We’ve all been mislead. And it’s hurting us. Sometimes badly.
I blame high school economics. You know what I’m talking about, right? Supply. Demand. That point on those graphs where the two lines cross? They’re telling us that there’s supposed to be a certain price out there that people are willing to pay. Forget that. You can do better. If successful businesses show anything, it’s that what counts is how you rise above that point on a line.
It kills me, when I hear people talk like it’s all about the way the economic winds blow and what the market will support, because there’s so much more you can do. Watch the video to see more.
At 2:37, I’ll tell you why it’s not just about quality.
At 3:16, I’ll tell you what you can learn from MP3s to improve your value.
And if you’re like me, and you’re a little tired of being compared to everyone else, then at 4:05, I’ll talk about the value shifting strategy and how to use it to set yourself apart. Starbucks used it. Most corporations use it. And you can use it to.
Check it out. Then come back for the next installment, when I’ll give you a single question that translates to real bookings.
The money was rolling in, and the times were good. The air was thick and warm from pumpkin spice inflected with sage and thyme, and I was giddy to have in my hands what had been the object of my desire for nearly the better part of my life. In fact, not just one, but three brand new Canon EOS-1Ds’s.
To set some history, it was Thanksgiving 2007, a time when cameras were cameras, video was video, and the two hadn’t yet become one. It was a time of wedding rockstars and promises of endless cash, and it was a time when those dreams weren’t all too far from the truth. Work was plentiful and bookings were eeeee-zzzz.
And that’s really more to the point. In truth, I can’t say life was good, but it sure was easy, and I planned on riding this train for as long as the rails ran.
Back then, if I had a problem, I just bought my way out. More workshops, more advertising, more cameras, more gear. All tricks, no muss, no fuss. By the end of that year, I even had a RED on order. What the hell was I going to do with a twenty thousand dollar filmmaker’s camera? I hadn’t a clue, and I didn’t care.
But times were about to get harder. I sold off all of the Canons, all of my Leicas, and a whole lot of beautiful, beautiful glass. I had to, because that was survival, and when the ads stopped working and the well of tricks ran dry, it was all I could think to do.
It was the perfect stroke of luck.
When life doesn’t come easy, there’s nowhere to run. You just have to figure things out. You have to think about who you are and what you want and what you’re doing it all for. Not to say I’ve got it all figured out, but at least it was a start.
Things are a lot simpler now. I still have a couple of bags stuffed with gear between me and my associates. I’m not gonna lie. But for me, it’s basically a couple of Panasonics. Yeah, you read that right. Panasonics. As in Lumix.
Most of my pictures are done with a GX7 and a 25 f1.4. That’s a 50mm equivalent for those of you who don’t use M43. And you know what? I’m shooting better than ever.
Now, I’m not saying you should toss your gear. But I am saying you really don’t need much.
Whether you’re getting it done with your 5D mark iii, your Contax 645, your D800, or you’re gearing up with a shiny new Sony A7R for the holidays, gear isn’t worth squat without heart. And with heart, gear doesn’t really matter. If it works for you, great. But it’s not whether you shoot digital for film, whether you use filters or not, whether you use Photoshop or not, whether you like to see it on screen or in print.
These things are just noise until you know who you are.
It’s about you.
It’s about you and what you believe and what you think and what keeps you up at night. It’s about what compels you and connects you deeper into your own existence. It’s about what thrills you and connects you deeper with others.
I won’t say everything will take care of itself if you find these things. But if you do, there’s a fighting chance the rest can happen. If you don’t, the rest won’t matter.
So on this Thanksgiving, what I’m thankful for is my wife, my children, my parents and family. I’m thankful for my closest of friends and my furthest of acquaintances. I’m thankful for this community for which I write, and I’m thankful for the people I’ve met along the way and the people I’m still to meet.
Photography is life and the guts to let it spill into your work.
So how could I not be thankful for every single thing I’ve come across and all the lessons they’ve taught me? It’s all a blessing. I’m also pretty thankful I cancelled the order on the RED before it was released.
That’s all there was.
Nothing but two words on a scant 8.5 inches on one side against 11 on the other.
I don’t know why I wrote it. It was just a whisper in my mind, but I knew what it meant. A point zero zero four inch divide between the me I was and the me I wasn’t.
It had been one of those days. You know the type, where you have the time, you have the energy, and you have no excuse in the world not to get something done. Anything. But the clock keeps on ticking. 10:00. 11:00. Noon. Afternoon. And still nothing to show for it. Finally, at 3:43, I pulled out the paper and asked the question.
“What do you want to be?”
I don’t know where it came from. Maybe it was a self-help book. Maybe it was the same stray thought that had been rattling around in my head since I was a little kid trying to figure out just what it is grown-ups are supposed to do with their lives.
Whatever triggered it, one thing was clear. If you think you want to be something, you don’t think you are something. And when those words stare right back at you on a monolithic sheet of 20 pound, 92 bright white laser paper, you can’t help but wonder “Why haven’t I gotten there?”
Mind you, I don’t know exactly what being something is supposed to look like. I know it’s not fame and fortune, though I wouldn’t complain about more recognition or a bump in my pay grade. I know it’s not awards or accolades, though I’d proudly post any such mention on my wall.
It’s more a feeling in my gut. I know I picked up a camera for a reason. I know something pulled me in, and something got me going. I quit my job and did this thing I’m doing, and it surely can’t all be for nothing.
But there it was in plain, black ink poured straight out of my heart onto the paper.
Now, pictures are powerful things. Forget Jedi mind control. The camera is even better. It has the ability to shape the world, define our memories, and reveal our inner workings.
Don’t believe me? Just take a look at the images in anyone’s feed, and see how long it takes to stitch together who they are and what they’re about. In seconds, with no trace of conscious thought, you’ll know if they’re outlandish, restrained, arty, witty, sarcastic, or sincere. Look more, and you’ll know their hobbies, travels, and tastes. You’ll even start to decide whether or not you like them. All with barely an effort.
And as photographers, it gets better, because we can not only say these things with our images, we can control what we say and how we say it. Even a lot of the least crafted photos are full of implication and suggestion. The best are a sledgehammer.
More than anything, I wanted to say something – to learn something, to see something – to share what I thought and felt, and, hopefully, along the way, feel like I was adding something to other people’s lives.
In truth, I know why it hadn’t come together. I was perfectly content not being something, so long as I had an out. Some reason, some excuse to say I couldn’t get it done, because I had other things that were more important to do. Too many bills to pay, mouths to feed – as long as I could tell myself I had what it takes, but it just never came together.
But that wasn’t belief. That was delusion. A short sell meant to cover a long life. Much too long to stay this particular course.
I believe in inner selves and the person inside. It may not be that mythical something that’s the stuff of novels or legend. It may be nothing more than one small voice among dozens in the convoluted slurry of impressions and ideas that make up our lives. But at any given time, there’s something we want to do and want to be, and there’s something everyone else wants us to do and wants us to be, and it’s usually not too hard to figure which is which.
All you need to do is draw a line on a sheet of paper. Look back with the eyes of your future-self at a time when it’s all said and done. What would you like to be able to say you did? Write that on one side. Then write what you’re doing right now on the other side. Do these two things connect?
Yeah, photography is powerful stuff. It’s better than a chance to be something. It’s a chance to be you. But if you’ve picked up a camera and you believe in the image, you probably already knew that. And if the connection between the two sides of that line is just a little murky, ask yourself “What’s stopping you?” Whatever it may be, odds are, it’s not reason enough.
It was 7:12 when got up from my chair to head home. By now, there were books strewn across the desk and magazines on the floor – an inspiration board of images and thoughts for tomorrow and tomorrow’s tomorrow. I was about to turn off the lights, when it hit me. I had it wrong. I ran back to that sheet of paper, I scratched out the word “something” and replaced it with “you.”
I crumpled it up and tossed it the trash. I realized I already was.