11 Ideas to Enhance the Creative Process

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?

Notes from the VisCom Classroom: Exploring Journalistic Ethics

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.

How Much Do You Cost?

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.

Don’t Sell Pictures; Sell What Pictures Do

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.

Isn’t It Time You Made Something of Your Photography?

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.

What Does the Getty Images Sale Mean for Photographers?

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.

It’s Time to Add Video to Your Web Site

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.

Standardize for Success

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.

Learning to Communicate as an Art Director

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.

Showing Moms with Cameras How to Do It Right

One of the many problems for photographers is how those who couldn’t care less about the business of photography do damage to the business of photography. Often, these are people who have other jobs that pay the bills, and they look to photo credit to give them pleasure, acclaim, and notoriety, getting their satisfaction at the expense — literally — of those who earn a living making pictures. Many times, these are “moms with cameras”, or MWCs. What I’d like to highlight today is something different. It’s a MWC who is endeavoring to do things right.

What Do You Do, Exactly?

Who are you?

Not as a human being, but as a photographer, designer, or image distributor. Who are you as a businessperson? What exactly do you do? What do you bring to the table that someone might buy? What are you not so good at? What would you rather not do?

Eye on Image-Making: Business Aspects, Part I

I’ve been thinking recently about the business aspects of image-making. Perhaps this is because some of my students have taken, or are about to take, the plunge into “the real world.” Or, perhaps it is because I find discussions about the profession of image-making inherently interesting. In any event, Black Star has asked me to branch out and write about more than just my classroom experiences as a teacher of visual communications. So, “Notes from the VisCom Classroom” will be posted at the beginning of the month, and this new column, “Eye on Image-Making,” will be posted at the middle of the month.

Photo Contest Is a Referendum on the Human Conscience

The World Press Photo competition has a history of selecting images for its “Best of” prize that defy the “wow” factor so common among contests. This year’s winning photo by Tim Hetherington is no exception.

Five Ways to Build a Relationship with a Small Agency

How do you catch the eye of an agency art director with an attention span of 3.5 seconds and no time to look at your work?

Like many small creative agencies, my company sees, hears from, and works with photographers every day. Only a handful, however, have captured and maintained our attention to the point where we collaborate regularly. Why? More than anything, talent drives business. But over the years, we’ve noticed a few promotional and relationship-building tactics that are consistently effective for photographers trying to stand out from the crowd.

Don’t Settle for a Life of Stock Schlock

All aspects of creative expression go through phases as styles and public preferences change. As the ability to gain new information accelerates with the Internet, we’re seeing these preferences change more rapidly, whether it’s in women’s fashions, men’s hairstyles, or stock photography. Following the fads may sometimes seem like a professional necessity — but if you’re not careful, it can also drain your passion.

Give Your Customers What They Want — and More

Everyone has heard Marshall Field’s famous admonition: “Give the lady what she wants.” Making sure your customers get what they want is, of course, a respected practice. But another Chicagoan had even better advice. Samuel “Roxy” Rothapfel strongly suggested that Field didn’t go far enough.

When It Comes to Burning Photos, How Much Is Too Much?

Now that contest season is upon us, we are digging through the year’s work for the gems we hope have a chance of placing somewhere. I’ve noticed that many recent photojournalism contest winners feature such heavy burning around the edges that I’m reminded of photographs taken 30 or 40 years ago. Photographers defend the retouching by saying it “creates a mood” or “helps your eyes focus on the subject” or “gets rid of distracting elements.” But is the practice ethical?

Photojournalists Are Getting Artsier — But Is That What Audiences Want?

Walter Benjamin once suggested that there is no single, absolute, or correct interpretation of a picture, since every viewer brings something unique to the process. At the same time, photojournalistic conventions often constrain how a viewer responds emotionally and intellectually to pictures.

Are Newspapers Dinosaurs? Only If They Refuse to Change

Let’s get over the perception that newspapers are dying. They aren’t.

They’re changing and they will continue to change and evolve. The Internet allows everyone to be a journalist. It’s sort of like how the digital camera allows everyone to be a photographer.

I Survived Another Layoff; What’s Next for Newspaper Photojournalists?

As I survive my sixth layoff in five years, I question the future of photojournalism and am worried about the path we are headed down. Almost every newspaper in the county has laid off, bought out or done away with positions in the last few years. Everyone is trying to cut back on expenses, trim the fat, and keep profit margins up as the economy starts to take a dive. “This is necessary, these are hard times, it has to be done,” we’re told. Newspapers cannot afford to have investigative reporters, or fat staffs, or experienced journalists with higher salaries.

Wearing an Extra Camera Around Your Neck — and Other Ways to Get Past “Officials”

These days, it’s difficult to make photos without first having to ask permission from someone. Security is tighter at both public and private venues, and it’s likely you’ll encounter officials in many forms: gate attendants, receptionists, police officers, bureaucrats, teachers, secretaries, security guards. You’ll even encounter “unofficial officials”: janitors, ticket takers, bystanders, relatives of officials, and the like. My word of advice for these barriers — I mean, good people? Handle with care.

Notes from the VisCom Classroom: The Career Pyramid

I taught my first photography course in 1988. Many things have changed since then, but some have remained the same. Over the years, students seem steadily drawn to two genres of photography — fashion and photojournalism. It is easy to understand why: these are two of the seemingly most glamorous careers in professional photography. And these genres are also among the most visible and recognizable. Nearly every photography student, at some time or other, has probably glanced through Vogue, Elle, National Geographic, or Time. And I am willing to bet that many of those students have dreamt of being in some remote, exotic location, working with talented models, or documenting culturally interesting or newsworthy events.

Get to the Decision-Maker — But Don’t Forget the Gatekeeper

Get to the decision-maker. This is basic advice frequently heard from expert sales people. And good advice it is.

Few business situations are more frustrating than selling a “gatekeeper” only to learn this contact person has been overruled by someone with more power.

Fully Hosted Solutions Are In Our Future

As the photography industry touts the latest professional software tools, namely Adobe Lightroom, behind the scenes the industry is experiencing a shift away from these standalone software applications in favor of a Web 2.0 implementation.

Your Sentence Is Your Message

In the world of 1,001 photographers, you need to have a message.

Photographer Alec Soth explains it this way:

I have a theory that everyone will say one sentence about an artist. “He’s the guy that photographs Weimaraners.” “She was one of Crewdson’s students at Yale.” “She took disturbing pictures of her children.”