Develop your Artistic Vision
Alright so let's talk about how do we separate ourselves from the masses? There's a lot of photographers out there, right? So I ask myself this question all the time. Back when I started in the mid 80s, there were a lot of photographers, but nothing like now. So how do I go and work my way into position in the marketplace that I hopefully can make a living doing what I love and fulfill my dream as being an artist and a photographer? Well I guess, you know I've been on this journey for a long time. And when I started out I thought it was all about learning the techniques of photography. F-stop, shutter speeds, you know. And I studied in the fine arts, but I studied the zone system. Ansel Adams, the black and white, fine tooth, I did that for 10 years. And I always say I had hair when I started. It was a challenge. It was a lot of technical stuff. And I am drawn, somewhat, to technical stuff. But when I had to get out in the real world, I had to learn something. I had to fight my way thr...
ough the crowd. How do I do that? So I always sort of want to like I say, get people excited that it is possible for you to go and separate yourself from the masses. It's possible. So you say it's so overwhelming. I used to think that, now I don't. I realized that the marketplace is not as, it's a big marketplace, but it's not as big as you think it is. So the first thing is you're gonna have to invest a lot of time into something. You're gonna have to hone that skill or whatever it is. You're gonna invest a lot of time. Malcolm Gladwell says it's 10,000 hours for you to master what you need to master, right? You play the guitar and you wanna go and perform in front of a bunch of people? You gotta practice. If you're a songwriter, you practice. You write a song every, well I say every day but you're working on writing songs every day. So photography is something you have to practice over and over again. Cliff and I, we talk about this all the time don't we Cliff? Because a couple years ago you came to my workshop and what'd I tell ya? Practice, practice, practice. Self-assignments. So you gotta go and practice something you love, doesn't that make sense? So if you don't love it, you're gonna get bored with it really quick. And you're gonna give up. If you're not an early morning person, don't go and build a whole body of work that requires you to get up at five o'clock every morning. You gotta figure out, what do you love? What fits you? And then you go invest all that time into it. So that's, sounds simple. But I see photographers all the time doing things they don't love. I say what do you do? Oh I'm a wedding photographer. Really? Do you like doing that? Oh I hate weddings. Well why are you a wedding photographer? I gotta make a living. Well there's a lot of things to make a living at, why do you have to pick something you don't like? Right, so it makes sense. But if you're gonna go and separate yourself from the masses. You're gonna (stammers) beat the streets and get out there and get to work. You've gotta do something that you love. That makes sense, right? So here's my other little thing. I always say I beat the drum more than 99% of people on the planet. The same thing, the Joel Grimes look, the Joel Grimes brand, beat the same drum over and over again. That's my strength. I always say I'm not a creative genius. Or I'm not brilliant or a creative genius, but I have a passion for the creative process and I beat the drum more than most people on the planet. That's my strength. And so I have an advantage too, that I've been doing this a long time, right? So I have a lot of history behind me that supports things that I do. And so that helps me. And there are some people that are starting out and they're very aggressive, they put a lot of time in, but it's nice to have 30 years plus behind you too when you do something. Especially when you do a photo shoot. I have art directors hire me all the time. They say oh finally I have someone who actually knows what they're doing. It's like the history of spending 30 years doing it helps when you have to problem solve on the spot, on the fly. So beat the drum. I have this saying that I say all the time when I do workshops and I have a group of people in front of me, I say you're unique, one of a kind, and there's no one on the planet just like you. You are pretty darn special. And I always say your mama thinks you're special but you are special. You're so unique and you have something to offer the world. Something unique. That uniqueness is the ace up your sleeve. That means that uniqueness that you can create, your personality, your likes, your dislikes, what you know say you're not a morning person, but you stay up late at night. Or maybe you love going out and standing in the cold, setting up your camera and shivering for three hours to get a picture. Some people say I'm not getting out in the cold, I wanna stay warm and dry inside. So you build a body of work of something indoors. Whatever it is that you do. But something drives you down a path. I'm color blind. I used to be really shy about saying that. Then I realized that my color blindness actually is an asset. It's one of my strengths. Why? Because it drives me down the path that's different than the person sitting next to me. So you look at my images, they're kinda desaturated, have a certain look to them, why is that? Personality drives me down that path. And then I stick with it. And you have to go and say I'm gonna go and take that risk of sticking with what I love. So you're unique, very special. The other thing is that we talk about the creative process, it is scary to be an artist. It's scary, you know why it is? Because someone's gonna tell you you suck. It's gonna hurt. And then you wanna quit. 'Cause you're human, well we'll talk about that in a minute. But the creative process has everything to do with your intuition, your emotions and your feelings. You think the creative process has everything to do with what lens you put on your camera, or what f-stop you're at, or what technique you're using, right? You think about the creative process as being under an umbrella of techniques. And that's where we get stuck. But the creative process has everything to do with your intuition telling you what's right. Your intuition will never steer you down the wrong path. I had a guy, came up to me and said I liked everything you said, but not about that intuition part. 'Cause that intuition led me to jail. Oh I said, okay. (laughing) I ended up in jail. Okay that's not a good one. That could steer you wrong. Actually your intuition probably said you're doing the wrong thing, you shouldn't be doing it, as you robbed that bank. No but your intuition says to you I really like this, my uniqueness is driving me down this path. I'm gonna try this. And you try it. And you end up with something very unique. So if you wanna be a unique person, 'cause that's what stands out from the crowd, then how can your intuition every lead you wrong? It can't. So stick with you intuition. But most of us don't because we're afraid of critics and someone's gonna tell us we suck and I'm doing the wrong thing. So being an artist is, on one hand the hardest thing you'll ever do, or the easiest thing you'll ever do. It's the hardest thing you'll ever do because you're always thinking about what someone is thinking about, you know, if you're doing it right. Am I making the right choices? Should I use a 35 millimeter lens, or a 50 millimeter lens? Should I use a Octabox or a square box, whatever. Your head's gonna be spinning. And so if you use your intuition, then you go, you know what? I think an Octabox today sounds good. Feels right for me today. And you go and you build a whole body of work based on that and it looks great. So let your intuition drive your creative process. We talked about a risk. A couple years ago when I was reinventing myself, so that's almost nine years ago. I was 50 years old, I was starting over, basically. And so it's never too late to start over. It's never late to reinvent yourself. And I shared some pictures that I was doing with this edgy lighting, that's the kinda technique I was doing with portraits. And someone said on, whoah, whoah. Joel be careful. You're gonna back yourself into a corner. Don't put your eggs in one basket. And I said no the opposite. I wanna back myself into a corner. I wanna take a risk and try it and go for it. And I did and here I am standing here today. Right? So it's worth the risk. It's worth taking the risk and saying I'm gonna go all out and I'm gonna go after my artistic vision and I don't care what the cost is. In the end, you're gonna end up better off. You're gonna see yourself further down the road than if you go and try to play it too safe. Alright so let's talk about being human. I have a whole talk on this. Being human, our humanity. You know when I was in school, in history class I slept, I was looking out the window, I was in sports I didn't care about history. And then as you get older you realize how important history is. But talking about our human behavior. It's like in high school I would be like human behavior, who cares studying about our human behavior. But now as an adult and as I've working the field for all these years, I realize how important my humanity is. My humanity is what keeps me from moving forward all the time. Either being lazy, anybody here lazy? Well I think we all have a streak here and there, right? But the fact that I don't like to be rejected is, I always say the biggest thing that keeps me from moving forward is the fear of being rejected. 'Cause if I have to exert myself in the marketplace, it takes a risk and I have to knock on a door and someone's gonna slam that door in my face, guaranteed. I don't care if you're Bill Gates' son. Knocking on doors, you're gonna get the door slammed in your face. There's not a musician or an actor or someone that's succeeded in life that hasn't had doors slammed in their face. So, but our humanity takes over and we quit. Oh I got rejected, I quit, right? And that's typical because you're human. And so I always talk about our humanity and it's important to overcome. So if I was to, let's say I had the Joel Grimes Academy of Photography. And I was going to put together my curriculum, I'd have a whole bunch of topics I wanna talk about. But probably the number one topic I would pound and emphasize is how to overcome the fear of rejection. That would be number one, how do you overcome that? There are over, well this is back when I was in school. There were over 100,000 photographers graduating each year with a degree in photography. Only 10% of them end up working in their field. And only 1% of those end up working on a level that's really doing successful. Very small people make it. It's the people that have overcome their fear of rejection and can go out and knock on doors and exert themselves. So I have this thing where I say if I'm not shooting, I'm marketing. If you can't market, good luck. I have a whole talk on this, we've done it here at CreativeLive, go look it up. I love talking about marketing, and it talks about the fear of rejection and stuff like that. But you've got to understand that marketing and getting work plays a big role in your success. So I'm driving down the road, I've got a new assistant, I've hired someone, just graduated from Brooks Art-stitute or somewhere. They're all excited, they wanna be a photographer. And I always say what's the difference between me and you today? Other than the fact I'm driving? And they say well you're a really good photographer. And I go, you probably know more about photography than I do. Why am I getting paid 10 times if not 20 times what your rate is today? Why am I getting paid more than you? You're a really good photographer. No, no, no, you know why? 'Cause I got the job. I convinced someone to hire me. That's it, that's why I get paid 10 times if not 20 times more than the person who's the assistant. It's not how good of skills you are as a photographer, it's how good you can convince someone that you can do the job and you get hired. So you gotta market, you gotta understand that. Alright so here it comes down to beating the same drum, but I always say my success comes down to the fact that I have learned to repeat, repeat, repeat. I do it over and over again. So if I was gonna juggle, I start with one catch, one ball, then you do two balls, then you get three balls and then pretty soon you're juggling 10 balls. But you know you're juggling a bowling ball, a cantaloupe, have you seen those guys do that? How many hours to do you think they practiced to get to where they can juggle 10 items? A lot, right? It's all about practice and repeating it over and over again. And so that's where my strength is, I've learned that. Part of it's sports. You know Cliff, and sports. Don't get into a fight with Cliff. Martial arts expert. You know that's why you want him as your bodyguard when you're out shooting, k? So but in sports you learn something, right? If you're shooting a basket, you just keep practicing. Keep practicing. We learn those things. I have a good friend, Tony Mandarich who's a former NFL football player. And he came to one of my workshops and we were talking. I met him actually, I was speaking at an event. And I was on stage and he's six foot six, 300 pounds. And I'm on stage and we're kinda almost eye level. I go this guy's big. So I got talking to him and found out he's a photographer and stuff. We got talking about photography and I said to him, Tony, we're talking about success and I said, when you were at your prime and you were working out, how many hours a day did you put into football? Every minute of his life. Every minute you're awake, you're putting into the football. And I said that's how you have to do photography. That's how it is. Now my wife Amy's here and she knows, we've raised four boys. Being married, raising kids, you got responsibilities right? You can't spend 18 hours a day of photography all the time, right? Because you have a family, responsibilities, commitments. You may have a full time job, you're working on after hours and weekends to fulfill your dream. But the thing is, is you gotta put in the time and it's a big commitment. It's not easy. And we have struggles in life, right? I got sick three weeks ago. Four weeks ago now I think it was. I was in bed for six days. I was like out. I was getting ready to get my plot picked out. I was really down for the count. And it was like tough. And it's taken me a while to recupe, right? So we get sick, that can throw us for a loop. We go through a struggle. I always say life is a struggle, right? We got struggles, we got relationship issues, maybe. Things that go on. And so that's the real world. And I know that when I say to people I don't know your story but you have one. And that story has shaped you. We were talking about you photograph dead bodies. (laughs) He works for the Seattle Police Department, right? Forensic photography, yeah, not all the time. Not all the time. But any rate, but his experience out in the field has shaped him, right? And I was talking and I had a workshop and this guy came to me, he was retired. He retired early, but he's fairly my age or whatever, but he's retired. And he says I don't know, he says I worked in the steel industry for 30 years and I don't know what I have to offer in photography. I said you got a lot. How many people worked 30 years in the steel industry? You know, the heartbeat of America. You could do a whole series on that alone, right? Just workers or, you know. So you bring something to the picture, to what you do. And your history is important, it's shaped you. And there are times, like I said, I got sick. I'm sitting there having a fever, 105 degrees. But that little sickness a couple weeks ago, slapped me up out of my senses. And I realized I was teaching too much, I mean I was on the road too much. And I had to slow down or I have to slow down. So that shakes me in a good way. So there's things that happen that aren't good at the time, but later you look back and you go that shapes me. So let's go back to the repeating thing. Repeat the process. Think of photography like you were learning an instrument. So if you played any instrument, you know that when I was learning the guitar, I remember this, and I got my basic cords down, I'm playing, and writing some music, singing and stuff. And then I would learn this cord that was like this. And my little pinky would get a cramp. I would be like, you can't do that. That cord is impossible to do, right? And then you'd get in there and you would try to work it in and you're like oh that hurts. And then after two weeks, three weeks, a month, two months, then you get in front of a group of people and you start playing, and singing, and you just go right to that cord and you never think twice. What was impossible now is just second nature. That's what photography is. So people ask me, you're just taking pictures like crazy and you're not even thinking twice. I go because I've done it so many times. I've repeated it. So one of the questions people as me all the time, I photograph hundred million dollar athletes. They're the top of the top, right? And so they say are you nervous photographing someone that's a famous athlete? And I go not if I'm shooting the Joel Grimes look. 'Cause I've done it so many times. I've repeated it so many times that it's second nature. They say you have 15 minutes with this athlete. No problem. You nervous? Nope. 'Cause I've repeated it. And even getting in front of you guys, getting in front of a crowd, that can be a little bit nerve-racking right? But how many times have I done that now in the last seven years? A lot of talking in front of people. It gets easier. And so that's what I wanna encourage you is repeat the process. So Cliff knows this, every time I get together with Cliff, I keep telling him Cliff, repeat it, repeat it, repeat it. And so that's my advice to you, is if you repeat the process, you get better at it, it becomes second nature and then next thing you know, people go you're amazing. Wow you're so, you know, these images rock. And you go yeah, well, 'cause I'm repeating the process.