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In Focus: Embracing Your Uniqueness

Lesson 1 of 1

Embracing Your Uniqueness

Gregory Heisler

In Focus: Embracing Your Uniqueness

Gregory Heisler

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1. Embracing Your Uniqueness


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Embracing Your Uniqueness

Welcome everybody to CreativeLive. I'm so thrilled that you're with us. My name is Drew Konzelman. I'm one of the hosts here and this is Photoshop Week 2018, so if you're watching online, thank you so much for joining us. Thanks to everyone here. I hope you all have a beverage, and have made yourselves comfortable, make yourselves at home we love that you're here. Tonight is a pretty special night. I'm really excited to get to introduce a guy who has been working at the very highest levels creatively for more than 35 years. I can say I'm not even 35 years old, and not many of us that are 35 years old have done anything consistently for 35 years, much less make a huge impact creatively, and this man has done just that. I really do believe that we are hardwired to be creative. If I read a list of this guy's accolades he wouldn't have any time to share tonight, but a few things that really popped out to me from his career and from his life, he shot 70 covers, seven-zero, for Time magazine...

. 74. 74, unbelievable, that's unbelievable. That blew my mind, yeah, you can clap for that. He's a distinguished professor at Syracuse University. It's been said that Gregory has the eye of an artist, the mind of a scientist, and the heart of a journalist. Would you help me welcome to the CreativeLife-- I said that, actually. He said that about himself. Yeah, I said it myself. Would you help me welcome to the CreativeLive stage, Mr. Gregory Heisler. (applause and cheers) Thanks, man, I appreciate it, thanks. All right, well, welcome everybody. Welcome to our studio audience, and our global extended, expanded audience. I'm really happy to be here. This is pretty fancy. Don't you think this is fancy, it's pretty? I didn't know what to expect here, but it's like, we're actually gonna kill it, it's gonna be my new studio, it's my new studio here. We're just gonna do this shoot here. You guys are leaving, sorry, take the cameras, or you can leave the cameras. That's right, leave the cameras and we'll stay. Okay, so what we're gonna be talking about tonight is embracing your uniqueness, right? Or at least starting you can fondle your uniqueness you can start with that, and work your way up to a full embrace just kind of, you can tickle your uniqueness, and then you kind of work your way up as you get more and more familiar with it. It's actually kind of at the heart of everything that we're doing. I'm now, as you said a professorial person. The people who I professor to, all these students, kind of the goal really, honestly and truly is allowing them to facilitating them their, revealing their own uniqueness, right? That to me is the most important thing I can do as a teacher, because y'all already got your uniqueness. It's like DNA built in, right? You don't have to go hunting for it, you don't have to look around. You're not gonna find it on the Internet. No tutorial is gonna give it to you, except this one, but no tutorial is gonna give it to you, but really, but what you really want to do is kind of reveal that. I wrote down something really good before I just want to, oh, yeah, reveal your uniqueness that's it. I just wanted to make sure I got it right that's good, but, seriously, that's the most important thing you can do because these days, obviously, we're living in a very competitive ... I'm curious how many people here either are, or are thinking about or are aspiring to be, or think it would be a really fun idea to be working supporting yourself as a photographer, professional photographer? Almost everybody. That's way too many. (laughter) That's way too many photographers. We need more photographers. No, we don't need more photographers, but it's good, but seriously the important thing is, so it's really competitive out there, right? It's like everybody's a photographer, there's no question about that, and in a way it's a wonderful thing because everybody's got a phone, so everybody's a photographer, but we're kind of living in a great time because people are now visually really pretty literate, right? Like most people are pretty okay with their phones. They actually take some pretty good pictures, and photography's now the universal language, right? Well, I don't know about the universe, the global language. I don't know what they're doing on Pluto, but it's kind of the language now. Like it really, in a sense, I think, has really superseded words as the international language. It's immediate, everybody gets it, everybody understands it. People can misunderstand it that's always dangerous, but the fact is that's how people communicate, so it's very powerful and it's very immediate. So with all these people taking pictures, right? You think, wow, that's an awful lot of photographers out there. That's a lot to have to deal with. A lot of people to compete with except that honestly and truly this is like in kindergarten, like we're all special, like snowflakes no two of us are the same, we all have our own little specialness except that we do, right? We actually do have that. That's like the one thing we do have, we aint got much, but we do have that. We have our uniqueness, and in a world that's wildly competitive the one thing you can offer the world is you. That's the one thing you got, ain't nobody else got that but you, right? The most important thing you can do, the kind of the most important service you can provide the world and yourself is to actually acknowledge, reveal, discover, develop that uniqueness. That's the most important thing you can do, and that is literally the only job security you can have as a photographer is being unique because if you are unique then ain't nobody else competing with you, right? Like nobody's like the second best version of you because there isn't one. Nobody can be the cheaper version of you because there isn't one. You know the good news is if you're unique there's nobody like you. The bad news is if nobody likes what you do you're a little out of luck, but there's nothing I can say about that. That's next week's lecture, but, seriously, like that's the thing that's great, though, is that if you're doing what really comes naturally to you that's kind of the one thing that will work really well for you, right? It really does and nobody else can really do that the same way. So if you can actually develop that and nurture it, kind of latch onto it and have some confidence in it that will serve you really well. When I was first starting out it was kind of before the wheel, but after fire, it was a long, long time back there, was a friend of mine. I was an assistant in New York. We won't get into this too much, but I went to New York, I grew up in Chicago, went to New York to become a photo assistant, and worked for a great photographer named Arnold Newman, one of the seminal portrait photographers, right? I did that and then I assisted some other photographers, and then went off on my own. I wasn't a great assistant really. I was a little bit of an eye roller that kind of thing. Like, oh, Greg, could you do blah, blah, blah, and it was like that kind of thing so it wasn't great. I was really desperate to be shooting. I wanted to be taking pictures. I kind of wasn't sure how you get started. This would have been like 1974, '75, around there. Life magazine didn't exist at that time. It had folded I think in '72, the weekly, and it was before it kind of re-upped again in, I think it was '77, '78 around there, I think. A friend of mine said, "Oh, there's a photographer, "he's of the old Life photographers, "he's a really good soul." He said, "Show him your work, see what he says," right? His name is John Loengard and he ended up being ... He's one of the great Life photographers from the old magazine, and he ended up being the picture editor of Life magazine when it came back to life. So I phoned him up and you can do that, and went to his office in the Time and Life ... Just walking into the Time and Life Building was like, oh, my God, it's the Time and Life Building, you know, it's like it's kind of for me sacred ground, so I went to the Time and Life Building and saw him, and I showed him my portfolio, which wasn't like great, right? I mean, it was the best I had. I thought it was okay, but it wasn't, I don't think he would have looked at it and say, that guy's got talent. It's like it was, you know, it's a beginner's portfolio, but I showed him my stuff and I kind of, he flipped through it kind of very respectively and nicely, and I asked him like, you know, what do you think? You know, because at that point there was a thing out called, it was called the Black Book, the Creative Black Book, it was like a source book for photographers how you identify so the people in advertising agencies, or magazines could flip through, and look at commercial photographer's work. I said like, "Should I do work that I see like I see there? "Should I do stuff like I see in a magazine?" And really my main question was, which I didn't realize, like sort of who should I be like? Kind of really what it was, you know, who do you think I should be like? What should I do? He was a really thoughtful guy, and he was quiet for a minute and he said, "Well." He said, "What I think you should really do "is you shoot what you can't help but shoot." I was like, "Say what?" He said, "Yeah, shoot what you can't help but shoot." I wished I'd listened to this more honestly, and paid more heed to it at the time, and he said, "Yeah, because if you shoot "what you can't help but shoot it will be easy "because you can't help but shoot it anyway," right? "Since you can't help but shoot it, it will be your own, "it will be the best work you do, "because it's what comes naturally," right? "What's great is because it's your best work "people will respond to it, "and what they'll hire you to do is they'll ask you "to shoot more of what you can't help but shoot, "and since you can't help but shoot it anyway, "you won't second-guess them. "It will come really easily to you, "and you'll do more of that," right? "That kind of cycle will repeat itself "whether you do more of what you can't help but shoot, "and since you couldn't help but shoot it, "it was really good and more people saw that, "and they hired you to do it again," and he said, "What happens is you will look back in hindsight, "and find out who you've been. "You'll actually notice "that you will have developed a style." Like that's the big, everybody wants to know what's my style. Everybody wants to develop a style. His thing was you don't, actually, you don't aim to a style, it's something you see in hindsight that you seem to have had a style, you seem to have developed a style, right? You can't sort of aim at it. That was like incredibly wise advice. Again, I was a dope, I didn't really acknowledge that, I didn't understand what he was saying, but it really was crystal clear, you know, it really was crystal clear. Now, certainly, I can vouch for that as being unbelievably valuable. The good thing now is that this sort of uniqueness that you have, like you've already got it, it's already there, you know, you don't have to go hunting for it, you don't have to mail order it, you don't buy it from B&H online. Like, you have it, it's already there, so you don't have to really worry about that. In a sense it's all you have, right? Like that is the thing you've already got it. The important thing to do is you have to be able to kind of trust it, and what's happening now in the world, which I think is a great thing, is back in the day, from my experience, everything I'm telling you is from my experience. I could be wrong about everything. This all could be a lie and you're wasting you're time, hopefully, it's not, but in my experience, actually, is back in the day people often hired photographers based on competency. Like, can you do this? Can we trust you with this? Have you done one of these before? Have you shot overseas? Are you good with kids? Have you shot cars? Like it's sort of can we trust you? Are you qualified? Are you competent to do this thing? You won't screw it up, right? That's always still a thing. I think more now, though, which is I think a wonderful thing is people are really hiring based on vision. They want to jump onto your train, you know, if they get a sense that you see things in a certain way, your uniqueness, if they actually sense that you see things in a certain way they want to buy into your vision, and if they do you're good to go. Literally and truly you're good to go, and the more that you fully you express that vision the easier it will be for people to see it and pick up on it, and as long as you don't dilute that by saying, well, here's my vision, but I can also do this. Here's my vision, but I also know how to do that, right? That kind of dilutes the whole thing and that's our nature, like it's, you know, you want to cover your bases, you want to make sure you're okay. It's a little scary, right? I think that a really useful thing to do, and I do it, I have my students do it, is like always put yourself not in the shoes of the photographer because we're all morons, we're photographers. You have to put yourself in the shoes of like the client, the person who's gonna hire you, right? Like if you want to hire somebody to whatever, photograph your wedding, right? You go to a bunch of different websites, and there's one photographer who's really amazing, and what she's got is a gallery of wedding pictures. Then there's also a gallery of really nice architectural work. Then there's a really nice gallery of travel pictures, right? They're all really nice, clearly this person does all kinds of cool things. Then you go to another person's thing, and their thing is like 100% kick-butt wedding pictures, almost everybody's gonna hire that person because that person's kind of planted a flag and say, I'm the wedding person. Do you know what I mean? It's like if you need to have your kidneys dealt with, well, some guy does teeth, does some kidneys, a couple of feet, you know, that kind of thing, or do you want like the kidney ... I want the kidney guy, man, like I want the kidney guy. I don't want somebody like does feet, and kidneys and eyeballs like maybe that person's like a better expert on the body, but I'm really worried about my kidneys. I want the kidneys taken care of. So I feel it's kind of like that. So you have to say like I'm gonna be the kidney person, you know, there could be some good money in feet, everybody's got sore feet once you get older. I got sore feet like that's what happens. That's kind of what you have to declare, that you're gonna decide you're gonna do that and kind of plant your flag. So his thing on, Loengard's thing like shooting what you can't help but shoot was a really big deal, and I think what happens is people get a little confused. The whole thing of like they want a style, like all my students they're paying a lot of money to go to college for four years they all want to leave with a style, like what's my style, right? I've seen that there's a lot of confusion about style, and some people think, oh, my style is I do platinum prints that's my style, or my style is I like doing like supersaturated color, and a little HDR that's my style, or my style is I use a strobe and kick the camera, and do a long exposure, or my style is I use all Polaroids, and pee on them and leave them in the sun that's my style. Like whatever it is, right? Those are my style, but the fact is that's not style, those are all techniques, right? To me there's sort of three main components that I think is useful just to think about, right? There's sort of to my mind there's vision, technique and style, right? So to me vision is like your visual DNA, like your fingerprints, right? Vision is something that's innate, it's your wiring. It's how you see the world, it's how you set up a frame, it's what you point your camera at, it's when you push the button. It's all that stuff that's kind of like the innate, how you see things that would be your vision, right? That's probably most easily seen when you look at the work of documentary photographers, right? It could be somebody like Salgado, or James Nachtwey, or Alex Webb, any number of people who are, Lynsey Addario, any number of people who are documentary photographers their vision is most easily seen because there sort of isn't really a technical overlay, right? Cartier-Bresson, you're just seeing how they see. That would be their vision, right? Technique is the peeing on the Polaroid, and leaving it in the sun, or shooting with an 8x10 camera, or using a ring light, or all that stuff, right? That's what we put a lot of stock into, and we love that because it keeps the photo industry alive, and people buying stuff because if this doesn't work the next one's gonna work. That's gonna be my style, right? That's the thing, but that's actually technique is, and I'm a technical person, I love that stuff, but the fact is that technique is like a recipe. A technique is like something that someone else could use the same technique, and come up with a relatively similar result, literally like a recipe, right? We all do that, right? You see something online, you see a picture that you like, sort of try to reverse engineer it, or maybe the photographer even puts it out there what they did, right? So you try it, and you want to see if you can do that same thing. So that's useful, it is useful, it's a good way to learn, I mean, want to play a guitar you can see if you can do Clapton's licks or something like that, you know, it's like that's the way you learn how to do it, and then you kind of modify it and make it your own, but that's not a style, that's a technique, right? The fact is in our profession, you can actually latch onto a technique, and kind of never do anything else, and it kind of can become your technique, it can become your style, right? It becomes identifiable as your thing. You can get a good run out of that and that's A-okay, right? But it's still not really a style to me style would be your vision as expressed through the technique that you use, right? Those two things together result in a style, or what you could say is your voice, your photographic voice would be how you see the world and the tools you use to express it to achieve this thing that we're looking at which would be your voice, your style or your voice. Does that make sense, right? To me that's kind of the thing we're aiming at is kind of because we are working like we're working with machines, photography is machines. you know, you have to understand the machines, whether it's camera machines, or strobe machines, or computer Photoshop machines. We have to understand that stuff because that's what we use to make our work. It's kind of like how you see the world, your vision, and how you work with it through these various techniques to then arrive at your style, right? All those things together kind of are your uniqueness, that's the thing that you do that actually won't be like anyone else, right? Depending on what you do, like if you're a portrait photographer, well, then there's all kinds of other thoughts, like how you interact with people. Are you quiet, are you lively? Do you just like to watch them? Do you get them to do things? You know, it's like all kinds of things, right? Now, Arnold Newman had a very strong visual DNA. His pictures you can spot from a mile away, and it's not because he used a certain lens, or because he used a certain lighting, it's literally how he saw the frame like where he put people in it, how he translated three dimensional space into two dimensions. Like nobody else really did that the same way. He was kind of the first guy to do that, and even to this day, many years later, nobody really does it as well as he does, it's pretty unique because it was his uniqueness. Like he couldn't help it. Like you know it's unique if somebody pinched you in the middle of the night, and you jumped out of bed and took a picture, that would be your unique like he would do that. He would take an Arnold Newman picture if you pinched him in the middle of the night, and he took a picture it would look like that. He wouldn't say, oh, should I use the ring flash, or should I do the octobank? It wouldn't be that, it just would be how he saw stuff, right? Someone who would be a good example would be, to my mind, would be somebody like Irving Penn, right? Like Irving Penn, triple threat, great, I mean, to me one of my heroes, great photographer, and he's one of those people who, actually, very successfully did portraiture, and fashion and still life. Very few people do that really well, and what was interesting about it, it wasn't just like, oh, he's good at them, but, actually, his voice carried through all three. You would kind of know it was his work. They didn't exactly look alike, but you got the sense that there was the same brain and heart behind all those images. There was kind of like a spareness, and an elegance, and a simplicity, and kind of a respect for the subject like whether the subject was a fashion model, or a street sweeper, or a potato, literally. Do you know what I mean? Like this person had this kind of reverence in a way for the thing, and to me that's really interesting to see that, right? You can see the current contemporary photographer would be, who would be a good example? Be somebody like maybe Dan Winters, would be a good example, right? Somebody who has a very peculiar way of seeing stuff, and for him it could be a portrait, or it could be a space shuttle launch, or it could be literally honey bees, or it could literally be some illustration on barbecue, right? You kind of know if you saw it you'd say, yeah, it's his. They're not all lit the same. They don't all actually look the same. They're a little weird, they're a little disquieting, they're kind of funny. Like you would know it was his work, right? So that's kind of like his uniqueness. He's actually not trying to be like Irving Penn or Arnold Newman or Avedon, or me or Ansel Adams or anybody else. He's just, you know, 24/7 Dan. He's just Dan 24/7, 365, and that's like a great thing, and what he has that I really admire is a kind of confidence in his own uniqueness, right? That's the biggest, that is the hardest thing. Do you know what I mean? Like when I grow up I want to have that kind of confidence. I'm still working on it and I fooled these guys, right? I'm giving a talk, right? I feel like that's ultimately what you want to really aspire to is to get to that point where you just have enough confidence in yourself to say, yep, this seems to be what I do, this seems to be how I see stuff. The other thing is like a little kind of little tips I guess I would offer, for what they're worth. With my students a big thing in colleges now, is everybody says, oh, you have to follow your passion. Find your passion, follow your passion. I have two daughters who just graduated from college, and they're freaking out because they're like, oh, my God, I have to have a passion. I don't know what my passion is yet, you know, they have friends who have a passion, like I don't have a passion. When I was 19, 20, I only had one passion and it definitely wasn't photography. I was a dummy, who even knew about that stuff, you know? But the truth is like when you're you don't even know enough to have a passion, you haven't lived enough. Do you know what I mean? Like you think you have a passion? It's like have you been to a coal mine? Have you been a waiter? Have you taken a cross-country trip on a bus? Have you been overseas? Like, you know, you can't even say you have a passion, like you don't know enough, you know? So a big thing to me in the search in a way, I feel like in a way having your ... This is, again, just my thought about everything, I could be totally wrong. A little bit when you do your passion thing, you're actually narrow, you're like, kind of narrowing you're putting the blinders on a little, and in one way you can say, well, I'm finding my uniqueness, right? So by doing this I do rule out some things, but then again that allows me to really focus on something, right? So that's kind of cool, but I do think that in that kind of search for uniqueness you actually rule out so many possibilities that could have been amazing, right? Even if the thing itself wasn't amazing the thing right after it could have been amazing, right? So my feeling is like, especially early on, but even now like just say yes to everything. Like just if it seems even halfway okay, if you're not gonna get screwed over, and it's not gonna be terrible just say yes. Just say yes, you know, it's like, I personally feel any picture you take you become a better photographer. Like you take better pictures when you're taking pictures then when you're not taking pictures. You can't think your way into a career, you can only shoot your way in. I'm telling you that from experience for sure because definitely the pictures you make there's a disparity between the pictures you think you're gonna make, and the picture you just made that's a fact, right? In a way that to me is what we were talking about just actually the other day, to me it was like I had this big epiphany. Maybe everybody's thought of it. I hadn't thought of it so I thought I was pretty cool for having thought of it, but to me the big difference between digital and analog photography, analog photography being photography, now it's analog photography. It's like silver gelatin prints or silver gelatin prints, they used to be like prints, but now it's like a thing, but a big difference to me is because I'm somebody that has like a foot in each place, is that with digital photography you're always focused on the picture you've just made. Chimping, as soon as you push the button, you want to look and see what you got. So it's sort of backward looking, you're looking at the picture you just made digitally. With film photography you couldn't see that so your focus was on the next picture that you haven't made yet. It was actually forward looking. It was still in your imagination, it was still a possibility. It wasn't like a done deal. So, to me kind of the notion of working in a film head, in a film mindset where you're actually focused on the next one, to me is really critical in terms of growth as a photographer, really, really an important thing. Another thing I would say is that what happens a lot is photographers ... All of this sounds critical, it's not meant to be critical it's like, these are all like, you know, pitfalls it's all stuff that I succumb to because I'm like the dumbest guy for sure. Like one of the worst things you can do is look at other photographer's work all the time, right? Because it will make you crazy, like for sure, and photographers are all horrible people generally, so what we do is we spend all our time complaining about all the other photographer's work we see, right? It's like how many photographers does it take to screw in a light bulb? It takes 500, it takes one to screw it in, and 499 to say they could have done it better, right? That's like that's photographers. We're all alike, it's always the way it is, but I think what happens is when you're looking at other photographer's work you're sort of one step removed from the inspiration because what you're seeing is already cooked. They already had the experience, saw the thing, and made something. So you're looking at this thing they made, but you're removed from the inspiration of what it was, so it's like you think you're looking at tomatoes, and you're just looking at ketchup. Do you know what I mean? Like you don't get the tomatoes, you're just getting the ketchup. I feel like we all want the tomatoes that's what we want. Do you know what I mean? So if you're actually looking at other photographer's work you're sort of like seeing what they ... It's like flies that like eat something, barf it up, and then eat it again. We're like the flies, man, we like to eat the barfed up stuff. It's disgusting when you think of it, but I feel like it's sort of what it is. Do you know what I mean? So what you want to do is go to the source, and, Arnold, and I'm sure other people used to say there is the saying, interesting people make interesting pictures. I think what you want to do, more than look at other photographer's work is just look at other stuff. Like look at painting, look at sculpture. Look into, like don't look online at some other people's stuff that like they got a million likes. Like look at the history of it. The history of art is really long, right? History of photography is pretty short, you can kind of know it. It ain't been around all that long, and you can find lots of inspiration there because it's not of your time, right? It's like a whole different way of seeing the world, and using different materials, and using different ways of doing stuff, so that can be really inspiring. I mean, I didn't even think about photo history 'til like I was in my 30s. I didn't even know about that stuff. They were just like the brown pictures from way back, I didn't know, you know, but when I actually first started seeing 19th century, actual holding them in your hand, 19th century pictures it's like, wow. That really resonated for me, it was really meaningful. Actually, we were just talking about this last night at dinner little daguerreotypes, right? Like the very first little photographs that were made they're like this big. That's the size of a phone, this thing has gone full circle, right? I'm looking at my students, and I come from the generation where I like looking at big prints. I like looking at prints, I like holding it, I like making it. I like having a tactile thing. I always made my own prints in the darkroom, because I like it, it's fun, and I like having this object at the end of it, and what's cool with digital printing is like it's digital, so it's like, ooh, it's evil, but the fact is, you can make this beautiful thing on like watercolor paper, in color, it's like amazing, right? This beautiful object, it's such a cool thing. So, you could do something like that now digitally, but it can be informed by pictures that were made 100 years ago. Like that's pretty exciting, you know, it's pretty exciting to see that stuff, and I think you can find your inspirations in other places than just looking at ... Not that you shouldn't look at Instagram, but it's sort of like broaden your perspectives on it, right? You'll see that a lot of the stuff you see is like you know, kid, somebody was doing that 100 year. Look at that, you know what? Somebody thought of that stuff already that's pretty cool, you know, or if you look at cinematographers. Cinematography, I have this movie, it's a great movie called Visions of Light. It was a documentary done on Hollywood cinematographers in the '80s, and there are interviews with all these terrific cinematographers, Gordon Willis, Vittorio Storaro, and all these terrific cinematographers. What was so interesting about this movie, they all knew each other's work, and they all knew the history of cinema, and they would all reference it. Do you know what I mean? Like contemporary photographers don't do that at all, they really don't, they don't have a clue like who was doing what in the '40s or in the '20s, or in the 1890s, like they don't have a clue about that at all. So I think that that's something that would really inform your work, and, again, what happens in terms of your uniqueness is it's more stuff to put into the hopper that's actually not of your time. So it's sort of easier to process it and assimilate it, and kind of have it kind of inform the work that you're doing, inform the pictures that you're making now because in a sense when you look at pictures that are being made now, I don't know how to say this like you ... At least for me like this is a big discussion we have at school. There are the assignments people say, oh, the assignment is take a picture like so and so, like the emulation assignment, and to me that is the last thing I would want to do. I remember talking to one of Arnold's old assistants, this is a couple of years after I worked with him, and the guy was now shooting and he said, "You know, I go into the CEO's office, "and the first thing that crosses my mind is "how would the old man do this one?" I mean, I was like 23 and I was thinking like, holy moly, man, that is the last thing I would ever want to think of not because I wouldn't want to do, like that would be great to be able to take a picture as good as his, but that's his picture. The last thing I want is his stuff polluting my brain because once I'm actually thinking of someone else's picture then all that space is now taken up where I could have been thinking of my picture, because I'm thinking of that picture, and I'm thinking of my idea compared to that thing I've already seen. I find that, personally, I'm just a super insecure, horrible person that it kind of invalidates my idea because I'm comparing my half-baked idea with this fully realized something else that somebody else did. Do you know what I mean? I find that like all through life we're on this quest to not be ourselves in a way. Do you know what I mean? My fear is I'll be on my deathbed and said, oh, I could have just been myself. It would have been so easy. Why didn't I think of that when I was young and handsome and fit? Like now I'm just like it's all over and it hit me, what a drag, so I don't want to wait that long. I don't want to wait that would be very sad to me. Another thing that I think would help uniqueness is one of the things I love about digital photography, and I think it's great, is more than ever before you have the opportunity to be actually fully the author of your own work in a way that never existed before, right? Now, what you can do is you actually can mix up your own color emulsion, in Lightroom, Lightroom and PhotoShop, and you can do it using Canon cameras and lenses, but you can actually do that, just saying, just saying, just saying, but really like what's great is you can actually literally mix up the emulsion, right? You can make it how you want. It used to be you couldn't do that. You could buy a Kodachrome or you could buy Fujichrome, or you could buy Agfa or whatever you could buy. It was like kind of three or four choices, it wasn't a lot, especially, in color, right? Most people didn't do their own color in the darkroom, generally. Color was done at labs, commercial labs. Well, now in color, gee you can do everything, right? You can like mix up the emulsion, then theoretically you shoot the picture, right? I see people like, you know, commercially you see people in pairs who actually do stuff together like, you know, Joe and Betty, or somebody, like people do it together, and that's like which one's the aimer, and which one pushes the button, I don't know, you know, so I feel like it's cool to actually do all of it if you can, right? Because then the shooting part you can choose your cameras and lenses, you can do the lighting. Lighting's a big thing for me. People are like, oh, lighting's technical. It's like, no, it's called photography, right? It's light pictures, and I remember seeing this book 20 years ago that was called, I can't remember, The Nature of Photographs, I think, something like that, and I was thinking, boy, you call a book The Nature of Photos, you want to be right. It's not like Greg's idea about some stuff that's cool about pictures, it's like, The Nature. It's like you kind of want to know. So the book was great, actually. I remember seeing it in a book store, and I sat down all afternoon. It was a day when I was working. You might not know this, but professional photographers there are actually days that we're unemployed. I know it seems crazy, but there are. I sat all afternoon and read this book, and it was actually great. It talked about moment value, they talked about the picture plane, it talked about composition, all this different stuff. The one thing there wasn't even a mention of was light. Light, there was nothing it wasn't, like it is photography because this person wasn't like a lighting person, just wasn't, not lighting, but light. Like we're in this room it's got ... Like Stevie Wonder could take a picture in this room the light's pretty good here, you know, it's great, right? It ain't too tough. Well, if this thing all of a sudden had the curtains drawn it would be a very different picture, so to me light's kind of a big deal, right? James Estrin, who's a terrific New York Times photographer, he does a thing called the Lens Blog, I think he said something like, you know, where there's light, there's usually a picture. If you can find the light you'll find the picture, you know, I think that's an important thing. So even as a documentary photographer, a serious as a heart attack documentary photographer, you don't ever use lights, right? You need to understand light because you can't move the subject, you can't change where the light is coming from, so the only thing you can do is move your butt around and you kind of figure out how it's all gonna add up, right? So if you have a good feel for light, you understand that like, oh, if I'm standing here it's front light, if I go over here it's side light, and if I walk over there it's back light. I can kind, oh, I kind of do that, so as a documentary photographer you kind of want to really understand the light. You can do that when you're shooting, and then you can get into Lightroom, Photoshop, even just Lightroom, right? You can get in the Lightroom and then there's like all of a sudden 1,000 cool things you can do, right? 1,000 cool things. Particularly shooting RAW like all this stuff is like normal, because students like, oh, RAW, that's not. No, RAW's like God's gift. It's an amazing thing, right? Because you can take that steak, and you can cook it over and over, right? It's raw, man, like you cook it once, you put the Bearnaise, you cook it again, you do it medium well, you cook it again, you do it, oh, wow, you're like you cook it 50 ways that same piece of meat. You just keep cooking it and cooking it. The truth is, I mean, I'll do this with my own negatives it's like I make what I think is the best print that I've ever made in my whole life, and I look at it two years later it's like, what the heck was I ... This thing is terrible like, you know, all of a sudden you reinterpret your work in another way, well, with a RAW file that's always available to you, right? A JPEG file you can't do that, right? JPEG file is the microwave, right? You cooked the steak the first time it was pretty good. You don't finish it, you put it back in the fridge. You take it out two days later you stick it in the microwave you could eat it it's not doing so good. By the fourth or fifth time you cook that steak you won't even give it to your dog, right? That's like a JPEG, that's what happens to JPEG. I mean, that's like the thing, so you can do all that stuff, and, again, you can give that to somebody else to do for sure, right? Like there are many kinds of photographers, particularly, commercially, there's like it takes a village photographers, right? Where basically, you know, Francois is my archivist, and Bruno is my digital tech, and Daniel is my printer, you know, and there's like a whole group of people who all contribute to the final thing, and that's totally a valid way to go and it's cool because each of those people brings a lot to the pot. I mean, making movies would be like that, right? There's like the cinematographer, and there's the sound person, there's the grip, and the gaffer and all these different people who all combine their talents to make this great thing, so that is a great way to go that's like a great way to go for sure. The people who are better at it than you are who will just bring stuff to the party. I do stuff like that for certain kinds of things. I'm honestly having the most fun when I'm by myself. That sounds bad, but I do. I'm very good at self-stimulating. I actually like doing it on my own, and what's interesting what I like about that is somebody else might be better at it than I am. They will never make my decisions for better or worse, right? Like how many times back in the darkroom, right? You're in the darkroom, you put the paper under the enlarger, you expose it, it comes up, you realize you forgot to stop down the enlarger, and it comes up really dark, but, sometimes, you go like that's kind of pretty cool. I hadn't thought about making it dark like that that's pretty cool, right? So it's kind of like Lightroom or Photoshop is like that where you're sitting there it's four in the morning, you're in this fever dream of craziness because you're working way too long and way too late, right? Doing this thing that should have taken 10 minutes, but it's like you're in the eighth hour like in those old movies where like the clock hands are spinning, and the pages are blowing off the calender in the wind it's like that's what it's like for me, and you're doing that stuff and you see like all of a sudden you have an idea that you would never have thought of when you were wide awake the day before when you're on the phone talking to people all of a sudden you're like alone, and you have some idea for something, you would never write it in the instructions to your re-toucher, or your person who's your printer. It's a decision you make, and some of them are good and some of them are horrible, or some of them seem good and they turn out to be horrible, but I love that. To me that's one of the most fun things around is that I get to make those decisions where I get to hang a left if I want to hang a left, so to me that's really fun. Is it time efficient? No, like I could make more as a bagger, you know, at Walmart, or something like that than I do if you consider the hours that I spent doing it, but I just like doing it, right? It's like a dog I like to pee on it. I keep talking about pee, but I do, I like to like pee on it and make it my own because then it's mine I really like that. To me, also, when you're on the computer there's a lot of in terms of your uniqueness a real big kind of pitfall with photographers, and this happens with really good photographers, from the geographic lots of good photographers they go, oh, I don't edit my own stuff like that's the thing I shoot and I can never pick the best one. It's like, man, you shot the darn thing. You know the best, come on, you know the best one. You don't need no MFA to figure that out. You put it up there it's like the smell test like if it stinks that's not a good one like you can tell in a second, generally. You can go longer and like stroke your chin looking, for sure, for sure, obviously, you can, but usually pretty quick you can tell you know. You just don't have the confidence, right? That confidence thing is a big piece of that, right? Like you say I think that's the one, but what if it's not? It might not be, but you know if it was like you know. I don't believe you don't see it different. You saw the difference when you pushed the button, right? So I feel like it takes like a 60th of a second, or nowadays 13th thousandth of a second, but it takes like a 60th of a second to push the button and take a picture you sit there in Lightroom for hours and hours and hours like it used to be sitting looking at contact sheets with a loop you start to understand your pictures better that's for sure. You spend a 60th of a second shooting them, but you spend hours looking at those pictures you see where you're strong, you see where you're weak. You see the horrible thing like all the pictures you missed like any photographer whose even remotely has a grain of honesty the pictures they remember most are the ones they missed, right? The ones they screwed up, we all do, right? But you look at your own work for a really long time you learn a lot about how you shoot. You hand that off you miss out on that opportunity, right? I think a lot of times where photographers get caught up is they can't separate their experience of making the picture from the picture, right? It can be a great experience for you which is great. I mean, that's fine, but if you're actually just looking at the picture I honestly don't care like it could have been a life-changing experience for you, and that is a wonderful thing, but it's not in the picture, right? There are great photographers who are horrible human beings, and there are people who are wonderful humanitarians who take terrible pictures, I mean, that's just the way it is, but you have to be able to separate your experience of whatever it was from actually the image that's in front of you you have to be able to see that objectively, and I think, again, when you spend the time looking at your pictures like that you learn a lot about your work, and, again, it develops your uniqueness, so I think a really cool thing and not for everybody I love the idea of like owning it. I think with digital photography you actually have more than ever before the possibility of becoming more fully the author of your own work from like mixing the emotion in the beginning, to taking the picture and lighting it, to working it through Lightroom, to tweaking it in Photoshop if that's what you do, to actually doing different iterations of the print. Like you can actually have this thing at the end that is your thing from start to finish. It doesn't have to be you don't have to be a zillionaire, you don't even need a darkroom, man, you get like a $500 printer like you could do it on here. I could have my Canon camera and my Canon printer, and Photoshop and Lightroom on my Apple computer, but I could literally have my whole life sitting on this table, right? That's like an unbelievable thing that you can do that, so you can have all that stuff sitting right here, and you could actually create something that no one else could create, right? So what you want to do is spend as much time as possible doing that not thinking about it, but doing it, and the other thing you definitely want to do is just trust what you're doing. Do you know what I mean? Just like the worse that's happened it's gonna be a crappy picture like that's the other thing, okay, I've like two minutes left I'm gonna lay this on you, right? This is a big thing for my students, seriously, is they compare every picture they take everyday with photographies greatest hits. Do you know what I mean? Like you don't see Ansel Adams crappy pictures. You don't see Salgado's like weeks of not a good image. You see like the greatest hits. You think, oh, man, my pictures don't look like that. I went out for a day to photograph a penguin, and I didn't get the biblical Salgado picture of the penguin. It's like you don't see the contact sheets. Yeah, obviously, he's a great photographer that doesn't undermine it, but like all you see are the greatest hits, and then you see your stuff it's so sad it doesn't measure up. Do you know what I mean? Really, so you have to appreciate when you're doing your work that all that is like steps in the process, and that's how you get to the point of getting the pictures that you really want to get, and I think that what you need to do the last thing I will say as a photographer is the creative process is an uncertain one, right? The most important thing to do as a photographer I notice so many people who like should I be a photographer, or be an attorney, and the thing with the photography is it's sort of like very unknown. You don't know the steps, right? So what you have to do as a photographer is you have to get comfortable being uncomfortable, right? You have to be cool with that. That's almost the hardest thing. You have to be uncomfortable about am I gonna make a living? That's valid, right? You have to be comfortable with am I gonna even get a picture today? You got to be cool with that, and you have to be comfortable with your own process, right? Like I'm giving this talk today I was up all night last night. I'm a world champion sleeper I couldn't sleep at all because I was all agitated about doing this today. Like I've been doing it for a really long time, and instead of thinking, oh, my God, I'm gonna ruin it, it's horrible, they're all gonna boo me. Like at some point in the middle of the night it didn't help any but I say, oh, this is you just doing that night before thing, right? Like there you go again, the no sleep thing, got it. Watching some bad TV I got it, and you start to understand yourself, and just say, oh, that's okay. That's just me being a dope again. That's my creative process, but it is, and what you start trusting is that it leads you to an okay place. Don't worry about it it's like it's fine. Do you know what I mean? Like some people they do that and they eat too much, or they do this, they do that, and like it gets them to a good place, so the most important thing in terms of embracing your uniqueness is just like trust yourself. Honest to God just like trust yourself, and just kind of go with it. Don't second-guess yourself. Don't try to be like anybody else. Don't read reviews online of a light and say, like, oh, you know, so and so uses it I use it, like you don't know what they like. I go buy equipment a little thing I go buy equipment I don't buy it because so and so uses it. People say, oh, and I should say, oh, so and so, I was working with her, and she used blah, blah, blah, it's like what the hell do I ... I don't care about that. Like I would go to the camera store that I go to, and I say I'm gonna buy a light from you today for sure. I'm gonna buy a soft box. I'm gonna walk out of here with a soft box you're gonna have some of my money. I want to try these five for like an hour that I want to see then I know what I like. Do you know what I mean? It's like I could be wrong it could be great what looks good and people would say that about like lenses they saw this lens it's really creamy. Was it like 10% creamier, 20% creamier? What's creamy, I don't even know what creamy is, seriously, or someone, oh, I love the bokeh of that. It's like, well, you like bokeh, shoot 8x10 that will give you bokeh. You know, it's like it's so many I don't even know. Do you know what I mean? So it really depends on what you want, and what you need to do is discover your own preferences by doing it, trust your preferences, let each picture you take, an that's the last thing I'll say because now we're probably a minute over is everybody's process is different. Again, digitally, some people are people who actually like to shoot in a sense elements knowing what they're gonna do once they get on system on the computer and they're gonna work them, and they love working in post that is their thing, right? That's great, there are other folks, and what they like to do is they like to have it happen when they're shooting in camera not because it's tougher, or like real men shoot in camera because they know what they're doing. It's just different, right? So I've done both for different kinds of things. My personal preference not because it's better is I like doing it when I'm doing it just because for me in the process every decision I make when I'm shooting informs every next decision that I make, right? Whereas, if I'm taking pieces that process happens later, right? I'm capturing these things and then later all those things will happen later, but I actually like happening when I'm out there this is my preference maybe I'm old school I like it, so there's no better or worse it's just you got to figure out like what your preferences are, how you like to shoot, and just trust it. That is the thing that will work for you I promise. It's like, it will, I guarantee it, so trust yourself you're already unique. It's gonna be awesome, we're all gonna be rich, and photography is a great thing, thanks. (applause) I don't know that's it. I tried making a paper airplane and sailing it. I think we have time for some questions. Are you cool if we take some questions? We didn't actually talk about that, no, okay, that's fine. No, it's in the contract I'm sure. Yeah, okay, So we have, you can ask over here. So I've been looking at all your images up here. Those aren't mine, actually, no, just kidding. I'm curious, could you tell us some stories about them? Oh, my God, how much time do you have? Oh, my God, there's actually this awesome book you should get, no, I'm just saying. It's a bargain at half the price, so. Well, you got to pick one, pick one, you pick one, and I'll tell you a story. Is that Mick up there and Tina? Mick and Tina. Yeah. Yeah, that's actually not my picture. The truth is I can tell these stories. There's no fact-checkers here. I could just make it up, right? Like if it's a good story you don't care, right? If it's a good story, so, okay, so we have this picture here of Mick Jagger and Tina Turner. I'm gonna do this. Look at that, so here we go. Door number one, Mick Jagger and Tina Turner. So in this picture this was done I think in '86. It was for remember Live Aid the concert Live Aid in Philly, so it was for that and I'll make this quick. There's like so many stories about all these things, and they are true, actually, so like this is a perfect example, like I like this picture a lot. There is nothing original about this picture, nothing. Like I was hoping I could be Irving Penn. I'm not Irving Penn. I got a backdrop he got a backdrop. That didn't seem to do it, right? Like I'm not Annie, I shoot celebrities, she shoots celebrities, don't look like her either, right? But I was really happy to take this until I saw it like a year later and it's like there's nothing special about that picture at all except it's cool I'm happy about it, so Live Aid I think I approached Life magazine who I was working with them a fair bit about doing something at Live Aid, and they were like, no, we already did. Remember Michael Jackson did the We Are the World the song, and it's like we already did, you know, poverty and starvation so we're good with that. We don't need that we got that covered, so we approached Kodak, and they were willing to give us film, and we could go take some pictures, and see what happens, right? So we did that, 8x10 camera, drove to Philly in a big cube truck, talked our way in the gate because we had a big cube truck, so, you know, it wasn't like we were in a minivan. We looked like we were, you know, some kind of official person did that, and we got there and it's like, okay, now what, where do we go? So in order to take their pictures you have to be somewhere near where they're gonna be because they're not gonna go even a step out of their way, so we kind of talk our way up, and we're near the stage really backstage, and there's nowhere to set up because you can't be in the middle of stuff, and it's not I'm not shooting, well, I couldn't shoot them with a phone in '86, but it's an 8x10 camera it's gonna be kind of a big setup, so I'm looking around, and there's a men's room just offstage, and a women's bathroom, and then there was a bathroom of unspecified gender that was like an extra third one, so I was like, all right, we'll take that one. So we go in there and I'm feeling really excited because I commandeered this bathroom, and it's pretty good size you could make a studio out of it, right? So we get everything set up and we set up the camera, and we get everything ready, hang up the backdrop, we're clamping it onto to the ceiling, and then we go to plug in the lights, strobes, but there's no outlets in the bathroom because at Veterans Memorial Stadium they didn't have blow dryers when they built that thing like nobody used electrical appliances in the bathroom back in the day. There was like literally nowhere to plug in. So we're digging around, digging around, digging around, and, of course, on stage there's like 10 billion watts of power going to everything, but they're not plugging it into a bathroom. They have like a generator truck or something, so we're looking in one of my cases, we brought like a million cases is this little $3.72 hardware store thing that you plug into like a little lamp socket, and it has a little plug so you can plug in, so we do that and there's like one light bulb hanging from the ceiling, and we take out the light bulb and screw in the thing, and we plug in our light, and that's how we were able to plug in. So that's the beginning that's just the setting up. Then the key is how do you get people to come to do this thing, so my pitch was we're just gonna do one frame because that's always the thing that celebrities don't like is like when photographers, oh, let's do another roll, more, more, more, more, just one more. Life had a piece at the end of the magazine called Just One More, so my thought was it was always my thing I hated like beg, please, let me take another picture, please. I hated that it's like, if you want to get out of here get out of here, it's like I don't want to do it, so I thought my thing will be we'll just take one frame. I just want to be done first for the first time in my life I want to be done first. I just thought it would be cool, so that was the picture. We'll just do one frame. You come in one frame and we're done, right? It was honestly awesome because they were cool with that like everybody's got time for one frame. So they come and the 8x10 camera is cool. I have the big bellows, an anachronistic camera. It doesn't mean I'm a better photographer than anybody else, but they think so that's kind of cool, and people with a big camera like that they basically shut up and sit straight that's what's nice. I mean it is like, oh, okay, I'm gonna get my picture taken, so it's a real picture so they do that, and you take the picture and I was like, you know, as soon as I take the picture I'm just like turn around and smoke a cigarette or whatever, and they're waiting for the next picture it's like, no, I'm cool, that's good, thanks. So I walk out, you know, kind of like that really. So a couple of people we shot more of, and Mick and Tina, 8x10 film for those who aren't aware of it goes in a film holder. The film holder has two sides and you do two sheets. It's easy to do two sheets, so they were there and they were ready to do another one, so I shot one that was kind of serious, and they're still there so I flipped it around, and then did a second one because it's like Mick Jagger and Tina Turner, so I'll do another sheet. So I flip it around and it's not like you say do this like half the stuff, again, doing portraits is almost like they call mirroring, where you like do something and the person will do, you're not even thinking about it, but you're like you do that and they do that, right? So for that moment I'm like Mick Jagger it's really cool. So I guess I did that and he did it, they did it, and that was the second picture, right? So that was great and it was fun to do. The cool thing was when the pictures they were all done I showed them to Life, obviously, this ended up being like a big event so they were happy to have something available that nobody else had and what's cool is, so all I had was two frames of these guys that's it, and one frame ran as the cover, and the other frame ran as the opener in the magazine, right? What was interesting about that is as a commercial photographer if you were shooting something like this like for a movie poster, a concert or something you'd shoot 10,000 frames. You'd shoot them together, then you'd shoot them separate. Then you shoot them back to back, then you shot them front to front. Then he's got the purple pants, then he has the green pants, and she has the leather dress, but then she also has the red dress, but then in some she's on the left and he's on the right, and some he's on the right and she's on the left, then some she's sitting and he's standing, and some he's standing and she's sitting then they have the serious one, but then the happy one, and then they don't use any. Here we shot two frames and one was the cover, and one was the inside, so that what was really fun about that that's a lot of story, and the other thing that I like about it is that you do see the toilets you see the stall, and that Pattie La Belle is just hanging out back there waiting her turn so I like that. That's the other thing that's kind of cute, so that's the story on that one, how's that? (applause) Thank you so much, Gregory. Got a question from online. How do you stay unique while trying to capture a vision for a client? That's a great question, how do you, no, it is, that is a good question. How do you stay unique while you're capturing a vision for a client? So, I keep referring back to Arnold, Arnold Newman, so to me he was like the beacon for me for sure. He's like the oracle, and he had great answers to questions. I remember one person asked him like, you know, who chooses when you're doing a shoot who chooses do you choose or does the client choose? His answer was they can't pick a picture they never see. I was like, like I never thought of it that way, yeah, that's pretty cool, no, seriously, you know, it's like, wow, that's pretty good. So the thing with that is and I think that's really valid, and it varies with the photographer like maintaining your vision, so here we're talking about uniqueness and I would say that on the scale of uniqueness while shooting a job I'm a seven, six to seven, right? I'd say Arnold was like eleven or something, right? I think somebody like I don't know I was mentioning Dan Winters, Dan's pretty up there. He'd be like eight or nine, right? That's like a self-fulfilling thing in a good way which is the more identifiable your voice is the more people ... It's what John Loengard said when I was starting out the more identifiable your voice is the more people will hire you for that voice, so what they want you to do is to give them that voice, so what they're encouraging you to do is to express yourself that way, and that's the picture that gets shot, and that's the picture that gets seen, and other people see it and they want that, too, right? So that's honestly the truth. I'm not so good at that and sometimes just being honest because I'm a pleaser I want everybody to be happy. I'll tell jokes to be funny and be nice all that stuff. I'm like, you know, can't we just all get along kind of thing. I think to some extent that's good because people like me that's nice, but on the other hand that means I've taken a lot of pictures that maybe aren't my true vision, and I think that it's just I'm old-fashioned. I think a little bit as a business person your job is to like do the good thing, right? If it's my thing that's even better, and to some extent I feel like it's all my thing anyway, like I shot the darn thing like you get me for free. Every time I push the button you get me for free. I don't need like neon thumbs pointing at me. It's like I shot it, you know, but the fact is sometimes you'll do this picture, and our art director will see it, and what they'll hire you to do is to shoot a picture of somebody standing a white seamless holding a thing of cough syrup, right? I'm in love with them for that. That is a beautiful thing. That helped my girls go through college. I'm serious, that's great, and the reason they're hiring you isn't because they want the picture to look like this. They just want to hang with the guy that shot Mick and Tina, seriously. Do you know what I mean? To me I'm good with that so it's a range. I think sometimes what you're doing is actually just sort of I don't know providing a service in a way, which I think is a totally honorable thing to do in life, and the other time you're doing it is you actually are doing something that more expresses your vision, and I think a lot of that has to do with your tolerance for being able to do that. Do you know what I mean? For some people it's like they asked me to shoot it in, you know, brown, and I told them it should be yellow, and I'm starting off I can't do it. If that's your tolerance for it I respect that for sure, it's fine, and I've had that from time to time. I get kind of cranky, but the truth is I think if you can sort of know, even Avedon had said like Avedon is a great photographer, and he said that one of the things he loves about fashion is like it's a good day like there's nice looking people, usually some good catering. His heart goes out to the art directors and the clients they count people they have this job to do. He said, basically, by the end of the day he's made some nice money, they've had a good time, and what he was he didn't apply for grants. He was his own foundation for like when he did the American West. All that advertising stuff he didn't pay for it he didn't have to answer to anybody, so, you know, that's another way of looking at it. He didn't think, oh, I'm selling out, his thing is like, yeah, well, that let me do that other thing. So I think you have to kind of decide on your tolerance for all these different things, and, you know, decide what you want to do. That was like a really long unspecific answer, but I think that is what it is, yeah. Anybody else? So you said that with the wedding photographer thing you said the person is more likely to pick somebody who only puts out the wedding versus somebody who puts out a little bit of everything, so with that question how would you go about presenting both of those things when the one with the white background isn't really what you want to put out there? That's an excellent question, too. So I'm just gonna preface this by saying I'm like not the world's greatest business person we'll just say that right off the bat, so anything I say could put you in the poor house in like an hour, so I'm just right off the bat, right? Like if I was a great businessman I'd be doing CreativeLive that's what I'd be doing like I'm like a photographer instead, so it's a deal, right? But one thing I will say for sure is that if what you show is people on white seamless they won't hire you. Generally what happens is, in my experience, you have to show them at least one level higher than that to get hired for that thing, right? Like there are photographers who shoot fashion in Vogue, and what they get hired to do, sometimes, is other kinds of stuff that's honestly about seamless that they just knock out in the day that's for online, that's for catalogs, for this for that, right? If all you show, though, is medium level models on seamless paper just for a second doing a picture they probably won't hire you for that because they'd rather think that they're working with a better person, and doing the cool thing, right? The other counterpoint to what I was saying before, and, again, I haven't found this, but I think it is true is people love to see your personal work, so that started it seems like only yesterday, but it's probably 20 years ago is I'd be on shoots, and some art director would say, oh, yeah, so Greg what's your personal work like? I was like I sort of thought we were doing it. I don't know like I've kind of taken this here, and I'm kind of having fun. I kind of thought this was it like maybe I'm shallow I don't know I thought this was cool. I'm kind of actually putting everything into this. I'm not like knocking this out for you, and then I'll do the cool thing like I sort of thought that was okay, right? And they'd like, yeah, but like your personal work. So you mean like rocks or nudes or something I don't know, like what is that? It was like, well, yeah, don't you have personal work you want to do? So that's, again, my immaturity, I think, as an artist is I didn't actually think I was entitled to do that just being honest that I felt like so dumb I feel like embarrassed. Here I am in front of the whole world, but I felt like I wasn't entitled to be that indulgent in a way that like I'd think it would be fun to take a picture of tripods I'm gonna do the tripod series, and like it may be nothing but I'm just gonna do it. I think that people do like seeing it, and I think it is really good to do, and I think people for sure agents all over the world, magazine editors, everybody, they will say that what people want to see more than anything else is your personal work because that gives them a window into who you are, and what makes you tick creatively. I always thought it was weird because I think this is what makes me tick creatively. What I like doing is figuring stuff out. I like going like how am I gonna get into Live Aid? Oh, my God, there's nowhere to shoot. Oh, wow, there's a bathroom. Oh, my God, there's no electricity. Oh, we have the adapter. Oh, they're never gonna show up. Oh, we promised them one picture. I mean, literally, it's like all these little mini victories like, oh, now we're screwed, oh, now we're happy. Oh, now we're screwed, oh, now we're happy. It's kind of like what it is. I actually like that I thrive on that, right? But I think people, actually, do really appreciate seeing that, so, I think, for example, and, again, I'm no expert at this for sure is like on a website you could actually have the work that's the professional work that you do, and then you could also have the work that's the work that you're really passionate about that's that work. You could certainly have portfolios that you show. People still look at print portfolios a lot. They might find you online or find you through Instagram, but many, many, many times they then want to see a print portfolio, so with that you could have the portfolio that shows them the thing, and then you have another portfolio just kind of clues them in, right? People usually really like that, so I think that is a cool thing. What I think is tricky, though, is and this is really tough like I'm weighing this stuff even now because I don't want to give my students bad advice, I really don't, so I look at stuff like photographers galleries on a website, and it's like, oh, my God, there's like a million pictures. It scrolls and scrolls like I scroll 'til the thing falls on the floor and off the computer, it's like, oh, my God, there's like so many pictures, right? I think in a sense it's the Instagram people used to like scrolling, scrolling, scrolling, scrolling. My feeling is like pick five, dude, like pick five, like show them the good ones, like, you know, the first splash page has 20 pictures. That's like 19 too many. Do you know what I mean? Like if I had a page it would have this really big. It wouldn't have this and 27 others of other stuff. Like I want to say like 'cause I think a piece of it is is what I think it's not like, well, here's a bunch of stuff it's like here's a bunch of stuff. This is it, right? So I think for me that's kind of my how I would do it, but the truth is that those kinds of websites, and presentations are very successful. Do you know what I mean? Like I get it. I would tend to be more selective myself because I appreciate that, and I also think people like I don't want to waste their time in a way. Do you know what I mean? They might not ever get to the cool one, but I think a lot of people do now because that is how people look at pictures, you know, and it's a really weird thing, you know, I mean, for my students more than anything else most people look at pictures this big for a split second. They don't actually look at that, right? They don't, they don't look at that. They don't look at big prints. Many people don't even look at them very big on their computer screen they actually look at them on a mobile device. Actually, we were talking about this the other day like you can like it or not like it, but it is like having an opinion about gravity it kind of is, man. Do you know what I mean? Like you can like, well, it's bad, it's good, it's like it's kind of what's happening, so the thing is you have to do is like figure out how do I want to interact with that? How do I want to use it to my benefit? How's it gonna work for me? Do you know what I mean? You can spend your life resenting it and being grumpy, and I spent a fair bit of time doing that. It has not been the most fruitful, and I have photographer friends who are like that, and it's bad, but, ultimately, if you can figure out a way to make it work it's good. I'll offer one other thing with this. We were just talking about this I think at lunchtime. So when I was in photo school for my third freshman year in college was at RIT, and we didn't have a lot of speakers. We had one guy come at the end of the year who was like the big shot and he was from New York, and he wasn't like a named person because he didn't do magazine pictures you never saw his credit, but he had more money than anybody this guy, and he literally shot the booze ads, the car ads, the cigarette ads, the billboards, everything you saw was his stuff. You wouldn't have known who he was, but like he shot all this stuff, so he came up and showed his stuff and we were like, oh, man, this is like he wasn't like our teacher this guy is like doing it, you know? It was really cool we were super excited, so he showed his stuff it was really super fun, and at the end they had the Q and A, and I was the dope who asked the first question, right? That is the first question everybody asks on a college campus which is what advice would you give to somebody starting out in the business today? This is like 1975. He was quiet for a minute, and I remember this like it was yesterday. He said, "Kid, I hate to tell you this, "but if I were you "I'd become a model maker or a makeup artist." He said, "The business it's dead, it's over," right? All the teachers were looking at each other like, I mean, they were just definitely, and we were all looking at each other, but the truth is like for him it was dead. The business as he knew it no longer existed, right? It wasn't dead for me. It's not dead for me now. Do you know what I mean? Like I could never have had his career I'm having my career and I'm not shedding any tears. That's not a life I ever had. Do you know what I mean? Like when I worked for Life magazine I didn't go to Africa to photograph leopards for six months. It was like an hour at John Travolta's house, and I was like happy, I mean, really, I was like, wow, that's great. I wasn't like, oh, how come they don't give me the six month assignment, like that wasn't my thing, so I think people shooting now they're not all sad about it they think it's awesome. Do you know what I mean? I think people should think it's awesome. I think the business is it is competitive. That's no question there, economic challenges there's no question, but like it used to be you had to live in New York, or LA or Chicago, and you had to live within three blocks of a color lab to process your film. You can live anywhere you want now pretty much. Do you know what I mean? Like there's this amazing cool thing you're gonna love it's called the Internet and like people find you. There's all kinds like there's so many ways to do it that's amazing, so I think like it's a really cool time I think to become a photographer for sure, a really cool time, and also what's interesting is students now, young photographers, they're now looking at stuff like film as an alternative process, but they're basically, those are almost like the digital backlash where they're like, you know, they're now looking at things that they want a tactile experience, they want to make prints all that kind of thing, so I personally think there's no better time than now to actually get into it as a profession, as a hobby, as anything, enrich your life, and see it as you've never seen it before. Thanks very much, yeah. (applause) Thanks, man. Thank you so much. I hope you guys enjoyed that. At home, thanks so much for tuning in. See you sometimes soon on CreativeLive. Take care of yourselves. Yeah, that was awesome.

Class Description

CreativeLive is honored to welcome world-renowned photographer Gregory Heisler as the In Focus speaker for Photoshop Week 2018. With a career spanning over 35 years, he is known for his evocative portraits, numerous magazine covers and has been the recipient of many international awards.

Gregory joins CreativeLive to discuss standing out as a photographer and embracing your style.  Your job security is your uniqueness and there’s never been a better time to be a photographer.


Keith Currams

Just watched this over 3 sittings and I feel absolutely inspired. This talk really strips away a lot of the insecurity around 'how to present yourself' and just makes it all very do-able because it's already in you. Really interesting and funny speaker with some great insights, I highly recommend this for any photographer and in fact any creative making their way in the world.


I LOVE this guy! I would so enjoy being among his students. Inspirational, funny, knowledgeable, experienced, and a little goofy in a delightful way...

a Creativelive Student

This was a fabulous class. What down to earth, fantastic advice for any photographer. LOVED it!