How I Became a Storyteller

Sometimes people ask me why I do so many different things. Secretly, I’m sure some of them wonder how I can possibly be good at any of them, and in my darkest moments I have asked that same question. On most days however, I take pictures, write, code, compose, sketch and make videos without mentally separating them from each other.

I call myself a storyteller. I’m not trying to sound pretentious, it’s just the best description I have found. Because it’s always about the story.

What is a story then? They are essentially about our basic values, right and wrong, life and death, love and hate. The story makes its point by taking the audience for a ride, it evokes emotion and sparks imagination, all fitted into some kind of structure or frame.

Often the point is a message; a song that says she loves you, an ad that says buy this product, or a speech that says make good art. Other times the point is to ask a question, and leave the audience to ponder it (religious texts are full of stories like these), or even dare them to prove it wrong. Conflict and resolution gets us interested and keeps us vested, but that is just a vehicle, not the destination.

I used to be extremely frustrated by having “too many interests”, and in a way I did have too many — because there was no focus. One day I sat down, listed every one of my interests out, and started looking for commonalities. And there it was – The Story – staring right back at me. Once I centered on story, my creative efforts started aligning like planets around a star. The Story is the star, and the rest are just tools to help tell it. I don’t have too many interests after all; just one.

I love stories. I love finding them, crafting them and telling them. It’s what I do.

Too Many Artists are (Still) Not Promoting Themselves

This post was inspired by a post about a video series I worked on. For that project, I promoted six local poets and was shocked to see how few of them had any kind of online presence to go with the videos.

Unfortunately, artists of all types have a real problem promoting their own work. I talk to a lot of different artist as part of my work with Another Passion, but even as a kid, I saw the same pattern with my dad and some of his artist pals. There seems to be a mental block, preventing many creatives from promoting their work, or thinking of it as a product to sell.

With all the tools available online, there really is no excuse for not using at least one of them to get more eyeballs on your work.

Some turn up their noses at self promotion, claiming that a real artist won’t need to sell themselves because quality work will attract attention automagically. Nothing could be more wrong. No one is going to “discover” you, unless you put yourself out there to be discovered.

Then there are those who are simply overwhelmed, not knowing where to begin. That I can at least understand. The options are many and you can spend all your time fiddling here and there, not really accomplishing anything. Or you can lose yourself reading books, posts and articles, trying to figure out whether it’s better to take up tweeting or blogging, videos or podcasting, Google+ or Facebook — if you even get that far.

The answer is simple: pick something that suits your personality, stop procrastinating and use it! The thing is, they are all good tools if you use them consistently and well.

Choosing the right tools is a personal matter more than anything else. If you hate being in front of a camera, YouTube is not for you. If you are dyslexic, perhaps talking is better than writing. The point is, there are options for everyone.

Being overwhelmed by the choices is a matter of eliminating the ones you don’t like and making an executive decision. With a day of research, anyone can learn the differences between the available tools and decide on one or two to go with. Learn the ins and out of your chosen tools, the basics first, the details can come as you go. With someone guiding you, you can get started within a day.

You have to see self-promotion as part of the creation process, just like putting the milk back in the fridge is part of eating a bowl of corn flakes. It’s not the most fun part, but it’s necessary. It should never be an afterthought, or something you’ll do when you get around to it, maybe next weekend or when the kids are asleep. If you leave the milk out all day, chances are you’ll be eating dry cereal tomorrow morning.

It pains me to see so much wasted talent, so I have started taking on artists who need a helping hand. Right now, I’m helping my neighbor who’s a working musician with a degree, massive skills and a great personality. He is not computer illiterate either, just overwhelmed and somewhat easily distracted. I’m giving him weekly assignments along with encouragement to explore further. You can follow his efforts here.

I very much enjoy coaching artists, helping them build confidence, aim higher and get a wider reach. If you’re an artist struggling with self promotion, you are welcome to contact me.

Make Your Clients Want You

This is inspired by a post on Black Star Rising, about two recent job-posting for photographers. The short version: one job offered no compensation other than credit (this posted by a PR-firm on behalf of a “high-profile” client). After having written three paragraphs for a comment, I decided instead to post my thoughts here.

It is of course preposterous for a company to “hire” any type of creative talent for credit only. If you’re small fry and have no budget but can do some trade, that’s one thing. That happens all the time, especially among small businesses, and it can be mutually beneficial. I’m talking about clients that until some time in the last decade, would never have thought twice about paying full price, but who now expect your work for little to no compensation.

Say no to clients like that. Refer them to microstock, where they will have a better time finding photos that fit that kind of budget. Don’t slave for clients. If you’re going to slave for anyone, do it for yourself – build your own stock photography portfolio, or whatever tickles your creative fancy. As long as you do it well.

It’s about confidence, professionalism and having the know-how to back it all up.

There IS a market for photographers with the skills listed above, a niche and the ability to tell a good client from a bad one. But, you still have to be willing to work hard – at times for nothing – to get to the point where you can afford to be picky. It’s like that in all creative industries from acting and writing to graphic design and photography. With the increased availability of inexpensive technology, amateurs flood the market with mediocre products, driving down the price on low to mid-range projects. The freelancers and small studios are the first to feel this crunch, as their clients start using amateur prices as bargaining points.

This is where, if you consider yourself a professional, you have to show the client that you are worth paying for. Show them what the difference is between you and the amateur. It’s like the web designer who must convince her small business client to pick her over the client’s nephew, who – using a downloaded copy of Dreamweaver – will “do the same work for a fraction of the price”. But it’s not the same work, and the designer has to be able to show that or lose the bid. Photographers have to show, that their work is not the same as that of someone’s uncle who happens to have an expensive DSLR with a big lens.

There will always be people willing to work for free and clients who won’t pay what the work is worth. It’s pointless to complain about. Instead it should motivate you to get focused and set yourself apart. Adapt or be destroyed, that’s how it is in any business. For decades, photographers had it good, but now that the mystery of “creating a photograph” is all but gone, the nature of the industry has changed.

You have to specialize and build a reputation in just a couple of areas (eg. weddings and seniors, architecture and landscapes, fashion and glamour). Pick the one you love the most, because you’ll be competing against others who love it too, and that will show in the work. If you half-ass it, that’s what you will end up as. Some niches are harder to compete in than others, so research is required. I’m not telling you to give up on your dreams if they happen to be in a field that is highly competitive. Just be realistic about it and plan accordingly.

As I see it, the value is not so much in the work itself, as in the ideas and personality behind it. Anyone can take a photo, but only you can make it look like one of your photos. So, make your clients want you. If they want you, they will pay. If they just want some schmuck with a camera, tell them to go to hell. Work for free if it’s for a cause you want to support, but never work purely for the promise of future opportunity. Getting paid is so much more fun.