4 Solutions for 99 Excuses

Recently The 99% (one of my favorite websites about creativity, idea implementation, and work philosophy) featured an article based on a readers’ poll about the 99 most commonly used excuses people let stand in the way of their ideas taking shape. While thought provoking, their main intention was to get people to face the facts of how harmful excuses can be to the creative process, and to show just how widespread their debilitating influence can be.  There are, however, some points from their top fifteen excuses that I think bear a more in-depth analysis, especially in relation the photographers and other freelancers.

1. I Don’t Have Enough Time

Where do your passions lay? At what point do we sacrifice love of what we do and the ability to bring our visions to fruition? The simple fact of the matter is that if doing something is important enough to you, you can and will find time to do it. There are different ways to tackle this problem. Some like to accomplish tasks in preset modules, breaking down large projects that can seem insurmountable into hour-long task and goal blocks that they schedule into their regular days. Others prefer the marathon approach (this was my modus operandi for years). I would finish an 8-10 hour day at my day job, excitedly knowing that the rest of my night was dedicated to photography and creative tasks, either a shoot or web development or retouching. I would complete my daily tasks and dedicate the rest of my time to taking pictures and post-production because it is what I loved to do. It was a decision I made to consciously create time for my passions. A lot of the tasks I completed using this system ended up laying the groundwork for my eventual transition back to photography as a business.

The 99% suggests taking a proactive approach to task management and identifying important tasks as great first steps. I would have to agree. In terms of real world implementation, one of the easiest things you can do is to get yourself a good task management system that synchs across a variety of devices. I am partial to Things, which has been a huge boon to my productivity, especially since it works on both my desktop and mobile system. A great alternative to Things is Remember the Milk, which is a web-based application pretty much accessible from anywhere. The real key to these programs is how you dedicate yourself to using them. I start each day with a daily review of tasks, ranking and ordering them in a way that offers me the best productivity stream. I identify what can be accomplished and what cannot that day based on my workflow and I make sure that I block out a solid chunk of time each day that is dedicated to nothing but personal projects. Treat these personal work blocks like any other task in your workflow. They must be completed and used effectively, but you will find that if you schedule them alongside  your billable hours and private tasks that you will absolutely be able to make time for them.

Two other sites I recommend checking out that are related to time management and workflow are:

http://five.sentenc.es/

http://www.43folders.com/

In the end, it comes down to this – if you love it, do it! If you have responsibilities, take care of them, then do it! If you are tired, wake up and do it! The musician Henry Rollins is a great example of this. Rollins has been known to work so prolifically and for such long periods of time while maintaining a hectic travel schedule that he often sleeps only a few hours a night. This is a great example of dedication and work ethic leading to success.

2. I’m Afraid Of Failure

Failure is one of the most singularly useful tools in the world to motivate you to improve. If you have never failed then you have nothing to illustrate what mistakes you have made in the past. Experimentation is a big part of this. Always give yourself the ability to play with your work. Try new things in your personal work and learn from the mistakes and successes to create a better product in your professional work. With client jobs, once you have the safety shots and have met the layout requirements that have been set forth, try to take a few more daring images. Oftentimes you will fail, but you will occasionally have a brilliant success as well. Perfection and a 100% success rate are admirable notions, but rarely achievable. It’s far more important, in reality, to strive for a perfection you will never reach. This will have many more benefits for you in the long run. There is no such thing as a perfect photograph. Even the best can improve upon what they have already done. If you never risk failure and play it safe constantly you will find that yourself and others will start to view you as competently and consistently average. They won’t really have anything bad to say about your work, nor will they have the impetus to hire you for your singular vision and style. For more reading on the topic of learning from mistakes and letting them improve you, check out It’s OK to Suck.

7. I Am Afraid of the Competition

Competition is nothing more than fuel and fallacy mixed together. This issue can be addressed from two angles. The first is that competition is a fantastic catalyst to get better. We must all strive to constantly be growing as artists, improving our skills, outlooks, and attitudes in the long run to provide our clients with the best us we can be. If you can sit comfortably at the top of the hill with no one else trying to summit it, it’s very easy to become complacent and lazy and you will find yourself only doing as much necessary to maintain the status quo. However, when someone becomes competition to you, it can light an ever-needed fire under your ass and push you to start doing all the things you should be doing: marketing more, improving technical skills, reviewing your fundamentals, improving your negotiating tactics, and pushing you to pursue more personal projects to develop your vision further.

The second angle to view this from is that much of what we do is selling ourselves just as much as we sell our services to our clients. You are your own niche, your own brand, and your work can easily follow suit. Once again, this comes back to competing on more than just price. Demonstrate beyond argument the value that you can bring to your clients’ projects and how you can build positive working relationships with their teams. You should be so desirable to work with that the only issue you feel you have to compete with is whether your unique style is the right one for the job. In summation, let competition push you to a point where you are bettered in all aspects because of it.

8. I Got My Expectations Too High Just Thinking About It

This can be a dangerous problem, both from a financial and spiritual side. I was once acquainted with a photographer who suffered from the problem of generating fantastic ideas rapidly, so rapidly, in fact, that it became a problem. Firstly, they had a serious issue with bringing any idea to final fruition. Projects would be half completed and strewn aside. It’s quite detrimental to put a lot of capital into a personal project and walk away with nothing to show for it, not because of difficulty, but merely because the excitement brought on by new ideas forced them to lose interest in seeing their original idea through. Secondly, when ideas were completed they had often become an pale imitation of their original selves. New ideas would impinge upon the basic purity of the original concept, things would be added and stuck on at a whim. The result, needless to say, was often disappointing and chaotic. Many people suffer from this and similar issues when seeing their projects  through. Some people are exceptionally good at generating ideas. They find it exciting. But once they realize that actual hard work is involved, they often lose their enthusiasm. Others, much like the photographer above, suffer from a lack of faith in their ideas, always feeling that they are on shaky ground and that they need to slap more “idea plaster” on to keep them stable, when in reality it’s making their  idea more and more structurally unsound.

Be picky about your projects. Conceptualize and plan them well and break them down into smaller and more achievable segments. Having ambition is great, and an absolutely required trait in this profession. But if you cannot make a plan to realize your ambition, then it becomes  more and more of a seemingly impossible goal. The situations mentioned in the paragraph above can easily be rectified through even the most basic planing, and then having the dedication to stick to the core details of the plan. Do not let this lead you to think that improvisation cannot be a part of a well-planned production though. Improvisation and adaptation will be your constant allies and companions. In fact, having the forethought to plan a project carefully is what will give you the freedom to improvise more effectively.

Quick Cuts – Vaunt

Vaunt

Vaunt was in town briefly for a shoot with Auxiliary Magazine. I was glad to have a chance, albeit in an extremely limited window of time, to work with her in the few scant minutes of light we had left. It was a simple casual and fun shoot which resulted in a very rewarding image.

lo-fi irregulars – Niagara Falls Blvd

After moving from Canada to the states when I was a kid I spent most of my life growing up around the Niagara Falls and Youngstown NY  areas. I have a strange obsession with the remains of the once great tourism industry that once kept the area moving, Some of the last relics of that previous tourist boom are the motels that line the boulevard. I was out there this morning and had a chance to play with Hipstamatic on my iPhone for a bit, taking shots of some of the signs and surrounding areas.

Images of the Niagara Falls Blvd Strip. By Luke Copping

The Bit-O-Paris motel, rooms still rented by high school kids to this day in order to throw parties.

Rapids Bowling centre - Luke Copping Photography

Rapids Bowling, I remember when I lived in the area, that there was always an unusually high concentration of bowling alleys nearby.

Bel-Aire motel - Luke Copping photography

The Bel-Aire motel, my favorite retro sign on the Boulevard.

motel and used cars - Luke Copping Photography

I would venture to say that its a bad idea to buy a used car from the motel you stayed at last night.

The Niagara Falls Motel - Luke Copping Photography

The Niagara Falls Motel

Motel in Niagara Falls NY - Luke Copping Photography

Another roadway motel

Knights Inn - Luke Copping Photography

Knights Inn, one of the more modern additions. Lacking some of the retro charm, but I still love that sign.

Caravan Motel, Niagara Falls - Luke Copping Photography

Another of my favorite sings from the area, the Caravan Motel.

The wagon wheel restaurant - Luke Copping photography

Front of the Wagon Wheel Restaurant

3 star motel - Luke Copping Photography

The 3-Star Motel

Old Bell Facility, Derelict Garage - Luke Copping Photography

A derelict garage at the Old Bell Aerospace Complex, Now a facility housing several manufacturing companies, I worked in the complex for years.

View of airfield and Garage - Bell Facility - Luke Copping Photography

Another view of the Garage and unused lots nearby.

To see more of Luke’s commercial and editorial photography work please visit lukecopping.com

The Archive of Embarrassment – I Have the Same Hairline Now

The Archive of Embarrassment is a collection of outtakes, personal photos, light tests, and self portraits that amuse me, mainly because they are a terrible and hillarious embarrassment for me or the people in them.

Photographer Luke Copping as a child

1. This chair makes an appearance in several shots of me 2. I look like The Leader from The Incredible Hulk 3. Did someone cut my hair this way? or was a losing it at a young age

Video: Adam Rosina

Adam Rosina from Luke Copping on Vimeo.

I’m working on a bunch of new short video pieces currently. Here is the first in a series of short character and environmental studies. This first one is a short (just over a minute) character study on the film critic and writer Adam Rosina, known more professionally as The Angriest Critic. I’m trying to produce one of these every week or so or when I can between photography assignments.

The Archive of Embarrassment – A Flair for Drama

The Archive of Embarrassment is a collection of outtakes, personal photos, light tests, and self portraits that amuse me, mainly because they are a terrible and hillarious embarrassment for me or the people in them.

Luke Copping - Photographic and Theatrical genius

Again proving that I look absolutely terrified or traumatized in every childhood photo. I should have won an oscar for this performance. I think we should have some sort of caption contest for this one in the comments.

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.

Quick Questions With Smart People – Clark Dever: Photographer and Social Media Marketing Expert

Social media expert, photographer, and speaker Clark Dever

Clark Dever is an Event Photographer and Web Strategist in Buffalo, NY. In addition to his background in photography and web development; Clark is also long time proponent, consultant, and educator in the area of social media marketing. An ASMP recommended speaker, Clark is currently developing a new speaking program that will educate photographers unfamiliar with the use of social media as a viable channel for marketing their work. Clark is also one of the co-creators of 12 Hours in a City a travel documentary which used social media extensively to support, organize, and market the event.

LC: What are the best social media channels for photographers to leverage?

CD: The best social media channels for photographers to leverage are the one’s that contain their niche audience. Social Media marketing is about finding the .001% (if you’re lucky) of internet users that absolutely adore what you do.  I can guarantee you that they are out there, I can also guarantee that they are on facebook and twitter. However, if your niche is an active sub-culture or a myopic specialization in the main stream; chances are that it has it’s own forums, social networking sites, and region of the blogosphere. Search for them and you will find them. If you don’t find them a )Search Smarter or b) Create the community site and they will find you.

LC: Outside of Facebook and Twitter are their any social media outlets specifically created for creative professionals which provide a more appropriate access point for them to reach industry buyers and editors?

CD: This is more your specialty Luke, so I’d love to hear your reply.  I tend to work with non industry people and hyper-targeted niches.  I’ve heard good things about sites like Behance Network and I still believe in the use of traditional tools like Direct Mail (Agency Access), representation through stock sites, and traditional agents.  The market is undergoing a paradigm shift but that shift is benefiting the smaller non-traditional players most of all.  The old school players are still utilizing the traditional channels, if you can play head to head with established professionals, there’s nothing wrong with playing in those channels as well as the Social Media world. I view uncertainty and change as an opportunity, so that is why I dove straight in to that most turbulent section of the photography market.

LC: I would recommend, much like you that photographers seek out their specific niches. Some general sites I can recommend that photographers look into include Behance, Lexsposure, linkedin, and altpick, Many of the sourcebook sites will also allow you to create networking profiles on their sites. For more specific networking, pay attention to the communities your clients are leveraging, eg, graphic design forums and blogs for commercial shooters, fashion blogs, magazine sites, and sites about publishing for fashion and portrait photographers. etc. Research your market carefully and, like Clark says, either penetrate or create a place for them to come together.

LC: Should photographers focus more on building general fan bases with a lot of viewers? or should they strive for a more focused approach in which they specifically strive to build social connections with their purchasing base and potential clients?

CD: I think photographers should focus on creating the best images they can and publishing them as frequently as possible, through as many channels as is feasible, with as much meta data as they are capable of embedding.  The beauty of the internet is the power of search, if you are a content producer and take the time to give people a clear path back to your outposts (facebook/twitter/blog/etc) they will find you. I personally target the general populace of my geographic area (Buffalo, NY) and then I target the fans and followers of the individuals I shoot.  I try and cross promote my photography with my subjects and their organizations/businesses whenever possible.  The more commonalities you can appear to have with your audience, the more they will relate to you.  As a photographer, you are sharing your vision.  Letting people see the world vicariously through your eyes. The “closer” they feel to you, the more they will appreciate your work and feel socially obligated to promote your success.

LC: How can photographers better target their social media activities to build their fan base in appropriate markets?

CD: Keyword and Market Research, find out where your potential fans live and how they talk/search.  The exploit the common vernacular in the places they meet.

LC: What are your top 3 do’s and Top 3 Don’ts for photographers who are beginning to leverage social networking?

Do:
•Participate
•Love your Fans
•Publish as much of your work as you can that represents your level of quality

Don’t:
•Respond publicly to negative feedback
•Be a douche
•Worry too much about images being stolen, if you published them on-line; they’re already gone. We live in a remix culture, it’s not going to change.  Learn to thrive on it and appreciate other people’s creativity.  Anything you publish on the web is pretty much; CC (http://creativecommons.org/about/licenses/) BY (if you’re lucky) SA (By default) NC (if you catch them, they are in your country, and you registered your copyright) – Whether you agree to it or not.

LC: Do you see social media ever usurping traditional direct marketing efforts as a sole point of contact for buyers and artists, or should creative professionals be building a well rounded range of marketing channels encompassing traditional methods with newer social media techniques?

CD: Don’t put all your eggs in one basket.  It’s always smart to cast the widest net possible.  Do whatever you have the time and desire to do. I think it’s possible to participate in traditional commercial models, hyper-targeted to individual clients, through social media, through stock, and through micro-stock; all simultaneously if you’re workflow is honed well enough and your interest is there.  They are all different revenue streams that you can pretty easily take full advantage of. It’s just a matter of differentiating what-work-you-publish-where and perhaps utilizing different identities so you don’t dilute your brand on the top end of the market.

Read past quick questions with smart people interviews:
David Buck  – President of Crowly  Webb & Associates

Artvoice's Best of Buffalo Poll

Luke Copping - Celeb Portrait - Thanks Sean Hus Var for the Pic

Me and my friend,  fellow WNY photographer Clark Dever, have both been named as nominees in the Best Photographer category in Artvoice Magazine’s annual Best of Buffalo readers poll. Along with three other local photographers we will find out who wins along with the nominees of several other categories in this important local event this monday at the Best of Buffalo Bash, an annual free event featuring live entertainment and food from several of the local restaurants that have been nominated this year. Stop out to support Clark and I, as well as several other local artists, vendors, and personalities whose hard work and efforts keep Buffalo the vibrant and artistic city it is.

(Thanks Sean Hus Var for the iPhone pic)

2010 Best of Buffalo Bash
Monday, April 26, 6-9pm
Town Ballroom