Editing Your Work - Portfolio Reviews
We're gonna move into talking about editing, so kind of changing the topic a little bit. What are you looking for, or what are you thinking about, when you're editing?
Oh, I'm so happy to see the criteria up there, 'cause it's so true (laughs). Whenever I edit somebody's book, I always say, is this a picture that no one else can make? And that is the question that I ask of every picture in the portfolio. Is this a picture that no one else can make? Because now everybody can make a pretty good picture. I mean, I take pretty good pictures on my iPhone. So, the industry has become very polarized. There's a lot of people out there doing pretty interesting stuff on social media. So if you wanna be a professional photographer, you need to be a destination. They need to come to you because you offer, they need to pay you because you offer something that nobody else can do. And we have run into clients who think, eh, maybe that's not something that no one else can do. We're just gonna do it ...
internally. And they do. So that lights a fire under us to say what do we bring to the table that people can't do on their own? So I usually tell people as I'm flipping through their work, does this reek of you? Does this stink of you as an artist? And if it doesn't, it comes out. Even if it's a good picture. Even if it's fine. Even if in somebody else's portfolio, it might reek of them. But if it doesn't reek of you, then it shouldn't be in the work, and John and I have talked about this, but we'd rather see five to ten pictures that are distinctly the artist, than 20 pictures that are sort of here and there. And having a voice as an artist right now is everything, and the second you break somebody of that spell, of your voice, is when they sort of lose interest. I mean you have to keep in mind that people who are looking at your work, best case scenario, are people who are looking at work all day, every day. I do remember when I first went to the New York Times magazine, and Kathy Ryan was flipping through all the books, and she said, don't take offense, I just know what I'm looking at, and so I can flip through really fast, and I'd never seen somebody flip through a book faster, and I'm that way now. I just, it's not that I'm not paying attention. I can just tell so quickly. I've looked at so many pictures in my life. Yes, yes, yes, no, take it out. Yes, yes, yes, no, take it out (laughs). And so those are the questions I'm generally asking myself. Because there's so much media out there, and there's so much to digest, I usually tell artists, and this is very disappointing to them, that people are going to reduce you to a sentence. They're going to say, she's that woman who does this. He's that guy that does personality portraits. And it's your job as an artist to complete that sentence for them. You have to think about how you want people to talk about you, and it's not gonna be in a paragraph, so there can't be a lot of qualifications in that message. You wanna know how, if somebody is going to reduce you to a sentence, how do you reduce your favorite musician to a sentence? What's your sentence gonna be? And does every picture in your portfolio connect with that sentence?
But I find if you don't, and I learned that completely from you, and I've found the hard way, if you don't complete that sentence for yourself, you will never like how someone else completes it.
And so it sounds narrow, but there's actually great joy in being in control.
And controlling your own destiny, and knowing that I wrote this sentence, and everyone else that connects with it is gonna have something I'm really excited about, as opposed to, let's see if I can do this thing for someone else that I don't really want to do, that kind of thing. One thing I was gonna say as you were talking about shortening your portfolio, which is maybe a good segue into this next section is, I think there's this idea oftentimes people think, I need 20 pictures in my portfolio or something, and I've had instances, I don't remember if I've told this story here, but there was an artist that I saw that I just loved this image that they created, and I saw it three of four times, until I actually did anything about it, but I found their website, and it turns out it was a whole series that this image was a part of, and the first three were incredible, and I started thinking, I wonder how much a print costs, like I'd really like to buy one, and then the next like 10 or were just not good, and it was a real disappointment, and it totally put the first three images in kind of this cloud of doubt in my mind. I was like, was it an accident? And I honestly don't even remember who that artist was anymore. It was the last time I saw him, and it makes me worry and think, oh my gosh, that's maybe how people view me, if I'm not, you know...
If you're not careful.
Yeah, if I'm not careful.
I mean, I always say that your portfolio is as strong as its weakest link. So if there's one image in there that somebody says, yeah, that didn't quite work out the way I wanted it, but I feel like it's pretty close, so I'm just gonna include it, take it out. Take it out. You just, it's your job for every page to be pow! pow! pow! And not to let somebody down for a second.
Hmm, that's awesome. So we have some portfolios that were submitted by some people in the audience here, that you're gonna go through and edit.
So I think we're gonna move into that. I'll let you drive with the green button here.
So, I don't know if you wanna kind of probe for backstory, or if you want, any sort of criteria you wanna get before we jump into who it is.
Generally I like to look at the pictures a little bit. You might have to tell me how to go backwards, and get a feel, before I make any judgments. This is really nice work. Who is Matt, okay? Let's say that. So are you an athlete yourself?
I had a feeling. And who's hiring you to do this work? Is it mostly personal work?
Um, that's kind of in transition, currently. I started out as an athlete, and then jumped it, the shooting for events, so mostly events have hired me to date.
I'm trying to pivot that a little bit into more commercial work.
Yeah, so I would say, I mean, this is a great example of sort of being of the work you make. I can tell that you have access to athletes and athletic events that other people might not even know about, which is really cool, and people who are hiring for this are gonna wanna hire somebody who understands. So that's great. You can, it's such a tangible thing to do, but you could really make a list of the brands that you wear, and that these people wear.
When they are participating in events, or find out who the event sponsors are, right? These are all people that will be interested in the kind of work you make. And I tell artists, really, to just make a list. Make a list on your computer, or on a sketch pad or whatever, and then try and figure out how to find these people. And put those people on a e-newsletter list, and every time you photograph a new event, all these contacts will be on that list, and you don't have to expect an answer. You probably won't get one, but you will over time. It's just like, I was on John's newsletter list for years before we actually talked to each other, but like-minded people are watching, so this is strong work, and it actually feels really consistent to me, and generally speaking, I would, when you show the work to people, I would ask them, sometimes people forget when they're showing their work to people to ask them which pictures they like. And it's actually really instructive, because they tend to like the same ones. And when they do, you can start to shoot towards that type of work. So, in my case, I probably like the grittier imagery. The imagery that is in context, and that is more raw, 'cause I'm weird and crazy like that, so if you are finding that other people feel the same way, then you might start tweaking your work and editing in that direction, having the images that are more extreme be the intro images on your website, or the image that's on your promo. Like this image is really beautiful, but it's more maybe descriptive and placid, less in the direction of an image that no one else can make, but this is on its side in an amazing environment. That feels like somewhere that you'd have an edge, that another artist who might not be in the middle of the woods would be able to make. So that's where I would start to get at how is this a picture that you can make and nobody else can make? I really love this one, 'cause it feels very authentic to me. And wonderful actually. But some of the ones without context are less interesting to me. That doesn't mean that they shouldn't be in your book. You might get 20 people that hire you for that work. So sometimes it's a little bit of an experiment, and sometimes I'll say to John, oh, I don't love that image, and he'll be like, why not? And I might say something along those lines, like I'm not really sure that it's an image that only you can make, and he'll say, you know, it's so weird that you said that, in his very polite way, but I've gotten hired for four jobs on that, or it's always been in the creative deck, when people have said the work, and then I'll say, okay, I stand corrected. So let me figure out what it is that people are wanting from that. And then we can learn to define it more. But I would encourage you, I mean you're pretty far in your career, in your voice. I feel like it's strong work, and strong enough for people to be hiring you, so I feel like, you should really make a list of, I have an artist who's a cyclist, and he just contacted, he did this crazy bike trip up the coast of California, and on just his bike with his phone camera, and he contacted the companies, his bike gear companies, and just said, like, hey, I don't know if you're interested, or posted it on Instagram. They contacted him and said, we'd like to hire you to do more of this for us. And he's the guy that's the architecture guy, so it wasn't even the area that he's known for. But he made these little videos of him putting his gear together, and he sent it to them, and so there's a little bit of brazenness and being bold, and just saying, maybe Columbia Outdoor wants to hear from me. Maybe Black Diamond wants to hear from me. I don't know, but it's, put 'em on your newsletter, and my guess is they'll start paying attention.
Jessica. Hi, I can't miss you. (Jessica laughs) This makes total sense, perfect. You are your work. This is great. So tell me a little bit about how these pictures came to be. Are these artists who come this way, or are you styling them?
A lot of it is collaboration. I work with a lot of amazing other artists. I like to be in the community, and find people that are making interesting work. And work with them. I also work for a local magazine. I've worked with them for about four years, and that's helped me get a lot of advertising and commercial work off of doing editorial.
Oh wow. So who are these people?
A lot of local models.
Like what was this for, for example?
This was part of an editorial I shot for the magazine.
It was actually the first one I did for them.
And if you were to...
That's the last one.
If you were to describe your work, thank you, if you were to describe your work, what is your sentence?
Maybe like dark fantasy with a twist of ironic.
Mm-hmm. And what would be your dream of where to see your work? Like when you look around, are you like, oh, I really wanna be in that magazine? Or are you like, I wanna work with that brand? I wanna be on that billboard? What is your tangible dream?
I would love to see my work published. It's funny, but actually what I really love to do is, my thesis in college was broom boxes, dioramas, that had people on Kodalith in them interacting with their surroundings, ad it was a statement about our socioeconomic separations, and how we can't interact on different socioeconomic levels, and just my ability to talk to these different people that would never interact in spaces, so I actually wanna recreate people's spaces in historic buildings.
And buildings and recreate moments that happened.
Yes, do that. (Jessica laughs)
I mean, here's the thing. Clearly you have great imagination, and fantasy is a part of your work. But the strongest work that I see is work that is effective on multiple levels. So if on a superficial level, we see color and fantasy and imagination, that's great, but then there's the question of what does that mean? And that's what you just started introducing back into it, and I think that will be something that we'll really hang on to and make people remember. So I would encourage you to do a personal series, kind of blending your conceptual and academic ideas with your aesthetic, which is original and interesting, but I feel like there's a little bit of like a so what question. Like, so we're in this fantasy world. So what? Now if you had said to me, I wanna work for video gaming companies, and that's all I wanna do, then the message is maybe their message, and you approach them with your imagination, but I think there's more you wanna say, and I'm interested in hearing what that is, so I would start a series.
I would do that project. Katie.
Hi. It's so nice you're all in the front row. (class laughs) Oh yeah, this is beautiful work. I looked at your website before, before this. So tell me a little bit about your background.
So originally my background is in photojournalism, and then I do some lifestyle and wedding work, and I'm just kind of transitioning into commercial work and doing documentary stuff for NGOs, and sort of conscious consumerism.
So the people that hire you the most are NGOs?
NGOs, yeah, and people who are kind of, have the natural, organic type message.
Okay, so again, everybody has a different opinion. I need to start with that. I always tell people that, and part of your mandate as an artist is to choose the people that you trust, right? Because often I will hear people say, well you told me to do this, but somebody else who knows what they're doing told me to do that, and I will say, well what rings true to you? What do you wanna do? So your work is also very strong, and I really happy to see how strong all the work was here. Your work is also really strong, so you can be successful at a lot of different levels, but what I would like to see for you is, so here's an example. So I of course like all the documentary, journalistic work, because that's my background, that's where I come from.
And that's sort of more what I would love to do the whole time.
I had a feeling. (both women laugh) So I can, speaking of sniffing it out, okay, so I'm gonna show you the examples of the images that I'd take out. So, I would take this out.
Because if you said, I wanna do lifestyle ads, and that's where my passion it, then I would say, do more tests with models, and bring up your production level, and do that, but I think there's more that you are saying, and so these two, I'd probably take out, because to me they're not pictures that no one else can make. They're strong, and there are, if you wanted to be a lifestyle photographer, you could make a living doing that, but I also know a lot of other people that could make these two pictures.
But this, which is in the same vein, right? Has a level of emotion and authenticity that the two before it didn't have, and when I read a little bit about your bio, and knew that you had a family, and that this is, there's so much heart and love in this picture. I mean, who doesn't react to that picture? That even if you want to do lifestyle, people will come to you for this sort of meaningful lifestyle. You can bring what you bring to journalism into lifestyle photography, and that will elevate it. I mean people are looking to elevate their brand, to look a little bit different than everybody else, and what you can bring that nobody else can bring is you can take people that may or may not be, are these professional models?
That may not be professional models, and make a really beautiful picture. So even if you keep a lifestyle section on your site, just put in the work that's really meaningful. And really authentic, I mean, that's a buzz word. John's heard that word a lot on conference calls. I mean, it's a little bit in the zeitgeist right now, right? It's this notion of authenticity. People are just looking for authenticity. So you're there. This is your time. So I would look at every picture of yours, and say, does this feel authentic? Does this elicit emotion? And so, that does. I mean, there's a lot of sunset yoga pictures out there, but this one's a little different. It's a little more extreme. It almost, like you can kind of feel her strain, and that's interesting to me. But yeah, these two I'd probably take out. That doesn't mean that a hotel isn't gonna hire you to make just those pictures. And you should make them, but you just shouldn't show them on your site.
Because we do a lot of work that we don't show on our site, because it dilutes our message. We are happy and grateful to get paid to do that work, and if somebody says, ah, there's so much emotion on your site. Do you have anything that's just models, or something? Then you can say, oh yeah, I'll send you a pdf. I've done a lot of work for companies. You might ultimately get to the point where you're doing enough hired work that you'll just have a section that says, work that I was hired for. And that will at least be consciously separated from the rawer, more emotional work, because again, you want, not everyone can do that. Not everyone can capture those moments, so you want to make sure that what, especially editorially, when people send you somewhere, and they're not there, they wanna know that you're gonna get what they need, and if there's a single image on your site that feels like it might not be the message that they think they're getting with you, then they get a little insecure. Like, what am I gonna get? Am I gonna get a bunch of crazy pictures? Does she get what I wanna get? So you have to prove to them that essentially you can't make a bad picture. You can't make a picture that doesn't have all of this authentic, human emotion in it. That isn't gonna feel real. All right, thank you. Darren.
It's fun to hear you do this, 'cause you're so much more gentle than I am. (class laughs) I'm usually pretty brutal, so I like your approach.
I have been on different reviews with different people, and I was on a review with a curator from London, and we had the same opinion about a certain body of work, and I think I said something along the lines of, you know, I feel like I've seen some of this work before. Maybe you can try something else. And he looked at this poor artist and said, this is completely redundant. Why do you get up in the morning? (class laughs) And the person cried, and so I think that there's a way to be constructive, but we were dying, because he was like, how did you say it in that way? And I was like, how did you say it in that way? And it was kind of the same message, but there's different ways of saying it. So, your portfolio made me hungry. I remember this. So did you, I have to know, did you work in restaurants? Did you?
So my backstory is I worked for a restaurant group, and made imagery for their social media websites and newsletters for a year and a half, and they had four restaurants, with different brands, ranging from fine dining to just a regular bar.
And did you like doing it?
I did like doing it. I'm not doing it anymore, so.
I'm not doing it in this capacity. I'm a freelancer now.
But like, would you be happy if a different restaurant came to you and said...
Yes, I enjoyed that part very much.
Okay, okay. The reason I ask that is because if you're truly not doing it anymore, then I would say we need to take all of this out, and talk about what you really should be...
Right, right, understandably so.
So, I'm assuming, I have not been to your website, but I'm assuming that you have a restaurant section, or something like that.
Yep. I have it divided it into foods and liquids.
Okay, that's great. And what would be your goal in terms of the type of work you'd be doing?
I think I'm still trying to figure that out in a concrete sense. But after having worked with that company doing kind of journalistic style, documentary style food stuff, if you will, that was all just on a table, while the restaurants were open, so I think my goal would be to work with brands, companies, breweries, or wineries who want their stories told in kind of a more beautiful way, than just a cell phone, to help build their materials up as well.
And are you interested in working in studio, or do you like being in the environment and telling a story?
So, I kind of learned photography backwards. I got a camera and started going out there and getting jobs, and then realized, holy cow, there's lots of stuff I don't know. So when the studio lights got built into the equation, I was like, man, need to get one of those, start practicing up. So this would be an example of me trying to figure out studio lights. That's something I would kind of work on right now. I'm working towards being more comfortable, so I could offer it, saying, we can do it in the restaurant. We can do it at a studio.
Do you like, do you enjoy doing it in the studio?
I do enjoy doing it. As John said yesterday, it's a little easier. Sometimes at a restaurant, if we have a rainy or cloudy day, the lighting can change, or depending on the time of service, there might not be light outside, so I think being most comfortable in a studio for me is something that would serve me pretty well.
So yeah, I mean ultimately, you can add a studio section to your site. I always tell people, I think when people are trying new work or new approaches, they're really eager to get it up and out the door, because they've done it, and they've spent time on it, but I usually tell people to wait until you have a portfolio. Like usually if you have five or ten, it's a series, or even five can be a series. But if you only have, if your whole portfolio looks one way, and then you have one example of something different, it's kind of like, what just happened? So I would just say, test more. Do more in studio. See if you like it, and then have a studio section on your site. And you may or may not keep it in the theme. It seems like you could keep it in the restaurant theme, so that people know that it's sort of one-stop shopping. They can find their food. They can find their lifestyle all in this sort of hospitality realm, and then you can say, well, they've been photographing in studio. Maybe I should do a portfolio of shoes, or maybe I should. There's a couple of different kinds of photographers. There's some photographers that are voice driven, so the way they light, or their composition is consistent no matter what they're shooting, whether it's a shoe, or a plate of food, or whatever. And some people are more subject driven, fishing, restaurants, whatever, so depending on what kind of artist you are. Some people are project driven, which is that it's story by story. So depending on what kind of artist you are, I might steer you in a different direction, but it seems like this restaurant thing is your thing right now, so I would encourage you to photograph food instead of shoes first, in the studio, to keep it within the theme and your brand for now, and then venture out later and bring other things into it. But you'll learn more by photographing food in studio, you'll start to work with food stylists. I just found out that the way that they make chicken look shiny and greasy is with lube. I did not know that. (class laughs) There are all kinds of fun tricks that people use. And it'll just bring, you'll have more knowledge and more expertise in this one area. You'll really know how to shoot food and restaurants from all different angles, and that's something that you can bring to the table.
Hi, and thank you for sharing your work.
So also great imagination. This one I love. I think this is my favorite one, so beautiful.
So it seems like there are full narratives behind this. What is your process for making these images?
So it's self portraiture, and it's autobiographical. So it's my life. Generally the images are a reflection of something I'm going through currently. It's just photography's my way of dealing with it. So it's just a method of taking whatever's going on in the world and making order out of it. Beauty out of chaos, I think is Cig Harvey's way of saying it.
And do you do most of this in post?
Both. So we hauled those chairs out to a hazelnut grove (class laughs) and I went out there in winter, and I went out there in spring. So some of them, this one took over a year ultimately. We took the bed outside in the snow (laughs). Luckily, she had, I was like, we have to take my bed out, and she was like, how 'bout we blow up a mattress. (class laughs) I was like, okay, that'll work (laughs).
And do you have this work up on your website?
And is your goal to show it in a fine art context? What is your goal?
That's what I've been pursuing is gallery. I've been showing at galleries for a few years now, and just kind of trying to build up those relationships, and meet the gallery owners, and...
And what kind of feedback have you been getting?
Good. I've won some awards.
Actually, Europe seems to like my work a little more than here.
That does not surprise me. They take a lot more chances.
Romania gave me a great award. It was so nice.
And I was in Communication Arts last year, so...
Oh, that's wonderful.
Yeah, so it's...
I mean, these are really well thought out.
And you obviously know that I'm not in the fine art world, so I'm not the authority on how galleries like things to be done, but I do know that beyond making the work, it's sometimes helpful to think about what context you want the work to be seen, because as a fine artist, it's not just the image, but sort of the context, and how it's viewed, so when people go into galleries, just sending a pdf or electronic images, you go in with the size that you want it to be, with the experience of the work. If you were gonna make handmade frames, you execute that to the, you give them the full experience, so that would be one thing that I would say, if you haven't already done that. It sounds like you have. And then the other thing is is, from a commercial context, I actually feel like this could lend itself to, because there's so much narrative and story in these, that this could lend itself to book covers and things like that, so I don't know if you've met with book publishers and art directors in that world, but that could be an interesting avenue. Have you told stories that are not your own?
Like if a magazine were to call you and say, we have this story about this somebody having, a pet wrangler who's having (laughs), I just came up with that. (class laughs)
You don't say.
Then would you be able to do this applied to somebody else? Or is it really such a personal thing that it is about you and your story? There's no wrong answer. I'm just trying to figure out.
I mean I think I would like to do that. It's hard to say. I do, self portraiture started out because I was really uncomfortable talking to people about my ideas, and I would work very intuitively, and I found out that I also work very kinetically, so it's about the movement for me, and I do this, the whole repetitive thing for hours to get these shots, just by myself. So, not having myself in the image, not being able to work through the image in that way, would be a different process for me. And I started to do it with other people, but they're people that are very close to me, so they know how I think, and there's still not a lot of me giving them direction, or whereas if it was someone I didn't know, I'm sure it would be very different.
I mean I actually think John would be really good at talking about this, like how you connect with subjects. I mean, I always like to push people to where they're uncomfortable. They can always come back to where they started, right? So there's no wrong answer. You might say, I tried working with other talent, and I hated it, and that's not who I am, and I'm gonna focus on the fine art world, and that's fine. But I would say, you will have a lot more freedom.
And a lot more different types of roles at your access if you start working with other people. And it will push you outside your comfort zone a little bit. I don't know what you would say to her about working with talent, because I feel like.
I mean, I think to some extent working with people is just kind of natural to me, but one thing I was thinking of is in our last workshop someone asked, what if, we were talking about business, and they said, "What if I'm just not a confident person? "I don't wanna be dealing "with that kind of stuff?" I think the answer is, you can learn, and you can, as Maren said, push yourself. When I started my iPhone portrait series, I was terrified of, basically I started taking spontaneous pictures of people with my iPhone in just natural light. Some of them were, I'm visiting Maren and I'll ask her to take a portrait or something, but sometimes I'd be on the street, and I'd see someone, and talking to strangers for no apparent reason, is like it terrifies me. I was always shocked at like the street photographers or people that can confront someone. That was not me at all, and after two, three years of doing this, it just became like, I became very comfortable with it. I could go up to a stranger now and say, sorry, there's like a piece of lint on your shoulder. I'm gonna take it off, or whatever. Like I have lost that fear of strangers that I very clearly had before I started that project, and I know it was because I forced myself to approach strangers and say, this is a really weird, random question, but I would love to take your portrait right now. Would you be open to that kind of, or however that conversation goes. And it could have been I went through that, and at the end of the day, I'm like yep, I definitely hate doing that, you know? But I think as Maren said, it's really, really important to push yourself, and I run into that constantly with other things, like with color recently. I called Maren, and I was like, there's this project, and I wanna make the background color, and it's terrible, and she's like, I actually think it's even better, and then in hindsight, as I started realizing, I was like I actually love color. Why was I so opposed to color? And now I'm like, color, you know, everywhere, so.
I think pushing yourself is really important, and...
And no matter how far you get in your career, there will be more places to go and push yourself. I mean, I was in art school for photography, and I was doing documentary, and all of the people, my professor pointed out, were like behind bookshelves, and like, it was my tentative, the pictures were about my tentativeness. They weren't even about the people, because I was like photographing through windows, and with barriers. I was afraid, and when he pushed me, my pictures were so much better. That doesn't mean that your pictures are lacking, it just means that if you have a whole story you wanna say in your head, and you cannot act as all characters, it might be great to have four other people there, that can be everything you want, and it will limit you less. Now sometimes your limits are the best things about it. I mean, I had one artist who is from Tokyo, and she specialized in still life in children, because she told me years later that she was self conscious about her English, and she didn't wanna have to speak to adults, but kids she could relate to on a universal level.
That's so beautiful.
Yeah, it's really sweet. And still life was something that she could control and have fun with without talking to people, really. And so that became her niche, and that actually was, her limitations were her benefit. That became her career.