Wednesday, December 31, 2014

2014 - A Year in Review

88 post in, several hours logged on the computer and another year nearly in the bag. As I reflect about my journey as a student in photography, I can't help but see that the learning never stops. While my thoughts about certain topics, both photography and non-photography related, tend to change on a day to day basis, I find there are certain lessons and words of wisdom imparted on me that I will never forget. I don't consider myself a leader in the industry or even a heavy hitter, so I find it rather difficult to accept that I am in a position to impart sound advice or useful anecdotes to anyone who visits my site. Most of the time, I write blog posts for myself so that I can track my progress as a photographer. I sometimes look back at older posts and cringe at some of the photos I publish, but I keep them there as a reminder of where I have come from. Looking back in 2014, I can't help but feel grateful for all the wonderful friends and family who have influenced me as an aspiring professional and moreover a human being. In today's post, I want to share some of the things that I've learned throughout the year. 

Client Selection
Because I am a full time accountant, I find that saying yes to all potential jobs can put a strain not only on myself but on my relationship with my CFO (Chief Fiance Officer). As much as I would like to make photography a full time job, it has to take a backseat to the job that consistently pays the bills. Now the big question is finding a method to determine if a job is worth my time. It's not a perfect science and the metric is different for everyone. Early in the year a friend posted an article about relationships (the title is somewhat vulgar so I am leaving it out on purpose - Click HERE if you want to read it), which was inspired by an article written by Derek Sivers entitled No More Yes. It's Either Hell Yeah or No. The premise of the article is quite simple. Sivers cautions people/businesses not to over commit and to only say yes to things you are enthused about. Over simplified, maybe. Genius, ABSOLUTELY! 

Fill your free time with passion projects. This was an impromptu session with a couple of co-workers. Not only was this fun, it also gave me ideas for my next project
Not too long ago, I was asked by a very nice body builder/personal trainer if I wanted to do his portraits. I thought, "Sure, sounds like fun and a good portfolio builder". Little did I know, he wanted to shoot at multiple locations, have several studio sessions and have video work done for little to no money. I hold no resentment towards the guy, I just don't think he understood how much work and time (40+ hours) is needed to accomplish his vision, so I quoted him what I thought was a fair price and didn't hear from him again. While I was initially excited about the job, I was less and less excited about the scope of the work, especially since I don't find videography particularly exciting. This unique situation inspired me to modify Derek Sivers' philosophy and include a payout scale. The adage, time is money, has greater meaning to me now more than ever. Essentially the graph below expresses how much I feel I should be paid based on my level of enthusiasm for a job. Passion projects like the zombie shoot I did several months ago or working with We're Alive fall high on the Heal Yeah scale, so I personally don't care too much about receiving payment. However, weddings fall on the other side of the pay/hell yeah spectrum and it would take a decent rate to have me even consider doing one. Living by the Hell Yeah philosophy has definitely made me a happier photographer and it most definitely shows when I'm working with clients.   

The Y axis represents my level of excitement for the blue curve and the amount I care to be paid for the orange curve. This graph is just a reminder to me to aim for client work/projects that make me happy

The Power of Kindness:
I will be the first to admit that I am filled with joy whenever I see a reply, message or +1 to a blog post or image I've shared. The +1's and likes are all petty things, but the direct messages have a far greater impact. Not too long ago, someone sent me a simple email stating they enjoyed my site and I somehow influenced their decision to purchase a Fuji Instax Printer. This absolutely made my day. I don't make a single dollar from this blog (I am not sponsored nor do I ever post amazon/photography affiliate links) and knowing that I have somehow helped someone make an informed decision is pretty darn cool. As I visit other photographers' websites I find myself more inclined to leave positive feedback if warranted, or find a way to sandwich constructive criticism with praise (I find myself far less inclined to do this). Because I know the impact of other peoples' words on me, I tend to be a lot more selective with what I say especially when it's so easy to hide in anonymity.  

Invite People to the Block Party with reckless abandon:
I have learned from other bloggers and podcasters alike by doing something long enough, you will encounter people who will disagree with you (which is totally fine with me) and some will even do so in a less than civil manner (this I have a problem with). I once held the opinion that censorship is bad and that people are entitled to a voice. The constantly changing opinion I spoke of earlier applies to this very thought as I have witnessed Godwin's Law and similar behaviors take place on other photographers' sites and forums. I personally have a hard time tolerating it and heavily moderate my blog for uncivil and condescending comments. It is quite freeing and I find more and more of my photography "heroes" exercising this policy (Kirk Tuck comes to mind) and I encourage others to do the same. 

Don't be afraid to introduce yourself to other photographers
The industry is a highly competitive field. I learned quickly that I need other qualities besides technical skills to make myself an attractive photographer to individuals, couples, families and companies. One of those factors that gives me a competitive advantage does NOT include isolating myself from other photographers. In fact, I find the more I interact with other photographers, the more I learn and evolve as an entrepreneur. I've acquired better shooting technique, I'm exposed to broader creative avenues, I have a sounding board for ideas and a means to troubleshoot problems, my network has exponentially more reach and I am introduced to more jobs. The list can go on, but the biggest take away is you make new friends, some who you even invite to your wedding =).

Having a talented make-up artist on your team is important in so many ways.
A big thanks to Ashley for joining our team this year
Don't be afraid of extremes
My last piece of advice for the year is simple. Don't be afraid to go the distance with your work. Whether it means paying for education (my favorite purchase to date has to be the Fro Guide to Flash) or getting friends to help you set up an elaborate on-location shoot with lights, a makeup artist and props, all the hard work will pay off. In my opinion, it's all the little things you do that will separate you from the rest of the photographers who aren't willing to take that extra step. be it small or large. I used to be self-conscious about bringing lightstands and monolights to the beach or a tripod to Disneyland, but the files I review when I get home make me happier that I did. During the moment I may regret over-packing, but not once did I ever regret being a bit over-zealous with planning. In fact, more times than not, I would wish I had done more as opposed to doing less. 

I hated lugging this 30+ pound gear bag up and down my complex, but I was always glad I had with me. 
Well, there you have it. As I gently descend from my pulpit and wrap up the lessons I have learned in 2014, I can't help but thank you all for commenting, visiting, liking and sharing what I've been writing for the past year. I appreciate you all tagging along my journey to becoming a better photographer. Here's to a happy and prosperous new year.  

So say we all,

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