In 2010 I wrote, in one long caffeine-fueled night, an article that would become the most widely shared piece that I’ve ever published on my blog called 10 Ways Not To Become A Successful Photographer. It was part missive, part rant, and part confession about what I saw a lot of people doing wrong in the photography industry at the time – the mistakes and toxic misconceptions that I saw myself and photographers around me, both emerging and experienced, making every day that were poisoning our minds and our work. I’ve read and re-read it so many times over the years, because in many ways it became a litany to stave off my own negativity when things got tough or I felt myself slipping back into those shitty patterns that were holding me and my friends back when I wrote it.

It’s five years later now, and I sometimes find myself wondering if that piece I wrote all those years ago is still relevant, I’ve changed a lot, and this industry constantly evolves. I find myself thinking more about issues that never occurred to me when I wrote the original piece, and in some cases, issues that grew out of those original ten points. The last few weeks on the road I’ve been making tons of notes about the things I see happening in this business – both with myself and others who’ve spoken with me about that original article when the felt they had gotten a bit off course.

No one can tell you how to be successful in this business, that’s up to you, but here are ten more thoughts on how to NOT fuck up your chances of making it in this industry.

11. Don’t Understand Your Relationship With Stress

We all have our own ways of reacting to and dealing with stress. Personally, there are times when I can thrive on it for short bursts, I can handle unexpected turns on a production and adapt with a smile on my face, I like when the pace of business gets brisk and I feel like I’m spinning a lot of plates. I do okay with that kind of stress. It’s kind of exhilarating. On the other hand, I can get tripped up and really freaked out by little things. I’ve lost sleep because I’ve been anxious about the wording in a client e-mail, I made myself sick with worry in the days leading up to a few big jobs – that kind of constant background worry is the kind of stress that can get me really wound up,

We’re all emotionally invested in what we’re doing (at least you better be if you want to create good work) and that naturally leads to us getting stressed about it, but beyond that we have a whole host of practical stresses that we deal with every day as small business owners and creative entrepreneurs: money, staff, professional relationships, client retention, and vendors that can all affect our stress levels. Combine and compress all that creative and professional anxiety and it can really start to have an effect on your health, mindset, relationships, and career to the point that it starts to tear you up a little (or a lot) inside. Identifying what stresses you out, why, and how badly can give you some major insights on things you might need to work on personally, professionally, and creatively. It can also remind you of the importance of building a support team who can help you better deal with those tasks and situations that creep up on you. More importantly, you also need to have a means of dealing with your stress when it does show its face that hopefully isn’t of the “I eat a whole order of cheddar bay biscuits and chase it with a bottle of gin” school of stress management. Some common options are exercise, meditation, obsessive collecting, cooking, and music, but whatever works for you is cool – just go easy on those cheddar biscuits.

12. Get Caught Up in Defining and Quantifying Everything

It used to be that I couldn’t get online without seeing some pointless argument about Canon vs. Nikon or Mac vs PC – but in the last few years I think we’ve actually become more micro-obsessive as an industry when it comes to categorizing, segmenting, and ranking everything. The discussion isn’t about what brand of light is better, but what KIND of light is better, and even more disturbing, what kind of photographer is better. I see statements like these pop up all the time:

“I’m a natural light photographer, it’s a more honest way of taking pictures”

“I only shoot film, shooting digital isn’t photography”

“If you don’t know how to use speed-lights you aren’t a professional”

“If you only make 49% of your income from photography, you aren’t really a photographer”

“If you use composites in your work, you aren’t really a photographer, you’re just a retoucher, REAL photographers do everything in camera”

Unless you’re describing a genre that you work in – like fashion, food, or journalism, I can’t remember a time when the word “photography” needed so much modification. There are a million stories of how each of us came to photography, and a million different interpretations of the medium – to try to distill it all down into a linear ranking or a tidy little package seems not just absurd, but a rejection of all the ephemeral and intangible things about someone’s history, taste, and experience that make their individual images so compelling. Finding a unique way to frame your experience is a great way of setting yourself apart, and it’s best done with your work itself, but I feel like at some point there was an inversion, a moment when we started to use these defining terms in a really negative way – and rather than focusing on pulling ourselves up, the focus has shifted to pushing others down by encapsulating them in classification and categorically invalidating them.

13. Don’t Take Ownership of Your Mistakes

Ever met someone who just can’t take criticism?

I don’t mean in a “OMG they read the comment section and are handling it really poorly!” way, I mean the sort of criticism that matters – constructive criticism from clients, respected colleagues, and even themselves. You have to be willing to accept that you are going to fail in this business, likely many times over, and that it’s the ones who use these failures as learning experiences that are going to survive and hopefully thrive. The last thing you want to do is stick your fingers in your ears, shut your eyes, and start screaming “YOU DON’T UNDERSTAND MY ART!”

It gets shared a lot, but there’s a part in Zack Arias’ Transform Video that’s always stuck with me where Zack reminds his audience that “Avedon sucked, Karsh sucked, Adams sucked…  …Every photographer in all of history was a horrible photographer for some period of time. They learned, they grew, they had dark days, they persevered. That is the way of the artist.” I think it’s one of the most important lessons that any photographer can learn in this business that is so saturated with ego and defensiveness. It’s okay to screw up if it makes you better in the end (just try not to do it when clients are watching, and if you do, own it).

Every single one of us is going to make mistakes at some point in our career – some will fall flat on their faces and suffer comical embarrassment, others will slide headlong into the cavernous maw of catastrophic error, but all of us can recover from these situations if we can honestly identify and accept what we did wrong and work to correct it. It’s the ones who dig a hole and start to pull the dirt down on top of themselves, looking to shelter themselves from having to face their mistakes that have to worry most – because after a while that safe hole you’re hiding in starts to look an awful lot like a grave.

14. Spend More Time Talking About Your Work Than Making It

I don’t like to break things down into archetypes, but sometimes it seems like there’s a revolving cast of common characters in every creative community, fellow photographers who seem to almost accidentally fall into these roles.

There’s the photographer with a million good ideas and two million excuses as to why they can’t ever pull them off: “Plane tickets are too expensive,” “I don’t have a studio,” “My camera isn’t good enough,” “I need better lights.” This guy can talk himself out of anything before he even gets close to starting,

There’s the photographer who is so enamored by past successes and gripped by the fear of ever having to outgrow them that all they ever talk about is that one amazing shot they grabbed in 1992. Photographers like this also tend be the kind of people who complain about the industry a lot. They’ll be the first to give crazy-eyed reactionary rants about how things have changed but do very little to grow and adapt.

There’s the one who is actually pretty talented, but so consumed by self-sabotage or impostor syndrome that sometimes they seem frozen in place, unable to actually create anything without tearing it to shreds moments later. These are the ones who spend a lot of time beating themselves up verbally and can’t take compliments very well. They tend to make just as many excuses as the first guy, but focus on more internalized factors than the external scapegoats. You’ll hear a lot of “I suck,” “I don’t deserve this,” “Why don’t you realize that my work is awful” from them.

Worst of all, we’ve likely all been (or will be) these people at some point in our careers, where we seem to be spending more time talking about our work than actually making it – and that’s actually pretty natural for people in creative careers This isn’t a job where you punch out at 5:00 PM and go home to play video games without a care in the world. We tend to internalize a lot of what we do, because what we do is so tied to our own emotions, thoughts, and experience – so we often take this job home with us. It’s not surprising that sometime doubt, hubris, fear, helplessness, defensiveness, and a whole host of other dark feelings can creep in, and a byproduct of that is shifting our focus from creating to talking about creating – becoming a photo wantrepreneur.

I want to take a second here to be clear that I am not at all discouraging people from talking about their work or photography as a medium. I think a discourse about the changing nature of photography and how it relates to communications, society, commerce, and art are more important than they ever have been, and In many cases, talking through some these issues frankly, with an honest colleague, friend, or mentor can be both therapeutic, cathartic, and exactly what you need to right your course. It’s when talk becomes a surrogate for your work, a smokescreen, that you have a problem. Talking about creating images is often lot easier than creating images, and we as humans tend to take the path of least resistance.

15. Not Knowing When to Say No

There are so many draws on your time, finances, and sanity out there, and you’re going to get pulled in a lot of different directions in this world. Sometimes the exuberance of starting to gain recognition for your work can lead you to say yes to everything: Annoying Uncle Frank promised a friend you would hook him up with some new portraits? Done. Restaurant you get lunch at needs some food shots on the cheap? Why not. Regular client offers you an assignment you know you can’t make money on? Ok, but just this one time…

Saying yes is a great way to gain experience, but as your skills and ambition grow you’re going to start to develop both focus and the experience to recognize red flags. The reasons might be time, interest, or money, but understanding the power of those two letters can do wonders for how you think about yourself as both an artist and a business person. Don’t be a dick about it, but find a way to say no that is firm, but polite, and leaves the door open for future communication.

The cool thing about learning to say no with style and grace is how much more it lets you say yes to the things you really want to do – the ones that really can be life changing. Do you really want to shoot those three freebie jobs for friends that your heart really isn’t in? or do you want to spend a week going on that fantasy road trip to photograph America’s last drive-in theatres? Do you want to spend a month photographing that fastener catalog you know you won’t really turn a profit on? or do you want to spend a few weeks shooting personal projects that will get you noticed by your dream clients? Saying no is scary at first, but over time it gets easer, especially as you better develop your sense of when you need to say it.

16. Trying Too Hard To Be Someone Else

Back when I played music there was always this one guy around obsessed with being just like whatever flavor of the month rock star he was obsessed with at the moment. He bought the same guitars, played the same way, adopted the same style, and really went out of his way to avoid ever having to do anything that didn’t directly emulate what he saw as a surefire formula for success. His idols and obsessions would change over time, and he would reinvent himself totally every couple of years despite actually being a pretty talented guy. He plays in a cover band now.

Do you want to be in a cover band?

There’s a fine line between influence and obsession, between creating an homage to someone’s work and outright re-creating their work –  but the message here isn’t about copying, or influence, or biting someone else’s style or ideas. I could write a whole other post about all of those things that would be just as long as this one. What I want to warn you about is losing yourself inside of someone else’s creative vision – becoming so wholly consumed and fixated on other’s work that you lose everything about YOUR work that’s interesting. I love Rodney Smith’s work, but the world already has a Rodney Smtih, and I’m a lot more interested in telling my story than trying to relive someone else’s. If you force yourself into a mold that was meant for someone else you’re going to really break off a lot of the edges and corners of you that don’t fit, and those little jagged pieces are what makes you great and unique. Keep forcing it and you might break apart completely.

17. Be Careless With Your Choice of Mentors and Critiques

Find an amazing community to be a part of, and learn from people whose work excites you, but be wary of the homogeny and sameness that can result in taking the advice of people who want you to be more like them and less like you too seriously. You’ll see this in a lot of online groups where unsolicited critiques run rampant. There will be a push for the images presented to fall in line with that group’s status quo, an urge to keep everyone on the baseline. Often, it seems like it isn’t even conscious, but if you watch someone comment on someone else’s work long enough, after a while you realize that a lot of the suggestions and comments they make are ones that will bring the work more in line with their own worldview of photography. Do you really want to aspire to be more like someone who’s work you don’t really like that much?

Critique can be an unbelievably important tool, especially for a developing artist, but the crowd of people out there willing to share their opinion on what you’re doing gets bigger every day, and a lot of them don’t know what the hell they’re talking about. When you’re looking for a critique or mentor to help you refine your vision you need to be conscious of avoiding the masses that lean towards the average and unexceptional.  Instead, be discerning and search for those singular and unique voices – the ones with a real opinion and point of view. Be vocal about what you want to improve and specific about what you want them to comment on so that you can grow with purpose and urgency. Consider the lessons you learn from them and take what helps you, but never be afraid to try to prove your mentors and critics wrong – not through words and argument, but by action and result – as you see your own vision through.

18. Get Too Comfortable

Complacency and stagnation can be incredibly hard things to recognize when you’re deeply mired in them. We gradually slip more and more into our routines and comfort zones until they smother us. One of the most common examples of this that I see is when a photographer starts to get a good amount of work in – they’ve worked hard to develop their marketing and contacts, their work is at the top of its game, and they have a look that’s in demand. Over the course of a couple of months or years they think they’re doing great but maybe they let their marketing slip or stopped pushing their skills – figuring that they’ve made it. All of a sudden there is a pivot in the industry, staff changes at client offices, perhaps a new agency takes over an account, or their look now seems dated and out of step with the market. All those months they went without marketing or developing new skills will come back to haunt them as their work dries up and they have to scramble to bring in some income just to keep the doors open. Getting too comfortable can leave you in a very uncomfortable position.

19. Don’t Manage Client Expectations

Once you get the basics of this photography thing down and start bringing in work, you suddenly realize you have a whole host of new problems in regards to communication and the ability to actually deal with clients – the kind of problems can lead you to complain in internet forums where a bunch of other people who have similar problems will pat you on the back and say “You know what? You’re right, your clients suck, and so do mine. It’s not your fault.”

But you know what? It’s kind of your fault.

Sure, there are bad clients out there, the legitimately dishonest or unethical type that give you 99% of your headaches for 1% of your income, the ones that you’ll probably fire after a couple of harrowing months. But most of the clients you’re going to end up having problems with aren’t out to get you, they are decent and honest people who just don’t know the ins and outs of your business as well as you do. Clients like this have a different vocabulary and a different background than you – some might be making their first foray into working with a professional, others might be used to different policies and working arrangements because they collaborated with a different creative for a long time, and some might be new to a position in an agency and still learning the ropes.

You need to work from the mindset that all of your potential clients have varied backgrounds and experiences, have radically different wants and needs, and are all going to ask different questions – and it’s up to you to know when they aren’t asking the right ones. Your client didn’t bring up a stylist? Ask if they need one anyway. Client doesn’t know what their responsibilities are? Give them a timeline. Client didn’t mention exclusivity? You better ask. Client doesn’t understand he difference between editorial and commercial licensing? Define it in the contract. Not using a contract? FUCKING START! Every time a freelancer works without a contract an angel kicks a puppy.

Make communication the most important thing in your business besides the quality of your work. Be patient with your clients and take the time to ensure sure that everyone involved is in synch. Ask as many questions as they do to make sure they understand your position before a problem arises. Otherwise, despite all the client blaming you do online, you’re the one who’s going to look like an asshole.

20. Go it Alone

You need a support team in your life, because there is only so much you can carry on your shoulders without getting crushed – this goes for both your professional and personal life.

On the personal side, you hopefully have several layers of support – friends and family who stand by you are a great and valuable resource, but don’t underestimate how much your local community of colleagues and photographers, the ones who understand the stresses of being a freelance creative, can help as well. Chances are they have been through the same issues you’re going through now. They’ve dealt with doubt, shaky finances, bad shoots, rough relationships, and a whole host of other problems that might be affecting you, and you can rest assured that there are scores of photographers who are going to come after you that are going to have these problems as well – do what you can to pay it forward in your community.

On the professional side, there is often a sense that the photographer is a lone-wolf, and at the beginning of our careers we do have to wear a lot of hats under both the artist and entrepreneur banner. We find ourselves doing design work, writing copy, taking care of scheduling, taxes, payroll, etc, all on our own. It’s a lot to handle, especially if you aren’t as expert in those fields are you are at photography, but sooner or later you have a revelation that there are people out there who put just as much time and passion into developing these skills as you do yours. Over the last couple years I’ve started working with a designer, a writer, a marketing consultant, a retoucher, and an amazing assistant. I’ve also developed really good relationships with my accountant, insurance broker, and banker on the business side of things. It’s made my life simpler, made me more focused on the quality of my images and servicing clients, and improved the quality of my brand and marketing across the board. Being able to find a group of people, whose skills I trust and respect, has been so important to growing my business in the last few years.

What mistakes are you making? What do you see holding you and others back from really being successful? What are you doing about it?


This is the story of how one conversation, a healthy dose of dissatisfaction, and a few glasses of wine helped me decide to make a major change in my photography, how I thought about where I live, and the kind of stories that I was really interested in telling.

At the beginning of the summer I found myself afflicted with a worrisome and specific case of writers block –  I would shoot a project, but when I sat down to write about it the only things I could think of were “Here is a picture I took and I really like it” or “I shot this assignment recently for a client, the art director was super nice and brought sandwiches” basically the kind of disposable posts you have read on every photography blog, ever, in the history of everything (Okay, except for some of the really good ones like those written by John Keatley, Rodney Smith or Chris Buck – I’ll gladly read those any day), and I had gotten sick of it. I stared at blank screens for hours feeling like my brains were slowly leaking out of my eyes and that my writing skills were failing me (thankfully this mental state was contained only to my writing and did not affect my ability to take kick-ass pictures). It’s not that I didn’t like the aesthetics of the work I was producing, I just didn’t feel like these were the kind of stories that I was really having much fun telling. Continue reading “NOW FOR SOMETHING COMPLETELY DIFFERENT”


Jenn Kowalik

I have had a lot of love for mobile photography since I first got a phone with a camera in it. I found that I was always snapping away on and off set with my iPhone and dragging my friends along on impromptu photography adventures with me. Since a lot of the work I do professionally is very reliant on pre-production and planning, the spontaneity of being able to shoot something just for fun when an idea may strike has always been very enjoyable. But over the past few months I found myself taking fewer and fewer pictures this way.

When Instagram first arrived on the scene I was really into it. I liked being able to share my work and see what people are up to. Even though I still check in on Instagram from time to time to see what my friends are shooting I have been posting less often since the beginning of this year. When I did post I found that I would spend a lot of time (too much) checking in to see how many likes my latest image had gotten and to keep up with comments from my friends. I also realized I was posting less creative work and more and more images of my dogs and travel photos (not that there is anything wrong with that – my dogs are adorable) but it had become more of a platform where I would post thoughtless images and a lot less of a fun place for me to post whatever interesting or creative thing I was working on that day. There was also the debate about Instagram changing their terms of service, and though I still post the occasional travel shot on there to let people know what I am up to, I just never got around to posting creative work there again – but that is not what I want to focus on in this article.

Jason Wulf

In the past few weeks I have found myself making images on my phone more frequently, and it has a lot to do with an update that Visual Supply Company made to their already pretty great VSCO Cam app. A short time ago VSCO released this update (which has become my new camera app of choice for the iPhone, and pretty much the only thing I use for mobile image editing aside from Snapseed) and despite how cool the photography aspects of the app are, they built something even more interesting into this edition that has really made mobile photography more engaging for me again – VSCO Grid.

VSCO has created a publishing platform for mobile photography that really excited me when I first saw it in action – I could not wait to get one of my own, but I had to wait a few days to get an activation code after it was released. When I did finally get my account activated I found that a lot of the good feelings that I got from creating my little phone snaps and pictures of friends that I had lost with Instagram had come back. More importantly, there was something about the app and the style of sharing it allows that led me to be a lot more thoughtful with my mobile photography. Suddenly, I was taking more pictures with my phone – without any of the weird anxiety I would ocassionally get from using Instagram.


The interface is clean, responsive, minimal, and I really like the way that it presents a stream of images. Another thing I appreciate is that it was designed as a publishing platform and not a social media site – there are no friends, likes, or comments and for the time being that really appeals to me (though it does have some basic social integration like being able to tweet one of your images or share something to Facebook). The idea of having a platform to share this kind of imagery that specifically eliminates the idea of a lot of social media trappings is kind of endearing to me, and I think VSCO did a really fantastic job of giving photographers and artists a platform where they can do that in a very elegant and well designed way.

Jenn Kowalik

You can now see my mobile image on my VSCO.Grid 4am Knows All My Secrets (because I stay up way too late playing with my iPhone images, and because Poppy Z. Brite is amazing). It is going to be something of a side project for me where my more creative mobile photography can live (and ocassionally some of these images will pop up on this blog too). Some of the images that populate it now are from new adventures and shoots, while others are select favorites that I have brought over from Instagram and reworked using VSCO Cam. The timing of VSCO Grid being released was sort of perfect too, because over the summer and into the fall I am going to be working on a lot of new projects, and the nature of the images I create and even this blog are going to be changing significantly in scope and subject matter. Grid will be a perfect place for me to share the fun stills I make on adventures with my friends, documenting their style, grabbing candid images on shoots, and creating interesting images while I explore Buffalo and other cities on my travels. Having this outlet and medium to be loose with what I shoot and just have fun feels great – so 4am Knows All My Secrets will be serving as something of a second, purely visual blog for me while my main blog will focus on the stories and images I will be sharing about the subjects of my work and the new directions I plan on taking it in (but that is a whole different post for another time…)

Don’t get me wrong, I love social media (you can find me on Twitter or Facebook most of the time, and I often write posts on social media for ASMP’s Strictly Business blog), but I have always been kind of fascinated by how social media affects how people create. I certainly  enjoy sharing work I create with others, and I have made some really genuine connections with some seriously cool people, but when it comes to creating work that is designed to be shared specifically over social media I get kind of dragged into questioning how the medium itself affects the motives people have for creating. Is our intent and work altered by the reaction of others on social media? Does an artist’s search for approval lead them to create an image in search of likes rather than capturing something that truly captivated or fascinated them? Have I ever told you I over analyze things sometimes, even things that are just supposed to be simple fun?

So, before I get too philosophical about it… let me sum up by saying that VSCO Grid is a lot of fun for me, probably the most fun I have had creating mobile images in a long time.

If you are using VSCO Grid too,  drop me a link to your feed – I would love to check out some cool work.


Covers of Blink Magazine and positive negative magazine

Magazines made me fall in love with photography in the first place – I remember hanging out in my school library to read through racks of magazines both old and new and spending nights every month sitting among piles of magazines flipping through them. As I got older the habit stayed, but in new forms, I might spend a night rifling through some of my favorite photo books, or checking out new magazines on a trip to the book store. These days I get a lot of my fix online, a lot of print magazines have moved into electronic publishing, services like Issuu and Magcloud have made it more practical for niche and independent magazines to distribute their publications, and some have even moved directly into a browser based magazine/digest format – My iPad has become my favorite way to browse new work. Here are nine of my favorite magazines full of inspiring images that are available digitally.

Blink Magazine

Blink is a visually stunning non-profit Korean publication created by Kim Aram, the former art director for PHOTO+. Every issue features an eclectic collection of personal work by photographers all over the world; edited, curated, designed, and promoted solely by Kim, who used a large chunk of personal savings to start the project. Blink is simply one of the most interesting and best designed photography magazines on the market today, and a constant  source of first-rate visual stimulation.

You can get their most recent iPad edition here or follow their great Tumblr feed.


+/- is an annual student publication produced by the senior photography and design majors at the Rochester Institute of Technology (my Alma Mater). Constantly metamorphosing with each years student staff, this small publication has an insight and visual focus that evolves from issue to issue based around the changing collective aesthetics of the student artists behind it.

You can help fund this student production now by visiting +/- on Kickstarter, which will net you the newest electronic edition or more.

VII and the 37th Frame


This in-house magazine of the VII Photo Agency, renowned for the conflict and news images produced by its member photographers – features illuminating, starkly human and sometimes uncomfortably confrontational imagery covering myriad topics from both its full members and those in its mentorship program. An ever-changing stream of the some of the finest documentary photography in the world.

The 37th Frame

An ad free and reader supported online digest featuring an every growing and beautifully curated showcase of emerging photojournalistic talents. The 37th Frame points readers to the some of the best photojournalism from across the web.

The unexposed and See Saw

The Unexposed

Created by Natasha Dominguez to showcase the talents of other emerging photographers like herself, The Unexposed is a series of thematically distinct editions that are distributed online through Issuu. If you are into the subdued and sometimes melancholy style of imagery that the publication leans towards you can be sure to find The Unexposed becoming a fast favorite like I did.

See Saw

Often accompanied by in-depth text pieces and interviews that shed light on the processes and motivations of the artists featured – See Saw Magazine’s articles expose photographers with unique and real experiences to a world of new viewers. The mix of artists presented encompasses both known and newer talents.

Positive magazine and aperture magazine


Focusing not just on photography, Posi+tive is a publication that combines art, culture, fashion, photography, reportage, and architecture into a bird’s eye look at what is happening in the worlds from an artistic, political, and cultural point of view. While its focus may not strictly be on the photographic, the imagery presented in the each issue is incredible.

They have a really useful archive of their back issues available for those that want to catch up.


One of the big names in photography publications, Aperture has been around and well-regarded for a long time, You might even already be reading it, but I wanted to mention them because of their awesome iPad edition available through Zinio. Having aperture with you wherever you go is a real treat, and worth the subscription fee.

You can also follow Aperture’s blog

Deep Sleep

A thematic publication from the U.K. that strives to expose incredible photography within each issue’s given theme, without concern for market trends or commercial influence. Produced quarterly, the 7 issues released so far have grown in scope and the editorial sense becomes sharper and sharper with each edition.

Deep sleep cover

Do you have any of your own favorites to share?

Make It For Yourself

If you had unlimited resources and unlimited opportunity, what would you do with it creatively? What kind of project would you dream up if it were a fact that nothing was standing in your way? What story would you tell with the restraints of practicality, insecurity, fear, and realism completely lifted?

If you had an unyielding drive to share something, would you fight to make it happen, even if you had no resources other than the ability to genuinely express your desire to give this idea form to others? Would you put in the work to make it real? Could you improvise your way around any obstacles?

Do you remember those wonderfully energetic days of exploration when you first discovered your love of photography or writing or painting, days when you would take on a subject simply because of your interest in it, and you experimented with reckless abandon – having tons of fun doing it? Even if you look back at those creative acts now and scoff because your technique was rudimentary, you were filled with adolescent angst, and your interests have radically changed since then, there was something primal, cathartic, and amazingly fun about frantically scribbling lyrics alone in your room at three in the morning or long days spent in a studio with only your headphones to keep you company. There was no start or stop time and there was no concern for work/life balance because what you were doing wasn’t work, for those hours or days you threw yourself into your project. It was your life and you were exactly where you wanted to be.

I was surprised when I started to realize how many working creatives I knew that were not regularly working on personal projects. For many of them it seemed that the challenges of putting their creativity to task for others on a daily basis had robbed them of that initial spark that brought them joy through the act of creating. Some were burned out and bitter, others still loved what they did but found themselves running in place creatively – always moving but never advancing towards their goals. Many of them had lofty ideas for projects that they never seemed to start, while others drowned their simple and easily executable ideas beneath an ocean of doubt and fear.

There have been countless articles written from the viewpoint of every creative discipline about why you should dedicate time to personal projects. Some focus on the need to alleviate burnout, others propose it as part of a marketing strategy to engage potential clients on a more personal level, and the more introspective ones see it as a way to define your creative goals through self-exploration. These viewpoints all have their benefits and advantages, but few of them focus on the core of why many of you started creating in the first place…

…because you cared about something.

I have talked to photographers and artists at all stages in their careers, and I have heard a few common excuses as to why they aren’t exploring their own ideas:

“No one will like my ideas”

Don’t make it because you think others will like it on Facebook, or because you think it might get you work, or noticed by the art world, or turn a profit. These are byproducts, not goals. Make it because you give a damn about it and want to tell everyone else that you give a damn about it. You might even convince some of them to give a damn about it too.

“I have an idea but it is too difficult to execute”

If you need help, ASK!!

There are people out there who respond to genuine no BS passion – real passion is infectious. Some people fear the word “no” so much that they give up before they even get started. Don’t be one of those people who berates others into helping you either. Instead be so genuinely driven in what you are doing that they can’t help but want to be part of it. You will be surprised when you realize exactly how far unbridled enthusiasm can take you.

I guarantee that there are people out there who want to help you already – people who are going to be excited about what you are doing and want to get involved. They could care about your subject matter or cause, they might be fans of your work, or they may be friends who don’t even get your idea but wholeheartedly believe in you.

“I don’t have any ideas”

Yes, you do – you have an unbelievable variety of ideas that are swimming just below the surface. You have ideas every day and forget them in the rush of your daily life. You weigh them against the perceived expectations of others and discount them as invalid or stupid before they even get off the ground. If it means something to you, it is worth exploring. Think big, but don’t be afraid to think small either – you don’t have to change the world with every project. They can be silly or funny or painfully sad, they can be all about your nerdy passions, or they can start a worldwide movement. There are no rules. There is no minimum or maximum. You can travel around the world or stay in your bedroom. You can create it in an afternoon or spend your whole life pursuing it. What is important is that you give that idea in your head a tangible existence – make it as real to the rest of the world as it is for you.

The important part is starting.

Start recording your ideas – it doesn’t matter how. Keep a notebook, start a file on your computer, etch it into stone tablets, or go all Twin Peaks and record it into a dictaphone for Diane. Just as important is to start to pursue and act on these ideas – don’t just seal them away in some vault where they are out of mind. Revisit your notes and your ideas. It might feel like the most daunting thing in the world, but if you can take small actions towards starting you will build momentum in no time. Projects like these are an outlet that allows you to build something around your own passions and interests – something that you feel strongly about. People respond to these ideas because you are sharing something that you are 100% behind, that you are willing to take a risk for. The act of putting something out there despite your fears of how others will receive it is courageous and amazing.

A blank page, an unexposed roll of film, and an empty stage are full of all sorts of potential – they want to be filled.

Fill them with something that you think it is totally cool, or something you believe in, or because you want to make a change, or have to tell a story. Everyone will find their own method. I just want to light a fire under your ass – you need to find a process that works for you. Whatever it may be, throw yourself into it all the way and start something new.

Where is your creativity going to take you next?

Lessons For 2012

Vintage Konica Camera

Vintage Konica Camera

For my last blog post of the year here are some small lessons I learned in 2011 that I hope help you in 2012.

A to-do list is a tool, not an accomplishment

You might clear those tasks out, but that list will fill right back up again. Don’t become addicted to efficiency, leave some room in your life for the random and to let your passions direct you.

If they can’t see you, you don’t exist

You need to get out there and start making calls, doing lunch, and getting your work seen. You can wait forever for your website or portfolio to be perfect, but there are people who want to hire you right now who can’t find you. A portfolio is a living thing, it needs to grow with you and be honed by feedback and experimentation – Perfection is a journey, not a destination.

This is a social business

Your work may get you in the door these days, but your personality is just as important in how you are perceived. Don’t exist outside your brand; make yourself a part of it. When you do you will take more responsibility and pride in your work.

Be wary of who you get feedback from

Listen to your clients’ needs and thoughts, and be selective about your mentors. Taking homogenous online and group critiques too seriously results in being a better them, not a better you. Your goal is to be the anomaly, not the average.

ACT! – No one else will do it for you

You can spend all the time in the world talking about your great idea or planning your dream project, but unless you take action and make it happen it’s all just theory. Or as Joey Shithead puts it…. TALK-ACTION = ZERO


If you are truly passionate about photography as a business then don’t treat it like a mindless job – Genuinely care about your work, your business practices, your clients, your community, your subjects, your stories, and your team. It will pay you back in the long run.

Have the courage to fail

If you are not making mistakes you are not trying hard enough.

Never Stop Learning

Never be too prideful to learn something new – consume knowledge and media like it’s the air you breathe. I have seen veterans of this industry learn new skills from first-year students because they were open and excited about growing. Make study, experimentation, and shared mentorship a part of your regular routine to better understand how the world around you works. You never know where your next inspirational goldmine may come from.

The path that worked for others may not be the one that works for you. 

If success in any creative industry were as easy as following a roadmap laid out by bloggers, educators, and experts, then everyone would be living their passion. Never be afraid to deviate from the prescribed path if you feel that it is the right choice for you. Take responsibility for your choices and never be afraid of making some noise.

Say Yes

Don’t let fear and apprehension stop you from doing something you really want to do. Start saying yes more, especially to your own ideas, even if you think they are crazy – those will be very often be your best ideas. Saying yes is the first step to really making things happen.

Say No 

Conversely, don’t let a misplaced sense or duty, obligation, or desperation prevent you from saying no. Stick to your own path and learn to walk away from a bad deal.

Stop hanging around people who have given up

I see it all the time on blogs, on forums, at industry events, and any other place that photographers and creatives might gather en masse – an overwhelming sense of negativity that pervades this industry like a virus. What the finger of accusation is pointing at seems to change weekly, and complaints about clients, rates, technology, MWACs, pro-sumers, students, the internet, micro-stock, and the economy all start to sound the same after a while – a jumble of depressing but comforting noise that can suck you in and have you spouting the same rhetoric back at others. But, if you listen to that noise long enough, one crystal clear idea starts to creep through – that this is ultimately about blame. The underlying mantra behind so many of these complaints can often be reduced and simplified to one statement; “This is not my fault, this is caused by something beyond my control, so I do not have to act to fix it.” This kind of thinking may bring some small amount of cathartic relief, especially when joining in with the masses collectively laying blame on something else, but it will do absolutely nothing to remedy the situation.

I am so over it, and I don’t want to be part of that culture of excuses.

That is why I am so grateful to have made a conscious decision over the last year to surround myself with people so against this type of hive negativity that the idea of giving up and giving in is completely alien to them – either because of their unrelenting positivity, or their indefatigable passion pushing them to take actions that they believe in to find answers to their problems.

I have seen a thirty-plus year veteran of this industry have one of his most successful years ever by adopting new technology and marketing strategies in a time when many of his contemporaries languish in dwindling careers lamenting “the good old days”.

I have been amazed by the positivity of a friend as I watched her struggle and grow as she worked through her first year in business when so many people were telling her to give up – now she is profitable, growing, and excited for the future.

I am constantly inspired by the unrelenting creativity and passion of my studio partner, Scott Gable. And I have seen so many people start to leave their negative attitudes behind on a professional forum I moderate thanks to the support of a group of  unbelievably determined people.

These are the people I surround myself with because they want to be better, and that pushes me to want to be better myself. If you take anything away from this blog post, this is the one lesson I hope you take to heart.

Moving / Editing

Simplifying my life by editing the clutter

Simplifying my life by editing the clutterMoving blog post header

I mentioned earlier this week that I am finishing up my move across town from my downtown apartment to a townhouse in north Buffalo. It has been quite the adventure, but the benefits of moving into a new space have already had some serious benefits for me. My old apartment had the strangest layout, instead of having rooms it was essentially two long hallways that ran parallel to each other. While you might imagine a hip open floor plan, the space was narrow and long, anything but open. One hallway contained my bedroom, bathroom, and workspace. The other contained my living room and kitchen. My new house has a workspace separate from my living/sleeping areas, it has only been a few days and I already love having a dedicated space for work when I am not at the studio or on location.

The process of packing and moving motivated me to do something that had been on my goals list for a long time – to eliminate clutter, edit my belongings, and simplify a lot of stuff prior to the move. I found myself taking inventory and making a lot of decisions on what went and what stayed.

• Clothes were culled in a classic closet edit, with the remnants going to charity. Managed to cut out a lot of stuff I just hadn’t worn in years but was still holding on to.

• Office materials, old papers, forms, files, and more were scanned and archived to get rid of a lot of the paper clutter that always seemed to be obscuring my actual desk when I was working from home. Trying to keep as paperless as possible at the new place, in fact I was able to consolidate down everything down to one lean file box.

• Old furniture (some of which I had since college) was deleted, especially the old busted couches that had essentially become Frankenstein’s over the years as they were broken and rebuilt. I am working now on tuning up my workspace and living areas keep things cleaner and leaner. I was also able to travel a lot lighter during the move.

• I even got a chance to revisit and edit some of my notebooks that I jot shoot and project ideas down in, copying the ones I was still really passionate about over into new files and editing down some of the older ones that I had lost my taste for.

So many things were cut, edited, given away, tossed, and repurposed – aside from the obvious benefits of having less stuff physically to bog me down, I have also found that I mentally I have become a lot more agile the past few days. trimming that fat has let given me a lot more focus as I realized that all the clutter and chaos that can build up in our lives was often distracting me and keeping me off task.

I think that taking stock of your clutter, both physically and mentally is a great goal, and often a necessary one for creatives. It lets us clear out the excess baggage that can often get in the way of us generating and following through with new ideas. How many times have you intended to take on a task or start a new project only to get delayed because there was some sort of perceived mental or physical clutter that in the way of you getting to your destination? Make it a point to lighten your load a few time a year in the name of simplicity and sanity.

Speaking of editing and refining, I have made some substantial changes to lukecopping.com the last few days. New work has been added, old work has been culled, and some other elements have been twisted up, mixed around, and spit back out in new updated forms. My online portfolio totally leveled up.

Cameracake.com Launches

I am so excited to announce the launch of Cameracake.com!

For the past few months I have worked on a super secret project alongside Judy Hermann and Barry Schwartz (both fellow ASMP members) to develop a social bookmarking site with professional photographers and media creatives in mind. A peer curated system for sharing resources, news, inspiration, and more.  The site is live and open to everyone. Stop by, create a profile, and start sharing the good stuff with everyone!

You can subscribe to my and other’s updates on the site, rate resources and articles, and  help to curate the best and most important info for your peers. An amazing resource for photographers of all types: Tall photographers, short photographers, Buffalo photographers, old photographers, new photographers, and photographers who are made of cake.. etc.

Try it out at Cameracake.com

Being Ignored Is A Choice

I have been thinking a lot about my previous post, Ten Ways to NOT Become a Successful Photographer, the past few days as I have been feeling a bit introspective about photography as of late. Here is another way to screw up on your journey to becoming a pro, an unofficial number eleven if you will.

Wait For Them To Come To You

“Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work” ~ Thomas Alva Edison

There is a certain passivity that I see exhibited in many emerging photographers today. Whether it is brought on by fear of success, resistance, procrastination, or ego is irrelevant – we must make sure that through our work and actions that others cannot help but pay attention. This is no longer an endeavor where one can sit passively hoping that people stumble upon one’s work, that sort of laziness does not suit an era in which competition is fierce and worthy, media is widely distributed and available, and the notion of regional limitations means less and less everyday.

It is time to not just do, but to actually get excited about sitting down to make those sales calls, sending those promos, and building relationships with the community of clients and peers that you surround yourself with. Learn to infuse even the little and mundane details of your business with the same passion that you bring to any of your creative projects. Strive to be a leader and a learner to solidify your reputation through actions. Practice and experiment until your work is the best it can be, then make it better by infusing a healthy dose of YOU into it. Most importantly, take an active hand in shaping your future and your role in this industry – no one else can do it for you, and no one else can tell you what path is best for you. Put your head down and get ready to work, because you get back what you put in.

If you want people to hear your message, make some noise they can’t ignore.

Go Outside and Play

A lot of creatives spend a lot of time in one place. We work in our studios or at our computers – often for stretches of time that most others would find unhealthy. This is especially true  for those who may work out of a home office, sometimes we can start to suffer a from a little bit of cabin fever, that internal restlessness that frustrates us and destroys our productivity. We try to work through it, which just frustrates us more. Sometimes we just need to get outside and let ourselves decompress in the open air.

Its a beautiful 47 degrees here in Buffalo today, cool but surprisingly gorgeous considering the long winter we have had. I am going to hit the streets for a long walk in the sun. I suggest that you get out there and reconnect with your surroundings a bit, you won’t believe how much it can fortify you. Take a long lunch, an even longer stroll, and explore a bit.

Buffalo Photographer Luke Copping

Marketing Mixology

When I was at the Strictly Business conference in Philadelphia I had several conversations with other photographers about the online portals, source books, directories, and social media sites that I use in my marketing and promotions. The general consensus was that I utilize quite a few of them, and I am always on the lookout for more innovative and expansive ways to spread my work and get it in front of viewers. I waned to share a few of these sites that I use with you.  For the photographers and designers that read this blog, I hope it gives you some ideas on how you can increase your web presence for a minimal cost. And for the buyers, editors, and agency types reading this blog I know this will give you some ideas and new leads on where you can track down and see the work of some amazing new talent. And finally, for the stalkers that wait outside my place at night and mail me packages stuffed with creepiness, hopefully this will provide you a method of stalking me in a more efficient electronic manner (See, I’m trying to help everyone!)

The Big Three

Naturally, I use Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn pretty regularly – both to converse and interact with the regular readers of this blog as well as to provide info hubs for regular updates about my new work and site. LinkedIn is becoming more of a key tool for me in growing my professional network, and has connected me to a lot of great clients and contacts recently. Like this recent article  by Jorge Parra says “…I consider Linkedin a Professional Networking Media, not a Social Networking Media. This distinction is critical”





As great as the three above services are it can become tedious and annoying –  both for me, and for those I correspond with – to have to repeatedly click on or write out several social media links every time the need arises. I have adopted a service called Flavors.me as a social media hub, a singular site I can send people to where they can branch off to sites like my website, my blog, and my myriad social media channels. It is easy to set up, maintain, and the free version is more than enough for most users.

Buffalo Photographer Luke Copping's flavors.me page

I can now condense my most important web presence info to two simple lines.

Portfolio: www.lukecopping.com
Social Media Hub: www.flavors.me/lcopping

Find A Photographer

The American Society of Media Photographers’ in house photography sourcebook and directory is a powerful and constantly growing database of its members that is searchable by geographic location or photographic specialty.  A great tool for those searching for commercial photographers in specific areas. The service is currently going through some updates and changes to make it even more user-friendly for buyers and editors.


FAP search portal for buyers and editors

Luke Copping @ Find A Photographer


I have long been a proponent of the Behnace network and the exceptionally customizable system for presenting your work that it offers. I host a number of projects here and it has been one of my great tools for networking with creatives in affiliated fields like graphic and web design. Recently Linkedin and Behance began offering a service in which you can host your Behance projects on your Linkedin profile, suddenly making this a very potent tool.

Luke Copping @ Behance Network


A great networking tool and directory for those working in the realms of fashion, style, and beauty. Lexposure is one of the premium networking locations for fashion creatives. Your network on here will be small, but you can really nurture some of the connections you make here into great leads.

Luke Copping @ Lexposure

Krop Creative Database

A well designed and easily accessible creative database that is easy to navigate and has one of the best options for the design of your in-site portfolio – even going so far as to offer premium design options for paid members. I think that the basic portfolio itself offers a very nice design.

Luke Copping @ Krop

Found Folios

A service of Adbase, one of the largest providers of marketing list and email services for photographers, Found Folios is another very rich service for hosting images and professional information. Great design and reputation in the industry.

Luke Copping @ Found Folios


Foto Deck is a service for connecting professional photographers with their potential buyers and clients. The site is simple, clean, and minimal, allowing for exceptionally easy navigation for editors and buyers, and the ability to search by city. One of my favorite services in terms of how they present photographers work.

Luke Copping @ Foto Deck


For me, this is the most exciting service of the bunch. Still in beta, but rapidly growing in both depth and user base, First-Stop was started by a group of environmentally conscious creatives who saw the amount of waste going into printed promos sent out by photographers and illustrators. Even if they liked the pieces, they would eventually make their way to the circular file. First-Stop was started in response to this, giving artists a free way to get their work in front of editors and buyers as simple promo images provided they pledge to cut the amount of paper promos they send out. I cannot wait for this service to grow more.

First-Stop.org from matthieu brajot on Vimeo.


Offers a free directory listing in a widely searched database of creatives. There are a lot of advanced and premium options available.

Luke Copping @ Altpick

Agency Scoop

A service that I have just adopted use of. Agency Scoop is a major hub for networking in the advertising world that features a simple but well implemented portfolio system.

Luke Copping @ Agency Scoop.


Here are a few other databases and services:

Production Paradise


PDN Photoserve

Select Magazine



Always be on the lookout for local and regional databases as well.


Curate – You don’t have to maintain a million sites, find the ones that give you marketing traction and cut the rest.

Maintain – Even during the course of writing this blog I found one or two out of date images and pieces of info. Try to make a stop by your least visited sites at least once every two weeks. Barring that – work an update schedule into any major marketing change or push you make, so that your satellite servies are up to date.

Experiment – these small satellite services may be an ideal place to try out new mixes of work or test new stylistic evolutions before your launch them on your main site. I use Behance for this a lot.

What sites are you using? I’ll add any new ones to this article if you send me links so that we can all expand our tool kits.


It happens to all of us at some point – you are driving along the creative highway unaware of some oncoming cerebral roadwork slowing the road down to one lane. You lose your focus for one second and BAM!!! You slam headlong into a creative wall. I asked seventeen of the most creative photographers, designers, bloggers, and creative industry professionals I know (and threw myself into the mix for good measure) to weigh in on how creative difficulties affect them and what they do to beat back the tide of artistic fatigue.

Douglas Sonders

At my workshops, the first piece of advice I tell my attendees is that you must always shoot for yourself. For one, it keeps your portfolio fresh. Two, art directors love to hire photographers that have work that shows passion. Three, I believe the best work in my portfolio comes from my personal work. I was free to create without boundaries (see the associated images attached to this). Four, shoot the jobs you want to get hired for. Not doing the jobs you want to be doing? Well, create a body of work that represents the type of work you WANT to do. Creative Directors will typically hire you for the kind of work they see in you portfolio, not the work you TELL them you want to do. Actions speak louder than words, even in photography.

Douglas Sonders is a photographer and filmmaker from Washington D.C.

Douglas Sonders F18 Image

Amanda Sosa Stone

What can a creative do when they are stuck in a creative rut?

Go and do something else. Go for a hike, go for a walk, paint – do something that is NOT your source of your creative rut.

What activities do I do to help myself get past a block?

Look at what other people are doing. I research. I also walk away from the project and let it flow when it’s ready!

What creative exercises or techniques do I use that help me generate ideas?

I meditate, draw and even go as far as to create imaginative conversations with my mentor.

What places or forms of media do I go to for inspiration and influence?

aphotoeditor.com – of course….

On the importance of doing and not just thinking to make an idea tangible:

It helps you see the final product – whether it’s good or bad – it allows you to see what you did right and/or could have done better and helps you grow and make better work in the future.

How can one integrate creativity and creative thought into their everyday life?

Surround yourself with music that inspires you. I edit with music that inspires each project I am working on. Even silence is sometimes important.

What is my own personal process for working through a rut or period of creative boredom?

Sleeping! Eating! And definitely having cookies and tea. Just finding peace opens space up for me to think again!

Is time away from the problem more beneficial than tackling it head on?

Depends on the project. Sometimes it’s fear that is driving the problem so I say TACKLE it head on. If it’s just a block – again, time away is good.

What tools help me in my everyday creative life?

My Mac, my colorful neighborhood, good healthy food, and amazing blogs that I enjoy – like the Selby or 500Photographers. I also stay involved with speaking and connecting with REAL people and getting involved in my local community: Snap!

Amanda Sosa Stone is a consultant to photographers worldwide, in all genres. Amanda works in-house at http://www.agencyaccess.com. To learn more about her services visit:www.sosastone.com – twitter: sosastone

Judy Herrmann

Get Lost!

I met a woman at a party recently who’s led a fascinating life. She’s traveled around the world, experienced a number of different careers and maintains an enthusiasm and zest for seeking new experiences that most people lose when they leave their 20’s.

“Friends tell me, ‘Oh, you’re so lucky’. But I make my own luck, you know?” she said, going on to describe how the choices she’s made – talking to strangers on trains, taking a different route each time she runs errands, taking road trips without a fixed destination in mind – have opened doors and lent richness to her life.

Her experiences illustrate on of the key tenets of creativity and problem solving: creativity doesn’t like to be bored.

If you find yourself in a creative rut, try breaking some of the physical ruts you’ve built. Drive down a road you don’t normally take. Run your errands in a different part of town. Talk to people you’d normally ignore. Do something you’re likely to fail at. Do something that requires you to learn a new skill. Do something you think you’re really, really bad at. Do something – anything – that’s creatively scary.

Shake up your routine, keep your eyes, ears, and mind open, and allow the joy of discovering something you never knew or saw or imagined before feed your creativity.

Advertising photographer, Judy Herrmann of Herrmann + Starke, www.HSstudio.com, helps people grow satisfying businesses through seminars, consultations and her blog, 2goodthings.com.

Molly Hoeltke

When I am stuck in a creative rut it is typically because I have become too self-centered. I find at that point I need to shut up my inner monologue and allow the world to rush over me, consume me, and make me feel small again, small enough to see the simple details.

As far as coping mechanisms are concerned I typically; do yoga, take a drive out to the country, paint or create a concept on canvas. If I need to be assertive to a project I will scour the internet researching something that has been on my mind as far as a concept is concerned or for new fashion to create that inspiration.

Molly Hoeltke is a fashion Stylist and Art Director based out of Buffalo, NY working in New York, NY, Toronto, ON, and Atlanta, GA.

Sean Armenta

Personally, I believe creative ruts are mainly caused by the fear of creating something unfamiliar to one’s comfort zone. Pushing yourself creatively takes some courage and belief in your own ability, and oftentimes, we as artists doubt ourselves and what we are capable of doing. I think this occurs more often for those who have a specific focus or direction in their work; for example, my main focus is shooting fashion and beauty, which in comparison to the rather broad spectrum photography encompasses, is quite a limited field. I definitely struggle with the challenge of keeping my work fresh and relevant, especially given the very short lifespan of trends within the fashion and beauty industry.

The fear of failing at creating something different is an obstacle I have to constantly overcome, in addition to realizing that there are thousands of other photographers out there who are producing work that I aspire towards. At the end of the day however, you have to realize that success cannot come without failure, for there is no greater teacher than practical experience. Failing creatively is the only way for us to grow as artists. You must open yourself up to experimentation within your discipline and take risks. I think we are at such a fantastic time right now with what technology has afforded us. The immediate feedback of digital photography in addition to no longer needing to spend for film and processing should, in and of itself, be enough of a motivator for us to experiment bravely and freely.

Don’t use fear or failure as a hindrance to creating work – use it as a means to take your work to new heights, and to strengthen your belief in your abilities and yourself as an artist.

Sean Armenta is a beauty, fashion, and lifestyle photographer


Greg Neundorfer

I’m sitting in front of my computer with nothing to show for the last few hours except a web browser history full of nothing but Facebook pages. It’s common, it’s frustrating, and with a project deadline looming, it’s no fun. Sometimes it’s just the simple things that get us there. In other words, everyone has their trusted routines and those routines can become a major reason why we fall into the creative ruts that we find ourselves in from time to time. And there always are the staples to turn to in order to dig yourself out: your library of design websites, magazines and books, or talking to friends and colleagues to get fresh perspectives and feedback or advice. But sometimes that gets routine, too.

So? “Bust That Cycle” A phrase that often runs through my head put there by a wise man and internet celebrity named Zefrank.

Greg Neundorfer is Partner and Creative Director at 15 Fingers, a creative digital agency in Buffalo New York.

John Early

Most creatives talk about how they sometimes find themselves in a creative rut, and search for ways to spur their creativity to produce new and captivating imagery. I am the opposite. I don’t think in terms of creative ruts, but rather creative peaks. I usually float along in a creative steady-state so to speak. Then every once in a while a creative peak will occur, and that is when the good ideas and inspiration flow freely. I’ll use the analogy of an author. Most authors can’t just sit down and write an award-winning novel on command. Similarly, a photographer cannot expect to produce a great shot on the spur of the moment. Of course one can and this does happen occasionally, but it is not the norm.

As many photographers know, often too much of our daily time is spent running the business, shooting bread and butter jobs, promoting, blogging, social media, etc., and not being creative. These activities usually won’t foster the arrival of a creative peak so when I want to try and bring on a creative peak there’s three things I’ll usually try:

• I’ll get on my mountain bike and ride a good, long, hard ride. I’ll push my limits and ride at least twice as long as usual which for me means three or more hours. It’s not that I can think creatively while I’m riding, because if I did that I’d end up with dirt in my teeth at the very least. I like to mountain bike because I cannot think of anything while I ride – or I’ll crash. So, I am basically doing a clean sweep and optimization of my brain (like a hard drive). When the aprés-ride endorphins kick in and I am in a state of bliss, is usually when I tend to be able to think more creatively. I’ll put on some mellow music and just start brainstorming.

• Or I’ll change my location to somewhere unfamiliar. I might go into a part of town I don’t usually visit and shoot some street scenes or architecture. The point is to experience something different than what I am used to. I find that just putting myself in a new “world” so to speak, get’s my creative juices flowing. Most often this is personal work for me since I am primarily an automotive photographer. But I firmly believe photographers and artists must also create for themselves to keep up their creativity, even if they never show that work. The old saying is true: Use it or lose it. This applies to creativity as well.

• Lastly, I’ll exhaustively scour the internet and magazines for what photographers/cinematographers are currently shooting. I’ll regularly do this 3-4 times a year and sometimes more often. While I would never advocate stealing someone else’s ideas, I find that my creativity is often sparked by viewing great work done by others. It’s just another component in the R&D of furthering my creativity.

John Early is an award-winning automotive and product photographer based in Los Angeles.

Image By John Early

Lenlee Jenckes

Alas! We all have creative blocks from time-to-time—wondering if we’ve completely lost our edge. When I get to this place, I now know that the only thing that helps me climb out, is climbing out of my little box. I walk away from the computer, unplug, and head outside for a hike or ride. I can almost always be assured this will help the ideas start flowing again. We are bombarded daily with ideas, and sometimes it just takes unplugging to begin letting all the information inspire us again.

Lenlee is a photographer’s representative based in the Bay Area.

John Keatley

Rather than talking about getting out of a creative rut, I am going to try to help you avoid getting into a rut all together.

I probably don’t need to tell you the life of a professional photographer is filled with many highs and lows. Victories and rejections are a weekly occurrence. The highs are obviously fun, but the lows are not so great.

My first piece of advice is to avoid the highs and lows. Don’t get caught up in the tidal wave of ups and downs. It takes a lot of adjustments to do this, but it is possible and well worth it. You don’t need to live in each high and each low. Learn to enjoy and appreciate accomplishments and victories in your career, but understand that it is temporary and tomorrow is a new day. Typically the phrase “tomorrow is a new day” is reserved for people who are living in a low and need something to look forward to. However, in photography, “tomorrow is a new day” also means someone else is going to do something noteworthy tomorrow and the spotlight will shift to them.

Second, learning how to not live in the highs and lows of your career keeps you from freaking out when you have a slow week or two. Create a consistent marketing plan and stick to it. Aside from shooting, there are plenty of important tasks and projects you need to put time into if you want to be successful. Making sure you are taking time for these activities and tasks will help you keep your mind off of shooting all the time, and personally I find this to help keep me balanced and creative.

Third, write down your ideas. Keep a journal, digital document, whatever works best for you, but write down all of your ideas and concepts. Learn to give yourself permission to sit on some of those ideas for a while. I’m not advocating procrastination or laziness, but you don’t need to do every idea as it comes to you. Sometimes an idea may require time to mature, or the right people to come along to really make your idea shine. This practice not only helps you become more balanced, but now you have a list of ideas you know you are inspired by to go back to when nothing new is popping into your head.

Finally, and most importantly, make sure you mark out enough time to plan and shoot for yourself. Shooting for yourself is the best thing a photographer can do, and it also keeps you from falling into a creative rut. If you are always doing the same thing over and over again for clients, you will create a nice rut for yourself. Personal work reminds you why you love photography so much, and gives you balance and variety.

If you have mastered all of these things, and you still find yourself in a rut, then I think it’s time for a vacation. Maybe a tropical island would help.

John Keatley is an advertising and celebrity photographer. You can also visit John’s blog for updates on his work and travels.


Maee Kroft

When I get stuck in a creative rut, I tend to get out of the house. I go for a walk, go skating, a picnic, I lounge on the beach, anything and everything to get my mind off of it for at least a day. While I am doing such activities, I’ll definitely take my camera (better known as an iPhone 4) along with me so I can capture something I find inspiring. I take it home, look it over while listening to music, and I usually go from there.

I find the best way to get over a rut is to just put it out of your mind for a while, and do something else. It will come to you if you don’t think about it. Most of the time I look on sites like Trendhunter or flip through my favorite magazines, like Noi.se & Zink.

Maee Kroft owns Toronto based T&M magazine and freelances as a makeup artist.

Beth Dauria

I find that vending a few shows a year helps me stay motivated and excited about designing new bags. It is also a great chance to talk to my girls to see what they are looking for and what they like about what I do. It really fuels my ambition and gives me a feeling of success, but more importantly, gratitude.

Beth Dauria is the owner & designer of Dungaree Dolly’s

Nubby Twiglet

Creative ruts are a totally natural occurrence and even the most successful creatives get hit with one occasionally.

I’ve found that stepping away from your standard tools for awhile, whether that’s a computer or a camera can really help to expedite the recharging process. Often, when you’re walking or doing an activity not related to your profession in any way, your mind works differently, opens up, and the juices will begin to flow again.

Another helpful solution is to collect visual inspiration from across the internet and catalog it in a way that makes sense to you. For instance, I store thousands of images in a private Flickr folder and reference it any time I’m feeling stuck.

Creativity can’t be bottled — reward yourself with regular breaks so that creative burnout is less likely to hit.

Nubby Twiglet is a graphic designer and blogger residing in Portland, Oregon.

Artistic work by Nubby Twiglet

Rhea Anna

Being in a creative rut is such a drag!! But it happens to most of us and I am certainly no exception. There are times that I experience the most amazing flow of creativity and ideas pour out freely, but then are times when I get wound up in the business of running a studio or managing my family and I find it quite difficult to get the creativity in motion again.

Over the years I’ve developed a little kit of tools that I resort to when I’m in that creative no-man’s land:

1. Read fiction. This always fills my head with creative imagery, but it also gives me freedom from the day-to-day grind; an escape or a mini-vacation for my brain.

2. Watch movies. In the same way that reading fiction creates sparks of imagery, a scene from a gorgeous film can do wonders to inspire me.

3. Visit a gallery. Need I say more? Art inspires art.

4. Sketch. This one is a little tougher since my drawing skills are seriously neglected, but once I’ve got an idea and some inspiration, it really helps me to put a pencil to paper. I recently wrote a blog which shows some simple sketches.

New York based conceptual lifestyle photographer Rhea Anna specializes in making images of kids, babies, pets, and people on location or in the studio

Rhea Anna Mini at the beach

Bethany Shorb

The most productive thing I can do to get out of a creative rut is to not get in one in the first place! Though that may sound overly simplistic, I’ve come to learn my own personal triggers for brain-blahs and try to avoid them at all costs. I do creative work for myself full time, so I absolutely cannot ever afford to have ruts — not only are they no fun, they’re expensive when there is no one to fall back on creatively.

The 13-year-old rebellious brat that occupies most of my brain-box feels immediately stifled when “told” to do anything at any certain time, so I try to keep my schedule as open as possible. This can be as specific as working through midnight ’til 7am if the drive and need is there or as obtuse as refusing to adopt a seasonal model in the fashion world. (I wear black all the time, so Spring and Fall clothing changes never made any sense to me anyway…plus I’ve never met a spring collection I’ve liked!) I introduce more styles when the time feels right, either when demand for a few falls off and the fire needs to be stoked, or some design urgently needs to be released. (Designs do that, they’re demanding and needy). This of course leads to me working around the clock and not having a life, so I’m not sure I’d follow my advice if you value any sort of personal relationships!

That doesn’t mean creative erectile dysfunction doesn’t happen, no matter how proactive you are.

Focused design time is quite a luxury, and it seems as your business grows, it becomes more rare than the proverbial flying pig. The urgent inspiration to make new work always comes at the worst times – for example during the holiday rush when I’m printing existing work for 20 hours a day. That’s the last time I have to be noodling with Photoshop and a pencil – yet I’m flooded with new ideas. So I keep lists. Lots and lots of lists of potential designs and bad puns (words that end in -TIES are a favorite!) to revisit when it inevitably slows back down again (when I’m supposed to be designing) and I’m there looking at a blank page with a huge, flat-lined blank stare of duuuuuuuuuuuuuh. This also gives them time to marinate – I’ve found that sometimes immediately acting on a flash of design inspiration isn’t the best idea — I’ve definitely had some moments of, “wow…that was kind of stupid, glad I sat on that for a bit!”

When all else fails, I take a long hot shower. I don’t know if it’s because I’m a sea-loving Pisces, but getting in water somehow seems to not only make me smell more agreeable to friends, but also helps lift the brain fog.

Bethany Shorb, Founder/designer of Cyberoptix – also available on etsy


Clark Dever

Change something. In an effort to not make this an abstract post, I’m going to speak to the current changes in my workflow and style. Despite this tangent, the main focus should be to finding something you’re passionate about by challenging an entrenched concept or style.

One way to find a new muse is to grab a different tool. I recently sold off all of my “professional” gear and switched to a compact manual control camera system to freshen up my style. I was tired of lugging around gear and I had stopped shooting because of it. I’ve spent at least one month a year on the road during my adult life. Last October, after lugging my Pelican 1510 up yet another flight of stairs; I finally snapped and screamed “I’m never going to lug 40lbs of gear with me again!”. When I looked in Lightroom and realized that I had taken more photos with my phone than with my 5DmkII a decision had been made – It was time to get kinetic.

Every change is a huge opportunity. The dust and debris from the paradigm shift to digital has yet to settle in the photographic world. This is the time to explore new markets and ideas. The level of gear-whoring that occurs in the professional and amateur world astounds me. Hand any photographer 50 years ago an iPhone 4 and the hipstamatic app, they would have geeked and spent the rest of their career mastering it. Today however, our professional ranks and gear manufacturers’ marketing departments coerce students in to shelling out for Full Frame Sensors instead of APS-Cs and $1,500 lenses that provide marginal improvement in quality for exponential price increases. To top it all off, 95% of what you release will never see 300 dpi. We all shoot for the web, so learning how to use the unsharp mask filter will save you more money in gear than almost anything else. With these realizations fresh in my mind, I am in the planning stages of a new blog and a new style focusing on this new form factor. It’s a little bit of a heretical move, but I’m trying to prove the point “Buying expensive paintbrushes wont make you Picasso”.

After I’ve decided on a new format to play with, I source ideas. I go on an imagery binge in the area that I’d like to explore. This could be spending a day trudging through the best and worst of Model Mayhem, some time looking at the portfolios of industry leaders, maybe even a trip to Getty combing through all the images in a stock category (It’s amazing how many different photographic styles you can find around a simple concept like “apple”). I immerse myself completely in the subject matter for a few hours, then I go do something else for the rest of my day and let the ideas marinate.

Once it’s soaked in and I’ve moved away from the original source (don’t want to infringe) I start to plan. I create mind maps of ideas in brainstorming sessions. Nothing is out-of-bounds in these brainstorming sessions. If the idea pops in to my head, I write it down and expand on it. I then take the original messy document and refine it in software called Freemind. I trim away the bad ideas and put more development in to the good concepts. Still freely exploring tangents that relate to the “winning” ideas. Eventually, something will speak to me and I’ll get the itch to produce it. Once that happens, I engage my creative team (friends, family, industry peers). I will create a Google document that outlines the shoot idea and may contain source imagery to help them share my vision of the concept. I use Google documents because they have revision tracking and are available everywhere. This allows me to work with my team to refine the vision and plan production.

Lastly, we get together and shoot. I love to craft images as a group. I try to incorporate the best ideas from all the participants while still striving to achieve a version of my original vision. I love collaboration and strengthening the bonds of friendship with team members through a successful production. I find that working with a group is often a great way to source inspiration, a dynamic and kinetic energy often develops that will plant the seeds for your next production.

Clark Dever is a rogue technologist on a mission to develop collaborative communities.

Image by Clark Dever

Morgen Love

How can I live my art? This is a question that consistently vibrates in my heart and my mind. It’s from this question that my intention and inspiration are drawn. Rather than thinking of inspiration for one piece, one collection, or one adornment, I first try to think about how I can live in an inspired way; how I can craft the whole of my time on this earth into an experience of art. This helps me to stay more inspired, more of the time.

My creative self is like this cosmic tapeworm that always needs to be fed – so I dance, practice yoga, immerse myself in music, commune with the natural world, experiment with movement and performance art-forms, and leave my house as often as possible wearing my war paint and swashbuckling boots. I could continue this list infinitely, but I can sum up by saying that I attempt to live in a way that gives me a tactile experience of day to day life; that gives a creative richness to as many moments as possible.

If this full-on immersion-style of inspiration doesn’t quite tickle your fancy, here are a few experiential suggestions from my arsenal of ideas to combat stagnation:

• Keep a sketchbook by your bed. Riding those Theta brain waves can offer up some of your weirdest and most creative ideas.

• Expand your consciousness. Meditate, practice yoga, pray, chant, drink the mushroom tea – whatever it is that opens your mind to its most expansive state. Remember kids, intention is very important when you take the plunge into this particular area!

• TRAVEL! EXPLORE! Whenever possible. Even if it’s just a day-trip. Even if it’s just to another part of the state. Removing myself from my everyday surroundings always recharges my batteries, especially if I’m traveling with the intention of seeking inspiration.

Morgen Love is a Buffalo, NY-based designer of clothing and adornments for urban nomads, spirit warriors, and other illuminated beings.

Erin Habes

My mantra… creativity is community. One of my favorite creative thinkers is Richard Florida; he says “creativity must be motivated and nurtured in a multitude of ways, by employers, by people themselves and by the communities where they locate”.

When I’m in a creative rut I tend to do just that, pull from my network. It’s a consistent collaboration with all of my friends and loved ones. This opens all outlets for creative thought to arise, motivate, inspire and be validated.

Erin Habes is an educator – influencer – event planner – stylist – writer – hustler

Luke Copping

It seems that I drift in and out of creative ruts all the time, but in an interesting way, I don’t get into a rut and stop creating work. In fact, I work and shoot prolifically when I am in a rut, it’s just that I think that a lot of the work I create during these periods is utter crap. It’s times like these that I have to take a good long look at myself in the mirror and remind myself that sometimes I suck, and that sometimes it’s okay to suck.

It is not that this work is necessarily bad per se, but it does not meet the standards that I have set for myself, I can see mistakes and errors everywhere that others may not, flaws in concept and execution abound and it makes me mad and frustrated – and then something amazing happens….

I get mad and frustrated to a point that I break the cycle, I shoot something new, just for myself, or push myself in a new direction and pull myself out of the pattern. Oftentimes I find that after one of these brief periods I am working a higher level of output and quality than I was before the creative dissatisfaction set in. You plateau and push yourself and reach new highs, eventually you plateau again and push yourself higher yet again, learning from your mistakes and developing your sense of yourself and your art. Thinking something you did sucks is fine if it helps push you to create something that doesn’t suck – I think we all go through creative cycles like this, but all deal with them in different ways. Here are a few small ways I try to prevent myself slipping into these moods at inopportune times:

• Try to involve creativity into your everyday life, not just when your working.

• I cannot stress this enough – Record your ideas, get a durable notebook and a nice pen or use Evernote, and keep everything for review later.

• Watch foreign films and silent films, involve yourself in mediums that are outside your visual syntax to expand your visual language.

• Don’t be afraid to act like a kid – remember how much fun it was to dance around in your bedroom alone late at night or rock out in front of a mirror playing air guitar? When you do that, for those brief moments you are the biggest star in your world. Do things that you would be embarrassed to do in public and get it all out, act like a fool, and have fun with it! Sometimes nonsensical catharsis is just what we need to hit that reset switch and keep our brain juices flowing.

Buffalo Photographer Luke Copping is the writer of this blog, a commercial and editorial shooter, and an all around swell guy.

Beauty Editorial - Auxiliary Magazine Feb 2011 Issue

Five Subjects You Dream About Photographing

A list obsessed friend of mine posed a question to me the other day.

“Not to improve your career, but because you found them interesting or fascinating for some reason – Who would you photograph if you had unlimited access?”

Some may find it an obsessive cliché or an overly active homage to High Fidelity, but I think it is a great question, and a revealing one at that – What makes a photographic subject appealing to you?  These sorts of wish exercises are an interesting window into the mind of how different photographers think. They are also a great way to generate ideas without the self-imposed limitations that a lot of photographers use as excuses to not pursue their visions. So often when you think about who you want to photograph without limits you inevitably start thinking about how you would photograph them without limits – why not start taking some of these great concepts you are dreaming up and applying them to your commercial or personal work.

Here is my top five list. I’ve spread the categories out to not make it too genre-centric.

Actor – Crispin Hellion Glover

Most know him from his appearances in films like Back to the Future, Willard, and River’s Edge. Others may know him from a particular incident involving David Letterman. What some don’t know is that Glover is also a surrealist film director, musician, author, and performer whose artistic endeavors are often financed by his more mainstream and commercial work. Glover is one of the most aesthetically interesting actors to have worked on-screen in decades and I find his work fascinating.

Musician – Mike Patton

A musician who found both mainstream success for his work with Faith No More as well acclaimed response to his more experimental works like Mr. Bungle – I cannot think of a musician that I find more photographically and musically appealing over the years than Patton – both for the wide-ranging body of work he has produced with his immense vocal range and for his constant experimentation that allows him to move from rock icon to avant-garde composer and back again effortlessly.

Photographer – Rodney Smith

This one is easy – Rodney Smith is one of the photographers whose work made me want to become a photographer. I could easily say the same about Nick Knight, another photographer Whose work I adore, but I find that I come back to Smith’s work more and more over the years.

Athlete – Wayne Gretzky

All right….. fine…… I’m a Canadian boy who loves hockey….. not even gonna make excuses for this one.  Gretzky is a living legend and would easily be #1 on this list if I was ranking it.

Author – Warren Ellis

A tough one as so many of my favorite authors are dead. Thompson, Bukowski, Hemingway, and Baudelaire are all dead and gone. So I am delving into the world of comics to pull out the one writer who tops my list of authors I would love to photograph (It’s my list and I will damn well do as I please)  Ellis‘ writing on titles like Transmetropolitan and Planetary delves deep into science, philosophy, metaphysics, transhumanism, and some of the most well crafted humor I have ever read. His blog is a must read – and he is far less photographically terrifying than Allan Moore.

Who is on your top five list? Feel free to make your own list and share it in the comments.

The only rules – They must be alive and you can’t use the same category twice.

5 Things Punk Rock Taught Me About Photography, Hard Work, And Everything Else

Don’t Follow The Trends, Follow Your Passion

“Everybody has a story to tell” ~ Joe Strummer

The Clash was a very self-aware band. Rather than fall into the very insular, rigid, and trend-laden ideals of what many felt punk music had coalesced into during the ’70s they broke away from the pre-conceived notions of the musical genre they had been a major part of establishing. Exploring a variety of musical and political ideas that the members of the band had become passionate about and incorporating them into their music allowed the band to breath new life into a genre that they helped define – and eventually re-define radically. The Clash’s incorporation of political issues, reggae influence, and dub music spoke to their passions, not to the blind adherence of the accepted “rules” of punk.

The Clash did not chase trends but rather they created new ones, leading and not following.There is very little point in creating impersonal work that adheres to the tenets and aesthetics of a style or movement that may already be on the way out by the time it is popular; rather, shoot and create what you are passionate about and incorporate what you love into your work. Transformation, re-invention, experimentation, exploration, innovation and enthusiasm should become key words in your vocabulary.

Shut Up and Do Something About It

“Talk Minus Action Equals Zero” ~ D.O.A.

Iconic Vancouver band D.O.A. have long espoused this simple and profound philosophy that I have written about before. A band as dedicated to spreading their resolute political beliefs and working for the benefit of a variety of social causes as they are to making music; D.O.A.’s edict of talk – action = zero is one of the most important lessons anyone, creative or otherwise, can learn. This is a complex lesson boiled down to a pure and simple statement, especially when stripped of the political and social connotations the band’s music has attached to it. Talk – action = zero  stands as a reminder to everyone of the importance of the simple act of doing.

For photographers it reminds us to cut the bullshit of talking about doing something and actually put in some sweat and effort into actually doing something.  Artistic posturing and theorizing about a dream project is a fruitless exercise without the follow-through to actually make it happen.  How many talented photographers do you know who have been overlooked and fallen by the wayside because they failed to market their work well? They can talk all they want about talent and opportunity, but without actually putting some sweat into creating and properly selling their work, all their words are meaningless. The same goes for creatives who talk constantly about their wonderful ideas and big plans, but are absolutely paralyzed with either fear or apathy when it comes to acting on these notions, leaving them with nothing but a desk full of half-finished projects, half-abandoned concepts and nothing tangible to show for it.

Don’t Fear Change, Embrace it and Make it Work For You

“Don’t accept the old order. Get rid of it”. ~ John Lydon

Early punk was often used to give a voice to those who were dissatisfied with the stultifying political and social climates they lived in, and there is a long standing tradition of music as a progressive voice that embraces change and innovation and not buying into the blind acceptance of old accepted norms.

We work in a field where epochal upheaval has become the norm. The changing standards of business, dialogue, aesthetics, and technology in the professional photography community have advanced so rapidly that the chaos and confusion that often accompanies change and regularly sparks growth and evolution is also paired with a good dose of fear and resistance.

I have seen so many run headlong into the inviting but suffocating embrace of nostalgia in an effort to turn a blind eye to changes just over the horizon. The simple fact is that the world is changing whether you like it or not, and hiding in terror is the least effective strategy you can employ to deal with these changes. There are enough cowering in the dark already; what we need now are voices and actions. We need voices that are willing to speak and act passionately, voices that are willing to experiment and explore in order to make these new changes work for themselves and others. Voices that are willing to act as educators and teachers for those that come after them. And voices that are willing to wholeheartedly embrace change and in the process affect and mold these new ideas into something new and beneficial. This can happen from the smallest personal interactions between creatives and clients  – all the way up to sweeping changes initiated by professional associations  Evolution is all about adaptation – and if you don’t adapt you die.

Do It Yourself

“Basically we just created our own label, but again we just did it to document our own music and create our own thing, so the major labels were just always out of our picture, we’re not interested.” ~ Ian MacKaye

From the beginnings of the punk scene there has been an interesting take on the DIY ethic as it relates to an anti-consumerist lifestyle, but even at the most basic non-political levels a do-it-yourself mentality has always been present. Having rejected or been denied the support network of corporate music, bands resorted to producing their own merchandise, recorded their own albums, distributed their own work, organized their own concerts in private residences instead of traditional commercial venues, and created their own merchandise. This adoption of this ethic by punks is also closely tied to the genesis of the ‘zine movement and the rise of independent alternative publishing.

There is no reason that the DIY ethic should not be present in your creative life.  You are not going to be able to work under ideal situations at all times, especially early in your career. When budget is an issue; teaching yourself basic electrical, mechanical, and computer repair work can be a huge money saver when it comes to maintaining your equipment. Learning to be a decent cook can save you money on catering. Educating yourself about the principles of design can not only save you  money early and help your work in your career but can prepare you to collaborate with more seasoned specialists later when working with a professional designer becomes a financial option. There are a ton of ancillary skills you can teach yourself that will not only help you grow as a creative entity, but as a person in general.

Most importantly it reminds you that ultimately you are responsible for your creative career’s trajectory and journey. No one is going to make your work for you. It is up to you to put the time into both conceptualizing projects as well as translating them into tangible results. Effort, dedication, follow-through, hard work, and sweat equity may sound like hokey boy scout ideals in an era when most people want to know how to best find their fame and fortune on reality television and social media, but they are basic and true tenets that should never be overlooked.

The Only Thing You Should Fear is Mediocrity

“The average is the borderline that keeps mere men in their place. Those who step over the line are heroes by the very act. Go.” ~ Henry Rollins

“Don’t do anything by half. If you love someone, love them with all your soul. When you go to work, work your ass off. When you hate someone, hate them until it hurts.” ~ Henry Rollins

It may be trite, but Henry Rollins will always be the embodiment of pure work ethic to me. So many of his writings and words have served as my personal mantras for a long time. I could easily have written a whole blog post just on how his work has affected my own outlooks on creativity and hard work over the last few years, but for now I will settle with the two quotes above.

The nature of photography has changed. Clients are pushing more and more to commoditized creativity, and the widespread distribution of affordable creative technology and tools has pushed us into an era where “good enough” is no longer good enough to stand out. The advent of readily available information online and access to tools once only available to professionals has created an explosion of individuals, some quite talented, that has oversaturated the market. No longer can we get by being merely average or acceptable. To be truly successful and valuable one has to push themselves constantly to rise above the rest in terms of skill and creativity, not price and technology.

So many photographers view this as the death knell of the industry and bemoan the loss of times past. Rather, we should be seeing it as a rallying cry. This is time to dig in and push ourselves  to rise above the white noise of the crowd to create something truly exceptional that will separate them from the pack. Good enough is a death sentence. Good enough is a commodity and not an ideal. Average should be anathema – strive to be exceptional.

Making Motion

Over the last week I have seen many blog posts from friends and colleagues alike looking back at 2010. Some look back mournfully on the fears and hardships that held them back and others excitedly about all the changes that have taken place in their lives. In regards to the future, some are looking forward to it with a plan and a drive to take action and meet the goals they are setting for themselves. Others simply hold on to a blind hope that 2011 will be a great year and their outlook, while complacent, is at least positive. Sadly, there are also those that let their past stand as evidence as to why they should not try as they move forward into the new year. They are the ones who always talk about the great project that they have an idea for, how talented they are, and how successful they could be if it weren’t for any number of outside forces that prevent them from achieving their goals. People this addicted to excuses and blame often spend more time looking for reasons not to work than they actually do practicing their craft. They do not realize at all that if they put the effort into reaching their goals that they do into blaming outside forces they would be further along on their personal path to success.

It’s not even a matter of positivity vs negativity in cases like this. Much more often it is a case of bullshit vs. action. Someone can talk all they want about success and talent and vision, they can read every blog and understand the theory and principles necessary to be successful, but all of that is futile if you are not willing to put in the effort to make it happen. I have been acquainted with musicians and artists like this all my life, talented people who seem to lack any sort of creative momentum. They are the ones bitter about the lack of creative success they have experienced in their life. When asked what the are working on at that moment, the common answer is “nothing” and when asked “why?” a litany of excuses begin to spew forth; “I am not inspired” “no one is interested in what I am doing” “my last project was a failure” “It is too hard” “I am talented enough that shouldn’t have to market myself” “I am an artist, not a business person” These people are taking the easier path, the one of least resistance, they bend and break under the pressure of internal resistance. They can choose to be stronger, as strong as iron, to walk headlong into a storm of resistance and come out on the other side having accomplished their goals.

There is a famous punk band from Canada named D.O.A. whose long-standing slogan is “Talk minus action equals zero” The band has been outspoken in their political beliefs and often contributes time and music to various social causes and benefits to not just talk about social change, but actively contribute to it. I have long thought that the notion of Talk – Action = 0 is a philosophical and practical tenet that all people can implement in their lives. Especially creatives who find themselves at points of transition in their life and career. It does not take a lot of effort to talk about creating your dream project or to pine endlessly away about the personal vision you dream of realizing, talk comes easy. What does take effort, time, blood, and sweat is to put your head down and put the work into making it happen. Positive outlook, creative vision, and natural talent are all wonderful traits that amount to absolutely nothing unless you are willing to actually take action, fight internal resistance, and build creative momentum. Stop worrying about what is holding you back, stop talking and start moving, stop waiting for something to happen and start making something happen.

The Perfect Time of Year for Enigmatic Personal Projects

Preview from personal project - Red Lips

The time between Thanksgiving and Christmas is traditionally a slower time for my business. Clients are often on vacation, preoccupied with family holidays, or wrapping up end of the year business details. For me it is an ideal time to develop my marketing plans for next year and to work on and finish personal projects. I’ve been working on one particular project for the past few weeks that I plan to launch shortly; hopefully just after new year. The bulk of the shooting is completed, but I have several days of post production ahead of me. The tightly cropped image above is a little teaser of what’s to come with this new series of promotional images.

What are you doing between now and the holidays? If you haven’t got any plans to work on some sort of personal or developmental project, than this is the perfect time to start working on one. Kick off the new year with a bang too, instead of quietly releasing your project. Make an event out of it to get you and your clients excited about the new year and your new work. Be mysterious, be cryptic, and then reveal that new work to the world like you are giving it a gift. There is never a bad time to shoot a creative project for yourself, but few afford you the feeling of renewal, growth, and celebration as creating new work for the new year.

Attitude Matters

Imagine you are looking for a new assistant.

You have two options; one assistant is sullen, confrontational, moody, and reactionary. They are prone to pessimism, complaining, passive-aggressiveness, and have a general lack of respect and production etiquette. This assistant is skilled enough to use all of your gear and has great insights on photography, but is generally unpleasant to work with. Your second choice is an assistant who is equally experienced and skilled from a technical standpoint. But rather than being a glowering cloud of negativity and constant despair, this assistant’s outlook is upbeat. They show up excited and enthusiastic about the project, and even when things go wrong they don’t wallow in self-pity or panic, they recover gracefully and help turn the day around. They are quick to learn, pay attention, and attend to you and your clients needs with the utmost of courtesy and professionalism, without being uncomfortably formal. In summation, they are a pleasure to be around, someone you could consider a friend as well as an employee, the type of person who makes your productions run smoother and easier because their mere presence does not create an air of defeatism.

Who do you hire?

If these people are equals in regards to technical expertise and experience, then their attitudes and outlooks suddenly become very important values to consider. When the choice is between an individual you genuinely like, and someone whose mere presence inspires a sudden desire to start taking strong antidepressants, then the choice is easy. Naturally, the above descriptions illustrate extremes, but the point is still valid — attitude plays a big part in how we perceive others. It is a value we consider in our interactions and relationships with people from the first time we meet them. Of course we take other factors into consideration, but as illustrated above, one’s inclination towards positive or negative can in some cases be an absolute deal breaker. We are compelled to surround ourselves with individuals that we like; people who do not drag others into their despair. No one wants to work with an asshole  (This is true in most cases, you will however find that those with misanthropic outlooks will oftentimes surround themselves with others prone to negativity. This is because of their shared outlook and because one’s negative behavior will often be used as an excuse to justify similar behavior by the other. Synergy isn’t always a good thing)

Now put yourself in your client’s shoes.

A buyer is considering two photographers to work with. Both of these photographers are delivering estimates the are approximately the same, they both have excellent work that could be good for the campaign, and they are coming from about the same area. One of the photographers is a positive and creative mind. They see problems as challenges to be overcome, get along well with the art director on set, and are able to both see creative opportunities and take fearless risks because they are not preoccupied with complaining and constantly seeing the bad side of things.

The second photographer is kind of a diva, and does not work well under pressure. The buyer knows that as good as their work is, if they get frustrated on set because of small setbacks it could send them into a funk that spoils the production. They complain to clients and art directors on set about how the industry has changed and how they do not think photographers are respected anymore. In many cases, they talk trash about other people in the industry. The buyer has seen them making similar complaints online through various forums and social media channels. Their talent is eclipsed by how the buyer perceives their shitty behavior and negativity.

Who do you hire?

We are more than a price on an estimate — I reiterate it all the time on this blog. In many cases your personality can be as big a determining factor in getting the job as your talent and creativity. Outlooks are contagious too, have you ever had your day ruined because someones else’s shitty attitude spread to you? Why would you want someone spreading that sort of negative attitude onto one of your productions? We judge people by their attitudes all the time, it could be as simple as deciding to buy from one vendor over another because their customer service rep was indifferent or rude. Or it could be as vital as putting together your staff and support team from people whose outlooks push you to achieve and stay positive. You have customers and buyers who are always weighing your merits against the merits of others, and attitude is a value that is considered whether you like it or not.

Holiday Comeback

I hope you all had a great and rewarding holiday weekend (if you live stateside that is). Hopefully you spent it with friends and family indulging in good meals and great company. Some of you will come back totally recharged and rejuvenated from the long weekend, but for many the long holiday is a devastating momentum killer. Unless one goes into these breaks with a recovery plan for the inevitable return to work (or makes a working holiday of it, like I did),  getting back into the groove of everyday freelancing can be a bit of a struggle.  This difficulty can be amplified if you are working in a creative industry. Many think that a long break might be just the impetus one needs to start developing creative ideas and generating new concepts, but many forget that creativity is often more about keeping your creative muscles sharp and toned than it is about waiting for that lightening bolt of inspiration. Taking a few days off from having to think creatively, develop concepts, and work through problem solving scenarios, can leave you feeling as through you are underperforming and working as sluggishly as an athlete who has not worked out or practiced in the off-season.

This week, make sure you get back into the creative part of your life as much as you do the business part. Take an extra day, or a few extra hours after your administrative duties are completed, to work on a personal project or take an adventure — camera in hand. The important thing is that you start to make something happen. It is the perfect time to start on the project you have always dreamt of producing, especially with another holiday and the new year right around the corner. Do not wait for the new year to make resolutions about starting your new project or bringing to life that idea that has been kicking around in the back of your head… do it now, as an early creative gift to yourself.

What You Can Learn From The Amateur

For so long I have been listening to complaints that the greatest threat to the photographic world is the dreaded “amateur” who is stealing all the jobs from the helpless professional photographers out there. The way that some photographers speak about them would lead one to visualize these people as sinister and bloodthirsty ghouls. A secret cabal dedicated to destroying the incomes of professionals everywhere; when they aren’t sharpening their teeth to eat our young, that is. The truth is rather anticlimactic when compared to the reality. Amateurs are not out to get you, nor are they out to destroy the industry you work in.

If your main justification for complaining about amateurs is saying “I have to make living, and they take money away from me because they don’t charge enough”, then perhaps you need to reconsider your business plan or choice of career altogether. If price is the only factor you have in your arsenal to compete on, I think you are completely missing the point of being involved in a creative industry. Far more important is to try to educate these talented amateurs regarding the value of their work. Many of them are new to the field or simply do not know better and this can be corrected by seasoned photographers being open and sharing information and insight with them. Instead, many photographers react in an almost xenophobic manner to what they perceive as parasitic newcomers and competition, shunning them and trying to block them from the industry. These current amateurs may very well be future professionals and we should be nurturing their talents and helping them to adapt to the business side of photography as they progress. Far more sinister and damaging than amateurs are those photographers who SHOULD know better — those who should know the value of their work and to charge a fair price, but because of fear, wavering ideals, self-sabotage, or apathy towards changing their business habits allow themselves to make harmful compromises. They lower their prices below a level that can sustain their business to keep work coming in the door. They may be busy for a while, but they will be hemorrhaging money on every job until they drive themselves out of business. Worse yet, they will be setting an awful precedent in which clients see established professionals willing to make these awful compromises. I think that these fearful professionals are far more damaging to the photography industry than uneducated amateurs. Interestingly enough, it is the professionals who are compromising their business ideals that complain the most about the threat they perceive in amateurs.

What You Can Learn From An Amateur

Amateurs create for the love of it

Amateurs do not have the motivation of financial gain egging them on. They take pictures because they love photography and making images. I very much doubt they would be doing something they did not enjoy for no compensation. Photographers should always keep the passion and love of image-making that they had when they were an amateur in mind as they go forward with their careers. It can really energize your creativity.

Amateurs work without fear of failing

Because amateurs are not dependent on photography for financial support they do not have to play it safe. They do not view photography as a job or a business that can fail with one wrong move. They create freely and openly take creative risks. Take risks in your personal work and push yourself to improve and grow. Stagnation is the quickest route to creative atrophy.

Amateurs see limitless possibilities, not limiting excuses

Stop letting your fears of failure and rejection stand in the way of accomplishing your vision. Self-sabotage is your greatest enemy, not amateurs and other photographers. Amateurs will undertake a project simply because they think the idea is cool or fun. They are not paralyzed by the idea of risk or potential failure. Remember, it’s okay to fail; it helps you grow. And if your vision is successful, it may just change your life for the better. Stop making excuses to not do things and start acknowledging the reasons why you should.

How You Can Differentiate Yourself


Creation without curation may be the nature of the internet, but truly discerning clients will be far more impressed with a well-edited collection of stellar images than a body of generic work punctuated with some highs and lows.

Show value beyond price

Always be able to articulate your value, skills, and worth to potential clients in terms other than numbers in order to justify your price. Have your elevator pitch so prepared it always sounds natural when you meet new contacts. And most importantly stick to your guns. Don’t be afraid to walk away from a job or client if it isn’t the right one for you.


Practice makes perfect. Deliver the best work you can day in and day out and do not accept compromises in quality. Adhering to these tenants will speak volumes about your worth to clients.

Market Yourself

Are things slow? Has competition increased? Then get out there and market the hell out of yourself. There really is no excuse for this one. Get your work in front of the clients you want to be working for. It takes persistence and the will to see it through, but it is one of the most beneficial things you can do for your business. Market yourself shrewdly to differentiate yourself from the competition who are likely still waiting for clients to come to them.

Get Better

Yes, the barriers of entry have been lowered by the widespread use affordable digital cameras and the leveling of the technical playing field. It is much easier for someone to become involved in photography than ever. But what is the easiest way to stand out from the pack? Simple… get better! Improve your quality of work and build your portfolio to the point where your creativity, vision, and execution become your main selling points. Avoid the average and mediocre. You will never stand out from the pack if your work is just like the pack’s.

We Are More Than Our Tools

I have been part of a lot of conversations lately in which other parties have tried to equate photographic skill solely with the tools involved in creating images. These conversations have ranged from simply uninformed to downright accusatory, and the sources range in background from non-photographers to those working at a professional level within the industry. Snippets of anonymous conversations that I have been privy to include:

“I could be as good as you if I had access to fancy equipment.”

“Why should I pay you for retouching? They’re just headshots, and Photoshop is gonna do everything for you.”

“How many megapixels is your camera? We only hire photographers that use professional gear.”

“All you do is push a button.”

“The only reason he is so successful is because he had money to help get him started with buying equipment.”

“I love that picture. What lens did you use for it? At what F-stop?”

Statements like these make a few false assumptions in their logic — assumptions that sadly even some photographers seem to buy into.

mobile image of Chops the Dog

1. That an image must be technically perfect to be successful, rather than entertaining or emotionally engaging.

Have you seen Dead Poets Society? There is a scene where Robin Williams demonstrates to his class that their textbook’s mathematical formula for determining whether a poem is successful or not is utter bloody nonsense. Creativity cannot be measured quantitatively. I have seen multitudes of images that, while they may not conform to the “rules” of photography, are insightful and heartbreakingly profound. Does their lack of technical “perfection” make them any less wonderful to look at?

mobile image of night time scene

2. That technical and equipment concerns define creativity rather than provide a means of control over creative output.

Being well-versed in the technical side of photography and knowing your tools at best means you have the abilities needed to more easily realize your creative vision and to make the informed decisions on how to more accurately make your end product match your initial creative concept. At worst, you will be able to make very well exposed, but very boring images. Creative options can be broadened by technical know-how and gear, but even the world’s most expensive and advanced camera can still take a shitty picture if the photographer behind it doesn’t have a creative bone in their body.

mobile image of bird downtown buffalo 2010

3. That the only way to succeed in photography is to have lots of fancy and expensive equipment; having better equipment makes you a better photographer.

We are not mere technicians. We are greater than the sum of our tool chests. By the logic of the above statement, are all past photographs inferior to current ones because the equipment used to make them was not as advanced? Upgrading your camera system may mean that your images can be reproduced larger, or that you may have a sharper lens, but it will not make you a better photographer. The only way to become a better photographer is to go out and practice, take a ton of pictures, take risks, push yourself, care, make mistakes, fail, get back up, keep trying, and keep learning.

mobile image of clark dever

4. That anyone could reproduce any image if they had identical equipment.

Here are some oils and brushes, go paint the Mona Lisa…. sounds ridiculous, right? We deal with capturing unique moments and sights. Even if someone were to set out and reproduce an image by another photographer, would every detail be the same? One might be able to replicate gear, copy lighting, and achieve a similar aesthetic, but would those all-important intangible elements be there? Would the subject be identical down to the pores, hairs, and micro-expressions? Would the feeling be the same? Could that photographer capture that exact moment again? No, of course not. But more importantly, why would they want to? Outside of an academic exercise or possible parody, one should be pushing to find their own creative voice, to find what works for them, not trying to exactly copy what worked for someone else.

Mobile image, Buffalo 2010

Stop seeing yourself as an operator and start thinking like a creator.

The truth is; cameras, lenses, computers, graphic editing software, pens, paper, paints, brushes, microphones, audio recorders, and any other tool that you use in your creative life is just that, — a tool. And tools are only as good as the people using them. People are so quick to discount modern creatives, especially photographers and others who work with digital and mechanical mediums, as mere technicians whose sole job is the correct technical operation of a machine. The creative forces that go into making an image are so much more involved than just pushing a button. We as artists must begin to promote the idea that we are the ones that make creative images and that our tools are just a medium for recording our unique vision.

Sadly, this has become a commonly held perception that is devaluing the creative industry as a whole. With the number of talented amateurs and professionals growing, the value of being a technically proficient photographer is no longer seen as a differentiating element, but rather as a baseline, a bare minimum that is expected of us. Some photographers, usually those who are trapped in that self-sabotaging negative mindset I have written about so often, will see this as a threat, a dire warning that “The amateurs are coming to steal my jobs!! Oh noes!!!” Conversely, the smart and adaptable photographer will see this increased competition as an impetus to rise above the pack and stand out, rather than as a grim spectre signaling the end of their business. But how will these capable photographers who thrive on competition and self-evolution set themselves apart? The answer is so simple, yet seemingly so overlooked that it pains me to even have to say it.

Above all other factors, we can stand out by demonstrating to our clients every day and on every assignment the unique vision and creativity that we bring to photography. Show them that we have taken the passion and love for the medium that we felt the first time we picked up a camera and that we have cultivated and refined this energy into our own unique take on image making. We have to show our ability to take our technical knowledge, and tools and creative skills and create something more from them, something that is astonishing, even if it breaks the rules or we knowingly choose work outside the perceived norm of technical correctness. And finally, we have to show them that we can take this singular purity of vision and that we can apply it to sell their product or illustrate their concept or capture critical or mundane moments in amazing ways. It is so important to make them realize that the notion of photographers being nothing without their cameras is a misstatement. In truth, the cameras are nothing without the photographers.

(All of the above mobile images were chosen because even though they were not taken on a high-price point camera, they hold no less personal significance to me than any of the images  in my portfolio. These are images I care about.)