Friday March 7th, 2014
by Tori Katherman
I’ve recently noticed a spike in the number of photographers asking for help refreshing their portfolios— creative coaching, if you will. The requests range from young professional photographers searching for a place to start, to industry veterans looking for a change. Perhaps this can be attributed to the start of a new year, or maybe to the fact that many of us have been trapped inside for too long this winter. Whatever the case may be, if you’re in the business of getting paid to be creative, then taking your work personally isn’t an option— it’s a necessity.
Most photographers can recall with fond nostalgia the moment they first picked up a camera and discovered photography and all of it’s glorious possibilities. Although it takes a lot of energy to carry that initial unbridled excitement throughout a career, a good way to channel that passion is through personal work. Unlike commissioned work, self-assignments are opportunities to create from within and without restriction. Regardless of where you are in your career, the value of advancing your craft through personal work cannot be overstated. Just like physical exercise is great for the body, creative exercise is great for the mind. Think of it as skill sharpening that needs to be approached intentionally and with the thoughtfulness of a paid gig.
I love seeing personal work on photographers’ websites. Not only does it give me insight into who they are as a person; it shows their capabilities as a shooter. The best work can often be found in personal galleries, especially when it’s relevant to an individual’s brand. Don’t waste a potential client’s time and real estate on your site with images that no longer interest you. In order to earn a place on your website, your personal work should contribute to your portfolio and be aligned with your career goals. Clients want to hire photographers that are passionate about what they do. Personal work exemplifies your passion while showing that you can execute a full-blown production with nothing more than your own resourcefulness and imagination. Below are a few examples of personal projects from photographers that ended up propelling their business.
Clark Vandergrift drew a lot of attention with his fine art project Tree People:
Tree People was a project that evolved over a few years. Initially, I was just doing what I do to satisfy my creative and adventurous needs… traveling to inspirational locations and creating images. It wasn’t until I was doing a comprehensive edit that I realized the opportunity for a series. The idea was born, the images were created, and an elaborate promotional piece was crafted. The Tree People Box was a very detailed promotion with a small circulation of only 300. As a direct result, many of the recipients picked up the phone and called just to talk about it. It got my foot in the door and my face in front of them. The piece has enjoyed a nice amount of press and public exposure and has done more for me than any other single thing I have ever done for my business. It was also very personally rewarding, but it wasn’t quick, easy, or cheap. I’m still enjoying the wonderful irony in the form of the jobs, and the type of jobs I continue to get because of the series. I recently shot a campaign for Lockheed Martin. During our first meeting with the end client, when we flew in for the location scout, I was uplifted to hear her say that they knew they wanted to award the project to me right when they saw the Tree People on my website. Although this campaign didn’t resemble Tree People in the least, I think it was in knowing that they were hiring someone with a unique vision that landed me the project. – Clark
Tadd Myers‘ American Craftsman project was less of an assignment and more of an epic journey that came from a personal place and resulted in a published book.
David Bowman‘s personal project from a local state fair led to an assignment of Mall of America landscapes. He went on to become the official Minnesota State Fair photographer for a year, followed by winning first place in the IPA Awards in 2011 and National Geographic Magazine selecting one of the images to be the opening spread in the January 2013 125th Anniversary Edition. He is now represented by National Geographic Creative.
With these projects in mind, personal work has several functions: to keep your portfolio fresh, develop your personal style and shed light on your creative capabilities. It’s a healthy way to illustrate that you can be trusted being left to your own initiative when you’re free of someone else’s direction. No client to please or focus on your unsuccessful images–the only thing at stake is your time and money (which is no small thing, so if a project has lost its luster for you–move on). Fail forward fast and keep your goals in mind. Be sure to choose something that exhibits your capacity to evolve a concept and carry out a narrative from beginning to end. Viewers can tell when you’ve invested in a project and your enthusiasm won’t go unnoticed. Simply put, If you want to be hired by creative people, then you have to prove that you are fueled by a mutual passion to produce the best work possible. No one wants to work with a photographer who is just showing up to get paid, but rather one that will build on an idea and deliver higher than the expectation.
Remember what it was that got you hooked on this craziness in the first place. Chances are that at some point in your life, photography changed things for you- it opened a door and helped you find your voice. Turning something you love into your livelihood isn’t always easy, so take the time to rediscover why you chose this path. And if you get stuck, just ask for help.
Thursday March 6th, 2014
by Liz Ream
Thrilling Adventure Hour is a staged old-time radio production held monthly at the Coronet Theatre in Los Angeles since 2005.
Each episode features specialized segments as well as songs and commercials from fictional sponsers, and although I’ve never seen the show, LA-based photographer Scott Witter‘s celebrity portraits are certainly enough to qualify it for my west coast to-do list.
This ongoing portraiture series of Thrilling Adventure Hour participants includes stars from Breaking Bad, Freaks and Geeks, Cougar Town, Reno 911 and more. The series gives off that “old time” vibe that resonates with the viewer while perfectly portraying each individual personality, pulling the audience into the fun.
Above: Annie Savage and Matt Gourley
Above: Paget Brewster and Jason Ritter
Above: Melanie Lynskey and Paul F. Tompkins
Above: Mark McConville and Busy Phillips
For the complete series and more of Scott’s work, check out his website.
Wednesday March 5th, 2014
by Liz Ream
Minneapolis-based photographer Jonathan Chapman recently completed a still & motion spec project for Adidas, shooting two tennis players going head to head in a dark warehouse, perfectly exemplifying that “raw minimalism” that can be so impactful in a series:
Stories inspire connection. That’s the narrative of our work: Not just to capture the subject, scene or action, but to tell a story that is memorable, even familiar. There’s an innate challenge in capturing the intangibles of that story in a photograph—the unspoken dialog, the tension of the setting, the nuance of little shifts and changes in the scene. The more minimal the scene, the greater the challenge in capturing those nuances.
This spec project for Adidas exemplified that raw minimalism. There’s no fancy backdrop, no audience. We see two players and a table, and between the three exists a tension—like a binding glue—that tells the underlying story. The players’ hands grasping the paddles. The stare of a competitor hunting for an edge. The snap of the wrist as they hit the ball for the first time. These are the unplanned elements that breathe life into a photo (and moving visuals too), the little pieces we don’t expect but patiently allow them to be revealed.
Every day, we challenge ourselves to push the boundaries of our experiences, our equipment and our comfort zones to deliver both the expected—and the unexpected.
For more of Jonathan’s work, check out his website.
Tuesday March 4th, 2014
by Liz Ream
Architectural photographer Brad Feinknopf recently got involved in a documentary feature called If You Build It that’s currently traveling the country. Directed by Patrick Creadon, the film is about two people who went down to Bertie County, the poorest county in North Carolina, to teach design in schools with the hope of showing students that there are opportunities out there that they might not know about. The film follows the students and their path over the course of the school year, culminating in the building of a farmer’s market, a much needed community resource.
Brad got involved with the project in a bit of a roundabout way, as he was watching an episode of “Character Approved,” which showcases various honorees in the arts community. This particular episode featured Emily Pilloton and Project H, who was also involved in the Farmer’s Market project in Bertie County. Her work peaked Brad’s interest, so he contacted her to offer assistance and ended up shooting the cover image for the film (it never hurts to reach out!)
Brad and his assistant appear briefly in the film and attended the Los Angeles premiere. Because there will be great interest in the film within the architectural community, this was a perfect opportunity for Brad to get involved and help promote the film.
I was never interested in photography in high school, but in college, my professor showed us that photography could be something deeper and more meaningful— a way of looking at and appreciating the world around you. Today, I feel I made the decision to appreciate architecture as opposed to being an architect. It’s funny as many of the architects with whom I work feel I made the right decision. – Brad Feinknopf
The film is coming to Landmark Philadelphia Theater on March 7th and all screenings can be viewed here. For more of Brad’s work, check out his website.
Monday March 3rd, 2014
by Liz Ream
Amidst the hustle and bustle of city life, it’s sometimes essential to slow down and find joy in the simple things. I was recently reminded of this by a project from California-based photographers Trinette + Chris Reed for Kinfolk magazine.
The story is inspired by two individuals that Trinette and Chris met at their local farmer’s market who own an organic fermented food business called Wild West Ferments. The two have a cabin in Point Reyes where they harvest all their own food and cook over a hearth fireplace. Trinette and Chris spent a few days cooking, chatting, hiking, photographing and enjoying great food with friends.
Trinette produced the shoot and friend Veronica Sooley did the prop styling, with the main challenge being the thin editorial budget. However, Trinette said that this kept the shoot very real and authentic which is what they were going for visually.
Trinette and Chris were both inspired by the talent’s commitment to local organic food:
Living in a cabin in nature in Point Reyes, foraging for mushrooms in the forest, and cooking meals over an open flame, there is something very aspirational to us in that. The shoot inspired us and made us want to move farther out in the country and simplify our life.
The photos are running in Kinfolk and will be featured on Storehouse soon as well. View a video of the project here. For more of Trinette and Chris’s work, check out their website.