My friends that I see on a regular basis knew this was coming. I'm an introvert, but we've talked about this while prepping a camera package or pretending to fill countless online shopping carts for our dream studios. Creating a studio with my good friend has been a long term goal of ours, but for now, it exists in our B&H Photo browsing history. To everybody else that I don't see as often (PS let's get drinks), seeing my new site as a photography portfolio must have been a bit strange. If you've worked with me in the past, you may have seen me deep in thought behind a follow focus or setting up interviews on a docu/reality job. The news is out now, I'm switching paths. I've thoroughly enjoyed the last 5 years working in film and TV and I am I'm certainly not quitting my career. In fact, I've realized that this is a necessary departure to achieve what has always been my ultimate goal.
I have been thinking about making this switch since the middle of 2014, but I was really forced to do so back in November when a photo gig came along that required my undivided attention. I was working part time at a camera rental house in Portland, OR, and while my hours were flexible enough to take on freelance work, I realized this project would greatly strengthen my personal portfolio and that I should eliminate any distractions to make the most out of this opportunity. I used this project as my ultimatum, committing myself as a photographer. I suspected that I would enjoy the change of pace, but my recent experiences have made me realize why making the switch was the right choice.
1. You're Driving
The camera was in my hand, and I was calling the shots. Of course there were meetings with an art director before and after the photos were taken to keep us on point, but there is an important distinction between the roles I took on in the traditional "film industry" and this role I had as a photographer. I was shooting AND directing. I had made it my goal in the film industry to be a cinematographer—making lighting/camera decisions while also collaborating with a director and production designer. However, that collaborative relationship isn't always there in photography. I was nervous on my first few photography collab's, and I knew I needed practice before a real paying gig came my way. Peter Hurley's "Art Behind The Head Shot" series was incredibly entertaining and helpful. A definite recommend from my end.
Directing the performance of your talent while also making composition and lighting decisions is a juggling act, but it's a fun and very useful departure from the typical responsibilities as a director of photography.
2. Less Sweat
My online shopping friend and I sometimes joke to ourselves during photo shoots, "That was way too easy". Someday we're going to get slapped. What we really mean is, "That was way less effort than we were expecting."
Compared to film, things in photography weigh less and there is generally less gear to carry around. I'm not going to lie, it's deeply satisfying to fit most of my gear in the trunk of my tiny Mazda2, if not, with a few seats folded down. Rarely do I have to load a grip truck anymore, or spend time rangling banded 2/0 cables to a generator around the block. When shooting, my camera hangs on a padded camera strap which actually feels like a soft hug, an inescapably huge difference from the weight of a steadicam.
The comforts extend past just the limitations of the physical equipment though. I was required to shoot motion picture film during school, and it taught me to create the perfect image "in camera". I was amazed by the power of a digital intermediate, but honestly, video color correction feels like the Kid Pix version of Photoshop. Uneven skin tones? Dust on the product? Distracting reflection of a light? Light actually in the shot? These are actual problems in video production, but not in photography. I'm kidding of course, but I honestly had no idea what kind of murder you could get away with in Photoshop. I was dumb-founded when I was shown the content-aware fill tool just a few months ago. That really does seem too easy.
3. More Competition
I'll admit, I was a 5D MKII hater when it came to market in 2008. I had just started film school and was shooting on Super 16mm in the first 2 years, so seeing the trendingly shallow imaged videos of my later classmates who were lucky enough to own the 5D made me resent them. My time in film school was spent trying to argue my use of light against their "depthless-ness", but when I graduated and moved back home, I realized that I wasn't producing my best work. I was no longer competing against my peers.
I now apologize for all the stress I caused in school, but at the same time, I realize how that competition forced me to pick my battles. I used my strengths and buried my weaknesses. While I was working up the ladder in my local film industry I was practicing more of the same, albeit, in a very technical craft in camera assisting. Switching my focus to photography has put me in direct competition with a much larger pool of photographers in my area, and while we don't say it face to face, we are very much aware. I have a similar stress as I did in school, but it's a healthy competition again and I feel that my personal creative work has greatly improved because of it.
4. Video isn't Leaving
Working in a camera rental house, I saw first hand how often photographers were being asked to shoot video. Even in a smaller city like Portland, OR, the rentals were coming in weekly. I knew that if I became a photographer, I was eventually going to be asked to shoot video at some point. Luckily, I do really enjoy the process and could use my background in the film industry as a selling point for my own business. I knew that if I had a client with a "do you think you can do this?" request, I could use this point to further prove how qualified I was for the job.
It was a bit of a surprise, but the job that made me quit my rental house job was actually one of these situations. "We also want to shoot video banners for the website. Can you do that?" I touchdown-danced through the rest of the phone call.
This is the big one. Photography has allowed me to be more spontaneous with my work. If I have a fun idea that I want to try, I can usually handle a shoot by myself or with one other person, using gear that I already own. For the most part, I don't have to find a crew or rent additional equipment, which was always a barrier with film. If I don't have the resources to find a pristine location or subject, I can usually fix that in Photoshop. If I want to create an image that is impossible to capture in real life, then I can composite the image myself. Don't get me wrong, I would love to be able to work with my friends more often, but time is money and I can't rob them of that.
This accessibility extends to clients as well. From my experience, taking on a photo shoot is generally cheaper, faster, easier to manage, and more flexible than creating a video. There is less risk involved so I can imagine that it's a much easier pill to swallow for a client. Because of this, I've found it easier to create new working relationships as a photographer. Clients seem to be more open to collaborating on photo shoots, and have a better time understanding the needs to hire crew, such as a "photo assistant" over a "swing". There is less time educating the client on the needs of the project, because everybody basically understands how a successful photo is made.
This switch almost felt inevitable. I went to film school (Brooks Institute of Photography...) with the dreams of working in feature films as a cinematographer. I thought, "What an admirable career that would be," but I quickly realized that within the resources of school, that wasn't going to happen any time soon. I came to enjoy shooting shorter projects, short films and music videos, where I could play and experiment more often. I liked the faster pace but I felt like the time frame of those projects limited their quality. I wanted to work in a more quickly produced medium, where their was a greater focus on the quality of imagery. This led to commercials. This was where my head was at for the longest time and it satisfied my perfectionist qualities. I've simply taken this path to the extreme now—single frame images.
As I've mentioned, my goal is not to abandon the film industry. I'm simply taking a personal detour to become more spontaneous, hone my craft in a new medium, build new relationships, and pursue new career experiences. I still love shooting video, will keep working in video production if I have the free time, and will keep creating video work of my own. From here on out though, I will not be actively seeking out that kind of work.
I am marketing myself as a still life photographer and director.
Writing this has helped me realize how ABSOLUTELY SELFISH my new career path actually is, but I've made the commitment to personal growth and I'm sticking to my guns. I plan to regularly update this blog with what I learn and discover, so that I may share knowledge in the same way so many did with me. Thanks to all who have helped me get to this point. I owe you guys.