Zack, previously you've stated that personal vision is a core element of every photo, project and assignment. What's your inspiration and process for developing vision?
I think the best answer to this that I’ve found is “time” and “gut instinct”.
Vision and style and where you draw inspiration from takes time to develop. They come from a place inside of you that develops over time. It’s how you do what you do and why you do it. It’s what you are drawn to instinctively. It’s hard to put words to it. Your style and your vision typically comes from feeling something out. You feel it more than think about it.
You spend a lot time early in the craft trying this. Trying that. You see something you really like and you go out and emulate that look or that light or that “feel” or that pose that you see in someone else’s work. Something draws you in and captivates you. You try to figure out what it is. You copy and paste it into your way of doing things.
If you’re good you feel like a fraud for doing so. If you suck then you have no problem just stealing from others and doing exactly what you see other people doing. If you suck you’re just a copy cat. But if you’re good you realize that you are influenced but you work hard to throw your own twist on something. You mix one influence with another. Maybe you get some influence from painting, then from music, then from photography. You begin to string things together in a way that resonates inside of you.
Sometimes boredom is a good thing because it pushes you deeper. You get bored with your work. You nearly get apathetic. If you suck you stay there. If you’re good you push out from the way you do things. You are ok with failure as long as you are trying something new. You try this, you try that. You start to fall back to your normal way of doing things but you’ve now learned a new trick or two that you incorporate into your work.
After time, and I’m talking about a decade of time or more, you can start to look at your work and see vision and style rising to the top. You can trace little aspects of what you do back to your first influences but you got past the copying and pasting from the early days. You’ll still have a hard time putting words to what you do. Maybe even a harder time putting words to it because it’s all instinct and feel now.
Emotions, contrast (both in subject and in light), juxtaposition, color, shade, hue, composition, perspective, posing, depth, sharpness, mood, feel, texture, heavy, light, darkness, grit, sleek, polished, ugly, grain, dirt, age, impact, street, rural, people, sense of place, love, betrayal, drama, comedy, etc, etc, etc. These are all descriptive words that can begin to sum up vision and style.
There are dark photographers. Light photographers. Some photographers specialize in perspective. Some are masters of contrast in subject material and or light. Some are dramatic. Some are funny. Some are dirty, messy, and gritty. Some are sleek and polished. Some are complex. Some are simple. When you meet someone who has been creating work for 30 years you begin to see who they are as a person and how that person they are shows up in their work.
You pay attention to what your gut is drawn to. The type of light. The type of subject material. The type of perspective you take on the world and with your lenses. It takes time for this to solidify. It’s a slow moving target. You’re constantly chasing it. You’ve now spent years and years looking at photographs. You can become desensitized to it but then you’ll see something in the world that stops you. Take note of that. What stops you. Is that same stopping power in your own work? What’s missing? What little thing do you need to keep working on to stop others?
What subjects are you drawn to? What do you see in the world and say, “I haven’t seen photos of that kind of subject. How would I shoot that subject?” Then you have the birth of a personal project.
You take note of the things you are drawn to. You hear a song that you love. You want to know why that particular song has been on repeat for 3 days. How can you visually capture that feeling that song gives you? Can you take the attitude you hear in the song and put it into your next job?
What is expected of you on your next job? How can you break that expectation? How can you push your subject? How can you draw something out of them that they themselves don’t expect to see? They feel ugly and weak. How can you make them look beautiful and strong? They are handsome and strong, how can you make a vulnerable photo of them? They are rough. Can you polish them? Vice versa. How can I flip my own expectations on this job today? How can I make myself happy with a photo that my client may not like? How can I take that influence from that painting I saw last week and make my light look like that?
You might spend a year trying to make that light. You might take a year learning how to make a vulnerable portrait. You may spend a year trying to figure out how to always find juxtaposition in a shot. Or two years. There will be certain things in your life you are always chasing in your work.
Do you see how when you begin to look at photography like this the gear part of the equation fades away? When you start talking about emotions and vision and style and influence the gear isn’t all that important. Canons and Nikons don’t build vision. Your light and the way you use it starts to matter some. And this can be with strobes or with natural light. Focal length of lenses can start to play in here a little bit when it comes to the perspective you take on the world. But the gear part is minimal. The thought process is the key.
How you think about all of this is personal. We are all such a diverse mix of influences and instincts. The way we take all of these things and mix them are so different from anyone else. You start to see how there is room for all of us. You also see how the folks who are just entering the industry have a long way to go. They aren’t competition any more. They aren’t folks to be bitter about. You may feel sorry for them at times because you begin to realize how far they have to go and they don’t know it themselves. They just got the background to go out of focus for the first time and they are on top of the world about it. You sort of grin a bit, pat ‘em on the head, and let them have their moment. You hope to God they don’t ask for honest critique because you’ll have to rip their work to shreds. It’s ok. Your work is worthy of being torn to shreds as well. God knows you rip it up enough on your own.
I've always appreciated your advice not to overspend on gear, but you're getting very Leica about computers. Yes, Macs and Eizos are the best, but there are good $500 monitors, and PC's really are cheaper over time. Contrary to popular belief, some people who own both prefer the PC's. Customers don't care what OS you use. People starting out should stay with what they know, period. Monitors are a better investment because they last longer, but most above $500 will calibrate well.
I’ve noted before that the only thing I’m a brand whore about is when it comes to computers. In the core of my being and from my experience with working with computers and digital imaging… I only suggest Mac products. I disagree that PC’s are cheaper over time. I mean, they are cheaper but they are such a pain in the ass to deal with for folks who don’t want to “deal” with computers.
From a consumer point of view I look to my mom. She’s always had PC’s. I would regularly get a call every few months from my mom because of some issue she was having with her computers. Last year, after banging my head against the wall and taking her main machine in to the shop a number of times, I bought her an iMac.
That was over a year ago. She has yet to have any issues. Everything is straightforward. It just works. Done.
I’m not an IT guy. I don’t want a computer that comes with a bunch of trashware on it that I have to deal with. I hate the constant barrage of windows that pop up asking me to do things. I hate clicking “are you sure you want to do X task?” Yes. “Are you really sure?” yes. Really? Yes. OMG. Yes. Just do what I ask you to do. Ugh.
I’ll never build my own machine. I don’t care to. I’ll switch out memory and drives. That’s it. I don’t want to deal with anything else. People who are most happy with PC’s can get under the hood both in the OS and the hardware and do stuff. I can’t. Don’t want to either.
I know It folks who build their own screaming fast Photoshop Windoze machines. They show me benchmark tests. Yadda yadda yadda. Great. I won’t ever edit on a PC. Ever. I hate them. I have two in my studio for shipping and book keeping. Hate them both.
As for monitors. I know there are some less expensive good monitors out there but I don’t know which ones to suggest to folks and I don’t have a lot of time to go out and research all that are out there. I bought monitors a few years ago and did a ton of research. It came down to Eizo and Lacie based on the hours of research I did. I went with Lacie because I couldn’t afford the Eizos.
Eizos have now come down in pricing and if I were to buy monitors today then I’d go that route. I’ll ask around for good referrals so I have some other options to recommend when folks ask. I’ll never recommend a PC though. They make me cuss. :)
Zack- Why do you say "UV filters are trash"? Do you at least use clear filters to protect your lenses? Thx
UV filters are a good protection item for a lens but they can be problematic as well. If you have any bright point light sources in your composition those point light sources can flare on that filter and show up in your image. I’ve tried the expensive UV filters and have still had this problem. I end up putting them on, then taking them off, then putting them on, then taking them off. Over and over again. At some point I just ditched them all together and haven’t looked back.
All my lenses have clean, scratch free front elements. I typically always have my lens hoods on. Some of them are actually gaff taped to the barel of the lens. I’ve lost a few hoods to banging against walls and stuff. They’ve also protected the lens on some drops. I don’t deal with having to take UV filters on and off any longer.
Also note that I typically lose my lens caps. I always keep up with the rear caps though. I’m more worried with protecting the rear of the lens when they are in my bag. Every lens has a rear cap. My expensive lenses have microfiber bags they live in when in my bag and each lens has it’s own compartment in the bag.
Hey-Z man! Quick question here. I just started to work for a free press magazine. I am a student.I own a d3100, 50 1.8, 35 1.8, 180-105 and a sb600. What is the next thing I need to buy?
I have at least 50 of these types of questions right now.
I have this camera.
I have these lenses.
I have these accessories.
I have $xxx amount to spend. // I’m broke // I’m a student // something affordable
What do I buy next?
I’m going to answer all 50+ of these questions now….
I can’t tell you what to buy next. No one can tell you what to buy next. I’m going to make you think first about what you have, what you want to shoot, and what’s important to you. I’m going to outline a basic kit anyone should have if you are looking to move from hobby to pro.
First - Your camera body - If you want to be a professional photographer work on getting a camera body that has dedicated dials for changing aperture and shutter speed. I know some entry level cameras have a dial that allows you to change one then you have to push a button and then turn a dial to change the other. Get something that has dedicated controls over each one. Then… it doesn’t matter what camera you have at that point. Any digital camera made in the last 3 or 4 years is a good camera to get started with. Plain and simple.
Canon. Nikon. Whatever. Crop. Full frame. 12 MP. 22 MP. Whatever. A good ol 5d1 is a still a great camera. A D300 is a good camera. You can get it done with a D200. My son’s T2i, other than the lack of dedicated dials for aperture and shutter, is a camera that I could shoot a magazine job with today. I could still shoot with it. I just hate having to push another button to change a setting.
If you are shooting events you need two camera bodies. You can’t reschedule an event if your camera goes down. If you are a portrait shooter you can live on one body for awhile.
Next up - Your lenses - Kit lenses are your training wheels. You want to replace those things as soon as you can. They are cheap. They are slow. They are paperweights. A solid 50mm 1.8 is more desirable to me than a crappy kit lens. If your desire is to go pro you need a wide angle, a standard, and something a little telephoto. a 28mm 2.8, a 50mm 1.8, and an 85mm 1.8 is a great kit of glass to start with. Done.
I don’t suggest buying lenses specifically made for crop sensors. The day will come when you want to upgrade to a full frame body. You want your glass to be fully compatible with a full frame body. Crop lenses won’t hold as much value later either. When you become a pro photographer you will see your camera bodies come and go. Your glass will stay with you for a long time. Always invest more in glass than camera bodies. Better glass on a lower end body outperforms cheap glass on a pro body.
Three lenses. Wide. Standard. Telephoto. That’s all you need at first. Eventually you’ll go wider than 28mm and longer than 85mm. Master that range first though. It will take you a long way.
Flashes and lights - You want a hot shoe flash to start with. As long as it has manual power settings and a PC sync port you’re good. I’ve metered my old Nikon SB80dx to a LumoPro 160 to a Canon 580ex2. They are all within 1/3 of a stop from each other. SAME POWER output. One cost me $115. Another cost me over $400. Same power output. Do the math. They will all create the same amount of light. Get a cheaper one to start with.
You’ll want a light stand. Get something that goes 8’ or higher. Something around $100. Get a 45” to 60” umbrella that costs no more than $30. You need a triggering system for your flash. Pocket Wizard Plus3’s are the king. Down from that try Cyber Syncs by Paul C Buff. Or Photixx. Youngunoungouwn or whatever they are called are highly regarded in some circles. Do your research on the cheap stuff. Make sure it will be reliable. If it isn’t reliable then you are wasting your money. Wasting it.
Not ready for lights? A good 5 in 1 reflector is so important to have. Something 45” or larger. White, silver, gold, scrim/silk, black. It’s good to always have a reflector. They’re fairly cheap, indestructible, and invaluable on many assignments.
Computer - Not enough people ask about this one. You are going to spend more time with your computer than you spend time with your camera. That’s the gospel truth. Always have a better computer than camera because you’re going to spend more time there.
Great camera + crap computer = suck life.
Buy a Mac. Forget the rest.
"But so and so uses PC!"
Buy a Mac. Forget the rest.
"It’s not about gear Zack. It’s how you use it. A good PC can….."
Buy a Mac. Just buy a Mac.
Get a 24” or better iMac. Buy one used that’s a year or so old. Upgrade the RAM. Ditch the system drive with an SSD drive. It will be smoking fast. Replace the optical drive with a standard hard drive. OWC makes the kits. Get a good external for back up. Buy an Xrite Colormunki calibrator. Done. Adobe has switching plans that will allow you to trade your PC version for a Mac version. Or just get Lightroom and Photoshop Elements. Elements has 90% of everything you’ll ever need from Photoshop. Super cheap.
Accessories - You need a decent bag to hold all your stuff. Get a decent bag. I only use ThinkTank Photo stuff. A good bag will last years and years.
Filters, tripods, camera straps, blah, blah, blah. Whatever. That’s just stuff. Some of it may be important to you. Some of it may be the biggest waste of money ever. UV filters are trash. Go ahead and just cross those off your list. No need for those. Yes. I know. Flame me.
Now then. What are you shooting? Events? That’s one bag of gear. Portraits? That’s another. Landscape? That has specific needs for gear. Fine art? Editorial? Fashion? Kids? Adults? Pets? Everything in all the world? What you want to shoot will start to determine the gear you buy.
It’s like fishing. You buy the bait dependent on what you are trying to catch. Shooting events in dark venues? High ISO performance is important to you. Shooting portraits during the day? High ISO is not important to you. The camera body determines the ISO performance. You upgrade your body based on your needs that an upgrade will meet.
Get a decent camera body. It doesn’t have to be all that flashy. Just something easy to operate and more than 6 megapixels. Canon. Nikon. It doesn’t mean anything to have one or the other. Canon and Nikon don’t really start differentiating themselves until their higher end cameras.
Lenses are really important but you don’t have to have 1.2 L lenses filling your bag to be a pro or to shoot great work. Move beyond the kit lens as soon as you can. It’s a piece of shit. Good place to start. But once you take the training wheels off you never go back to them. Right? Right. 2.8 or faster glass. IS/VR doesn’t matter that much as you get started. Buy used glass. I always buy used lenses. KEH.com is a great place for used glass.
Computer. You spend more time here. Get a decent working Mac with the basic essentials for editing. Buy an older one and pimp it out a bit. Screen calibrator! Don’t forget a screen calibrator! ESSENTIAL item right there.
Get a good bag. Also make sure you have a good stable of extra batteries and memory cards. Have two more of each then you think you need. You can’t have too many.
Lights - Don’t go nuts on lighting. Something simple. If you don’t even have a reflector then get that. White. Silver. Silk. Done.
Camera. 28, 50, 85 lenses. Old flash and some triggers. Batteries and cards. Nice bag. Nice computer. Reflector. Done. Effing done. You have your kit. If you can’t make something happen with that kit right there then you can’t make it happen with all the gear in the world.
Is it just me or is the photography social media sphere largely one circle jerk where everybody just gushes over each other for every little thing they do? (though kudos for calling out you-know-who on S&P) And if you happen to make any critique of a big name, no matter how respectful, the crowd goes insane. What do you think?
I think you summed it up pretty well. It’s far more sorority house than biker bar. Plenty of back stabbing, gossip, and the like but all glossed over with big happy smiles!
Look. It is what it is. Social media is, overall, a good thing. It can suck at times and it can be helpful and useless and boring and awesome. Total waste of time and make your day. Whatever whatever.
If you get completely cynical about it then just check out. Move on to the next thing. I hear myspace is rebranding. :)
Zack, I'm currently using a older iMac and I am running into its limitations a lot lately. I am planning my upgrade but running into more questions than answers.. I really like the new iMac, but the MBP would be super handy for location work. Both units would do a great job and in a perfect situation I would have both. But it's not an option at this point. How would you play it? New laptop but slow editing on the old iMac, or no location computer and a faster unit back at the ranch? Thanks.
A new MBP with as much RAM as you can throw in it with a second monitor for editing. That would pretty much take care of you I think.
I have a 2.5 year old MBP that we recently did some modifications to. We replaced the standard HD with an SSD. We then used in OWC data doubler kit and put it in place of the old optical drive. A standard HD was put in there. So now it has an 80gig SSD system/apps drive and a 500 gig storage/working drive. Works like a charm. Fast as can be.
For color/contrast critical work though you are going to want a better monitor.
In an effort to improve my photography I sat down with a local up and coming freelance photographer for breakfast to pick his brain over where I'm at with my photography. The first piece of advice he gave me was to replace my D80 with a budget consumer SLR because at this point they have better sensors. It's worth noting that he doesn't own a lot of expensive gear. I suppose the question is why is new gear my first step if new gear "isn't important?"
To some photographers their gear bag is an important starting point for their work. For some others it is not as important. Some will tell you to keep that body but get some new glass. Some will say ditch the body. Some, like me, want to see what you are shooting with what you have first.
What can you do with what you already own? You may be at a place in your life where all the new gear in the world isn’t going to help you at all. You’ll still be shooting the same photo 101 assignments as you are now with your older camera. I can’t say though since I don’t know your work.
When I tell folks to upgrade this or that it’s based off of a conversation of what they are shooting, why they are shooting that, and what sort of limitations are they always running into. Sometimes, for some people, they need to invest in lights. Sometimes their camera is fine but for what they shoot and how they shoot they need an upgrade on their lenses. Sometimes it’s the other way around.
For example. I have the Canon 5d2. For what I do and what I shoot and how I shoot it the camera is fine. IF I was an event photographer and invested into the Canon line then I’d be all about upgrading to the 5d3 for the improved AF in low light event type venues. I don’t ever have to worry about those things these days. There is no reason, what so ever, that I need to upgrade to a 5d3.
Gear isn’t the goal. Great photography is the goal. Gear helps but it doesn’t make it happen. I would want to see your work and hear how you shoot to give you advice like that.
I'm in a tug of war with my brain. Do you sell any fine art prints? If so do you sign them and where?
I do not. If I did, I’d sign them on the front in the lower right hand corner. I think that’s typically the acceptable place to put a signature. Not sure if there is an “industry standard” place to sign a print.
Your presence on the Internet, this blog, you DVDs, your collaboration with Scott Kelby and al., makes me think that you are more a communicator than a photographer. Am I right? Would you be able to concentrate only on your photography and disappear from the Internet, and make a living out of it?
This sort of thing scares me because I feel what you’re saying about being more of a communicator than a photographer is true.
I want to go down in the books as a photographer. I’m prepared to go down as a teacher. I want to shoot that cover of Rolling Stone at some point in my life. I’m prepared that a student of mine from a workshop will eventually do that.
This fear drives me to shoot. Drives me to book more jobs. Drives me to prove my words with my pictures. Those two don’t always meet but I’m trying like hell.
I see a lot of photographers working so very hard to be “communicators” in the industry. They’ve stopped tweeting and blogging about their photography and now tweet and post about other people’s photography. Their blogs aren’t about their work any more but about the industry, about tips and tricks, about other people doing things with cameras. I tweeted today…
"Dear photographers who are helping other photographers. Remember to put your oxygen mask on first before helping others. Go shoot something if you haven’t done so for a long time."
If I’m going to be a communicator in this industry then damn it I’ll do it with a camera in my hands. If someone looks at me as a leader then I better be taking effing pictures instead of talking about taking pictures. Or, worse, be found taking boring crap photos while trying to lead others. I never want to be that guy.
I want to disappear from the Internet for awhile. Each December I leave social media for a month. I delete all the apps off my phone. I remove all the bookmarks from my computers. I just fall off and hang out with family and go shoot new photos. I’m planning an exit (except for my blog) again this year. My goal is to hit 1,000 posts on this Q&A blog and then take a break from most of this until 2013. I have a ton of projects I want to finish and/or get started.
I feel fairly certain that I can disappear from social media and stand on my feet as a photographer. I’m not worth a lot if I can’t. Twitter doesn’t make my portfolio.
Just know this about me… at the end of the day all I care about is the photography we make. Not stats. Not followers. Not blog comments. Not DVDs. Not money. Not fame. Not fortune. Not gear.
Just the photography. Just the photos. That’s what we’re all in this for. Those are the jewels on the crown. The top of the mountain. Without the photos then none of the rest of it matters.
I have been shooting with hot shoe flashes for a while now, and they are not doing what I need them to outdoors - kill the sun. I'm torn between a three light Einstein kit and a two light Elinchrom quadra kit (a small part of me wants a single ranger, but it's just not as flexible). I've read your "Where hot shoe flashes do not go." blog, and can compare tech specs all day, but I was wondering if you could speak to the user experience of each system.
The Einstein give one more stop than the Quadra. Sometimes that stop is needed but the Quadra… OMG… I can’t tell you how much I love those little lights. As far as portability goes, nothing beats them. I get a full 2.3 stops more light out of them than a hotshoe flash. That’s a pretty good punch of light. I bought to Quadra sets and the heads are so small I can easily mount two of them in a softbox and get the same light as an Einstein.
Why I would pick them over an Einstein is I can fit a whole system in my camera bag with my camera gear. Can’t do that with an Einstein/Vagabond Mini set up.
If you put a gun to my head and made me choose one… I’d probably go with the Quadra. Even though it’s a stop less. I love these lights. LOVE them.
Zack. iPad or an Android tablet? Do you use one or the other? Great tool for showing clients proofs etc.?
iPad. Apple devices are the industry standard in the photography, editorial, and advertising industries I work in. Everyone has Apple products. Anything else is foreign It’s the only place in my life where I’ll be a total brand whore.
They are great tools for showing work. I use an iPad in conjunction with a print book when meeting clients. When I’m shooting tethered I can also be sending images to an iPad for client proofing as I’m shooting with the Capture One software. It’s pretty dope.
After dropping photography due to a number of issues when i was younger, I'm now back pursuing it as a profession. The only issue is, I'm 41yo, and I'm just building my portfolio. I've had a few photographers say it'll be tough for me to get editorial work due to my age, that magazine editors and art buyers almost always prefer photographers that are starting off to be young. What do you think, have I got the deck stacked against me?
Maybe. I’m about to turn 40 and I’m just trying to get deeper into editorial work and advertising. I don’t feel my age is keeping me from doing what I want to do. If I’m not young enough for a client then I’m not their photographer and they aren’t my client. When someone takes a chance on me I always… always…. get more work from them.
There are plenty of working photographers in their 50’s, 60’s, and beyond. At some point you may not be relevant enough for a certain market but there are a lot of markets out there.
Hey Zack! I started reading this tumblr and been addicted for three days now. You're a great teacher and your courses have help heaps. I been just hired to shoot an ad campaign for a really big client, so chance of a lifetime. I was hired for my creative vision but I don't have a lot of experience with off camera lights or comercial shooting, so I'm worried I'm going to screw it up. Any advice?
A few things come to mind…
If you don’t have much experience with off camera lighting then I’m going to assume your book doesn’t have much off camera lighting and if you were hired based on your work I want to further assume your client wants you to shoot like you normally shoot.
That’s a fair assumption to make but I know from experience that you can be hired for your book then asked to shoot something different than what you normally shoot and differently than how you normally would shoot it. Is this the case? Or are you thinking that now that this is a big client you have to turn lights on to look like you know what you’re doing?
I want to say that you need to stay true to who you are and how you shoot and handle the job like that. Ad campaigns don’t require 14 Profoto packs to be legitimate. Don’t suddenly make this a larger production than it needs to be. If you shoot the world with a 50mm lens and a reflector made of tinfoil then shoot this job like that. It’s about who you are and how you see.
Now then. If this job suddenly requires 14 profoto packs and you have no clue what you are doing then you better hire some crew to do the work for you. Have a pre-production meeting with your crew and put it all on the table. “We have this client. This is the work they want. I suck at lighting and I’m in over my head. I’m hiring you to help me get the lights where I need them to be.”
Your team needs to know where you stand and where they are going to have to support you. It’s going to be some smoke and mirrors and you really need to learn how to light so you aren’t in this position again. Maybe you’re in way over your head. God knows I’ve watched “pro” photographers choke on a real job because they had no clue what to do with lights. When I was assisting I lit sets for folks like that. I resented these people a lot because they acted like they knew what they were doing but had no clue what so ever.
I really respected the rare photographer though that would pull me aside and say, “I’m in over my head. I need your help.”
I also got paid a lot more than a normal assistant on those jobs. I covered their ass and they paid me well for it. And that’s what you need to do if you are in over your head.
Find out what this client needs and hopefully you can just shoot the way you want to for it. If not, hire people who know what they are doing and get some education in lighting so you aren’t stuck like this again.
What are your opinions of the major camera brands(Canon Nikon Sony Fuji etc...) regarding which ones work on their products focusing more on making money instead of improving their lineup?
All the major brands are in such fierce competition with the others that all of them are constantly throwing tons of money into R&D to get a leg up on the others. I don’t really think any of them are just stockpiling cash while putting out bad products with no updates.
If you were to buy two monitors today, would you buy cheaper monitors and a calibration tool or look for two pro monitors?
The new Eizo monitors have a calibration tool built into the monitor. They are really slick and the prices have come down a lot from what they used to be. I currently have Lacie monitors that I do my main work on. They came with a calibration tool and software specifically designed for the monitors. It works quite well. I have an Xrite for other things like my laptops and iMacs.
So… I’d go with pro monitors because many of them now have calibration tools included.
Zack, I keep getting frustrated when I blow my images up to 1:1 and see that they are not sharp from ISO400 and up on a full frame body. It's not a focus issue, more of a noise issue where the images don't look as clear as I think they should. Am I being too much of a pixel peeper and get over myself or am I doing something wrong?
First… “when I ENLARGE my images to to 1:1”
You don’t blow up a picture. You enlarge it.
You are being too much of a pixel peeper and, well, you’re not going to get the sharpest, cleanest files on DSLRs at ISO 400 and up. Don’t ever shoot with a medium format camera. Ever.
I went to a gallery show one night that had the work of 5 or 6 photographers showing that night. One photographer’s prints shined above all the others. There was a clarity to his prints. A sharpness. A quality to them that no one else had. I got close to them. I studied them.
The photographer, Drew Gardner, walked up as I was studying them and I turned to him and said something like… “There’s something about….”
He stopped me mid sentence and said, “PhaseOne. Medium format.”
That was close to four years ago I guess now? That started me on my path to moving to a PhaseOne.
D800’s. Pffffft. Meh. Whatever. When you see a large print from a large sensor your DSLR goes limp and crawls into a corner with its tail between its legs.
I’m never happy with my 35mm format images at 1:1. I always judge them at 50% view.
Hi Zack, a lot of times I read on net and your blog as well, that photos will look fine on screen/ipad etc but might not look as well when printed. How do you control how they will look printed? Do adjust them specially for printing again?
Going to print with an image is where the rubber meets the road. The print tells the truth. Any photo can look good on the web or on a screen. Making a good print is something entirely different.
There’s a good bit of work that goes into making good prints. From calibrating your workflow to using proper color profiles to the paper stock you choose to print on to the size of the print or to the lab you are using.
If you really want to know if you can shoot or not, start making 16x20 prints of your work. You’ll see if you can nail the shot or not.
Controlling the look of the print is all about calibration, testing, and making adjustments specifically for the output you are doing. I’ll work my files up one way if I’m printing at a lab on lustre paper. I tweak them another way if I’m doing in house inkjet printing on matte paper.
Printing is a pain in the ass for me. I don’t have to deal with it a lot but when I’m building a new book like I am in the process of doing now… it’s a pain in the ass. Screens are freshly calibrated. ICC profiles are downloaded. Soft proofing on in Photoshop. Test prints to be ordered. Etc.
Kelby Training has some good videos on printing. I typically reference a few of those each time I’m ramping up a new book.
Hey Zack, what's your opinion on Black Rapid camera straps? I've seen many photographers using them, but I'm hesitant on getting one myself because quite frankly, it makes me a bit queasy hanging thousands of dollars of camera equipment by just the tripod mount. It seems like a slight failure in the system would send a camera plummeting to its demise.
Pfffft. It’s just cameras. Think of your cameras like appliances instead of jewelry.
Black Rapid makes great stuff. I have no issue hanging cameras on them. I do regularly check to make sure the bolt is tight. I haven’t lost a camera yet.
A slight failure in a normal camera strap will send it plunging. Anything can fail.
Hi Zack. I'm having a hard time thinking of what to write when emailing a promo card to a potential client. Any suggestions as to what to say?
We photographers make things too difficult sometimes.
Think about the person getting your email. Think about how many emails they get. If you are in their position what would you want?
My name is Zack Arias. I’m an ATL based editorial and commercial portrait photographer. I can take care of you in studio or on location. I’d be honored if you’d take a moment from your busy day to view my site.
Done. It could probably be shorter than that. I’d most likely just take out the studio/location line.
Short. Quick. To the point. Who you are. Where you are. What you do. Done.
Hi Zack, I've got my first product shoot next week. It includes clothes and flower arrangements. What's the simplest way to get good enough shots. I don't have a light box. Thanks.
Put the products by a large window that isn’t getting direct sun into it.
There’s no other way I can answer your questions since this is the kind of question that leads to more questions. Like…
What sort of look are you going for? What’s the mood needed for these? Do you have any lights at all? What do you mean by “light box”? A light box is something you view slides and negatives on. Do you mean “soft box”? That’s a light modifier for strobes and the like. How many shots do you have to shoot? Are the clothes on figure or lay down? What do you mean by “good enough”? Good enough for what? For who? Clothing and flower arrangements? The same client? That’s an odd mix. Are they to be placed in the shot together or separately? Do you have a reflector? What lens are you shooting this with?
Simplest way. Stick the stuff next to a window. Use a reflector to fill shadows. Stick with a standard to slightly telephoto lens. Keep the background simple. That’s about all I have based on the info you’ve given.
Hi Zack! In your experience, what gear absolutely needs to go in carry-on and what can (or must) you chuck in the hold and still breathe easy? Thanks a lot for the Q&A - it's great and really generous. Cheers, Andy
For me I need enough gear in my carry-on luggage to do the job if the airline looses or redirects my checked baggage. My cameras, lenses, a few flashes, and some pocket wizards are carried on. Batteries MUST be carried on. Batteries can NOT be checked. When I travel with my Vagabond Minis, my Quadras, etc then the batteries are removed and put in my carry on bag. If they are in your checked luggage you risk having your checked luggage pulled and not shipped with you or they will take the batteries out and you’ll most likely not get them back. They are very strict about batteries these days. The reason is they are a fire risk and if they were to start a fire they’d rather that happen in the passenger area where something could be done about it instead of the cargo hold where you wouldn’t know until it’s too late. That’s how it was explained to me at least.
I have had to gate check my main camera bag on some flights where it just physically won’t fit on the small plane or I got to the flight late in the boarding process and there wasn’t any more room. I always have two bags with me so all my batteries get carried on and I regretfully check the camera bag. Sometimes I’ll pull out a camera and lens “just in case”. I’ve yet to have anything stolen or broken when gate checking.
If you think about it, our gear gets to us via air delivery a lot of the times. It isn’t handled with white glove service. It’s rugged stuff for the most part. I’m probably more rough throwing it in my car than some guy putting it into the plane. If I’m gate checking I will tell them it’s fragile and I’ll stand there and watch them walk my bag to the plane and put in the cargo hold. I will not board the plane until I’ve seen my bag has been handled properly.
Stands, modifiers, Einstein lights, and all that stuff get checked. I try to make sure I fly in the day before a job. That gives me time to deal with lost luggage or find rental options if something broke. I hate to fly in the same day as the job because one lost bag that is delayed getting to me for 3 or 4 hours can be a pain in the ass. It’s happened before and I avoid those situations as much as possible.
Hey Z. When you say book, what exactly do you mean? I took 8 years off from trying to be a full-time photographer and back then, it meant something similar to a look book for models; tear sheets and great pics wrapped in ugly cellophane. I saw that cool "nocellophane blog" you linked but wasn't sure if that would be good to pass along to editors if I'm just getting back into it. Thanks! -Michael
Book = Portfolio
A printed collection of your work. 15, 20, 30, 40 images of the best of the best. A collective body of work that has a good flow and shows who you are as a photographer and what you do.
You can do bound books like Blurb books. You can do post books where you print the pages yourself and put them in a book yourself. You can hand stitch pages together. You can do a box of mounted prints. Of course there are iPad apps and laptops and all that. IMHO the print book is still king. I know of one ad agency in NYC that won’t talk to you if you don’t have a print book.
Any photo looks good on an iPad. But can it print?
That brings us to size. 8x10, 8x11.5, 10x8, 11.5x8, 9x12, 12x12, 11x14, 14x11, etc. 11x14 is typically the larger size. Fine art photographers sometimes go much larger. 20x30 prints etc. My own books have gone from 8x10 to a current size of 11x14. You can put your prints in sleeves or print them on double sided papers without sleeves. The sleeves are nice because they protect the prints but then the glare sucks. The antiglare sleeves are horrible. I hate those things. I used to use sleeves. Now I don’t but I have a problem with my inkjet prints rubbing together and transferring ink to the facing page. I need to use some sort of spray sealant on them.
I think my next book will be a 12x12 Blurb book using their proline paper. I’ve seen a lot of samples and they are gorgeous. It’s hard to figure out how to show rectangular images on square pages for me. I wish they had an 11x14 book. That would be about perfect for me.
Dan, my old studio manager, used to do my printing for me on an Epson 3880 printer. He was really good at it. I kind of suck at it and I’m impatient. That’s one reason I’m looking at Blurb. Another is the ink issue. Also the cost. We used a Moab paper stock. 11x14 in size and can be printed on both sides. We had a local print shop score the paper and drill for the posts that hold the book together. You can see different types of post books here at Lost Luggage.
Your books (and you want more than one) can then be customized in many ways. You can have your name and or logo embossed on the cover, die cut, screen printed, etc, etc. They can be as plain and simple as you want them or as unique and customized as you want them. You want 2 or 3 books on hand so that if you get a request to send one in you still have one or two on hand for meetings and the like. Sometimes you want to build one that is better suited for editorial uses. Then one for advertising. When you head out to a meeting you grab the one best suited for who you are meeting with.
I think something like an iPad is a good companion to the print book. The print book is your show piece. If someone then wants to see more of your personal work or an expanded look at your portraits then you pull out the iPad for other options that don’t fit in your book. Or it has your video reel on it. Etc. There are tons of packaging options to put a print book and an iPad together in a presentation. You can spend a few hundred dollars on some of these options or thousands of dollars on your presentation material.
Google image search “photographer portfolio book” and have at it.
Remember that your presentation needs to be you. It needs to be something that you love. Your book represents who you are. Is that bold and simple? Wild and complex? Clean? Rough? Vivid? Subdued?
I’m currently going through the process of building a new print book. It’s a pain in the ass. I curse like a sailor when I’m designing it, editing images for it, etc. I’m most likely going to bring a designer in to help me with it because I struggle so much with the layout portion. It’s good to have a few different trusted folks helping you make your book.
I tried looking through the threads and posts (search and everything) didn't really see the answer fully. Okay, photographers promo cards. Yes? No? Worth it or not? Who do you send them to? Ad agencies? Magazines? My mom?
Promo cards are basically slick post cards. They typically feature an image on one side and contact info and address labels on the other side. They can be post card sized or half page sized. Some photographers will put 2 or 3 images on a card or just one. Google image search “photographer promo card” and you’ll see tons of different types and styles.
You typically come up with a multi card campaign. You might design and print six different cards, make a mailing list, and then mail one every two months. Or maybe you mail a different one every month. Or one every quarter. Or you might mail a set of cards in an envelope every two months. Or a set every quarter.
There are a few key things to consider when doing promo cards…
1) Keep the cards and images on point with the clients you are sending them to. Don’t send a product shot to people who hire portrait photographers. Don’t send kid photos to people who typically hire photographers to shoot executive portraits. Don’t send executive portrait cards to music magazines. On and on. You would think that would be common sense but I have heard countless stories of editors and art directors getting cards that have nothing to do with the type of work they hire for. It’s like they are on a generic mailing list and some photographer is just shotgunning cards out into the world with no thought in who they are actually going to. What does that make that photographer look in their eyes? Like a dumb ass. That’s what.
2. Be consistent. Sending out one card and one card only is useless. Send on a consistent basis. You develop a campaign that will last a year or so.
3. Remember that the folks on the receiving end gets tons and tons of these things all the time. Most end up in the trash. That promo has to stand out. It has to be memorable. It has to be noteworthy. Another card pretty card with a pretty font and a pretty girl… blah. Why are you different? Why should anyone take notice of you? How can you be signal in all the noise?
You make a mailing list. Creative directors. Art directors. Art buyers. PR people. Marketing managers. Photo editors. Etc. You can build a list on your own or use a service like Agency Access / Ad Base.
Should you do it or not? That’s up to you and your work. Can you be consistent and can you make some cards that are going to be on point and memorable?
Can you turn the "photographer" off when looking at pictures casually or is it now like seeing falling green lines of code... beauty dish here, grid there, bad exposure, too warm of color temp, etc.
I can’t ever turn the photographer off. I hate it sometimes. I’m just trying to relax with my family and my brain is constantly drifting off into something about photography. Looking at photos - I’m disecting them. Like you said. Figuring out the light, the lens, the camera, the post production.
Looking at scenes in front of me and I’m trying to figure out how I’d shoot it. Or what would make it better. I see images in my head of portraits I want to make and I’m not sure where to make those portraits or where to find those subjects. I think about photography every waking hour of my life. Every. Waking. Hour.
There are times I want to turn it off. I want to just have a break from thinking about it. It’s what drives me though once that camera is in my hands. It’s what pushes me. It drives me deeper. I can’t survive without the constant nagging of it in my brain.
I'm kind of overwhelmed. Reading your Q&A has me lost. I've been into photography for a long long time, but only as a hobby. I have NO idea where to start in trying to make some money, and I dont have a ton of money to pour into it. But I see stuff like "$10,000 on a book" (and still fuzzy on what exact a "book" is), and mailers here, and contacts there, and get some lights. Want to shoot products? Dedicated studios with dedicated power, change flash bulbs and modifiers weekly. Overwhelmed.
And check this out… I’m on the low to mid end of where it can go. Seriously.
I started with a D100 and a 35mm f2. Ok, I restarted with that. Add to that an old Vivitar 285 flash and a cheap umbrella. My first promo cards were the freebies that Club Flyers used to offer. I got 5,000 4x6 cards for free. My promo was on one side. THEIR promo was on the other. And their promo looked like the Polyphonic Spree threw up on it. It was horrible.
So I got started with that. Oh, and a pretty bad web site I built myself.
Little by little I grew. Little by little.
Crawl. Walk. Run. Fall flat. Run. Trip. Run faster. Run till you die.
Right before you rock a show, BREATHE SLOW When a promoter owes you dough, BREATHE SLOW When your career doesn’t blow, BREATHE SLOW You bounced five checks in a row, BREATHE SLOW If you’re tired of being po, BREATHE SLOW You can’t see the status quo, BREATHE SLOW You got more cons than pros, BREATHE SLOW You got fisticuffs to throw, BREATHE SLOW Yo boss told you no, BREATHE SLOW Say Mars ILL told you so, BREATHE SLOW You gotta suffer to grow, BREATHE SLOW Shine your light until you glow, BREATHE SLOW
Zack, there is a local wedding photographer who is giving out piss poor advice to other local newcomers to the profession on our Facebook group. He claims you need "at least 10K in gear to be a professional" and pushes people to take out loans to finance a start up. He belittles anyone who does not shoot with "pro" gear. I've seen his portfolio and it's crap. I hate seeing someone like this ruin it for the new guys. Any advice to shut him up or should I just stop worrying and keep shooting?
Shut that asshole up with photos. Seriously. I see these self important idiots preaching from their stumps all the time. I typically just pass them by and go on my way. If they start to gain an substantial audience though then I’ll stand at the back of the crowd and heckle them until they are stammering for words. It’s fun. :) Heck, that’s how this Q&A blog got started!
I see many people who claim to be photographers, yet I want to yell and scream at them for not being able to even focus properly in a controlled environment. How do you you get by that?
Move on dot org with yourself from those situations. The world is filled with folks who think they are photographers yet they haven’t even scratched the surface of the craft.
Some are clueless and they have no idea that they are clueless. Those are the toughest ones to deal with. Many who are new know that and are willing to learn and aren’t trying to convince the rest of us that they are curing cancer with their cameras. I count those folks as friends.
Remember that as many people that are getting into photography, there are almost an equal number people leaving photography. No one likes to talk about that but it’s true.
Stay true to the course you’re on. Don’t worry about people who are new because…. you know… none of us were born with a camera in our hands. We all had to get started somewhere and that was usually at a place of not knowing shit about shit.
Hey Zack,Thinking about writing to small scale, local shooters and volunteering any of my weekend time to shadowing them on the job, doing assistant type duties, carrying a bag, whatever they need- for free. I feel like I'm not learning enough shooting on my own and need to break the mold somehow. I have a full time job, so working for free isn't really a concern as long as I feel like I'm learning something. Do you think professionals would be open to this this kind of "reaching-out?"
Take a look at this answer and the link in that answer. There’s two questions dealing with that.
I'm looking at getting started in the world of good lights. I've previously only worked with strobes, but I think I want to invest in one good light and some nice modifiers. I'm going to go for the AB B800 and a Vagabond battery. What kind of stands should I consider for a rig like this that can support various light modifiers as I expand the arsenal?
Let me get this one out of the way first.
If you are thinking of getting an Alien Bees light like the B400 or B800 just go straight to the B1600. Just get the 1600. Seriously. Spend the little extra and get that extra stop of light it has over the B800. If you are getting a strobe (a bigger light than a flash) then you want power. You need the power. Power. Power. Power. Don’t sell yourself short by a stop of light with the B800. B1600 is what you want.
If you have an assistant helping you or you’re in a studio’ish environment a lot of the time get some C-Stands with arms. They are always good to have. They aren’t the best run and gun stand though since they are heavy and don’t pack well in a bag. For run and gun I use something like the Kupo baby kit stand. Good height. Good stability. Good price.
Hey Z - Man. Thanks a million for creating this Q&A Blog. I saw you went to Photokina, Relate some of the hot things you saw there? what caught your eye the most? and what was the most dissapointing thing you experience?
You know. It was regular stuff. The Impossible Project booth was awesome. I got to see some of the first 8x10 sheets there. They have some balls to resurrect that format but after seeing those prints I’d love to shoot some of it. $50 a sheet plus you have to find all the stuff to use it with and none of it is available on the new market. 8x10 camera. Polaroid holders. The developing thing-a-ma-jig-thingy. $500 to take 10 photos. How much do you think that you’ll really think about your photo before you fire that frame? :)
The most laughable announcement was Hasselblad’s “lunar” camera. I got all sorts of excited when I heard someone talking about Hasselblad announcing a small mirrorless camera. I had visions of a digital X-Pan. If there was anyone to set their sights on Leica and Fuji right now Hasselblad could pull something amazing off.
Well. They failed.
Get this. It’s a freaking re-badged Sony NEX-7 that’s going to cost something insane like $6,500. It’s a total piece of shit re-badging as well. It looks like an Etsy project gone wrong. Somebody got some wood, some leather, and a freaking glue stick and went to town on a Sony camera.
Look at that camera. It’s like putting gold trim, expensive rims, and rare leather on a 1989 Honda Civic that has a dent in the passenger door. What a waste. I’d be embarrassed if I were Hasselblad. And then to give it a name like Lunar. To evoke the memory of their cameras going to the moon.
Someone needs to put some suicide nets outside of Hasselblad HQ.
Hi Zack, How is your Quadra set working for you? Enough power for you? I am living in the Caribbean so in need strong lights outside. Thanks! Great work out there Zack!
The Quadra freaking rocks. I love these lights so much. Now… note that I’m using them in combination with my PhaseOne that can sync to 1,600th of a second. If you’re around 200th you may still need more punch from a light. I’ve metered them against my Einsteins. The Einstein produces exactly one more stop of light than the Quadra. Something like a Ranger might be what you are looking for if you’re having to go up against mid day sun on a regular basis. That’s 1,100 w/s of love.
I have my portfolio and website almost ready... I have the idea for and the money saved to create the promotional mailers... And as far as I can tell, the best way to search for and approach clients/magazines is to go to Barnes&Noble and write down the contact info of the photo editors I'd like to submit to. Am I missing something? I can't get a straight answer from anyone in the biz on how this part of the process actually works. Im ready for the next step, but not sure where to start.
Shhhhhhhhhh…. Don’t tell anyone. This is just between you and me.
In all seriousness… that’s a good place to see a range of ways people are making promotional materials and portfolio books. DO NOT just copy one of those ideas. Look through all the materials and things used and see how you can bend and mold some things you see into something uniquely you.
Also take note of this… self promotion stuff is expensive. It’s not uncommon for a photographer to spend well over $10,000 on a campaign. Now that campaign may last 6 months, but it is a costly expense. Just a nicely printed book can cost $300 and up once it’s all said and done.
I'm looking into getting either CS6 or Lightroom 4 in the next few weeks, and I don't really know which one I should get. I can really only afford to get one or the other. I know they are both good for different things, but since I have to stick with one, do you have any suggestions for which one? Thanks!
CS6 brings on a whole new interface. It’s going to be quite a learning curve for some. There aren’t tons and tons of new features that I see warranting an upgrade right now for me. LR 4 is a great upgrade from 3. I’d suggest going that route. I use LR far more than I use PS right now.
In your CL workshop you mentioned that if you would be starting as portrait photographer you would buy a FX camera. Is the jump from DX to FX worth if you have already invested in glass. if yes.. why are you considering dumping your FX and go full fuji X which is DX ?
Note that my main portrait camera now is a PhaseOne medium format rig. I have the IQ140 back on the Phase DF body. That sort of spanks any 35mm FF camera body. The Fuji’s are so small and lightweight and brilliant. Using those combined with my Phase kind of leaves my 5d2’s in the middle ground and I’m not using them a lot right now. So much so that I’m considering selling my 35mm kit and getting another MF kit on the used market as a backup to the Phase. Right now the 5d’s are just a back up to my Phase if it were to go down on a shoot.
Hey Zack, I know you carry your x100 every where with you, but what does that mean? I mean is that in your hand? Or in a bag or pocket? On a neck strap? Is it turned on most of the time? I mean how fanatical are you about access and opportunity? I recently bought a micro four thirds, and I carry it everywhere - but usually in my backpack, so I miss "shots of opportunity". I've got other friends who always carried before but have backed off because it's inconvenient. What's your deal?
My X cams live on BlackRapid SnapR slings. It’s slung around my torso and just dangles at my side. It’s not always turned on. I use the lens hoods and ditch the lens caps. I keep it on quick start up mode so it turns on quickly when I need to grab a shot. That SnapR strap comes with a little bag. I ditch the bag and just use the sling strap.
Hi Zack. How would you define a successful photographer? Talent, skill, income, fame?
That’s a tough one. I will say that “fame” is never part of the equation of “success” to me.
I know some really talented photographers who don’t have two dimes to rub together. I know some mediocre photographers who have a very successful business.
Part of me says that success is feeding your kids and paying your bills with a camera regardless of skill and talent. If you can do that then that’s pretty successful. When talent, skill, and sustainable income can happen then that is truly successful. When you love their work, the person they are, and their ability to pay all of their bills doing what they love… that’s a successful person I think. There are many people in that situation that most of us have never heard of. They are still a success.
What do you use to share large files to your clients? I want a cloud but the ones I've looked into are expensive and are limited on space.
I’ve been using yousendit for a few years now and I’m quite happy with their service. I wish it wasn’t limited to 2 gigs per delivery but it works. My clients don’t have to do anything but click a link to download files. I’ve never had an issue with their service. I have the ProPlus account and my download page the client sees is branded to my look.
I am an avid street photographer. I've gotten a lot of positive feedback on my street work, and it's even landed me small portrait gigs, but do editorial/commercial photo buyers care at all about this kind of stuff? Or should I strictly show portraits? (which is my 'straight' specialty)
Show a mix. You’re hoping they dig your street work as personal work but will most likely be assigning you portrait work. It would be awesome to be hired to go out and shoot street but that’s most likely not going to happen. Treat it as personal work but make sure you have a solid portrait portfolio to go with it. That’s how I deal with it.
Hi Zack. I'm getting to a point where I've got enough images that I'm happy with to be able to put a print book together. The only problem is that over the last two years, whilst engaged in this weird voyage-of-discovery-of-what-I-want-to-shoot, I've tried a bit of everything. Should I include all the good stuff, regardless of genre (aiming for 20-25 images) or should I tailor it very carefully to the target audience, regardless of how thin it makes my book look?
Always tailor your book to the audience you are trying to hit. 15 strong images can be brought down very quickly by a few bad images. Less is more. One piece of advice I heard in the photojournalism industry years ago was, “If you don’t have it, don’t show it.” That was told to me several times when I was trying to shop my PJ book around earlier in my career. Sports is an important genre to cover if you work in photojournalism for papers and wire services. I didn’t have any strong sports photos but I through a few in all the same and those images were always torn apart.
"If you don’t have it. Don’t show it."
That “voyage to discovery” that you so brilliantly describe is part of the process you have to go through. You try a bit of this. A bit of that. You end up with scraps and pieces. At some point you start to see a thread of something that you can actually make something out of. Keep doing more of whatever that is. Go shoot more of that. Build off of the common threads you are seeing in your patch work of stuff. Drop what isn’t working.
Don’t think of a “thin” book. Think of a “strong” book. A strong book can be made with less than 20 images.
I feel I am ready to enter the editorial and or commercial market but I am having trouble figuring out how to introduce myself to Magazine or marketing firms where I am unknown. Any suggestion to how I can get them to actually look at my work and possibly call to set up a meeting?
Build a book. Build a site. Get some leave behinds ready (promo cards or something) and call them up and ask for a meeting.
It’s really that simple.
Then follow up.
Then keep doing it.
Be persistent without being a stalker.
Keep shooting new work (personal projects and the like)
Send new promos.
Plan on this taking at least a year until you start to see some return on all of this.
Hi Zack. My question is about style of shooting. I've read many blogs by different art buyers who say to develop your own individual style. The others say to pick up a few magazines and to pattern the feel of the photos. I'm confused as what to do for my book. I'm self taught and was wondering if I should pattern my book to magazine standard(to get work) or develop my own style of shooting? I shoot with natural light, prime lenses, use strobes sometimes, and I mix colors and B&W. -Thank you : )
The most consistent advice I hear is to develop your own style (something that takes a long time to do) and market that work to magazines and clients who best match your style. If you were to shoot in a black and white documentary style then you wouldn’t market that look to magazines that have highly stylized color photos.
There’s a place for everyone’s style somewhere in this world. The hardest part is defining your own style. Once you get sort of an idea what that looks like then you start to look out into the world and see who would use that kind of style and you start to market to those folks.
I think it’s a diservice to you and to the client if you are trying to force yourself to shoot something that isn’t true to who you are. There are some chameleons out there who can cross style paths and pull it off but not many. There are times you are hired because they love your book and then you are asked to shoot in a way that is completely different than that look. Being able to mix things up is a good tool to have but your book should be one consistent voice.
been taking lots of pics with the x100 and posting the decent ones to facebook that are of people and tagging them. gettin glots of likes and people seeing them... would it be shameless promotion to write a caption on these linking to my website?
It would be shameless promotion and you should be all over that. Get to writing those captions. :)
hello zack, i wanted to get a new lens which would you prefer a 135mm f2.0 or the 100mm f2.8 macro? thanks.
If I was strictly a portrait photographer I’d go with the bokehlicious 135 f2. If I was a wedding photographer I’d go with the 100 macro. The 100 macro will be a good portrait lens AND a good details lens all in one.
Zack, I love the idea of a wedding photo biz that is centered around delivering only print and albums as the product. This goes against "the industry" of weddings, but do you think it's a mature enough idea to make it work for brides and grooms? Many of my wedding clients buy the album, everyone receives the disc, but I feel like I'm doing my client a disservice when they book a $4,000 wedding package that only comes with a disc of images. Why do brides want that? I guess I'm to blame.
At least give a Blurb book. I’ve come to the realization that shoot and burn is a crime. I know it’s an industry standard. Lord knows I’ve done a lot like that. But then those images do what? Sit on a hard drive? I’ve talked to so many people who got their wedding photos with grande plans to make an album themselves and they just never do it.
So give a Blurb book. Something. Something tangible. Something that has meaning. Ones and Zeros have no meaning. Digital files gone through on a Windoze machine through some MS photo viewer? Really? Is that your heart and soul?
Albums, books, prints, etc never need to be updated. They never need new firmware. They never need batteries. They don’t have to move from one media platform to another. They won’t be stolen by a thief. There’s nothing like seeing your work printed. It really does beat the computer monitor. Every thing we do these days is on a screen. We stare at screens non stop. All day. To sit and look at a printed book is a wonderful thing.
Think about this as well. Take the extra time to layout a simple Blurb book. You can make a large square version and a small square version. Each can then be sold through Blurb. You can set the price. So there’s potential for some more revenue that you don’t have to touch.
Always give prints. Or something tangible. It makes all the difference in the world.
Hey man, first of all, thanks a million for taking the time to do this, every letter of it. You probably receive 100x more of these requests than I do, but do you offer one on one mentoring, at least in terms of really detailed processes? When I'm asked, I see it both as a potential revenue stream but as something I could just as well do to pay it forward, kinda like what you are doing here. What's your take?
I get asked a lot for one on one sessions. I’ve thought about it many times but have yet to pull the trigger on it. I don’t like to do things half assed so a one on one would require as much work as it takes to do a full on workshop with a dozen people. Then there’s scheduling. Then pricing. I’d have to price it like it was a commercial job in some ways. Then that looks like I’m being opportunistic and just taking advantage of people. I wouldn’t want a mentor class or whatever you’d call it to be that way. I’d want it to actually have real value for people.
I don’t know. Every time I’m asked that’s my answer. “I don’t know.” Maybe. What’s it worth? What would it cost me as far as time and planning and follow up and all that? Would it really be of value? I’d rather do a 6 week mentoring thing or a 6 month mentoring thing. That would seem to have value but then it comes back to scheduling.
One day I might figure it out for myself. I don’t want to be one of those guys who you have to pay $200 to have a cup of coffee with. That just feels whorish to me.
I don't have anybody to hold the reflector! I'm portfolio-building and learning. The more I observe the pros working (at workshops, local photog association), it seems everybody's got someone helping them out at a shoot (some paid, most not). When I ask, they say things like "ask a friend to help". My friends/family are busy (and few), and I can't pay anybody yet (since I'm not getting paid). A stand and clamp does a shitty job. Stupid problem, I know. But a real problem. Advice?
Your early days as a photographer are marked with a lot of curse words. You’re constantly trying to build a house and all you have is a roll of tape and some tooth picks. You can only play MacGyver for so long until you want to rip all of your hair out.
A stand and a clamp sucks. Add a sandbag to it to help. But then it sucks to carry a 25 pound sandbag around.
You do what you can with what you have until such time you’re making enough to pay someone or you have found enough willing people to help you out for little to no charge. That’s what you do. It’s paying your dues. You trudge through the mud on your own until you’ve built something worth standing on. That usually means you can then bring someone along to help.
Until then… stand and a clamp. It sucks. You’ll find yourself as an accomplished photographer still hanging out with a stand and a clamp at times.
Hi Zack was just brushing up on your creative live course. You mention there that if you use two 1600 watt second strobes, it's a one stop increase (you double the power). Is this correct? I thought doubling/adding a second strobe simply increases the volume of light, but the overall watt seconds is still 1600. Could you please clarify? Thank you kindly!
When you double flash power you gain one stop of light.
Let’s say you have an 800 w/s light at full power in a softbox and you meter a scene and your meter says it’s f8. If you were to stick another 800 w/s light at full power in that softbox then you would have f11. To get to f16 you would have to double power again. That means you would have to have 4 800 w/s lights at full power firing in that softbox.
Double flash power = 1 stop of light gained.
Cut power in half = 1 stop of light lost.
1 flash = f5.6 (hypothetically // set to full power)
2 flashes = f8
4 flashes = f11
8 flashes = f16
Now then. Let’s say you are using a 1200 w/s pack. If you put one head in the pack you can have up to 1200 w/s out of the head. If you plug a second head in the pack then you are splitting the 1200 w/s between the two heads. You’ll never have more than 1200 w/s out of that pack.
There are symmetrical packs and asymmetrical packs. Some packs can be either. A symmetrical pack means it splits the power between the heads symmetrically. 2 heads in a 1000 w/s pack means you can have 500 w/s to each head. An asymmetrical pack might split that 1000 w/s to 750 to one head and 250 to the other or some other combination. Different packs then allow you to change that ratio between the number of heads plugged into it but you’ll never have more than the maximum amount that one pack can create.
From time to time, you mention product work going through your studio. I have seen you shoot models and subjects on white, but what is your equipment and process for shooting product on pure white? Do you leave this to your employees and assistants or do you actually perform product work yourself? I've always wanted to ask you this question, and sent a tweet during your creative live class a ways back. I suppose it wasn't very relevant at the time. thanks, I'm a big fan.
The product work going through my studio is fairly simple stuff once the process is worked out. I shot all of it at the beginning. Then it began to grow and I started bringing on more people to work on it. It’s basically shooting clothing on white. It’s laydown, meaning it’s not on figure.
Two lights are on each set. There’s a main light and a fill light. Reflectors are hand held depending on the piece being photographed. Some need a little extra fill. Others do not. The final images are then sent to an off site post production service for clipping and clean up. We shoot a lot of products on tight deadlines so for that the post production happens elsewhere. The products are shot on white foam boards. The background doesn’t go pure white since we can’t light it separately. We also can’t shoot a light through it on plexi or then the light would go through the product. Tried that. Didn’t work well. So each image gets a clipping path. That’s the only way to do it and maintain consistent color, contrast, and depth for each product.
Once we settled on the lighting the styling became the biggest challenge. Each set has a stylist and a photographer. We then have an assistant stylist and two producers who keep track of what’s going in and what’s going out. For the photography our biggest challenges are color accuracy and composition consistency. We have to stay on top of calibration. Flash tubes get replaced on a regular basis. We keep all of the modifiers at the same age as well. If we have to replace one softbox we replace them all. Modifiers can shift in color over time. Flash tubes, modifiers, lenses, etc can all effect color so consistency on all sets is crucial for our client’s needs.
Everything is shot with Einsteins, 5d2’s, 24-70 2.8 L’s, 90 T/S, and 24-105 L. Westcott 28” box as main and 3x3 panel for fill. My main man Marc built this massive rack system that everything hangs on from the ceiling.
Everything is tethered to 27” iMacs with second monitors. We use a combo of Canon’s EOS software and LR 3. Each day’s shooting is backed up to two external drives on each machine and a copy also goes on to the studio’s main server. There’s a working copy on each iMac and three other copies. Finals are delivered within 48 to 72 hours back to the client with everything clipped, cleaned, corrected, etc. All sets have their own spot on the breaker box. Styling has two circuits. Everything has surge protection.
The photography was kind of the easy part of it. The styling, consistency, clipping, power management, and tracking of all of this is what took a lot of time and investment to figure out. We have a well oiled machine now that wouldn’t be here without the highly talented people I get to work with on it. Every person working on these sets have brought an amazing amount of experience to it. There’s no way I could do this on my own.