Friday, July 17, 2015

Combating Portfolio Depression

Nikon D2X, Sigma 18-50mm f/2.8 EX DC HSM Macro Lens, ISO 400, ƒ/2.8, 1/160
Most photographers grow despondent of their portfolios over time due to having little new work that can replace their best work. I call this Portfolio Depression.

There are times in life where we need some intervention. Sometimes this is medical where we may have to even undergo surgery to get rid of something harmful to our body.

Photographers are like many other artists and find themselves under the knife trimming the fat to become more lean and effective in our craft.

After a shoot I ingest my photos from the camera and do a rough edit in PhotoMechanic. All I am doing at this point is deciding if the photos are OK. Out of focus, extremely bad exposure, accidental frames shot, bad expressions, and other things that rule a photo from keeping it is what I am evaluating.

Usually I am eliminating 50% to 75% of the images at this point.

Nikon D2X, Sigma 70-200mm f/2.8 APO EX DG HSM, ISO 100, ƒ/2.8, 1/80
Just a few weeks ago one of my clients talked about my consistency. He said he could always count on solid professional work and people liking working with me.

The hardest part of the edit is during the Lightroom phase where I straighten horizons, maybe crop a little bit, where I correct for the lens profile and minor burning and dodging. I am often feeling left very flat emotionally.

It doesn't take long and I find myself sinking emotionally. I look at my work and realize I am not seeing very many grand slams.

Nikon D4, AF-S NIKKOR 28-300mm f/3.5-5.6G ED VR, ISO 100, ƒ/8, 2.5 sec
To compensate for my frustrations I started to plan some skyline shots of some of the cities I was visiting. Here is the Seattle Skyline I did back in April.

Nikon D750, AF-S NIKKOR 28-300mm f/3.5-5.6G ED VR, ISO 100, ƒ/16, 20 sec
What has been happening on my photo shoots that were making things more and more difficult is clients sending me to locations with very little information about the location. It really wasn't something they could fix either. It just is what it is.

Kyle Petty's first NASCAR Sprint Cup Series was 1986 Miller High Life 400 Richmond, Va. Here is where Bill Elliott ended up on the wall. After the race, Earnhardt had to pay a $3,000 fine ($6,454.46 when adjusted for inflation) plus a $10,000 security bond for an incident involving himself and the back end of Darrell Waltrip's vehicle ($21,514.88 when adjusted for inflation).  
In the days of breaking news it was difficult for you to plan ahead. The best I could do is position myself as I did here covering the 1986 Miller High Life 400 at the Richmond Speedway so as to catch where many of the wrecks happened on that track.

ƒ/8 and Be There

Photojournalists have a saying, "ƒ/8 and be there", meaning that being on the scene is more important than worrying about technical details. Practically, ƒ/8 allows adequate depth of field and sufficient lens speed for a decent base exposure in most daylight situations.

It doesn't take you long in this profession to realize that the attitude of "ƒ/8 and Be There" is very short sighted.

Nikon D750, AF-S NIKKOR 28-300mm f/3.5-5.6G ED VR, ISO 100, ƒ/22, 25 sec
Just a few weeks ago while in Bucharest, Romania I went online before getting to Romania and found some signature shots of the city. While it felt good to get this photo like all of my other skyline shots the part that is frustrating with these photos is  many of these photos other photographers have taken. I was more proud of the Bucharest photos since these particular angles didn't show up right away on the Google searches when I was researching.

Nikon D3S, AF-S NIKKOR 14-24mm f/2.8G ED, ISO 6400, ƒ/2.8, 1/320
One thing I learned early on is if your photos are very exciting then change your perspective. So this is what my wife and I did one day by taking a balloon ride in the North Georgia mountains.

Nikon D3, Nikon 24-120mm ƒ/3.5-5.6, ISO 720, ƒ/5.3, 1/1000
By just getting up in the air I was seeing things from a different perspective than 6'2" which is my height standing.

Nikon D3, Nikon 24-120mm ƒ/3.5-5.6, ISO 400, ƒ/8, 1/30
While getting a different perspective by getting high or low and then also shooting late or early I am still faced with the majority of my assignment work.

Ok you are now reading my story of conflict. My photos just are not exciting enough and lack the surprise factor that I want to get every time I go out. I remember watching my mentor Don Rutledge struggle with the same issue. Just one thing majorly different is my mentor was a lot better than I have been with photography.

I watched Don buy new camera systems to see if that would help give him some creative edge. Don bought new Singh-Ray filters for all his camera lenses and this helped give him a unique look.

Don shot Nikon, then shot Olympus and then went on to Leica cameras before returning to the Nikon cameras. All these moves were to help him keep creative and get the very best out of a situation he was shooting.

The sad reality is that you can produce some very excellent professional photography, but that moment you were dealt is lackluster. You have done just about all you can to make the very best photo you could have made.

The danger for the photojournalist is you don't want to manufacture moments. This is who I am most of the time. I am someone who wants to stand flat footed and find the angle and then help tell the story as authentically as I can possibly do.

The number one thing that has helped the most with accomplishing a sense of satisfaction has been doing multimedia projects. I realize that what often was missing in photos were the words of the subject and having them tell their own stories took my work to a whole different level. Are the images better? No. However, the stories are more complete.

What often feels like depression after an assignment is actually me looking at the conflict in my story. Then often I will look at other photographers work on similar topics and see how they treated the story. I am finding other resources through photography magazines, online galleries and most important is through professional associations. This is where my colleagues are publishing like NPPA's News Photographer Magazine and ASMP's Bulletin magazine that help keep me up to date on trends and gear.

Best advice to help combat this portfolio depression is to create your own personal project. This way you can plan and control more of the variables and give you an opportunity to really show people what you can do when you are given the opportunity.


  • If you love all your work then you are not growing
  • If you are depressed after reviewing your latest work – that is normal
  • If you look to get better by studying other people's work – you are smart
  • Do your own special project
  • Take a workshop

No comments: