Tuesday, December 03, 2013

Learning Curves and Personal Projects

Click on the chart to see it bigger
Learning Curves

There are a few things that impact our success as photographers and creatives in general. No matter the subject there are two things that impact our understanding of that subject. First is our book knowledge of the subject and the second is our experience with the subject matter.

There is one thing to understand the inverse square law and quite another to put it into practice. Even seeing a picture of the Inverse Square Law will not make it usable knowledge without some practice.

In Malcolm Gladwell's book Outliers he addresses this concept of experience. He talks about how the Beatles were playing in night clubs twice as long of sets as most in the industry. He then points out this is how they were able to crunch there 10,000 hours of experience which normally takes about 10 years to accomplish playing 3 hours a day for normal work week and cut that time in half by playing 6 hours a night at clubs.

There are a few places in my career where I was able to crunch some knowledge. For example when I ran one hour labs for a few years each day I was processing and printing around 40 to 80 rolls of film. I became pretty good at looking at a negative and knowing when something looked magenta it would print green and when something looked cyan it would turn out red.  This helped me understand my colors really well.

Now if I had stayed in my first job at a newspaper where I shot 8 to 10 rolls of film a day it would have taken me 5 to 10 times longer to learn what I did while processing film at a one hour lab.

If you look at that top chart you will see that in my first year I knew almost nothing about photography. While I started to grow it wasn't even in all areas of the business.  Each area had it's own learning curve.

As assignments and responsibilities came my way those learning curves were growing in new areas. Working at a newspaper, photo studio, photo lab, magazine, college public relations department and now as an independent photographer all were very different from each other and had their own learning curves.

I believe the more learning curves you have in your life the more success you will have. When you stop learning you stop growing. This is when you start to die.

Personal Projects

While you learn because you get new responsibilities, you don't really get these responsibilities given to you without a good reason. People hire you to do what they know you can do, not because of what they don't know you can do.  Best way to get a job shooting jobs overseas is to shoot one to show them.

People hire me to shoot projects that are dear to their hearts or at least dear to their paycheck. They need someone to help them be successful and do their job better.

There are basically two reasons people hire me. First of all is they know what they need and I fit the bill. They need a head shot and they see I can do what they need and hire me. The second reason I get hire is people see what I am doing and want it.

Needs vs Wants

I believe needs based hires are based on what they have seen work for themselves or others and know that this will give them a desired result. Steve Jobs is one of the best to come along in years and create a want for many people. The iPhone when it was introduced was a smartphone that made it cool to do certain functions we do everyday. Later when he introduced the iPad it was introduced to solve problems that I didn't even know I had, until I saw how it worked.

For the most part most of the Apple products are much more expensive than there competition. How can they do this? They continue to deliver. Many of the competition with lower prices don't deliver the quality experience that the Apple has done consistently. This is why now when Apple introduces a new product there is a line at their stores to buy what no one has used before. They know based on past experience this is worth the risk and the rewards are surely to come.

The best way for creatives to duplicate what Steve Jobs did with Apple products is to create something where you are speaking as passionately about it as Steve did when he introduced a new product. Just listen to his presentation on the iPad launch here on YouTube.

The key is to find your passion. What gives you the most joy and happiness? What disturbs you the most and make you so mad you want to do something about it? You see whatever you pick it must be emotionally important or you will not be able to stay on that subject long enough to capture another person's interest.

Social Justice is a topic that motivates my heart more than just about anything. I don't like it when people are mistreated and treated unjustly. I want to tell their story. My packages help to communicate total despair or a victory.

There are many nonprofits that are trying to help people just like me. They see my passion for a topic and now want me to help them tell their story and hopefully move their audience as much as I moved them.

One of my passions is around immigration. Migrants for the most part just follow where the work is and having work available where they live was my concern. Providing multimedia and still photography coverage for the Just Coffee group based in Agua Prieta, Mexico was a good fit for my passion.

As corporations and nonprofits saw my coverage more and more of them wanted similar coverage for them. I created a want.  They were not seeing this type of coverage of storytelling to help brand a company.

What I was using is emotion packed photos and emotion in the voices of the videos to help communicate despair and triumph.

I think my personal projects graph would look like the above. While I am doing more personal projects than before, I am now seeing a direct correlation between showing what I am passionate about and job growth in the number of clients and/or projects I am doing today.

When your personal projects are a way of you giving back to your community as mine have been, you also benefit. The movie Pay It Forward help to start a movement. At first many thought it was just a fad. Now years later we are seeing people pay it forward in drive thru lines and often this string of gestures goes all day long sometimes.

We see TV ads today that show that paying it forward and it being contagious.

Why not do a personal project that has the potential to pay it forward in many ways. If you do then others will want to work with you. They want what you got, which is a heart for others.

Summary: Find your passion and create a package that shows what you can do when you do something to your best ability. Share this with everyone you can. There maybe significant learning curves associated with your project as you discover to do what you need to do to show your passion in the best possible way may require some new skills. The good thing is because you are so passionate about the topic your ability to learn these new skills increases, because your desire is much higher than when it is just a job. If your personal project in some way pays it forward then you may even start something that goes viral.

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