I AM INVISIBLE

This is going to be a hard pill for some of you to swallow. But it is nonetheless a truism of photography. Your goal, especially in commercial photography, is to focus wholeheartedly on your customer’s needs, wants and wishes. And not your own. Your job is to make the photographic experience about your product…not about your personality (even though you actually need both).

I see so many photographers in the blogosphere talk about their behind-the-scenes videos and blog posts like a client wasn’t even there. It’s not about you. It’s about them.

Your key role, as a shooter, should be to remain as invisible as possible. For those of you with larger-than-life personalities, this will be a struggle. But the lesson is worth struggling through.

Photographers, by mistake and very naively, get the notion that their shoots are more about personality than portfolio. More about the process than the product.  More about the capturer than the customer. More about the context than the content. Sometimes this is true. And I’ve written about that before. But, as a general rule, you must feature and highlight your customers success and not your own. Make your processes and successes as invisible as possible.

Most customers are happy that you own a lot of gear, have staff, boast tons of high-tech equipment, understand lighting ratios and all that stuff. But when the shoot starts…it’s all about the customer. It’s fine to talk tech to other photographers and trade colleagues, but don’t talk the same way to your customers. This is true whether you are shooting an elaborate studio set up or a simple, available-light portrait. Make the session, regardless of how long or how complicated, about the client. Keep the technical side as invisible as possible. So that your tech stuff is more background rather than foreground. More of a supporting role rather than lead actor. Don’t get duped into thinking photography is primarily showmanship and salesmanship. It’s not. It’s craftsmanship. Be invisible. Be unnoticed. Be out of sight. Don’t bring undue or unnecessary attention to your talent or techniques. Be the customer!

I also think that you’ll find that playing a more inconspicuous role on the shoot relaxes the client more. And why wouldn’t it? Since you are making the photographic experience about them and not about yourself.

I’m sure you’ve been in plenty of one-way conversations where there was a lot of talking going on, but very little listening. Don’t let that happen on your shoots. Make the experience of production about the customer’s goals, desires, and dreams.

Being invisible is not the same as being non-descript. You still need to be strong, take charge, be assertive, have fun, and maintain control. But do it is such a soft and subtle way that the attention and energy is more reflected on the customer. You will never be disappointed in the results of a shoot when you subjugate and subdue your interests to that of the client. Especially if you have the self-confidence and self-assurance to pull it off. Be invisible!

I AM GREATNESS

I’m a firm believer that, in the photography industry, we don’t see much greatness anymore. Certainly not as much as we should. At least not overall greatness. Greatness is not a label or badge we can choose to wear. It’s not at all what we say about ourselves. It’s what others say about us. Greatness is an emblem or crest that others pin on us. It’s usually some sort of distinction for mastery, virtuosity, proficiency, or flair. It’s fine to aspire to greatness. But photographic greatness can only be ascribed.

Don’t get me wrong. There is plenty of greatness among photographers. And many great photographers. Especially if you limit your definition of greatness to an ascendancy and supremacy of mechanical and technical skills. Just look around. Technical greatness is on every corner.

But I’d like to broaden the definition of greatness. Greatness, in my world definition, is consistent, day-after-day, unapplauded leadership. Not follower-ship. Greatness in business is a flat out serving and satisfying customers. From the heart. Without guile. No fanfare. No noise. Simply quiet, remarkable servitude. This is true greatness.

Want to be great? Then serve, satisfy and lead customers. History will not remember your greatness through flamboyant acts of self-serving attention-getting. History will remember your greatness by serving colleagues and customers with authentic humble actions and attitudes.

This sort of greatness is truly the road less traveled. And the path we all need to aspire to.

It’s surprisingly easy to be recognized for your mechanics or your technical ability to master your craft. And exhibit a process of technical authority. But behind all this public attention you get for being a photographic wizard…what are you like on the inside? Are you as great on the inside as you are on the outside? Do you unselfishly serve others with the same bravado that you publicly trumpet your scientific and technological skills?

I’m privileged to know more than a few great photographers. Greatness is what I call them – not what they call themselves. I refer to their greatness as both outward and inward attributes and attitudes. These are photographers who have not only mastered their technical crafts, but have also mastered the powerful craft of dutiful devotion and service to others. This is greatness at its best. Outside and inside.

I don’t know about you but it seems to me that social media, in general, gives birth to a lot of one-sided greatness. We tend to publicly venerate, revere and hold in high regard those that talk a good game. But shouldn’t we equally honor, esteem, and respect those that walk the talk? Even if done so quietly and behind closed doors?

I think it’s better not to aspire to public greatness per se. Aspire instead to thankfully and humbly serve others. With transparency and gratefulness. Greatness will come. And it will be the sort of greatness you want to have attached to your name, rather than the superficial greatness you pin on yourself.

I’m not great because of who I think I am. Or what I say about myself. I am great only through the deserving appellations ascribed to me from others who I have dedicatedly and devotedly served. The first shall be last. And the last first. Be great through service.

I AM PRO

I’m a professional photographer. And have been for quite some time. I’m proud of that fact. Which is why here, on Twitter, you’ll find me evangelizing and sermonizing about pro topics, issues, themes and resources. I love the pro and emerging pro agenda. And that should be pretty obvious from my tweets.

But even though I call myself pro…I’m also a staunch advocate of the amateur agenda too. These agendas, pro and amateur, in my world, live peacefully and productively side-by-side. They are not at odds with each other.

This short post isn’t about comparing and contrasting these two agendas (I’ll save that for another day). What I want to share with you today is a few trade secrets about what separates pros from amateurs. For purposes of this discussion, I’m going to limit my remarks to portfolios. And what makes a pro portfolio different from an amateur (hobbyist) portfolio.

Pros Shoot More

Pros flat out shoot more than most amateurs. They shoot with more frequency (more often). And they shoot with more versatility (more subjects). The pros I hang out with are always shooting something new. New techniques. New lenses. New lighting schemes. New concepts. Pros shoot more.

Pros Edit More

Here’s where the gap between pros and amateurs widens. Pros are ruthless image editors. Most, through commercial experience, have a knack, a propensity, for not just culling out the junk, but editing out the mediocre images too. Pros edit more.

Pros Showcase Less

Not only do pros shoot more and edit more, but they most definitely showcase less. Most pros have learned, once again through experience, that you build a brand with fewer and better images. Not showing every image you ever shot – good or bad. Pros showcase less.

Do all pros shoot more, edit more, showcase less? Of course not. I know amateur photographers who excel in all three categories. And I know pros who fail miserably. My point here is, if you’re an amateur photographer and just now emerging into a professional status…shoot more, edit more, showcase less. The reverse of this is disastrous – shoot less, edit less, showcase more.

The key to successful portfolio brand building is to get your best work out there. Consistently. Image after image. So that, over time, and again through experience, your style takes shape. And you become recognized for that style.

There is no shortcut or substitute. If you want to build a pro brand – shoot more, edit more, showcase less. I remember, early in my career, feeling the need to literally showcase everything I ever shot. I was, understandably, proud of my accomplishments. And assumed that others would equally share my enthusiasm for discovery. Wrong. Editing less and showcasing more waters down a photographic brand. That’s moving in the wrong direction. The right direction is to shoot more, edit more, showcase less.

If you’re a pro and reading this…maybe you’ve slacked off, gotten lazy. What makes you a pro is a passionate allegiance to these principles. Now, more than ever, especially in this softened economy, is the time for you to get out and shoot. And not only shoot but edit and showcase too. Build your brand the right way. Shoot more, edit more, showcase less.

If you’re an amateur and reading this…I have just told you a couple of trade secrets that will save you years of anguish and anxiety. Get out there and apply the same passion you do for shooting, editing and showcasing.

Brand building, in photography, is not what you say about your work. It’s what others say about your work. Do people look at your work and think of you as pro or amateur? Do you leave them wanting more or less?

You may have no inclination to even become pro. But even if that’s the case, you still want that pro seal of approval on your work. Shoot more, edit more, showcase less. Be a pro.

I AM HYPHENATED

For most photographers today (myself included) the path to survival is most likely going to be made up of not only shooting, but doing a variety of different things. For a lot of different people. Under a lot of different circumstances, venues and price ranges.

The days of a linear career in photography are over. We live in a hyphenated world. Where multi-tasking is the norm. So it should come as no surprise that I would advocate that the new breed of photographer today is what I would call the ‘hyphenated photographer’.

A ‘hyphenate’, by definition, is a person who is active in more than one occupation or sphere. For example, I no longer consider myself a photographer only. I’m a photographer-producer-publisher. I am a hyphenate. I have a hyphenated career. I have a hyphenated work ethic and style.

I still take commercial pictures (photographer). But I also produce events – seminars, workshops, phototours, webinars, talkcasts (producer). Additionally, I’m feverishly trying to publish e-books, apps, and blog articles (publisher). Your career path may obviously not be as hyphenated as mine. But I bet, at some point, it will be as varied.

Listen to what guru Tom Peters says: “It’s over. No more vertical. No more ladder. That’s not the way careers work anymore. Linearity is out. A career is now a checkerboard. Or even a maze. It’s full on moves that go sideways, forward, slide on the diagonal, and even go backward when that makes sense. A career is a portfolio of projects that teach you new skills, gain you new expertise, develop new capabilities, grow your colleague set, and constantly reinvent you as brand.”

I repeatedly tell my business manager to think of our career path as a hyphenated career. Not built around home runs and grand slams. But lots and lots of at-bats and base hits. With a few doubles and triples thrown in for good measure.

Revenues for the hyphenated photographer come now in small doses, but there are more of them. Think lots of different revenue streams. And lots of different product offerings and services. For you that relish and revel in doing new things…this should come as great news. Now you can spread your wings and do all sorts of different things. And still make a career out of it – a hyphenated career (think multiple specializations).

For most of us, this requires a brand new attitude and a brand new skill set. We now have to learn to wear many hats – equally well. For some of you, your hyphenated career might look something like this: portraits-weddings-events. For others, it may look like this: editorial-commercial-stock. Still to others, it may look like this: commercial-portraits-publisher.

Don’t be a slave to any one part of the equation. Reinvent yourself on a regular basis. Reinvent and re-evaluate constantly. Don’t get me wrong. I still strongly believe in specialization. You can still very much specialize in all of your hyphenated career paths. Most definitely. And I would encourage you to do just that.

As we all develop hyphenated careers in photography, the real test is going to come in how we market and promote. Since we’ll be most likely catering to different audiences…do we have to have a different website, blogsite, social-media channel for each? Or do we market under sub domain and subfolders? Only time will tell.

No matter how you hyphenate or zigzag or checkerboard – at the end of the day, it’s still about you. And it’s still about your products, services and subscriptions. There is no right or wrong way to do this. There is no one path to career success. No rulebook. No simple-to-follow how-to’s.

Be passionate. Be exceptional. Be remarkable. Be hyphenated!

I AM MEMENTO MORI

‘Memento Mori’ is a Latin phrase that can be translated as ‘remember your mortality’ or ‘remember you must die’ or ‘remember you will die’.

It has been used, throughout history, to describe man’s mortality, humanity, and transience. I’m using it here to talk about the perishability of success.

Let’s face it. A sense of celebrity is fleeting. One day you’re on top of the charts with your customers and colleagues. The next day…you’re not even ON the charts. Even in photography circles.

As photographers, we would serve ourselves well to embrace the perishability of our successes. Enjoy them for what they are, but move on. And move on quickly. In other words, it’s healthy to develop amnesia in terms of our wins, our triumphs, and our conquests. Enjoy them for the moment. But hurriedly move past them. For these victorious moments are perishable and short-lived. Not only must you remember that you are mortal, you must also remember that tomorrow is another day. And as good as today is, tomorrow you’re going to need to go out and fight the good fight…again.

The fewer real successes we have in our photographic careers, the more we pine and linger over them. That’s natural. But we hold on way too tight. Afraid to let them go. As though they will never be repeated again. ‘Memento Mori’. Remember your perishability. Remember you are mortal. Don’t live in the past. Live in the present. And dream of the future. Seize the day!

It’s also a pretty freeing experience to really let go of your successes – regardless of how big or small they were. Because it gets you emotionally and creatively focused on today and tomorrow. It gets you thinking ahead and not looking back.

Career photographic success depends not on you sentimentally languishing over some gone-by achievement. Career photographic success depends on you embracing the here and now. Look for today’s achievements. And toward tomorrow’s.

I love how ‘Memento Mori’ was used in ancient Rome. Slaves where assigned to the conquering generals. In their victories and even during their celebration speeches, the slave was to whisper ‘Memento Mori’ to remind these celebrated heroes not only of their own mortality, but also the perishability of their own successes.

Photographers need to hear this very same whisper. Every day. Every event. Every victory. We are mortal. Our triumphs are fleeting. While we may be enjoying the spoils of today, tomorrow we must fight new dragons. And embrace future victories.

I am heartily man. I am heartily mortal. My victories are perishable. I seize the day. ‘Memento Mori’.

I AM HONEST

One of the greatest virtues you can have as a photographer is honesty. I’m not talking about moral correctness (although, God knows, we need a pretty healthy dose of this in our industry). I’m talking about honesty of vision. Being truthful and accepting of who you are as a creative photographer.

Our photographic industry does a pretty good job at memorializing our photographic heroes – past and present. These ‘name brand’ giants are highly esteemed. As they should be. We cherish their work. We salute them. We honor them. We celebrate their greatness. Sadly, we also try to imitate them, rather than just be inspired by them. This is dishonesty of vision. Also, if left unchecked, this will lead to never really finding out what your own vision is. Or maybe even finding out too late.

It’s great to be inspired. It’s not so great to imitate.

No matter how old you are, or what your circumstance in life is, or what your skill set is, or what kind of gear you shoot with, or what your experiences have been…you have a one-of-a-kind opportunity to be as unique as a snowflake, a thumbprint, or a grain of sand.

Your experiences, by both nature and nurture, have provided you an unrivaled opportunity not only to have your own vision, but also to celebrate that vision in everything you do.

Unlike some photographic super heroes you admire, you may never find public greatness in your own vision, but you will surely find happiness. I promise.

It took me years, at the beginning of my career, to figure out why I spent so much time mimicking and replicating the vision of others. I hadn’t yet found or fostered my own vision. But even after developing what I thought was my own vision, I continued to emulate rather than invent.

There is not a single person on the planet that has your combined attributes, imagination, experience and skill-set. Not one who can see and interpret the world like you can. Be honest with yourself. And to yourself. Be honest to your vision.

Part of that honesty involves knowing what you’re good at. And equally knowing what you are not good at. Honesty of vision can also show you what you are passionate about, what interests you the most, where you find the most joy in photography. What subjects, topics, events, and moments give you the greatest pleasure in capturing? Answer these questions and you’ll be close to defining an honest vision.

If you are truly honest in and to your vision…you’ll begin to see, over time, consistency and regularity in the look and feel of what you shoot. If you’re not being honest to your vision…the opposite will hold true. Your work will be all over the board. With no uniformity or harmony.

Even after 30 years of being a pro photographer, I continue to be inspired by the work of others. I continue to stand humbly on the shoulders of great shooters who have come before. I continue to admire, acclaim, respect and hold them in high regard. But I do not and will not replicate someone else’s vision. That doesn’t satisfy. That doesn’t bring happiness.

Are you content with what and how you shoot? Are you genuinely happy with your vision? If not, maybe it’s time to get honest with who you are. And what you are photographically about. Be honest.

I AM TRIBAL

Most of you know I’m a huge Seth Godin fan. I have read everything he has ever written. One of my favorite books that Seth authored is called Tribes: We Need You to Lead Us. Amazing content. If you’re currently building a community or tribe…run out and get this book right now. Read it from cover to cover.

I like the word ‘tribe’. It’s raw. Organic. Visceral. And seems more relevant to how we call and classify our social, personal and professional groups.

A tribe isn’t about numbers. It’s about names. It’s not about crowds but community. It’s not about quantity but quality. It’s not about mass or multitudes. But content and connections. This is a great lesson for those of us active on Twitter and Facebook. It’s not about the size of our follower base. It’s about the substance of our follower base.

In most online communities, large or small, about 10% of a membership list is active. And even a smaller amount that contribute ongoing and repeat participation.

Crowds are groups of people with surface connections. Tribes are people with serious connections. Your job, as a photographer, is to build tribes, not crowds. Develop relationships, not just followers. And I’m not just talking about photographer-to-photographer tribes. But photographer-to-customer tribes as well. You need both.

Tribes, in their truest sense, are like families with shared interests, values, aspirations, and goals. Tribes, like families, look out for each other. When you invest in your tribe, as I do, you’re investing in viral marketing. Share the love. And the love will be shared with you.

Monetizing your tribe is a much more daunting and delicate task. The rules for how to do this are still being written. It can be done. But it takes Herculean salesmanship, showmanship and craftsmanship to successfully pull off. But don’t get ahead of yourself. The primary purpose of building a tribe is not to monetize. But to mentor, coach, consult, counsel, teach, tutor, and develop good will. Monetization is a distant second. And most assuredly will only happen once you have proven your expertise and worth to your tribe. Build your influence first. Then a return-on-investment second.

Throughout my three-decade career, I’ve never experienced a tribe life as I do on Twitter. I haven’t quite figured out what exactly makes this so magical and moving for me. But I know it’s real, strong, productive, and genuine. End of story. Twitter rules!

Like Seth suggests, tribes need more leaders. What about you? Anyone ready to step up to the plate and lead? I’m not talking about leadership-as-notoriety model. But leadership-as-shepherding model. Our photography industry has yet to see what change and revolution can be born out of strategic tribes and skillful leadership.

Let’s make a pact to help our tribes change the world. For good. Let’s make a difference. Let’s shake things up. Let’s create a brand new context for photography that history remembers us for. Let’s get tribal!!

I AM FALLIBLE

I am capable of making mistakes. Lots of them. Ask anyone close to me.

My first ever commercial gig…I shot without any film in the camera. Yep. I was so worried about lighting, metering, Polaroid and dealing with the client that I forgot to load my trusty Mamiya RZ67 with 120 film.

Last month, I shot a project on my Mark 2 1DS (which doesn’t handle high ISO’s very well) at 1200 ISO. It looked horrible. I am fallible.

Just a few weeks back, in going through a commercial edit, I missed my key exposures not by a little but by a long shot. Like 2 stops. I was in a hurry. Got cocky. Didn’t slow down to look at my histogram. The list goes on and on. Even after three decades of being a pro shooter, I still make plenty of mistakes. Technically and emotionally.

I follow other pros that talk about their mistakes. And don’t hide them or cover them up. Admitting your mistakes is not only therapeutic; it’s also a good way to safeguard you against not making that same mistake again in the future.

So many of the photographers we venerate, in social media, seem infallible. And incapable of making mistakes. That’s usually because it’s the story they spin. Not at all the reality of a working pro. Pros make mistakes. Lots of them. Every day.

I don’t care who you are. Or how long you’ve been in the photography business. You will make mistakes. Embrace them. Learn from them. Get past them. Admit them. Obviously, if you have a large social media following, you’ll want to balance your failures with your successes. Either extreme is not healthy.

Amateurs think pros are immune and impervious to mistakes – small or large. Hardly! Pros probably make more technical mistakes than amateurs. You just don’t hear them talk about it as much.

Here’s the point of it. You make a lot less mistakes when you’re honestly open to making mistakes. That’s right. Sometimes photographers work so hard and diligently at protecting their egos and public reputations that they end up making more mistakes than they need to make. Relax. Admit. You are fallible. You will make mistakes. Expect them in your career.

There are some, here on Twitter, that you surmise are perfect.  Their craft is perfect. Their compositions are perfect.  Their exposures are perfect. Their Photoshop work is perfect. Their studios are perfect. Their marketing is perfect. Wrong. The more someone builds up this pretense of perfection, the more likely they are to fall.

It takes a giant of an individual to be open about their giant mistakes. Small individuals only make small mistakes.

Why don’t you come clean today? Publicly admit a few mistakes you’ve made. Be humble. Be truthful. Be vulnerable. Be fallible.

I am India

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There is not a single destination in this great big world that holds more lure, love, attraction, pull, mystery...than India. Not even close. At least not for me.

I speak from the perspective of a wayfaring pilgrim, who has humbly travelled the globe several times over shooting commercial assignments and personal work. India is incredible! Make no mistake about this.

As a photographer, you have not lived until you have photographed India. It should be on the top of your list. And I don't care what sort of genre you shoot. Photograph India. It will change the way you see and shoot!

My first introduction to India came though shooting the infamous Pushkar Camel Fair. That was the beginning of a visual love affair that, I'm quite sure, will last a lifetime.

My relationship to and with India deepened as I became a vested partner in a Delhi-based stock agency called PhotosIndia (which continues to operate today, although I no longer have an ownership position in the collection). That partnership would introduce me to the real India. The India that most photographers only hope to catch a fleeting glimpse of.

I remember, in detail, a three week trip across India, all by train, from North to South, with our PhotosIndia production staff. It not only changed who I was as a person, but also how I shot travel photography. And actually how I see the world now. Here is a video we shot and edited from that trip.

Again, I beseech you, put India high on your priority list of places to travel and photograph. It is a world of sight, sound and smell that you will never forget. And never want to forget.

India, in my personal opinion, while growing leaps and bounds...is still one of the last remaining exotic cultures, countries and continents to photograph.

Instead of a second or third trip to the Caribbean, save those pennies and explore India. And explore it with your camera, heart, eyes and soul. You'll be a changed human being as a result of the encounter.

I don't have any specific details yet, but I do plan, in November of this year, on offering a phototour to the Pushkar Camel Fair. So I can ignite in you the same visual infatuation that I have with this mysterious, magical and memorable place.

If you're into shooting people, color, culture...then you won't want to miss this trip of a lifetime. We'll be sleeping in campground tents. Roughing it. Shooting from sunrise to sunset. We'll have the production support of an India-speaking creative team. We'll shoot candids, set-up shots, portraiture, scenics, urbanscapes, events...you name it. You'll come back with a photographic portfolio that will look like you've shot for National Geographic. And you'll be as proud of it as if you had.

Please, let me share India with you. Let me share my love for her. Let me introduce you to her faces, places and spaces...that you won't believe and will never forget.

I'll have more details soon so stay tuned. In addition to shooting the Pushkar Camel Fair, we'll also be photographing Delhi, Jaipur and Agra (where the Taj Mahal is).

Start saving your money. And get ready to meet a new visual and visceral love that will magnetize and fascinate you beyond belief. Be part of Incredible India. Join us in November.

Note: The phototours that I'll be operating under will be branded 'Hit the Road with Jack'. Start packing.

I am Nostalgia

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I've been busy editing my larger body of work. Not because I wanted to. I didn't want to. But because I was asked by my Dallas photo rep, Quitze Nelson (quitzenelson.com), to give her 40-50 shots which represent the heart of who I am and what I shoot. So she could showcase the images on her agent website and collateral promotions.

Mechanically, this involved me sloshing through literally hundreds of hard drives to find the zingers. The ones I am most proud of. And that I think best represent my vision and voice in the world.

As a general rule, I don't like editing. I'm a shooter at heart. I love shooting the most. As a matter of fact, throughout my career, I've hired staff editors to help me with this less glamorous side of the business. But since going digital, I've been editing my own work more and more (although I'm still not liking it much better).

I imagined this edit, while obviously tedious and laborious, to be painstakingly dull. I wasn't at all looking forward to the exercise. But, I must say, it's been anything but dull. It's been inspiring, invigorating, rejuvenating. Almost beyond belief. My past work has connected me to my current work in an almost unexplainable phenomena.

I encourage each of you to take a quick trip down memory lane and look back. As far back as you can go. So that you can look forward. And connect the dots.

Not surprisingly, after looking at my work, I still feel that my best and brightest moments came when I was shooting analog, not digital. Those analog moments had a tactile, instinctive, visceral, deep-seated feeling that can't be easily replicated or explained (especially to those who have grown up digital).

I'll never return to shooting film. It's not going to happen. Digital offers so much more freedom than analog ever did or will. But that doesn't mean I can't and shouldn't fondly look back at these nostalgic, split-second instances and see how, over time, my vision was forged and formulated.

By the way, as a side note, my favorite career shots still seem to be the ones that I cranked out with my reliable Mamiya RZ67. (I'm stoked about trying out the new Mamiya digital back for RZ called RZ33.)

Another key revelational epiphany I had during this edit was that my hero selects had more to do with my vision, mission and passion at the time...than my surface and fleeting mastery of tools and technologies. It wasn't the gear. It was about the vision.

It's so important for photographers to look back at their work, over time. It's a necessary right of passage. And one you should do annually. When is the last time you nostalgically looked back at your body of work?

It's really ironic that looking back helps you connect the dots to looking forward. At least it does for me. And I'll bet it would do the same for you if you take the time and go to the trouble to just do it.

This grand experience also taught me to dust off some of those tried and true techniques I've used when I was just starting out that I somehow forgot or ignored. Simple compositional, design and aesthetic techniques that somehow got buried over in the piles of tutorials, workshops, seminars and peer critiques.

Granted, many of my favorites came from personal, not commercial, projects. When life and times were a bit simpler and more liquid. But passion is passion. And vision is vision. What I had then, I can have again. Even more. More clear, more powerful, more focused.

It was also pretty apparent, in looking through this body of work, that I made a lot of technical mistakes. But so what? That fear didn't handicap me from experimenting then. It won't handicap me now. Brands and personal styles are built on the back of creative and playful experimentation.

My goal, in this coming year, is to get back to the inspiration, imagination, innovation that I first embraced with childlike naivety when I began my career in photography almost three decades ago. See it. Shoot it. Showcase it.

When I do my next body of work edit, I want to see new things. New images. New techniques. New tests. New styles. New subject matter. New exposure experimentation. New compositions. A new me.

Looking back at this point and time in my career may just have been the spark I needed to set ablaze a whole forest of originality and ingenuity. Stay tuned.

I look back...so I can look forward. I embrace my past. And revel in my future. I may not be the photographer I once was. But rest assured that I will not be the photographer I am. Today I am wistful, sentimental, romantic, nostalgic. Tomorrow I will turn these sensibilities and sensitivities into raw material for a whole new vision. Join me, won't you? Look back with me. So we can look forward together.

I am Priority

I resist, even resent, a blind allegiance to a priority hierarchy that goes something like this - God, Family, Work, Self. This may work for some folks, but it doesn't work for me. And it never has. As a matter of fact, this sort of hierarchy sets most of us up for failure. As obedience to this is nearly impossible.

My priority hierarchy is not a rigid, inflexible, linear diagram. My priority hierarchy is non-linear. It's shaped like a pie. With pieces of that pie...expanding and reducing in size, as life comes at me.

There will be times that the spiritual part of my life will take center stage and when I will devote full attention to it. There will be other times when my family will take top priority. And still other times that work and self will get all of my attention and resources. The point here is that it's never fixed. And never inflexible. And it's certainly not hierarchical.

In this fragile economy, I would argue that for most career photographers...it probably makes sense to prioritize work. And give that your 100%. Especially if you're just starting out. Don't ignore the other parts of your life. Just rearrange your degrees of relevance and applicability.

Does devoting yourself to career success mean ignoring your spiritual life or your family and personal life? Of course not. Don't be silly. But to give your career a fair go, it may mean that you need to temporarily subjugate to that priority so that you can devote your efforts to getting your career going.

Everything comes full circle. There will be times in your life that your family will be top priority. Other times, yourself. And still other times, your spiritual journey. You'll know when those times are. It should be obvious. And if you listen carefully, you'll know when to enlarge or reduce your pie pieces.

Stop being so ridiculously hard on yourself. You are human. You can't do everything. And you can't do everything well. Those that you surround yourself with will understand, even appreciate, this short-lived lopsidedness and inequality. Relax. Devote yourself, right now, to the piece of the pie that most needs your attention and consideration. Then when the time is right, move on to another slice.

This pie-shaped priority hierarchy system is realistic. It's practical. It doesn't create false guilt. It doesn't set you up for failure. It's manageable. And the best news of all...it works!

Lest you call me a heretic, it's really a matter of degrees in applying this practically to the whole of your life. Degrees of relevancy. And degrees of applicability. Only you will know, in your heart, what is right. No one will know but you.

I am 100% focused on reinventing my photography business. I've been obsessed with it for the past 24 months. And I suspect that I will continue to be obsessed for many more months to come.

When I started this remodeling process, I told my wife, children, God and self what the plan was. And what to expect from me. So we could all on the same page. It's far from being a bed of roses. I fail a lot. And my priorities seem to get out of whack more than most. But the failures lead to opportunities, and I'm back at it again. Rest assured, it's not always going to be like this. At least I hope not.

Obsession generally leads to imbalance. And imbalance isn't a good thing. When my reinvention obsessions begin to interfere with the other pie pieces, then I reassess. Again, think degrees!

I don't always get my priorities right (my wife and girls can attest to this :-) ). But I do try to keep these things in perspective. Because, as I've summarized here before...in my world, life and living are inseparable. You can't have one without the other. Spiritual, personal, family and occupational priorities all live on the same street. In the same neighborhood. Right next to each other.

Don't brow beat yourself if you find that you're spending more time, energy and resources in building your career than the other parts of your life. You're not alone. And, again, it won't always be like this.

Be thankful for where you are right now. At this juncture in your life. Do the best you can. Be prepared to fail often. And be prepared to succeed, too. If you don't prioritize yourself, then the other priorities don't have a chance.

"Don't be a time manager, be a priority manager. Cut your major goals into bite-sized pieces. Each small priority or requirement on the way to the ultimate goal becomes a mini-goal in itself." - Denis Waitley

I am Innermost

If you spend as much time on your inner life as you do on your outer life, I think you'll find more peace, focus, and mission in both your life and your career.

I am innermost. That's the way I roll. I wear my heart on my sleeve. And I call it like I see it. My fans, friends and followers also tend to be innermost kind of people. And appreciate discussions of inner life and living as much as the outer.

The outer life consists of an endless discussion stream of how-to's, knobs, controls, camera brands, replicable techniques, shiny gadgets and widgets. All of which, by the way, are easier to identify and discuss rather than matters of the heart.

The photographer with innermost sensibilities and sensitivities revels more in the inward journey of contemplation, meditation, feelings, relationships, motivations, why-to's...and how these all relate to photography.

Some of you reading this may write off this innermost pilgrimage as new age, irrelevant, crystal-wearing hogwash. But it's not. Not by a longshot. And I have 30 years of successful career experience it to prove it. It may be hard for you to get your head and heart around these discussions, but it's important and consequential.

As a side note, I find career shooters (usually older guys and gals) naturally gravitating toward intimate and personal emotional issues...because this group seems to know, from experience, that career survival depends on photographers connecting their heart with their eyes.

Emerging shooters (generally younger and less experienced) usually migrate toward external discussions. The kind that are plentiful on forums, listservers, discussion groups. Primarily because these discussions are easier to engage in. And require less intimacy and subjectivity (less experience, too).

I'm not at all being critical or cynical of up-and-comers. It's just a paternal observation. Over the past 12 months - in various workshop, commercial and personal projects - I've shot with a lot of emerging photographers. And what I'm seeing, and continue to see, especially among these youthful, aspiring career shooters...is a disproportionate dependence and reliance on tools and technology, without the corresponding confidence and conviction of innermost values like vision, mission and passion. Cameras don't take pictures - people do.

You can not and will not survive a commercial career in photography without a full, unconditional, transparent, honest embrace of your innermost life. It won't happen. You may experience the trappings of success without it. But you'll never experience the full monty until you hybrid discussions between your head and heart. The images you take, and elect to share with the world at large...are, in fact, nothing more than what's going on with you inside. The outside life (what you shoot) is a reflection or mirror of your inside life (what you're processing and feeling).

Trust me on this. Connect with your innermost self and you'll find your picture-taking catapulting in new directions. And you'll have a new sense of freedom in doing so.

I make no apologies about spending so much of my time talking about a photographer's innermost life. Because I strongly and heartily believe that is where all of the good stuff is. Connect with this innermost reservoir of creative juice and you'll be creating memorable, long-lasting, remarkable pictures for years to come. (Editorial note: You'll be happier in the process, too.)

If you want to be a great photographer...then be a great person. It's that simple.

Most of my 'I Am' blog posts here are about this innermost journey. Why? The answer is simple. Because there is a drastic shortage of this content in the marketplace among emerging photographers. An imbalance that could easily lead to technically rich, but soulfully bankrupt, imagery. Which, unfortunately, we're starting to see more and more of these days.

I'm not talking about becoming monkish in your outlook. Actually, I'm not even talking about being spiritual (although for many of you, this innermost journey might cross some spiritual boundaries and planes). What I'm talking about here is a planned and deliberate effort to emotionally connect with who you are as a photographer. And why you shoot the things you do. Even how you shoot the things you do. Connect with this stuff and you're one step closer to finding your innermost photographic ego, core, center. Your imagery will become stronger as you find yourself.

I don't know how many times I've asked emerging photographers why they shoot what they do. This simple question is usually met with blank stares. Maybe these 'how-to' shooters have never given a second thought as to 'why' they shoot what they do? That's because these colleagues were not taught that the camera they hold in their hands is no where nearly as important as the image they hold in their hearts. Vision trumps gear. Inner journey trumps outer journey. Always. Always. Always!

You can be the biggest tech geek and guber in the world. You can know every custom setting on your camera. You can know, backwards and forwards, every knob and control. But this knowledge, in and of itself, will not bring your photographs to life. Nor will they reflect soul and heart. Because to get life, soul and heart in your photographs...you must connect the dots between your innermost and outermost life and living. Inward and outward. Head and heart. Attitude and aptitude.

Instead of shooting the same ol' thing, in the same ol' way every time you go out with your camera...slow down. Pay close attention to your innermost thoughts and feelings while you're shooting. Listen to that still, small voice. And listen carefully. Don't allow those rote and mechanical sensibilities to take over and lead you down that predictable path of sameness and mediocrity. Hear and believe the artist within. Let those innermost promptings guide you. They may bring you to a new place in your photography that you never thought you could or would achieve. When the innermost dominates, it will show up in your images. Big time!

When your outward imagery is a balanced display and showcase of your inner life, your pictures will take on a magnetism, attraction and enhancement that is almost unbelievable. 

I am Rejected

A career in photography is a career in rejection. You've got to have really tough and thick skin to survive. For every 'yes' you get, there will be myriads of 'no's'. For every acceptance, there will be a plethora of rejections. That's just the way the photography business is. At all levels.

I learned a long time ago, especially in the commercial space, not to take rejections personally. You just can't. It will tear you up. Demoralize you. Even emotionally paralyze you.

I think of 'no's' more like...'not a good fit'. Or at least 'not right now'. And 'no' doesn't mean that someone is rejecting my personhood or professionalism. It simply means that my photography product or service is not the best match for their current need. No hard feelings. Move on.

Photographers, as a whole, are just too melancholy and lugubrious about rejections. To many photographers, a simple 'no' throws them into deep despair, despondency, downheartedness. I don't at all mean to minimize the reality of this sort of dejection and discouragement. But come on folks. Get over it. It's photography. It's not life or death. It's pictures.

When you choose a career of making pictures, you're also choosing a career where you will experience rejection. So you better get used to it now. Or maybe find a career that is less harsh, critical, judgmental about your creative initiatives.

Don't get me wrong. I don't like my imagery, singularly or collectively, being rejected any more than the next guy or gal. After 30 years, it's still painful. It's like an arrow piercing your heart. I know how it feels. But it's a career reality. And the quicker you get used to it, the easier it will be to manage the disappointment that comes with rejection.

Again, think of rejection as inappropriateness, rather than inadequacy. Your imagery may not be right or appropriate for a customer's project. But that doesn't mean it's bad, substandard or inadequate. Know the difference.

When you post your images on photo-sharing sites, don't take someone's silence as rejection. It's most likely not. People are busy. And can't possibly comment constructively on every post you make. Develop a strong photographic ego, from within, so you're not so dependent on the acceptance or rejection of your work by others.

My work may be rejected. But I am not rejected. My work may get a thumb's down, but I am still thumb's up. My work may get declined, spurned, dismissed...but my spirit does not. Because I am bigger than my work. My work stands alone. I am confident and comfortable that I am good. And I have hundreds of happy customers and published credits to publicly validate that.

My photographic self-esteem, self-worth, self-importance, self-appreciation is not built on my rejections...but on the acceptance of my work by me and my worldwide photographic admirers. I am strong because my work is strong. I believe in myself. I believe that rejection is a stepping stone to conviction.

I am Versatile

It's easy to get in a photographic rut. It's easy for me. And I'll bet it's easy for you, too. We are all prone to ruts. But if you shoot the same thing, in the same way...then you most likely can expect the same results. Good. But not remarkable.

As photographers, it's only natural that we gravitate toward tools and technologies that we're comfortable with. That we can repeat with precision. And that we get the same results with, over and over again. But is this really what we want and strive for? The same results? Do we want good or great photographs? Standard or extraordinary? Forgettable or incredible? Unremarkable or astounding? The road to being uncommon...begins with becoming versatile.

Do you always grab the same set of lenses? If so, try shooting the same subjects with different glass. Never shoot without a tripod? Try shooting handheld. Always use aperture or shutter-priority mode? Try manual. Lean to the dark side of the exposure spectrum? Go lighter and brighter. Be versatile in your vision, style and technique.

When you go out, do you find yourself looking to shoot the same subjects over and over again instead of looking for new frontiers? Try shooting some subjects that you're not familiar with, or maybe even uncomfortable with. Do you primarily shoot landscapes? Try shooting people. Are you a people shooter? Try shooting scenics or still-lifes. Be versatile. Broaden your repertoire. Expand your visual lexicon. Stretch a bit. Spread your wings. Diversify. Try something brand new.

When I look at portfolios from emerging photographers, the first thing I look for is breadth and depth. Does this photographer have a unique style? Can this same style be translated and applied to multiple genres and subject content? Sadly, a lot of what I see among aspiring photographers is one single style. It's okay to lead with your photographic strength. But don't be led by it.

You've heard me say, countless times here, to 'generalize for the wall and specialize for the wallet'. Don't get me wrong. Every photographer should have a photographic specialty (or two or three). And commercially lead with that specialty. But don't stop there. And surely don't include only that specialty in your portfolio. Think breadth and depth! Be versatile. Apply your unique style and vision to multiple content genres, not just one.

During the '80s, I was the Executive Creative Director of my own production agency. In that role, I looked at literally thousands of commercial portfolios. The photographers that impressed me the most (and usually got jobs from me) were those with versatility. A strong, consistent, branded style that could be applied and executed across various subjects, themes and concepts.

So don't load up that portfolio with only one subject matter. Or one technique. Or one style. Unless, of course, you are ONLY interested in getting those types of gigs. To an art-buying customer, one-trick ponies usually don't get assignments. Most customers today want to see evidence of versatile subject specialties, versatile techniques, versatile styles - all, of course, branded with your own remarkableness and uniqueness.

Here is a simple exercise for you. Take the last 20 shots that you're most proud of. Make quick color prints. Tack those prints on the wall. What do you see (ask others what they see, too)? Rut? Hum-drum? Sameness? Redundancy? Or do you see versatility? Fluidity? Playfulness? Unpredictability?

It's okay to admit that you're in a rut. Just don't stay there. You created the rut by doing the same things in the same way. It's time to change all of that. Put on that fresh set of glasses. Be different. Think different. Be versatile!

I am Promo

Every year, almost without exception, I try to create some sort of self-promotion. It's rarely a herculean effort. Mostly small stuff. Refreshed business cards. Accordion mailers. New portfolio pieces. Self-published book. Set of postcards. Something to remind my fan base of what I'm all about. Ironically, most of these self-promotional efforts end up reminding me, first and foremost, what I'm all about. What makes me tick and click.

I find most photographers generally shy about self-promoting. Many feel it's too braggy, too self-righteous, too self-important. But I think, for photographers, there is more going on here. For those timid of self-promoting, I think the more accurate reason for their insecurity is two-fold. One - lack of confidence in their skill set. And two - lack of confidence in their unique selling propositions (USP).

To be an ardent self-promoter (and I most definitely am), you need to be 100% convinced of what makes you tick and click. Until you know this, you'll never be able to convince others. Whether print or video, online or offline.

Timidity and self-doubt are self-promotion killers. Unassertive marketing efforts, in print or video, result in unassertive projects and customers. Personality attracts personality. Confidence attracts confidence. Belief in yourself attracts belief from others.

You need to know, without a shadow of a doubt, who you are...photographically. What your photographic strengths are. What separates you from your competitors. What you can do and shoot better than anyone else. What your core aptitudes are. And I'm not talking about a casual knowledge. But a deep, abiding, passionate understanding and comprehension of what makes you tick and click. From the depth of your being.

The more persuaded and assured you are, the more convincing your self-promotion will be.

Here is my new self-promotional video demo. It was shot and edited by emerging fusionist, Ben Eckstein. A few links to the backstory about this weekend promo shoot in Cape Cod are right here, here and here.

I don't think there is a greater or more powerful tool on the planet today than video for artist marketing. Every photographer - newbie or veteran, young and old, starting or finishing - should have a promotional video. It is, hand's down, the most commanding, persuading and influential marketing medium of our time. Period.

Think about how photographers have typically and traditionally gone to market. With still images. That's totally understandable since that's the product and service being sold. But what does a still image, or even a series of still images, tell your customers about who you are as a photographer? Or about your personality, your work ethic, your aura, your workflow, your client compatibility? Let me answer this. Nothing. Zippo. Nada. Zilch. Not a bloody thing. Stills capture. But video moves.

In this relationship economy, customers what to connect with you like never before. Before they hire you, they want to look under the hood. They want to see what you look like. How you talk. How you dress. How you come across. How you relate to crew, models, clients. They want to know you're a real person. And what better way to get to know you than through a promotional video?

Video allows photographers to show personality and portfolio together, in the same package. Character and commerce. Process and product. Emotion and work. Video allows you, as a savvy marketer, to create a storytelling narrative around who you are and what you do. An emotional narrative so strong that it leaves little doubt in the hiring process. And actually pre-sells you before the job even begins.

Video is powerful.

Art buyers and art directors used to hire photographers, sight unseen. And I'm sure some still do. But most don't. Most prefer to see a promotional video or blog so they can connect your workflow with your actual work.

I know I keep saying this over and over again, but in a downturned, relationship economy (like we are experiencing now)...it's not just about 'the work'. It's about so much more. It's about you. Your personality. Your integrity. Your work ethic. Your honesty. Your communication skills. Your ability to connect and engage. Your team skills. Your demeanor. Your attitude. It's about you!

How do they see all of this 'you'? Simple. Video. And although a self-promotional video won't solve all your marketing problems, at the very least it will put a face to your folio. Personality to pictures. Humanness and genuineness to your work. And that simple, behind-the-scenes glimpse might be the catalyst a buyer needs to award you that job and sign that purchase order.

I'm quietly working with a couple of commercial video producers to help them develop photographer promotions and packages. At all different price points. With all sorts of varying production values, based on those price points. So stay tuned here. More to come.

For now...find out what makes you tick and click. Write it down. Embrace it. Live with those thoughts for a few days. Then develop your own promotional video outline. What does it look like? How long is it? What strengths will you be showcasing? What does the audio sound like? Is it scripted? Is it you on camera? Others on camera? Both? Answer these questions and you'll be on your way.

Make it your mission before the end of the year to have your own self-promotional video. Trust me on this. Clients will love it. And it could very well be the best marketing investment you've ever made. You will get your money back, guaranteed. Turn up the volume. Self-promote or self destruct!