“How can I make money with my photography?” The #4 question I’m asked, moving up from #9 in the last qtr (the things I keep track of). The quick answer is yes but it’s just not that simple. In fact, when our son Jake (on the lift with Casey shooting Super Corsairs here) decided to follow his parents path of careers, to say we were concerned is an understatement. The one giant advantage Jake has over most though is he has seen and heard for most of his life the trials, tribulations, successes and rewards his parents have had in this industry. Time is one of the essential ingredients in making it in this biz! The question on the table though is, “How can I make money with my photography?”
I don’t have all the answers, I’ve not even worked in 1% of the photo industry. I only know those things that have worked for us. To me it’s real simple, you wanna succeed long term then you’ve gotta first succeed in the editorial market. I’m constantly hearing from photographers how tough that is (because it was so easy 30yrs ago). I use to curse that, it being so tough but now I welcome it for so many reasons. The main being is I think it’s supposed to be tough so only those shooters with a passion for photography and not the drive for just money “make it” (and I don’t know what that is yet). What I’ve said from the beginning still holds true today. Without the photograph, you have nothing to sell, print, put on the wall or page or in the the show! That means real simply, you wanna make money, you have to shoot, shoot, shoot, shoot, shoot, and then shoot some more!
Many who I’ve told that too just look me in the eye and say one way or the other, “sure!” Typically with that I reply with a question, “You ever seen a photograph in a magazine that really sucked?” Most of the time folks say yeah. I then ask, “You have better then that in your files?” And quite often the answer comes back, yeap! That leads me to one of my favorite sayings. The photographs you see in print are not from the best photographers, but from the best business men. And those who have the best photographs and are the best businessmen are the ones who last decades. And how do you acquire both of those skills, the photograph and the biz? The editorial market place IMHO.
A year ago, Sharon & I were pretty concerned with Jake’s decision to follow us. This are changing times. The photography biz is not a 40hrs job, it’s a 365 24/7 passion and is all consuming and most are simply not cut out for the ups and downs and the constant push to create content. Moving the clock forward a year, while we still have that basic parental concern for Jake, as for his biz, we have lots of confidence now. Yesterday is a good example of why. He was at his bank yesterday morning dealing with accepting int’l payments for articles he’s had published in Germany and in the afternoon at the new airport terminal in Bozeman where a permanent display of his prints is getting ready to be hung. Other then taking him out shooting, we had nothing to do with those successes. He earned these rewards all on his own by shooting a lot and working the biz. This doesn’t include the covers, dbl trucks and articles he’s had published in the last six months. This is a 23yr old showing that some old fashion business practices with solid photographs still does work!
Many ask, and I’m sure this piece will open the door to more questions, just how do you break into the editorial market place, how do you make money? We use to teach a 4 day workshop in our office to answer that one question. That means that not in this blog posting, an email or G+ response can I answer that question for you. It’s a bloody long answer to that one question. If I could sum it up I would say this. EVERY one of you can make it (but probably won’t) if you have the passion and time. With those two ingredients you will have the photographs and with the photographs, you can learn the biz (face it, if I can, anybody can). If you want it, I mean really want it because you wanna tell your story visually and are willing to make the scarifies for your passion, then the sky is the limit. And here’s the key, the biz, it’s all about the photograph!
It was one of those weeks where the highs and lows come and go with breakneck speed. Leaving the house at 05:00, Jake and I drove ten hours through the desert to arrive in Mesa in time to jump on the lift and go up 45 feet to shoot at sunset. Then we went to this marvelous party with all our pilot friends knowing we’d be on the field at 06:00 to continue shooting at sunrise. After an amazing day at the Wing, we were up in the air again, this time in the back of an A36 Bonanza photographing an event not seen since 1949 and what we were told would never be seen again. We then spent the next day at the hangar shooting, talking and laughing and then packed up all the gear, said our good-byes and Happy New Years and drove the 10 hours back through the desert to home. Other than a couple of UFOs over the desert, it was a quite drive ending at 03:00 back in Mammoth.
Photography is this marvelous pursuit where we gather up all these magical black boxes and tubes in padded bags, travel to some location and make marvelous images and then come home until the next adventure. When the photographs turn out great, it was a great trip. If the photos don’t turn out so good, the trip tends to be not so good. And if there is any business involved in this process, a whole new set of pressures can come or go. But in all of this, was the end photograph really the reward, what is it that brings the high and low? Or rather, is it the process where the photograph represents in a tangible way our feeling for that process?
We’re coming to the end of another year and I hope for you all, it was a great year. It was for us no matter how you add the plusses and minuses. And there are plenty of both and depending which happened last, you’re pleased or not pleased. And at the end of the year, we tend to reflect and ponder how we did and as photographers, that means our photographs. And while Monday will come and it will be a new year, in the scheme of things, it is really just the next day of our life. But we tend to reflect so how can we reflect, photographically and put our best foot forward for 2012?
While I tend to do it on a weekly bases, looking forward with the crystal ball can provide some direction. Being rather old fashioned, I try to remember the saying, “Those who don’t learn from the past tend to relive it.” For example, I shot my first two seat cockpit pano a month ago and at the camera, it didn’t go as smoothly as I would have liked so made changes so when I did them this week, that issue was resolved. But as it is with photography, those old issues solved so in moving forward, new ones arose now to be solved. By not making the same mistake over again, I did move forward if only to find new problems. That pretty much sums up photography, and life. And that I think this is to be celebrated!
As you might imagine, I have a few dates on a calendar with some parts of my life planned up until 2015. While I feel very fortunate to have that small slice of security in my profession, when those dates set so long ago are now passed, I tend to wonder where the time went. I try to reflect back as I ask myself, “Did I do the most with that time?” And all of this reflection, there is actually a way I find I can find a tangible answer, one that no matter how you mentally add up the columns, always brings a smile to my face.
It’s the photographs! Going through the 710k images filed this year isn’t practical but those I have finished and deem as my favorites (not all the same images as I put out for the public) tends to instantly put on the rose colored glasses and make the world all right again. Yeah, one or two bring back the memories of disasters that had to be dealt with but since there is a photograph there to represent that moment, in the end it all turned out for the best.
2011 was a year of evolution for Moose and WRP as some adventures closed their doors and other new ones opened for the first time. But 2011 was no different really then the thirty-one years that came before it for the business. Probably though why I’m poor is that like all photographers, my measure of success isn’t that check book but the images. This is a pursuit of passion and not money so no wonder photographers don’t have any money but have lots of passion since that’s what we chase.
This is the time of the year when we gather the family, tell stories of the past and create the new to then reflect upon next time we gather. Embrace this same approach to your photography and it will grow as you grow. As I sit here scrolling through my year of images, I reflect on what went into those images as I take notes how I want to improve them the next time out. And at the end of next year as I’ve done for the last three decades, I will look back again as I plan forward to the next click. It’s been a very good year and I expect at the very least, the same for next year. I wish you experienced and will experience the same and that your photography is your portal to this marvelous world we are so fortunate to explore. Share your adventures, share your photographs all year long but right now especially to light up those around you with the wonders photography can bring. It’s the best way to reflect on year!
Happy New Year!
Just because you can do something doesn’t mean you should! This little rant originates from a photographer who insists on sending me really horrible images, I think because he wants to see how many times I can say SUCKS! This photographer insists on shooting everything as HDR, I mean everything (really, a toilet seat?)! What you see here are two of my suckie HDR images to illustrate the point of this rant. Just because you know HDR doesn’t mean it will make a suckie photograph better. Garbage in is still garbage OUT! These two images suck (which means when you see them on G+ you don’t write amazing because you’ll look really silly!) and HDR didn’t make them one bit better!
Whether it’s HDR or flash fill (I see plenty of suckie flash photos too) or Fisheye or any other technique, just because you can apply it successfully doesn’t turn a horrible image into magic, at least not in my book. If I know that, why did I take the two photos you see above? Because I just wanted to shoot and they were available. The light sucked but I didn’t have these two aircraft in my files, in fact a number of the aircraft on the deck of the Intrepid I didn’t have so I shot them all to have a record in my files of them. I shot them all as 5 image HDR because the light sucked and if this photographer had got the message in the 20+ emails that said sucks, you would never see these images. But I need something that sucked and these were fresh in my mind.
More important then they suck is WHY they suck. And that answer is the heart and soul of photography. They suck because the light sucks. Not the number of stops or the direction but the quality of the light. There simply is no LIFE to the light, no drama, no impact, no emotion, no mood, it’s just there and HDR isn’t going to make that better. I wish I had images of the same subjects in good light to show you the difference but in the real world of photography, you don’t have side by side comparisons when you shoot. You just have what’s presented you and from that you make the photographic decision to click or don’t click. I’m trying to encourage you to click only when you see and feel something in the viewfinder.
Now this is NOT an indictment of HDR. Since I just had a double truck published of a P-51C that is a HDR, to say I use it would be an understatement. What I am saying is that just because you own Photomatix Pro doesn’t mean EVERY photograph has to be run through it. This photography thing is not about who owns the most toys but who sees, feels and communicates light. And just because I use HDR as you see in the photo below which is on the “realistic” side and not the “Elvis on Velvet” side, I have no problem with that when it’s done because it was needed. But using a photographing technique just because you can, don’t! You’re a story teller with your photography. Use the techniques that tell your story and you will successful. end of rant
Good Morning NYC – such a view as we pack to head out to our next adventure. Good-bye as well. Thanks to all at B&H, Unique & Foto Care who made it such a great trip! Your kind words & love notes made the whole trip very special for Sharon & I. A special thanks to Howard for all the fun!
Woke up to a gorgeous day and view. It’s going to be a good day in NYC!
I fear it’s just me, but I love these shapes in the canyon walls. Just a play of light and color.
I just got a new project offered to me this past week and I’m really, very excited about it. It’s another of those kinds of projects that I am particularly good at. It’s in a cold place, very little is known biologically about the critter and there are very few photographs of the critter, the Alaskan Hare. When I get projects like this, I go into a favorite mode, research. I just love looking for, uncovering and learning new knowledge especially when I know it will improve my photography. In this particular case, I have no special insider info, no one expert I can query, I have to hit the books and learn it for myself. That’s a pretty typical MO and not just for me but for most of my peers be it wildlife or landscape or portraits or aviation. There just isn’t a road map, we have to create our own.
This little box on my Firefox toolbar should look a whole lot more warn then it does because I pound this thing. I’ve learned some tricks over the years to be fast at finding the trivia I want, but it seems I’m there all the time. It’s in this search for knowledge I find out things like what lens I might need, not that someone says, “You’re going after the Green-spotted Shank use a 18-200 lens,” but rather gathering the pieces so I can do the math that then tells me this. For a long, long time, research has shown that most when they use Google Search never click on Page 2, they never get past Page 1. Understanding how quickly folks want information, I did the silly thing of creating a website so finding information on the particular subject of wildlife photography might be faster. That’s why there’s over 2500 pages of trivia here and over 100 videos, all here created in my quest for knowledge.
But doing our own research, we found that our Search feature gets used so little, I’m thinking about putting a spider web graphic on it. Here’s my beef. Folks not coming to my site to seek knowledge isn’t the problem. My problem is what seems to be a good portion of photographers don’t seek knowledge, period! I teach a lot of workshops and interface with a helluva of a lot of photographers and the percentage who don’t even understand the workings of their cameras, I’m talking just the setting, boggles my mind! And that’s just the start of the quest of knowledge. Why is that? Just paying for the expensive camera doesn’t mean it will take great photos for you. It’s like you buy a car and then expect it to drive you everywhere while you watch the sites. Taking this one step further, I am just blown away when photographers spend a ton of money on gear then on traveling to some great locale arriving not knowing a thing about how their camera works! Really?! This is the time to learn about how that tool works?
Had a long travel day yesterday, took 26hrs to get home so I had a bunch of time to think. I thought not of the wonderful bunch of students we had this past week at Lake Placid DLWS but rather my peers, those photographers I have great respect and admiration for. I went back in my memory to our many discussions about our trade and came to a realization that we all have one thing very much in common. We are all always in search of knowledge! We all do a ton of research when heading out for a project. We all do a ton of research on our gear and test before we go out on that project and then once on site, we search and search with our camera in telling the story. This does not guarantee success, there is no such guarantee in photography. But what it will do is guarantee you’ll have fun! That’s the main reward in photography that knowledge brings. The satisfaction of doing the research, connecting the dots and then putting that into play with the camera even with failure is fun and it’s that fun that keeps the passion of photography alive!
We just finished another of our Photoshop for Shooters this weekend. Great group, great time! It’s fourteen hours of really talking light in all its complications and implications from the viewfinder to computer. The experience and level skill of the class filled the spectrum as you might expect. I like that challenge, makes me push myself to elaborate on some aspects I personally take for granted for those just starting out while putting out “cutting edge” concepts for those pushing their craft to keep all entertained. And the whole time, try to keep it entertaining and instructive. It tires me out after a couple days but I do love the challenge.
And while I’m challenged as the instructor, the student is challenged even more. Since I am often on the opposite side of the podium as I’m being taught new features of this piece of gear or software, I can totally relate to the frustration of having information thrown at you that goes flying over your head. Or in a Photoshop class where a recipe is being provided and you attempt to take notes but you know you’ve missed that one step that is probably the most critical. In a short time, the frustration sets in and the learning experience is no longer a challenge, it’s a disaster. But you so want the information, you want to improve, you want to grow. How do you get past this wall?
Having just gone through some training again, all I can recommend is what I do myself. The vast majority of the classes I go to, I’m after techniques I’ve not explored. I’m looking for those little treasures that might land in my imagination that I can then go chase down after the class. I know personally I’m simply not smart enough to sit in a class for eight hours and learn all that’s coming at me, that’s just not what I can do as I hit overload typically after the teacher introduces themselves (I am just horrible with names). Knowing my own short far, I have mastered the four word note.
With the web and its vast resources, I know that the majority of the time I can with a couple of clicks find enough information to fill in the gap of my knowledge permitting me to take the next step forward. When it comes to pushing my photography when learning from others then, I look at the before and after photos, the before and after technique concepts and if I see a problem solver in what was just presented, then I simply right down a four word description of that new idea and continue to listen as the presenter keeps moving forward. Quite often those lessons that resonate are ones that solve an immediate problem I’m facing so that night after class, I look and my notes and then take time to write down my problem, expand on what I learned that I think might solve it and then get a good night’s sleep (my head usually hurts after days like this).
Then, once back in the safety of my office where no one can see me fail, I go searching on the web for all the pieces of the lesson I think will help me and start creating my own recipe. By having to teach myself the steps, I not only get to “customize” them to my own style, but they start taking hold in my head and picture taking process. Now quite often the new ideas go down in flames but then there will be that one gem that works and that’s the one that makes the whole class worth while taking. If you’ve ever sat in my class, you’ll hear me say I learned this from Scott Kelby or Russell Brown or Julianne Kost or RC. Those are the classes I sat in and took away that little nugget that I then pass on to others.
It’s way too easy in this day and age to get overloaded in the learning process. That’s when the fun and excitement of learning becomes a chore and we all know how we feel about chores. I absolutely love learning and the capturing of new knowledge because it all at some points improves my photography which is why I’m pushing the learning curve even harder! Head into that classroom with an open mind and open heart and look for that one pearl of wisdom, just that one that will propel your photography forward then you will know the art of learning!
The last few days have been, well, different. I wasn’t really planning on blogging the rest of the week, there is simply more important things to deal with right now. You as a community, you “fans” though have been simply amazing! Your out pouring of concern to my family and me has let us know just how blessed we are!
Jake & I both had shot lists, aircraft and folks we wanted to photograph and with the sheer size and magnitude of Reno Air Races, we break things down by days. Now if we see something come up that we know is a once in a lifetime opportunity, we would deviate but otherwise, we kinda stick to our plan so we cover all we want to cover. Sunday night when we got back home, Jake & I realized we were light about 5000 images. Images we planned on taking Saturday and Sunday. Planes and folks we wanted to tell their story visually are missing as there was no Saturday/Sunday. It’s something we’re still coping with.
In the process of communicating with all from the races as we gather ourselves up and move forward, some web comments were brought to my attention. Now I am very use to this in the environmental world, been dealing with it for 30yrs. It is 100% human nature, it’s what we do and it is a survival mechanism that permits us to deal with bad times and horrible information. Sometimes it’s just plain old ignorance and other it’s just the bad information pressed upon us. That’s probably why whenever I blog about doing your homework for wildlife photography, I can hear the jeers arise. For example if I mention climate change in a blog (like I did just now), my email box will fill with emails telling me I’m an idiot. They tell me that what I’ve seen firsthand is not the case, I didn’t see it correctly. I love those emails. Well I’ve got a new one now that has its own folder as well.
I wrote in my Gone West blog that “It is just part of aviation.” Accidents and deaths that is and as a wise person just told me, “You’ll find more submarines at the bottom of the ocean then planes stuck in the sky.” I’d fly right now, right this moment with any of my friends in their aircraft if they’d come and pick me up (this does not include commercial flights). But with that desire, I know accidents, no matter how careful you are, happen. We spend a couple of hours at our Air2Air Workshop talking just safety because it is apart of the passion. The list of planes, pilots, photographers and passengers that I personally know that have tragically lost their lives in a plane crash in the last 45 days is too long to think it’s not part of aviation. From Jimmy Leeward to Frans Dely to Jack “Flash” Mangan to 7 others I know in the last 45 days. If you head to NTSB or PlaneCrashInfo you’ll see this is the tip of the ice berg.
Sharon & I have been fighting the battle, because it is a battle, to make the public aware of the plight of our wild heritage for a long time. It has taken its toll on us over the years as the message falls on fewer and fewer ears with less and less being done on their behalf. We still battle but we now have a wall to protect us from the bad news we feel is coming (critter extinction is hard to handle). That’s why we weren’t surprised by those who think I’m all wrong about what my dear friend calls, “The under belly of flight.” Planes do come down and tragically, good folk pass.
We’re living in a time when change is needed. It’s needed on every level at ever sector for everybody. Talking with so many vets from WWII, I crave that spirit of that era to infuse itself again in us as a society. There are many avenues available to us to make the needed changes and I don’t mean to trivialize the solution, but I think knowledge could take us a long ways to solving our problems. No matter your age, beliefs or goals, pushing yourself to be better educated and informed and knowledgeable, leads to conversations that will unite and improve us all. We don’t all have to agree but with knowledgeable and educated conversation we can make a positive change. Be it politics, the environment, aviation, sports, no matter what, take some time to read, ponder and learn so common sense and not ignorance rules the day. Keep that open heart for your fellow man but don’t forget knowledge is a powerful force!
One of my favorite shots from the day. Simple, clean with light, gesture & color. Schweet!
As Richard said, “You and your clouds!” Now the Super Corsair looks as regal as it is. I like this, it was a good day!
My posting on The Crop brought in a flood of emails, not about cropping but about exposure. The “Don’t give yourself the option of fixing in post” seemed to, ah, intrigue folks. The idea of getting the exposure right in the camera. I’ve written about that many times here on the site. I’ve posted the Teddy Bear exercise which I invented (for film 25yrs ago) and understandably, exposure still eludes many. In Captured, I wrote and illustrated nearly 50pgs on this one topic in an attempt to explain how I approach exposure. I’m hoping this excerpt will open some doors to how I expose and better yet, get some to buy Captured to get the whole explanation. But the bottomline, when I go click, the exposure that I want to communicate what I’m feeling is captured.
“Seeing” light, “feeling” light is such a challenge yet so essential. Getting to the point where you point your lens at that Alaskan Range, know how much exposure compensation to dial in a click takes many clicks before that one from over the years but shooting digital cuts down the learning curve and time by lifetimes if you use it by thinking! Just looking at your own digital images, looking at the metadata and learning from what you did in the past can greatly impact the clicks you make tomorrow. Those images you like, how did you deal with the exposure? Those images you don’t like, how did you expose for them? Remember both so you can repeat the successes and avoid the failures. (Which are still a learning opportunity so don’t be afraid of failure!)
You have a feature on your camera (available on nearly all cameras these days) called Highlight Warning. I affectionately call it Blinkies because that’s what they do. Remember we have a five stop range of light that we can capture with one click (HDR doesn’t work for wildlife). When you have more than five stops of light, when you have 5.1 stops of light, you’re outside the range of the camera’s single click ability to hold detail in highlights and shadows. With the Blinkies turned on, those highlight areas in your photograph that are outside the five stop range literally blink at you, black then white. You have to use your LCD (a good reason to look at it) and have the Highlight Warning turned on in your menus and active on your LCD to see them. When you’re trying to learn light, Blinkies will teach you instantly when you are outside that five stop range. But they can help your photography even more than that! They show you exactly where in your photograph you have lost that highlight information. That’s big time important!
What does the mind’s eye crave first in a photograph? Yeah, light and bright. If you look at those blinkies as not only a possible exposure problem, because blinkies are not necessarily bad, but as something the mind’s eye is guaranteed to latch onto, you can then make the decision of if they are good or bad, not for exposure sake but visual communication sake. It is amazing that your digital camera cannot only teach you about the range of light, but also predict where the mind’s eye is going to go in your photograph and visually show that to you. Wow!
Let’s say you’re photographing that Great Egret, an all white bird. What if you see a couple of small blinkies on its body? Is that a good or a bad thing? The knowledge and sight of blinkies doesn’t mean all is lost. In this case the subject is all white. Is the loss of some detail in that white messing with what you’re communicating visually? Is it taking the mind’s eye somewhere you don’t want it to? I don’t have that answer, you will have to answer those questions when you have it in the viewfinder and on the LCD. Half the battle is knowing what question to ask, your camera can help you there with blinkies. Loosing some detail in a white subject I don’t think is the end of the world though so personally, more than likely I wouldn’t worry about a couple of small blinkies. You have to make that call but at least, you now have a tool to use and a thought process to employ to make an informed decision. Just remember in this process you don’t forget to ask what’s the subject.
Here’s another way to think about it (because you do have to think about it). If you write a paragraph of words and then from that paragraph take away 20% of the words near the beginning of that paragraph, would someone understand what you’re trying to say? Now imagine your photograph between the X & Y axis being 100%. If you don’t have information in 20% of that top area (like blown out clouds) because it’s information lost (or anything else visually distracting), the blinkies are going wild, will someone understand what you’re trying to say visually in your photograph? Don’t lose sight we are visual communicators and one of our key methods of communicating visually is with light!
When you start thinking about light and the levels of light in your photograph that you control via exposure in this way, you start to feel it in your photograph. The photograph of the White Ibis, if you look at the butts of some of them (bird perverts), you’ll notice there is NO detail, it’s just paper white. When I looked on the LCD to do a visual check because white subjects in the shade are not a great light situation, I could see blinkies. Yet, the photo is in the book and the image is a favorite. Why?
The mangrove forest in which the ibis are standing in front of is a real busy one, real busy. Those roots go every which way and instantly grab the eye’s attention. Standing in the water and looking through the viewfinder, they came glaring in. But where are those roots in the photograph? They are in the shade and lost because of the exposure range. What’s the subject (there’s that question again)? The subject is the line of Ibis and their reflection, White Ibis in mixed light. It’s not one individual Ibis. What’s the light range between the background, the roots and the subject, the Ibis? You think, 7, 8, 9, 10 stops? How many stops do we know the camera can capture in one click? Five right. So then knowing the meter is going to sacrifice the shadows (why, because of that light and bright thing the mind’s eye craves), with that kind of light range, the roots in the shadows will go black making their busyness disappear literally in the shadows and creating a background that makes the ibis blaze off the page. That’s feeling the light and letting it work for our photography. I exposed with my normal -1/2 dialed in. Normal?
What do I mean by “normal” exposure compensation dialed in? How many of you shot film? Do you remember how we would take Kodachrome 64 and rate it at ASA 80? Do you remember why we did that? Because that underexposure of 1/3 stop saturated the colors and made the shadows go a little deeper black. For those same reasons and some more (like protecting some highlights), color saturation and darker shadows, the majority of the time I underexpose by 1/2 stop. That’s all that was done in this case but that made those roots a little darker, the red in the bills a little more vibrant and possibly brought one or two of the blinking pixels back within five stops.
Light, mind’s eye, exposure, they are all so intertwined I don’t really believe they can be separated. And when you think of these as all ways of expressing emotions, I don’t think they should be separated. For some though this “touchy-feelie” approach to combining shutter speeds and apertures just won’t work when it comes to making an exposure (just gotta have those numbers). I understand that but guess what, since I don’t use that method, I can’t begin to address that side of exposure. I think the last thing the world needs is another technically perfect photograph. What the world needs are more photographs with passion. You have to decide if the system you have brings to life the drama you see and if it does, disregard this conversation. I bet though you might find some wiggle room where there is something in my images you would like to incorporate into yours. If that’s the case, you might just want to try feeling the light. The worst that can happen is you delete the photograph, right? And the best thing, your exposure problems disappear!
It must have been the first or at the most, the second crit at school the very first semester of the very first year. A student put up their image up on the screen and it was this little, itty pity image. I scratched my head, the instructor just stared. He took the slide out of the carrousel and looked at it, it was all taped up with silver tape leaving this little aperture. All Steve said was, “What, you couldn’t have moved closer, changed lenses?”
I seem to have earned quite a reputation for many things, one of them is having a thing against cropping an image. So I’ll say this right off the bat so you don’t have to read any further if you don’t want to, what anyone does with their images is strictly up to them! I am not the photo police! But when photographers show me their images and ask for comments, then they will get my comments and when I see an image has been cropped (yes, I think it’s really easy to see), what screams through my head is, “Couldn’t you have moved closer or changes lenses?”
Back in the day when I started, submitting prints was on its way out, submitting slides was in. When you create a print, you naturally have to crop an image since paper is not the same ratio as a 35mm slide/neg. Since I printed up a storm, I had to crop and learned how to be successful at shooting for that crop knowing I would be cropping when printing. The print would be the final presentation of my vision. Once printing went away and all I shot were slides, then composition was still done in the viewfinder but that was it. There was no cropping to be done, it was all done.
When sending slides to photo buyers, taking your image and applying the very obvious silver tape to “crop” the slide in the slide mount stuck out like a sore thumb. I remember one conversation with a photo buyer complaining about a photographer who had done just that, sent in their slides cropped with silver tape. All the photo buyer could say was, “You have any idea how stuck those images were in the slide page?” That wasn’t an impression I would ever want to leave with a photo buyer, I could get right in the viewfinder or slides covered with stickem. So what does that have to do with this day and age and digital?
Yeah, you can set a preset with the Crop Tool in Photoshop and crop all day long. And unless you make a print 24×30, you probably won’t see any possible quality loss from cropping. So then why do I not crop my images still? It’s just one of those benchmarks I took hold of that signifies a photographer as, a photographer. It goes along with getting the exposure right and the image sharp when you go click. You compose within the viewfinder and get it right when you go click.
When I look at the work of those who I hold in high regards, Jay Maisel, Joe McNally, Dave Black, Joel Sartore, Wayne Lynch and others, they do all their cropping in the viewfinder as well. I’m sure there are a lot more and there’s a reason for that standard. Arranging the elements in the viewfinder so the subject pops and the rest of the elements support the subject while telling the story, well, isn’t that visual story telling? That’s my definition of photography. There are definitely pros and cons to this standard. The pros are the workflow is simpler and faster (important when you’re in the business of selling images) and quality assured. Cons, the biggest one is it makes taking the photo one helluva of a lot more challenging when you know you’ve gotta get it right when you go click. And when you don’t have it, you don’t go click.
You might have heard I don’t like my images cropped even when they are used editorially. That’s true, I get kinda serious when an photo buyer wants to edit my click. I mean, why buy the photo in the first place if you don’t like it? If you got a copy of my book Captured, rest assured those images aren’t cropped either. I was very blessed in that I had the best in the biz, Jess laying out the book honoring my no cropping request. In those regards, I am totally, completely, out there on my own. I am a nut! And that’s the whole point!
Just because that’s my standard, it does not mean a single other photographer has to follow it. But if you ask me about your photo, heads up. It’s my own quest in being a better photographer, to get it right when I go click. I rather love being able to say, “What you see is what I saw in the viewfinder” when it comes to the crop (landscape & aviation images are often finished in PS. Wildlife images are not). When you don’t give yourself the option to “fix it in post,” photographers push themselves. This always make a better click and the story telling, the subject, that passion of that click becomes clearer and clearer. We all must find whatever the tools, techniques and personal vision at the camera and the computer that work best for you. For me and my photography, that means using my feet and lens to put in the viewfinder what it is I want to communicate to you the passion I’m feeling at moment.
A T-28 at sunrise. I liked the drama of the moment, not sure on finishing but its a start.
While not a great sunset, at least the clouds left so we could have our firework shot. Just in Time!