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.