Friday, February 26, 2010

I am a Mentor

A site that I frequent that I don't think many of my colleagues do, is DeviantART. It has a bit of a bad reputation for being drama central, and I have to admit I have seen the drama on there; but it has never effected me. I tend to stay to my own little crowd, and now that I've learned I keep some of my more controversial opinions to myself, and it works well. So if you do not use DeviantART at all, perhaps give it a try. You can find me on there at the following link:

That being said, I recently joined a group on there called The Photography Union. DeviantART is saturated with groups for photography, but this one stands out from the crowd because it's not simply promoting the work of photographers, it's striving to promote the growth of photographers, and to share their finest photographs. Certainly, this doesn't mean they are only sharing professional-quality work, but they are sharing what they feel shows that they have a diverse community of photographers willing to teach, and to learn.

What got me the most though, was that since they want to promote learning so much, they started a Mentor Project. Now, the one currently going on is phase two, meaning there was one before this! So I have high hopes that there will be more after this as well.

Upon seeing this I immediately signed up as a mentor, and I did so for a few reasons.

The first, and biggest one, is that I love teaching. I always thought I'd hate teaching because it'd be too monotonous, but I've proven myself otherwise when it comes to photography. I love seeing how my simple comments and suggestions help those who are looking for such critiques grow, and improve. I love sharing my knowledge with others, and seeing how their creativity interprets it. And I love helping create a mind primed with the tools it needs to do the best it can out there in the artistic world. I know I'm not going to be able to teach someone everything, but to know I am playing a part, even a small one, in the process someone goes through to discover who they are as a photographer gives me great elation. There's nothing like it.

I also noticed that the group had tons of people wanting to have a mentor, and not enough mentors to go around! So even if there was someone I would have loved to learn from, there were just too many trainees, and so I decided to fill in a mentor position. I wouldn't trade it for the world.

Being a mentor is also going to help me see if my ways of teaching are effective or not. If I ever decide to do this in a classroom setting, I need to know. And I'm a firm believer that if you can teach it over the internet, you can probably teach it in a classroom.

Those are my big reasons, but I have many various little ones as well that I won't bore you with here.

Now, I'm also aware that I am not the greatest photographer out there, but I do have knowledge that others can use. So no matter what, I have something to bring to the table, and to teach, and that's exactly what I'm doing.

Meet my trainee, CrossMyHeart13. He has nothing but a point-and-shoot, passion, and an eager mind. But, he asked me to teach him anything, and we decided on fine art black and white photography. He hasn't been shooting long, but he has the eye and the heart, and so I'm enjoying working with him.

The first assignment I gave him to take care of, as per the mentor project details, was to capture the six elements of b+w photography. I learned these back in my High School photography class, and I never forgot them.

They are:

Here is what my trainee came up with, not all on his first try, but overall:

Please click on it to see the full view.

I'm very proud of him, and am excited to see where we can take it from here! Assignment two is going to cover lighting, and how it can affect the mood of a photograph.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Possible Project 52

I don't know how many of you out there reading this right now follow Project 365, so I'll explain what it is before I even get in to the meet and potatoes of this blog entry.

Project 365 is something photographers (to my knowledge)started doing. Basically, it involves taking a photo every single day for a year--hence the 365. Some photographers do great with this project, and hardly miss a day. They enjoy it, grow from it, and have a blast. Other photographers, however, find that it becomes a chore. They flounder and get behind, or they loose the passion for photography. It becomes, for them, a project where they're just taking a photograph for the sake of doing so. So depending on the type of person you are, this is either a really great project, or a really poor project.

There are tons of other 365 projects that stemmed from this as well, but I'm not going to get into those.

Me, personally, would never manage a Project 365. I am the kind of person that gets distracted too easily if I'm not on a job of some sort, and I know I'd constantly be missing days. That, and sometimes I am just not inspired to photograph anything. Usually my Idea Book can help me out, but I don't want to have to rely on that anymore than necessary.

Still, doing a project like this would be nice. And so as I was following my Twitter feeds, my good friend Scott Wood (Twitter) posted a new photo, with a tag of #IR52.

IR52 huh?

So he was doing a Project 52 instead of a Project 365, it would seem, and hey, that's not too bad. Asking him about it, he decided this was just a better fit for him.

And heck, it's a better fit for me, too.

Project 52 works like 365, only instead of taking a photo every day, you aim for one photo a week. You're still photographing consistently, but you're not burning yourself out in the process. This is also a far better idea for me, since hey, I already know I'm not disciplined enough for Project 365.

Still, I'm not entirely sure. I'm still hunting around for a stable place in this economy, and that does take priority over photography right now. Bills have to be paid.

But, just in case things do stabilize soon and I can make time for a Project 52, I have given myself the first push!

I wasn't totally in a photographic mood this evening, but I did get some beautiful roses for Valentine's Day that weren't dead yet. I'd been meaning to photograph them for a while, but I kept letting other things get in the way from the thirty minutes it'd take to set up and photograph them. Tonight finally I kicked myself in the butt and took some photos of them.

This is my end result:

To see it larger, please visit my website:
This photo would be found in the Fine Art gallery.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Bellydance Show

All right! The belly dancers put on a fantastic show last night, and I secured some good imagery from it! Sadly, I'm still having issues with my D200, so the photos did not come out to the quality I would have liked. I have also come to the conclusion that if I am going to continue pursuing event photography, I am going to need to save up for either a faster lens, or a very nice flash unit.

The biggest issue I faced last night, aside from the camera issues (the sensor is not what it's supposed to be), was the stage lighting. It wasn't all that great, but if I had had a lens that could handle it, it would have been fine. But alas, I don't have a lens like that, and on-camera flash is pretty much a no-no. Which, I had to use because I also don't have a really nice flash... yet.

My favourite photos though, were the portraits I did before hand. I am definitely stronger at portrait photography than I am with event photography, and I know this. The photos I captured were beautiful partly because of me, but mostly because of the make-up and hair my sister did for them. Not only is she a wonderful performer, she has a talent for cosmetology like no other I have ever seen before. At least not in person.

In the future (hopefully near) I should be photographing the entire tribe of these girls in a portrait setting, rather than an event. When that happens you will have a slew of belly dancers to look at, and all of them are gorgeous in their own way.

Belly dance truly is, and always will be, a very feminine dance. And since I am one who loves femininity for the softness and curves (I'm not a very linear person), this is an opportunity for photos that I will always try not to miss.

So, without further rambling, here are three images from the event. The first two are portraits, and the last is one of the whole tribe.

To see larger photos, please be sure to visit my website!

Saturday, February 13, 2010

The Professional Image

Today, I'm going to be attending an event at a college to do some photos of Belly Dancers, from the Tribe of Medusa. Of course, since my younger sister and a friend of mine (both dancers) are preparing themselves here at my home I also get some nice portraits before hand, but still. What came to mind was how I should dress for the show.

I know most of the dancers that will be performing, and went to school with most of them too. So you could say that we're fairly acquainted and know each others particular habits when it comes to how we dress for different occasions. Four years ago back in High School, I'd probably be painting my nails some odd colour (like purple or blue, or hey, both), pulling my hair back in some crazy style, and wearing an outfit you'd only expect on someone coming out of a store like Hot Topic, or that caters to a more Indie scene.

My first thoughts, in fact, were to maybe paint my nails, because I haven't done so recently. And I was thinking some odd colour, but I'm stopping myself; and for good reason.

I'm not a student in High School anymore. I can't pass my appearance off to my age. I am attending this event not simply as a guest, but as a professional photographer. As such, I need to dress and act the part, and to me this is probably what most professional artists overlook the most; especially if they're young.

While I'm only twenty years old, I have parents who have instilled the professional attitude in me. And so I'd like to take a moment to share these musings with everyone, so that hopefully others out there who are looking to be professionals in a field don't make fashion faux-pas that lose them work they might have otherwise gained.

The biggest thing and most difficult thing that one must do, is put themselves in someone else's shoes. And not just anyone either, they must look at things as their potential clients would.

Sure, if you're looking to be a garage band photographer and help out up-and-coming rock stars, you don't need to look like a million dollars. Those torn jeans and funky shirt will be good. Throw on your Converse and get out there. But chances are you don't want that.

So instead, you must look at it from a mother's view, or an instructor's, or the CEO of a company looking for PR shots--anyone really. And these people are judgmental and if that first impression--your appearance--doesn't meet their standards, they'll talk to someone else. Even if you have more skill and better creativity, if the guy down the road looks more friendly and professional, that's where they'll go. So if you're at an event, people are going to target the person they're most comfortable around.

This being the case, the big things to remember are as follows:
1. Iron any blouses or dress shirts, and pants if necessary. It's a pain in the butt to do, but it pays off.
2. Don't wear a T-Shirt with a slogan or something on it. Pick something business-casual, if you don't want to wear dressier clothes.
3. Jeans are a no-no unless they're more of a dress-pants look. Especially if they're ripped! If it's a more casual event you might get away with simple blue jeans and a nice shirt, but it's more professional to wear black slacks.
4. This one is for the guys: PULL UP YOUR PANTS. No client is interested in your boxers.
5. This one is for the girls: TONE DOWN THE MAKE UP. Trust me, you do not need to cake your face to look presentable. Leave it at natural tones, done lightly, and a little bit of mascara and eyeliner. Clients don't want to hire raccoons or powder-jars.
6. If you're wearing cologne or perfume, pick something light and don't wear a lot! Believe it or not, you will offend people if you smell so strongly that it's overpowering.
7. This is for the guys: You need to shave! Or, if you wear a beard or goatee, trim it up! Make it look decent.
8. Don't wear sandals/sneakers! Your average shoes just don't look good. If you must wear sneakers, pick some nice white or black ones. Simple really is better hear.
9. This is for the girls: Trim up your nails! And if you paint them, pick a non-offensive colour such as pink or beige. Believe it or not, people will notice your hands, especially if you're handing off a business card.
10. The biggest one of all, which I wish didn't have to be said but needs it anyways; BRUSH YOUR TEETH. I have been in group interviews before and next to people who haven't brushed and their breath stinks. Believe me, this is a big turn off and there are people out there who need the reminder.

So that's it on dressing, what about attitude? Attitude is the second thing you need to complete your image.

Most importantly, and this probably goes without saying, smile! Smiles are warm and friendly, and it will get people to come over and talk to you.

When you shake hands, do so firmly. Your handshakes says a lot about you, and I'm proud to say that I have been complimented on mine more than once. My most prideful one came from a veteran though. That was a true honor. But people do remember a good handshake. If you need help, ask someone to practice with you. Most men have great handshakes!

Another big thing is how you carry yourself. Walk with your head up looking straight ahead, and not at your feet. Don't slouch either, or stand with your hands in your pockets. That shows that you're not interested! When you talk to someone, make eye contact. If you have trouble with this, look at their nose. Believe it or not, people can't tell if you're looking them in the eye or at their nose most times, unless they're watching for that.

Have a greeting ready too, and at events go ahead and introduce yourself to people. This way you get the opportunity to pass off a business card, and maybe receive one from someone whose services would be helpful to you.

This should go without saying, but I know it needs mention--don't curse when you speak. Eliminate those nasty words from your vocabulary, because it's going to make you seem very unprofessional and people won't want to work with you. It's one thing if you're hanging out with friends chatting and you drop the f-bomb, but a potential client will see this as a huge turn off! So while you're dealing with the public, just wipe them right out of your repertoire of words.

Along that note, also keep your personal life personal. No one wants to know that your assistant is actually unpaid and your boyfriend. And they don't need to know. Let them believe that he's making good money to be standing at your side carrying the extra lenses and holding your reflector or slave flash up. If it's not entirely relevant, the best policy is to say nothing.

I've had to speak with my friends more than once about these things when I'm a photographer in public while they're around, because while I might not bring personal things up, they have. It's not professional and you don't want to be known for those kinds of things.

The most important thing though, is to have fun. If you're having fun, then you will have a more honest smile and people will be far more likely to chat with you.

So I hope that this has helped at least one person out there, and that the tips were easy to understand. If you think I forgot something important, then leave me a comment! I read all of them, and will publish the appropriate ones for others to read too.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Website Updates

Yikes, my website and blog are long-since overdue for some updates! This blog desperately needed a new (and more cheerful) entry, and my website just plain needed some changes.

To start with, I have been studying SEO (Search Engine Optimization) over the past few months, and as I discovered new tips I've been slowly integrating them into my website. So far, I seem to be getting a few more hits a month because of it, and it's been steadily increasing. Basically, I'm adding keywords that I'd like to be targeted for into my information. Not only does this help to improve my search rankings, but it should also help inform potential clients about me as well.

For example, what used to read:

"Hello, and welcome to Photographic Phantasy! I hope that you enjoy my galleries of photographs, and perhaps even request photography from me. I have a lot of great services to offer you! Mostly I do portrait and pet photography, but I can do commercial as well! If you have any questions, don't be afraid to ask! I'm always willing to answer any questions about things you might be unsure of."

Now reads:

"Hello, and welcome to Photographic Phantasy! My specialty lies in people and pet portrait photography, but I am also skilled in more commercial areas as well. Along with my traveling studio, I can work at any location--indoors or outdoors, or even in your own home! I am currently located in Saratoga County, New York State. I hope that you enjoy my photography, and I look forward to working with you! "

I changed it for two reasons.

1. This sounds a bit more professional, and is much more informative about what I do. And it doesn't sound like I'm begging anymore. I really have to remember not to make site updates at 5am and tired, which is how the begging sound came about the first time. At that point, I thought it might sound appealing, but it does not.

2. By including "people and pet portrait photography", Google can now pick up on that phrase after their robots crawl my site, and by including "Saratoga County, New York State", Google can add a location to the search. Informative keywords for both potential clients and search engines.

I also went through my services section, and reworded things. This has to do a bit with marketing ideals, and with trying to appeal to my audience. I was taught that a good photographer never shares their pricing on their website, and so for a long time I didn't include prices. However, I'm in an area that doesn't lend well to that tactic, because people here are on a budget of both time and money. They don't have the time to be emailing me about how much I am going to cost them, and they don't have the money to afford someone expensive; which they might think I am if I don't include some form of pricing on my website. As such, I've included the very basics of pricing, just to give people an idea. This helps put me in the running with my local competition, I'll only get serious inquiries most likely, and people won't feel like I'm miles out of their budget.

On the topic of contacting me, I finally added a quick form for people to use as well. It's nothing special; but since most people don't want to take the time to open up their email to send you something, not to mention most people wouldn't know what to say anyways, this should be more client-friendly. All I ask for is a name, email address, and phone number (which is optional), and then I give them a drop-down menu to select a main subject. Below all this is a final text field that will let them tell me any additional information they might want to, and voila, pressing the send button will email me all that information.

Personally, I'm annoyed by these kinds of forms, but I know I'm also in the minority. And the big thing some website creators forget is that the website isn't necessarily for yourself, it's to reach out to a specific audience. So instead of catering to your own needs, you have to cater to theirs.

In the future, I'm going to be adding a site map to the bottom of my website to make it just a bit more user-friendly as well, and rework some of the links. But since what I've done today has taken a few hours already, I'm going to give it a rest and work on some actual photography--since that has also been lacking lately.

So please take a look at my website and let me know what you think!

Saturday, February 6, 2010

In Memory of my Grandfather

I haven't been doing much in the way of photography as of late, and that's not good. Unfortunately for myself, the winter months seem to be my biggest downfall in my passion, because year after year I notice that I tend to be behind the lens less when there is snow on the ground and no leaves on the trees.

This year was a bit different however. Lately I have had a string of bad luck, between the economy, car troubles, and health issues.

All of that is just water under the bridge though to this past week.

Monday, February the 1st, I lost my beloved grandfather to Progressive Supranuclear Palsey. It's been ten years in the making, and it was time for him to go, but it hurt nonetheless. Sad to say, but it was the spark for my first photo of 2010, which is in memorial to a man who gave his community a great service of more than 30 years spent in his local fire department.

I suppose the photograph that I created is probably a way for me to grieve, as well. Someday I will probably have it printed and framed, but that will depend on if I have the proper place to hang it. I am not sure if it's something my widowed grandmother would wish to hang in her home or not. But I feel that it's too soon to ask.

While the hat in this photo did not belong to my grandfather (it is my father's), it is nonetheless symbolic of who he was in life. The rose came from a bouquet that was sent to the family.

I cannot express in words what all these things mean to my family, but I hope that the photo conveys some of what we all feel towards my late grandfather.

And of course, if you'd like to see a larger version, please visit my website. You'll find it under the Fine Art gallery.