I know three successful still photographers working in the Midwest area of the country shooting and competing with one another for regional and national clients. They recently formed a separate production company and are shooting broadcast commercials for the national market. It has proven to be a smart move for them. They’ve expanded their businesses by offering video solutions that meet their clients’ needs and have collaborated with one another by bringing different skill sets to the video production team. I often think that we (photographers) miss out on collaborative opportunities due to our independent nature. But I’ve learned that when I work in a collaborate team and we each bring our own perspective and skills to the whole, it has made me raise my own bar. Partnering doesn’t solely pertain to video production. It works in any business that benefits from scaling up.
Shoot outside your niche. I’ve always been a commercial still photographer working primarily in the editorial and B2B markets. About 15 years ago my partner/husband and I started exploring the motion medium. We began by shooting stock motion footage on 35mm film, which was a very expensive proposition, but I fell in love with this medium. When digital video hit the scene, my passion for storytelling led me straight to it. Digital video enabled me to shoot in the motion genre with our small team and at an affordable cost.
Every family has a story to tell and I wanted to use my craft as a filmmaker to tell their stories for future generations. I’m finding that people desperately want to organize and preserve their family photos whether they are digital images or inherited analog snapshots. I didn’t want to just digitize their family photos and put them on DVD’s. I wanted to capture their family stories with on-camera interviews of their loved ones retelling them in their own voice while they are still here to tell them. It has been well received but it comes with a learning curve and getting to know the retail market.
Shoot what you want to shoot. Shoot something that you are passionate about not because you think it would make a good promotion piece or portfolio sample. It could be that you photograph something you are interested in and have access to. As a female photographer I’ve spent the better part of my career working in a male dominated profession. I decided to seek out other women who work in male dominated fields and create a series of short videos about them. Here are some of the amazing women I met; Natalie Jones a helicopter pilot, Simona deSilvestro a professional racecar driver and Patrice Banks and auto mechanic and engineer. Working on this series not only keeps my skill set sharp but has led to making some great connections.
Don’t think that you have to pursue an overwhelming topic or project. You may just want to explore with your phone. We live in an age that I used to dream about – an age where technology makes it possible and even easy to create the images that only exist in our mind’s eye. Technology has made communicating visually immediate and spontaneous. Think about the power and the opportunities that provides.
Be optimistic – I’m going to start with the hardest one of all, because it’s really difficult to be optimistic these days. But I find that if I can maintain a positive attitude and turn my thoughts to what is possible, I actually open myself up to more opportunities in my life, instead of creating more roadblocks.
Be open to possibilities. – Be more flexible in how you perceive things and who you are. Change is always happening, but it’s usually gradual. Most people don’t take notice until “change” forces their hand to act. It’s always better to be proactive than reactive so embrace “change” as an ever-present fact of life that creates opportunities for those who are open to seeing them.
Collaborate – Photographers are very independent creatures and collaboration is not part of their norm. As the “photography” business continues to change, photographers will find that collaborating with other artists will make their own businesses stronger. There is so much more to running a business than there used to be. While social media marketing has opened up numerous possibilities, it can also be overwhelming to a solo photographer. You can’t do it all. Work with people who can bring out each other’s strong suits.
Diversify – I’m not quite so sure why so many photographers are so rigid in how they define who they are and what they do. Having a “style” is great, but the trick is to not to be so narrowly defined by that style, so that when styles change, you don’t find yourself obsolete by your own design. It’s kind of like being type cast, where your audience or your clients can only see you in one way. Diversifying might be creating a whole new niche of your business. I recently created a business niche that is more geared toward the retail market. We create high end “Ken Burns” style family biography videos to preserve a family’s legacy with personal interviews with ones loved ones combined with old photos and home movies.
Concentrate on “the story”– I had the opportunity to speak with a lot of still photographers and filmmakers this past year and I began to notice a difference in the conversations I was having with each. Most times, filmmakers would be telling me a story, whereas still photographers would be telling me how they executed a photograph, or essentially telling me the “back story” of the creation of the image. It’s all interesting but “the story” is the bottom line – if that doesn’t come through to the viewer – the rest doesn’t matter – including how it was executed.
Be authentic – be true to yourself. That means that you have to trust your gut instead of second guessing it. This is hard, especially when things don’t always work out the way you had hoped. Step away from the “noise” and listen to the voice inside.
Fail more. – Rejection is a tough pill to swallow but it usually means that you are either pushing yourself to try new things, you are too far ahead of your time or it just wasn’t meant to be. If you look at successful people you’ll see that most have had failures and rejections in their lives but they stuck with it – instead of letting failure defeat them.
Self-Initiate more projects. – I don’t like to call non-commissioned work, “personal projects”. That co notates that there is no monetary value, and these days just the opposite could be true. With more and more lopsided contracts being presented to photographers for commissioned work a photographer has a better chance to make more money and keep ownership of their work by creating self-initiated projects. But they need to be prepared to work hard. We’ve been working on a project entitled “Like A Woman” where we shoot environmental portraits and a short video about women who are working in traditionally male professions. It is a subject I know all too well after working in the career of photography and now filmmaking my entire adult life.
Forget about the past and learn from mistakes. – You can’t change the past but you can learn from it and then, move on. Look toward the future but make sure you take time to enjoy the “now”.
In the scheme of things, you’re just one small speck in the universe. – I think we all get way too stressed about things that really don’t matter and we let those things control our life. When we become more conscious of that, we really begin to live life.
I have fond memories of my grandmother telling stories as we lingered around the table long after the family meal had been consumed. If she never had a story to tell, my mom would. Maybe that’s why I became a storyteller, as a still photographer and as a filmmaker.
My mother died suddenly and unexpectedly. We had no warning and then one day she was gone from our lives forever. I’d give anything to hear her voice again. Or hear her giggle. Or listen to her tell a story that she had told a hundred times. But other than some scattered photos, random letters and a few mementos, all I have left are my memories of her. But sadly they have begun to fade.
I’m a commercial photographer and videographer and have shot on assignment for magazines, non-profits and corporations all over the world. I love what I do and the value it has for my clients and their products or message and God willing, I will do that till the day I die but I wanted do something more. I wanted to create personal films (videos) about and for families and preserve their legacy in a keepsake memoir. More importantly, I wanted to capture those family stories through the eyes and voices of a family’s loved ones, while they were still here to tell them and before the memories were gone.
After my mother died I did connect with members of the family to interview them. I must tell you that it was awkward at first but somehow I knew that it was important to do. Here is a short trailer about my mom’s story told through her siblings. Her brother had died before I had made this and a sister has died since but I feel very fortunate to have captured their stories when I had the chance.
I am working on a film now about the Pitney family. The Pitneys had inhabited a property in my town for 11 generations and their story is rich in history not only about their family history but also about our nation. Sadly, the Pitney homestead was destroyed by fire this past winter after over 300 years but the family lives on. I’m so grateful that I was able to capture and preserve a part of their legacy. Please look at the trailer about the Pitney family and the fire and let me know your thoughts.
A film has the power to preserve family stories with imagery, interviews, sound and music. Imagine capturing and preserving your family’s story through the power of cinema. Imagine
what a priceless gift that would be for future generations.
A laugh, a giggle, a blurred smile, a glance, a wink, a memory – a life’s story preserved.
I’m a photographer/filmmaker hybrid. I got my beginnings in the editorial world telling stories through my images all around the world for magazines like National Geographic, Smithsonian and Travel & Leisure. Mostly I think of myself as a storyteller. When my mother died unexpectedly over a decade ago I realized that I only had a few photos and mementos to keep her memory alive. I’d give anything to hear her voice or her giggle again or to hear her tell a story that she had told a hundred times.
I’ve been working on a film over the last two years about the Pitney family that had inhabited a historic home and farmstead for 11 generations. The farm is only about a mile from my house but the family is flung all over the globe. The story seemed almost too big and a bit too distant and I found myself losing focus. Then I met and interviewed one family member, Barbara (Pitney/Lamb) Johnson who had researched and written her family’s biography and was extremely knowledgeable about the family history. She was also incredibly gifted in front of the camera and was able to bring her family’s stories to life through her memories and the warmth and cadence of her voice. It was then I knew that I had the makings of a priceless legacy film.
The farm had not been inhabited since 2013 when the last Pitney to have lived there passed away. The town purchased the farm in 2009 but when the last Pitney inhabitant died in 2013, the future of the historic property became controversial. Some wanted to preserve it for community use and others wanted to sell it. This past winter, one cold February night the Pitney homestead was destroyed by fire. The Morris County, NJ Prosecutor has since been determined the fire to be arson and it remains under investigation.
After the initial shock of the fire wore off, I began to realize that I had captured priceless footage of the farm and Pitney family members telling the family’s story. I also realized that I had more than the makings of a just a family story. The Pitney farm had been a binding thread throughout the Pitney family’s history and the property and its demise was another story and a story whose ending has still not been determined.
I finally finished a short preview sample of the Pitney family story . In addition I ended up making a separate preview or trailer of the fire itself. The full feature length film of the family is in production. I’m not quite sure yet where I’ll go with the film about the fire that destroyed the farm but maybe I’ll follow Orson Welles’ advice; “If you want a happy ending, it depends on where you stop the story”.