Things have a way of hitting you when you’re not expecting it.
It’s not always the good stuff. But sometimes, just sometimes, it is. I got this email about a week back, and I was tickled:
Putting in motion your tips from your current sales series…..
Already I have gotten WAY better responses!!!!
Normally I give a price right out the gate because that is their first question; then it’s just crickets. I never hear back from them. This time, I was very interested, asked a lot of questions, and she instantly got excited and wanted to book before hearing a price!
THANK YOU! For all your hard work and sharing with the world!
I so love hearing things like this. Makes me feel useful.
It also reminded me of one last sales secret I wanted to share to round out the free mini-course I’ve been running. It helps get the type of reaction Cassandra just described.
I call it the 89% problem.
Now, for the record, I don’t know if it’s really done by 89% of the people out there. I suspect a fair bit more, to be honest, but I do know most people do it, and it’s costly.
See the last thing most people talk about with their potential clients in their meetings is price. It usually goes a little something like this:
“Here’s how much things cost. See what you think. Call me if you want me. See ya!”
This is a mistake.
Sales work best when people are excited. Very excited.
When you stoke the flames and people build a bond with you and your work in a way they feel in their gut and they can’t stop thinking about you, pricing becomes secondary. You don’t want to prove your value. You want people to feel your value.
But! Here’s what happens when a lot of people see your price: They choke.
It yanks them right out of excitement-land, straight back into woah-this-costs-a-lot-land. And if you don’t take them back to excitement-land, it may just be a one-way trip.
The first words the couple utters after you wrap things up should be “Oh my gosh! She was amazing!!!”
What you don’t want is “I don’t know if we can afford this.”
So, here’s what you do. After talking about pricing, bring the conversation right back to the work. Don’t let them walk out the door talking about pricing. If they’re not booking on the spot, make the first words after the meeting be about you and your work.
Ask some questions about the photography. The wedding. Their needs, hopes, and wants. Anything to remind them why they’re thrilled about you. Leave them dreaming, hoping, and wanting.
It’s not a lot, but in sales, small differences are big differences. You’re welcome.
Enrollment is about to close on the Momentum Sales online course. It’s a full-fledged wedding photography sales system, and the teaching begins next week. Take a look. I think you’ll like it.
How much does it hurt?
Sometimes, too much. Often, more than I want to admit. Most times, more than I expected.
I just wrapped up a presentation at Camp Go Away last week. Of course, I use the term presentation lightly, given that I was hobbling together the pieces up to the very last minute. For those of you who aren’t familiar, Camp Go Away is a small, back-to-the-basics shindig put together by the wonderful and talented Chellise and Michael of Chellise Michael Photography, and you can count me in as a fan. If you’re looking for a get together that smells like a warm fire in a cool morning breeze (quite literally, in fact) and oozes with heart, this is it. It is a beautiful thing.
There I was, talking about some of the pain I’ve experienced in my life – in career, in artistry, in expectation and hopes and the dreams of being more that too often were less, when it hits me. Maybe this feeling that I’ve nursed so much of my life isn’t mine alone. I ask everyone, “Is pain something you know as creatives?”
They say when you laugh, people laugh with you, but when you cry, you’re going to be doing it alone with a bottle of bourbon, and if I had to hazard a guess, I’d guess that it’s a feeling a lot of people know. But hurt has a way of making you feel small and isolated and very, very alone. So no matter how much I figure it couldn’t have just been me, it was a hard feeling to shake.
But I asked, and hands went up. Hands from talented photographers producing wonderful work. And I realized, we are never alone. If you’ve ever felt worthless, you are not alone. If you’ve ever felt trapped, you are not alone. If you’ve ever felt like a fraud or a failure or like you’ve hit a wall, and maybe this time, you won’t make it through, you are not alone.
Creativity is a stream. You can drink from the stream, take from the stream, and swim in the stream, but you can’t freeze it. You can’t pickle it and preserve it or hold on to it any more than you can hold on to your thoughts, and the harder you try, the more it will stop you from seeing the next swell coming down the pipes. But you can foster it. You can become aware of it and open yourself to experiencing it and putting yourself in places that make the visit from the muse that much more likely.
Creativity is a feeling we all know. When that certain something clicks, and life gushes, and you feel it pouring out into everything you do. When everything becomes interesting and meaningful, and you can crack open impenetrable ideas as easily as eggs into a frying pan.
But no one is creative all the time, at least not in that way with the capital C. In fact, more likely, almost all of us are distinctly uncreative most of the time, but if you listen to the voices in your head and open yourself to the world around you, a little bit of that beautiful thing inside you will seep out and make its way to the world. And that is enough.
Creativity is not about pain. In fact, if being at Camp Go Away told me anything, as I stepped out of my life in a place that gave me no choice but to do so, it reminded me that creativity is love. I was blessed in each encounter I had, in each person I met, and that chance to see just a little bit of who they were, experiencing the universe, one person and one moment at a time. And this is something that’s there for all of us.
Creativity is immersion. An openness to inspiration, and the pain will only cloud that vision, blinding you to the fact that you already have what you need. You are what you need. That if you accept that and let the journey take shape, you will find all the answers.
As Mick Jagger said, you can’t always get what you want, but if you try sometimes, you might find you get what you need.
Holding on to the pain will only marginalize your power. It will push you to chase validation and lure you to the conformity lurking around the corner. One choice after the next, it is a slippery slope of doubt masked by further doubt.
Life coach Michael Neill compares this neediness to a game of fetch. He describes his two dogs. One loves to play fetch, and will chase the ball relentlessly, constantly begging and pleading for another throw. The other dog isn’t terribly interested in the game at all, and just enjoys where he is and what he is doing. Too many of us are like the first dog playing fetch, except instead of chasing a ball, we chase happiness, validation, and self-worth, moving the goal posts of joy so each time we accomplish something, we push our hope forward to tomorrow, instead of living in it today.
Growing up, I never had a pair of shoes that fit. My parents always bought them a size too large to let me grow into them. The only problem was by the time I would, they’d be worn out, and I’d have to move on to the next oversized pair. So I simply lived my childhood believing that shoes were supposed to be really loose.
Find your fit now. Revel in the craft. Love each step of the way.
Joy cannot be one step ahead of you. It is either there, or it is not. We either grab it, take it, and fight for it, or we dream a pipe dream of false expectations and unrealized hopes that someday, it will come. Don’t wait for the heavens to part so you can receive the divine right to simply be who you are. That day will never happen. Someday is always a day away, and if you’re to live a life of deep trust and true meaning, it will only come when you let go of the pain and take this thing you have and make it work, right here, right now, because that’s all any of us ever have.
I always thought I wanted it pretty bad. I thought I was willing to take the hits, but when I look back and really think it through, I’d be hard pressed to make the case. It was all just plausible deniability. It was never my responsibility. Always something else. Some reason. Some excuse. Sometimes – maybe more times than not – it’s just easier to think more of yourself than to be more of yourself.
But though you can tell yourself whatever you want, life has a simple formula. You do, it gives. You don’t, it takes.
They say the bigger they are, the harder they fall, and you see it all of the time. People hit the wall – great people, often the greatest of them – who can’t crawl out of themselves any longer.
And it’s only getting harder. It’s an age of virtual navel gazing and personal brand. Hell, I’ve burnt through whole days waiting for my apps to light up. New likes? Fans? Did I go viral? It’s like an accident. You just can’t not look.
Yeah, now more than ever, you have to stand for something. Be something. And, yeah, be proud. Stand tall. Do all of it. Don’t run from your shadow, and pack your achievements in a tiny dark box in the back of your brain.
But now more than ever, you also have to let it go. Thomas Szasz said:
“Every act of conscious learning requires the willingness to suffer an injury to one’s self- esteem. That is why young children, before they are aware of their own self- importance, learn so easily; and why older persons, especially if vain or important, cannot learn at all.”
If you want to step into your future, it’s not about building, but tearing down. The walls being removed aren’t exposing you. They’re letting you go forward.
And if you’re not stepping into your future, then you’re going to have to ask the question: “Is this really what I want?” Because the hard is what makes everything great. The hard is what makes it all worth doing, and if you don’t want the hard, and you just want the fame or the fortune, maybe you don’t really want that future.
There are going to be excuses, and there are going to be obstacles. Excuses you create. Obstacles you encounter. If you come across too many excuses, odds are you really don’t want it bad enough. Look where you are, and see if it’s the path that’s the problem and not the barriers. But if the things that are stopping you are in fact obstacles, then double down and push through with everything you’ve got.
In all cases, you either hang onto the past at the expense of the future or you let go of the past and find your future. That’s the choice. Pick carefully.
Sometimes, the shit hits the fan, and you’re stuck cleaning the mess. And it sucks. How much does it suck? It sucks to the tune of about 10.9 million results plus or minus a few when you Google “What to do when your client is unhappy.” As it turns out, there’s no dearth of advice on how to slink your way through the gauntlet.
And, yet, for all that, the first time I ever Googled those words was exactly 36 minutes and 12 seconds before I started writing this.
Here’s my small contribution to the mix.
When things go wrong, as tempting as it is, this is not your chance to get your passive-aggressive on. People sniff out self-interest faster than you can inhale glue. Carrie Bradshaw once said “Don’t forget to fall in love with yourself first.” And if a narcissistic, fictional character who spends $40,000 on shoes says it, then I’d say it’s a good sign to do the opposite.
There is no dearth of people who are already far too far in love with themselves. Angry clients hate defensive businesses. I like to employ the forget-being-in-love-with-myself-and-just-solve-the-damn-problem” strategy instead. It’s not as new age-y as acknowledging your self-love and living fiercely from the I, but it makes the pain go away a whole lot faster, and, guess what? It makes your clients happier too.
And when things go wrong, you want happy clients.
For real? Yes. For real.
Not because the client is always right and all that. Who really thinks that? But the real question is, does it matter? You’re in business. Some clients will be wrong, some will be right. You’ll have to deal with both.
Here’s the oft forgotten point:
SUPER SECRET SUCCESS PRINCIPLE #209
Unhappy people fight back. Happy people don’t.
This is important. It kind of flies by, and you don’t really notice, but here’s what it means. If you focus on making someone happy, they’ll be willing to hear you out and even accept what you’re saying. But if you focus on making people hear you out and accept what you’re saying, they’ll just get angrier.
Now, maybe you say “But they’ll blame me if I don’t defend myself!” In reality, they already blame you. And no matter what you say, they’ll make up some reason that you’re still wrong if they’re mad. All these years doing this, and not even one person told me I showed them the light, despite my proclamations of innocence. Not even a thank you. Sheesh.
See, on it’s own, Super Secret Success Principle #209 is sort of a “Fine. Meh. Got it.” sort of thing. But in the heat of battle, it’s everything, because almost anything you read from an unhappy client is probably going to read a little like “blah, blah, blah, you’re wrong…blah, blah, blah…I think you’re an idiot, and I blame you.”
And when someone hears “I think you’re an idiot, and I blame you,” whether it was in the words or not, it is very, very hard not to push back. But, see, that just makes them come back at you harder. See how the cycle works? All bad.
For example, I’ve noticed when I get in a fight with my wife (umm…you know…once in awhile that happens…) she’s a whole lot more willing to listen to me after we’ve made up than in the middle of the argument. Because she’s happy. Or at least not pissed.
Here’s a simple guide whenever things go south:
1. TAKE 5
Calm yourself down. Responses written in anger and frustration rarely read well. And absolutely no passive-aggressive-y stuff. People can tell when you say things like “I’m so sorry you feel that way,” that you’re really not. If you say, “I’m sorry we missed that,” people feel better. If you say, “I’m sorry we missed the shot that I wasn’t required to take according to the contract,” people don’t.
2. CALM YOUR CLIENT DOWN
A simple “I’m sorry. Do you have a moment to talk, so we can figure things out?” will do the job. And reply quickly. When someone is angry, minutes matter. Remember, as clients, we all have long histories of being treated badly, so a little care can go a long way. Sometimes, it’s so shocking and disarming, it’s enough on its own.
3. GET YOUR CLIENTS ON THE PHONE
Also, keep your emails short. No essays describing every sensation pulsing through your body. Who wants to read an essay? Email excels at efficiency, but it stinks as communication. Get them to talk. If people hear you’re sincere, people will let you off for a lot. Also, clients are often more reasonable than their emails sound.
4. KNOW YOUR GOALS
Know what you’re willing to give in on and what you’re not. Know what you want to achieve. If you don’t, it’s easy to get carried away in the heat of the moment.
5. FIND THE PROBLEM
Whether you can fix it or not, make your client feel valued. Listen to them intently and fully. When most people are heard, even if the problem can’t be fixed, they feel better.
6. LIVE TO FIGHT ANOTHER DAY
As Gloria Gaynor would tell you, you will survive.
And there you have it. You’re welcome.
I just polished off The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt last Friday. Not quite binge-watching, but when you have two kids, you can only go through things so fast.
That’s how the world has changed. It used to be, you watched a show once a week. Now, watching a season in about a week is nothing.
Kimmy Schmidt is a show for our times. Not only delivered instantly, but unrelenting. The references and gags fly fast and furious, as your mind races to catch up. It never does. Between Ellie Kemper’s pitch-perfect performance and Tina Fey’s break-neck pace, it just keeps going, going, going.
And that’s how the world has changed, too. Everything keeps going, going, going, burning through the burn rate. You don’t break orbit. You just stay ahead of gravity.
The magic of photography isn’t the preservation. I’m sorry. It’s just not. Preservation, at least without clarification, is a cliche of the highest magnitude, and it comes at too high a cost. To the viewer. To the creator. To the soul.
It’s a cop out that fails to answer the harder questions that separate good photography from bad. It fails to tell us what you or anything else is about. Just about every picture preserves something. So what? A good picture is not only a portal into another world, but a device to force people’s minds and hearts to take that journey. You have to ask what’s being preserved (a mood? a thing? an irony?), why it matters, and how to get that across. This in turn means you have to know what’s going on in the world and how to play both with and against trend and culture.
Making a good picture keeps getting all the harder. When nothing was preserved, everything mattered. Everything was fresh. But these are on-demand times. Everything is bits and bytes, and typing a few words into a box will produce more results than you’ll know what to do with. That’s the irony. We’ve created a society where finding answers is so easy, the answers have lost their value. It used to be that answers were insight. Now questions are insight.
Before Gutenberg created the printing press, a bible was a book for royalty, each one written out by hand. Knowledge came at a steep cost. In the 1840′s, a wallet-size daguerreotype cost in the area of a $100 (inflation adjusted). Getting better, but information still wasn’t exactly prime time. Now, information, image, and knowledge cost nothing. Hell, you can work your way through MIT’s curriculum online for free. The fresh and novel become cliches in minutes, days, and weeks instead of years and decades.
And what’s wrong with cliches? Cliches kill the imagination and rob us of the opportunity to engage with the past in a personal and intimate manner. They tell the mind to think of the cliche instead of the content itself.
When you see a couple dipping on the beach at sunset with fill flash, you can’t not think “wedding photography.” What you likely don’t see is an authentic gesture and moment. And while unlikely in this particular case, it’s fully possible to neuter true moments by showing them in a manner that is simply too familiar and too common. Clliches tell us more about the creator than the subject. It’s a little like those movies that seem so inauthentic, you’re sure the only place the screenwriter ever experienced those emotions was while watching other movies.
If you haven’t seen Kimmy Schmidt, I won’t ruin it for you, but I’ll say on paper, the dolphin gag (as one of many possible examples, shouldn’t work), but it does. It’s ridiculous. Which is the point. When a show moves with this type of speed, it makes high order of low comedy. It is constantly fresh, even when it’s not. It may not hit all the marks, but it owns its comedy, and that’s exactly what we all need to do.
Living isn’t just moving through change, but reacting to it. The power of knowledge is as much that it tells you what not to do, as what to do. How would you travel the road less travelled if you didn’t know what the road more travelled was? And in the modern day, it’s an occupation of constant going, going, going. Fresh doesn’t have to be big, brilliant, and massive. It doesn’t have to be cutting-edge nor can it not be classic. It just has to be specific to the thing in front of you. A well-worn technique in a fresh context is often enough. A new technique on an old subject can work. Personal is shifting life by one degree, but when the lure of the answer and the pressure of the style are omnipresent, that may well be the tallest order of all.
For a long time, whenever I had one of those dejected and down sort of days where you want to curl up into a ball, I would pull out a fresh, crisp 12″x18″ sheet of paper and write out my financial projections for the next five years.
But these were no ordinary projections.
Equal parts delusion and fantasy, grazed only ever so slightly by the constraints of reality, it’s not so much that I couldn’t achieve them, as much as the fact that I knew deep down, I wouldn’t. And I suppose it didn’t really matter a whole lot to me at the time. I just wanted enough to get the blood pumping.
What I didn’t see at the time was I was trying to kick start a car that was basically out of gas. The thrill of the future was enough to keep me running on fumes a few days. Sometimes even a few weeks, but inevitably, I’d always find myself back on empty as the wish fulfillment faded and reality returned.
Wishes are easy, but it’s the dreams we need. Wishes are the things we want without doing the work. In fact, in the face of a wish, work is nothing more than a meaningless barrier. Dreams, on the other hand, manifest our greater purpose. They’re the thing we’re put on this planet to do, and for dreams, doing the work is part of their fulfillment.
Not to say that there’s anything wrong with having a day where you need to pull out the carrot and put it in front of a stick, but at a certain point, it can become more work to keep finding new carrots than just to do the work itself.
Emil Ebers said, “Fame to the ambitious, is like salt water to the thirsty. The more one gets, the more he wants.” And that’s the real danger. Whether it’s fame, fortune, or pleasure, the wish is an addiction.
As has been recounted in innumerable gangster movies, the problem is life sticks to you like the residue you find when you peel off old tape. Not quite there, never quite gone, what you do becomes part of who you are. We are creatures of habit, and we love as we do as much as we do as we love. Every action you take will attach you just the smallest bit more either to the wish or the dream.
But we live in a slash and burn world that trades on the future for the now, and the jagged little pill here is that as much as we can understand the need for the work and the importance of the dream, we can’t generate the passion for it through intellect alone.
We can start, though, by recognizing the dream. By asking ourselves who we want to be. Because the thing that makes the dream happen isn’t the reward or the payoff, and the thing that stands in the way isn’t the work.
In fact, no dream is worth having if you don’t love the work. Not to say that the victor shouldn’t enjoy the spoils, but that you have to love the work even more. You have to be willing to live your life forever the beginner, always open, and always eager to know more, even at the sacrifice of showing more. This builds the dream.
And while we can’t simply will our way to passion, we can see where we stand and create a different world around us, placing ourselves in environments of growth. We can create situations that hold us accountable. We can spend time with those who hold us to higher standards. We can start new adventures, stop doing the same old things, and build new habits for ourselves.
In Chinese culture, it’s said you have to go past boredom to find fascination. Which is to say you have to make it through the hard before you get to the good. And it’s also to say that the wonder is inside of you. Not in projections or spreadsheets or money or fame. But in choosing yourself and the power you have over the sway of the temptation. And if you work towards the dream, doing it over and over again, pretty soon you’ll find that living it doesn’t take nearly as much as it seemed.
Be sure to share the things you do to keep yourself going in the comments below. I’d love to hear from you.
Better safe than sorry.
Those are the words I’ve known. Those are the words I’ve lived. A calculated existence, staying the course, climbing the hill, waiting to become all the me I could be.
Don’t fight windmills.
Don’t chase the dream.
I had a steady stream of clients, an office in the middle of Manhattan, and a brand new Brooklyn home.
Everything was perfect.
And if you were to ask me what perfect felt like, the best answer I could give is it somewhat resembles staring down the barrel of a 45-caliber loaded gun.
It looks like long hours with mismatched clients, constant insecurity, and a deep well of doubt. It looks like a big mess of yourself, never coming together, always falling apart, hoping to be more, but too afraid to be less.
I was a pregnant pause living off a catheter with a constant drip of hope.
I was desperate. Afraid. Ashamed of my ridiculous facade that mattered to no one but me.
There are three types of photographers in the world.
The first is the novice, and the novice lives by memorizing the work of others and replicating those pictures. He operates by the principle of substitution. Essentially recreating something that’s already been done without adding anything to the mix. You could just as soon Photoshop heads and bodies into other pictures to achieve the same. Instead of looking for differences this photographer finds similarities. Instead of revealing uniqueness, the novice renders everything as common.
The second photographer lives by formula. This is the amateur. One step up the ladder, he has extracted the rules that make pictures work and organized them into a set of formulas. He no longer needs to force feed his subjects into tired tropes, but his work conforms to commonly accepted rules. The amateur thinks of the world in terms of right and wrong. He looks for good light. Good composition. Good expressions. And these are absolute. He proves his skill by making pictures that include as many forms of goodness as possible – the more, the merrier.
The final type of photographer is the professional. The professional knows there is no good and bad and knows what counts is not being good, but communicating powerfully. Most people call this voice. He will do whatever it takes to make that communication come through. For the professional, every moment, every occurrence, every expression is something new and valuable, so it must been seen with open eyes and explored as fully as possible. There are no rules, just what works, which also means that the professional lives in complete uncertainty. Everything must be figured out. The only safety net is a well-honed instinct and being deeply in touch with his beliefs. The professional knows the power of trying and getting things done, and works constantly to grow.
The true artist is a professional. The true business person is a professional. Those who find their value are professionals. The professional puts subject first, bringing insight, surprise, and joy into the world.
No one who was ever been hired just to get a job done will be paid the full value of what they are worth. There has to be more.
And very few of us are professionals for one simple reason.
The more we learn the rules, the more we like them. They’re comfortable and familiar and easy, but in the end, if you can’t let go, they’ll stop you dead in your tracks and blind you to possibility. There are no rules. If it works, it works. The greats make the rules, and you can’t do that, if you’re not willing to walk out on a ledge and jump.
The truth is most people would rather look good than be good.
And this is a tragedy.
Because the moment we give up our vision in favor of the common and the accepted is the moment we lose touch with our dreams, hopes, and even our purpose. The things that make us the most human and the most powerful.
The way the professional differs from the amateur is the way he handles fear. Instead of turning away from it to find safer ground, the professional steers right into it and takes it down. The professional lives a life of trust, while the amateur lives a life of doubt. The professional sees opportunity, where the amateur sees danger.
And to add insult to injury the very security the amateur seeks is a lie.
The middle class is dying. You’re flying or crashing. There is no holding pattern. That’s a relic from a bygone era, when you could spend your lunchtime sipping martini’s and your weekends manicuring your lawn.
Living out loud isn’t just a luxury now. It’s the minimum you need for skin in the game.
This isn’t a world we can know any longer. Change is too fast for that.
You can only know how to listen to the surf, feel the swell, and ride the waves. If you crash, you crash and get right back up. It’s not ready, steady, go. It’s go, go, go, and deal with being ready and steady the whole way through. That is the skill of the here and now.
And that is exactly the skill of the professional: living in the present.
Success, is an activity of constant change. You have to learn how to live ahead of the curve and create things no one has seen before. That’s the rocket fuel.
Yes, knowing the rules will get you business. So will slick marketing. These things will get money in the door, but what it won’t get you is control. It won’t get you passionate followers who insist on spreading the word.
Insecurity is now the only path to security. More than ever, this is the time to experiment. To play with new ideas. To dive deep. It’s time to find your edges and discover your voice, because in this hyper-connected, over-saturated, technicolor world, being noticed is harder than ever.
I thought I wanted safety, but I was wrong. What I wanted was relief. Relief from the pressure. Relief from the fear. I wanted permission to be myself and to try not being myself.
That permission never came. There’s no one to give out the gold stars in real life. There is no one to tell you it’s OK. It just is. You go out and do things, and see what happens, and believe in yourself and your ideas enough to know that you can take whatever happens, whether it works the way you wanted or not, and use it to move yourself one step further into the journey. It’s taking the step that counts.
Great people make life work. Sometimes they fly. Sometimes they crash. But they know something most of us don’t.
Being sorry is better than safe.
The problem with wedding photography has nothing to do with photography. It has nothing to do with exposure and f-stops and whether this looks like film or that works as a print. It has nothing to do with light and composition or even emotion or feeling on their own. The problem with wedding photography, in fact, is distinctly non-photographic.
The problem is Iceland.
This is an industry where there isn’t a week that goes by where the stakes aren’t ratcheted up a notch. Where the landscapes don’t loom a little more dramatic, where the couples don’t get a little smaller, and the compositions grow more impressive. A high stakes game being battled across the globe in locations near and far and so commonly settling in Iceland, as the hills sing with the sound of shutters clicking and couples trekking.
Each year, the light gets prettier, the cliffs become steeper, and the pictures are stunning – more than enough to satiate the wanderlust in every flip-phone toting, card-carrying, hipster heart. Raggedy-yet-graceful couples walking up hills, down hills, staring at oceans, and standing in forests.
But for all that, no matter how stunning and how impressive, the question isn’t about how well you take the picture. The prettiness may make it all go down a hell of a lot easier, but it will never be a replacement for what really matters: having something to say.
While it may be the age of unending fetish, no VSCO filter, no stock of Kodachrome, no place, no space – none of it means anything if there isn’t a point of view stirring inside the person who clicks the button.
Yes, pictures have improved. But as the haze lifts and the talent grows, what becomes clear is that the plague of the wedding industry isn’t its sheer crappiness. We’re finally starting to steer clear of that. It’s the pervasive sameness that has defined this industry from the start. Where craft is concerned, crappiness and sameness are worlds apart. But insofar as the art, heart, and soul of the medium goes, they remain one and the same.
This is a time of a thousand variations of couples center-framed, space-enclosed, holding hands, and looking somewhere, anywhere, and everywhere. And I’ll fess up now. I, too, am guilty.
What’s wrong with sameness? It sells. It’s sexy. It’s hot. Why not?
Because people are more. Couples are more. Because we are more. If you buy the party line – and this is a line I’ll buy hook, line, and sinker – that we all have something to say – that we all have something to offer – then sameness is most certainly a problem.
We are defined by how we are different. No one says you’re you because the things you do or the beliefs you have are just like everyone else. You are you, because of all the ways you’re different. That’s how it goes. We are our exceptions, not our conformity.
And we all have something stirring inside of us. Everyone has a way of doing things. But many never put it to use nor pay it heed, instead, chasing the chase, looking for better in all the wrong places.
You see it in the battles of the moment and the talk of the times. There’s the white hot fight to see who can produce the truest film emulation. The crusade for printing prints. The unending litany of discussions about the cameras we use. Do we stick to a DSLR or go mirrorless? Do we shoot digital at all? And what format, if we go film? Check out the Leica M Edition 60 if you want to see the ultimate conceit of the now. All digital, no LCD viewfinder. Get the hardness of digital and the limitations of film for $19K. Nice.
This all misses the point.
The question isn’t how good a film emulation is. It’s why you use it. I’ve seen many a conversation comparing film stock presets. I’ve seen all of none telling us why it matters. If you don’t have an answer why getting 98% of the way to Portra 400 is better than 96%, then who really cares about the rest? Which isn’t to say that it doesn’t matter, but that the question of why needs to come first, or else it’s the chase for the sake of the chase.
Authenticity is only valuable when you understand it well enough to let go of it. The moment we cling to the authentic for itself is the moment it loses its original purpose.
It’s not digital or film. Print or screen. It’s what you have to say with them. How you use them. And if the answer is only going to go as far as the mysterious beauty of the grain structure or how a different technology makes you slow down and think, that’s not even close to far enough.
Beauty for what? To say what about the world? About your subject? Slowing down and thinking, though great, did all of nothing to make every film photographer anything close to brilliant before digital hit the scene. Most people were just slow and bad.
Thinking about light, composition, and timing is one thing. Thinking about what life, love, and living is for is another. And that is the problem with Iceland.
Not that so many have gone to the ends of the earth and back to find the ultimate shot. That, in and of itself is fine. But that so many people wander through the mist and climb the hills – whether it be in Iceland, California, or across the street – only to bring back something so similar to so much without asking what their own private Iceland was. That we chase the look and not the meaning.
Great photographers find novel ways to show similar subjects. Sameness disparages the complexity and beauty of who we are.
Live life first.
Not through the camera. Not for the camera. But with the camera. Sit on a sidewalk and watch the people pass. See how you feel about them. Not what looks like some shot you’ve seen before from a hero of the past. But what YOU feel. Put that in your pictures.
Read a book and think about what people are. What is marriage for to you? What is love for to you? How does your choice of framing, composition, filtering, and camera make this opinion – this belief in your heart – indisputably clear? Step out of your role as the photographer and forget about what you’re supposed to shoot. Find what you need to shoot.
Be conscious of your possibility.
The world doesn’t need you to solve what’s already been solved. It’s waiting for you to solve what hasn’t. It’s waiting to hear what you have to say. Don’t check yourself in at the door. Don’t run from who you’ve fought to become. Wear it. Show it. And make that lead the way.
Einstein once said if he had an hour to save the world, he’d spend 55 minutes defining the problem and 5 minutes finding the solution. What’s unfortunate is if you research this carefully, you’d find he probably never said that (I, on the other hand, did not research this carefully, but I did Google it and found this article).
What is fortunate is this makes for a great quote that reveals an essential truth about creative thinking: Answers are bad. Questions are good.
Read on, to see how it worked for Steve Jobs, how it stops photographers in their tracks, and why Jeff Goldblum can save your life.
FOCUSING ON ANSWERS BLINDS YOU TO THE OBVIOUS
Answers are only as useful as the questions they serve. Or, to put it another way, creative thinking isn’t answering questions. It’s asking them. Think about it. How many times have you thought to yourself, “Why didn’t I think of that?” Because you know you could have. But the odds are the reason you didn’t see the obvious is because you didn’t ask the obscure.
Bad questions are stifling. Why? Because all questions are packed with assumptions –horrible, mind-numbing, headache-inducing assumptions – and until you can untangle this morass of evil assumptions, answers have limited value. Worse yet, bad questions are not only packed with the most assumptions of all, but they’re also the first questions to come to mind, so when we set out on solving a problem without taking the time to reframe it, we implicitly accept the status quo instead of taking a fresh look at the issue .
For example, the entire computer industry spent years in the early 2000′s trying to make the tablet work. Why did Steve Jobs get it done, when everyone else couldn’t? Well, yes, sure, because he’s Steve Jobs, there’s that. But the real problem was everyone was asking the wrong question.
The whole industry was asking “How do I stuff a computer into a tablet format?” That was insurmountable, because they had to figure out how to create a machine that could do everything without the physical tools (keyboard, mouse) and space (form factor, screen size) a full computer necessitates. Because of that, what they produced were slow tablets with clunky interfaces that plain sucked.
If Apple had asked the same question, there wouldn’t be an iPad. But that’s not what they asked. Instead, they asked what are the basic features people need when they’re on the go? By asking that, they could let go of all the legacy functions in a full-sized computer and create something that worked exceptionally well for a few specific purposes. Problem solved.
And so it goes in this industry, as well.
Do you need to give out close to a thousand pictures to your clients? And I’m not actually saying you should or shouldn’t. Maybe you do, maybe you don’t – it depends on who you are. But here’s one thing I can guarantee. Asking how many pictures you should give, whether it’s a lot or not is a useless question. How do you even draw a conclusion to that? Research? Ask people? Do an a/b comparison for five years to gather data? Way too hard.
The types of things you’d want to ask is what matters to your clients and why. Or what makes people hire you? Or how you get the results you get? Or, even, if you’re going to insist on focusing on the numbers, then ask ask what types of numbers will get people’s attention and generate more business. Either way, quantity alone won’t get you anywhere without a reason behind it.
HOW PHOTOGRAPHERS SHOOT THEMSELVES IN THE FOOT
And it’s not just a business problem. In fact, asking good questions is the essence of creativity.
Look at the way people typically learn. They see a picture they like. They find out how to replicate it, and they spend the next year shooting everything they can to look just like that. Sometimes the next ten years. Sometimes, the rest of their lives. But asking how to achieve a technique, though a necessary part of the process, is also one of the least important questions to answer. If voice begins when differentiation begins, then asking the same questions as everyone else is the hardest way to get there.
A gaggle of photographers running around in an open field at golden hour shooting the same model might improve some portfolios, but it will do nothing to up their vision. Vision is not technique. It’s not ability. Sure, you need these to execute, but vision comes from somewhere much deeper. A place you find by asking better questions.
The whole reason the greats can run wild, break the rules like twigs, and trample over convention is that they’re solving different problems than everything else. They don’t just say, “How do I reproduce this picture?” They ask “What makes a better picture?” Better yet, “What makes people react?” And they know what their answers are. Ansel Adams was famously technical, but his command of the camera and darkroom always served a greater function – observation and ideas.
Good questions open up possibility and expand thought. They engage you and let you ask even more questions and become more interested. They let your brain make the essential connections to see the world differently. That’s voice. As Jeff Goldblum said in Jurassic Park, “[They] were so preoccupied with whether or not they could that they didn’t stop to think if they should.” And that’s what’s essential.
Asking better questions isn’t just a theory to expand your horizons. Asking better questions is a necessity to stand out. It’s a necessity to keep yourself involved in your own business and your own art and your own life. It’s lets you become more, and it’s the activity that most people never bother to do, which means the advantages are vast. So before asking how to do something, ask what the value of that thing is. Otherwise, you wind up getting eaten by dinosaurs.
It’s Saturday morning.
Your stomach churns, your guts twist up in knots, and thoughts of what’s ahead pour into your mind. You stammer out of bed and screw up your courage, ready to put it all on the line.
You’ve followed Accuweather all week, you’ve got Dark Sky loaded, and your bag pulls like a ton of bricks with more gear than Batman and more cards than Vegas, because you’re ready to roll if the shit hits the fan, and you know what’s coming down the pipes.
It’s hard, it’s bruising, it takes everything you’ve got.
And you surely do know what’s coming, because you’ve cut out swaths of your life just to think about every single thing that could go wrong each step of the way. So much so, it sifts into your dreams and drifts into your head in the middle your days like a bolt from the blue. From the focus that won’t hit to the camera that could die. From filling your card right as the bride steps into the aisle to a flash running out of juice as the first dance kicks into gear. And despite that, something new goes wrong. Every. Single. Time.
Aimee Mann said it right:
It’s not what you thought
When you first began it
You got what you want
Now you can hardly stand it, though
By now you know
It’s not going to stop
It’s not going to stop
Your world spins in perpetual motion, steady and ready on the outside, at the edge of control within, and in every moment of the day and every second that passes by, you’re forced to make the call. The information is a torrent, hitting your senses without a break. When’s the kiss happening? Are the place cards in place? And how much darker can it possibly get? A mom tells you not to miss this, your gut tells you not to miss that, and no matter what you decide and where you point and shoot, there will always be more to think about, more to consider, and more you’ll miss than you can possibly get.
It’s true. It doesn’t stop. But if you’re in it and at it, you have to decide whether you’re really going to do it, because there are only two ways out. Either quit early and cut your losses, or you make your way through to the other side. Just don’t stand in the middle of the road, where traffic will plow you down.
And it’s not just the shot that’s on the line, but your reputation, your livelihood, and every ounce of integrity you have. And integrity is no exaggeration, because it can bleed out faster than you can ask a bridal party to jump in the air.
Who are you, what do you say, and where are going? There’s nothing but nothing that won’t define who you are, as you constantly search the depths of your soul. Are you going to play it safe? Are you going all out? There’s every reason not to do anything and no reason not to do everything. It’s all in your hands.
It’s the middle of the road where you sell yourself short. The middle of the road, where you can’t do more than fight to survive. And there’s nothing wrong with survival, but you’re built for more than taking the hits. When you find what you have to say, every moment is an opportunity, and every act is a chance for self-expression.
Every weekend you pit you against you against you in a match to the death, and only one person makes it out of the ring. It’s a high wire act with an empty stomach, a full head, and a once in a lifetime day every single week, where only one missed shot can send you into a tailspin.
This is a world where everything’s a pitch. Five tips for this. Ten ways to do that. A single secret to conquer them all. You’ll learn how to spend more time avoiding work than doing it, which is the surest way never to get anything done, because the more you run, the more you feel the hurt, and the more you feel the hurt, the more you run. You create a cycle of detachment that exchanges the brilliance and clarity of the possible for a duller, more lifeless version of the now. Temptation will tell you to check your vision at the door for the promise of heaps of cash and unending ease, but muting your voice so you can just suck up the pain is too much to give.
And it only gets harder when the week comes along. After 8 hours of standing and ten miles of walking, your feet are a wreck, your body is in shambles, and you still have the rest of your business to run. A slave to little, red notifications and emails received, you have blogs to follow, people to read, and the unending keep of your manicured digital front.
It’s never what you thought. It’s never what you’d hoped. Like love, reality is at its best and fullest when you take it for all that it is. It’s at its worst, when you can only wish it were something else. It’s never what anyone thinks, and that’s the beauty of it all. Only when you feel the texture of your life for good and for bad do you see how far you can go.
You blow through a day and get nothing done. A week passes by, and you forget what took place. You clean out your gear and sync up your clocks. You sort, you tone, and Friday comes around. You sneak out for some drinks, but you know just what’s in store. You pull out your phone and take a peek at the weather, and you brace yourself, so you can do it again.
Do it different. Do it fully. Dive right into the heart of it all, living and breathing every part of your life. Don’t focus on making more and doing less. Don’t think about just making it through. Steer into the skid, learn to love, and learn to find. Take problems out, leaving them down for the count, and don’t look for the answers you need. Answers curtail your options and limit your channels. Ask better questions, instead. Questions explode the possible, making the static, alive. If you’re chasing the dragon, the true high is never going to hit, but when you see the unlimited, you touch your purpose and feel your worth. Fun and fulfillment are the byproducts of a life fully lived. Live it all wholly and fully, and your Saturdays will never be the same.