Maggie without a plan

Over the years my photography has gotten more and more focused around a plan – booking studio time, working with booked models or paying clients, even basing my own family photography around trips to exotic locations in the Southwest or Alaska or Hawaii or Mexico. It has been a long time where I just went out with the camera and shot stuff without a plan.

Tonight, on a routine trip to McDonald's with the kids, the sun hit just right and my daughter Maggie's hair was just the right combination of wild and fashionable.

I feel like to get good at a creative medium, or keep up one's chops, it's important to work at it during "off" time- like an illustrator who sketches while watching tv. Shot with the Fuji X-T2 and 35mm 1.4 lens.

Teach Yourself To Teach Others

I teach classes in photography for a couple of the local city rec programs and I think I’m pretty qualified to do it. Lots of experience, a BFA, been through a teaching program and taught high school photography for a couple years, and often I get paid to shoot. I also teach drawing and comic making at an arts center. This spring I added watercolor and pastel classes, and this summer there will be mask-making, bookmaking, and manga classes on top of the others. I wouldn’t say I’m an expert in any of those areas but that challenge is part of what makes it exciting; learning new skills to pass on to others.

Masks, books, pastel work, watercolors, and drawing are all things I’ve done and been taught by others. All of my life up until the end of high school was about drawing, and I only turned to photography because I couldn’t draw as realistically as I wanted to at the time. Now that I’m older I understand you make the craft work for you, because art at its best is about self expression. Two other guys who couldn’t draw a real person to save their lives were Charles Shultz and Matt Groening; they drew what worked for them and their work touched millions.

The truth about tools, like cameras, pottery wheels, applications etc. is they are pretty easy to learn and if you introduce to someone else how it works, and give them a few samples showing the potential of the tool, creative people will take it and run with it in whatever direction they desire.

I was thinking about this because I’m starting to do more projects that are outside my normal creative output. For example, ceramics was something I had a single class in in 2006, but I enjoyed the zen nature of the wheel and sculpting faces. I owned a wheel for a few years and created faces on my own, until around 2009 I sold the wheel and stopped doing ceramics because I didn’t have a kiln. Once the bug hit me again last year I made sure each piece I created was an improvement on the past pieces- either by adding unique textures, or accessories, or smoothing out the edges- and the work got better.

The next project which is kind of a new field for me will be comics. I’ve made a few comics off and on over my life, mostly involving photography, and I’ve taught making comics for 2 years. Because the writing is a quicker process than the art, the goal is to write comics for other artists to bring to life, but to do that, I have to 100% create my first comic, work out the bugs in the writing, and understand pacing and how dialogue and images really work. It’ll be a challenge but a fun one.

I know I can’t draw a human being to look super realistic, but I do know enough about how to communicate an idea with the elements of art, principles of design and composition, how a lightbox works, how photoshop works, how to use prismacolor markers and charcoal and scissors and tape and masking fluid, and I know what kind of stories I like and what I don’t like, that I’ll probably be able to get by. I would wager most creative people who apply themselves to new media or genres or art forms would be able to do well if they have the drive in their heart.

The more stuff I make, the more experience I have to pass on in teaching, but perversely it’s the teaching that makes me learn more and more about each craft.

Three Little Buzzards with Shonda Mackey

When I first work with someone local I usually head for the Salt River- it’s a pretty locale that defies the expectation that the desert is a scorching hot wasteland.  On September 7th I met with model Shonda Mackey early enough to catch these buzzards in their morning perches.  Big scary birds are quite impressive when there’s a bunch of them along a Dr. Seuss-like tree.

model Shonda Mackey with buzzards along the Salt River near Phoenix.
model Shonda Mackey with buzzards along the Salt River near Phoenix.

 

10 Photoworks Added to Etsy

I’ve added 10 new prints to my Etsy store, 7 of the 10 being from 2014 shoots (somewhat censored here but uncensored on the Etsy page).  So far I haven’t been making editions of images, which keeps the cost down and makes the prints available to anyone who wants to buy them.  Models are Lauren Ashley, Mosh, Ammalynn, Aurora O’Brien, and Victoria Lee.

2014-06-13 05.57.12

Exotic Animal Texture Pack #1

Exotic Animal Texture Pack #1

My very first Texture Pack is put together- live animal fur and skin textures, shot this week with the very handy Fujinon 200mm lens (300mm equivalent). It’s 14 high quality 9×13″ 300 dpi jpg textures of 7 live animals I photographed- camel, tortoise, ostrich, giraffe, zebra, llama, and antelope. There are 2 textures per animal. It’s $4 on Etsy as an instant download.

I’ve shot textures for years and never thought about releasing them commercially, but it has to be said scrolling endlessly through Google looking for hi-res textures is a pain in the ass. I prefer to make my own or buy them from people who I know made their own.

You Know A Shoot Will Go Awry When…

With no apologies to Jeff Foxworthy.  I do apologize for any perceived negativity, so stick around for the end where I suggest positive alternatives/ responses!

Over the years, I’ve had many shoots go awry.  There are commonalities to these that my training as a behavioral specialist helps me perceive long before the shoot actually happens.  Keep in mind these are shoots involving people, not places or objects.

1. a lot of flattery in advance.  “I’ve always wanted to work with you,” “I love your work, use me for anything.”  These people will flake if you give in.

2. the other person pooh-poohs your ideas and suggests dull alternatives, or refer back to work you did a long time ago.  If they really like what you do they will trust in what you do currently, and not ask you to play “Creep” even though it’s been decades.

3. lots of rescheduling or long lengths of time between email responses.  It isn’t always the case that this means it’s not going to happen, but usually people who are organized and set in one way of life (showing up to shoots prepared and with a positive attitude and trusting the photographer) are organized and set in their other habits, like email responses.  I remember a family who rescheduled 5 times (forgot the first time, soccer games, other events) and weren’t happy with the photos anyways because they didn’t like their expressions.

4. Endless back and forth of questions.  Where, when, what do I get, what is our concept, what was that concept again?  How about this?  Like #1, these shoots inevitably don’t happen.

How to cut down on shoots going awry…

1. Overbook.  In LA I booked a studio on a Saturday afternoon.  I imagined I had 2 models for it, A and B.  By Friday night model C writes me and comes on board.  On Saturday morning I hear from model D, who I spoke with weeks earlier but didn’t think was coming, but was.  By Saturday afternoon model B drops out.  I actually predicted this last minute shake up because it always happens, someone you haven’t heard from is still committed while someone acting super committed flakes.  There really was no way my stylists could have handled 4 people in a 3 hour slot but if I stuck to the 2 people I had 24 hours previous, I would’ve been left with 1 model on Saturday.

2. Trust your instincts and cancel stuff before you end up wasting time doing things that don’t pay, don’t benefit you and are extra work for nothing.  It’s rare, but I get an actual physical anxiety attack over a shoot, I know it’s not something I should do, and it’s off.

3. Be a better communicator yourself.  Say everything that matters in the first email, do it in bullet point format so it’s legible, keep it to about 2 or 3 sentences, and if need be list to a flickr file of sample images- either inspiration or work you’ve done previously that is along the lines of what you’re going to shoot.  Take the uncertainty off the table.

4. If you can afford to be choosy, then be choosy.  Do research on people if it’s out there.  If people have tumblrs, facebooks, blogs you can rifle through them for behavioral quirks- oversharing, prima donnas, complainers, poor judgement/ taste, instagram obsessives- and you can spot who is professional, or at least has a compatible personality.

What’s critical is remembering on a shoot, be it family or fashion or art, the photographer is the captain of the ship.  They are the ones responsible for steering clear of storms.

The (Colored) Pencil of Nature

Model Alexandra Mathews wearing Bubbles and Frown headwear, shot 4x5 and printed as cyanotype with additional colored pencil.
Model Alexandra Mathews wearing Bubbles and Frown headwear, shot 4×5 and printed as cyanotype with additional colored pencil.

Photography was regarded as “the pencil of nature” by Henry Fox Talbot, one of the early pioneers of the form.  Talbot created the cyanotype process which utilized the first negative printing method, and the image above shows his process remains in somewhat common use today.  I’ve added actual pencil work to images before but in recent cases I’ve been trying to add more thought as to what I do with the pencils; limiting myself to a palette of 4 odd colors, mixing them so they transition in a more interesting fashion like they do on the couch.

It definitely takes a lot longer but the piece is stronger for it.  Sometimes the way to be better is to try harder at something you’ve been doing all along.  This image currently up for grabs at Etsy.