Now more than ever as an artist, you and I can't afford to just be satisfied with creating what we love and allowing our work to speak for itself. Our story is quite possibly the most important part about who we are and we often leave that out. Our story is what brings people in and what makes others potentially support us in our journey.
I tell you this because as uncomfortable as it may be to stand in front of a camera rather than behind one, the value we'll get from self-exposure and putting ourselves out there can be life changing. It's not like we don't have the tools to do it. Instagram Stories alone could be that outlet. Regardless of which platform you choose, you'll be surprise to discover how much people want to know more about you but that suspicion won't be known until you do your part and show up. Do you know how excited I get when my favorite photographers share these beautiful insights about who they are, what they've been through which in returns sheds light as to why they approach their work the way they do? It's fascinating stuff that I drool over.
I wanted to share with you these 3 amazing short videos by Sean McCabe which sincerely gave me the confidence boost I needed to realize that our experiences, our stories, our opinions matter regardless of how much we try to convince yourself that they don't. Our stories may not impact every single person but that shouldn't be the goal either.
If you want to be an artist — it doesn’t matter what you study (or even if you study at all) — because no institution in the world can teach you to be more creative. You can learn the craft, but to create art — you need to learn how to be yourself, which is an incredibly intimate matter.
Nobody said that finding yourself as a creative would be easy. Like anything else in life there are exceptions but for the most part the reality is that to understand the type of work you wish to create you first need to learn more about yourself. It's the most important research you'll ever do, more so than any amount of time you put in trying to decide which equipment is "better".
At the beginning it's normal to model yourself and your work to someone else. It's how a lot of us learn and with time you begin to evolve, perspectives change, and you begin assessing what's important to you as an artist. What kind of work are you wiling to do or not do and why? You can't copy anyone else's answers because I can tell you that the answers are in you based on your interest and life experiences.
There's something captivating and magical about Cory's portrait work that I continuously draw inspiration from. There's moments in my own work where I may feel lost with how I may want to approach a subject and what usually clouds my creativity is overthinking everything other than being appreciative of the time I have with a person.
Is this the right lighting, the right lens, the right camera, the right backdrop and the list goes on and on. Yes, all the tools are important but not more than who you have in front of you and in this video I love how Cory dissects the most likely scenario for all of us in which our focus is directed towards the wrong thing:
"Most photographers are thinking about the distractions at the technical side...they end up having just 10% of that energy left to try and connect with that person and what they don't realize is that if you can't observe and connect and earn trust from your sitter then you're just doing a technical exercise at best. Portraits are all about humanity."
In the process of experimenting with FaceTime shoots during quarantine, I realized rather late that all the screenshots I was taking of people were not just photos that would eventually be imported into Lightroom Mobile fo editing but that they were also in essence Live Photos.
If the feature is activated on your iOS device, Live Photos enables you to record what happens 1.5 seconds before and after you take a picture all with movement and sound which is very neat. All this lead me to believe that there has to be an app that takes advantage of this capability and makes something clever out of it.
A quick search on the App Store and sure enough I came across Momento. The app takes your existing photos in your camera roll and automatically creates beautiful animated GIFs which you can tweak along with filters, color adjustments and even add music if that’s your thing. Without question there’s something nostalgic about the ability to relive and experience movement straight from a photo in those instances where taking video didn’t cross your mind.
When it comes to sharing these Momentos, I export the photos as a GIF when publishing on my website but for Instagram, I export them as a video. There is a premium membership option within Momento which I subscribed to because I love the app and I see myself utilizing it to incorporating some fun in my shoots when it comes to sharing the final work in whichever platform.
Travel isn't always pretty. It isn't always comfortable. Sometimes it hurts, it even breaks your heart. But that's OK. The journey changes you; it should change you. It leaves marks on your memory, on your consciousness, on your heart, and on your body. You take something with you. Hopefully, you leave something good behind.
After 2 years of Anthony Bourdain's passing, it still seems surreal that he's no longer with us in a time where his wisdom, his perspective and voice would have been greatly appreciated. In spite of that, I stumbled across a quote of his dating back to 2007 from his show No Reservations in which he describes the journey of travel but which also happens to have a strange resemblance to the COVID pandemic we're all experiencing and how we're slowly finding ourselves reaching the end of a new tunnel.
“Sorelle Amore is a well-known photographer, filmmaker, influencer, and savvy businesswoman“ who’s work I initially came across on YouTube. Her “live a life of wonder” personality, her energy and message in all her videos is so contagious that you can’t help feel captivated with her story and then go off and work on yours!
She recently traveled to a country that’s often referred to as one of the best hidden gems for surfing in Central America and which I’ve often referred to as my second home after having lived there for 5 years during my teens: El Salvador!
What I equally love about Sorelle’s video in which she documents her experience is it’s creative direction. Aesthetically it’s beautiful from start to finished in comparison to most vlogs where the only cinematic feel of the video are drone shots and that’s it.
I don’t want to hear about triumphs, successes, and overcoming adversity just to follow the norm. I want to hear stories that are complex and messy; that are both happy and sad, good and bad, all at the same time. The stories I find most interesting, are the ones that make no attempt at reducing or simplifying life.
It’s fascinating to admire people’s accomplishments, especially when there’s no short of seeing people sharing it everywhere but what I can tell you is that we’re more likely to learn from their failures due in part to 3 reasons: people who are willing to show their “complex and messy” stories demonstrates that we all suffer from imposter syndrome regardless of any perfectly crafted social media post. Also, it shows we’re all iterating in public through trial and error and perhaps more importantly, seeing other peoples vulnerabilities makes us relate more to them even though I’m cognizant that all of us have our own unique circumstances that we’ve lived.
It feels weird when people reach out to me for advise based on something they’ve seen me shoot, specifically because I don’t feel that what I do is perfect and yet I realize that seems to be the point. They’re not seeking for perfection. They’re seeking for validation that what they’re working on has the right to be messy as well. The more we share how flawed we are with what people assume we’re perfect at the more you’re indirectly motivating others to continue pursuing their own thing!
Self-education and inspiration nowadays comes in so many forms that you’re likely to become too overwhelmed with deciding where to direct your attention to get it. If I’m not consumed in a physical book, I’m digesting one via Audible, catching a talk on YouTube or reading articles on Medium and on top of all that I’m also an avid podcast listener.
Sometimes I’ve gone a little too crazy subscribing to too many podcast that it’s felt more like a badge of honor to say I’m subscribed to this and that but I’ve failed to fully commit to listening to every single episode. Luckily now I’ve kept my podcast subscription to a minimum in view that the majority of them are typically lengthy but one that’s short but packed with so much goodness that I truly enjoy has been one called A Beautiful Anarchy hosted by photographer and author David duChemin. I owned 3 of his books (Within the Frame, VisonMongers and How to Feed a Starving Artist) and I’ve been a long time fan of his conversational writing style as well as his travel and portrait photography work.
In his own words regarding his podcast:
A Beautiful Anarchy is a heart-felt kick-in-the-pants podcast for everyday creators and anyone who's ever mud-wrestled with their muse.
I hope that rather than panic and try to rush back to normalcy, people will reflect on what it is we should leave behind, rather than resume.
As the Coronavirus continues to escalate in the US, there's been a lot of uncertainty with practically everything we've ever actively engaged in. It sucks but it's also given me the breathing room to reconsider routines I would have never have considered giving up because its enriched me both physically and mentally. I love working out. It's ingrained in me already. I've always been an active person. Society has already dictated that if you attend a gym on a regular basis, it's because you're focused on your health, disciplined with your body and are likely to stay committed to other aspects of your life that others wouldn't think twice in quitting the moment it becomes a grind.
But once things get back to "normal", what will attending a gym look like? Who knows and I don't think I want to be around to figure it out which is why I made the conscious decision to cancel my L.A Fitness membership. Within the past 2 weeks I began the process of converting my home office into a mini home gym. Will I have less equipment at my disposal? I sure will be if there's anything I've learned from self-educating and gleaning advise from personal trainers whom I've become acquaintances with during shoots here in New York is that you don't need much to continue mastering the fundamentals. Your “gym” isn’t the reason for your progress. YOU ARE!
Yes I am going to miss the "me time" I had as I commuted to the gym to practically be alone but I'm no longer dwelling on how things "use to be" because that ship as sailed and rather than attempt to find ways to board it once again, I've become content with exploring alternatives and boarding a new ship that will allow me to dedicate time to staying committed and healthy which is ultimately the end goal.
If there’s one aspect quarantine life has shown me is that there’s a wide orbit of things you’ll refrain from wanting to do because the results may not come close to what what you’re use to. There’s limitations. The quality may be different. Heck, the actual process of doing this new thing may require a different side of you that you probably haven’t developed yet and on top of that the people you may ask to assist you with it might consider you crazy. In the end what’s mostly permeating through my mind is how can one explore ways to continuing being creative during times where it seems like there’s not much to work with.
This is exactly how I felt about FaceTime photo shoots. I kept seeing photographers experimenting with it on Instagram, I scoffed and was hesitant because it sounded gimmicky. The photos were either too grainy grotesque or not as sharp due to unsuitable lighting. As a creative there’s always a level of satisfaction we’re willing to accept prior to sharing anything, so when you don’t feel your expectations will be met you’re less likely to consider new options to express yourself in anyway. Yes, I understand tools don’t matter but how we’re accustom to using them *does* in during these times until we adapt to something else. That adaption has been FaceTime shoots for some photographers.
Eventually I came around to the reality that what we consider “normal” shoots may not be in the cards anytime soon. Time continued to pass seeing my camera neatly tucked in my backpack day after day gave me this anxiety that made me feel less like myself.
I haven’t been at my day job for over a month and although I’m very appreciate that the company has continue to compensate me during these times, when I’m not at work, photography is what I occupy myself with and when you take both of those elements away you’re left gasping for creative air.
Lockdown in general sounds like a great time to be productive and when you combine that with my difficulty with being idle you get this great combination to experiment with FaceTime shoots which is what I did after I figured out technical aspect.
Here’s my FaceTime shooting process along with observations:
1. I connected with the person via FaceTime on the iPad Mini 5. I experimented shooting directly at the screen as I provided creative direction live but there were instances when the connection wasn’t always the best. The poor connection rendered a pixelate image of the subject on the iPad Mini and that’s not appealing to shoot.
To compensate, I discovered that while I did see them pixelated that wasn’t the case once I actually took screenshots within FaceTime. In the Camera Roll the screenshot in terms of sharpness was way better than I expected considering it’s never going to compare to the experience of being with someone in person. This my friend is a reality you have to accept. The “quality” may not be perfect but that’s not what you’re aiming for. The purpose of all of this is for you to work within these social distancing limitations and ultimately see yourself in the work you produce from it because your vision is yours and not defined by the parameters you’re working with.
I personally find it appealing that 5 years from now I will look back and wonder why a particular set of photos taken in 2020 seem different than anything else I’ve shot before. I’ll vividly recall that this pandemic forced us to explore new avenues to continue creating as we shedded this desire for everything to always be perfect.
2. Once I’m done with the shoot, I import all the photos into Lightroom CC, select the best ones, I display them unedited in full screen mode on the iPad Mini and proceed to photographing them with my Sony A7RII so that I at least have a somewhat higher resolution file to work with which I eventually import and color correct in Lightroom Classic. That’s it!
FaceTiming has never been my primary means of catching up with anyone and now the ease of jumping on a call without any self-consciousness has been yet another growth moment for me in these times. Continuing to connect with people via FaceTime should be seen as a way of planting seeds for future shoots once we’re able to continue working the way we always have in the past.
To cull your photos in photography is the process of sorting out the keepers from the ones that didn’t meet your visual mark. It’s the process of refining your initial vision for a shoot which to me is exciting because you get to relive experiences that made you giddy as you were capturing them.
When we’re hired for a job, it’s not just solely for our technical ability to capture something artistic but also for our ability to edit. Far too often it’s overwhelming in seeing photographers share an enormous amount of photos from a shoot. Perhaps more photos that we as audience are able to digest.
Like everything else in life, there has to be a nice balance. It’s difficult to imagine a photographer that doesn’t get excited about an epic travel adventure or a studio shoot that’s allowed them to flex their creative vision. It’s normal for us to want to show our work but how you present the photos from a shoot and the diversity of them is just as important. We don’t need to see 8 photographs of a subject that when placed alongside each other you can’t even tell them apart. More is not always better, especially in these scenarios.
When I edit photos from a shoot, there’s a tons of images I would love to publish on the website but when I look at feature articles within publications I admire such as Men’s Health, Self Magazine or even Travel & Leisure, you’ll never see everything completely laid out. By the time you see those photos you love in a magazine, a meticulous process of selecting the best ones has already happened since there’s still text to consider.
What leads photographers to overshare? It could be that we’re not too confident yet in determining what we feel our best work is yet so to compensate we end up sharing everything and when you do that you’re ultimately leaving it up to the audience to decide for you.
I use to be guilty of this myself. When I overshoot someone, it’s merely to secure options to work with while I ultimately select the best ones later and not because my intention is to show you everything.
More is not always better. Instead, try to aim for a more concise tightly edited body of work. I know a lot of times we want to believe each and every frame we take is profound in its own way but that won’t always be the case. In fact, I always like to joke around that if at any time any of my work looks “good” it’s because I haven’t shown you “all the bad stuff I’ve photographed.”
We can’t all be nurses, doctors, and key agents on the frontlines of this battle, but we still have a role to play. We should not be ashamed to deploy whatever skills we have in the service of making ourselves and those around us feel better in difficult times.
It's too easy during these times to feel that if what you do for a living doesn't directly involve saving people's lives then suddenly our independent creative profession seems less important. Who's gonna care? Will people pay attention? I know I thought all this for a moment considering we still have to respect social distancing norms. At the moment one could actually do 2 things: Do nothing and mourn for how things use to be or adjust to discover creative ways in which we can continue to service people in ways we've never considered before.
I'll admit I initially scoffed at the concept of people pulling off FaceTime Portraits in lieu that it sounded gimmicky but after some consideration I realize that while it my not necessarily bring in the monetary compensation that one would from a conventional shoot, I've been blown away how pleased, excited and embracing my subjects have been to appreciate us creative working with what we have considering our circumstances. Making people feel good while doing our work is good enough reason to continue regardless if we're not a doctor, nurse, etc. Embrace what you bring to the table, don't be ashamed and be confident that there's value in what you do!