In the early 1970s, I found myself quietly sitting in our local library sifting through back issues of Life magazine. I was looking for some way to make sense of the tumult of those times — Kent State, Vietnam and the civil rights movement. In the graininess of those Life pictures, I found myself drawn to images that could bring reason to a world that seemed out of control and chaotic.
Photographers often forget that everyone needs pictures. I know that sounds obvious, but it’s often overlooked in the rush to make photographs. Photojournalists, fine artists, weddings, paparazzi — every kind of photographer caters to someone who needs photographs. Photographers may insist that they make photographs for themselves, but in the professional world it’s really the other way around.
A student came to see me recently and asked an intriguing question: what is the best way to prepare for a career in photography? This student is in my Introduction to Visual Communications course at the University of South Carolina, but she has never taken a photography course. Her current interest is in photojournalism.
I have made one of the hardest decisions of my life; I’m leaving the newspaper business — this Thursday, to be exact, when I will work my last day at the Daily Press of Newport News, Va. This is the first time a career decision has kept me up at night, because I am still passionate about photojournalism and love being a newspaper photographer. But the recent changes in the industry, and years of job instability, pushed me to explore other options.
I never figured Annie Leibovitz as a covert operative of the KKK, but apparently I’m just naive. Here’s what some commentators and bloggers are saying about Leibovitz’s magazine cover shot of LeBron James and Gisele Bundchen — the first Vogue cover featuring an African-American man:
Toronto has been abuzz over a new photography gallery planned by Ryerson University to showcase the 300,000-item Black Star Collection. The Toronto Star says the venue, scheduled to be completed in early 2010, “will instantly become Canada’s most important” photo gallery, and “one of the most significant in the world.”
As the transition from film to digital photography continues, there is general agreement that the new medium offers distinct advantages in productivity and creativity over prior wet processes and routines. For many photographers, however, the shift to digital has also included the addition of shooting video for the Web. While some embrace the challenges of shooting video along with still images at events, others express frustration over what they perceive as an additional burden.
In my area I’ve seen at least three professional wedding photographers (my competition) shut their doors since December. They were all competent photographers. They serviced their clients to their best of their abilities. And at one time they commanded a good share of the wedding business here. But they’ve closed their businesses, at least temporarily, for lack of bookings.
In 1987, I can remember talking with a California stock photo agency director who waved his hand toward his office files with the exclamation, “Editorial photos? We have plenty of those!” The pictures he referred to were clean-cut models in a simulated work situation smiling at a computer screen, or an immaculate housewife pleasantly choring away with her modern vacuum cleaner. The viewing public in those days, it was assumed, preferred fairy-tale “editorial” pictures. Today, that is changing.
The issue of fair use of copyrighted photographs has surfaced in the Eliot Spitzer scandal, with Ashley Dupre’s lawyer blasting media outlets for publishing pics pulled from the call girl’s MySpace page. High-profile attorney Don Buchwald said he would take steps “to protect Ms. Dupre from any unwarranted exploitation of her name, picture, voice or likeness for purposes of profit.”
If you follow presidential election coverage, you know the upcoming contest has been characterized as a “change” election; the presumption is that people are seeking a change from the status quo. Candidates like Barack Obama, with his “Yes We Can” slogan, are making the case for change.
In my previous Eye on Image-Making column, I passed along some advice from travel photographer Cliff Hollenbeck: your job, as an image-maker, is to get your images and yourself in front of the people who use the kinds of images you love to make. In this column, I’ll discuss the next step in the long march toward creative success — what to do when you have found people willing to pay you for your creativity. Much of this advice comes from the extraordinary portrait and wedding photographer Joshua Ets-Hokin. I had the pleasure of interviewing Ets-Hokin, who is based in San Francisco, when I was a staff writer for Photo District News.
As I recently read photographer Nick Stern’s account of the mounting guilt that ultimately drove him to quit Splash Pictures, it reminded me of the quaint apologies we used to get from porn stars like Linda Lovelace when they left the adult-film business. Whatever the financial consequences, Stern proclaimed, “I can sleep at night.”
It sometimes is a bit charming how people compartmentalize their logical facilities, using them selectively to justify emotion-based conclusions. We all smile and shake our heads at a wealth of stories that highlight inconsistencies in the human decision-making process.
In Psychology 101 we learn the value of relating to others at eye level. Many books on photography discuss unusual angles such as a worm’s eye or a bird’s eye view. Such perspectives can create interesting photos, but there is much more to the choice of the angle of view than just making a nice picture. Indeed, the angle from which you photograph a person sends a message to the viewer about that person. Do you know what message you’re sending?
After reading David Weinberger’s book, Everything is Miscellaneous, I realized that the impact of digital technology on culture is even more far-reaching than previously imagined.
It is time to think about reenergizing our creative process. We know how our minds create. All creative minds, such as photographers, artists, and writers, know what works best to inspire their creativity. What happens when we start bad habits? If we are in a rut, can we jump-start our creativity?
We’re nearing the semester midpoint at the University of South Carolina, and I’ve had some interesting discussions with my Advanced Photovisual Communications students about journalistic ethics. Most of my students are flexing their Photoshop muscles — using the software to crop, resize, and adjust color and contrast. Some are taking the next step (or should I say plunge?) into the world of image manipulation — by retouching their photographs, combining elements from several pictures into a single image, and/or selectively changing sharpness or density in parts of their images.
My stepson looked at his first paycheck and asked, “Who is FICA?” This was his first hard lesson about where the money goes — the cost of doing business. A lot of the money we pay for a service doesn’t stay with the service provider.
A picture isn’t worth very much. Everyone has lots of them. They clog computer hard drives and spill out of boxes. Children cut them out of magazines (or download them from the Internet) and paste them into school projects that will be discarded in a few days.
If you’re a professional photographer, ask yourself this: “How is my photography used to make something?”
Your photographs might be used to make a newspaper. They might be used to make a magazine advertisement. Or they might be used to make a Web site. But if your images aren’t used to make something, then they’re purposeless. See the hundreds of thousands of images online at Flickr. Great to look at, but unless they’re used to make something — purposeless.
Not so long ago, the folks at Getty Images seemed to hold the business of stock photography in the palm of their hands. Together with Corbis and Jupiter, they dominated the market. But as the Big Three have learned over the past couple of years, control is an illusory concept in the world of Web 2.0. And so we have Getty, battered by Wall Street, being scooped up by a private equity firm so it can lick its wounds and try to figure out what to do next.
Web video is here to stay and broadband is the vehicle that is fueling the boom. Just about every size and shape of digital camera that is sold today includes the capability to take motion pictures. Depending on the camera, you can record both audio and video, ranging from a four-minute segment to 20 minutes or more. And what can you do with these segments? Advertise your work, of course.
While reading the agenda for the American Society of Media Photographers’ Strictly Business 2 seminars, I couldn’t help being amazed at the breadth and depth of these three-day sessions. The seminars cover all the important business skills that have little to do with photography per se. They are about essential –– though admittedly boring –– subjects like paperwork, legalities, marketing, pricing and negotiating.
I think it’s safe to assume that nearly every designer out there who has worked in either print or digital media has encountered a job that required custom photography. It’s true that low-cost stock photo sites like iStockPhoto.com and Creative Commons-based sites like Flickr have become ubiquitous, but plenty of jobs require a designer to hire and directly work with a photographer. As an early-career designer, I thought it might be useful to describe the process I’ve used for organizing and art directing a shoot.