work

A Look Back At Winter

Lifestyle Photographer, Ryan Smith, Philadelphia, PA

Although I try to send out a newsletter every 4 - 6 weeks it doesn't always happen that frequently. Sometimes it takes longer for me to get around to and sometimes it's faster. Regardless, I like to use my newsletters as a way to look back at recent work. This months newsletter takes a look back at winter. Check it out HERE.

And if you like what you see and want to stay up to date with what I'm working on, you can subscribe to the newsletter HERE: 

The Opportunity To Choose

I've been thinking a lot lately about a post I wrote the other week. It was about an ethical dilemma I had in regards to a particular assignment. In short, I turned down a job because I couldn't reconcile my feelings about the client's product. You can see the original post HERE. I wrote about making a decision to turn down a good paying job and how that decision was difficult for me. The thing is, I keep coming back to the idea of "choice." I can't stop thinking about that concept. It's given me the opportunity to reflect on a number of aspects of my life and career that I would like to share here.

I am lucky that I have the opportunity to put my personal feelings before business from time to time. I am lucky that I even have a choice to say "no." Not everyone has that option and there are times throughout the past several years where I would not have been in a position to turn down work. People all over the world struggle to make ends meet on a daily basis. Not everyone has a choice.

Sometimes you have to do whatever job comes along in order to buy groceries or make rent. I've worked all kinds of jobs over the years in order to become a photographer. I've been electrocuted on an assembly line. I've stuck my entire arm into a vat of liquid cow shit. I've hauled fireworks all over the northeast and mid-atlantic. I've worked in a coffee shop, a garden center, photo labs, ski resorts, a climbing gym, camper manufacturer, tractor dealership and all sorts of under the table landscaping and construction jobs.

I come from a middle class family of small business owners that understand hard work. You learn how to work and how to make and save money. I've been given all the tools necessary to succeed as a photographer and to create the lifestyle that I desire. I have a loving family who has supported me and given me the ability to take risks. I am lucky and I want to say how grateful I am for the opportunities I have had over the years. I am thankful that the opportunity to say "no" is occasionally available to me.

I hope that I continue to be fortunate and that I can make the right decisions for me, my family and my professional life. I am grateful for all that I have and hope that everyone reading this has the opportunity to say no from time to time. Be thankful for what you have, work hard and enjoy life.

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.

Living a Low Tech Lifestyle in a High Tech World

The title of this post represents a conundrum that I have been grappling with. How do I as a professional photographer live out the low tech lifestyle I so desire while continuing to make a living doing what I love? As a professional who is required to stay up to date on the latest technology and become a master of them, is it even possible for me to live a low tech lifestyle? I don't really know, but I'm trying.

Do you ever get the feeling that you're spending way too much time online or plugged in to this device or that device? That your eyes are about ready to pop out of your head? That by constantly being connected to digital technology you are becoming depressed? You can't live without checking Facebook for more than a day can you? Go on, admit it. You are addicted to technology and the false sense of importance it brings to your life.

There, I said it. We are addicted to a false sense of importance. I know I may be pissing a lot of you off and I understand. I'm guilty of technology addiction and revel in the false sense of importance I get from it. Hell, even as I write this on my Macbook Pro I'm listening to Pandora on my Ipad while doing a hardware test and software reinstall on my Mac Pro Tower. The latter is making me increasingly unhappy and angry. Yet, I must do it right? I run all of my photo processing software off of my Mac Pro. It contains the archive hierarchy of the last 9 years of photographs and video. It contains my sales lists and contact database. It's the brain behind Ryan Smith Photography. Without it, I'm operating on less than 50%.

Wait. Less than 50%. I thought I was a photographer, not a computer tech. Well, as the industry would have it, we photographers must be masters of digital technology. Otherwise, the guy with the camera and infinite knowledge of algorithms and digital manipulation gets the job. I'm exaggerating a bit here, but not by much.

I should mention that I love technology. It fascinates me and excites me. Every day there are technological advances that make new things possible. I love discovering new uses for these technologies and learning the discoveries of others. There are exponentially increasing methods of capturing and sharing images. In fact, the ways seem limitless. There is no greater time in history to be an image maker. We have infinite options.

But . . .

What about the other aspects of life that make us happy? What about the relationships that enrich our lives? What about the real world experiences that contribute to our well being and understanding of the world around us? We can't live our lives in front of computer screens or attached to our cell phones and expect to truly live. What are you missing when your head is buried in your cell phone? What kinds of real interactions with friends are you missing when you're trolling through your Facebook news feed?

I say, let's wake the fuck up and live. Yeah, I might have to be plugged in throughout most of the week to do my job, but I don't have to be connected every minute of every day. I work efficiently. In fact, I pride myself on being efficient when I'm at my desk. I will get as much done and learn as much as possible about technology in the allotted time I have at my desk. The rest of the time is for me and my family.

I don't feel guilty for spending a few hours in my garden, experimenting with different growing techniques. I don't feel guilty for taking a 2 hour lunch break and going for a walk with my son and my dog. I don't feel guilty for leaving work early for happy hour with friends.

I do feel guilty when I spend too much time at my computer. I feel like I'm missing something important about life and that my time has not been well spent. Let's get back to actually living. I'll try if you try.

P.S. Please like this post on Facebook and Tweet to all your followers. And check out my website. Oh yeah, this is really cool too. And this. And this. And this . . .

New Life

It's been almost a month since my last chicken post and in that time my life has undergone a dramatic shift. It might be a little cliché to say so, but my life has changed in ways that I never could have imagined only a few short months ago. With the birth of my son came a whole new set of responsibilities and emotions. And here I sit, 23 days removed from the arrival of my firstborn, still amazed by the gift of new life. This, by far, is the coolest thing I have ever done. I would like to introduce Boone Vincent Smith, born at 4:18 AM on April 17th, 2012. He came into this world wide eyed and inquisitive and his thirst for life is an important lesson to remember. There is always more to learn no matter how old we get. We all started the same way and we will all end in the same way. It's the in between part where we get to differentiate ourselves. I hope that Boone experiences a life of adventure and discovery. That he is surrounded by people who love him and never hold him back. That he dreams big and shoots for the stars. And as my friend Ian said, "May he know world peace in his lifetime."

I love this picture because it was taken only about 30 minutes after he was born. I see a curious boy who is excited to learn about his new world.

The last 3 weeks have in fact seemed like one very long day. You see, as any freelancer knows there are pros and cons to having so much flexibility and freedom in your day to day life. I remind myself each day how fortunate I am to do what I do. I love my job and my lifestyle, but it doesn't come without sacrifice.

Timing is everything right? Well, the timing of the birth of my son happened to coincide with an extremely busy work schedule. Normally, when a child arrives the respective parents can say, "Time out. We're on leave." I had planned to do that to a certain extent, but when you have a really slow month and you have bills to pay, you take the work as soon as it comes. And it came in droves, which I'm very grateful for. However, one of the hardest things I've ever done was to leave my newborn son and my recovering wife to travel for a job. I knew they would be fine and that our support network would be there to pick up my slack, but man was it difficult. But it had to be done. Otherwise I might be looking for a full time job now.

In the first 14 days of Boone's life, I was away for 5 nights. I worked on and shot projects for 3 educational clients, one healthcare client, a Canadian hat company and a construction company. That's six projects in 2 weeks with 3 of them requiring overnight travel. Yeah, timing is everything.

I'm on the back end of things now and can say that it was difficult timing. But now that I've had the past 7 days to hang out with Boone and Larissa, it was well worth the stress. A freelancer's life is not easy, but it is rewarding. I'm excited to have the flexibility to always be there for my son. I'm excited to take work breaks to take him and our dog for a walk. I'm excited to have the daily reminder that there is much more to life than work. And I'm excited to see in what ways he inspires me as he grows and learns.

Why I don't work for free

"With some exceptions, photography is not a highly remunerative profession. We have chosen this path in large part due to the passion we have for visual communication, visual art, and the subject matters in which we specialize.

The substantial increase in photographs available via the internet in recent years, coupled with reduced budgets of many photo buyers, means that our already meager incomes have come under additional strain.

Moreover, being a professional photographer involves significant monetary investment . . . So the bottom line is that although we certainly understand and can sympathise with budget constraints, from a practical point of view, we simply cannot afford to subsidize everyone who asks."

Continue reading HERE.

The above quote is by Tony Wu and is from an article posted on Photo Professionals Blog. I have reposted it on Playing Work under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License. Read the entire article HERE. It's well written and I couldn't agree with it more.