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.


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.

" 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.

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.


[Vaynerchuk Quote via Article]