Monday, March 31, 2014

Minimalist Winter Workshop Results: Robert Royer

Some more work from the workshop with +Marc Koegel . This time by Robert – Bob – Royer. Very nice work Bob!

 ©Robert Royer
 ©Robert Royer
 ©Robert Royer

Friday, March 28, 2014

Minimalist Winter Workshop Results: Neil Bates

Here are some more results from the Minimalist Winter Workshop from another Neil, Neil Bates. It was great to see him grow and open up during the weekend.

©Neil Bates

©Neil Bates 

©Neil Bates 

©Neil Bates 

©Neil Bates 

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Minimalist Winter Workshop Results: Neil McElmon

Here are some more results of the Minimalist Winter Workshop +Marc Koegel and I set up a few weeks ago in and around Calgary. Today I'd like to feature +Neil McElmon. Neil personally blew me away when he showed this first photograph during Sunday's critiquing session. Well done my friend.

©Neil McElmon

©Neil McElmon

©Neil McElmon

©Neil McElmon

©Neil McElmon

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Online sharing has sucked the life out of quality photography

I've been struggling with this for a while now.

And I'm just going to say what I feel needs to be said.

This morning a friend of mine forwarded me a few articles by a 'Professional Instagrammer' (ugh) that really grinded my gears. You can read them here:

You see in these articles our self proclaimed 'photographer' that made it big goes on to explain how average she really is, how easy photography is and how she sells her photography to businesses. Frankly she wasn't selling anything. She was giving away her stuff for free in exchange for free watches, sunglasses, or trips to wherever needed promotion. That's not a sustainable way of making a living or making a business work.

In the last few weeks 2 of my peers (and friends) contacted me to ask my opinions on emails they got requesting licensing on some of their work. One got an email request from a big tourism company here in Alberta that asked her to hand over all rights of a few of here photographs. It was really not a good contract to sign. We debated it for a bit, I told her the parts I absolutely didn't like (like the non-exclusive, perpetuity, world-wide, royalty free and with freedom of 3rd party distribution with zero-liability parts). And we debated an alternative approach. In the end my friend had a meeting with them and argued that a commission based contract would be a win-win for both parties. Guess who got the job?

My other friend got a request in her inbox with a license agreement for non-exclusive usage rights for 3 of her photographs to be used in a calendar that will be distributed in North American (USA, Alaska, Hawaii, Mexico and Canada). But she had nu clue how to price those things out. SO we went over the numbers. Again. Guess who sold her work and will have her work printed in 160,000 calendars? Right you guessed it.

So long sucker

You know, when you get requests in like this and you don't know what to do, ask for help. Don't agree on anything else then money. Cash. Dollars. What are free sunglasses or watches worth when you have bills and taxes to pay? Nothing. This is a business like any other so act accordingly. If needed, educate your client just like my 2 friends did. Once explained why you can't work for exposure or free goods, most clients will agree on negotiating a market value for your work. But if you don't ask, you won't get anything. And clients that say 'there's really not a budget for photography' are lying to you. There is always a budget. If they can find that one sucker to do it for a photo credit alone then you just saved them some money. You don't want to be the sucker.

Hey, she has 300K followers on Instagram so she must be good right?

You see this inexperienced (I'm not saying bad) photographer – trading talent for goods – is a classic example of how the digital world has transformed the way we promote or 'should' promote and market our work to our – potential – clientele. It also has changed the benchmark of how we define success for ourselves (success obviously must be counted by the amount of followers/likes/retweets we get) and the hero-complex that flows out of that. It also shows a shift in how businesses think about photographers (throw some free stuff at them and see if anything sticks). And to top it off, it is also a prime example on the way the masses look at, and have consumed photography over the last few years.

You see, social media should be about telling your business' story. Not trying to – as a business – buy your way into someones follower list (like these examples clearly show). That's just dumb, shallow and very shortsighted. Who says my followers are your business's target audience? I've seen it happen too often really.

Doing social media 'right' on the other hand is a big and time consuming enterprise for a company that might not yield any profit right from the get go. It's a job that you can't expect easy and instantaneous results of. It takes a lot of time to get the online presence, client interaction and results you desire (read: as in multiple years). And frankly, it is still hard to calculate the real potential value of it all.

Very often a whole team of people is behind a brand's social media presence. With real business strategy behind anything that gets tweeted and shared. All of that content is usually being created through numerous creative meetings, weeks in advance by brand strategists. What?! You thought everything these brands do was all a spur of the moment kind of thing? Just like the Oreo's 'Dunk in the dark' tweet during the Superbowl of 2013?! No, that was a quick reaction from the creative team that was responsible for Oreo's social media stream. A very successful and very witty reaction by the way.

Stuff has changed let me tell you.

A lot.

For the worse.

Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, Flickr, Intagram, you name it, they have sucked the life and creativity out of quality photography. We now care more then ever about likes, plusses, reshares and retweets and what not than about the quality of our work. In my opinion, the moment we started worrying about quantity, sharing instantly and how well photo's will do in our circle of followers, we also forgot about what it takes to produce quality work.

Essentially what I am saying is we applaud mediocrity. Mediocre work that gets encouraged and gets eaten up by the masses because frankly, they don't know better. They've been brainwashed by the bombardment of crappy work everywhere. Over and over again. Little by little, the general quality of photography is going downhill at a rate similar to technological advances. The easier it is to create photographs, the more crap there's out there, the more the market gets diluted with crap and therefor, the overall quality of work declines.

Cream always rises to the top.

But to be fair, there's always been crap out there. It's estimated for example that by 1960, 55 percent of photos taken were of babies! Just to throw out another number. Today, every 2 minutes we take more photographs than the whole of humanity in the 1800's. That is staggering! (source)

Don't get me wrong. It is great to see more and more people enjoy photography because photography has become very accessible in the last decennial. Cameras are getting cheaper and cheaper. And almost everyone has a smartphone in their pockets these days that is capable of making good photographs. I get that. And I like that aspect of the photographic world today.

But at the same time, it sucks.

The more we are supposed to socialize with each other through these new technologies – technologies that supposed to make us connect – the more we grow apart and become disconnected with the real world. And it's only getting worse and worse and worse. 

When was the last time you talked to a complete stranger on your bus ride home? No we are far to busy checking Facebook statuses and bury our face in our cell phone all the time. Connecting to a world you say huh? I don't get it.

I don't care about your self portraits, your meals, your feet on a beach, your light painting, your steel wool experiments (somebody is going to start a forest fire soon I'd tell you), your dog, another bullsh*t inspirational quote, your life nor your kids. I've tried so many times to something on the blog about this but always failed to come up with something worthwhile. So here it is. Hate me for it.

Photography is NOT a thing where we should adapt ourselves to new trends all the time. Trends that proclaim to keep us afloat on a sea of mediocrity. No! Enough of that already. Your work should come from a place that moves you, it should come from your heart and it should show your audience what makes you thick and what you are made of.

You absolutely should NOT work with the thought 'will this resonate with my fans?' in your mind. That's just BS. The volatile nature of 'social media' is what makes you believe you should reinvent the wheel every few weeks to stay on top of it all. Again B f*cking S! To me that sounds like a whole community dictating and telling me how my creativity should work (do this, photograph that in this way). Well, I give a big middle finger to that fake 'world' today because I don't photograph for you. I photograph for me, myself and I and nobody else. 

We are not friends.

I have a nice amount of followers on social media. So you can say, I'm part of this problem too. You liked, retweeted and plussed some of my work. But the thing is, I don't consider you my real friends. Sounds harsh doesn't it? It's reality. Deal with it. Many of you send me friend requests on my personal Facebook page for example without the slightest interaction beforehand between the two of us. What gives you the right to even assume I want to be connected to you, a total stranger? I don't know who you are, what you do, nor do I care. Why would I want to be 'friends' with you?

A few of you I know personally. And those I know and have met, those are the people that matter to me. The REAL connection with people is what matters. Sadly, these new generations don't get this. Writing that, made me feel old all the sudden.

Here's what I am trying to say

Surround yourself with people that matter to you. People you love, respect, look up to. People you feel comfortable asking questions to. Do you like my work? Do you think I can do better? How? What if I do this? How do I price this out? What would you do? How do you approach stuff like this? Let's collaborate!

Surround yourself with a group of people that you trust and that you can use as a resource. Surround yourself with people that are genuinely willing to help you. But remember it's a two way street! If your friends ask you to do something for them, ask them how high they want you to jump, and then f*cking jump! There is nothing worse then people that take and take, but never give. Avoid those people like the plague. They are not worth any minute of your time. Also avoid reading blog posts with titles like '20 secrets pros will never tell you' or anything that starts with 'ultimate', 'crucial', 'essential' and any other superlative. It is all marketing bullsh*t. Don't waste your time.

Stay humble, accessible and treat everybody with respect and dignity! Nobody cares about who you are and that you have 3 million followers. Or your name and location dropping. Nobody cares about you if you act like a total d*ck. What camera or 'essential' gear you use. And believe me, nobody is interested in how important you think you are because your imagination tells you that 3 million followers, makes you a guaranteed celebrity in the photo world. That is just plain ignorant and stupid. Who do you think you are?!

I'll keep preferring meeting people in real life and making real connections that matter instead. Go ahead, believe in your online communities. They are worth nothing in the end.

There. I said what I needed to say. I am all zen again.

Friday, March 21, 2014

Minimalist Winter Workshop Results: Bernardo Möller

+Bernardo Möller came all the way from Brazil (!) to visit Alberta and British Columbia, meet up with some friends and attend our little workshop. Both +Marc Koegel and I were very humbled by this. It was also great to finally meet Bernardo in real life (we follow each other on various social media websites). He also produced some very fine work during the workshop as you can see below. More of his work can be found on his website.

© Bernardo Möller

© Bernardo Möller

© Bernardo Möller

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Minimalist Winter Workshop Results: Leigh Trusler

Continuing with posting the results from the workshop. Today I'd like to show you the wonderful work that was done by Leigh Trusler. I absolutely love the very soft processing hand in these photographs. You can see more of Leigh's work on her website

© Leigh Trusler

© Leigh Trusler

© Leigh Trusler

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Minimalist Winter Workshop Results: Glenn Marcus

The next few blog entries will be filled with the photographs our students sent in after our workshop.

Let's start this series with a selection from the photographs Glenn Marcus sent in. For more of his work, connect with him back over on 500px. He's a great gentlemen to have in your circles.

  © Glenn Marcus

© Glenn Marcus

  © Glenn Marcus

   © Glenn Marcus

  © Glenn Marcus

Monday, March 17, 2014

Minimalist Winter Workshop – Recap Day 2

So what happened on Day 2 of the workshop I hear you asking yourself. Here goes...

We met on Sunday morning at 7.30am in the hotel lobby (after a short night, we picked that one weekend out of the year where overnight our clocks jumped forward an hour). I arrived at 7.10am and was surprised that one of our students was already present in the lobby. That meant a lot to me personally. It would have sucked if everybody showed up late. But nope, everybody showed up on time (that must have been some sort of record no?).

We left for our first stop of the day right on time and arrived just minutes after sunrise, just like the plan +Marc Koegel and I had in mind. We had hoped for some colour in the sky but that was far from happening. Oh well. No colour, but a good sky for us minimalists.

First we stopped at a location where I photographed one of my favourite winter photos as of yet (above). A beautiful line of gnarly looking trees. We had a lot of fun with these trees and a lot of good came out of this subject.

People started to experiment all over the place. Some where photographing a hay bale scene a little further down the road or just taking off on their own exploring the tree line. Which was great!

We had the range road for ourselves all morning long. After about an hour and a half we moved on to a second subject just down the range road.

The day before I had shown some work by other photographers, and I knew that this bleak looking Quonset would be just the subject where we could try our hand at some of that, bleak looking, minimal colour work that is so trendy these days. I knew there was a photo there but not a lot of students saw it like that. I had to do some convincing.
Above is a photo I took from the car on a different day and below is a photograph made on the day of the workshop. You see that conditions play a big role in minimalizing and rendering this particular subject. A great challenge for our students and some came away with a killer photograph.

After playing around with this subject the sky gradually cleared from the north and we moved on to the third subject. A nice little abandoned shack with a nice tree next to it. Again I have very little photographs to show form the day itself. But take my word for it, it's a nice little scene.

Students were now awake and were photographing on both sides of the rangeroad. Pretty cool to see that after just a few hours people started to see and think in a more minimalistic way already.

After all of this we gathered the troops and returned to the hotel. It was 12.30 when we arrived back at the Acclaim. The Italian place next to the hotel was again our venue of choice for a quick bite.

The afternoon consisted of +Marc Koegel and I reviewing and commenting/discussing our students' work from the day before. At some points we were absolutely blown away by what people had produced. Some photographs needed a little bit of fine tuning. But in the end we had a great 2.5h critiquing session, which I think was very helpful for all our students. We demonstrated what was good in good photographs and why it was good. And corrected the photographs that needed a bit of help and again explaining why we saw it that way.

In the end everybody went home with hopefully some new knowledge that will help them for years of photography.

In the next few posts I will also share some of our students' work from the workshop.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Minimalist Winter Workshop – Recap Day 1

Last weekend +Marc Koegel and I hosted our Minimalist Winter Workshop right here in Calgary. Let me tell you, we had a blast.

Marc and his dad flew into Calgary on Friday morning and I picked them up at the +Acclaim Hotel Calgary Airport around noon. The Acclaim is a great venue to host the workshops from. It is situated  only minutes from the airport and they have a convenient shuttle service that bring guests right to the hotel.

Me setting up the 4x5 and showing you my best side :D.

We spend the day checking up on the locations I had selected for the workshop. It was a gorgeous bluebird day, semi-cold (only -10C) and we had a fresh layer of snow on the ground in all locations.

The next morning we took our students through a few presentation we had prepared on topics like 'What is minimalism?', 'Dynamic composition', 'Things that can and will go wrong in the field ' and we presented some of our work too.

Starting to see like a minimalist in 5 assignments

We also gave our students 5 assignments to work on over the weekend. They had to choose 3 and show us the photographs afterwards. The assignments were:
  • Show us a landscape composition only using 3 elements and showing it in its most simple form.
  • Show us an often overlooked detail again represented in the final photo to all its essence.
  • Make an effective composition utilizing an aspect ratio other than your camera's native 2:3 ratio.
  • Show us your most minimal approach to landscape photography.
  • Use a photography technique to simplify the final photograph (e.g. long exposure, over- underexposure, Intended Camera Movement, etc)

Let's go and photograph some 'stuff'

When we came out from lunch at the hotel, the -10C temperatures from the day before, had made way for +10C conditions. People were starting to panic over the snow conditions. But we both knew there was enough snow to last us through the weekend. At least in the spots that we were going to visit.

When we came to our first location we were stunned by how much the view had changed from the day before. Gone were the blue skies, gone was the fresh snow. The range road had transformed itself from a solid snow covered road to a muddy mess. And the skies looked dreary.

We spend about 1h30m at this location and everybody was loving it. Some people stayed put while others just spend hiking around studying the subject from all its angles. Just seeing that made me happy.

Moving on

Then we moved on to our second spot. At least that was the point (and then I missed the range road that was going to take us there). Forced to go the long way around we stumbled onto an abandoned farm. I looked to Marc and said 'Dude this is too good to pass by, are we winging it? Are we winging it?! Yes we are winging it!' And I threw the truck on the side of the range road we were on.

We were now standing in front of an amazing abandoned homestead. It is probably the best homestead I've seen in a very very long time and we were very lucky to stumble onto it. Sometimes it pays to just go a different (or in this case, wrong) way.

Last stop of the day


After playing around in the snow for a bit and initiating +Bernardo Möller (who came all the way from Brazil) in what it takes to endure Canadian winters we drove to our third spot of the day.
Again our students were eager to photograph what was in front of them. This time it was a simple treeline on the horizon (the photo below shows you how it looked like on Friday). It was again interesting to see 9 different takes on 1 subject. Some people cropped in close. Others incorporated the setting sun and the awesome sky behind the trees. Others ... explored the opposite side of the road.

I am looking forward to sharing some of the work by our students and the account of day 2 of the workshop in a future post so hang tight.