Photo by Lele Saveri
Photo by Lele Saveri
Photo by Jai Tanju
Lots of emails and DMs about that last one and I think I can go deeper on the topic. And thank you for your messages! I never know who is reading these things. If you like the posts, do me a huge favor. Leave a comment on the article. That way we can all discuss it together because I got multiple messages from multiple different voices. Secondly, Google will rank the site better with more “engagement”. That means people leaving comments. And that means I can keep doing this! I also made it so you can comment anonymously if you are feeling shy.
The truth is everyone who has been shooting for a long time goes through these waves of feeling stuck or stagnant vs flowing and charged up. It is partly a motivation problem but I think it is mostly a curiosity problem.
I looked it up.
noun: curiosity; plural noun: curiosities
1. a strong desire to know or learn something.
“filled with curiosity, she peered through the window”
synonyms: interest, spirit of inquiry, inquisitiveness
“his evasiveness roused my curiosity”
2. a strange or unusual object or fact.
“he showed them some of the curiosities of the house”
I like to look up definitions to figure out if I am using the word correctly since I ditched school all the time. Not only on paper or blog but also in my mind. Your mind plays tricks on you. Most of the time your mind is wrong. You might think your stuck because your lazy, but it’s not true. You are really busy. And really distracted.
So what do you have a strong desire to know or learn about? Easy examples are nature, humans, music, sports, current events, etc. But as an editor, publisher, and lover of a particular style of photography I’ll tell you what you should be more curious about. That is YOU.
YOU are the strange or unusual object that makes us, the viewer, want to see and learn about.
“All photographs are a self portrait.” That’s a quote I learned in school and I can’t remember who said it. Your photos are you showing yourself to the viewer. What’s your story? Who are the characters in your story? If you are living on some farm in Australia, I don’t really want to see your photos of Golden Gate Bridge when you were on visiting there once 5 years ago. That is unless you see it in a way only a farmer from Australia could see it. But, I wanna see the farm. I wanna see the weird goats and weird chickens.
I stole this joke off my brother. When I had a camera out and he had to introduce me to another person he would say, “This is my biographer.” I started saying that too when I had photographers around me. But it’s funny because it’s sorta true. I’m an “auto-biographer” and working on my own pictorial history.
When you are stuck, I say if you can stay curious and stay explorative about your own story, then I think you can stay on that wave of motivation longer if not forever. And when you get good at telling your story, maybe someone will buy a part of it in the form of print, zine, or book. Or maybe they will hire you to help tell theirs.
Photo by Ray Potes
I used to think about “wonderment”, like maybe wonderful and beautiful things is what I was looking for to photograph. Or how can I make a certain scene or story wonderful and beautiful with the artistry of my photography or something egocentric like that. But as I get older, the idea of what motors my photography has changed.
I had friends that warned, “Your energy dropping is the biggest thing you’ll notice when you hit 40.” And while they are kind of right, they didn’t mention that your energy management naturally then evolves and thus your energy becomes more stabilized. You purposely want to eat better, you purposely want to walk or ride a bike for extra exercise vs sit in traffic and look for parking. You purposely don’t put yourself in energy draining scenarios.
Getting sidetracked. As you get older you evolve. Maybe you used to lay in gutters and shoot photos of your friends skateboarding. Maybe you traveled a lot and shot more back in the day. But you as a person are always changing and evolving and it is natural for your photos to change and evolve as well. I am not talking about changing up your aesthetic and trying ridiculous things to up your creativity levels. Unless you want to, that’s fine.
What I am getting at is that if your interests have changed while your photography has stayed the same then usually comes a phase of burnout. And I think to combat this burnout is to check your curiosity levels.
I have seen photographers go from 50 rolls a week straight to Netflix all day and being over it. Some say the driving force is energy levels, I say it is curiosity levels.
While at one point it was curious for me to see what someone can do a skateboard, today I am curious to see where a squirrel is hiding his nuts. (My sister is finding walnuts buried in her house plants on her balcony.)
I can admit though that it is possible to evolve out of photography. I have had photographer friends take up drawing or music or ceramics or screenprinting and finding other creative outlets that are at this point in their life more proper for them. And that is totally all good.
But this is a message to those photographers on the edge of feeling burnt. What are you curious about these days? What interests do you now have and how can you photograph it? Your environment has no doubt changed, what is this part of your story about? You need to share it because we need to see it.
Photo by Jason Roberts Dobrin
Not sure how many people are actually making prints in these modern times, but I thought I’d say something about it. I was blogging about how writing is helping me read better and vice versa, and it reminded me of how printing helps my shooting technique and vice versa.
The intended output for photography has always been for print. You would finalize your prints in the darkroom and then send it off for reproduction in a newspaper, magazine, or book. I was taught that the final print was everything. And to get that final print right, you had to expose and process your negs properly. In fact I had a lot of assignments in school where I had to turn in negs to prove that I was using my camera correctly and properly processing my film.
Eventually when you’re printing a lot and fixing things in the image, you start to realize you can fix certain things in camera when shooting. And when shooting a lot, you realize you can fix certain things when printing. And this is the ongoing cycle of life in photography.
Nowadays you would say “files” instead of negatives and “Photoshop” instead of darkroom. I process my edits in Adobe Camera Raw and finalize it in Photoshop and am constantly making zines and prints. Specifically, I will make some prints and get my stuff right before I drop them in Adobe Indesign to make a zine or book. And I guess this message is for those of you that don’t. I am trying to say if you want to level up consider making some 8×10 prints, hang them on the wall, and stare at them. Find out what went wrong and what went right. Your shooting will shape up and your photography will benefit.
Photo by Alex Martinez
After you are shooting for a while and you got some compliments and made some prints for people, you eventually want more. You want to be published. I think it’s a validation thing to see your photos in a printed publication. Something you can show your parents that you’re not wasting your time.
But what if no one wants your photos? It happened to me. I submitted photos to 100 magazines and newspapers. Maybe not 100. This was pre-internet so the only way was to send a box of prints. A “portfolio”. You would have to wait until the editors went through stacks of portfolios and hope they would send yours back in a timely manner so that you can send it somewhere else. Sometimes they were cool though and would mail it to other editors for you. I had at least 3 in rotation. I know some guys that had more.
I didn’t ever get any magazine gigs then, but while waiting I was making zines. And I started getting cool feedback about them. And I started showcasing my friends’ photos too. And once there was some momentum, suddenly I got some magazine assignments. The irony is by the time I am getting these offers, my zines had evolved into a magazine where I can shoot and print whatever I want, sell it and make more money then what those jobs would have paid.
Not saying this is a proper path to pursue, but there are a ton of reasons to consider publishing your own work if you haven’t already. Here is a quick list.
1. It’s easy.
With all the new software and all the uploading technology of print shops these days, it is super easy to publish your own books and zines. Why not?
2. It’s fast.
If you are working with another publisher, they might have a whole team of people working on your stuff along with 100 other projects. It could take months before you even see half of a layout. If you know the basics, you could get it done in an hour or so.
3. You’re the Boss.
Most publishers will edit the shit out of your photos and the idea for the book is at minimum half of their idea. It really is a collaboration. If you do it yourself, it is all you. You are in the driver seat. On the other hand if it sucks, then that is all you too. LOL.
Most book deals are like record deals. You will get some royalties but only after the book starts profiting. That includes all the production costs like printing, designing, editing etc. It is expensive to make a book which is why you would go with a publisher in the first place. But if you can manage the costs and manage the production yourself, then you can make 100% of the profits.
I mentioned speed earlier, you can get the project out faster than anyone else could. But you can also work at your own pace. Working with other publishers there are a lot of starts and stops and eventually gnarly deadlines. It can be difficult at times but not if there are no deadlines.
6. It’s a good workout.
Putting together pages, editing, and sequencing is a lot of work but it will only make you stronger. It will feel like you might die but you will live and will be a better person for it. It will be good for your brain and heart.
7. Learning a new trade.
Maybe you didn’t know about page signatures and paper stocks and spine width calculators but now you do and now you are a publisher. You have entered a new industry and maybe you will love it.
8. You can be weird.
I say “weird” a lot. It may have a derogatory sound to it. It’s because what ever is not “normal” is considered “weird”. Really I mean “creative” and not “mainstream” and “boring”. This is probably the main point to self publishing. You can do whatever you want and share your epic visions.
Even if it is xeroxed at 7-11 it is fulfilling because you made it and you are sharing it. I am talking in terms of validation status as mentioned in the beginning. When someone wants to see your photos, now you can just hand them a printed book. No need to exchange websites, ig handles, etc. Your work is in print.
Sometimes, seeing someone’s photos online or in an exhibition isn’t enough to hire them for a commission or offer them a big book deal. But if you already have some books and zines and magazines to show them, the gears might start turning and they have a vision of how you can work together on something.
11. It’s fun.
I get a kick out of making things. You do too, that’s why your reading this.
Photo by Lele Saveri
This one is a message to those of you feeling blah about your photos. A common feeling to photographers near and far. A common email I get. The feeling usually comes in cycles or waves. You might be feeling yourself for a month or 2 and then all of a sudden you hate your photos every single one. I say it is you feeling average in your talent, skill, and technique. You want to feel above average. But what is average?
Average is the middle of the pack. So what’s at the front? What is “good”? If you are going by Instagram likes, then the Kardashians won. You might as well get surgery and shoot selfies all day. And what is “bad”? It really is subjective. Your Grandma’s favorite all time photo will not be your favorite all time photo.
I think 3 things make a “bad” photo. I think once we figure out what is “bad”, then it will be easier to get to “good”. Or at least get your numbers up because if we are talking averages then we are talking numbers. In baseball, if you are hitting the ball 3 out of 10 times, then you are killing it hall of fame status. That’s it. You can strike out 7 times. Instead of saying 30% though, they write it like this “.300” and verbalize that you are batting “300”. If we are going to use baseball references, then lets call them strikes.
Strike 1. Editing
Does this particular photo fit this particular thing I am working on? Am I trying to tell a story? Is this photo part of that story? As an editor of a black and white photo zine about living on Earth, it is so weird when someone submits full color still lifes shot in the studio. It happens all the time really. It’s not the right fit. Not “bad”, just the wrong application of these photos. Other editing examples: editing for a book vs editing for gallery exhibition or editing for an article vs editing for a portfolio.
Strike 2. Skill and Technique.
Sometimes seemingly talented photographers are just really skilled at photoshop. Some photographers might say post processing is more than 80% of the photo. I have said it before in other posts that skill and techniques comes with experience. Is your camera setup the proper setup for you? Are you using it in the correct way? What is your work flow? How are you processing? All this comes with experimenting and studying.
Strike 3. Purpose.
Do you have a sense of purpose with your photography? This teeters into a philosophical discussion. And I know some of you are like, “Man, all you shoot photos of is squirrels now. How can you sit up there and tell me what’s what?” I can’t, no one can. The squirrels are part of my latest chapter about living in surburbia. My story. What’s your story?
It may be opinion but I am saying if you are telling YOUR story, then really there are no “good” photos and no “bad” photos just details and scenarios as part of the bigger story. And the sooner you get better at telling your story, not someone else’s, along with editing and skill and technique, then the sooner your averages will go up. And the sooner your averages go up, then the sooner your photography will be above average. We are all a work in progress. Let’s just pay a little more attention to what we are doing and start hammering these stories out.