Wednesday, March 31, 2010

New stuff arrived!

I'm SO excited today! My UPS and USPS delivery guys came to my door back to back this morning bringing all kinds of cool stuff.

First is my new 90 mm f/2 Summicron lens for my fast growing Leica system. YEAH!!! This lens ROCKS. It's super small, insanely sharp and will be a pure joy to use. I had an older version years ago and since that time they've improved it many times over. I can't wait to shoot my portrait job this afternoon with it... on FILM!!

The second arrival is a new hard bound portfolio book from my professional lab, White House Color (WHCC). It's a commercial book, not a wedding portfolio, designed for a specific proposal I'm work on. Wish me luck, it could be a great job with a brand new client!!

I can see many possibilities for this book in my wedding work and I'll be getting more samples soon. This book has pages that lay flat and are thicker than run of the mill press printed albums. The color is so rich and the pictures so sharp they literally pop off the page. Very impressive indeed!

What makes a professional photographer?

On a new photography board there has recently been quite an outpouring of emotion regarding the world of wedding photography, and photographers specifically. Some of the discussion and posting has been insightful while others are just plain crude and insulting, often directed a few select individuals. I don't condone finger pointing or calling someone out. It's not my job nor my business to be the truth police. I figure the market will do that all by itself. If they truly are a genius-artist as they seem to claim they will be rewarded, but if they are the charlatan others allege, they will be found out and punished accordingly.

The discussion primarily focuses on the tsunami of inexperienced photographers who make outrageous claims and do major sales (snow) jobs to unknowing and/or unsuspecting people. These folks are blowing things way out of proportion to their relative importance, especially in relation to being named 'best of' this or that or awards from inconsequential sources to become larger than life, or "Rock Stars" as the profession terms them today. Experienced photographers know most of that kind of "notoriety" should be taken with a grain of salt. Some photographers choose to use it in their marketing while others just smile and say thanks.

The most heinous allegation is centered on workshops this legion of inexperience offers (for money) with little actual experience as a professional photographer. So who is to judge how much experience is needed to teach? How much knowledge do you need above your pupils to expound wisdom? But the biggest question is...

So what makes a professional photographer?

In the most base sense, anyone who accepts money for a photograph is technically a "professional" photographer. The more accepted standard is someone who makes 80% of their income from photography. That means a full time job, not someone just working on the weekend or in their off hours. So assuming you're by definition a professional, does that automatically make you qualified to teach?

I remember when I turned "pro" many long years ago. To make a long story short, I photographed a high school football game for my then local daily newspaper. After seeing the results of my efforts the managing editor dug in his wallet, handed me a $5.00 bill and said "Congratulations kid, you're now a professional photographer!" I was 15 and the picture I sold was taken from the second roll of film I had ever shot in my life. It was the beginning of my career. From that day forward I never worked at any other job than photography.

So was I really a pro photographer at that moment? Technically, yes, I was paid for my efforts. But was my effort really professional or just luck? Yes, to both. To be successful in this business I think you always have to have a little of both - luck and skill. Doors open and doors close in life, it's the wise man (or woman) who knows which ones to go through.

Charles R. Elliott, that five buck waving managing editor who started me on my path, opened my first door. Luck? Destiny? Fate? Call it what you like but I was in the right place at the right time. I was a 15 year old geeky kid before being a geek was popular. Prior to finding photography I studied astrophysics and exobiology. Yeah, not just astronomy, the REAL techie stuff.

Chuck wasn't a geek, he was exactly what you imagine an old time editor to be - hard as nails, black coffee drinking, chain smoking, foul mouth cursing, screaming at reporters, stacks of papers everywhere kinda guy. He was a 20 year veteran and had retired as a Senior Master Chief assigned to the US Navy's elite Combat Camera Group just weeks before I walked in his newsroom. In uniform he wore an arm full of gold braid and a chest full of ribbons, but luck was with me because Chuck also had a soft spot for kids - he had five at that time. So rather than hand me my head for bothering him that first day, he offered me an opportunity. Door open.

As my first mentor, Chuck taught me many valuable lessons. Not the least of which was his first lesson - find a mentor because there is always something to learn. His list of advice was this:

1) Find a mentor, then listen to the guidance they give

2) To be a better photographer shut up, put your head down and work hard

3) Awards are nice, but you're only as good as your last picture, so get back to work

4) When you truly have honed your skills and learned your craft, give back to your profession and become a mentor.

5) Be humble. Always.

I've lived by these rules throughout my career, trying to be my best and to honor my dear friend and mentor's memory. Chuck passed away in 1981 at the age of 45, a few months after his sixth child was born.

Over the years I've had several mentors, with each one building on the lessons of the last. Each person was valuable in the advancement of my craft and my self as a person. Without any one of them I would not be who I am today. And I've been fortunate to mentor several others myself, helping, guiding and encouraging them along their own path.

That's what a mentor does.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Nevada Desert

I'm back from Las Vegas and the annual Wedding and Portrait Photographers International (WPPI) convention. It was a great trip, networked with lots of photographers from around the country, saw many old friends and learned a lot of new techniques, too. Most importantly it was a wonderful opportunity to recharge, refresh and get uber excited about making images!

The first two days of the trip were spent wandering around Red Rock Canyon and the Valley of Fire. Very exciting places to hike and see images. Tried out a few new tricks, too. Fun stuff. Here are a few of my early picks, including one panoramic image. More to come!

Yes, there is a ring around the sun. Probably ice crystals - it was COLD out there!