As a photographer and a sailor the weather has a major impact on my activities. As a photographer I look for weather that suits the style of photographs that I’m currently working towards and plan appropriately. As a sailor I’m watching the weather and modifying the sails to match changes in wind and changing plans to account for storms.
We need to be equally skilled at looking for and responding to the winds of change in our careers and personal lives. We must change and continue to innovate if the hope is to build and sustain our business and career. Being creative, looking beyond the obvious, offering something more than just what the camera is able to bring seems to be the way to succeed. Opportunities abound for those willing to try small experiments, review the feedback from those experiments and try again until something is found that works.
Last weekend I was at John Paul Caponigro’s Maine Islands Workshop. The workshop appealed to me because it was based in a part of Maine I hadn’t previously explored and it was an opportunity to work with John Paul. For the uninitiated, John Paul is a fine art landscape photographer whose work often blurs the line between photography and painting. I was initially more familiar with his work as a master printer since he was referenced by many of the photographers I have paid attention to. After poking around on his website I realized that JP could be the photography mentor that I have been looking for, someone who could help me become more like me.
I was more than a little bit intimidated in signing up since I felt that John Paul attracted people that were already very good and were pushing to be more creative. I really needn’t have worried. John Paul’s relaxed demeanor helped to foster a very supportive environment that made for good weekend.
As an added bonus Kevin Ames was part of our group. I was familiar with Kevin through his book ‘The Digital Photographer’s Notebook’ so this was real surprise to get a chance to meet him and see him in action. Kevin has a great sense of humor and was fun to be around. He’s also a great resource for imaging possibilities in photoshop which came in very handy. I’m looking forward to bumping into him again.
The subtitle of the workshop was ‘Illuminating Creativity’, so it shouldn’t have been a surprise that at each of the shoots John Paul gave the group an exercise – shoot a photograph that’s a noun, make the postcard image and then make a more creative one. What this did was to shift my thinking. I have a specific project that I am working on that I half thought I would come close to finishing at this workshop but what actually happened was that I tried a lot of things that I wouldn’t have otherwise. I made some images that I like, I have a few ideas that I will pursue further and I have a better sense of why my duds are just that duds.
It was an odd sensation but I came away from the workshop feeling the same way I did when I got into graduate school – an ending but also the first step on a grander adventure.
I’m sure that most people recognize the title of today’s post as Polonius’s advice to his son Laertes in Shakespeare’s Hamlet. For me, it evokes memories of one of the worst training sessions that I have ever attended and still managed to complete. I was part of a group working with an actor to develop our presentation skills. ‘To thine own self be true’ was one of the phrases that we were using to make sure that we projected to the back of the room.
The phrase of course had meaning in itself – by being authentic you are able to give a much better presentation. Part of the workshop was to explore who we were as individuals, what was our story and how would that impact how we approach presentations. At the time I thought it was utterly hokey and wanted little to do with it. With time however, I’ve come to believe that success, with presentations or otherwise, will follow when you are true to yourself.
This is something that is echoed in Dane Sanders‘s story about his own career as a photographer in ‘The Fast Track Photographer‘. Dane was pitching himself as ‘Santa Barbara’s Premier Wedding Photographer…’ when in fact he had little experience. Once he changed that message to one that more accurately represented him the work began to flow in.
In a culture where ‘fake it ’till you make it’ is the rule, being true to yourself can be a challenge but one that’s ultimately worth it.
I’ve been thinking a lot about vision, voice and style recently. Perhaps in part because I’ve been listening to David DuChemin on creativeLIVE. One of the exercises that David suggests to help develop your vision is to take a look at other photographers work and ask what were they were intending with the photograph. This and much more can be found in David’s eBook ‘Vision Driven‘. I’m much more of a techno geek and so delving into this kind of descriptive activity is very difficult for me. So how to start?
George Barr‘s latest book – Why Photographs Work: 52 Great Images Who Made Them, What Makes Them Special and Why is as good a jumping off point as I can think of. Each of the 52 photographs is first discussed by George and then the photographer also provides a perspective on the image. This is quite a unique opportunity to get behind the scenes with some of my favorite photographers – David Ward, Joe Cornish, Charlie Waite, & Michael Kenna to name a few. There are also a good number of photographers here that I wasn’t previously familiar with, such as Christopher Burkett & Michael Levin, whose work is quite well worth further study.
I am reminded that there are other sources for a discussion of making of the images. Many coffee table photography books have descriptions of the photographers intent at the back of the book, along with the technical details. Additionally there are a number of ‘Making of . . .’ books worth a look. Perhaps the most notable is Ansel Adams’s Examples: The Making of 40 Photographs but I’m sure there are others.
Recognizing that I have these resources to hand to help me develop the language skills that I need to describe the intent of a photograph I’m off to practice!