Learning from the Boss

Luke Copping and Rhea Anna by Lindsay Dedario
Luke Copping and Rhea Anna by Lindsay Dedario
Photo: Lindsay Dedario

There is a cool piece in this months issue of PDN (The Heroes and Mentors issue) featuring me called Learning from the Boss featuring several photographers talking about their mentors in the industry (people like Bill Cramer, Jeff Hutchens, and Bruce Weber were featured) I got the rare opportunity in the article to talk about one of my favorite people – my long time mentor, Rhea Anna. Check out the current issue of the magazine to see the full article

Without going too much into the magazine’s content, I just want to say that Rhea has been a wonderful friend and mentor. Working with her reignited my passion for photography after a long period of me thinking I had lost it, and the example she sets has been a huge influence on me and other artists that have worked with her. I have learned more from her about photography, professionalism, and creativity than any other source I can think of, proving that you cannot discount the influence of an amazing mentor.

Thanks Rhea!!

Quick Questions with Smart People – John Keatley: Photographer

John Keatley is an advertising and editorial photographer from Seattle. His images of celebrities like Annie Leibovitz and John Waters are iconic and instantly resonate with the viewer. John was kind enough to answer some questions and to share some clips from his recent talk on photography. John’s blog can be found here

LC: What are some tips you might give to a young photographer trying to get their work seen and market themselves in their early career that you wish you had known when you were starting out?

JK: It is very important to have a plan.  Set goals for yourself.  Commit to your goals by writing them down, and then decide on a plan that will help you achieve your goals.  It will take time, hard work, consistency persistence, and good work.  Stick to your plan and if you are passionate about what you are doing people will start to notice.  A lot of young photographers don’t realize how much time and hard work goes into a successful marketing campaign, and they want results right away.  I just watched an interview with Adam Sandler, and he was talking about auditioning for parts early in his career.  He believed so much in himself, when he didn’t get a part, he thought, “What is wrong with these people! How could they not want me?”  That kind of belief in your abilities is an important key to success, and it has to be followed up with persistence.  If you don’t press on after a bad meeting, or after losing a bid, you won’t get anywhere.

LC: In terms of changes in media technology, how versed do new photographers need to be in terms of working with video as well as still images? Is video something you have greatly embraced in your own work?

Photography Talk Chapter One from John Keatley on Vimeo.

JK: I actually made videos long before I ever picked up a still camera.  It was a big hobby of mine in high school.  Since becoming a photographer, video was something I have not had a ton of time for however.  Recently I have started working again with video and I am really enjoying it.

I think right now it is one of those things where you don’t have to be well versed in it, but it sure doesn’t hurt.  It can only help you if you can offer video to your clients.  There are lots of fun and exciting possibilities if you can work with stills and motion, so I say go for it.

LC: In your own early experiences was there any one moment or opportunity that was a game changer for your career?

JK: I don’t think I can say there was one moment that made all of the difference, but there have certainly been many significant opportunities and events in my life which have helped shape my career and as well as opened new doors for me.  I am always trying to push myself and sometimes taking on something that scares you is the best way to learn and grow.  You will surprise yourself with what you can accomplish if you just commit and be positive.

LC: What are 3 do’s and don’ts about the photography business you wish you had known at the beginning of your career that you do now?

JK: I don’t have 3 do’s and don’ts, but I can offer this advice from personal experience.  Ask lots of questions, and communicate clearly.  Ask for help when you need it.  Value your work and yourself, don’t give it away and sell yourself short.  Shoot what you love.  This is said so much it can sound like white noise, but it is so important.  Don’t worry about what other people are shooting or making money at if it’s not something you enjoy.  Become great at what you love, and the work will follow.  Take initiative and make things happen.

LC: This question is specifically geared for those budding portrait photographers out there. You are known for working with noted personalities whose backgrounds encompass a wide spectrum,  what can younger photographers who get thrust into a situation of photographing a large personality do to get beyond that initial nervousness and relate to their subject?

Photography Talk Chapter Two from John Keatley on Vimeo.

JK: It can’t be about you.  You have to be or be humble when working with celebrities.  It’s important to understand you are not there to become best friends.  Celebrities have a million people pulling at them from all directions and everyone wants something from them.  If you lose sight of the fact you are there to do a job then you are at a disadvantage.  Just be yourself and don’t go in trying to impress everyone.  Be respectful, take a deep breath, and trust in yourself.

LC: Your portrait style is iconic and impactful, conversely so many photographers seem to jump on the bandwagon of whatever the trendy look or color treatment is that month. How much of a balance does one need to strike between what the industry wants and seeing through your own personal vision to completion.

JK: It is good to be aware of what is going on in the industry, and to draw inspiration from work you enjoy.  However, personally, I think it is important to be true to yourself and create whatever you feel compelled to create.  Don’t start over sharpening your work because that is what you see in print that month.  I think it is better to create something you can be proud of rather than what is in style if it doesn’t match up with your interests.  If you put your passion into it, there is a much better chance your work will be relevant for years to come.  If photography is just a job to you, then I suppose it would be very important to keep up with trends and adapt in that way, but if you want to become great and create something lasting, I feel that can only be achieved by listening to you inner voice.

Quick Questions with Smart People – James Cavanaugh: Architectural Photographer and ASMP National Board Member

Jim Cavanaugh is an architectural and aerial photographer with 35 years of professional experience based in Buffalo, NY.  Jim is a member of ASMP and currently serves on the ASMP National Board of Directors as 1st Vice President. Jim is Chairman of ASMP’s Copyright Committee and has lectured throughout the United States on Copyright issues.

LC: So many young photographers out there have a great deal of talent and vision to share. The main thing standing in their way is a lack of experience in the realm of business. What are some good resources for those photographers looking to improve their business acumen?

JC: The hardest part is knowing what you don’t know, knowing what questions to ask. Information is abundant. I recommend ASMP’s Professional Business Practices book as a good start. Also ASMP’s web site, www.asmp.org has a tremendous amount of information including links to the dpBestflow digital standards web site. ASMP also has a number of forums including ASMP ProAdvice for photographers just starting out in the business.

But the best way is to get a foothold in the business is to become a freelance assistant working for a variety of photographers. This will give you a broad overview of the industry from various perspectives. It will also let you identify the photographers who will be good mentors and help guide your career.

Finally, you need membership in a professional trade association like ASMP or PPSNYS (Part of PPA) that has local meetings.  This will give you the opportunity to meet with your peers and learn much more.

LC: The actions involved in registering and protecting ones copyright can be so intimidating to those interested in registering for the first time that several end up not going through with it at all. What advice or programs are available to help educate emerging photographers on the process or even to walk them through it?

JC: While creators receive copyright and certain protection at the moment of creation, registration is the key to obtaining full legal protection under the law. However, the registration process can appear daunting at first, especially in dealing with the different procedures for published and unpublished works. (And determining what actually constitutes publication.)

ASMP has an excellent tutorial on Copyright registration.  It includes a podcast of ASMP’s very popular registration workshops that have been appearing around the country. (I am one of the three presenters.)

The Copyright Office’s new electronic copyright registration site, eCO makes the registration of unpublished work much easier. By the end of 2010, the Copyright Office will also allow groups of published images to be registered electronically using the eCO site.

The big stumbling block comes from established photographers who have a significant amount of images that have never been registered. ASMP’s and my advice is start registering all the new work you create going forward and then, as time and funds permit, begin to register your important published legacy images. Older unpublished film/print images are in little danger of being infringed.

Currently, with limited exceptions, groups of published images must be registered using the old paper (Form VA) method. It may take a year or longer to get those registration certificates back. However, the registration is effective the day the Copyright Office receives your submission, not when you receive the certificate.

LC: With years of experience under your belt you have seen several changes and epochs come and go in the industry. With all the excitement and dread in the industry in the last few years over changes in the economy, media delivery, and changing ideals amongst buyers, do you see these as the end of photography as we know it as a profession, or simply another stage of evolution in the ongoing cycle of changes that make up any industry? What advice can you give to emerging photographers to see past the turbulence of the industry right now, and especially a very vocal group of negative photographers who are bemoaning the end of the industry?

JC: Well the industry sure looks different than when I started my business in 1975. In fact it is almost unrecognizable to how it looked in 2000! The first 20 years of my career, the business model was stable and was built on decades of “practices of the trade”. In the early 1990’s digital imaging began to take root and the industry began to change with these new tools.

Photographers often perceive that digital cameras, scanners and Photoshop changed the landscape. They certainly did to some degree. But, it was the digital tools available to our clients and content consumers that really changed the game. How our clients use images and the plethora of new delivery options for their content have spearheaded the revolution that is changing our business models. And the rate of change is only accelerating. The iPad and the devices that follow are offering whole new ways for clients to prepare and distribute their content whether editorial, advertising, educational or entertainment.

So is photography dead as we knew it? Not dead but constantly evolving. I think these changes open countless new doors of opportunity if we can see ourselves as visual communicators and not just photographers.  We can learn an important lesson from the railroads in the 1930’s. They saw themselves in the railroad business and not in the transportation business. The emerging airlines decimated them by the late 1940’s!

So we must recognize that the business models and licensing models that served us well for decades do not fit with the new business models in a digital/technology driven environment. This will mean developing new ways of doing business and new ways of licensing the work we produce. It will also mean learning new skills and developing partnerships with other creative’s to produce the content that clients are demanding.

LC: Looking back on your early career what are some of the more important or harder general lessons you had to learn quickly to begin building a business? Are these still relevant issues to today’s photographers? What advice can you give them in dealing with them?

JC: The most difficult and the most important issue is that you are running a business. Every key requirement to run a successful large corporation is required to run a small photography business. It’s no different today than when I started 35 years ago! If you can not profitably manage your business, you will be out of business.

Making photographs is only a small part of the process. Marketing, pricing, sales and finance are all critical areas that cannot be ignored. Also, photographers must stay on top of employment, insurance, legal and tax issues.

Having a plan is essential. A solid business plan that defines what you do, who you do it for and how you do it is critical. It’s your road map.  It will help you develop your “brand” and guide your marketing efforts. It will establish a financial plan that you can monitor to see if your marketing/pricing/market models are working. It is also a flexible document that needs to be changed if your plan is not working. Establish a team of professionals to help you with specific business needs. Start with a good accountant or CPA, insurance agent, payroll company, business attorney, banker and marketing consultant. Established photographers can offer good suggestions.

LC: So many photographers are traditionally closed off and unwilling to share information and thoughts with others. You, on the other hand have been involved in educating and informing other photographers on the national level and at all levels of experience. As a vocal proponent of photographers’ rights and the need for registering copyright, do you feel photographers should be actively trying to create a more unified community like other creative groups in order to improve communication both within our own community and in terms of improving how we communicate with our buyers and support industries?

JC: It has been said that “a rising tide lifts all boats.”  I believe there are no secrets in our industry. Unfortunately many photographers behave as if there is “special” information to be protected and hidden from view. It’s a foolhardy approach.

We all learn based on the experience of others. Keeping knowledge from your competitors only serves to “dumb down” the entire industry. I don’t advocate sharing client lists and some specific proprietary information. But sharing ideas on business models, pricing, legal issues and technology issues with people entering the business only elevates the profession. This is especially important in an unregulated and unlicensed business like photography.

LC: In the simplest terms what are some basic do’s and don’t for those looking into entering photography as a career.

JC: Don’t go it alone. Running any business is a complex endeavor. Take advantage of the tools and resources discussed above. Join a trade association. Seek out mentors. Read everything you can and attend seminars, especially on the changing market. It may seem daunting, but thousands have gone before you!

Quick Questions With Smart People – Sean Armenta: Photographer

Sean Armenta is a beauty and fashion photographer from the Los Angeles area. His formidable client list includes Paul Mitchell, Wet Seal, Arden B, and Paul Frank to name a few. He has also been featured in numerous publications including Flaunt, InStyle, Vibra, Elle Germany, Sphere, and Want. Sean has a wonderful reputation on the web amongst fellow photographers, especially for his willingness to help other shooters, share advice, and answer technical questions. In addition to his active shooting schedule,  Sean regularly teaches his Prep to Post beauty photography workshops all over the country.

LC: Sean, in terms of marketing ones work,  especially within the beauty and fashion markets, what have been some of the more effective marketing techniques for you in communicating your work and point of view to your clients? What is a good starting point for those emerging photographers who are taking their first steps in getting their work in front of potential clients?

SA: I think above all your work should speak for itself and about yourself. Your work should be relevant to the industry you are trying to work in, and current to our time without being gimmicky and overly trendy. You need to keep an eye on what’s going on out there by seeing who is shooting what and why. Who is shooting a lot of covers?  Who is shooting the top campaigns?  It is more often than not a small group of 5 or so photographers who are producing the bulk of the work. You have to be able to understand why they are the flavor of the week, month, or year. This will help you determine what the industry is looking for stylistically.

In producing your portfolio, quality over quantity is the best rule to go by.  You must be able to edit your work without any personal or emotional connection to it. Needless to say much thought needs to go into your final portfolio that you will be showing potential clients, everything from layout to packaging must be considered. You must also do research on the clientele you are targeting. Is the work you are presenting relevant to their product and something their Art Buyers are looking to use?  If I am meeting with a new client, I will specifically create a customized portfolio just for them. Why would I show 20 fashion images to a cosmetics company?

When it comes to your online presence, simple really is best. You want YOUR work to stand out, not the design of your website.  It must be easy to navigate, clean and straightforward. People don’t want to spend half an hour trying to figure out how to get to your images. It does help to categorize your images into, say, Fashion, Beauty, Lifestyle, Still Life, etc.  It does not help you however, to be a jack of all trades. Having one website that encompasses everything from Weddings to Fashion to Automotive to Table Top photography only shows your client that you do not know what it is you really want to shoot. Clients want to know you are great at what they specifically need, not decent at all types of photography.

Blogs are a great way to show clients your personality and to keep them updated about your growth as an artist. Keep it professional but allow your personality to shine through. Post something about all your shoots, meetings, etc. People like to know what you are doing to advance your career.

I’m no marketing genius by any means – in fact most of my clients were acquired through word of mouth; clients referring me to other clients. The most important thing I have learned is this: Someone else talking about you is always better than you talking about yourself because it gives you validity.

LC: So many emerging photographers fall into the trap of letting their clients undervalue their work, or even worse, undervaluing their own work. How important is it for them to present their work as worthwhile and valuable to their clients? How can they not fall into the trap of letting their fears of success or failure stop them from even trying?

SA: I
just had a meeting last week with a global cosmetics company. After doing my presentation they asked what my rate would be for the campaign, so I handed them a written estimate. The long awkward silence that followed told me that my quote was above what they were prepared to pay. The VP of marketing said something I have never heard a client say, and is usually what we say to clients. She said, “This quote is outside of what our budget is, but seeing your work I understand why it is this rate. You get what you pay for, and we must be doing something wrong because we have been dissatisfied with our marketing materials.”

Never ever sell yourself short. Lowballing only shows desperation and undervalues your work. Show clients a quality of work that will elevate their brand.  Present yourself in a confident and professional manner. Show passion for what it is you do. Do research on the clients you are trying to reach out to, find out what their marketing needs are, and see what you can do to meet their needs. Photographs are the most important aspect of marketing.  It is what consumers see first and what they relate to. Photographs make people buy products.

LC: You are known for working with a reliable core support team, how important is it for photographers just  starting out to build the kind of relationships with stylists, producers, and assistants that will surround them with a team that cares as much about the final outcome of the production as a whole? What are good places from these photographers to start finding talented team members to work with.

SA: Building a core team of artists (Hair, Makeup, Styling, etc) is all important in our industry, especially during your developmental stage as a photographer. I believe that fashion and beauty photography is very much a collaborative environment. You are only as good as the people you work with. One of the most important things I learned early on was to seek out artists that were at a level above my own, and through working with those people I learned so much about the industry, and their experience elevated my work. I think we should always be in a constant state of learning, as this is the only way to grow as an artist. Team building is a huge part of what I teach at my workshops because casting the right crew is what makes or breaks the success of a shoot. I think we need to return to a sense of community with each other, and this is really the best way to seek out people to work with. Ask your peers for referrals of who they like to work with. Strive to produce the kind of work that will make other artists want to work with you.

LC: Looking back on your own career, do you remember any mistakes or lessons that you had to learn early on? If you had to guide another photographer though them in the simplest terms; what would be your top three do’s and dont’s you have learned throughout your career?

SA: I think it’s so important to be genuinely nice to everyone. No one wants to work with an asshole no matter how great their work may be. Be the person people want to work with and be around and treat people the way you would like to be treated.

DO
Take a business and marketing class
Save your money and do not rack up debt
Keep your overhead as low as possible


DON’T
Don’t sell yourself short
Don’t be afraid to take risks with your work
Don’t get comfortable with your current situation

LC: How important is it to strike a balance between ones own vision and taste and between creating a consistent and marketable visual style? should photographers be letting editors and buyers dictate their style to a great degree, or should they actively be going after the clients who they think are right for them and their preexisting look?

SA: While it is very important to be able to show your own vision while staying marketable, during the beginning of your career it is not as important as showing you are able to deliver what the client wants. I think too much emphasis is put on developing one’s own “signature style” too early in their career and they become a one-trick pony. Your work will eventually be identifiable to you because of your approach to your subject, not because of a specific “look” created by a certain lighting setup or post production effect. That, to me, is gimmicky and trendy. Don’t fall into the trap of forcing yourself to create your style which will only limit your growth as an artist and show clients your lack of versatility and flexibility.

I don’t think we should be letting editors or buyers dictate our style per se, but what you have to understand is that talent and skill only gets our foot in the door. At the end of the day we still need to deliver the needs of the client. With that said, of course we ought to seek those clients whose image matches the style of work we produce and whom we are most passionate about working with.

Its OK to Suck

Hammer-1

Hammer-2

Hammer-3

Aside from photography I also do a fair bit of freelance writing. Auxiliary Magazine recently afforded me the opportunity to interview Doc Hammer from Adult Swim’s The Venture Brothers for their october issue (and to collaborate with my good friend, NYC based artist Ron Douglas, who went above and beyond to get an 11th hour photo session in with Hammer). In addition to writing one of the most intelligent and funniest animated shows on television, Hammer is also a musician and accomplished oil painter with an interesting view on how sucking motivates him to excel in his chosen fields.

Too many people fall in love with their own work to the degree that they become overconfident and sloppy. This overconfidence can sometimes lead to stagnation in their evolution as a creative. When you feel there is no need to improve and love every single piece you create as if it were your magnum opus, quality begins to suffer and motivation will disappear. For some people its the adversity of constantly trying to improve that allows them to thrive. I wanted to share a passage from the interview that I feel sums this idea up perfectly, it relates specifically to oil painting, but as Hammer goes on to say later in the article, it can be applied to any endeavor.

…Painting is showing up and dealing with sucking, that’s the big tip, that’s what I want people to walk out knowing.

A lot of artists want people to think that they are magicians, that it’s easy and no one else an do it and that they just shit this stuff out, and it’s untrue. People with skill and passion can do it, that’s the talent. The thing that you are born with isn’t the ability to render figure, you can always learn that. What you are born with is the drive to fucking do it, and to want to do it in the face of constant failure. Painting is entirely failure, and if your painting wasn’t failure then your not moving forward and you are not correcting your own mistakes. What’s the point of making another one if you’re so fucking good that you have painted your masterpiece already. Every painting that a good painter does, they hate it, it sucks, and that’s what gets them going to do the next one so they can learn. That’s a hard thing to do, to have your occupation, hobby, life, be a place where you suck and you know you suck. People will get on me and tell me that I need to relax and take it easy, that I’m not really that bad. What they are missing is the arrogance of what I am saying, the fact that I know I suck proves that I know I am better than this, which is a very arrogant thing to do, so people should not be concerned with my self esteem. When I say I suck, it actually means that this is not a representation of my ability, I know that inside me is better. Dealing with my sucking and proudly saying this sucks is how I get up and do it again. I can’t let that thing get out there, I have to apologize for it with my next piece.

– Doc Hammer

To read read more about Doc Hammer’s thoughts on style, menswear, music, painting, and his show The Venture Brothers; or to view the rest of  October issue of Auxiliary Magazine, go HERE

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