New Lighting for Creative Portraits

It's been a while since I've posted a lighting guide! I've been in the studio experimenting with a new lighting setup that I'd like to share with you guys. 

This setup isn't based off anyone else's work. It's just something I was messing around with and really, REALLY liked. It's very simple, too, which means its going right into my regular rotation of setups. 

Ok first of all, here's some final images for you to look at. The overall goal of this setup is to create a big hot spot on the subjects face with sharp falloff on the body. Then, we add a light with a colored gel directly at the subjects eyes. This serves two purposes. Firstly, it adds a brilliant catch light in the eyes. Second, the color bleed from the gel fills the scene and allows you to really get creative with color. 

Light #1: Fill Light

Our first light is a LARGE umbrella directly behind camera. We'll diffuse the umbrella with a large scrim. If you don't have either of these tools, use your largest light source. I also thought about using a large Elinchrom Octa for this, but elected to go with a slightly larger source. 

Light #2: Key Light

Screen Shot 2018-06-29 at 3.28.40 PM.png

Our key light is a medium octabank placed above and to the right of our subject. This light needs to be placed high enough above to act as a hair light as well. If you look at the catch lights, you can't even see it in the subject's eye. Also notice how hot the highlights are on his cheek and forehead. The shadow under his chin is also very short. Thats because the light is almost hitting straight downward from above, but not quite flat. 

Light #3: Kick Light

The third light is the easiest one to setup. Put a reflector on your light (or don't, if you're using lights like Profoto with built in reflectors) and place it about 20 feet away from your subject on a diagonal. Make sure its pointed right at their eyes, and that it's the same height as they are. Put any color gel you want on this light. 

One important thing to know when shooting this is that I'm not using a backdrop. I'm shooting against a white wall in my studio, and my subject is about 15-20 feet off the wall. I also experimented a bit with long exposures. For that you'd just need to adjust your aperture or lights to compensate for the slower shutter speed, and make sure you're shooting in a room without any natural light. 

So thats pretty much it! Just three lights, a few modifiers and one gel. I hope this inspires you guys to experiment a little and turn this setup into something you can call you own. Check out some more of the final photos below. 

Matthew is a commercial portrait photographer specializing in music/entertainment and editorial photography based in Nashville, Tennessee

Don't Forget To Shoot For Yourself

I’m in the middle of a busy season this year. The last 6 months have been a whirlwind of shoots for various clients, a lot of early mornings and a LOT of editing to handle. Thats part of the reason why my last blog post was uh… Like last year or something… Oops. 

My clients are, and will always remain my priority, but lately I’ve been feeling kind of creatively dead. I spent a lot of mental energy pumping as much creativity into my clients projects as possible. It’d been a long time since I’ve done any personal work or test shoots. On one hand, thats not a bad problem to have. Being busy with paid work is always the goal, but I also like to maintain a solid balance of paid work and personal work. 

Last week I did a short test shoot with a few models and I was finally able to be creative and make work that is specifically tailored for me. It felt good. I felt rejuvenated and came away with several brand new lighting setups that I can’t wait to try on client work. 

The reason I’m writing this is because while I was editing the shots from that test shoot, I was reminded of a conversation I had with a photographer back when I was an assistant. At the time, I was pretty fresh as a photographer and most of my portfolio consisted of photos I took for personal work. This particular photographer jokingly picked on me a little for having too much personal work in my portfolio, and he was right! At the time I didn’t really even have any clients. All I could do was drag my friends to the studio and try to make some bad ass photos with them. 

As I got to know that photographer more, I started to notice how little he does any personal work. This guy is the definition of a workaholic. He was and is constantly shooting, but always for his clients. Again, not a bad problem to have. But what I noticed over time was pretty shocking. I want to tread very lightly as I say this, because I don’t want to come across as belittling him or his work. The photographer I’m speaking of is incredibly talented, incredibly successful and he would probably laugh at little ole me for saying what I’m about to say, but here it goes anyway. 

His work has dramatically declined in quality since I met him 5 years ago. There’s no way around it, if you look at the stuff he was doing back then vs. now, you’ll see a steady trend. The quantity of work went up, but the quality fell, and it fell hard. I keep up with his work still, I follow him on social media and regularly check out his site (I still use his work as reference and inspiration for my own stuff). I started to notice that his editing seemed to look a bit rushed, a bit… Eh. It looks like he’s started to just slap filters on his photos. 

Again, I want to make it clear that this post isn’t aimed at bashing that photographer, which is why I’m not mentioning him by name. I still consider him a friend and still admire his work. This is simply a cautionary tale to warn against becoming stale and stagnant. 

In the midst of my busyness this year I regularly found myself trying to cut corners or phone in shoots. I was/am tired. My brain can only handle so much creativity. I can only come up with so many unique types of shots. Repetition is inevitable and its even a good thing to have a few go-to setups/looks for your clients. So I understand that there’s only so much you can do when you’re shooting day after day after day. Its not easy. 

However, my point remains true; all artists, including photographers need to take as many opportunities as possible to create personal work. Its wildly important to keep your style fresh, and its equally important to be able to take a step back from your client work and create something just for you. Your personal work informs your paid work, and vice versa. They go hand in hand and are intrinsically tied to one another. I firmly believe that having a strong portfolio of personal work is critical to getting and retaining new clients. When I go to portfolio meetings the photos that shine the most are often from shoots I did as personal work. Those shoots usually have more creativity injected into them, and feel more raw and unique. 

My encouragement to all of you is this: I hope that all of you get to a point where you’re so busy, you don’t feel like you can find time to do some shoots for your own personal pleasure. But I implore you to find the time anyway. Spend every waking moment you can shooting and improving your craft.

Matthew is a commercial portrait photographer specializing in music/entertainment and editorial photography based in Nashville, Tennessee

New Work: Vacation Manor

The dudes from Vacation Manor stopped by the studio a few weeks ago while they were in Nashville for some updated promotional material. I love these guys, love their sound, love their look. Check the photos below!

Matthew is a commercial portrait photographer specializing in music/entertainment and editorial photography based in Nashville, Tennessee

Choose Your Mentors Wisely

 Bromance courtesy of Jeremy Cowart

Bromance courtesy of Jeremy Cowart

I love criticism. I’m a huge proponent for having my work chopped up into tiny pieces and ripped to shreds by my peers and mentors. The honest feedback of a friend can be invaluable for your growth as an artist. We tend to get stuck in our own tunnel vision sometimes and fail to see the flaws in our work until its too late. How many times have you posted something new online and a week later gone back and said “whoops, missed xyz thing, should have fixed that.” In college, when my professors weren’t doing a good enough job of facilitating constructive critiques in class, a few friends and I started a critique club where we could give each other feedback. This club had one rule: No positive feedback. None. See, we figured we already know what we’re doing RIGHT with our work. We didn’t need pats on the back, we needed kicks in the ass. 

I believe that mentality is critical to hold onto, in art and in business and in life. I still seek out the advice of others before I release or post any new work. I have a small circle of great friends who I ask to look over my photos before I deliver them. I choose to humble myself and listen to their advice because I know two sets of eyes are better than one. I also know that taste can be subjective, and my clients might see things a little differently than I do. After all, I’m particularly attached to my work and may not want to revise or throw out work I’ve done, even when it needs to be done. I call this “being willing to kill your babies.” Morbid, I know. But it kind of works? No? Ok. 

Anyway, now onto what I really want to speak to in this post. You’ve gotta pick those peers and those mentors wisely. Especially the mentors. I spent my first three years out of college working as a photographers assistant,  as many of you know. I got to work for (sometimes regularly and very intimately) many of the worlds most reputable and successful photographers. I got to learn from the best. As a result, I looked up to a lot of these guys. After all, their work was leagues ahead of mine and they clearly had done something right to be in the position they were in. 

What I learned though, was that some of them didn’t care that I looked up to them. Many of them didn’t want to be a mentor, and that’s ok, albeit mildly disappointing for me. I found myself searching for affirmation and guidance from photographers who simply weren’t willing or able to give it to me. In a couple of cases, they’d deliberately hurt me or try to hinder my growth by giving me extremely negative and unhelpful criticism. One photographer in particular, when I was first starting out, tore me and my work apart so badly and with such disrespect that I couldn’t bring myself to pick up a camera for a month. I felt pretty weak and useless after that. He made me question my entire career path. To him, I’d simply never make it. I continued to work for that guy, believe it or not. I needed the money, but honestly I just wanted to prove him wrong. I picked myself back up and said to myself that I’d never improve if I let people better than me tear me down. 

On the flip side though, there’s been a couple of other photographers who have had my back since day one. If you’re reading this, you guys (and gals) probably know who you are, because I make a point to thank you every chance I get. My current mentors give me all the advice I need, and they’re never annoyed when I call them at night asking for help bidding on a job. They deliberately take the time to look through my portfolio and let me know what I’m doing right and what I’m doing wrong. They encourage me, and give me all the ass kicking I need, but never to tear me down, only to build me up. 

Here’s some examples of good and bad critique, which have been said to me:

Bad crit: “I don’t think you even know what you want to do with your work. Its all over the place. Figure yourself out and get rid of every one of these shitty photos and get back to me.”

Good crit: “You’ve got a lot of studio work in your portfolio but not a lot of location work. You should get out of the studio more, it will make you more diverse and marketable.” 

Bad crit: “If you want to get real work, you’ll have to leave Nashville. The entire industry laughs at this town, they think its full of red necks and idiots.”

Good crit: “It looks like you want to get into entertainment work. Most of that industry is in LA and NYC, so you should probably consider moving there, or at least fly out and schedule some meetings.”

Do you see the difference? There’s not a single compliment or pat on the back in any of the comments, but the good critiques are HELPFUL. They gave me tangible, constrictive feedback that I could take action on. The negative critiques are just… Lame. They don’t really say anything, they’re just annoying and hurtful. 

You’ve got to pick your mentors and your peers wisely. Who you surround yourself with is critical to your development. You want people who are on your team, not competing against you. You want people who have your back, but are willing to smack you upside the head if you get off course. You won’t succeed if you’re not willing to take some harsh critiques, but you also won’t succeed if you surround yourself with people who want you to fail.

Matthew is a commercial portrait photographer specializing in music/entertainment and editorial photography based in Nashville, Tennessee

Top 10 Apps I Use For My Photography Business

Every photographer has their go-to apps for photography. Today I'd like to let you in on some of the apps I use in the day to day. Not every app is directly photography related, but helps me live my life and stay productive! 

1. Sleep Cycle: Sleep Cycle is the most important app I have on my phone. Do you oversleep, constantly? Do you wake up for a shoot or a meeting feeling groggy? Sleep cycle is a revelation. The app tracks your movements and sounds while you sleep, and wakes you up during your lightest sleep phase. That means you’re not waking up in the middle of a REM cycle, feeling bogged down and under slept! The app also uses alarm tones that start soft and get louder the more you snooze them.

2. Mile IQ: Mile IQ is a fantastic way to track your mileage. Rather than manually writing down your mileage, the app automatically knows when you start a drive, and tracks it for you. Then you can go back into the app later and categorize the drive as business or personal.

3. Venmo: There’s a lot of money sharing/sending apps out there, but Venmo still reigns king, for me at least. It has a large user base and a friendly interface. While I don’t often like to get paid via venmo, it does make it super easy to reimburse people.

4. Mint: I am absolutely horrible with money. Where does it go? Where does it come from? How much do I need for bills this month? Mint is a free app/desktop software that helps you easily track where your money comes from and where it goes each month. I love being able to see a simple snapshot of my monthly expenses. It also helps you set goals for saving and investing.

5. Shoeboxed: Shoeboxed is a little-known app that helps you track your receipts. When you go on a business trip and need to keep a record of your expenses (travel, meals, etc), sometimes holding on to physical receipts can be a pain. The app lets you take a photo of any receipt and a real person on the other end logs it for you! Say bye bye to paper receipts.

6. Later: I’ve just recently started using Later, and I love it. I don’t spend a lot of time posting to Instagram, but I realize how important it is for my business. Later allows me to plan out several posts in bulk, and it will post the photos for me later at a time I set. The user interface is a little wonky, and I don’t like how I have to copy and paste my caption before I can post, but overall I like it a lot.

7. Dark Sky: Dark Sky is the best way to know what the weather is going to do, right now. Most weather apps give you an ok idea of what the weather might do, but Dark Sky slaps you in the face and says yo, it gon’ rain RIGHT NOW.

8. Sol: Sol is a sun tracking app. There are many like it, but none like Sol. The user interface is so simple, and allows you to see where the sun is, and where its going to be later in the day.

9. VSCO: Ok ok, I know this one is a gimme, but hear me out. VSCO is by far my most and least favorite photo editing app on my phone. The user interface is TERRIBLE, but the edits you can achieve with their presets and tools are unmatched. Its a must have for iPhone photographers. I just wish they’d make the app easier to use!

10. Evernote: Evernote is the best way to keep track of, well… Everything. I plan entire shoots using Evernote. It syncs between your devices seamlessly, and allows you to add tons of different content and media to your notes. I usually use Evernote as a mood boarding/shoot planning app to keep me on track during a shoot. I break down my shot list with notes and reference photos so I can figure out exactly what I need to achieve from setup to setup in my studio during a shoot.

Bonus! Typorama: This is a funny app. It lets you take a photo and put text over top of it. Pretty simple, but I really like the range of type faces and graphics it provides. I use it for instagram posts where I need to add a caption over top the photo. Check it out!

 

So there it is! My top ten list of apps for my photography business. Did you see anything you want to try out? What apps are you using for your business? Let me know in the comments!

Living With Fear

 Photo courtesy of McKenzie Maroney

Photo courtesy of McKenzie Maroney

Last night I was hanging out with a few friends at a concert. We went outside to take a break from the noise, and I struck up a conversation with one of the guys. He asked me how I’d been, how business was going, and what I had on the horizon. I’m not one to brush off questions like that with a simple “I’m good, things are fine” so I gave him the truth. It’s been a hard summer. In a time where business is usually booming, I’ve had a slow couple of months. Several big shoots fell through or got pushed back to the fall, I moved into a more expensive house, I had to replace an expensive lens… It just hasn’t been an ideal summer. Then something came out of my mouth that really stuck with me. 

“I’m very attached to my work. It’s not a job, it’s intrinsically part of who I am. When I’m not working, my well being suffers.” Damn. Two months of slump summed up in three short sentences.

Now, I’m not going to be overly melodramatic here. Things are actually great over here. My work is getting some great attention, I’ve picked up a few new clients this summer, and I’m actually really happy with the quality of work I’m producing. That said, it HAS been a boring summer. I’ve spent more time seeking out new work than I’ve spent actually working. And that sucks, but it’s part of being a freelancer. Half the job is finding more work. Slow seasons happen, and it’s in these seasons that I tend to grow the most as an artist. 

So what’s the problem? Why do I feel like I’m in such a slump?

What I’ve learned this summer is that I live in a constant state of fear. I think we all do. Fear of not knowing where the next paycheck is coming from, the fear of hoping a client likes the work you just sent their way, the fear of cold calling client after client trying to get a meeting, and even the fear of succeeding. I think fear dictates most of our decisions, and influences us way more than it should. 

Think of it this way. How many projects or ideas have you dreamt up and just never done anything about? Why? Why don’t we pursue our passions, even the rabbit hole-y ones with more determination? I’m a big culprit of this. I have ideas for cool shoots almost daily but rarely act on them because I fear that they won’t be well received, or I won’t be able to live up to the image I have in my head. I’m fearful to pursue the clients I really want because I’m afraid my work isn’t good enough yet. I’m afraid of taking the big risks. The risks that in reality, would probably set me up for success. 

All too often we settle for the status quo. We stay in our safe lanes, and do the work that requires little or no risk. We play it safe and mimic our peers and regurgitate the same stuff over and over again because we’re afraid to make waves. 

Sometimes, we’re even too debilitated by fear to pick up the phone. We sit and wait by the line and hope against hope that someone calls us. 

So what’s the call to action here? Surely I have some life changing and inspiring advice to help you turn into a bullet proof, risk taking, fearless creative tidal wave, ready to take over the world with megalomaniacal force. Well, this isn’t one of those times. I don’t have a top five list or a step by step method. All I have for you is what I tell myself daily: Say yes, more. 

I say no to almost everything that comes my way. It’s a bad habit of mine. Friends wanna go out to the bar? Nah. Cool new idea pops into my head for a shoot? Nope, I don’t have the time to pursue personal work. We have to stop doing this. Say yes, more. I’ve decided that I’m going to say yes to everything, EVERYTHING in my life for a week. I encourage you to do the same. 

We all live with a certain amount of fear. It’s human, but I think it’s exacerbated by being a creative. We’re so tied to our work that we’re afraid to take risks, so we don’t damage ourselves. Lets agree to live fearlessly, say yes to more things, and take the risks we’re afraid to take. Lets kick some ass together, friends. None of us are bullet proof. Not one of us lives without doubt. We’re all in this together, and it’s up to us to encourage each other to become better, more capable artists. You are the only person holding you back. 

 

Matthew is a commercial portrait photographer specializing in music/entertainment and editorial photography based in Nashville, Tennessee

Color Grading Tutorial in Photoshop

This week I've got a really cool tutorial for you. In the video I explain how to take control of the color in your image. Photoshop can help you unlock the potential hidden within the color spectrum of your images and allow you to manipulate your photos in dramatic ways! Check out the video below and stay tuned for more tutorials and videos like this one. 

Matthew is a commercial portrait photographer specializing in music/entertainment and editorial photography based in Nashville, Tennessee

Hands On Portrait Demo With The Hasselblad H6D

The Hasselblad H6D is here, and I spent an entire day shooting with it before it ships. I’m not here to tell you about all the fancy specifications and impressive numbers the camera boasts. Instead, I’ll be detailing exactly how well I thought the camera performed in real life scenarios. I won’t do much comparing to the older H5D, or to any other popular DSLR’s on the market right now. I’m going to lay out what was good and bad about the camera in different applications, with as little bias as I can. 

Check out the BTS video (Be sure to turn on HD), and my final thoughts below!

Video by Jamie Morales

 

First, lets touch on the camera itself as a unit. It’s big. That won’t come as any surprise to a seasoned medium format shooter though. The camera felt significant in my hands, however it did not fatigue me. When I handed it to assistants or others on set, they carried it with a lot of careful attention, cautious not to drop it and make the most expensive mistake of their lives. But you shouldn’t feel afraid of holding this camera. I felt great carrying it around. The grip is solid, and even carrying it by a lens body felt right. Shooting in landscape orientation felt most comfortable, while tilting it sideways to shoot portraits did feel a bit cumbersome. Hasselblad’s button layout is terribly easy to get a hang of. I’ve never had any issues finding things on older models, and the H6D is no different. Every button, dial and scroll wheel is exactly where you’d want it, and the new touch screen is a welcome addition. In summary, the camera feels great. It’s intuitive, weighty but not fatiguing, and you really do feel like a badass welding it. 

I put the camera through its paces using several different lighting setups. I didn’t want to shoot anything standard and boring though. No on-white product shots or static headshots. We all know this camera would perform well under those stresses. 

Backlighting: I did two backlit setups with the camera. One with a parabolic umbrella with a CTB gel inside it as the backlight, and another with a large scrim diffusing natural light as a backlight. I wasn’t surprised one way or another with the results. The camera rendered the highlights well, the images were sharp as hell. Even with the natural light backlight it didn’t hunt for focus too much. We’ll touch on autofocus a little later. While it didn’t hunt for focus, I do have some complaints in that department.

Harsh natural light: I took the camera outside around noon to see how it would do with really harsh, bad light. Here’s where I was surprised. The dynamic range of this camera is unreal. I was hardly able to get a frame with lost detail in the highlights. Skin tones look natural and have plenty of detail you can resolve in post. For me, I think this is one of the most impressive features of this camera. I don’t shoot much natural light, but with this camera, I might. The files look spectacular, and you’re given so much grace from the sensor. 

Low light: I did a number of indoor portraits with no strobe. The ISO performance of the H6D is massively improved over older models. Medium format isn’t known for its capability in low light but the H6D made me feel very comfortable shooting in low light. I could go up to 800 ISO without much issue. Above that, with some noise reduction you’d probably be ok too. 

In all other situations, the camera handled incredibly well. The detail you get from this sensor is absolutely nuts. All of my files give me so much freedom for editing. I’m able to do things with these files that a DSLR simply cannot deliver. In short, there is almost no lighting situation that this camera can’t handle. It’s truly impressive. 

So what about the cons? Well, there are plenty, to be sure. First and foremost, the autofocus was a huge let down. When the camera grabbed focus, it was sharp as hell. But the problem was finding focus. Like I said before, it didn’t hunt for focus much, but you only get one autofocus point. So you have to select your focus, and then reframe your image. The problem here is two-fold. Firstly, not only do you only have one focus point, but the selection point is huge in the viewfinder. The square you’re given to select focus covers a fairly large area. You might be selecting someones eye, but accidentally focus on their nose because both the nose and eye fit within that not-so-little square. Secondly, reframing is much less forgiving than on a DSLR, especially at low apertures. The depth of field is so shallow at some apertures/focal lengths that by just reframing ever so slightly, you could completely miss focus. There were other times when the camera simply missed for no apparent reason at all. The camera is supposed to beep when you lock focus, but I found that it didn’t always do that. The shutter release button is also pretty sensitive, so I found myself snapping off shots I didn’t mean to take, while I was trying to grab focus. This was almost never an issue when shooting higher than f5.6. I was so impressed by how capable the sensor was in natural light, but unfortunately the AF system couldn’t deliver the same impressive results in those situations where I was shooting at f3.5 or f4. 

The next area I’d like to touch on is the display. Its sharp and vivid and bright and beautiful. But thats actually a huge issue. The images I was looking at on screen looked perfectly exposed, but when I imported them later they were a whole stop underexposed. This can be easily fixed by tethering, or metering, of course. But it’s still worth noting that what you see is not what you get with the display on the camera. Also worth noting, the images on the display looked very warm, and had a pretty noticeable green-shift. I can’t recommend using this camera without tethering. 

Speaking of tethering, it seems like Hasselblad hasn’t quite perfected tethering. We had several big issues getting the computer to recognize the camera, and stay tethered. I’m still not 100% sure if this is a hardware or a software issue, but I have never used a medium format system that performs well tethered, regardless of the software I’m using. Every once in a while my DSLR will lose its tether to Capture One, but with medium format it’s something you ALWAYS have to keep an eye on, which slows your shoot down and can cripple you on set.

Some other things to take into account that aren’t cons, but are worth noting: The files are gigantic, duh. About 50mb each on the 50c sensor. The camera also takes SD and CFast, but not traditional CF cards, so don’t plan on using older CF’s. 

Final Thoughts: I am wildly impressed by this camera system, but still somehow unsatisfied. That seems to be my experience with Hasselblad and other medium format systems in general, actually. There’s so many benefits to using a medium format system, but the user experience just isn’t there yet. There’s tethering issues, on camera screen performance issues, and a huge gap in auto focus performance between this system and a DSLR setup. That said, this camera is still a workhorse, and will make a lot of photographers very happy. Shooters who are able to take their time and slow down their sets will love this camera. Photographers who need ridiculous resolution and unparalleled sharpness will love this camera. So basically, anyone who currently uses a medium format camera system will love this camera. It is absolutely a huge improvement on the previous generation. The touch screen and user interface was a big upgrade. The low light performance was another huge upgrade. If you’re thinking of switching from a DSLR, make sure you keep your DSLR. You will find plenty of situations where the H6D simply doesn’t cut it. It’s not a run and gun camera. It’s not for off the hip shooters. I will definitely consider renting this camera in the future. There’s bound to be shoots where that much resolution will come in handy for me. But as a day to day camera? I’ll stick to what I’ve got. 

Portrait Shoot: Will Stevens

I'm so stoked on this shoot. Will approached me about doing some new portrait work last month. He pretty much let me do whatever I wanted, creatively, which I always love. We tried out a few interesting looks, including a setup where I shot my digital camera through the lens of an old film camera. Check out all the final shots below.

Matthew is a commercial portrait photographer specializing in music/entertainment and editorial photography based in Nashville, Tennessee. 

Portrait Shoot: Lydia Simmons

I’m so excited to share these photos. Lydia approached me after seeing some of my work online, and wanted to hire me for a shoot. Lydia is avery talented women’s soccer player at Vanderbilt University. She’s never done a professional photoshoot before but sounded very enthusiastic about giving it a shot. After a couple weeks of discussing direction and styling, we hit the studio and ended up with the shots below. Make sure to check out the BTS photos and video too!

The Impact of a Portrait

I'm always trying to find ways to reach people with my photography. I believe the most important thing I can do with my career is to help others. This gets a little tricky as a photographer though. How am I supposed to help another person with a picture? Luckily for me, opportunities have been popping up to help me out.

Recently I was asked to give away portraits to families in need on the East side of Nashville. The idea was simple: Setup a portrait booth and let families come through and get a simple photo taken. No flashy setups, no tricks, just one light and a camera.

When I got to the location we were shooting at, my team and I quickly setup our backdrop and our light and waited for the families to arrive. I started talking to some of the families as we were shooting, and quickly made friends with the kids that were running around. As the day went on, I was thinking more and more about how this could be a great opportunity to go beyond what I was asked to do. I couldn't help thinking that I was missing out on telling a great story with these photographs. 

So towards the end of the day, I started shooting a little differently. Instead of just trying to get a shot, I started trying to get THE shot. Here's what I ended up with. 

I wasn't sure how these would be received by the families, because they're just a little different than what they were probably expecting, but the response was amazing. I received this messages after the photoshoot:

"His momma is so proud!... These are the moments I love! He has struggled behaviorally a lot lately, but every time today I mentioned his photo, he broke out in smile...even in a almost full on melt down. These photos means so much more than any of them may know! REALLY cool stories behind these faces. How can a kid go from full on melt down to smiles just from me mentioning this photo?"

Here's the deal: A portrait is a powerful tool. A good portrait can change the way a human being looks at themselves in the mirror. Some people just need to be shown how beautiful they really are, even a six year old kid. 

For when your best isn't enough

 Photo courtesy of  Jacob Roberts    

Photo courtesy of Jacob Roberts

 

I’m in a state of serious discontent. I’m in a phase in my career where nothing I do is good enough, and every photo I take leaves me in some ways, disappointed. Not to say that the photos I’ve been taking lately are bad, or that I’ve not been bringing my best to my shoots… It just seems like my best isn’t good enough for me right now. 

I just submitted a 75 photo sample portfolio for review this week. When they asked for 75 photos my heart sank. 75??? I can barely count on two hands the photos I’m truly proud of right now . Sure, I have hundreds of photos to choose from for this submission but I don’t think I can come up with 75 that speak well of me as an artist. 

Why am I so dissatisfied with my work? Why am I ALWAYS dissatisfied with my work? Can you relate? Do you shoot a series, and find that a few weeks later the pride you had in that work has vanished? Do you find yourself picking apart your portfolio and thinking “man, I should have done this differently”?

Here’s the thing. I know where this divide comes from. I know where it is in our brains and hearts that creates such a strong apprehension towards work we JUST created. See, there’s a disconnect between our personal taste and our current ability. Our personal taste is incredible. It always has been. That’s why we got into art in the first place! We knew we could create great things. Our brains are geared towards knowing what is beautiful, unique and compelling. But turning those visions into tangible work… That’s the tough part. That’s where our ability lets us down. Our ability to create the work we want to create isn’t always there. That is why we get discouraged. 

I’ve been thinking about this subject for years, but only recently I stumbled upon a quote from This American Life host Ira Glass that sums up my sentiments all too well:

“Nobody tells this to people who are beginners, I wish someone told me. All of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste. But there is this gap. For the first couple years you make stuff, it’s just not that good. It’s trying to be good, it has potential, but it’s not. But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is still killer. And your taste is why your work disappoints you. A lot of people never get past this phase, they quit. Most people I know who do interesting, creative work went through years of this. We know our work doesn’t have this special thing that we want it to have. We all go through this. And if you are just starting out or you are still in this phase, you gotta know its normal and the most important thing you can do is do a lot of work. Put yourself on a deadline so that every week you will finish one story. It is only by going through a volume of work that you will close that gap, and your work will be as good as your ambitions. And I took longer to figure out how to do this than anyone I’ve ever met. It’s gonna take awhile. It’s normal to take awhile. You’ve just gotta fight your way through.”

 

Have you ever had these thoughts?

“I deserve better”

“I should be shooting for better, more reputable clients”

“No one appreciates my work”

 

Stay far, far away from thoughts like these. Sure, they can be a driving force towards bettering yourself as an artist, but they’re also a fast track towards bitterness. You can get swallowed up in thoughts like these, and find yourself giving up on yourself and your work. I should know, I had to pull myself out of that pit today. The truth is, you deserve only what you make happen for yourself.

The solution to this gap between taste and ability is as simple as Mr. Glass says it is. Shoot. More. Shoot as often as possible. The only way to catch up to your impeccable taste is to hone your ability. Break down the barriers that are holding you back from creating the work you want to create. Solve problems, study those who are further in their career that you are, and above all, take it easy on yourself. 

You’re not alone. We’re all here right beside you struggling, trying to be better than our best.

Recent Work (Spring 2016)

It's been a while since I've posted an update of the work I've been doing. Winter/Early Spring has been great so far. I've had a ton of fun working on some amazing projects, and some interesting personal work as well. 

This year I'm pursuing more commercial work than I did last year. In 2015 I went after pretty much any job I could, but in 2016 I want to target my clients and reach out to the people I've been wanting to work for for years. This is requiring a lot of hustle, and even more patience. I've had some great meetings, some terrible ones, and more than my fair share of unreturned emails/phone calls. Being a photographer right now is tough. There's plenty of talent out there and I have to find a way to set myself apart from the rest of the pack. 

I feel incredibly optimistic about this year though. Last year laid a great foundation for what I plan to accomplish in 2016. I'm going to relentlessly attack the industry and push myself til I break. 

New Work: Alex Lee

Alex is a dream. She's the most encouraging, sweetest person I've had the pleasure to work with in months. She's a pretty darn good model too. Check out the images from our shoot last month, along with a short edit video I made for the main image. 

Agency: Amax Talent

Hair and Makeup/Styling: Chelsea Blair

New Work: Jack Berry

Jack hired me to shoot some promotional material for an upcoming release. He had some amazing ideas conceptually for how he wanted the shoot to look. I love when a client brings solid vision to the table. The results are fantastic.

Industry Lies: Making It

This will be the first in a series of short articles detailing and hopefully debunking some of the myths and lies that the photography industry tells us. A lot of these posts will be applicable to the creative industry as a whole, but I’ll be focusing and directing my writing towards my photographer followers. My goal is to shed some light on the reality of what it takes to become a photographer, and give insight on how to overcome some of the doubt and anxiety of being a creative in general. 

Growing up, I had a lot of heroes. These are guys I still look up to today. Their work inspired me to become a photographer, and gave me the drive I so desperately needed to work my ass off. In my mind, these guys could do no wrong. Their work was genius, their reach had no limit and their presence alone had a direct impact on the industry as a whole. To me, these guys had “made it.”

When I looked at the work of Nadav Kander, Dan Winters, Jeremy Cowart, Mark Seliger and others, I was reminded of why I do what I do, and given a benchmark for what it would look like when I too had made it. My goal out of college was to work under these photographers, and learn directly from them exactly what it took to get to their level. Well, I did (with the exception of Nadav, sad face), and here’s what I learned: These dudes have NOT made it. 

I won’t bore you with the technical specifics of what makes their work so incredible. They’re all masters of what they do. Their work is uniquely their own, and they more or less have their style down to an exact science. I learned a lot about their process, and what they do to create the remarkable images we all see. But what I want to talk about here is more important than what makes their work so great. 

Some of my favorite work from Nadav Kander, Dan Winters and Jeremy Cowart, respectively.

 

What I want to make clear today is that the masters of our industry still mess up. They still make mistakes, they’re flawed and in some cases our heroes are downright mean people. What I’m trying to say is, these guys are still learning, just like us. They’re still growing and figuring out how to be the best at what they do. They still haven’t made it and most of them will admit it. Jeremy in particular, often makes a point to humbly point out how he still has a lot to learn. 

Now, rather than just pointing out all the flaws in some of the worlds best photographers, in an attempt to make you feel better, I’d like to address the real issue and drive home the point I’m trying to make. 

The idea of making it is a lie. And it’s a dangerous one. Believing that there is an end goal, or a pinnacle that you can achieve sets the bar so low that you can become complacent. The truth is, there’s no finish line til you’re dead. There’s no magical land of success where you can live comfortably and just exist without the anxiety of being expected to perform at a level better than yourself. Your entire creative life people are going to expect more and more of you. You’ll always feel the pressure to be better than your last shoot. The lie we all fall into is that one day we’ll reach a point where that becomes a non-factor, but what we so often fail to realize is that the entire reason we ever succeed is because we push ourselves so hard. Without the constant self doubt and desire to better ourselves, we’d never grow as artists. These are the anxieties I see in myself, in the young photographers I talk to every day, and yes, in the best of the best in our industry. 

What makes a great artist so great is knowing that they’re not.