Forever in Beta: Bridging the Creative Gap

This article was one that I had been meaning to write a long time, but perhaps the timing of finally sitting down to write it was apropos since I had finally started to accept a lot of the things I had planned on mentioning and writing about.

The past few weeks have been a very therapeutic exercise in accepting that certain things won't be perfect, but they'll be done; moving onto the next thing and making sure that's better, seeing what progress I can make. It may not be pretty, but I'm at least happy with what I've finally been able to put together.


Originally posted on Fstoppers.

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You've heard it before, there's no doubt: the creative gap — that picture you have in your head of what you want a shot to look like and what you come up with in the end. As kids we're completely fine with this, we can always just draw or make something else 10 seconds later, but as adults we often get crippled with the fear of rejection.

In the beginning the gap is probably as big as the Grand Canyon and that's fine. However, as you get further along in your career the gap closes, becoming smaller and smaller — yet, the increments at which it closes suddenly are tiny and few and far between. Years can pass before you feel like you've made an inch of progress. There's no denying this can be a maddening process and is probably why you can recall every single moment you contemplated putting all your gear on Craigslist and calling it a day. Think of how many fellow artists struggle with depression due to the very nature of this disconnect between what you dream up and what you actually produce.


"..as adults we often get crippled with the fear of rejection."


Take for instance the following two images. Now, while there are four to five years between the two images, the first isn't necessarily a bad image per se. It's well lit and even was shot for a publication. However, the image and its style wasn't what I envisioned myself shooting when I first started out. I wanted to do more fashion/editorial work with agency models, yet at that point in my career I didn't have the right connections to make a shoot like that possible. The "after" photo is one that while not the peak of my artistic career, it's definitely starting to close the gap on the kind of work I want to and know I can do.

 

But here's the most important thing to remember: Just keep going

There's this sinking pit in your stomach feeling when we finally finish a piece of work, whether it's a series of images, a 62 hour digital manipulation, or a novel where we think it's shit and just hope somebody will like it and appreciate it. Now, here's the next thing you have to do: pat yourself on the back and walk away. Don't worry about how much better it could have been or try to just tweak it a little bit more to get it perfect, because all you'll do is make it worse for both yourself and the piece of work.

You have to remember that you're always going to be better than your last piece of work, so just strive to keep building on that principle. Keep shooting, writing, blogging, painting, drawing, or whatever because eventually you'll look back and see a long, victorious body of work called a career — something you wouldn't of had if you keep fussing over getting that one piece perfect when it went out the door. Companies sometimes are guilty of this and you know what happens? They keep attempting to get something perfect, only to realize they've been working in a vacuum. The window of opportunity has passed them by and someone else has beat them to market; they're dead in the water. All that capital, man hours, blood, sweat, and tears all for nothing, yet all they had to do was get the product up in front of people's faces, get invaluable feedback, and work on an update to push to production. Some entrepreneurs forget that part, when you work on something so long and so hard you don't think to stop and see if you're going in the right direction with what your target market wants and is looking for. Instead you just work yourself to death simply trying to put what's in your head on paper.


"The creative gap can paralyze some artists, for years even.."


Everyone is Guilty of This

I can honestly say I've been guilty of this in my creative life quite a bit. There's been shoots I had planned out in my head and then self-sabotage because I don't think I can produce exactly what I envisioned, and I'd let everyone down who's involved in the process. Now that's a lot of fear, pressure, and disappointment to convey before I've even made one phone call or sent one email to start pulling together a team, made a storyboard to share, or taken an actual photo. I can laugh talking about it now because we all realize how silly it sounds, but you also know how deep that rabbit hole can go. The creative gap can paralyze some artists, for years even, and for some others make them quit making art all together.

In an attempt to force myself to be better, I finally made good on an idea I had been outlining in my head for the better part of a year. I started a podcast about what it's like to be a creative called The Angry Millennial, and if you have ever heard me talk about my struggles to find work after college and grad school you'd really get the name. Now, while my first few episodes may not be as good as I'd like I know that with each one we do it will only get better and the quality will increase gradually. I've had to deal with the fact that I'm starting out in something all over again, learning new programs to edit and cut audio, proper settings for files, microphones, and recorders and tons more that come with breaking out into an entirely new venture. Yet, I've been finding a new focus as this rewarding beyond belief and it's been making me more confident with who we approach to have on, ideas for episodes, and even photos I suddenly find myself wanting to take. We've even been lucky enough to have recent guests like Jeremy Cowart, Renee Robyn, Bella Kotak and some familiar faces like Doug Sonders, Zach Sutton, & Pratik Naik.

At the end of the day, it's most important to remember we're always going to suck artistically to a degree, but the only way to get better is by continuing to start, complete, and move on from a single piece of work then repeat. It's the harsh truth we all know and have to accept over time. Not everything you make will be amazing, but you have to just keep going. After a while, who knows what you may have built in the process.

Becoming an Educated Photographer in the Digital Age

Often in my career, I've looked back on my education - whether it was during the struggles of finding work with two degrees, or when my photography career blossomed at times and the questions of where I went to art school came up. The following article was written for Fstoppers and their readers as an attempt to show people struggling with making the choice to invest in their artistic side and how.


Originally posted on Fstoppers.

Something I've been asked a lot during my career is where I went to art school. Whether I took that as a compliment on my dedication to my craft or an insult saying that I couldn't have gotten to that point without years of instruction, I still really don't know. As you can probably tell, I was self-taught, not even finding photography until I was a senior in college, already committed to grad school for my MBA.

I can't lie; I looked up some intensive programs and the Hallmark Institute in Massachusetts was calling my name for a bit, but the idea of taking on more education debt after four years of college majoring in advertising wasn't very appealing especially when I was already considering graduate school to get my MBA. However, after just immersing myself in photography landed me my first real job at a high end photo studio while studying in grad school. There I learned tons more about lighting and got to play with the best gear, like Broncolor lighting, Canon 1Ds cameras, L glass, and cyc walls.  It was a great way to learn more about some industry standard practices like lead generation, client etiquette, retouching, using Capture One Pro, and various setups that involved metering six different lights in the studio before a shoot.

However, my answer when asked me if I then think art school is a waste shocks most people: Only you can answer that question for yourself.

For hundreds of years, people have undertaken the demands of a traditional educational system concentrated in the fine arts. However, only in the last few years of the 21st century did people realize there's another way. The Internet has been a huge vehicle for bringing education to people who either can't afford traditional student loans or assistance for traditional 2-4 year schools or others who simply learn better on their own with guidance and hands-on doing. Suddenly, prospective students of the arts have multiple options to choose from, whether it's the traditional art school route or the newer online alternative. Either way, like I've said, since only you can answer that question for you, I won't tell you which is better in a direct comparison, but instead, I'll shine a little light on what has worked for me individually.

It's Different for Everyone: You Are a Snowflake

You see, everyone's reasons will be different and that's okay, since we're all unique humans after all. The best thing I ever heard in terms of advice was that just because a certain career path to success worked for someone famous doesn't necessarily mean it will work for you. Consider the simple fact that everyone learns differently; some creatives need structure to help keep them on task and motivated, while growing from constant feedback and direction. These people will love art school. Other creatives are hands-on learners with a hunger to digest knowledge and a free-flowing creative mind. These people will hate art school. It's obviously a very personal decision that will vary from individual to individual. With that in mind, for some, the best thing to do would be to pick and choose various things you admire and appreciate from various creatives you respect.

For me, that's been a few different people, some were classically trained and others were self-starters whom I've come to know over the years:

  1. Chase Jarvis: Having followed Chase for years on YouTube and Facebook, I've always loved his energy, how down to earth and approachable he always seemed, and his sharp business sense. You may also know him as the Co-Founder and CEO of CreativeLive, which I'll talk more about in a moment. I was even lucky enough to have won a contest a few years back in which Chase flew me out to San Francisco for a live taping of "Secrets of Silicon Valley" in their unveiling of the new San Francisco studio (Seattle was the original). All those things I felt about Chase for years were spot-on. He's amazingly down to Earth, has an amazing support system in his wife, mom, and aunt, who all were sweet and hilarious to hang out with, and as if flying me out wasn't enough, I got to spend a good 30 minutes just one-on-one with Chase chatting about life, our experiences, and why he picked me. It's a conversation that's profoundly stuck with me ever since.  
  2. Gary Vaynerchuk: If you've ever watched some of Chase's #CJLive videos over the years, you've probably seen this guy. He's loud, in your face, a crazy Jets fan, and truly tells it how it is. He's a NY Times best-selling author, YouTube pioneer, media genius, and CEO of VaynerMedia. However, the biggest thing I always took away from his teachings is that you have to take the long haul, big picture view on success and really get your hands dirty. When he started making videos on YouTube for his family's company, Wine Library, he was doing it every week for eighteen months before anyone actually started watching them. It's that kind of dedication, persistence, hard work, and guts that I respect the hell out of him for — so much so that I even applied for a Digital Project Manager position at his company and interviewed there as well.
  3. Nick Saglimbeni: Chances are, if you've seen a photo of any of the Kardashians that's actually pretty good (not the usual paparazzi material plastered on magazine covers), Nick shot it. He's been the longtime owner of Slickforce Studios, but one thing many people don't know is that he is actually is a classically trained cinematographer who was shooting commercials and music videos before he made the switch and picked up a stills camera, which was actually a Hasselblad. One of the strongest things Nick did from the start was really invest in the idea that a photoshoot is about the experience. It was this concentration on ensuring every person who walked in the studio was given the A-list treatment that not only brought people back, but attracted some A-list celebrities as well. However, this Hollywood success hasn't changed Nick much from his roots in Baltimore, Maryland; he's still the most transparent guy ever, who will meet up for a drink to talk shop, swap stories, and help out a fellow creative anyway he can. Another thing Nick has done exceptionally well is develop a signature style. Over the years, that led to people easily recognizing his work on various magazine covers by his lighting style alone. Dedicating yourself to developing a signature look is no easy task as a creative.
  4. Bill Cramer: I actually had the pleasure of meeting Bill through an internship at Wonderful Machine many years ago. Cramer had enjoyed a long, successful career as a commercial photographer for many years when he decided to start an artist collective, Wonderful Machine. From its humble beginnings to now having 700 photographers represented worldwide, it is a full production house, helping with anything creative (ad agency and photographer alike) needed to put on a great shoot.  Bill was a big influence on me because like Jarvis, he too aspired to create things that went well beyond photography, instead choosing to create forward-thinking companies that helped others through education and services that everyone could benefit from.

The Internet Is Actually a Wonderful Place

While most people refer to the Internet as the devil's cesspool sandbox, it is a great resource for young people to learn about their craft. Jarvis' Creativelive is on the forefront of online education today with their model of offering free live-streaming classes from industry leaders on things such as photography, art and design, music and audio, business and marketing, and even life practices like yoga and meditation. If you ever want to download a show to watch over again at your own pace, for a reasonable fee (it varies on class length and presenter), it's yours to keep digitally.

Another great resource for learning the Photoshop side of things is Phlearn, founded by photographer and retoucher Aaron Nace, who was a pioneer of the idea that you don't need tons of fancy gear or a huge studio to produce great work. Instead, a vivid imagination, some solid knowledge of lighting, and some Photoshop skills can have you putting out a strong portfolio in no time.

For some people, it's learning their camera that's the biggest hurdle to start taking the types of photos they really want. Don't fret. We've all been there and you have to start somewhere, right? Through teaching some Intro to Photography classes at several local colleges, I've seen some students go from knowing nothing to producing killer photos after just learning the basics; sometimes all we need is a push. For people who are starting out, there are some amazing offerings like Improve Photography, founded by lawyer-turned-photographer, Jim Harmer, which has tons of amazing articles and videos, most of which are free for people to enjoy.

Another great resource for many people are the Internet staples of forums and Facebook groups, which offer creatives a chance to meet others in their area who are in the same boat, learning just like you and falling in love with creating art. You can also peruse some of the knowledgeable legends on the forums and groups to use as a source of inspiration and possibly mentor you as well.

In The End, Just Do It

That's right, you're thinking of Shia LaBeouf flexing right now aren't you?

The truth is, though, he's right. The hardest part about learning anything new is merely starting. Real world experience is the biggest teacher in life; make mistakes and missteps, learn from them, and then, adjust. No one is perfect out of the gate, but if you're able to make the mistakes, own up to them, and mitigate those times you feel crappy, you'll find success a lot more quickly than you think. The biggest thing is just doing it and moving forward to the next thing; don't stay forever in beta, getting left behind and never actually putting anything out there.

At the end of the day, one cannot deny the recent explosion in online education in various forms. Sites like Fstoppers provide people with a great number of amazing tutorials, helpful articles, and useful advice to help anyone along their creative path. In the end, the decision on whether art school or learning via the Internet is best for you is ultimately yours and yours alone. However, there is no doubt that there is a huge shift going on in education — especially in the creative sector — that will surely change the entire landscape in a few more years, the very same one that has been around for hundreds of years, yet one that people are starting to question more and more.

Why Teaching Made Me a Better Photographer

Originally posted on Fstoppers.

    In any creative field, there seems to always be a tipping point - one that when you reach it, you suddenly yearn to help others learn your craft.

Photography is no different.

    What's interesting is that at one point in time, photography was more like any other skilled labor like being a carpenter, electrician, black smith, etc. where you had to first pay your dues as a apprentice for years before ever being able to perform said craft on your own.


"The skill sets it takes to be a successful entrepreneur, a successful marketer, or a relevant celebrity is a different skill set than you needed ten years ago, even though that was the skill set that mattered for decades.”
                                                               

                                                   - Gary Vaynerchuk


    Yet, as we all know, the digital revolution put an end to that way of thinking. It made cameras readily accessible to ordinary consumers, bringing about a wave of people eager to pick up a camera as a side-gig in hopes of making it a career. However, that's where we'll stop that topic as to not derail the main overall purpose of this piece.

    The overall point of the digital revolution was in regards to what it did to the photography landscape internally. Gone were the days of 'trade secrets' and overwhelming paranoia of everyone else solely being your competition. Up until the 90's to early 2000's, you only really owned multiple lenses and bodies if you were a working professional - however, nowadays, people regularly walk into my Digital Photography I class with a camera + 3-4 lenses they got for ~$600.

    So the question is, what do you do in this completely revamped culture? Working professionals suddenly had enormous competition coupled with a recession that made commercial budgets disappear overnight - the Roaring 90's were over. Previously where photographers could only need two-three big clients to carry them through a profitable year, that number has now drastically changed. With that change also came the great reaping - old film shooters who either embraced the digital change or naysayers who believed it was all just a fad and faded into obscurity.

    Photographers as a whole were, generally speaking, split into two camps:

'This is bullshit!' &
'This is going to be one wildly exciting ride!'

Point being that no one really knew where digital was headed or that today more people have cell phones than toilets, many of which of course have a camera - let's say that again: today, more people have cell phones than working toilets. Yes, I know, that's a scary statistic but a telling one nonetheless about the drastic technology transformation just the last 15 years has brought on.

Yet, it's this sudden wave of new shooters that had a lot of photographers asking, "We can't live in denial about their existence, so why not educate them instead?"

Almost overnight the long-time walls of photography started crumbling down.



 “Creating content that allows us to share our experiences, thoughts, and ideas in real time is becoming an intrinsic part of life in the twenty-first century.”                                      

                                                   - Gary Vaynerchuk


    With that emerged the photographers who gradually started building an online following of eager photographers who wanted to learn from the best of the best, not an art school professor whose work was last relevant two or three decades ago.  They set out making informative blog posts, YouTube tutorials, behind-the-scene videos giving us a glimpse into their world, even transforming online education with sites such as CreativeLive. These creatives based it all on a belief system in-line with much of the value based ideology that media walking brain & NY Times best-selling author, Gary Vaynerchuk, preaches practically daily on his YouTube episodes #AskGaryVee; constantly provide REAL value to your audience before ever trying to sell them on anything. All this according to the mantra of put out enough positive vibes into the world, it will eventually come back to you - the idea of paying it forward.

    For a long time I struggled, as any creative would, with the idea that I really had something to offer people starting out.  As human-beings we're supernaturally talented when it comes to self-deprecation.  So I started small with taking on assistants on shoots + teaching them whatever I could, then taking on part-time assistants to help with admin tasks, followed with taking a more active role in online forums + groups as an admin, posting stuff I found informative + interesting motivating whomever I could.

    The big turning point though, came when I started doing 1-on-1 workshops with photographers from around the country. One of the first really bright photographers I taught was an engineer turned photographer after recently being laid off, by the name of Jennifer. I could tell she was an incredibly smart person who was just getting too caught up in her head instead of just relaxing + having fun while shooting; something pretty common with left-brain heavy individuals. However, after just two sessions in just over a year in Florida, she really turned it on - becoming a big boudoir powerhouse in the Sunshine State. Years later to this day, I still am in touch with Jennifer and love watching her career skyrocket upward.

    After a big move to Maryland last year, I had a tough transition moving to a completely new state where I didn't have any friends + family outside of my girlfriend and two kids. But like most things, the tough time brought me joy when I went out to the local colleges to take classes in an effort to get out of the house + meet new people. This is where I found teaching and saw my MBA graduate degree seem to finally pay off; allowing me to help even more people see the real joy of learning photography and battling through the frustrations of not knowing how to get the shots they want. Like most photographers who shoot full-time, after a while you sometimes forget the joys and real reason why you picked up a camera.

    Knowing that truly has made teaching one of the most fulfilling things I've done as a creative in my career thus far. It's remarkable how just going over the basics with someone, stuff you can do with your eyes closed, can be so rewarding when you see the look in their eyes when it all finally clicks. I quickly realized why we always come to the point where we want to just give back to anyone & everyone who's willing to listen - to make them see what we see, why we're so passionate and what makes us do this crazy thing called a creative career.

It's that feeling that has made me fall back in love with photography.


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[Vaynerchuk Quote via Forbes.com Article]
    
    

 

1-to-1 Workshops

With recently getting into teaching, I’ve decided to start doing 1-to-1 workshops again to help people looking to gain a better knowledge of photography + their art.
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If you’ve hired me in the past for a 1-to-1 workshop, I hope you can give some insight into how your experience went, what you’d like to see me offer nowadays, and of course please share with friends + family! If anyone has a few friends that would be interested, please message me as I am available for travel to come out + conduct the workshops over the course of a few days, max 2 sessions per day to make sure everyone gets the individualized attention they deserve.
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For more info, go over to the Workshop link above or click here.


"Jose is not only an extraordinary photographer, he is also unique in his ways of teaching and genuinely wants everyone to succeed."



 Flyer design:  Jessica Pennington

Flyer design: Jessica Pennington


"Lighting has always been my weakest point and his knowledge and expertise helped me fill the gaps of what I was lacking, and has allowed me to round out my portfolio so much more."


Testimonials

 

"After mentoring with Jose the first time, I finally had all the pieces fit together. He has a way of connecting with each person in a way they will be able to comprehend the techniques. Prior to Jose, I was struggling with taking the information on paper, to fully understanding and being able to apply it in real life. Jose made this connection in just under one hour our first session. I decided to come back for a second session about a year later and his teachings did it again! Jose is not only an extraordinary photographer, he is also unique in his ways of teaching and genuinely wants everyone to succeed. I owe so much of my success to that first moment I decided to go for it and contact him! I recommend him anyone who needs that extra boost in their company, or their photography."

- Jennifer Tallerico (www.jennifertallerico.com)

 

    "I have been a photographer for over 10 years, shooting a variety of different things, yet still felt that my skills could be sharpened and wanting to bring even more quality to what I already offered my clients. Jose was able to not only refresh some of the basics for me, that get lost in the routine a bit for all of us over time, but he was also able to help refine my setup and process. Lighting has always been my weakest point and his knowledge and expertise helped me fill the gaps of what I was lacking, and has allowed me to round out my portfolio so much more."

- Jessica Watts