Monday, January 5, 2015

On being a full- time freelancer and the use of the "Shotgun Approach"

This is an open letter to my fellow photographers who are thinking about becoming full-time freelancers. 

My first suggestion is for you to keep shooting every day. No matter where you are going or what you are doing always have a camera with you. Be it going to the grocery store, or taking relatives on a sightseeing trip, on a plane, or boat, or walking, while running errands like taking your watch to have the battery changed. While spending time away for the holidays. 

Remember great pictures are happening out there right now everywhere, every time and you will not be the one who makes these if you do not keep an open eye and do not carry the gear with you. 

Anyway, I digress from my main point. What I truly wanted to do is to give you a glimpse of how dedicated and focused one must be if you do decide to try to make it as a freelance photographer on your own. 

This is my schedule for the past couple of months ever since leaving the Boston Globe. And it is pretty accurate of what I do when I'm not traveling, or on an assignment, or teaching a photo workshop.

I wake up around 7:30AM and turn my computer on right away. I have breakfast while answering emails and then for the next 4-6 hours I keep answering emails, writing up new photo-project proposals as well as checking on other proposals I might already have out there.  

For non-stop blocks of time of one to two hours.  I'll keep bouncing back and forth between writing emails, contacting prospective clients, and even making some cold calls to area publications. 

I'll take a break and step away from my computer for 5-10 minutes to rest my eyes every hour or hour and a half or so. I'll come back and try finding out contact information for camera clubs of all sizes in order to propose presentations and workshops.  I will also call the big photo workshop juggernauts in the industry and approach them with ideas. I will call magazines with story ideas. 

I will contact my journalist friends and ask them: What are you working on?  I will call old bosses and say hi to them... just in case they need something shot in my area. I will look into the logistics of upcoming projects. I will call airlines, hotels, local experts, friends in the area, etc. 

I will call magazines to set up face-to-face meetings to show my portfolio. 

This last point is very important since a lot of what you'll end up doing is not only selling your work but yourself as an easy-to-work-with talented photographer. It’s a maxim of sales: People buy from people they like. If your prospective client likes you, you've won half the battle right there. 

I looked up the definition of what I consider to be my approach: 

The Shotgun Method: the hasty use of a wide range of techniques that are nonselective and haphazard." 

But I disagree with the word "haphazard" found in the definition. If all these things you are doing relate to a specific subject- photography and the business of photography- then it cannot be dismissed as haphazard. 

Anyway, I am true believer when you have that many things up in the air something has got to hit. 

But the most important lesson we get from this approach is it teaches us not to not get to caught up on the things that do not pan out, on our failed attempts. And you know why is that? Because you’d already have seven or eight other things that might work out instead. 

Now I've gotta go. While typing this blog I found out there's a new prospective client out there that must make my acquaintance. Good hunting photogs and keep on shooting!

While dropping off a watch for repairs. 

While walking by the White House

While traveling south for holidays. 

Thursday, January 1, 2015

A Story behind every Photo:

Recently as I waited to get a haircut, I found myself perusing through a stack of magazines and I stumbled upon a Matthew Mccounaghey interview. Apparently he is supernova hot in Hollywood right now. And one of the many reasons, he attributes his current streak of success is that he is now in his 40's. And as he so eloquently put it, "In your 40's you get to tailor it."
This phrase resonated with me. It reminded me of a trip I took many years ago here to Washington, DC to meet with the then director of photography for the National Geographic, Kent Kobersteen.
Kobersteen is simply best described as a mensch. He is affable, warm and fair. And most important of all while at his post as NG photo director, he took the time to sit down with emerging talent to offer his appraisal of their photographic skills as well as imparting the occasional bit of wisdom of life in general.

I remember arriving at the NG headquarters and being in awe of the iconic 17th &M address. From the back of my cab looking through the window, I remember being filled with excitement, hesitation and trepidation. As I stepped out of the cab and walked to the building, I felt as if every pore in my body could detect the slightest variation of temperature, the slightest change of wind direction. In other words, I felt scared and alive!

After a short wait, I got to meet Kobersteen in person. My half Panamanian- half Cuban heredity had up until that day served me well by bestowing me with the gift of gab. However on that day, I remember stuttering a simple, "Hello."

He must’ve realized how nervous I was because he graciously came out from behind his desk shook my hand, put his other hand on my shoulder and guided to me sit down. He was also probably thinking, “This kid is about to pass out.”

We made the perfunctory polite exchanges, inquired about common acquaintances and alike. Soon enough I found myself out of common things to talk about. I said a silent prayer and with trembling and sweaty palms handed him my portfolio.

For the most part he remained quiet. Every once in a while he’d nod at this or that image. However, I do remember him becoming animated over this one image of commuters in a train.
He said something along these lines: “Now this is more like it. This image is sophisticated by its layering, it has a tridimensional quality and its a good attempt of capturing the normalcy of daily life by the use of an interesting visual perspective.”

“What?” I thought to myself.

Those words went right over my head. I barely grasped what he was talking about. To me it all was barely a cohesive sequence of nouns and adjectives strung together. At the time, I attributed my confusion to English simply not being first language.

And in the classical manner of an all-knowing twenty something year old, I bypassed the core of his statement and simply focused instead on the part where he said, “Now this is more like it...”

Even though, I tend to fool myself into thinking my mind is a steel trap able to capture the slightest detail of a conversation and the visuals to go along with it. However, when I think about that day, the only visual that comes to mind is me sporting the goofiest, broadest, silliest of smiles while thinking “YES! I’m in!”

However, reality settled shortly thereafter as he then handed me my portfolio back and said, “You are not ready yet but stay in touch.”

I thanked him and I as I turned around to leave while feeling crestfallen, befuddled and perplexed, he called me back and added, "The average National Geographic shooter is mid forties."

Being in my 20's this sounded downright blasphemous!

Now that I’m in my forties, I finally understand Kobersteen’s statement about the average age of the magazine shooter.

Two decades of experiences have granted me the quiet kind of professional wisdom only learned through first-person experiences. The kind that seeps through your consciousness, methodically, unannounced and without boastful expressions of its importance.

One good day this knowledge becomes part of who you are. And unbeknownst to you, it grants you the command of word and authority only possessed by those who know their craft and have had a lifetime to learn it. And if you are among the lucky ones, this knowledge is accompanied by clarity of  sense and of purpose.

I know now my purpose in life is that of helping others become better observers and documenters of the world around us. I am here teach them how to shift their visual paradigm.

Thanks for the time and advice Mr. Kobersteen.

“Every person we meet awakens a different beast within us.” - Unknown