Happy Valentine's Day. Go out and photograph something fun or romantic.

Love the cookies at Sweetish Hill Bakery!

I was just thinking about a book I could recommend to my photographer friends on Valentine's Day and it came to me in a flash:  Robert Adams,  "Beauty in Photography: Essays in Defense of Traditional Values."  A great collection of essays that bring some meaning to the life of some artists.

Robert Adams collected another series of essays entitled:  "Why People Photograph."  That's a good one too.  Fleshes out why we do what we do and why it resonates with us.  The two books would make a nice set for someone trying to get the impulses figured out.

The book that I want?  Five Beautiful Women  by Victor Skrebneski.  The book I must have but can't afford?  Of course, it's Richard Avedon.  "Richard Avedon:  Made in France"  

I hope everyone has a romantic day and falls in love all over again.  Hard to fight and argue when you're happy.

(the above photograph was taken with a Leica R8 and a 90mm Summicron on color slide film).


Street Shooting with abandon. The joy of strolling and looking.

Rome, Italy.

When we're immersed in the rhythm of our everyday lives we tend to overbook and underlook.  We scan for danger and opportunity.  Will the woman in the Chevy Suburban, juggling her latte and her cellphone, run the red light and slam into my car?  Can I grab that parking space before anyone else?  But when I go off to shoot somewhere (even if it's just downtown in my own hometown) there's a mental shift that moves me to disregard tight scheduling, turn off the cellphone (yes! They do have off switches!) and stop running the obsessive mental checklist that clicks away in my head.

I allow myself to succumb to the ebb and flow of the visual life in front of me.  I get up early and grab the camera (one camera) that I want to use based on how I feel in the moment.  I usually feel conflicted about taking more than one lens.  If I take two I find myself confused about which one might be best for each subject.  There is not "right" or "wrong" lens so the choice becomes mired in a web of countervailing possibilities.  My mind moves from decisive to indecisive and the energy that first attracted me to a subject seeps away, replaced with a paralyzing ambiguity.   One lens and one camera is best.  It's easier to wrap your vision around a subject than to be enslaved by choice.

I want to look like everyone else in the street.  I want people to think, "There's a guy.  He has a camera."  Instead of,  "There's a photographer."  It seems transparently the same but it's not.   And the people you encounter shift their demeanor based on the display you create about yourself.  One camera and a lens might say, "Tourist",  while a bagful of paraphernalia marks you as someone actively hunting images.  You become someone who "wants" something from someone else instead of someone immersing themselves in the milieu.  And people are wary of other people who want things from them.

I don't linger unless I'm trying to line up and image.  If I work without feeling sneaky people very rarely take notice of what I'm doing.  If someone catches me "taking" their image I smile and ask, with my eyes, if it will be okay to take another one.  Sometimes I put the camera down and just savor a thing in front of me because I know its beauty might be transient and inappropriate for "image capture."  Like closing your eyes and enjoying the song rather than focusing on how to capture an image of the music.

When I go out for my walks I'm drawn to scenes that show what it's like to be human.  The couple falling in love.  The woman who seems displeased about something.  Perhaps it's her ice cream.  Maybe she didn't pass her driver's exam.  We've all been in both emotional places and the photographs have the power to remind me of my own feelings.  That's why I take them.

When I walk often and for a long time with one camera I come to know it in a much different way than I do a camera I pick up only every so often.  It's like driving a car for years and knowing just exactly where everything is.  Then, one day you take your car in for service and you get a loaner car, and everything feels awkward and out of place.  It hampers your ability to drive in the subconscious and fluid manner that you've become accustomed to.

People choose cameras for so many reasons.  But I think they largely overlooked how it will feel and wear after months and months or years and years of use.

Street photography requires that you suspend your own greed for success.  The things you think you'll find rarely come up.  But if you have a list of predetermined images in your head when you begin you will have made it so much harder to find the images you weren't looking for.  And those might be the images that will surprise and delight you exactly because you never knew you were looking for them until they found you.  If you learn to let go of the desire for control you'll learn to stop suffering for your art and start having fun.

Might sound like "New Age" madness or hippy stuff but before you go back out to shoot again try reading the Tao Te Ching and see if it changes how you react with the world.


The Emotional Need for Radical Change. No thanks.

Looking for an honest (photo) marketing person.

I blame myself for staring in fascination at the car wreck that appears in front of me on my computer every morning.  The car wreck is the frothing, churning, anxiety stricken paroxysm of marketing hysteria being foisted on unhappy photographers and then being regurgitated as unassailable fact by these same practitioners looking for any life buoy in a treacherous economic sea.

Their names have gone viral.  Selena, Susan, Deborah  and so many more.  But really,  do they know more about marketing than anyone else or are they mixing in all the anecdotal stuff that's ricocheting around the web, mixing it with a big dose of "Seth Godin" and stirring in a mix of Web 3.0 Koolaide?

If you are one of the hundreds of thousands of photographers chasing after the 5,000 bonafide art buyers in the U.S. for the one or two projects a month a particular agency might assign photography for then I guess their "magic mix" might work to get your book called in.  But I doubt it.

Here are two things to consider:  1.  The markets didn't dissolve because advertising become outmoded this decade and they didn't wrench to a stop in 2008, 2009 and most of 2010 because all of a sudden no one could find a photographer by conventional means.  No.  People stopped buying photography (and so many other non-life supporting goods and services) because they ran out of money and they cut their budgets to the bone and they made the choice to keep the lights on and the heat functional so they could turn out product.  If they did paid advertising they used current materials to save money.  No "pixie dust" marketing is going to turn around a shipwrecked economy just because you want to believe in the power of web-boosted social marketing.  Good marketers offered more services to more people to cope with the downturn.  And they positioned themselves for the market to return.

2.  If you want to sell thousands of days of  photography you could go to Groupon and do a coupon offer for $20 bucks a day, day rate including all rights.  You'll fill up your calendar with all kinds of social-net-saavy-entrepreneurial-cloudhappy-new social order buyers.  But you'll go broke in no time.  Yes the net works for mass market goods and commodities.  At the end of the day it's good to remember that professional photography is not mass manufacturing.  It's a wonderful combination of art and commerce and science.  We're selling our time and licensing our vision.  And the more unique and precious we make it the more money we can charge for it. We are not infinitely scalable.  Remember that when you get into a discussion about quantity versus quality.  Or pennies versus kilo-dollars.

And that leads to the reality of every market from time share condominiums, to annuities, to art, to food, and just about any other non-commodity item or service you can think of.......people want to work and buy from people they know.  Never has it been more important to identify the people you want to work for and to physically place yourself in front of them and wow them.  Wow them not only with the products of what you do but also to wow them with who you are and how you can help them.

My business tagline is this:  "We translate your marketing genius into visual art."  I want to work with smart people.  But I want to work with smart people who sign checks.  I'm not looking to shoot 10,000 widgets on a white background.  I'm looking to shoot one great portrait at a time.  And that's the best way to find your clients.  One at a time.

What's the real magic bullet?  Surprise.  There isn't one.  I'm blogging not to reach clients for my photography biz but because I like to write and I think if you like my writing, and you get samples here, you might be disposed to buy and read my books.  I tweet for the same reason.  And I'm opinionated and like to share my opinions.  But none NONE of my clients regularly reads my blog.  They are not photographers.  They have busy lives doing the things that drive their businesses.  And they don't look at the same tweets that we photographers do.

If I want to reach them I have to think the way they think.  I don't market pretty pictures I provide marketing tools and sticky content.  They open their snail mail but they've learned to filter their e-mail.  Have you tried to text people ads?  I bet you'll never work for them again......  Next time you feel compelled to roll the dice and put all your efforts into internet marketing take a moment to reflect about tossing your "great" photography ideas into an unguided marketing pit with 60 million other creative professionals and 200 million other businesses, all clamoring to sell to the same core market = people with money, and ask yourself, "What the hell am I doing?"

Then get out your client list, send out some really nice, well targeted print pieces.  Make some appointments to drop by and show some great content on your new iPad and then ask your existing clients for some referrals.  If they like you and value what you do you'll get some good names and some new leads.  If they don't like you you're already screwed.

P.S.  I am not arguing against the need for a great website,  fun digital technology, good online communications or running water.  I just think it's time to sound a "hyperbole alert".....