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Digital Isn’t Enough

This quote came up in my Facebook feed the other day and it struck me how true, and also how disguised, it is. Most people don’t take out the “good camera” any more than they take out the good china – we all use our smartphones to document the little moments that we go through with friends and family. Those pictures just live there on our phones and maybe get uploaded to Facebook. In theory, they live in the cloud forever, but someday Facebook will vanish (just like Friendster LiveJournal MySpace did) and what happens then?

It’s really important that all those memories are not, as Roy Batty says, “lost… like tears in rain,” but exist in the world. They should always exist and be able to be passed on so we leave a legacy behind that is more than just digital noise. For the really important moments I can’t recommend having a professional photographer and great, archival products any more highly (but may be a little biased about that). But for those every day moments that live on your smartphone, I have two recommendations for you:

1. Mpix Tap-to-Print App: From Mpix (the photo printing lab we recommend), this app lets you go through the photos kept on your phone and easily order them in small print sizes. You can collage them or scrapbook them or put them in a box that gets forgotten about and five years later when you move you find it in your closet and open it and wow! you used to do some crazy things or whatever.

2. Groovebook: I saw this product on Shark Tank and thought it was a great idea for people who take a lot of photos. What’s easier than just getting a book every month with the photos from your phone? For the prolific iPhoneographer this is great because you can just line them up on a shelf and you have a walk though your history sitting right there.

Whatever solution (these or any other) you choose, I hope you will make your memories physical so that once they are irretrievably lost in the constant feed of digital information, we can all pick up something real and remember.

P.S. This video!

LOST MEMORIES (French, English Subtitles) from Francois Ferracci on Vimeo.

Overcoming “Someday” | “Limitations”

As a boudoir photographer, and speaking for pretty much all of us, something we hear pretty often is “I’ll schedule a session when,” which is usually followed by something like “I lose ten pounds.” Of course, we never hear back from that person. I bet that sometimes it’s a face-saving brush-off, sure, but there are plenty of women who mean it. Who definitely plan to come in “when.”

Brené Brown mentions that shame, for women, is often tied to body image. That’s understandable – most marketing is built on the premise that only those who are young and attractive, with perfect bodies and flawless skin, are important. It’s not too often an ad includes anyone over size 6 (which most of America is) or over 40 (where most of the disposable income is). And on top of that social climate, the political climate is hardly better, with the radical notion of equal pay still being, you know, radical!

Everyone feels that shame, though. I wrote that writing about why I photograph as I do is one of the hardest things. Getting vulnerable enough with myself (and all of you) to really lay bare the soul of my work was so hard and took months. But every woman I photograph has no problem, and neither do I, writing out the long list of what we dislike about ourselves. Sometimes it’s ten pounds (or more), or breasts too small or too big or too saggy, and the same thing with bottoms. For some of us it’s our unruly curly hair, and for others it’s boring straight hair. The only constant in all of this is that everyone does it.

So we put things off until “someday, when….”

Of course, someday rarely arrives, does it? We have the best intentions, we make resolutions, we buy gym memberships, we know how to eat better and exercise, but something comes up. It just ends up easier to buy a pizza than it is to cook. Running gets put off when there’s work to be done, and that ten pounds I need to lose just sits there mocking me. Well, a lot more than ten in my case, but no matter. The problem is: “someday” never comes, because life gets in the way.

I think of John Green’s The Fault In Our Stars, a book which makes me cry, every time, and not the pretty kind of crying. It reminds me how few chances we have for somedays. I feel a lot of the time like I waste them. I’m busy rather than productive. I try to numb all the uncertainty away with television or food or whatever, and that just numbs everything. But, god that uncertainty! The risk – who knows if we took a chance what would happen. If we sit in front of a camera with those ten pounds, won’t we just see how horrible we are? How badly we match against the image in our heads of perfect? All those lies we carry around…

I have a client and friend. I have photographed her a lot. I photographed her wedding, boudoir pictures, three times nudes. She has numerous prints, hanging on her walls, of her looking amazing. But when she comes in, she doesn’t trust it. She sits there and talks about how she needs to lose ten pounds and get back to the gym. And she’s crazy. She’s beautiful. But she’s carrying around the same track in her head with the same message of shame. The only difference is that she does get in front of the camera which is a step in the right direction.

I’m working on it, too. After senior pictures, I’ve had wedding pictures, and whatever cell phone pictures were taken at Christmas. That’s it. I hate looking at myself in pictures – it’s one reason I got behind the camera. So yeah, the idea of standing, as you are, having your picture taken in your underwear, or in nothing… that is a lot of vulnerability.

The good news is that you are enough now. You are beautiful. There is no “ideal” for you to live up to. There is just you, probably already surrounded by people who love you and who don’t believe you need to change. Someday can be today.

So here’s my promise to you: if you make “someday” today, we will make beautiful art together. But if you see the images and you aren’t thrilled, we will do it again in six months. And if you’re not thrilled then, we’ll do it again. We’ll do it until we get it right. We’ll do it until you are thrilled to see yourself in pictures.

Five steps to being a better… whatever | Étude #1 (Figure and Chain)

Ah, the new year. January opens so full of snow and cold, and that’s pretty terrible, but also so full of promise. We start all over with a new set of 365 days (366 this year), resolutions about how to spend them, and maybe even some plans on how to do that.
As a photographer, and I’m sure in any other field, I see so many articles on “How To Be A Better Photographer In 2016” or “10 Tips To Improve Your Photography in 2016” or “Make 2016 Your Best Year Ever.” I mean, these sorts of articles play all year long, but there does seem to be a big rush of them in January, right?

I don’t know if it’s the “American Dream”, or the “on-demand culture,” or “millenial entitlement” that drives this internet publishing frenzy (and real publishing in books like Fast Track Photographer and The $100 Startup), but something is. I’ll leave that to the social scientists figure out.

And you know what, I read those articles. I read those books. I would love to have a four hour work week (hell, even workday!). Somehow, and maybe this is just me, it never seems to work out quite like they say it will.

In The Gifts of Imperfection, shame and vulnerability researcher Brené Brown writes about an experience giving a talk to a room full of business people. Before going on stage the event coordinator tells her “You’re not going to talk about the things that get in the way [of being joyful, e.g. shame]. You’re going to talk about the how-to part. People want how-to. … People want to be comfortable and joyful. That’s all. Keep it comfortable and joyful.”

Now, I don’t know about you, but I know for me, there has never been a time where getting to joy, or getting to success, has ever been comfortable. It’s usually a period of excruciating emotional agony followed by a firm commitment to never do that again. A commitment I don’t usually keep.

Brené Brown ends that story writing:

We don’t want to be uncomfortable. We want a quick and dirty “how-to” for happiness….  Don’t get me wrong, I’d love to skip over the hard stuff, but it just doesn’t work. We don’t change, we don’t grow, and we don’t move forward without the work. If we really want to live a joyful, connected, and meaningful life, we must talk about things that get in the way.

That sounds pretty true to me. For life and every part of living we do. We have to do the hard work, and no tip like “use back button focus” is going to make much of a difference. But, as I ask my therapist every time I see her, “Okay, great. Now how do I do that?” Here’s my answer.

Some people really like lists. I like lists. I love being able to check something off and say “done!” In that spirit, here’s my advice on how to become a better photographer. Or writer. Or graphic designer. Or friend, or spouse, or parent. Whatever.

How to Be a Better (Whatever) in Five Steps

  1. Study the work of people you admire. There are thousands of years of history and there is no point and no glory in reinventing the wheel. Learning from the experience of other people is the best time-saver ever.
  2. Put what you’ve learned into practice. As much as I would like to say that it’s possible to become really good without ever actually doing anything, it just isn’t. Sometimes I have to remind myself to stop watching videos and actually make portraits, because that’s where the real improvement happens. In doing.
  3. Study the work you just did. It’s hard to look at your own work or your own behavior and ask “what can I do better?” Nobody wants to think they do things less than perfectly. But we do. We’re human, and imperfect, and expecting more than that is just a little bit crazy. (And it took months of therapy for me to accept that!)
  4. Identify specific changes and improvements you want to make. We all want to get better (at least, I hope so). But we can’t get better if that is our goal. We need to look specifically at small behaviors and try to improve them one by one. There’s no shortcut. But lots of little changes = big change.
  5. Repeat. Forever. Every time this cycle comes around, you’re going to learn new things about what you admire. You’re going to find new insights into your own practice. You’re going to find new things to work on. And when you compare yourself the you of the day before, the week before, they year before, you’ll be able to see how far you’ve come in your process of becoming a better… everything.

Fundamental Attribution Error

In a distant village, a long time ago, there lived six blind men. One day the villagers announced, “Hey, there is an elephant in the village today.”

They had never seen or felt an elephant before and so decided, “Even though we would not be able to see it, let us go and feel it anyway.” And thus they went down to the village to touch and feel the elephant to learn what animal this was and they described it as follows:

“Hey, the elephant is a pillar,” said the first man who touched his leg.

“Oh, no! it is like a rope,” argued the second after touching  the tail.

“Oh, no! it is like a thick branch of a tree,” the third man spouted after touching the trunk.

“It is like a big hand fan” said the fourth man feeling the ear.

“It is like a huge wall,” sounded the fifth man who groped the belly .

“It is like a solid pipe,” Said the sixth man with the tuskin his hand.

They all fell into heated argument as to who was right in describing the big beast, all sticking to their own perception. A wise sage happened to hear the argument, stopped and asked them “What is the matter?” They said, “We cannot agree to what the elephant is like.”

The wise man then calmly said, “Each one of you is correct; and each one of you is wrong. Because each one of you had only touched a part of the elephant’s body. Thus you only have a partial view of the animal. If you put your partial views together, you will get an idea of what an elephant looks like.”

-Rumi

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Face Of A Stranger 1

We wear the mask that grins and lies,
It hides our cheeks and shades our eyes,—
This debt we pay to human guile;
With torn and bleeding hearts we smile,
And mouth with myriad subtleties.

Why should the world be over-wise,
In counting all our tears and sighs?
Nay, let them only see us, while
We wear the mask.

We smile, but, O great Christ, our cries
To thee from tortured souls arise.
We sing, but oh the clay is vile
Beneath our feet, and long the mile;
But let the world dream otherwise,
We wear the mask!

-Paul Laurence Dunbar

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Getting in touch with why | “Victory”

You  might think , when it comes to writing, the easiest thing in the world would be to write about yourself. I mean, you live with yourself all the time. You are literally in your own head 100% of the time.

But it isn’t.

It’s one of the hardest things to write about.

I couldn’t count how many times I watched Simon Sinek’s TEDx talk – How Great Leaders Inspire Action. I read his book, Start With Why. I wrote dozens of pages of notes and drafts, only to tear them up in frustration. Or, rather, I pressed delete a lot since I did it digitally, but you get the point. I’m a literate person. I’m a self-aware person. There are tons of websites telling you how to write this stupid three paragraph blurb, these stupid three paragraphs that most people get wrong.

An “About” page isn’t about me. No one cares if I have three cats and play the ukulele (badly). No one cares if my favorite food is chinese food. No one really cares what got me into photography. A website has seconds to capture attention, and what really matters to you is what am I trying to say with photography. What I really value.

Simon Sinek is 100% right in saying that people connect based on what they value, what they believe. As an artist, I want people to be connected to my work in a meaningful way. I want them to say this is what I believe, too.

So I had to figure that out.

Have you ever needed to get down to figure out the value you hold most dear? It’s a hard thing to find. We all can say we value things like loyalty and honesty. Some of us value creativity. Some of us value reason. But getting past that first level, past the level with easy names… it’s a tough process. Each time I peeled back one layer, I thought “aha! this is it, this is the thing I value.” A little more digging and it was clear I still had a ways to go.

Layer by layer, slowly peeling back who I am and everything I have experienced. Everything I believe. Everything I desire. Everything I hate. Searching for that common element. The one that can’t be reduced anymore. The one that explains everything else.

The hard part, as an artist, is always feeling like the work I was doing was always a little off the mark. I knew when I picked up the camera, I liked some things. I didn’t like other things. But I didn’t really know why. So my work was unfocused. A bit drab. A bit lacking.

I think the master photographers have understood their why. I think they knew every time they picked up a camera what they were trying to say to the world. What they were trying to say about the world, and about themselves. This is why their work has continued to be relevant, sometimes a hundred years after the exposure was made.

I think most photographers are content to make pretty pictures, and never really understand why they do it. They’re happy to have a picture in a family’s home that people are pleased by. Maybe that’s enough for them.

But I wanted more.

And I did the hard work. I fell down a lot along the way. But I got there. I have a “why”. I have an “About”. And every time I click that shutter, I can explain the purpose behind it. And I feel great about that.

About

I believe that we should never be content: with who we are, with what we have, and with who we are becoming. We must strive to be the most perfect version of ourselves that we can achieve. Society tells us that we have to live within the lines, and that it is shameful and scary outside of them.
The only time to pay attention to lines is when crossing them.
Be who you are. Without shame. Without fear. Without apology. Step beyond the limits and stop listening to the voices, within and without, telling us not to.
Be who you are.
When creating images, we are facing our limits and surpassing them. We constantly strive to be better and each portrait is a marker along the way showing how far we’ve come. I would love for you to be involved in this journey and for you to join me in living as the best version of our selves.