Q&A: Photography Today
I wanna have a conversation with Finn, with you, about the current state of photography and the industry. It's a very large topic so we won't have time to cover everything but I want us to share our feel on where we're at right now and what should be the long term plan. Where do we see it going, the trend? I think it's important that we have this conversation because it's our industry. It is where we live and breath, it's what makes our lives. Where do you think, I guess I can just begin with this question, where do you think we're at right now in 2018? Continues every year, I think, but what do you see as now?
What do I see as now in terms of the world of photography?
I think we're in a state of flux. You mean in end use or like the commercial end of photography?
Just in general. Just the part that you feel the most connected to.
Well, it's my job so I'd say up until now, or the last few years it's been a massive concentration on social.
Yeah. I think...
a lot of agencies have been slow on the uptake in terms of coming into social. But I wonder whether there's a bit of a backlash in the wider would in terms of how advertising across social media is being received.
Are people seeing too many ads, bad ads?
I certainly think there's bad ads out there.
Yeah. From an industry perspective though it all makes sense. Back in the day I would be employed by magazines to shoot. But no one really buys magazines any more, they're all looking at their phone.
So that's become the new method of digesting.
You said it, that used to be the course for the photographer, it was start with a magazine, if you're lucky they'll pay you or they'll pay for your rolls of film (laughs) back then. Then you had to be 40 almost to start getting the commercial jobs. You had to have a few years in the industry to start getting the commercial jobs. You start with the magazines and then you grow into commercial jobs.
Now we're seeing young people out of high school being paid.
Yeah, I think the barriers to entry to photography have collapsed entirely in terms of the equipment. You can shoot a nice campaign now on something you can buy from your local store where as in the past you'd have to spend a lot of money and a lot of time and knowledge and experience learning how to shoot good film.
I think on this agency client side of the fence things are changing pretty radically too. Your right, someone at college can shoot a big campaign now.
For a huge brand.
For a huge brand, but also so interesting is traditionally the brand would communicate with someone like that through an advertising agency but what I'm seeing increasingly is brands are coming direct to creator for their vision.
It's cheaper, yeah.
They save agency cost, they can pay the creator whatever they think is right. The creator is young, doesn't know.
Kinda what drives the rates down too, when the brands try to.
Yes it does and it can also drive quality down too sometimes. It's a whole watch thing. Send lots of watches out to people and there's no direction, no creative direction as to what.
You know what I mean?
Yeah, the brand is 1L Dellington.
Yeah, always wanted to say that. (both laughing) 1L Dellington.
I mean, it's a very successful brand, I believe it's worth a lot.
They crushed it, yeah.
Yeah, a lot of money now.
It did. It did work.
From a marketing point it worked, from a (indistinct) point it didn't really.
Yeah, I just don't see any art there. I think that's kinda sad in that sense. I think the agencies in some ways contribute to a better creative.
In some ways, yeah.
In some ways.
Sometimes things get a little messy.
Yes, it does.
That's the downside of the agency.
Yes, it does. But I don't know, I think it's all playing out at the moment, it's a really interesting time. It feels like a little bit wild west. No one quite knows.
It's a bit of a jungle.
Yeah, no one really knows where it's going. Everyone's trying to work it out. But that's opportunities, that's quite exciting in some ways.
It is good times.
It's a great time.
It's really exciting times, if you don't adapt you're gonna die.
You know that's my mantra.
Adapt or die.
I like that.
It's quite brutal.
It's really jungle rules, but it is though. If you're just complaining and talk about the past. As difficult as it is its the future now.
If you're not willing to try new things or just put yourself out there in ways that you haven't done before you just (indistinct).
Every day is interesting. It can be exhausting too. Learning new techniques.
Up to date, but it is exciting times, you said it, because I think people can follow their passions now more. I think there's way more creative free lance people.
Times of the internet.
Yeah, like when I was at college I was studying history, and I loved the arts but I didn't really see, I'm old. I didn't really see, this is pre internet, I didn't really a route for my artistic creative side, where was I gonna end up? So I studied academic subjects. But now with the internet the creative fields.
Like you said, there's a path now. There wasn't a path before.
Oh, yeah, yeah. It was like, I'm gonna be an artist. What does that mean? I'm gonna sit in a dingy flat and try and sell to an art gallery? You can sell online, there's so many different now.
There's way clear paths now. Computers have really standardized the power that somebody has. Everybody's got the same tool now. A cell and a computer and we can all go and do things. What makes us different, I guess, is what we make in a way because there's a limited out of the tool.
I'd say that's always been the case in terms of success.
You said it, the gear was better before. There was an entry level to gear. Now everybody's got the same gear. The next step is making different work. For me it's being different. Not better, different.
Yeah, differentiating. Yeah, but you need to stay true to yourself. I think that's really, really, key.
There's no being different for the sake of being different.
Yeah, I'm not gonna alter my course just because, it's gotta feel right for me.
Yes, back to integrity.
I feel like I'll try and incorporate new technologies, maybe that's a good way of thinking about it. New 360 cameras and things like that. How can you play that into storytelling? That's quite a hard thing to do because it exposes everything. My whole approach with photography is to vignette little moments, let the audience decide. If you were gonna start to incorporate 360 it's gonna be tricky but it's fun thinking about how to do that. But my core.
It's just staying open to new stuff instead of brushing it aside and being eh, that's not for me.
I like that.
I agree, staying open.
I feel like it's become an end goal, though. I feel people are beginning photography there is a path but there's no long term vision or end goal. We all look at where we'll be in one year but it's good to know in the end, 10 year end, at least for me there's knowing then 10 years this is my end roughly.
Well, my end is having done work that has mattered to a larger group of people. So this video, a desire to share. But at least having an end, then you can have the means to that end and often the means are the end. (photographer laughs) It sounds a bit trippy but let's say that short term your goal is to grow your Instagram audience. So if you look at A plus B, it's like the more photos you post the more odds you have of people seeing it. So that's your means.
Used to be the case.
Used to be. It's still. The more you post the more odds you have of being seen. You don't feel that?
No, I think algorithm is not just about posting, it's all about engagement, it's all about commenting on other people's pictures, interacting.
You feel like the amount of work shared doesn't matter anymore?
At least if your goal.
No, I don't. I think it's engagement. I think they want you to interact, use that platform more and more.
But each time you post a photo you still get more visibility than if you didn't post it.
Is that the case now, though?
I think so.
Because I'm getting messaging saying, Alex has commented on so and so's post. I'm like, oh, has he?
Yeah. Like, notifications.
I've never seen that.
You have some special access.
Maybe I Do.
I don't hear about any of that. I just think that, back to that idea theory is that if your end is growing this audience your means is posting more photos. Let's say that is the case, is not the case, the means is your end, but you don't wanna go and lower your quality just so you have more photos. Lower your standards because then you're screwing up your end because you had this low quality of work. Then at the end people won't stick around for your goal. Does that make sense(laughs)? If your end is getting this audience, your means is posting these photos.
Means is the end.
I know what you're saying. I guess it's a very Instagram centric approach.
Yes, it's just the example.
I don't have Instagram at the center of my approach to my work. This maybe goes back to-
Can we talk about that?
Yeah, yeah. So talking about processes that might not fit on Instagram. I think actually having a website to backup your photography is massively key.
So you keep it pretty update?
Yeah, and more rounded in terms of the type of work that I present. I also have a printed portfolio which is hugely important.
Do you have a printed book?
You should get a printed book. It's fun printing work and people really respond to printed work.
It's physical, you can touch it.
You were talking about Instagram, not having Instagram as your end.
No, it's a tool in the toolkit, it totally is. It's a very powerful tool, hugely powerful. But often when I'm posting about a project on Instagram I will always tip it back to my website because that has more legacy based content on it. Instagram, you know the life of an Instagram picture is very short. If I post about a project I'll say go check out my bio link which will have a link to my full set of pictures but then also on that website is all my past projects, previous work. Then when I look at analytics people have started to dig around on it, spend a little bit more time.
Yeah, they wanna see all that. You spent a lot of time building that website?
You can tell.
My background's in web development.
That's what we haven't said yet, but yes.
So I may have an unfair advantage if you're not from a web development background.
But still, as far as space you can really build something.
Yeah, it's essentially just a Tweet Squarespace template.
It's not an ad but hashtag it.
No, it's not an ad. I hate all that.
You never know when somebody's gonna throw that at you.
Yeah, I get it and that really actually pisses me off because I'm a photographer, you're following me on Instagram, I'm gonna post work that I've been paid to do. How else am I paying my mortgage or feeding my kids? But the fact that people are saying, "This is an ad, you've been paid to post this." No I haven't.
This is my job.
This is my job, yeah.
Completely, yeah. That whole thing. It's a bit like when-
Getting used to it, though. Less and less I feel like.
There's still some angry person but usually.
Yeah, but hearing there's more regulation coming in that you have to enforce this.
Yeah. It's different in the UK, they're a bit slower to catch up.
It's definitely coming in. I'm like, if it applies to Instagram, does that then apply to a James Bond movie where he's driving an Aston Martin?
Just like, ad.
They don't do any of that in a movies.
No. There's product placement all over those things.
Where do you see your work in a couple years? Five years, 10 years?
Where do I see it?
Yeah, long term visions and ends?
I love what I do at the moment. I love exploring back stories behind brands and trying to incorporate their back story into current work and I think if I can continue doing that, shoot more video projects. Increasingly every project that comes my way is like.
I agree, I understand. Very project has to have film.
Yeah, but that's also a question that's coming up from clients.
Can you make film?
Can I make film. And you always say yes (laughs). I have a rule, even if you can't do something, just say yes and then work it out.
Jump in the deep end.
That's how you learn.
Learn on the job (laughs). Can be a little sometimes.
Yeah, but it's a good driver.
But is it important that as a photographer nowadays we should be expected to make film?
Well, I think.
We said it, brands ask for it.
They do ask for it but I think it's maybe hard to think that you could shoot film in the same way that you shoot stills. I don't approach film in the same way as stills, it requires a lot more gear.
A lot more time.
It requires a lot more time, totally, and it requires more people if you can bring them in. You're working with sound, you're working with moving images, lighting.
It's good for a photographer to at least partner with a filmmaker? So you don't have to be actually holding the camera.
That is traditionally how it works. So you transition from a shooter to director and then you have a DOP, like a camera operator. That'll make your life a lot easier.
Yeah, because you can be shooting stills and videos.
If you think about it as a still shooter doing these sorts of projects I'm working as a director, I'm working as a DOP, and I'm also working as an editor and those are like, in the film industry, three distinct roles.
Many, many hats.
The quality sometimes suffers, the stills, at least for me suffer when I'm directing a film at the same time.
I think it's good to develop a relationship with the right DOP so you don't have to hand hold them as much. At least that's what I found is that having somebody I use often, same group of people. Using the same group of people so then there's a good connection between you two and then you don't have to hand hold as much.
You can trust.
Yeah, there's a lot of trust, that's the word.
You can trust them to get the shots so you don't have to check everything. I think it's important to stress these things to your client if a job comes in and they say, "Can you shoot films?" Not trying to do everything.
Yeah, I agree with that.
You don't wanna break on set when you've got a project.
(laughs) Yes, meltdown.
No, when I say jump in the deep end.
Not that far, there's limits, yes. So your vision for the long term is more films? More back stories on brands?
Yeah, as time goes past brands are getting older and Land Rover is a great example. They had wonderful heritage.
70 years this year, yeah exactly. There's also a lot of other brands that have stories that can relate to today and reinforce the brand and I love that. It pays into a lot of my work, a lot of my grading work which we'll cover in the editing process. Looking into the back story where things come from and using that to inform the work that I'm making today.
Yes, researching the backend for the present. The real question is, what would you say, I hear this a lot you've probably heard it before, what would you say to somebody who's just beginning photography who's out of university, high school, and wants to make a living out of photography?
Be prepared for a lot of work. A lot of energy, a lot of work. Do you want practical steps or emotional support (laughs)?
There's both but probably practical steps.
Practical steps starting out, shoot everything and everyone.
Volume, yeah. I started off shooting events, I started off shooting music gigs, I shot some weddings, quickly got rid of that one because I couldn't do the wedding thing.
Wedding, I've never tried a wedding.
It's tough, man. It's tough, I had no disservice to wedding photographers, I really admire you guys that can do it. The pressure.
The pressure is massive. I'd rather have a client across me than a bride.
I would, yeah. It's tough but it's great because there's always budget there.
There is always a budget for weddings. Line item is there.
But it's actually a really good thing to shoot in terms of story telling or crafting. You've got your characters, you've got your location, you've got an event.
People all looking good.
Yeah, so totally do it, it just wasn't for me. One of my best friends is an ace wedding photographer. He's called Seth Carnell, check him out, he's awesome, based in Amsterdam. Super good work, amazing, love it. So yeah, shoot everything, everyone and find your niche, find what means something to you because that will come across in the pictures that you make. If your heart isn't in the work, you can just see it.
Find your means.
It's a lifestyle occupation, you're living this job. It's not like, I go to work, I do my eight hour shift and I come home. It's like, you're constant and it's constantly developing 24/7, there's no rest and that takes a lot of energy so you've got to love it. You've got to love it and you've got to love what you're producing otherwise you just get jaded. I think it's quite easy to get jaded in this industry. I know a lot of photographers.
Yeah, burning out.
Fall out of the job through burning out rather than not getting enough work. There's a lot of work, probably even more.
There's work out there.
Yeah, use for photography today but it's becoming ever more demanding because clients want more and more from you.
There's more competition.
Yeah, more platforms to put that work out on. In the past ad campaign you might be asked to do
10 photos, that would be a big shoot. But now it's like, we wanna put it on social, we want to put it on this, we want a film to go along side it.
There's more work.
More work but, you know.
So to recap, volume.
Yes, starting out.
Find what you love, big one. What means to you, what had meaning to you.
Yeah. Build a good website and put on that website work that you want to do.
Really, really, key and I think it's really easy when you're stating out to just put loads of different stylistic.
So many angles of everything.
Yeah, I totally fell into that trap and it felt really confusing. I was like, "Well, I wanna travel more and I wanna shoot more lifestyle work so that's what I'll put."
You chose your focus.
Yeah, even though I might be shooting events and music gigs I didn't really enjoy that work. It paid the bills.
So why put it out there?
So why put it out there.
Yeah, because you get hired for what's on your website.
Completely. I do those jobs, get paid for it but I wouldn't promote it. I'd promote the work that I wanted to be commissioned for.
Just like its okay to do weddings if you need them to pay the bills.
No disrespect to wedding photographers, but if you don't like weddings but you need them to pay the bills, you don't have to put them on your site.
No. Or make a separate wedding site.
Yeah, different brand.
Yeah, 100%. So, yeah. Is that it?
It's a long topic but I think that we can use that.
Okay, thank you.
The volume thing is big.
Yeah, yeah, yeah, trying stuff out.
I think the best way to find what you love or find stuff that means something to you is to try things. You find out by doing. You don't sit around and be like, I'm gonna try baseball tomorrow.
I'm sure I'm gonna like it, you gotta play baseball once and then love it or hate it.
You gotta think all of this is not a waste of time even if you end up not shooting music gigs, it's all gonna feed into your end result work because you're learning to use a camera and maybe really rapidly shifting lighting conditions, whatever and it's that 10,000 hours (indistinct). You need to do that time before you can.
But this gets you paid and it gives you a good reason to continue progress.
You're learning all the time, still learning now. (piano note)