Why You Should Watch "Make" This Weekend

I feel that I should give a warning before you dive into this blog post. It contains a lot of links to other websites where you will likely spend a good deal of time watching, looking and listening to great art. If you're at work, you may want to wait to read this until you're on break.

I recently stumbled upon a documentary on Vimeo On Demand called “Make” and have been thinking about it ever since. The film is expertly produced and well shot. It’s a beautiful film that tells the stories of multiple artists and really reminded me of why I do what I do. 

I’ve been in the photo industry long enough that sometimes I forget why I got into photography. This is my job. Sometimes I love it, and sometimes it’s just a job. One truth that continues to hold up no matter what my day is like, is that I get to make things on a daily basis and that makes me happy. Sometimes I get to make pictures that I want to make. Most of the time I get to make pictures that other people want me to make. Other times I get to make my own rules and that feels pretty good too. Regardless, I feel blessed to have the opportunity to make photographs for a living and I try to remind myself periodically not to take it for granted. 

When I watched “Make” I was reminded of the drive that creators have to make things. Artists are compelled to bring new things into the world over and over again. The film features artists that I am familiar with like Miller Mobley, the band Sylvan Esso, and Elliot Rausch. Each person has something interesting to say about their lives and their art. After I researched Elliot Rausch a little more I was excited to learn that he was the director of a music video of a song that had a dramatic impact on my adolescent life, “Bro Hymn” by Pennywise. The influence of Pennywise on my younger self cannot be understated and to hear from the director of a music video of the song that defined my youth is particularly inspiring.

Just a quick warning. If you go to Elliot's website and watch "Last Minutes With Oden" you are going to cry. If you don't, then you are a heartless bastard. If you want to be inspired and moved without crying, you can do it for only $3.99 this weekend. Rent “Make” on Vimeo and enjoy this honest look into what it means to be a creator.  

Late Night Musings

I work in a fickle industry. There are times when it feels overwhelming as I’m sure it does for many other photographers, filmmakers, writers and anyone who pursues a freelance career. Even when you are doing everything you think you need to be doing, outside forces that are beyond your control can influence the outcome. As it is in every aspect of life. You work hard. You nurture your creative voice. You learn. You research. You hone your technical skills. You perfect your business skills. You think. And sometimes you find yourself writing blog posts in the middle of the night. To what end you say?

Well, this industry is fickle and it can be frustrating. But that fickleness is also what makes it exciting to get up every morning and get to work. A set back one day is just that. It’s one day. The next day offers a multitude of opportunities if you allow it to. If there is one thing I have learned as a freelancer the past 8 years is that you just have to take one day at a time. Jobs come and go. The shutter clicks. The hard drives hum. The world turns and the industry changes by the minute. Be willing to adapt. Be flexible and enjoy yourself . . . even when things seem hard. If it was easy everyone would do it.

I’m excited for tomorrow. I’m excited to wake up next to my wife, to see my son smile, to watch my dog run through the field and to make coffee. Mmm, coffee. And, I’m excited for the work I get to do. Fun, creative work. Tomorrow is a day to focus on creating and to take a break from the numbers associated with running a business.

That’s why I endure the setbacks. Even when things are bad, they’re actually pretty damn good. I hear a lot of complaining and a lot of excuses on the web. I've done my fair share, but sometimes you just have to shut up and do the work. Be a doer. Lead. Take a risk. Stop complaining. If we can remember that we are the only ones holding ourselves back then nothing is out of reach.

Good night. I’ll see you in the morning.

Pregnant in Jail - The Hello Strangers

I'm going to go back in time a few weeks to recap my most recent shoot with The Hello Strangers. If you read my previous post then it's no secret that my wife and I just had a baby. And if you have read earlier posts (like this one), then it's also no secret that Larissa is one of The Hello Strangers. The reason this is important is because The Hello Strangers have a song called Pregnant in Jail. The song takes inspiration from a friend's true story. No really, it does.

Here's the chorus. "Pregnant in Jail, won't somebody pay my bail, wastin' away in a cell, I'm just Pregnant in Jail." But, my favorite line of the song is, "Well these days ain't sunny no more. With all these people talkin' I'll be damned if I'm a two bit whore."

Last fall when it came to be known that Larissa was pregnant, Dave, the bass player of the band, asked if we were going to do a Pregnant In Jail photo shoot. We realized that this would be a great opportunity to bring this song to life in a photographic way. We decided to wait until Larissa was good and pregnant. The timing on this was tough because we didn't want to shoot too early and we didn't want to wait too long as the chances of going into labor increased. And, I definitely didn't want my son to be born in a jail cell.

The most difficult part of the shoot aside from the timing was securing a location. We wanted something with bars that had a turn-of-the-century kind of feeling to it. Well that should be easy, right? All jails have bars. Unfortunately what you are used to seeing in the movies is not quite like most prison's these days. To find our location I started by calling the mayor of my town since he works with our local police force on a regular basis. As a fan of The Hello Strangers, he agreed to help connect me with the Chief of Police. He informed the chief that I would be stopping by to take a look at the jail cell our small police office has. Unfortunately, the cell didn't have the space or the look we needed to complete the shot, but the Chief sent me to another Chief a few towns over. I followed a few more leads like this until I finally ended up at the Old Jail in Chambersburg, PA. It was perfect. Black bars with white walls and officially closed to detaining prisoners. The Old Jail now houses the Franklin County Historical Society. If you're ever on a road trip through PA and want to check out a fascinating museum be sure to stop in.

We had our location, and after some back and forth were able to schedule a suitable date for us to shoot. Now we needed wardrobe. Dave, the band's master of disguise, happened to have a vintage prison uniform. We decided to maximize the use of this and have both Larissa and Brechyn wearing a piece of it. Obviously, we wanted to show off Larissa's belly so she wore the pants while Brechyn wore the jacket.

Now for style and concept. The protagonist in the song is tough, yet sensitive. She's been dealt a tough hand, but has to keep moving on. Larissa and Brechyn already know their part because they wrote and perform the song regularly. As with all of our shoots, they make my job much easier by quickly getting into their part. As for light, the location actually had some beautiful natural light. Most of my previous shoots with the band had been much more heavily lit, but for this particular scenario I wanted to use as much natural light as possible. This served a double purpose as it helped us to move a little more quickly (see above about not wanting to have my son born in jail) and it gave the photos a feeling of authenticity.

I love photographing bands because of the collaborative nature of the photos. All of my projects are collaborative, but band photography really does extend that collaboration by merging music with photography. We take the creativity of the music and bring its visual form into existence.

That same creativity and process can be applied to all the work I do. There is creativity all around us. It's in our schools, hospitals, backyards, local pub, etc. It's everywhere and I see my job as being that of explorer, and of problem solver. Each place presents its own unique set of problems and my job is to solve that problem. It's like a mathematician working out an equation, a writer doing research for a character, or a dancer choreographing a new dance. You look at the pieces already in place, sort them out, and turn them into something that didn't exist before. Here is the result of the problem we solved this time.



A Chicken a Day - Day 1

Today is April 3rd. For the next 11 days I am going to post a chicken a day. It's going to be automated so just in case I'm not around, you'll still get your chicken a day. There is hidden symbolism here. I am expecting the birth of my first child any day now and most definitely within the next 2 weeks. So, hopefully in the next 11 days, as you get to see a chicken a day I will at some point get to meet my son for the first time. You may wonder, "what the hell do chickens have to do with babies?" Well, let me tell you. Chickens have varied significance throughout the world from culture to culture. To me, they have come to represent birth. I think of spring and the daily birth of an egg. The incredible, edible, protein packed egg. On a daily basis I am amazed to see these 4 chickens sitting contentedly in my backyard laying egg after egg. Thank goodness my wife and her friend decided to go into the business of chicken husbandry. And thank goodness this spring has brought me something extra special. See you on the other side of fatherhood.


Discover Your Own Vision

"They mistake grain, guts, and verve with substance. Sorry folks, but hitting three out of four doesn’t count. I know it took cajones to shoot that cowboy bar at 1 am pushing your film to 3200, but that doesn’t keep your photo from being boring. Time to shoot something you care about, and don’t try to convince me it’s flags or the underclass."

- Blake Andrews

I love the article this quote is from. Check out the whole story here at LPV Magazine. You have likely heard of all 10 of the photographers on the list and many of you may have found yourself inspired by their work. I know many of these photographers were great inspirations to me and still are. I often imagined myself shooting grand landscapes like Ansel Adams or catching the Decisive Moment like Carier-Bresson. And I have tried to be like them in many ways. I still love pouring over images of the masters and learning from them.

The irony is that Blake and Bryan are so very right about ignoring them. Well . . . maybe partially right. I understand their point. Respect those who came before you and recognize their great contributions to photography, but at some point you have to create your own unique vision. Imitate to learn new things, but eventually, define your own path.  Shoot what you want to shoot. Do it in a way that feels natural to you. Don't force it and ignore the status quo.


Be Festive

Be festive, enjoy the season and laugh hard. 

It’s the time of year when I like to reflect and prepare for the future. I look back on what I’ve done since last January, and think about how I can continue to grow as a human and as a creative person in the next twelve months. I also do my best to enjoy the present and focus on living a fulfilling life. 

May you live each day with passion, joy and good cheer.

Happy Holidays!

P.S. If you want to see a collection of great holiday promos (including mine), check out the Wonderful Machine Blog.

The Photographer's Riddle

Have you ever taken a photograph that simply blows you away? I'm talking about a photograph that brings you to your knees. It makes you tremble with excitement and you absolutely can't wait to share it with the world. You're boiling with anticipation to see the reaction of people as they look at your photograph. And then you show it to people. The reaction is one of disinterest. People aren't interested because it doesn't move them. It's probably not because it's a bad picture, but because there is no real reason for them to get excited. Maybe they don't understand what's happening in the frame. Maybe they just don't care about the subject matter or maybe they've already seen 1000 pictures earlier in the day.

But why then did you get so overwhelmed? Why were you so convinced that this picture would be a smashing success? What even makes a picture successful?

I was thinking about this phenomenon the other day and realized that with every photograph I take, I am emotionally invested in some way. As photographers, we attach ourselves to the subject matter. We involve ourselves in the story and therefore become emotionally attached. Photographers instinctively make their imprint on every image they take. I'm not saying that's a bad thing. I think as photographers we need to interact with our environment in order to truly understand what we want to say. The tricky part is (and here's the catch) that we need to remember that our experience of actually making a picture is very personal. The picture becomes the property of the photographer once that shutter is released. No one else knows exactly what the photographer was thinking while making a photo. Only the photographer knows.

And that is where the hang-up can come from. We think that everyone else is going to like our picture because we had such a profound experience making it. The truth is, our profound experiences don't always translate to the photographic form. So no matter how amazing your experience was, don't expect your audience to immediately respond in the same way. Each person will feel something completely different.

I've been rambling a bit, but I'm coming to my point. My original thought is more of a reminder to myself and it is this: When editing your photographs, do everything in your power to look at them from various perspectives. Imagine that you didn't take the picture. Imagine that you don't know the back story. Pretend that you are a child seeing everything new for the first time. And if you can't do that, ask other people to edit your work and select their favorites. Ask them why they choose what they do. And maybe, just maybe, the images they like the most will be the ones you think are the best.

And that, I think, is when you've made a successful picture. We all respond to good stories. If you can tell a great story in one frame, then your audience will inevitably want to see more.

Thanksgiving 2011

I originally posted this last Thanksgiving and feel it still represents what I am most thankful for. The only addition for this year is that I am thankful to have a healthy wife who is pregnant with our first child. I can't wait to meet him! Originally posted on November 23, 2010 Give thanks this week and focus on what's truly important in your life. I am thankful to have a loving and caring family, an abundance of fun and creativity in my life, a challenging and successful business and a community of inspiring and motivated people.

What are you thankful for this year?

Unknown Road - Part 2

Last week I posted a quote from Jonathan Blaustein that talked about how beneficial it is for an artist to step outside of his or her comfort zone. When I was a teenager full of angst I was always pushing the limits of my comfort. I didn't know it at the time, but looking back I feel there was always a voice in the back of my head urging me forward. I liked challenging myself and trying new things. Even as I pushed myself into uncomfortable situations I simultaneously put up boundaries. I think it's basic human nature to clearly define our individual comfort zones, but sometimes we do this to our detriment. I like having a comfortable space. It feels good to know your place in the world. Being around people you care about and who care about you is wonderful. But if you want to push yourself creatively it is paramount that you step out of your warm, cozy comfort zone and face the unknown. Challenge yourself in new ways. Do something different that has always scared you before. What's the worst that could happen? You might just be surprised with what comes to life inside of you.

I found this song on youtube last week and thought it would be fun to post here. This band defined an entire period of my angst filled high school life for me and my friends. Never stop rocking!

Unknown Road

"We never make our best work in our comfort zone. It doesn’t happen. So one of the most beneficial things we can do as artists, I believe, is to step out of what we know from time to time. Challenge ourselves to do things we wouldn’t normally do. Learn and grow whenever possible. Nobody likes to feel like an idiot, but sometimes we have to delve into the unknown to discover a new process, or perspective, or piece of core knowledge."

-Jonathan Blaustein

Continue reading the whole article HERE.


In Business for 5 Years!

Holy bankruptcy repellent Batman! Has it really been 5 years? Well . . . as of this Thursday, September 1st, we have reached the 5 year anniversary of our official business start date. For one, it's hard to believe that we've been in business for 5 years and, two, that means Larissa and I have been married for over 5 years. Where does the time go? I could go on a long philosophical rant about about the seemingly swift passage of time, but I'll spare you my musings. Instead, I would like to recap what we've done in those 5 years.

The 6 months preceding official start date

Larissa and I worked our butts off to finish planning a DIY wedding, got married and wrote a pretty impressive business plan. After tying the knot and celebrating with our friends and family we hunkered down and finished the business plan and began to shop it around. After a great honeymoon in Maine and numerous meetings with bank officials we secured a loan (with the help of some amazing family members), and officially began to produce Royalty Free stock for the Somos Collection, now owned by Corbis.

Year One

Producing royalty free stock for Somos. "Okay, we don't know what the hell we're doing, but we've been given this opportunity to contribute to this new, all hispanic stock collection so let's give it hell." And we did. We produced a total of 31 shoots from September of 2006 through July of 2007 and contributed 1,220 images to Somos. Certainly not the production capacity of full time studio, but not bad for 2 newly weds.

Year Two

Tired of producing stock with an ever dwindling profit margin, we decided to pack all of our belongings into a Uhaul and bid farewell to Austin, TX. In less than a month we made the decision and moved ourselves back to our roots in rural, Mercersburg, PA. Suddenly, we found ourselves needing to rework our entire business plan. "What the hell do we do now? I don't want to get a job. Do you want to get a job? NO! Okay, let's start marketing me as a commercial photographer." The first opportunity came by shooting institutional photography for Mercersburg Academy. We also ramped up our wedding and portrait brand with the goal of becoming the best in the area.

Year Three

Continued shooting institutional work by picking up additional education clients. I had the realization of, "Hey, I'm pretty damn good at this! I should start marketing to more schools." And so it went. Year three also brought the addition of some resort clients and all the while I continued to shoot portraits and weddings.

Year Four

"Wow, this recession really sucks. What happened to all our savings? I don't know. Let's hit the road for a month and live out of our car." Year Four brought us one of the greatest trips of our lives. We hit the road in search of Americana and drove 7,414 miles in 28 days. We revisited parts of the country we had lived in during our early 20's and explored some new areas too. We returned to Mercersburg with a renewed sense of spirit and motivation. I started shooting and experimenting with video.

"But . . . why isn't anyone hiring me right now? Oh yeah, we're still in a recession. Have faith, the next job is coming." And it did, always at just the right time.

Year Five

Work suddenly picks up, big time. We have the busiest fall of our lives and do more business than I ever anticipated. We're feeling pretty damn good about ourselves and our ability to adapt to a changing economy. I have solidified myself as an institutional photographer and am beginning to extend myself toward other markets. I shoot work for education, hospitals and an assortment of resorts, along with continuously picking up new clients. I finally get the opportunity to work with some ad agencies and design firms and feel that my style of photography is coming into its own.

During this same time, we invest in and successfully help launch another company called GlowArtworks. This new company is another way to diversify by providing curated fine art prints to interior designers working in the healthcare design industry. I am psyched about what we are doing with this company!

Along with all of this, we also made the decision to halt our wedding and portrait brand of photography. We realized that this facet of our business was becoming a bit of a distraction to the direction we really wanted to be heading in. As hard as it was to put this brand to rest, it has been a good decision for us.

Year Six . . . ?

I am hoping for year six to bring continued prosperity and new, creative and interesting projects. I am starting this year with a trip to Boston for some portfolio showings in an attempt to break into yet another photography market. I have high hopes for GlowArtworks and am excited to continue working on this project to make it better and better.

Photography is an adventure and you better have a strong stomach. It's never easy, but always rewarding. Surround yourself with loving, talented and hard working people. Larissa and I work hard and we trust each other to take care of what needs to be done each day. I can't imagine doing anything else and hope that I will be writing another short history of our business when we reach the 10 year mark.

Here's to 5 Years!


The Start of a New Project

Any working photographer knows the importance of creating personal projects. These are projects that come from the heart. Projects that might not have a specific end goal or purpose other than to fulfill one's photographic curiosity.

They are important because they encourage creativity and experimentation. It's incredibly freeing to shoot without restriction and the knowledge that it doesn't really matter if what you shoot sucks. I always aim to make great photos, but when I'm shooting for me, I allow myself to make bad pictures. They might just lead to something better.

With this in mind I have begun a new project. It doesn't have a title yet or really a definitive direction. It's simply an idea in it's infancy that I hope to expand upon and make more clear.

The inspiration for this project came during a stop at an abandoned restaurant in northern Pennsylvania. I had passed this restaurant at least a dozen times before and it always fascinated me. I finally took the time to stop and had a great time photographing the building. With this one visit I planted the seed for and idea to begin exploring areas of Pennsylvania I have never seen. Last weekend I took a road trip and explored some towns immediately to the west and north of me. I am still editing the photos from this first trip, but here is a photo from that initial inspiring restaurant. Keep an eye out for future updates on this project.

What projects are you working on?