advice

Ben Sasso’s Creative Manifesto

Super enthusiastic photographer Ben Sasso has a list of things to kick-start your creativity, including this “Know Your Craft” gem:

Study the greats that came before you. Don’t just look at the greats, actually study them. What makes their work stand out among the rest? How do they use light in interesting ways? How do you feel when you look at their images and what’s making you feel that way? Know their work so you can know more about your own.

Sasso’s advice echoes a lot of the Creativity Racket™ out there (experiment, be yourself, be original, etc.), but it’s a nice reminder that we all have quibbles and quirks, and that’s okay.

His “it’s okay to take a second for yourself during a shoot” note is especially apt for those of us that get wound up or nervous during shoots.


Have Realistic Expectations

So the next time you buy that new camera— have realistic expectations. It will be good, but it won’t completely transform your photography nor solve your life’s problems. Try not to be too excited with your new gear— as you will eventually get used to it.

10 Practical Tips to Fight G.A.S. (Gear Acquisition Syndrome) by Eric Kim

What I like about Eric Kim is that he suffers from the afflictions he writes about, which makes him more real and honest to me.

But his advice – that buying new camera gear won’t make you better or happier – is spot on.

I admit that a Canon EF 135mm f/2 lens has been on my wish list since I rented it this summer for a wedding. So is the Fuji XF 35mm f/1.4. So is a Canon EF 100mm macro lens. So is…

But you know what? I’m not a professional photographer, and I don’t need any of those lenses. I use a classic Canon 5D. I carry a EOS M, first gen, around. None of my lenses are Canon L lenses. And all of that is fine.

A lot of photographers struggle with this, and this frame of mind is easy to find on photography blogs. The challenge is not to let gear reviews and photo websites get the best of you.

My latest method? Using adaptors to try out my manual focus film lenses on different cameras. It’s a way to get a lot of mileage out of the gear I already have. Just repurposed. More on that later.

And for you non-photographers out there, pay attention. You think you need the big fancy camera with the telephoto lens? You probably don’t.

Not yet.


All You Need Is 1

alesserphotographer:

You don’t need a certain number of followers, a “passive income,” a “monetization strategy” or “1000 true fans” to justify sharing your work.

All you need is 1.

1 person liked my writing enough to hire me at my current company (that’s 15 years of salary and benefits so far).

1 person liked my dating profile (which is most definitely a writing and photography project) enough to eventually marry me and start a family.

1 person read my most recent book more than a year ago and decided to publish it to their customer list of 100,000+ people.

1 fan could be your next business partnership, employer or spouse.

1 fan justifies your next book, blog and podcast.

1 fan can give your work all the meaning it ever needs.

So right.

1 fan justifies your next book, blog and podcast.

Having dinner to talk about art with one person. Urbexing with one (or two) photographers. Talking about my big project with one important person in the community.

Person by person. Project by project. Photo by photo.


Some Advice (Not From Me)

Artists In Jackson

In sharing my Artists In Jackson project, I reached out to some artists for feedback. What did they think? What can I do differently next time?

One artist in particular – raised in Jackson, went on to great success – gave me some really great advice. For one, he was worried about me producing a book. “Nobody buys books,” he wrote, “not even if you price them at $10 a piece.”

He, however, knew how to sell books. Case in point: a $500 book, limited to 50 editions, and he sold out of his print run in just a few weeks. This artist offered an experience, not just a book. It became a pride point to own one of his books.

“The book was only a bonus and personal brag piece to tell their friends the damn book cost $500,” he said. “It’s the experience, not the money.”

His experience was, he only printed 50 of them, and he included a personal sketch inside each one.

You can’t rely on friends and family to support your art, he told me. And people in the community who say they support the arts? They’re mostly fibbing. Few back up their support with actual dollars.

Some of this I wished I had heard before I started the project, though I doubt that would’ve dissuaded me. I wanted to make a quality book for people to buy, and I felt like I had enough of an audience to sell a decent amount.

Aside from the book, my main motivation was to brag about the artistic talent in Jackson, and to get to know some local artists. Take economics out of it, and I feel like my project was very successful.

Put economics back in, and I think the advice I received was pretty spot-on. My “experience” was a limited run of books signed by me, with a free eBook download and dibs on info like extra editions and events. I could do a lot more to up the “experience” level.

I don’t think that a high price tag would go over well in the community, however. Jackson is a pretty cheapskate kind of town.

Granted, this artist has a huge following, and sells work for thousands of dollars. He works on a totally different level than this local photographer with a super local project.

But for future projects, his advice is worthwhile.

Thanks Dominic!


On starting a blog for fun and (hopefully) profit

A friend, Britt, wants to start a blog after getting laid off at her teaching job.

She wrote:

So, I have some questions about blogging. You seem to know what you’re doing in this arena and I like what I’ve seen from your work. I outlined my Blog Plan below the questions so you can get an idea of what I am going for.

Some questions:

1. Preferred blog host? Blogger vs. WordPress vs. TypePad? Most book blogs use Blogger, but I don’t like the look of most of them. I think that I’ll go with Typepad because Andrew said that it was the best (but what does he know anyway?)

2. Do you have an editorial calendar? How far in advance do you plan blog postings?

3. Do you have any advice for community building?

4. Any advice on a good name?

5. Any advice in general?

How fun. And I must say, it’s great that you’ve put a lot of thought into this.

To answer your questions:

1.) I’m more adept at WordPress, and I love its flexibility. Chances are there’s a theme you’ll like and they’re all hackable, so you can tweak it to your exact liking. But something like Tumblr is worth looking at. It depends on how much upkeep you want to do. If you’re geeky and want to dig into some HTML, then WordPress or Typepad will be good. If you want a no-frills, just-let-me-write-and-post blogging tool, something like Tumblr, or Posterous, will work well. There’s also a question of cost: Tumblr/Posterous are free, but WordPress/Typepad may cost you – even if you only buy the domain name (like www.loblawlaw.com or something).

2.) My editorial calendar depends on the blog. For Newton Poetry, I try to do two or three posts a week, and at least one longer one every few weeks – posts where I really get down, dirty, and detailed. My personal blog is whenever I get an idea or see something I think it worth commenting on. But I do type up posts ahead of time, sometimes weeks in advance, and just sit on them until I have a slow idea week, and then I can reach in the grab bag and fill in a pre-made post. But two to three a week is good, with maybe little “here’s something interesting” posts as you find them.

3.) Your community building starts with the people you know, so this could be as easy as posting your blog on Facebook, e-mailing all your friends and family (this is no time to be shy), maybe starting a Twitter account – that kind of thing. My community was built from classic Mac nerds, so I went to where they were, delved into the culture, made posts on other’s blogs, and made myself known. Most importantly? Write good stuff. When someone finds it, your audience will build itself.

4.) Short and sweet – so loblawlawblog.com or something. Head to 1and1.com, type in some domain name ideas into their little input box, and see if someone has it already.

5.) Yes. Before anything, you need to listen to John Gruber (of Daring Fireball) and Merlin Mann’s (of 43 Folders) podcast/talk from South by Southwest on finding your voice, and finding the point of your blog. It’s a must-listen for anyone who wants to bootstrap a blog.

Also, just start writing – even though you don’t have the darned thing set up yet. Get a few draft posts in the hopper, ready to go. Show them to Andrew. Then kick him in the pants.

You’re right about those book blogs being too cluttered. You want a unique style without all the crap. If, hey, you get popular enough that advertisers want to put ads on your site – that’s gravy. But you don’t have to make it look like crap with ads and links and little “POST TO DELICIOUS!” boxes everywhere. Again, my philosophy is minimalism. Let the content speak for itself.

The cost thing again: It’s about $10/year to buy a domain name. A lot of the blogging platforms have free hosting and setup, and then you buy the domain name and point it at yourblogname.wordpress.com or whatever, but to the reader it’ll appear as yourblogname.com – so that’ll be the minimal cost, the $10. From there, if you want to do your own hosting (read: super geeky and technical), then the cost goes up.

Most of my blogs, with the exception of Newton Poetry, I let the blogging platform host, and I point my purchased domain name at it and no one knows the difference.

You’ve thought a lot about what kinds of posts to write, who your audience is, and what you want to focus on – that’s the tough part, really. Now you just need to write, find a voice, and make it all look pretty.

Easy enough, right?