateful to see the strides going forward in gender equality.
Change happens slowly, until it eventually becomes the norm. By creating these short films I hope to nudge change along a little quicker and inspire other women to reach for opportunities that are out there and used to be off bounds – not that long ago. I am always looking for interesting stories about women who are paving the way in fields where few women have gone before. Please contact me.
One of the only good things about getting older is that I have gained a lot of perspective.
I never speculate what the future will hold by limiting it to what’s possible now because………when I began studying photography at Brooks Institute in the early 1970’s,
I never would have imagined:
- That I would own a personal computer that would change the way I communicated with people and ran my business.
- There would be the Internet, email and mobile phones.
- There would be auto-focus cameras and lenses.
- Cameras would be fully automated – if you choose to use them that way. When I began my career as a photographer, I needed to be a technician, and that meant understanding aperture and shutter speed and a lot of other things that went into making a still image.
- I would be shooting still images without film.
- I wouldn’t be limited to 36 frames on a roll of film.
- I could change the ISO on my camera, as need be.
- I could change the white balance on my camera, as need be. (No need for different types of film)
- I wouldn’t need to “get it right” in the camera because I could “fix it in post”.
- I could see what I shot – right after I shot it, without waiting for the film to come back from the lab or taking Polaroids.
- There would be data cards and hard drives that are able to store hundreds of thousands of images at affordable prices.
- I could transmit my images digitally and globally with ease and speed.
- I could share my portfolio electronically with virtually anyone, anywhere in the world.
- That still cameras would be able to shoot video.
- That video cameras would be able to shoot at high resolution with fast shutter speeds – good enough to take still images for frame grabs.
- My mobile phone would be able to shoot high res still images and video.
- Magazines and newspapers would publish electronically.
- I would be able to watch a movie in my own home. (without being wealthy enough to build a home theater with an analog projector and sound system). This was before the VCR was invented.
- That feature movies and TV shows (other than soap operas) would be shot in video.
- I would be able to make a feature length film without a Hollywood budget and a big crew.
- I could self-publish and distribute my book or a movie without a publisher or movie studio.
- My TV would have access to the Internet (what’s the Internet?)
- The Internet would give birth to “new networks” producing original content.
- I would be competing and doing business on a global scale – as a small business owner.
A lot of the things I listed seem commonplace now. But, I when I first began my career as a photographer, I never would have imagined any of them – not in my wildest dreams.
What do you imagine the future will bring? There’s one thing for certain, if you limit your imagination to what’s possible now – you probably won’t even come close to what’s in store for the future.
I have a love/hate relationship with video editing, depending on which point I’m at. My initial ingestion of content and first edit is always tedious, but once I’ve edited the time line sound bites, I feel as though I’m more than half way there. But sometimes I lose sight of some critical thoughts in the process. Here’s a few:
- Remember your commitment / story. Your story gets told and comes alive in the editing. If you don’t have a clear and concise message or story that you want to tell, then go no further, until you do. I have found when editing the latest short film in the Like A Woman series, that there is more than one message to relay. This video is about Simona de Silvestro, one of the few female professional race car drivers who races for the Andretti Autosport Team in Formula E (electric). It has two themes – one, about a woman in a man’s profession and another about electric racing. It’s tough to get across one theme in a film that is less than 3 minutes long, let alone two themes. I knew that I needed to be concise and to deliver the messages organically without forcing the issues. As much as Simona is one of the few females in this profession, she still wants to be known as the best driver she can be .
- Let a piece breathe. I always make the mistake of trying to squeeze too much dialog into a short piece. It took me a dozen cuts, each time, taking out soundbites and stretching them over added b-roll to get the balance just right. Breathing gives the audience a rest and allows them to digest the information better.
- Don’t try to be perfect. In an effort to leave no stone unturned in regards to my b-roll, I initially went through everything and then put all the selects on a timeline (or in a event). It was the first time we shot 4K GoPro footage and I put that in a separate event on a timeline. It was a big mistake. It took me a long time to make the timeline and an even longer time to look for a clip within the timeline. Next time, I will edit my clips from my bin and mark “favorites” as I go along, which is what I usually do, and is much faster.. Not sure why I departed from that approach, but I learned my lesson.
- Audio is everything. The interview with Simona was challenging. We were literally in a tent set up on the side of an active roadway. Even with a shotgun mics and a lavalier with an undercover we still picked up some background noise of the traffic. I did everything I could think of to blend the sound including S-Curve transitions and adding another noise track to fill in the dead air spots. I’m not totally happy with it, but I’d like to up my skills in audio mixing. My only consolation is that the story is about racing, so the audio is somewhat acceptable.
- 4K – What a memory suck! I love the results from the GoPro Hero 4 Black but the clips are difficult to view as it can be sluggish. But, because my final output is HD 1920X1080, I was able to crop the 4K and/or blow it up and it looked great.
I’ve shot 10 short films for my latest project entitled, Like a Woman. The project is about women who work in traditionally male-dominated professions. Sadly, there are a lot of professions to choose. The latest films consist of profiles of Simona de Silvestro,
, a talented sculptor. Every one of these women was inspirations to me. I have been a minority female photographer and filmmaker for almost four decades.
I have come to the realization that success has been about my journey and pushing my own boundaries. Many times I have been well paid, but I define my successes by the value of the journey, not by the monetary gain. My memory is full of incredible experiences, including the last three – riding the Good Year Blimp, being in on the race track in Berlin with the Andretti team and meeting multi-talented sculptor Tanya and significant other David, both who energized my mind and spirit and awed me by their creativity.
I came away from these three experiences enforcing what I knew already, that a “personal project” has a life of its own and that they have been an outlet for what is inside me. These projects they’ve given me PR value and memorable experiences, but most of them have been timeless and continue to resonate with me as well as others, years after the fact. I suppose, I already knew that but it wasn’t until David told me that my Delta Bluesmen film (which I created more than a dozen years ago) excited him and made him want to see more, that the thought hit home. I touched upon a subject that was near and dear to him and he let me know about it and that made my afternoon. It may seem like a small gesture, but his acknowledgment and appreciation will stay with me a lifetime.
I have been very blessed in my life and I should remind myself of that more often. I became a photographer a very long time ago because I felt that the craft would provide me with access to a lifetime of memories and the means to create awareness. Every so often, I get reminded of the why I became a photographer and visual communicator and whenever I have, it has buoyed my spirit when I needed it the most.