Travel isn't always pretty. It isn't always comfortable. Sometimes it hurts, it even breaks your heart. But that's OK. The journey changes you; it should change you. It leaves marks on your memory, on your consciousness, on your heart, and on your body. You take something with you. Hopefully, you leave something good behind.
After 2 years of Anthony Bourdain's passing, it still seems surreal that he's no longer with us in a time where his wisdom, his perspective and voice would have been greatly appreciated. In spite of that, I stumbled across a quote of his dating back to 2007 from his show No Reservations in which he describes the journey of travel but which also happens to have a strange resemblance to the COVID pandemic we're all experiencing and how we're slowly finding ourselves reaching the end of a new tunnel.
“Sorelle Amore is a well-known photographer, filmmaker, influencer, and savvy businesswoman“ who’s work I initially came across on YouTube. Her “live a life of wonder” personality, her energy and message in all her videos is so contagious that you can’t help feel captivated with her story and then go off and work on yours!
She recently traveled to a country that’s often referred to as one of the best hidden gems for surfing in Central America and which I’ve often referred to as my second home after having lived there for 5 years during my teens: El Salvador!
What I equally love about Sorelle’s video in which she documents her experience is it’s creative direction. Aesthetically it’s beautiful from start to finished in comparison to most vlogs where the only cinematic feel of the video are drone shots and that’s it.
I don’t want to hear about triumphs, successes, and overcoming adversity just to follow the norm. I want to hear stories that are complex and messy; that are both happy and sad, good and bad, all at the same time. The stories I find most interesting, are the ones that make no attempt at reducing or simplifying life.
It’s fascinating to admire people’s accomplishments, especially when there’s no short of seeing people sharing it everywhere but what I can tell you is that we’re more likely to learn from their failures due in part to 3 reasons: people who are willing to show their “complex and messy” stories demonstrates that we all suffer from imposter syndrome regardless of any perfectly crafted social media post. Also, it shows we’re all iterating in public through trial and error and perhaps more importantly, seeing other peoples vulnerabilities makes us relate more to them even though I’m cognizant that all of us have our own unique circumstances that we’ve lived.
It feels weird when people reach out to me for advise based on something they’ve seen me shoot, specifically because I don’t feel that what I do is perfect and yet I realize that seems to be the point. They’re not seeking for perfection. They’re seeking for validation that what they’re working on has the right to be messy as well. The more we share how flawed we are with what people assume we’re perfect at the more you’re indirectly motivating others to continue pursuing their own thing!
Self-education and inspiration nowadays comes in so many forms that you’re likely to become too overwhelmed with deciding where to direct your attention to get it. If I’m not consumed in a physical book, I’m digesting one via Audible, catching a talk on YouTube or reading articles on Medium and on top of all that I’m also an avid podcast listener.
Sometimes I’ve gone a little too crazy subscribing to too many podcast that it’s felt more like a badge of honor to say I’m subscribed to this and that but I’ve failed to fully commit to listening to every single episode. Luckily now I’ve kept my podcast subscription to a minimum in view that the majority of them are typically lengthy but one that’s short but packed with so much goodness that I truly enjoy has been one called A Beautiful Anarchy hosted by photographer and author David duChemin. I owned 3 of his books (Within the Frame, VisonMongers and How to Feed a Starving Artist) and I’ve been a long time fan of his conversational writing style as well as his travel and portrait photography work.
In his own words regarding his podcast:
A Beautiful Anarchy is a heart-felt kick-in-the-pants podcast for everyday creators and anyone who's ever mud-wrestled with their muse.
I hope that rather than panic and try to rush back to normalcy, people will reflect on what it is we should leave behind, rather than resume.
As the Coronavirus continues to escalate in the US, there's been a lot of uncertainty with practically everything we've ever actively engaged in. It sucks but it's also given me the breathing room to reconsider routines I would have never have considered giving up because its enriched me both physically and mentally. I love working out. It's ingrained in me already. I've always been an active person. Society has already dictated that if you attend a gym on a regular basis, it's because you're focused on your health, disciplined with your body and are likely to stay committed to other aspects of your life that others wouldn't think twice in quitting the moment it becomes a grind.
But once things get back to "normal", what will attending a gym look like? Who knows and I don't think I want to be around to figure it out which is why I made the conscious decision to cancel my L.A Fitness membership. Within the past 2 weeks I began the process of converting my home office into a mini home gym. Will I have less equipment at my disposal? I sure will be if there's anything I've learned from self-educating and gleaning advise from personal trainers whom I've become acquaintances with during shoots here in New York is that you don't need much to continue mastering the fundamentals. Your “gym” isn’t the reason for your progress. YOU ARE!
Yes I am going to miss the "me time" I had as I commuted to the gym to practically be alone but I'm no longer dwelling on how things "use to be" because that ship as sailed and rather than attempt to find ways to board it once again, I've become content with exploring alternatives and boarding a new ship that will allow me to dedicate time to staying committed and healthy which is ultimately the end goal.
If there’s one aspect quarantine life has shown me is that there’s a wide orbit of things you’ll refrain from wanting to do because the results may not come close to what what you’re use to. There’s limitations. The quality may be different. Heck, the actual process of doing this new thing may require a different side of you that you probably haven’t developed yet and on top of that the people you may ask to assist you with it might consider you crazy. In the end what’s mostly permeating through my mind is how can one explore ways to continuing being creative during times where it seems like there’s not much to work with.
This is exactly how I felt about FaceTime photo shoots. I kept seeing photographers experimenting with it on Instagram, I scoffed and was hesitant because it sounded gimmicky. The photos were either too grainy grotesque or not as sharp due to unsuitable lighting. As a creative there’s always a level of satisfaction we’re willing to accept prior to sharing anything, so when you don’t feel your expectations will be met you’re less likely to consider new options to express yourself in anyway. Yes, I understand tools don’t matter but how we’re accustom to using them *does* in during these times until we adapt to something else. That adaption has been FaceTime shoots for some photographers.
Eventually I came around to the reality that what we consider “normal” shoots may not be in the cards anytime soon. Time continued to pass seeing my camera neatly tucked in my backpack day after day gave me this anxiety that made me feel less like myself.
I haven’t been at my day job for over a month and although I’m very appreciate that the company has continue to compensate me during these times, when I’m not at work, photography is what I occupy myself with and when you take both of those elements away you’re left gasping for creative air.
Lockdown in general sounds like a great time to be productive and when you combine that with my difficulty with being idle you get this great combination to experiment with FaceTime shoots which is what I did after I figured out technical aspect.
Here’s my FaceTime shooting process along with observations:
1. I connected with the person via FaceTime on the iPad Mini 5. I experimented shooting directly at the screen as I provided creative direction live but there were instances when the connection wasn’t always the best. The poor connection rendered a pixelate image of the subject on the iPad Mini and that’s not appealing to shoot.
To compensate, I discovered that while I did see them pixelated that wasn’t the case once I actually took screenshots within FaceTime. In the Camera Roll the screenshot in terms of sharpness was way better than I expected considering it’s never going to compare to the experience of being with someone in person. This my friend is a reality you have to accept. The “quality” may not be perfect but that’s not what you’re aiming for. The purpose of all of this is for you to work within these social distancing limitations and ultimately see yourself in the work you produce from it because your vision is yours and not defined by the parameters you’re working with.
I personally find it appealing that 5 years from now I will look back and wonder why a particular set of photos taken in 2020 seem different than anything else I’ve shot before. I’ll vividly recall that this pandemic forced us to explore new avenues to continue creating as we shedded this desire for everything to always be perfect.
2. Once I’m done with the shoot, I import all the photos into Lightroom CC, select the best ones, I display them unedited in full screen mode on the iPad Mini and proceed to photographing them with my Sony A7RII so that I at least have a somewhat higher resolution file to work with which I eventually import and color correct in Lightroom Classic. That’s it!
FaceTiming has never been my primary means of catching up with anyone and now the ease of jumping on a call without any self-consciousness has been yet another growth moment for me in these times. Continuing to connect with people via FaceTime should be seen as a way of planting seeds for future shoots once we’re able to continue working the way we always have in the past.
To cull your photos in photography is the process of sorting out the keepers from the ones that didn’t meet your visual mark. It’s the process of refining your initial vision for a shoot which to me is exciting because you get to relive experiences that made you giddy as you were capturing them.
When we’re hired for a job, it’s not just solely for our technical ability to capture something artistic but also for our ability to edit. Far too often it’s overwhelming in seeing photographers share an enormous amount of photos from a shoot. Perhaps more photos that we as audience are able to digest.
Like everything else in life, there has to be a nice balance. It’s difficult to imagine a photographer that doesn’t get excited about an epic travel adventure or a studio shoot that’s allowed them to flex their creative vision. It’s normal for us to want to show our work but how you present the photos from a shoot and the diversity of them is just as important. We don’t need to see 8 photographs of a subject that when placed alongside each other you can’t even tell them apart. More is not always better, especially in these scenarios.
When I edit photos from a shoot, there’s a tons of images I would love to publish on the website but when I look at feature articles within publications I admire such as Men’s Health, Self Magazine or even Travel & Leisure, you’ll never see everything completely laid out. By the time you see those photos you love in a magazine, a meticulous process of selecting the best ones has already happened since there’s still text to consider.
What leads photographers to overshare? It could be that we’re not too confident yet in determining what we feel our best work is yet so to compensate we end up sharing everything and when you do that you’re ultimately leaving it up to the audience to decide for you.
I use to be guilty of this myself. When I overshoot someone, it’s merely to secure options to work with while I ultimately select the best ones later and not because my intention is to show you everything.
More is not always better. Instead, try to aim for a more concise tightly edited body of work. I know a lot of times we want to believe each and every frame we take is profound in its own way but that won’t always be the case. In fact, I always like to joke around that if at any time any of my work looks “good” it’s because I haven’t shown you “all the bad stuff I’ve photographed.”
We can’t all be nurses, doctors, and key agents on the frontlines of this battle, but we still have a role to play. We should not be ashamed to deploy whatever skills we have in the service of making ourselves and those around us feel better in difficult times.
It's too easy during these times to feel that if what you do for a living doesn't directly involve saving people's lives then suddenly our independent creative profession seems less important. Who's gonna care? Will people pay attention? I know I thought all this for a moment considering we still have to respect social distancing norms. At the moment one could actually do 2 things: Do nothing and mourn for how things use to be or adjust to discover creative ways in which we can continue to service people in ways we've never considered before.
I'll admit I initially scoffed at the concept of people pulling off FaceTime Portraits in lieu that it sounded gimmicky but after some consideration I realize that while it my not necessarily bring in the monetary compensation that one would from a conventional shoot, I've been blown away how pleased, excited and embracing my subjects have been to appreciate us creative working with what we have considering our circumstances. Making people feel good while doing our work is good enough reason to continue regardless if we're not a doctor, nurse, etc. Embrace what you bring to the table, don't be ashamed and be confident that there's value in what you do!
Networking is an essential skill to cultivate as a creative. It applies whether you’re a full time freelancer or someone like myself who currently maintains a day job and side hustles with photography. While nothing beats meeting people face to face, I recently found myself evaluating on who I reached out to in the past based on how I thought it was suppose to be.
What comes to mind when you think of networking is the mentality of chasing leads to secure the next big gig but that’s not I wanted to talk about. Instead, I wanted to reference this practice of sustaining relationships not just with like-minded individuals within your field but also with people outside of it who broaden our perspective in our craft, the industry and in life.
Back when Instagram meetups were a thing, I easily found myself in numerous coffee shops a month meeting local New York photographers or ones that lived aboard who happen to be visiting and whom I had befriended via Instagram. The purpose was to meet, meet and meet.
A few photo walks and portraits would result from the encounter as we chatted but I soon realized that I rarely had “content” to share on Instagram or my website for the amount of work I was putting to meet more photographers. Nowadays for me all of that is non-existent. As the saying goes, “it takes 2 to tango” and I’ve certainly haven’t done my part to keep the dancing going. Meeting fellow creatives will forever be inspiring but sometimes just being inspired is not enough especially when you fail to create anything while you’re on that inspiration high.
Life will always continue to evolve. We’ll always have obligations, work will continue to arise and family responsibilities will keep us occupied which means priorities will shift. The justification that “we’re too busy” will become an even further part of our daily vocabulary and it’s in those moments where you begin to question practices you’ve adhered to in the past.
Back then I cared a lot about who I met up with. Perhaps too much. An entire day or week would transpire and my attention was too focused on which photographer I could meet as oppose to what I can create with that same time instead. Ultimately I stopped caring and it was in that very instance where I felt I had found myself creatively.
Instead of reaching out to photographers to meet, I began reaching out to people who were influential within their industry such in fitness or in the arts. Developing relationships with these individuals is where I found myself to be alive as I navigated the city strapped with my camera as conversations brewed the same way I always admired Anthony Bourdain did on any of his travel shows. Both the conversation and photography were taking place harmoniously. It was and continues to be a win, win situation! I wasn’t really competing for one or the other anymore.
I’m not insinuating it’s no longer worth it for me to meet fellow photographers because I do miss it but it’s no longer an obsession of mine. Just as time continues to become more valuable, I’m sure I’m not the only person who assesses daily how they wish to spend it and if what we once did in the past no longer aligns for how we wish to develop as a person and a creative now then we shouldn’t feel guilty about our evolving mindset. It is what it is.
Renting studio space can be very expensive depending on where you’re based or it could be reasonably priced if you happen to own the majority of the equipment you’ll need; in which case that potentially means forgoing a lot of the amenities a studio may offer such as lights, backgrounds, etc.
Either way, it certainly becomes a worthy investment when you’re starting out. Based on your shoot concept you’ll eventually encounter limitations on what you can pull off outside on location and you’ll feel compelled to rent space. On top of that, it’s a good practice in getting use to what it feels being in a studio. It builds your confidence as you develop in your craft.
I’ve rented my fair share of studio spaces in several New York neighborhoods and based on those experience I wanted to share some advice and realizations which I wished I had known before hand but that I’ve at least become more cognizant about with time.
Don’t starve yourself: Seriously, don’t. Bring water, snacks or even a protein bar which I’ve done and munched on in between those moments where the model has stepped away to change outfit. I can assure you that when you’re in that moment of creating, you literally lose track of time and without knowing you just keep going and ultimately find yourself famished. Buffer, Buffer: Insulate yourself with enough time before and after a shoot. Before so you can setup without rushing and after so you can clean up once the model has left. Going back to how time equates to money, you want to avoid overextending it unless you’re ok with paying extra for doing nothing but cleaning up. Learn to calculate your time is vital because it the less you have of it the more you get use to working with limitations.
If I’m shooting someone for 2hrs between 10am-12pm, I would ask them to arrive at 10:15am which buys me time to setup and that’s not taking into account their time for changing into any outfit.
Should I wear this?: For the most part, particularly if it’s a test shoot, models will bring with them a slew of outfits to get opinion on what they could potentially incorporate into a shoot. While it’s great to have options, you should have already reached a point where you’ve determined what visual direction the shoot will take prior to having even even stepped foot in the space.
You should be able to transition seamlessly from one look to the next. Don’t waste any time thinking “what should I do next?” because you’re the photographer and you’re technically in charge of the pace while still collaborating with the model on whether you’ve nailed a look and if you can move on. I’m all about spontaneity but go in with at least a draft in your mind of what you’re looking to achieve. Mood boards are always ideal. Do I have everything I’ll need?: Do inventory of everything you think you’ll need and just when you think you’re ready, double check one more time. I’ve been short on stuff I’ve needed multiple times and I’ve had to improvised on the go. The key in these scenarios is to not panic, to not project the vibe that you don’t know what you’re doing due to an oversight. As the saying goes, “the show must go on”. Bring the jam!: Get yourself a portable bluetooth speaker. I’m all about encouraging models to bring their own tunes to rock since it’s no surprise that music has the tendency to bring the best out of people. It’s all about them and in creating an environment where you’re likely to capture their true self. On top of that, music in my opinion works best in conjunction with the conversation you’re hopefully having as you shoot and honestly I can’t ever imagine being on set without at least some time of music to establish the vibe that going to allow you to capture your best work.
Years ago I came across Austin’s YouTube channel, who goes by the moniker of IAMTHEREALAK . He's originally from South Brunswick, NJ and his shot to stardom on YouTube came from a remix he made of Desiigner’s Panda song. The video alone has received over 18M views.
I can't say I've every been a fan of rap largely because the majority of what’s said now is beyond comprehension. It all revolves around the typical topics of sex, smoking, drinking and the only element that’s ever kept my attention might have been the beat. Coming from someone who’s not well verse with the genre, all I can say is that there was never a story from any rapper which I felt made me a true fan.
For me, IAMTHEREALAK has taken my understanding of rap to an entirely new level. My initial criticism of his music was that his remixes felt too short and I wish they were longer but I eventually came to accept that as a benefit. The sheer amount of stories, metaphors and enthusiasm in which he delivers his lyrics has so much depth that you’ll undoubtedly find yourself having to go back and listen multiple times to detect all the nuisances that make his music so great.
The level of storytelling in his lyrics is incredible. You don’t necessarily have to know Austin in person to get a level of understanding of his thought process and vision because he lays it all out in his lyrics.
As a creative, here’s 4 things I’ve learned from following IAMTHEREALAK’S meteoric rise:
We all go through personal struggles in life and it’s up to you to utilize those obstacles to create something by which other people can relate to you and feel inspired by
Stay in your own lane. Don’t worry about what other people think of your work because in the end we all have a story to tell and it’s the fusion of both that will make you unique.
The setting in which you create your work doesn’t define you. The work itself does. As a quick example, simply look at the backdrop in which Austin recorded his videos/music. He could care less whether it was aesthetically pleasing. The emphasis has always been on whether you can listen to what he’s saying
You don’t need fancy gear to create. Just a willing to put in the work consistently.
Austin has such a bright future ahead and much like all the support he’s received thus far, I’ll be right there continuing to buy his music.
"For real this might be one of the most important things you hear this week" considering everything that we're currently going through as a nation. I'll leave it at that because Nick always overdelivers when it comes talks that stop you on your tracks and gets you thinking.