Networking is an essential skill to cultivate as a creative. It applies whether you’re a full time freelancer or someone like myself who currently maintains a day job and side hustles with photography. While nothing beats meeting people face to face, I recently found myself evaluating on who I reached out to in the past based on how I thought it was suppose to be.
What comes to mind when you think of networking is the mentality of chasing leads to secure the next big gig but that’s not I wanted to talk about. Instead, I wanted to reference this practice of sustaining relationships not just with like-minded individuals within your field but also with people outside of it who broaden our perspective in our craft, the industry and in life.
Back when Instagram meetups were a thing, I easily found myself in numerous coffee shops a month meeting local New York photographers or ones that lived aboard who happen to be visiting and whom I had befriended via Instagram. The purpose was to meet, meet and meet.
A few photo walks and portraits would result from the encounter as we chatted but I soon realized that I rarely had “content” to share on Instagram or my website for the amount of work I was putting to meet more photographers. Nowadays for me all of that is non-existent. As the saying goes, “it takes 2 to tango” and I’ve certainly haven’t done my part to keep the dancing going. Meeting fellow creatives will forever be inspiring but sometimes just being inspired is not enough especially when you fail to create anything while you’re on that inspiration high.
Life will always continue to evolve. We’ll always have obligations, work will continue to arise and family responsibilities will keep us occupied which means priorities will shift. The justification that “we’re too busy” will become an even further part of our daily vocabulary and it’s in those moments where you begin to question practices you’ve adhered to in the past.
Back then I cared a lot about who I met up with. Perhaps too much. An entire day or week would transpire and my attention was too focused on which photographer I could meet as oppose to what I can create with that same time instead. Ultimately I stopped caring and it was in that very instance where I felt I had found myself creatively.
Instead of reaching out to photographers to meet, I began reaching out to people who were influential within their industry such in fitness or in the arts. Developing relationships with these individuals is where I found myself to be alive as I navigated the city strapped with my camera as conversations brewed the same way I always admired Anthony Bourdain did on any of his travel shows. Both the conversation and photography were taking place harmoniously. It was and continues to be a win, win situation! I wasn’t really competing for one or the other anymore.
I’m not insinuating it’s no longer worth it for me to meet fellow photographers because I do miss it but it’s no longer an obsession of mine. Just as time continues to become more valuable, I’m sure I’m not the only person who assesses daily how they wish to spend it and if what we once did in the past no longer aligns for how we wish to develop as a person and a creative now then we shouldn’t feel guilty about our evolving mindset. It is what it is.
Renting studio space can be very expensive depending on where you’re based or it could be reasonably priced if you happen to own the majority of the equipment you’ll need; in which case that potentially means forgoing a lot of the amenities a studio may offer such as lights, backgrounds, etc.
Either way, it certainly becomes a worthy investment when you’re starting out. Based on your shoot concept you’ll eventually encounter limitations on what you can pull off outside on location and you’ll feel compelled to rent space. On top of that, it’s a good practice in getting use to what it feels being in a studio. It builds your confidence as you develop in your craft.
I’ve rented my fair share of studio spaces in several New York neighborhoods and based on those experience I wanted to share some advice and realizations which I wished I had known before hand but that I’ve at least become more cognizant about with time.
Don’t starve yourself: Seriously, don’t. Bring water, snacks or even a protein bar which I’ve done and munched on in between those moments where the model has stepped away to change outfit. I can assure you that when you’re in that moment of creating, you literally lose track of time and without knowing you just keep going and ultimately find yourself famished. Buffer, Buffer: Insulate yourself with enough time before and after a shoot. Before so you can setup without rushing and after so you can clean up once the model has left. Going back to how time equates to money, you want to avoid overextending it unless you’re ok with paying extra for doing nothing but cleaning up. Learn to calculate your time is vital because it the less you have of it the more you get use to working with limitations.
If I’m shooting someone for 2hrs between 10am-12pm, I would ask them to arrive at 10:15am which buys me time to setup and that’s not taking into account their time for changing into any outfit.
Should I wear this?: For the most part, particularly if it’s a test shoot, models will bring with them a slew of outfits to get opinion on what they could potentially incorporate into a shoot. While it’s great to have options, you should have already reached a point where you’ve determined what visual direction the shoot will take prior to having even even stepped foot in the space.
You should be able to transition seamlessly from one look to the next. Don’t waste any time thinking “what should I do next?” because you’re the photographer and you’re technically in charge of the pace while still collaborating with the model on whether you’ve nailed a look and if you can move on. I’m all about spontaneity but go in with at least a draft in your mind of what you’re looking to achieve. Mood boards are always ideal. Do I have everything I’ll need?: Do inventory of everything you think you’ll need and just when you think you’re ready, double check one more time. I’ve been short on stuff I’ve needed multiple times and I’ve had to improvised on the go. The key in these scenarios is to not panic, to not project the vibe that you don’t know what you’re doing due to an oversight. As the saying goes, “the show must go on”. Bring the jam!: Get yourself a portable bluetooth speaker. I’m all about encouraging models to bring their own tunes to rock since it’s no surprise that music has the tendency to bring the best out of people. It’s all about them and in creating an environment where you’re likely to capture their true self. On top of that, music in my opinion works best in conjunction with the conversation you’re hopefully having as you shoot and honestly I can’t ever imagine being on set without at least some time of music to establish the vibe that going to allow you to capture your best work.
Years ago I came across Austin’s YouTube channel, who goes by the moniker of IAMTHEREALAK . He's originally from South Brunswick, NJ and his shot to stardom on YouTube came from a remix he made of Desiigner’s Panda song. The video alone has received over 18M views.
I can't say I've every been a fan of rap largely because the majority of what’s said now is beyond comprehension. It all revolves around the typical topics of sex, smoking, drinking and the only element that’s ever kept my attention might have been the beat. Coming from someone who’s not well verse with the genre, all I can say is that there was never a story from any rapper which I felt made me a true fan.
For me, IAMTHEREALAK has taken my understanding of rap to an entirely new level. My initial criticism of his music was that his remixes felt too short and I wish they were longer but I eventually came to accept that as a benefit. The sheer amount of stories, metaphors and enthusiasm in which he delivers his lyrics has so much depth that you’ll undoubtedly find yourself having to go back and listen multiple times to detect all the nuisances that make his music so great.
The level of storytelling in his lyrics is incredible. You don’t necessarily have to know Austin in person to get a level of understanding of his thought process and vision because he lays it all out in his lyrics.
As a creative, here’s 4 things I’ve learned from following IAMTHEREALAK’S meteoric rise:
We all go through personal struggles in life and it’s up to you to utilize those obstacles to create something by which other people can relate to you and feel inspired by
Stay in your own lane. Don’t worry about what other people think of your work because in the end we all have a story to tell and it’s the fusion of both that will make you unique.
The setting in which you create your work doesn’t define you. The work itself does. As a quick example, simply look at the backdrop in which Austin recorded his videos/music. He could care less whether it was aesthetically pleasing. The emphasis has always been on whether you can listen to what he’s saying
You don’t need fancy gear to create. Just a willing to put in the work consistently.
Austin has such a bright future ahead and much like all the support he’s received thus far, I’ll be right there continuing to buy his music.
"For real this might be one of the most important things you hear this week" considering everything that we're currently going through as a nation. I'll leave it at that because Nick always overdelivers when it comes talks that stop you on your tracks and gets you thinking.
One of the conversations currently taking place on Instagram has revolved around the generosity of many personal trainers taking it to IG Live and sharing workouts that people can implement from the comfort of their home. The workouts vary. Some cater to those who own basic gym equipment while other workouts challenge you to utilize your own body weight all with the intention to get you to move during these times where the proclivity may be to binge on everything but movement.
Needless to say there’s no shortage of routines anyone can willingly adopt to their own time and needs but the discussion comes down to whether the workouts should just be given out or sold. A personal trainer’s expertise and time is their livelihood and that’s a reality that everyone needs to understand.
Their career has equally been jolted and when all they can do is rely on training their existing clients virtually, it should be understood and accepted that they still retain the rights to monetize from their expertise either by charging for daily workout classes or taking on more clients who are wiling to invest in a virtual trainer for the time being. Personal trainers much like a photographer or any other creative should not be shy about charging what they’re worth especially in these times.
Instagram has been saturated with workout routines at this moment and while it’s great for us that’s not always necessarily the lens from which personal trainers see it because they still need to make a living. If there’s anything these Coronavirus times have taught the fitness industry is that much like any other creative we have to continue evolving and diversifying our business to the point where regardless of what gets disrupted there’s still the opportunity to retain, develop and provide the same value clients have come to accept from us.
I've always depended on my curiosity to be the guide as to where I point my camera and by virtue of that I've had the opportunity to meet and photograph so many amazing trainers based here in New York. They've all been unique as far as their expertise but the one underly theme has always been their insane hustle to do what they gotta do to obtain results and these moments are no different.
When I was younger, I use to think fishing was a waste of time and effort. It was such a pessimistic view based off the failure to understand that sometimes the reasons for doing things are not always so apparent but yet they have this knack of crystalizing in hindsight. It was a leisure activity my dad has always made a concerted effort to set aside for most Saturday mornings and I kinda just went with the flow.
Now that I’m older, I realize that the fishing wasn’t always necessarily about what came or didn’t come back attached to the end of the line or even the sudden jolts that gave you the impression that you had chosen the ideal spot to cast from. The entire experience was and continues to be about learning to wait, to be patient, to follow protocol, to be still, with your thoughts and to acknowledge that not everything we set out to accomplish will be under our control which more often than not is easier to say than to accept.
Everyday that we go out into the world it responds back to us with thousands of choices for us to make and now more than ever we find ourselves in a situation where that last thing we feel we don’t have is control. Where there’s no control there’s at least hope and there’s belief that what we’re experiencing at this moment is a season that we’ll all get through together.
For the time being the very least that we can do is to play our part but also as some scholars have suggested, to “write things down.” “Think of your children, your grandchildren, your friends down the road, who will ask you what was it like during that pandemic.”
Utilize this time to create yourself. A new version of yourself. Creating yourself and your own mindset is the first key. Then you can create art, business, impact, etc. You can use this time to create new business ideas, business pivots, books, content, etc.
I agree there's a lot of uncertainly going at the moment because it does seem like we're living day by day as more new information regarding the Coronavirus is developing but aside from taking the necessary precautions, I'm confident we will look back at all this a year from now and reflect on everything we went not just as a individuals but as humanity.
Both my wife and I are fortunate to work with a company that is fully compensating us for the time we'll be off from work for the next 2wks so that's a plus. As for people who are freaking out about not knowing what to do with their "time off" that's one area I'm not concerned about because I have a stockpile of books I'm looking forward to reading, writing I've been putting off, marketing material I've been wanting to develop, etc. For us creatives, we'll always have an urge to stay busy and perhaps these times are a reminder for us to always keep a list of activities or task we're hoping to accomplish so that we can tackle them during idle times like these. Thank you Nick Onken for remind us of this!
As confirmed cases of the COVID-19 coronavirus have risen in the U.S. in the last few weeks, we much like everyone else have had to realigned our priorities, specifically with regard to traveling. I had the good fortune of traveling to El Salvador earlier in the year on a solo photographic adventure which was beyond spectacular, so I was very excited to experience all of that again but this time with the entire family in April. Unfortunately that will no longer be the case until the coronavirus scare has lessen or at least until it's more understood, so in the in the mean time I wanted to take this moment and share with you the quaint village of El Zonte in which I stayed at back in January.
During my traveling, I became much more active on Instagram Stories as it tends to be the case by mere virtue that you feel as though you have something valuable to share. Eventually I had a lot of people asking me more about El Salvador which led me to write Your El Salvador Questions Answered which I will direct you to in the event you're curious in visiting a country in Central America that's not Belize, Costa Rica or Guatemala.
I personally met so many wonderful people in El Zonte and experienced moments on my own that had me reflect a lot on how the simple things in life are usually the ones that fuel you more than anything that seems too complicated.
I still get that face of amazement when I divulge to client's I've worked with the fact that I still have a day job. Ultimately I'm working towards having photography become my full-time profession but until then I continue to treat it as such. When I'm not shooting, it's all about self-education and I recently came across 101 nuggets of valuable insight by Iain Broome on what to expect leading up to the point of going freelance.
Number #13 resonated with me the most: "You are worth more than you think you are. Be brave and charge accordingly."
There's always excitement anytime you're behind the camera but ultimately to get to that point where you're translating your vision through the viewfinder there's the entire topic of having the confidence to charge what you're worth assuming the skill is already there. It's something I battle with on every new gig because not every shoot is the same therefore there's a lot of reevaluation involved with every new opportunity. You have to do your research and take in to account many variables based on the client's need and quite frankly be confident because it's that confidence that will drive your work and your business.
In studio fun with personal trainer, nutrition coach, published fitness writer and model Lauren Kanski. Despite officially not seeing each other for an entire year, I have been following and admiring Lauren's career back when we initially met at a fitness workshop event I photographed in Williamsburg Brooklyn. Eventually our schedules aligned and we managed to get together to catch up on life while having fun with the camera while showcasing her natural soccer skills.
When people talk about vacationing in Central America, it’s not often that El Salvador comes up as a top pick on people’s mind at least not the way Costa Rica, Belize or Guatemala does but a lot of that is changing. I just returned from a 1-week solo trip to my parent’s home country and in the event you’ve been considering visiting, I wanted to answer some questions I’ve been receiving from both co-workers and fellow peeps on Instagram regarding things El Salvador.
When is the best time to go?
El Salvador’s dry season runs between November and April, with a rainy season between May and October. The way Mother Nature has been lately, it’s become difficult to predict what weather could be like but for the most part as a family, we’ve always visited in June which is when the kids are out of school. Another determining factor as to when to go comes down to ticket cost.
On the low end it can run you $325 for round trip from New York or at the high end of $800 depending time of the year you opt to visit and which airline you choose. I really don’t care much about airline amenities since we always carry our own entertainment on the iPad and the same goes with snacks which is why I typically travel through Volaris. It’s inexpensive and it gets you from point A to B and the extra money that one would spend in air flight amenities I would rather conserve it and spend it in El Salvador.
How do I get around?
The one thing I’ll say about car renting, especially when it comes to the majority of American car rental companies such as Alamo, Budget, etc is that like anything American it’s expensive and by the time you tack on all the insurance coverage the cost ends up being more than you anticipated regardless of which way you cut it.
Having done some research, I eventually opted to rent with the fine folks at Lucero Rent a Car who I came across via YouTube. Typically you would expect any rental company to charge a deposit on a major credit card just for security purposes but at Lucero Rent a Car they don’t do that at all. The owner clearly explains that doing so creates a mistrust between them and the client.
In order to reserve the car I was interested in, I reached out to the owner via the WhatsApp number on their website and all he required of me to guarantee that they’ll have the car I wanted waiting for me at the airport was a photo of my passport, my driver’s license and my flight itinerary.
The Ford Focus sedan I rented came up to $130 ($26/day) which I paid him in cash upon arrival at the airport. We inspected the car together, I signed the contract, he handed over the keys and off I went. It was literally that simple and hard to believe.
My only regret was that while the car functioned flawlessly, I should have opted for a 4x4 pickup or at least an all-wheel drive SUV because I spent more time off-road than on beautifully paved highways and there were instances where I feared getting stuck. Food for thought for your future visit and mine. Spend the extra money on a car with higher clearance for that extra piece of mine.
Is it safe?
Nobody ever ask me if New York is safe and while I understand it’s not a comparison to El Salvador the point I’m attempting to make is that there’s no such thing as a *safe* place. It all comes down to you making the right decisions which applies to anywhere you might go. With that being said, there’s certainly parts of El Salvador I wouldn’t travel to at night such as Soyapango or Mexicanos but there’s also places like where I stayed in El Zonte or El Tunco where there’s a beautiful mixture of locals and foreigners living congenially.
All this is to say that having lived in El Salvador for 5 years and continuing to visit family on a yearly basis, we’ve never had a bad experience or have found ourselves in uncomfortable situations. What you see on the news about El Salvador is unfortunately all the bad stuff reported but I dare you to search through YouTube and you’ll discover vlogs from fellow travelers who have nothing but beautiful experiences to share about their visit.
What is there to do?
Wow, where do I begin? For starters, let me refer you to the amazing folks at Tunco Life. They’ve been leading engaging, fun and informative tours from El Tunco beach to all over El Salvador such as the Santa Ana Volcano hike I did or to the amazing Tamanique Waterfalls. I had the pleasure of visiting their main offices in El Tunco and the experience was rather surreal because I have been admiring and following their journey for month via Instagram and to be there in person was a joy.
As a side note, El Salvador is the smallest country in Central America so regardless of the itinerary you build for yourself, there will be time for you to accomplish the majority of it because it’s as easy as driving from point A to point B. This time around I focused more on the surfing culture which I was interested in exploring more of but honestly there’s sightseeing places such as Rutas de Las Flores which I also highly recommend.
How is the food?
This one is easy. It’s cheap and delicious. The cost reminded me a lot like being in Mexico where you’re likely to eat like a king or queen regardless of where you go. There’s always the option spending as little as $3 for breakfast or $10. One thing is for sure, you can’t leave El Salvador without eating a few pupusas which is our version of a taco in the sense that they’re ubiquitous.
A pupusa is essentially a flatbread made with cornmeal or rice flour and it’s usually stuff with one or more ingredients such as cheese, pork, beans or all of the above.
Where do I stay?
Very much like food, where you stay comes down to what your interest is. This time around I was specifically interested in exploring a part of El Salvador I wasn’t familiar with which is the popular and developing surfer village of El Zonte.
Take advantage of Day Passes
The hotel I stayed at during my visit was called Michanti which I highly recommend due to it’s chill vibe, hospitable staff, affordable price, and proximity to the beach. In spite of all that, I didn’t spend as much time in the hotel because I took advantage of the fact that you’re able to visit other nearby hotels via Day Passes which was amazing. There’s several to choose from some of which I visited and others that remained on my must-visit list.
In no particular order I suggest Puro Surf, Palo Verde, Mizata Point Resort or even Michanti. Day passes ranged from $20 - $25 for the day which gave you access to the pool all day. As a photographer, I’m always prone to want to move around a lot to explore so I loved the ability to hop around from hotel to hotel without committing to spending the night.
In the event you have any other questions, feel free to reach out to me and I’d be more than happy to provide any info or at least direct you towards someone in El Salvador that may know a lot more than me.
When adulthood or just life in general begins to happen, it becomes very easy to allow routines and responsibilities overshadow any shred of curiosity you may have about anything. Your sense of wonder begins to escape and those novel experiences you often daydream about are never given the opportunity to graduate into anything worth bragging about.
For the longest I’ve held on to the prospect of traveling to El Salvador on my own with the sole purpose of dedicating my time to photographing in the quaint surfing town of El Zonte. I may not have had a clear vision for the logistics of certain things other than being cognizant that one’s curiosity will often develop into amazing discoveries and when you add a camera to the mix everything becomes that much more exciting.
As soon as I arrived, immediately dumped my luggage into the hotel room and walked endlessly with an open mind. As the sun was beginning to set and I was heading back to fuel up on dinner, I came across a group of women walking towards me on cloud nine singing as the gorgeous sun was in the process of turning in as much as I was.
The combination of being a photographer and working in retail is that you’re less likely to be self-conscious in starting a conversation with anyone because you know that your intentions are more about what you can give as oppose to what you can take away.
These are portraits I took of Nette (surf coach), Ligia (yoga instructor) and Genevieve as we talked about life El Salvador especially when it’s not your native country.