As an artist, I have been pushing people to transmit something in the images we create that tells ME the story I want to see in other humans... Strength, confidence, knowledge, depth, integrity, foresight, empathy, joy, wisdom...
Photography still has a real magic to it. And I think people truly want to be seen. Deeper. More real. More raw.
For years, I have ravenously devoured knowledge and ceaselessly practised to get better at my craft from every conceivable angle. I can honestly describe myself as one of the finest professionals in my industry; consistently creating inspired excellence when I'm holding the camera.
I am a professional.
But I remember what it felt like a bunch of years ago - before I really was a professional at what I do. It was lots of 'fake it to make it'... going out into the world and telling people who I am and what I do until I actually believed it because my results could back it up.
But I've recently discovered something quite shocking. Something that I don't identify with considering how far I have come and what I've been able to achieve in so many ways.
I've been 'safely' sticking to what I know... I'm in the Comfort Zone!
To anyone who knows me well the 'comfort zone' has been - ironically - not really a place I've felt comfortable. But I've been hiding.
Only in the last few months has this realisation been dragged out into the stark contrast of brightest midday sun... What I've been hiding from is being a professional business owner - and all the skills and challenges that make one a true professional.
Mainly, it has come from an epic journey through an amazing program called Key Person of Influence... and the people with whom I have surrounded myself throughout these 40 weeks. And more specifically through a gruelling two day session with outstanding business coach, David Dugan.
I've always jumped into everything with both feet. Blind faith and an inconceivable certainty that I will prevail has taken me far. The ultimate quote that informs most of my choices is a simple one.
I don't have to try to believe it. It's just a fundamental truth beyond question. But lately, as I've learned a myriad new skills I have pushed myself well beyond the invisible confines of my 'zone of comfort'... Into a terrifyingly foreign realm of organising & planning and measuring & counting.
I have certainly leapt. But the net hasn't come up to meet me. I feel like I've been falling. ...waiting for the net. And getting nervous that I've been mistaken. Or maybe somehow this time I got it wrong.
But today it all became so clear. I am falling. But I'm falling up. It's strange to be out in unfamiliar space for so long. But I have mistaken this sensation of falling from a gravity-restricted reality.
Sometimes it's hard to see when you're so close to the situation... It's hard to get perspective. But I've seen such profound changes and growth in my business over the past few months I'm not worried anymore that the net will appear. It always does. But now that I know I'm falling up it seems to me that the farther I go... well, the farther I go.
And that's pretty awesome.
Somebody said that "Beauty is the Opposite of Perfection - It's about Confidence, Charisma and Character..."
I don't know who said that, but I totally agree.
The word 'Photogenic' is thrown around a lot in my world. It's not a word I personally like - or even use - because socio-culturally, it's a very loaded word that skews our self image, striking varying degrees of fear into the hearts of otherwise strong, confident people.
By now, you're probably used to my mantra that 'nobody is photogenic'. Because that's not the goal.
Wishing you were 'photogenic' is about striving for perfection which is that unrealistic and completely unhelpful.
There's an amazing Chinese word that describes what I mean perfectly. It's a very small word with huge implications.
That word is "Li".
Li refers to the imperfect perfection everywhere in the natural world... The markings in Jade, the grain in Wood...
These things are beautiful BECAUSE of their imperfection. Not despite it. Perfect symmetry and rigid order is not our nature either. It's Li that makes us special... beautiful. And it's the Li we strive to see and capture through the camera.
When we truly embrace our own Li, then the important things like Confidence, Charisma and Character are free to come through. And that is when we connect.
As lifetime consumers of media, our tastes are constantly refining.
These days, if it feels like you’re trying to tell me something, it makes me feel like you’re trying to sell me something. And I immediately begin to detach.
I first noticed when I was dabbling with video that people would “present” to the camera. I’d stop them and ask them to tell me what they were about to say and it would happen in the most natural tone… a conversation… rather than presentation (effectively advertisement).
Well I don’t go near video anymore, but my point is the same. The second we approach portraits from a place where you’re trying to tell me something you’ve lost my respect as a viewer of that image.
This is why I believe ‘personal branding’ is a disconnected plague of insincerity.
Your ‘branding’ is a fabricated extension of you and what your business represents. It’s important, of course, because it helps us define your product. But at best it’s a very rough approximation.
You, however, are a complete person with a unique story. And you are much deeper with far more context and relevance than ‘personal branding’ could ever hope to convey.
‘Personal branding’ generally presents itself as a smiling head facing a camera. Is this the degree of depth we are willing to expect from a portrait or headshot?
Looking at portraits, I want to be presented with a message from the very core. A message that resonates with me as a complex person, full of preferences and conflict and experiences. That is what we should expect from head shots and portraits… not a fraction less.
And it’s possible. For real people. Every time.
When I get the feeling from a portrait that you have something to say you get my attention and that is the biggest commodity of all. That’s what all businesses are reaching for.
Our brains are evolved to look for a challenge. Something unique… unexpected. We know very well that the familiar and obvious fades into the background very quickly. It is precisely one of the things our brain does best. Unfortunately, familiar and obvious is what most photographers deliver.
If the most important thing in business is to approach your audience (your potential clients) with them in mind, then most photographers are really missing the point. But when it’s done well, we frame the story the viewers tell themselves about who they see.
You see, a photo is not a one way street. That’s the real magic of photography (and the aspect most photographers ignore). It is not a passive experience to the viewer. We can’t avoid putting the face in front of us through the matrix of human, emotional interpretation.
The same applies when you’re in a room with someone. You are either building rapport based on some sort of familiar recognition… or you’re not. There’s rarely anything in between.
If you’re telling me something - like telling me ‘smiling’ - I am left with no way to engage with the image. If it requires no interpretation it will not demand the viewers’ attention.
Opportunity lost. And how many opportunities can anyone afford to lose, really?
This is all fleeting. The reactions we have to images are instantaneous. Forget seven seconds! We process way faster than that because we are forced to. I’m not sure where this whole seven seconds thing even comes from, but if you think you have someone’s attention for SEVEN WHOLE SECONDS in order to make an impression, you are completely deluded.
Go ahead. Do it right now. It even feels absurd to suggest… Look at anything in the room and count… 1-1000, 2-1000, 3-1000… It’s a freaking eternity.
Often, our images get a glance at best. But that’s all we need. These days we are wired to accept or reject in a moment. So we need a headshot or portrait that delivers instantaneous impact.
The only way ‘telling smiling’ is going to have any impact is if the viewer happens to be smiling in the moment they encounter your image. I’m not willing to gamble on those odds. Are you?
Go try that little experiment. I dare you.
Go and sit in a room full of strangers with a big fake smile plastered to your face and see if it resonates. It might if someone else is sitting there smiling too because one of the ways we build rapport is mirroring each other.
Otherwise, you are ‘that’ person on the train or in the waiting room that people move away from… often clutching their bags - or their children - just a little bit closer.
And what is your Portrait or Headshot? It is you when you can’t be in the room. It works the same way. Who do you choose to put in the room?
Your portrait is an opportunity for deeper interaction with you and your story. And according to the finest business minds out there, that is how we build business these days.
How much more vital to share something deeper?
This is not merely facial recognition. Computers can do that. I’m talking about a true recognition of values and intention… something fundamental. One of those aspects that only we - the incredibly refined, blunt objects called ‘humans’ - are capable of recognising in each another.
We don’t need to see your face or your ‘personal branding’. We need to see you. All of you… with all the sincerity, power, experience and intention that makes you, you.
Sounds daunting? I know. But a great portrait photographer will help you get there with proper coaching in front of the camera. And the closer you get, the more inspired you are to push further… Ultimately creating images of yourself you never thought possible.
Not the fabricated mask that is the ‘person’. And not even simply who you are… When done well, you begin to uncover - visually - who you know your best self to be… and who you hope to become.
That is the magic possible in every portrait session.
...And anything less is a crime.
Emma and Bridget - the amazing women from Women's Property Panel - are hosting an outstanding workshop this month over at Portside in Brisbane...
I had the privilege of photographing them a couple months ago and got to see some of their magic, first hand. In a word... contagious.
They have an event on International Women's Day with some pretty impressive speakers (not to mention a room full of awesome ladies, super passionate about property).
Come along and get your learn on!
I'll be there photographing the day... See you there!
One of the most brilliant 'connectors' I've ever met asked me to make some portraits for her.
She has just started a new solo enterprise and needed some images to show the magic she naturally, effortlessly brings to a room.
So, how do you show magic?
Well, first I had to get her to stop talking. The ideas almost never stop flowing so I figured I had to engineer some quiet moments by giving very specific instructions but keeping them open enough for her to interpret on her own terms. 'Cause that's Jenny... on her own terms.
But, of course, I also had to capture that electricity that surrounds her... because every moment, you're sharing her constant eruption of inspiration.
She said her favorite place to think is on the swings. So that's where we went.
I've found that if you get into the space people feel best, you often get a much higher degree of unguarded honesty. That's why I love shooting on location.
It's relevant. It means something. It's personal... and it matters.
...And so do the people I photograph
Well it has been an amazing start to 2013!
I was along for the ride shooting the production stills and behind the scenes which was absolutely epic.
I'll leave the productions stills for another time... These are just some of the spontaneous moments that happen all around you in India.
...Eye contact from complete strangers that our little western minds can barely comprehend...
Everything everyone tries to tell you about India is true. But it all just pales in comparison to the actual intensity of the place.
I'm ready to go back.
I just finished listening to another amazing installment of my absolute favorite radio show / podcast of ALL TIME...
Most NPR fans in the US will have heard of Radiolab. If you haven’t ever encountered this most fascinating portal of knowledge and understanding, throw down that thesis or bunt cake you’re working on and go to their website immediately.
They describe their program as:
“…a show about curiosity. Where sound illuminates ideas, and the boundaries blur between science, philosophy, and human experience.”
Personally, I would venture to call it the most inspiring hour you can possibly spend learning. And it is often the seed that has sprouted quite diverse directions & interests in my professional life.
This particular show (an old one that I hadn’t heard) was called DIY Universe.
Basically, this scientist was saying that it is theoretically possible to create your own universe. And according to the proposals out there, the universe you create would create its own space… Not encroaching into your house or region… But it would expand into new space. Space that hadn’t existed before.
Listening to these grand theories, I felt such a powerful connection to my own entrepreneurial situation. I arrived in a strange place and built a very fine ‘something’ (which I’m quite proud of) out of ‘nothing’. Almost every second of my current reality is informed and molded by this new ‘universe’ I created 3+ years ago.
The whole issue (in the photography industry, anyway) that ‘there are too many folks out there trying to be professional photographers’ is one I can’t subscribe to. Because deep down I know that I am creating all new space in which my life – career – whatever is unfolding. I never feel like I’m trying to fit in amongst the rest.
When you think about ‘creating a universe’ in terms of inter-dimensional, infinite space-type scale seems harder to accept such extravagant theories. But when you break it down into the most basic of notions… isn’t that exactly what each of us does every day? Every moment? Creating our own reality, which creates infinite possibilities responding to each choice… Suddenly, it isn’t so hard to comprehend.
Interestingly, this particular podcast wrapped up with one of life’s finest lessons.
He said that pushing the laws of physics to their breaking point is often where they learn new things about how the world works… Well, I know that one can be applied across the board… 100%
While we were in Barcelona about a month ago, news was coming out about the amazing Higgs findings (a.k.a. the 'god particle') and how this newly verified particle is basically responsible for matter and energy just appearing spontaneously. Of course this is wildly simplified, but it got me thinking about the implications of our fundamental existence, perceived reality, etc...
It was a lot to think about so I had to go for a walk.
And just a few blocks from where we were staying I passed by an empty shop front window emblazoned with a rather ironic declaration... 'Hasta Fin de Existencia' which translates to 'Until the End of Existence'.
Well, considering the interesting light bouncing around the narrow laneway, I just had to step into the doorway giving me a cool opportunity for a topical (and even more ironic) self-portrait in the window's reflection...
Wow! Spencer Lum dropped some serious wisdom a few months back that has really reaffirmed this process of 'making it happen'. And not just for creative types, either...
He's called it the "Rockstar Economy" and it's the kind of plain and simple truth that cuts through the noise and reaches straight to the core. It's the message we all need to keep going.
I'm still going to strive for Rockstar-dom (of course!) but after a few well placed words, I'm reminded that it's far from the point.
This 3 month European trip as been an exercise in exactly that... The 'Big Work'. Seth Godin wrote another short, super-resonant blog a couple of days ago 'Doing the big work (at the little table)'.
For me there are 2 main points.
1. You spend lots of time on the 'little' work... Meetings, planning, paperwork, etc... And often very little time on the 'Big' work... The stuff that scares you or might fail.
The 'Big' work for me is going out and shooting. For you the activity may be different but the principle is the same.
These folks go out in public and create (and hone) their art... I've written about it before over here. But they are out there doing their work. The guy above carves faces into olive tree roots...
The past few months have been an amazing experience because that is all I could do... The 'Big' work. Every day I go out with my camera, talk to strangers and make pictures. It has been fantastically inspiring and my craft has grown beyond measure. The client is me. And everyday I endeavor to impress myself. There has been nothing to distract me.
2. We're more likely to do it when the 'resources are lacking and time is short'.
Why do we allow ourselves to become distracted 'at home'? It seems that when everything is finite (time, money, etc.) there is a burst of effort. I allow myself to become wrapped up in all the little stuff (that is necessary - to a degree) and often get sidetracked from the Big stuff. Even when you know that's the work that counts.
What is your 'Big' work? Are you distracted?
As Seth says, "No need to wait for permission or the lightning bolt of inspiration. The big work is available to you as soon as you decide to do it."
One thing is for sure...
We spent a few hours yesterday inside a cave - La Cueva de la Pileta. Inside were hundreds of cave paintings... many dating back to over 30,000 years ago! Crazy, right?
And afterwards, back outside in the mid afternoon Andalucian sun, we were talking to the guide and an older German couple about the whole timeline.
- The land pushed itself above water over 200 million years ago... To eventually drain and form the basic cave system.
- We stood in the cave blown away by the human evidence in front of us from 30,000 years ago...
- I'm 34...
- And I'm trying to decide what to do this afternoon...
In the perspective of such vast amounts of time splayed out inside the mountain at my back, I remarked at the inconsequential-ness of all our ideas and worries and plans and regrets... Someone said, "It's all just a blink". The small group responded with nods and chuckles of agreement.
In a few moments the conversation ended. As we said our goodbyes the older German guy said, "Enjoy your blink."
There's a whole lot of wisdom in that amusing little quip...
...Enjoy your blink...
We're in Granada... June. Not as hot as it gets but good enough...
Hiking up above the city, I saw some elements that might make a photo and tried wrangling them together. The light was low-ish and interesting, moving through the hillsides of olive groves in the not quite Sierra Nevadas here in Spain.
I tried, no good. A bit lower, ok but not quite. Around a cactus, all the way down... This is it! It's working!
Meanwhile, I'm dripping sweat... It's about 7 pm but it's still hot as hell. I'm all contorted to get this shot and the sweat starts running directly into my eyes.
I'm in position... I know the elements are there. I open my eyes for one last second to see if the shapes look about right. The sweat burns them shut again.
Click. Click. Click. I bracketed 3 shots.
You know how you can never go back. Like, 'Oh, I'll go back to get that shot tomorrow'. Well it doesn't happen.
The light was moving, the clouds were shifting... I was in place.
I took the photos with my eyes closed.
It seemed easier to trust than waiting for everything to align again.
Close your eyes. Take the shot.
There's a certain subtlety required when you stand in front of camera. This is one of the primary reasons I rarely find myself in front of the lens. But this week I stumbled on a little gem... Equestrian Students.
Since meeting my partner Trish I have slowly gotten to know some of the equestrian community around the world. This is a fascinating subset of people who you have probably never encountered if no one close to you rides, trains or competes.
But there is an amazing body awareness and physical subtlety required to train a horse (and train yourself).
I'm talking movements in millimeters. Literally. The slightest, imperceivable (to me) movements on a horse communicate dozens of commands that make a well-trained horse respond. The rider's attention and awareness of his or her body translates beautifully when being directed by a the guy behind the camera.
While training, they spend hours per day being told how to sit, where to move their wrists, ankles, eyes... even ears! With the camera, 'Chin up a bit'... 'Half step to the left'... 'Nose follows my finger'... Brilliant!
This is Giovanni. He has returned to train at Morgado Lusitano in Alverca, Portugal for the week and was an absolute pleasure to photograph. Obviously, the classic Italian riding clothes topped off by the Sherlock pipe helped take the image to another level.
Some jobs don't instantly inspire too much creativity... But often if you take a second and try to think outside the box you'll find there are opportunities to capture really different perspectives when you're shooting portraits...
There's a little something I try to my composition whenever I get the chance... I like to try to get unusual light sources into the frame. Above was shot last night through a curtain of fairy lights...
This one is from last year through wet glass...
I lit this group with studio lights and gave them all speedlights to make a boring group shot way more dynamic... And a lot more fun!
And this is from Woodford Festival last year. This is actually a puddle in the mud. I had a clear view of the guy on stage in the still water and around that was mud picking up the purple side lighting...
This isn't really a tip for photographers. It's for anyone who wants to see the world a little differently. Play with light! You won't be disappointed.
[caption id="attachment_749" align="aligncenter" width="590" caption="Busking in Brisbane"][/caption] Well, my Public Artists project is well under way! I've decided to focus on buskers for now since I only have about 5 weeks left in Brisbane until we head to Europe... Unless, of course, something (or someone) interesting lands on my path.
That said, if any of you know of anyone who is creating art for the public and would like some portraits made - send them my way, for sure!
I had a great session with Benoit, an excellent guitarist and very interesting guy. We had a good chat before I photographed him. I like to take some quality time and speak to folks before I even ask to shoot them. There's really no point taking someone's photo if you haven't bothered making any kind of connection...
The approach I'm taking is to capture a wider sense of the place the people are in, a solid portrait, and a few detail shots. Sometimes it works and sometimes not... But it helps having some kind of focus going into it.
First of all it really helps you look more legit as you're explaining your self and your project to complete strangers. Plus it gives you a framework to work with since this is going to be a cohesive series of images. And for me, all 3 aspects are equally important.
I must admit, people have been more willing to be photographed than I expected. As an artist (and a human) I guess I tend to fear rejection as if it's something personal. And in my rational moments I can clearly see it's definitely not personal... But you know how it is. You're investing every ounce of yourself in the process.
But you can't fear what might happen. You step up to the plate and take a swing. Hell, if you only do as well as major league baseball players you're talking about what - a 20% success rate?
If I could recommend one book to read, get your hands on 'The War of Art' by Steven Pressfield. It's all about recognizing and moving past that Resistance that seems to creep into things we want to achieve most. It's incredible.
I think part of my inspiration shooting these buskers is because they go out and sit down in front of the whole world to practice their craft and play... Exposing themselves and their art.
I find that amazingly brave.