Photography during a pandemic: Thursday, April 23

Join me as we talk about what Covid-19 has meant for our business and creative selves, tomorrow Thursday. Don’t forget to register, as it will enable you to ask questions.

Surprisingly, I’ve had assignments to help keep me busy. But staying safe and protecting others is always a concern, so we’ll be talking about that as well.

Look forward to having you join us!

How to Sustain Your Business as a Storyteller

Running a business will bring moments of truth. Mine came without warning after I voluntarily left my job 5 years ago as a staff photojournalist at the Chicago Tribune. A freelance opportunity had come up that seemed too good to be true. It would be years of regular work and position me well as a storyteller in advertising. I felt that I was ready, both creatively and business-wise, after years of freelance work in photography and video and many years on staff at the Tribune and the L.A. Times.

That opportunity was, indeed, too good to be true. In the rough-and-tumble worlds of mergers/acquisitions and advertising, what appeared to be a 3-year opportunity as a visual storyteller vaporized within a matter of months, to both my shock and that of the marketing director. Our carefully laid plans were thrown out the window and I found myself staring into an abyss, having cleared my schedule in preparation for this opportunity.

So where do you go from a moment like that? How do you survive and thrive in an industry of relentless competition where everyone claims to be a “storyteller”?

Join me and other speakers at the ASMP Chicago/Midwest Strictly Business Seminar this as we share our experiences, insights and much inspiration this January. Early bird pricing ends December 26.

I’m not in charge of the seminar, but I can almost guarantee that you will save a lot of money, and make more, by the advice that we give. Truly, I wish I could have shared these tips with my 2014 self. Someone get me a time machine for Christmas;-)

WGN Radio 720AM Interview

This week I had the opportunity to be on WGN 720AM with Andrea Darlas on her show, “Andrea and the Reporters”, where she interviewed former Tribune photojournalist Nancy Stone, photographer Will Byington and myself on a range of topics regarding our photography. Andrea (center, middle) is such a pro. Have you known someone so nice and so good at what they do that by the time you’re done with something that might stir some anxiety, you’re like, “Wow, that was too easy!”? We talked about storytelling, favorite pictures, why keeping your outtakes is so important, the kindness of strangers, and generally how our careers got started. It was a fun conversation. I hope you can put it on in the background this week sometime and give it a listen.

https://wgnradio.com/2019/09/09/andrea-and-the-reporters-journalistic-panel-will-byington-alex-garcia-and-nancy-stone/

Finding Flow in Creative Briefs for Portraits and Headshots

 

More often than not when creating an image library for a corporation or organization, I am called upon to create portraits or headshots. It’s logical, since the library is often part of a more ambitious overhaul of a website and that includes the “About Us” page.

But because they don’t reside on the home page, these portraits don’t always receive the same creative consideration. You would expect that to be a creative goal to create consistency in branding, so I’m always prepared for that to be the case.  My modus operandi has always been to answer the question,  “What is the end goal here?”

This all comes to mind on two recent shoots, where careful consideration was, indeed, given to crafting a look for photos of individuals. In the top example for a healthcare company, the agency showed samples of different headshots, had discussions, and issued a creative brief. On set, the agency creative director and the company’s creative reviewed the images on the tethered laptop to make minor adjustments. The goal was more about color and light but not so saturated in color that it set up an odd pairing for the mature leadership.  The background was different but similar, to account for what could be future photographs taken in other environments. Thematically, they had to work together without being identical.

In the lower example, the headshots were taken at a Working Not Working creative gathering. Discussions ahead of time were about how they should be a little more moody, muted with a dark background but not so dark as to create jarring juxtaposition with a smiling, happy person. It was to be more personal and intimate. Again, samples were offered but I was given the flexibility to bring whatever look I thought was appropriate within those guidelines. Practically speaking it was also very quick, since we were doing dozens of subjects and it was taken in a corner next to a crowded bar! But it was a crazy fun time.

Both were a success and an enjoyable experience, in part because of creative direction. To me, that element always been essential in order to align expectations. One reason there is a “Create PDF” link in the left column on my website is because it’s a very useful function in creating a mood board.  Clicking on the image shows all the images in the website, allowing a person to create a PDF by selecting images that might pair with the creative look and feel they have in mind.

You would think after all this, the only thing missing from having photographs achieve a creative goal is to have creative direction. Yet unfortunately, the head-scratching truth is that there are photographers who don’t know how to follow a creative brief. I don’t get it. I was on a recent multi-city project where a very thorough creative brief was given to different photographers shooting in different cities. It called for a white background, even lighting but a light source not too hard, very shallow depth-of-field, a certain type of expression. Examples were given. I understood what was needed and rented equipment as appropriate to the project. Afterward, the project manager was happy with what I had done but circled back in a group email (mercifully bcc’d) in which he complained to the other photographers about their lack of follow-through while holding up my pictures as an example (with my name redacted so no one ended up hating me later). Honestly, I don’t say this to brag. How can you brag about something as basic as following directions?

This is perhaps fodder for a different post, but in the end, it appears to me that many photographers are not comfortable shooting outside their creative comfort zones.  I understand this to some degree. There are natural instincts as a photographer that take over when faced with uncertainty on a shoot. You solve problems a certain way. You subtly adjust to repeat past success. The insecure impulses associated with a challenge can be hard to fight. But having been a generalist for much of my career in which I have been expected to emulate different looks for different editors over the years, I don’t get caught up with what I’ve done but what I need to do. As with the examples above, I echo what Gregory Heisler used to call the “appropriate response.”

So it’s a two-way street between a photographer and a creative director.  It’s fantastic and a relief to have a brief written by someone used to directing photographers but it’s up to the photographer to read between the lines of any project description or brief to ask questions and offer synonyms for ambiguous words such as “candid” or “edgy” to get everyone closer to acting from a shared vocabulary.

The example here is portraits and headshots, nothing terribly complicated. But once expectations are aligned and creative flow is moving forward, it makes the process a lot more reassuring for everyone, no matter the size of the shoot.

 

 

 

 

Tennis Coach Kamau Murray for ESPN’s The Undefeated

Tennis instructor Kamau Murray, who coached Sloane Stephens to victory at the US Open, is set to create a powerhouse for young African-American tennis players with a new facility on the south side of Chicago. The $16.9 million tennis village will officially launch this summer, but it’s already in use. It’s really amazing, awe-inspiring. His tenacity and vision will bring much pride to the city. My assignment was to make portraits and candids of him for ESPN’s The Undefeated. As he’s an extremely busy guy, much of my work was done in and around practice, where you could get whacked by balls or stray rackets by the exuberant kids. As with most of my assignments, I try to create a variety of looks so much came down to some previsualization and adaptation after arrival. Except for the last image in which I used three strobes in different locations, I used two lights for my set-ups.

 

Health, Happiness and Hope

Shortly before the holidays, Flashes of Hope invited me to participate in a photo shoot for pediatric patients with cancer and life-threatening illnesses at a hospital in the western suburbs of Chicago. It’s a wonderful charity that I had written about when I blogged for the Chicago Tribune many moons ago. The timing worked out and I was happy to volunteer. I felt a little out of place because my business is not family photography – I get some calls here and there and try to pass them on to others who specialize in it. But photographing the children and families made for a lovely time – even if you only get a few minutes with each family to make pictures. You couldn’t help but root for the families, hoping that this year, and every year, brings health, happiness and hope.