“Try to have a little more control”

I’ve been spending a lot of time lately purging – getting rid of a lot of stuff I don’t need any longer. I came across a portfolio of architectural drawings that I had made during my days as an architectural student at Syracuse University. Stuck inside the portfolio were graded copies of the drawings with remarks from the professor. The comments were consistent and repeatedly pointed out Gail's college architural renderingsmy lack of “control”.

“Try to have a little more control!”

“Without control of lines and line quality, solution is lost!”

Back then I used a rapidograph (technical pen) for rendering these drawings. Unlike a lot of my fellow architectural students, I had very little training in the way of art classes before coming to Syracuse and my skills as an artist were terrible. Drawing fine straight lines with a rapidograph was my downfall. The ink would blotch or would seep under the ruler or triangle that I was using and my drawing would usually end up being a big mess.

I think my lack of “control” as an artist ultimately turned me away from pursuing architecture as a career. Instead, I changed my path and pursued a career in photography. Today, architectural students use CAD for their drawings and I would imagine that perfecting one’s skill with a rapidograph is no longer a requirement.

I wonder if things would have been different as far as the path I chose, if I had the tools available to me, that we have today? It’s an interesting question to ponder, but ultimately I don’t think I was well suited for a career in architecture and it went beyond the fact that I had poor drafting skills. I was a “big picture” thinker and not focused on the details.

Fundamentally, I haven’t changed. I’m still a big picture thinker. I am able to clearly visualize, my creation or project as a “whole” and know usually know what I need to do to achieve that end, but in determination to finish, I sometimes overlook the details. I’ve trained myself over the years, to not be in such a rush to complete something, that I compromise the quality. I’ve also accepted the person I am – what I’m good at and what I’m not so good at and found that I’ve produced my most gratifying work in collaboration with others.

I will always be a big picture thinker – the bigger the idea and the more possibilities – the more I love it. I have learned to have more control, but I still love to color outside the lines and push the boundaries.

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10 Tips For Getting GOOD Audio When Using a DSLR

If you’re like most of the professional still photographers I know, you have either expanded your business and offer videomicrophones (in addition to your still photography) to your clients, or have plans to.  If you do have future plans to offer video to your clients, then you are either learning the particulars of that skill set, or you are collaborating with others who are in the know, or both.

Perhaps, one of the most daunting components of video, for still photographers is audio. Capturing audio is totally foreign to a still photographer, yet it is the most important component of all, in video production.

Here are a few tips for getting good audio:

  • You’ll never get good audio using the camera’s built in microphone, – at least not for interviews. Don’t turn the camera’s audio off however.  You can use it later for reference audio when syncing sound later in post-production.
  • Use external microphones for capturing audio interviews.  Ideally, you should record your interview audio using a digital recorder like the Samson Zoom H6 or the Tascam DR-60D with XLR connections.  I usually place a “lav” microphone on my subjects. I will also use a shotgun microphone, mounted (with shock mount) on a boom pole that’s on a fixed stand.  I rely on the microphone on the fixed stand, as opposed to hiring a boom operator, especially if I don’t have the budget for a big crew. If you should decide to use an amateur or assistant as a “boom operator”, rather than hire an experienced operator who knows how to capture “consistent” audio, you’ll most likely end up with poor audio captured at inconsistent levels. The shotgun microphone should be about 12-18 inches away from your subject. You can sync the sound with the video, later in post- production, using the software Plural Eyes.
  • Don’t cross your audio cords with your electrical cords. This causes a hum that you will detect if you are wearing headphones.
  • For run and gun” situations, you can probably get away with using a microphone mounted on the camera, as long as you are close to your audio source. You can either run a microphone (with a mini plug) directly to the camera OR you can run a microphone with an XLR adaptor through a pre-amp like a JuicedLink or a Beachtek, which will yield a cleaner audio capture. This works well for capturing ambient sound for b-roll or live action, and your audio will be recorded to the same card as your video. If you do want to capture your interview audio using a microphone mounted on the camera, make sure that you get your camera in close to your subject (not more than 18 inches away), and that you us a mixer or a pre-amp.
  • Microphones – Use an omni-directional or cardiod microphone when you are in a more controlled situation and you want your sound coming from more directions – like on a sound stage.  “Lav” microphones can be used for interviews, either hard wired or with a wireless kit. Be careful when you attach it to your subject and position it to avoid any unnecessary noise coming from hair or jewelry rubbing up against it. A good camera mounted microphone is the Sennheiser MKE 400 (compact shotgun). For interviews I use my cardiod Sennheiser ME66 with K6 powering module.
  • Use a wireless system only when you NEED to. In cities like New York you can get a lot of interference on various frequencies. Always go wired when you can. A great and affordable hard-wired “lav”, is the SonyECM44B And if you find yourself needing a wireless system, spend the money to get a system that has a good range.
  • Use a good windscreen or “dead cat” when outside. Even if you’re inside, on a windy day, with windows open, you can pick up wind noise.
  • Use headphones. Don’t just look at your meters.  Your meter may indicate that you are recording sound, but it may not be good sound – it could be you are picking up interference or getting distorted and clipped audio. Wear headphones and make sure that you are getting quality sound.
  • Always consider that you will be using the audio – even for your b-roll.  You will need clean usable audio for b-roll, even if it’s only intended as ambient, background sound.
  • Pay attention to audio. Start by letting your ears do more of the work. Every room and situation has its own sound. Listen up. Be quiet and tell your crew to be quiet as well. You never know when you’ll want to use the audio – even if you think you won’t need it.

You can read more about what I brought with me in the way of gear, when I literally circled the globe, creating my first feature length film.  The film is now available on DVD.

If you’d like to know more about “moving into motion”, check out my book, The Craft and Commerce of Motion and Video.

10 Ways Photographers are Their Own Worst Enemies

  1. They talk themselves out of things.  – Telling themselves that it wouldn’t matter if they learned new skills or shot new images or whatever they didn’t want to make the effort to do.
  2. They try to “educate” their clients (sometimes a bit too much) instead of collaborating and possibly learning from them.  A lot of “older” photographers are like this when they are working with younger art buyers or directors. I think the energy needs to work both ways.House surrounded by construction site, Atlantic City, NJ
  3. They give themselves an A for effort for starting something but too many times their starts lead to nowhere if they don’t have an end goal in mind.
  4. They don’t open themselves up to networking with others by attending industry meetings or events.
  5. They treat their clients like their enemies where one needs to win instead working toward a positive outcome for both.
  6. They make the mistake of creating for an audience, instead of creating for them selves.  (Thanks to Seth Godin for that thought)
  7. They take workshops or pay for a service and then don’t utilize them. I’ve been guilty of this too many times.
  8. They don’t shoot for the pleasure of it.
  9. They rely too much on commissioned work instead of taking advantage of new opportunities and ways in which to market and sell their own projects.
  10. They don’t stay true to themselves.

Why Did You Want to Become a Photographer?

That was one of the questions posed to me during an interview this past weekend. A young woman had asked to interview me for a college paper she was writing. The call and the questions started out somewhat clinical, most likely another task or paper that she needed to check off her list. She proceeded through the usual list of questions: “Did you go to photography school?” “What type of photography are you interested in?” So on and so forth.

I could hear her typing my answers and I paused to let her catch up. But then she asked a question that really struck me on many levels. “Did you get into photography because it was cheaper?” I asked her what she meant by that – did she mean the tools of the trade were cheaper? When she responded “yes”, I told her that was somewhat of a misnomer and that the first cameras I bought (mechanical ones) I had used for 10 years. I added that now, because of the exponential impact of technology on my profession, my cameras and the software I need on the post end, have to be upgraded at least every two or three years, and that was only part of the investment required in the “tools of the trade.”

As she typed my response, I felt myself getting a bit anxious and I started speaking rapidly. I told her that even if that were true – meaning that I got into the photographic profession because it was cheaper – that would have been the absolute worst reason for me or anyone else, to choose photography as a profession. I went on to say that you need to be passionate about some aspect of photography that makes you want to do it more than anything, if you want to have a chance of sustaining yourself financially in this profession. Pursue photography because it brings you joy and that if you are getting into it because the entry level costs were “cheaper” you’ll simply be competing with thousands or tens of thousands of button pushers.

I went on to tell her that I became a photographer as a means to an end. I had been studying architecture in college and after two years left school to travel. I traveled the world for a year and came back knowing that I wanted to pursue a lifestyle that would incorporate travel but more importantly fill my endless curiosity of people and cultures and exploration. I wanted to become a storyteller, and became a photographer as a means to that end.

As the interview progressed I noticed the typing started to diminish as I told her that I have never separated my business from my pleasure and that they have always been tied together throughout my life. Simply put – my business is my pleasure. I talked about my frustrations starting out as one of a handful of women in a man’s world and for the most part a man’s profession – at least in the early days. I talked about the endless stream of rejections and the “wins” that seemed to pop into my life when I needed them most, rescuing me in the knick of time, just when I was thinking of quitting and moving into another career. I told her that unless she really wanted to do photography, she wouldn’t survive in this profession. I talked about my mentors when I was her age and how grateful I am that I had those people in my life. I relayed a couple of anecdotes about things my mentors had said to me and how those words had been pivotal moments in my life and that when things got tough, I drew upon those words of wisdom to get me through the day.

Then there was a very loud audible sigh, followed by a long period of silence and my mind raced through the various things that I had said to her. Was I too harsh? Did I paint too bleak of picture? Or worse yet – did I make it sound too easy and that all she had to do was “just do it”. I felt this overwhelming sense of responsibility that maybe I said something that was going to dictate the rest of her life and I kind of panicked in that moment of silence. And then she said “thank you so much for talking to me today, I started out just wanting to write my paper, and I’m going to have a great paper, but you have no idea how much talking to you has helped me.” She went on to tell me that she had been struggling with a decision that she was trying to make between going to law school and going to film school. I told her that she needed to make that decision all by herself and that it wasn’t a decision that anyone else could make for her – not I – not her parents – not anyone else. I told her to dig down deep into herself for the answer, beyond the influence of others, the dogma of the day and all the noise. And most importantly to remember that it was her life and that she got to choose how to live it and that she had every right to change her mind along the way.

Quite honestly, it has been one of those “onion” months for me, with layers of setbacks and second-guessing myself. I got off the phone feeling good about paying forward what I have learned along my way and in that moment, I realized that this might be my “purpose” at this point in my life. The day had turned into one of those sweet “strawberry days”. She didn’t know it, but she had helped me as much as she said I had helped her. It’s those conversations and those little moments that keep me going, and come to my rescue, just in the knick of time.

I would love to hear from you all – why did you want to become a photographer?  Something you say or write just may help someone and paying it forward is the best feeling in the world.

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The Problem With (Most) Video/Motion Workshops

This has been something that has been weighing on my mind for months now – ever since the seemingly “overnight sensation” of people giving video workshops as well as the growing number of still photographers that are feeling the need to take these workshops.

The biggest problem that I see with all the video/motion workshops that are out there is that they oversimplify video production and take the approach that the single independent still photographer can learn and do it all – produce, operate the camera, capture good audio and manage the post-production and edit.  I suppose to be fair – while it may be true that the independent still shooter can learn all facets of video production, that is not the best approach as far as setting up a viable business model for a video production company.

Video is a collaborative medium.  While I may be able take just about any video production from soup to nuts single handedly – I know that the production would suffer if I did.  I learned a long time ago to build a team of good sound people, editors and even camera operators that I can draw on to hire on a need be basis.  They make the production and me look good and that’s what keeps my clients coming back.  It also allows my business to grow because I can take on more projects. If I’m not entrenched in all aspects of the production. It frees me up to start production on another project while still in post-production of a previous project.  If you are a one-man band, you not only don’t have this option but you actually make yourself look small in the process.

Video and motion have many facets to them.  I advocate that the best business models are when one positions themselves at the top of the content creation ladder by overseeing the production of the whole and hiring the appropriate crew that will facilitate the process.  By recognizing the differences between this business model and the “solo” model that most independent photographers work under, you’ll have a much better shot of maintaining ownership of your work and creative vision as well as having the potential to grow your business beyond your own singular capabilities.

The other problem with workshops that over simplify the process of video production by promising that you will be up and running after a one day workshop is that they are centered around learning the gear and the software which changes by the month.  If you learn just the gear du jour and not focus on the business of video production you will be in competition with other independent dabblers and that’s a quick way to the poor house in terms of sustainability.

A week doesn’t go by when I don’t get at least a dozen calls or emails from still photographers who feel they need to get into video and are overwhelmed by the learning curve.  I tell them that the best thing they can do is NOT to try and learn all these skills themselves and that in fact that will only delay their entry into the video production, business if that is what they are after.  A better way is to keep your focus on your vision, apply that to a sustainable business model that will incorporate video and collaborate with others who will make you look good and help you grow your business.

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How a Film Can Make a Difference

I never fully realized the power that is within me to make a difference, until recently.  Last summer, my daughter and I spent time with extraordinary people who were providing homes for orphans, feeding the hungry and curing the ill.  They were all people we met while making a documentary about the change makers in our world – people who are making our planet a better place.

Our goal was to inspire and motivate others as to what they can do to make a difference in their own communities. Our goal was to cause a shift, in culture and in thought – from “what in it for me?” to “what can I do?” We’ve just begun to submit this documentary to film festivals and show sneak previews to small audiences but I can already tell that this film has affected change and the potential it has to move people to action.

From our first sneak preview at the beautiful State Theater in Traverse City, MI to a recent screening at MIS in Sao Paulo, Brazil, I feel the energy in the room and the collective desire to strive for a better world.  I feel the power of film and the power within me as a storyteller and filmmaker. I feel the time for this film is now and that people are hungry for hope.

Many documentaries take the critical point of view and certainly have more conflict. Opening Our Eyes is different from other docs in that it shines a light on what IS being done to create positive change by individuals all over the world.  Somehow by showing the small acts, this film makes all of us believe that we can create change as well. It empowers us to believe in the possibilities and gives us the hope we seem to be yearning for these days.

When I first conceived of the idea for this film, inspired by friend and neighbor Maggie Doyne, I was looking for some positive hope myself.  I was tired of listening to the hundreds of “experts” on TV talking and all of them needing to be “right” – and nothing was getting any better. That was long before the Arab Spring and the Occupy movements. What I was sensing was the rest of the world was feeling the same way I was and decided to do something about it.

Time will tell if the film continues to create awareness and moves people to action, but at least I’m hopeful again.

Please consider supporting our effort by making a contribution to our IndieGoGo campaign, which only has a few weeks, left to go. And it’s tax deductible.

We can’t do it without your help.

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New Opportunities for Photography

For this post, I’m going to use a very broad definition for “photography”.  I will define photography as any image still or motion shot by any camera – still camera, video camera, hybrid or even and iPhone.

The business of photography has changed with technology. To start with it demands more than just “still captures” in terms of content. These days, our clients are asking us to create stills and motion content and sometimes even 3D.  On top of that technology has made it possible for almost anyone to take a reasonably good picture or video.

So where does that leave us as far as new opportunities in the business of photography? While some look in their rear view mirror and lament the passing of the good old days, I for one have my eye on the possibilities that are open to anyone willing to do the work.

My top 5 pick of opportunities out there:

  • Once Magazine – An online photo magazine made for the iPad. Photographs and video look great on the iPad and Once, magazine shares subscription revenue 50/50 with each issue’s contributors. You no longer need an assignment to shoot those long run stories you love and monetize them.
  • Crowdfunding – With Kickstarter, RocketHub
  • DistributionFilm DIYDistribber
  • Funding and marketing  – Sokap
  • PR and Marketing ToolsTopspin Media
  • Portal for e-commerce (also integrated websites) – Photoshelter

That’s a start.  It’s never before been more possible than it is now to create, promote, market and monetize your “photography.”  Be smart.  Be authentic. Be courteous. Have a plan and be prepared to do the work.  Anything is possible. Validation for your project is no longer necessary.

If you appreciate what I have shared – here’s one last link, a shameless plug to our funding campaign on IndieGoGo for our film, Opening Our Eyes.  If you can, please contribute. If not, please pass along the link.

Marian Kramer, one of our subjects in the film says:
 “We all just have to shine each other up.”

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