I’ve recently done a little interview with Tomash, the man behind the imageBREAK, a cool educational newsletter for photographers by the photographers. No fluff, no extra weight, just real experiences and know-how delivered straight to your mailbox. And it’s totally free. Be a sport, check out his website and subscribe; it’s worth it!
Beno, why (the heck!) do you still photograph? What drives you? Why do you keep grabbing that camera over and over again?
I'm not sure what drives me - it's like a muscle memory. I see something and my hand involuntarily reaches for the camera. I don't really have any say and it's weird. :)
Anyway, that's part joke, but part true as well. I really don't think that passion which comes from somewhere deep can be quantified or rationalized. Some people are crazy about sport cars, some about golf. Personally, I do feel a genuine need to express myself with means of creating and outputting visuals, still or moving. I don't care which medium I use, it doesn’t even need to be a camera. I create visuals with a 3D CGI workstations too. I don’t limit myself with any specific tool.
What was the very best decision you made in the past (and I am talking in practical terms) that helped you getting where you are as a photographer today?
Best decision? There wasn't any, I really didn't think about it. Knowing how to take a good picture with a camera was like a personal challenge which I took on without hesitation, out of sheer curiosity and wanting to be better at photography. Motivating factors are all over; all you need to do is open your eyes. There are so many amazing artists who produce fantastic body of work. Inspiration is out there on social media, in the books, in the movies. It's literally everywhere. But you need to be conducive to a lifelong process of learning because the truth is; the education never stops. I got better because I practiced a lot and continue to do so, every single day. The gear will never make you a better photographer. Only failing and learning from mistakes will.
Do you think it still makes sense to try pursuing a career as a professional photographer these days? Or is it way more enjoyable when photography simply remains one's hobby?
That's million-dollar question and I won't lie when I say this; it's getting harder and harder for a pro photographer to justify his or her rates today. Many of my clients today have difficulties understanding why I need this much gear, so much preparation, planning, production and post-production time to turn around a high-quality series of photos or time lapse sequences. The budgets have also been slashed and it's mainly due to the way we consume the images today. "Thank" social media for that.
Once you turn pro and start making living from the output of your camera, a lot of things change, very fast. You won't always be shooting the subjects you like. Tight schedules will dictate the dates you’re on location and that means you won’t always shoot on a nice day in a nice place. Some places will be hot, some cold, wet, some dusty and physically challenging. You will carry a lot more gear than you'd like. You'll have to get up before dawn to be on location and sometimes work for 14, even 18 hours straight to get the job done on time. Client pressure, agency briefs, creative differences, restrictive budgets, deadlines, financial proposals, paperwork and bureaucracy will put a very heavy strain on your love for photography. Personally, I still enjoy it, as a hobbyist and as a pro. But I’ve reached a phase where I’m selective about the projects and clients which come my way. If I feel I won't like the assignment, I choose to avoid it. I think it’s the right approach for professional longevity and maintaining my love for the craft.
Is social media something every photographer should be taking seriously these days? If so, would you mind sharing any useful tactic regarding using social media platforms? If no, what do you think is the most effective way of marketing yourself as a photographer these days?
Social media isn't only changing the way we shoot, produce and consume audiovisual content. It's changing the photography as a medium and the entire business of photography and videography. Just think about it; what used to be a glossy, double-page spread of a property in an architectural digest, a high-end TV commercial for a new car, lipstick or fragrance during Prime-Time slot a few years ago is an Instagram Story and a promoted Facebook post today. Videos have gone from horizontal to vertical aspect ratio to accommodate the smartphone screens and our viewing habits. Brands, marketing and Ad agencies today work with Social Media “influencers” and "content creators" to promote their products and services. Their production and media budgets today are about 90% lower compared to 10 years ago. But the sales numbers and brand visibility achieved through Social Media campaigns deliver same, if not better results, so what do you expect? Virtually all clients now advertise (almost exclusively) on social media, as opposed to print and TV. It’s no longer a new trend. It’s a new standard.
If you're a working photographer today, that's your challenge. The fundamental art of photography and how we frame a subject hasn’t changed much in the past 20 or 50 years. But digital technology has changed a lot more than just cameras. Fact is that producing visuals today is a lot cheaper, far more effective and in many ways easier than it used to be a few decades ago. What has also changed dramatically are the platforms for showcasing photography. This affected the way our customers perceive and value our work. A photographer today should be flexible and willing to adjust to the new realities of the digital world, or go extinct.
But it’s also a generational thing. Most older photographers aren’t taking social media very seriously but that’s mostly coming from a fact that they don’t understand it and hence, fail to harness its power.
The most commercially successful photographers today are those who use the full potential of Social Media like TV presenters on entertaining programs and popular public figures. They’ve learned that staying ahead means being comfortable being in front of the camera, not just behind it. Social Media is very powerful for its ability to make the photographers appear more knowledgeable, personable, relatable and trustworthy. Done the right way, Social Media can turn photographers into personalities who connect with their audiences and potential clients with wit, humor, wisdom, skills and element of entertainment. And all that social media buzz then channels traffic to their websites where the real business happens. One great video photography tutorial, a series of tips or behind-the-scenes Vlog will go miles further than a beautiful picture of a waterfall.
Who should I interview next? Any photographers you think it would be worth featuring on imageBREAK?
I greatly admire the work of Marc Adamus; he's such a crafty and dedicated landscape photographer.