Tuesday, April 15, 2014

What's The Lighthouse for your career?

Fujifilm X-E2, 18-55mm, ISO 6400, ƒ/3.6, 1/300
The two main purposes of a lighthouse are to serve as a navigational aid and to warn boats of dangerous areas. It is like a traffic sign on the sea.

When you are at sea and trying to find your port having a lighthouse to help guide you will improve the success of locating your destination.

Nikon D4, 28-300mm, ISO 3200, ƒ/5.6, 1/8000
What can a photographer use as a lighthouse to help them navigate their career?

First you really need to know what you want to do with your photography. Who has the job that you want to do? That is the best question to start with on your journey.

You may be like millions of photographers who all want to work for National Geographic Magazine. The good thing about picking somewhere like this is you can actually meet those photographers. Most all of them teach classes and workshops where you can pay to pick their brain.

I know this because I did just that in the 1980s. I studied with Steve McCurry at the Maine Photographic Workshops in Rockport, Maine. Steve looked at everyone's work in our class and would answer any of our questions during our week with him.

The best part was he told us his career path. I quickly learned that one couldn't just duplicate those paths taken by previous photographers. He crossed over illegally into Afghanistan to get the photo of the lady on the cover of National Geographic Magazine and was sending his Kodachrome film to his sister, a school teacher, to then send on to the magazine. Prior to this he worked at a small newspaper a couple of years.

During my time with Steve McCurry and also with other photographers like Don Rutledge I soon learned there are things I needed to master to move my career along a path to success.

List of things one must master

  1. Master your Camera
  2. Master digital workflow
  3. Master Visual Composition
  4. Master Lighting
  5. Become an "EXPERT" on your subject
  6. Know your audience
  7. Create "UNIQUE" images

Master your Camera—This takes a while to truly be able to pick up your camera and make it do what you want it to do for you. This is the same as one who will be able to sit down at a concert piano and be able to play whatever music there is to play. I found with most photographers this will take around a five years.

Master Digital Workflow—This is everything that comes after the capture of the image to the client. We often refer to this as post processing. This is where you are understanding the color space that you are working in and what color space you are delivering your images for usage. This is where you are able to take the well exposed images you captured and then maximize the dynamic range for the outlet.

Master Visual Composition—This is where you are able to capture moments that communicate mood and message that you intended to capture.

Master Lighting—First you must recognize good light and be able to capture it. This is where you are putting yourself in the position to capture the best images of a subject. For example you are planning your shoot to take advantage of the natural daylight that will show off the subject in the best possible way to capture the mood and message you were wanting. Second, you know how to use artificial light to enhance the scene to create those moods and messaging the way you intended and not just the way it looks.

Become an "EXPERT" on the Subject—This is the number one and most important aspect on the list which can help set you apart from most any other photographer. I went on to seminary to get advanced degree in my subject matter to help me separate my knowledge of religion from that of many of my other photographer friends who enjoyed covering religion. After following and working at Georgia Tech for more than 10 years I pretty much knew the campus better than just about anyone. This helped me for covering sports, the classroom and research.

Know Your Audience—In business we talk about SUPPLY and DEMAND. While you may have lot of great images the thing that will determine you putting food on the table and a room over your head is DEMAND.  What is your audience interested in about the subject. Just like a good writer know the reading level of their audience so their text is written for that audience a photographer must understand enough about the audience to know how to engage them. Going off to war and photographing the grotesque can be a major mistake. You may need to filter how you cover the war so as to not have your audience avoid looking at the images.

Create "UNIQUE" images—If the people you are going to approach to buy your work could have shot the same image then what good are you to them? You need to surprize them in some way with images that they would not have taken themselves. Maybe the only difference is the way you light something and sometimes it may be quite elaborate remote camera that let you get a photo that is not possible without the special gear. Just remember to supply images that not everyone could easily do if they were there.

The reality is that it takes quite a bit more than talent alone. In fact, talent is only a small part of the equation. Tenacity, the ability to handle severe rejection, perseverance, and a good team are what get you to the next level.

You need to have others look at your work and help give you honest feedback.

When it comes to a successful career other things for consideration: your look, attitude, personality, style of photography, fan base, tear sheets, that certain intangible X factor, and most importantly, that undeniable outstanding portfolio.

It has been said that “practice makes perfect,” but in reality, that statement is incorrect — it should be rewritten to state that “perfect practice makes perfect.” Perfect practice is a form of rehearsal during which you remain cognizant and analyze what you are doing. For instance, are you delving into bad habits?

The more intentional you are in acquiring the skills necessary to capture the subject you are becoming an expert in will help set you up to just possibly have a life long career as a professional photographer. You must be committed enough that you are pouring your life into this career.