Quick story from Taylor: When I was back in Missouri for the holidays, I found out that my cousins (my adult cousins, mind you), thought that freelancing meant that I worked for free, and that all I did was sit in my pajamas and wait for someone to call me (which is only a half truth).
The real truth is that when we were all photo babies, we were taught that if we worked hard enough, got the best internships and gave ritual sacrifices to the photo gods, we would be rewarded with a staff photography job at a small paper. Eventually that small paper would lead to a bigger one, then an even bigger one, and soon we’d have the job we’d always dreamed of!
It’s not so much the case anymore. Journalism is a fickle mistress who happens to be cheating on us with a reporter holding an iPhone, thus more of us are freelancing than ever. But that’s not a bad thing!
Awesome things about freelancing
1. As mentioned above, there is an optimum amount of pajama time.
2. Are you dicking around on social media? That’s called marketing, my friend!
3. Everyone is a better editor after they have three beers, duh. (but seriously, don’t drink and photo).
4. More time to pursue those bullshit personal projects we’re all so fond of.
5. Freedom to create a niche for the kind of work you want to do, which is seriously the best. You want to specialize in baby animal photography, then you fucking specialize in baby animal photography.
Not-so-awesome things about freelancing
1. The entire month of fucking January
2. The slight sense of panic you feel every time a new photographer moves to your city, even it’s a friend of yours. (“Oh, you’re thinking of moving to Chicago? I heard that Boise, Idaho is where it’s at these days for freelance work. Maybe you should move there).
3. You are your own editor, and your own worst enemy.
4. What is this ‘accounting’ thing of which you speak? What are ‘taxes’?
5. You might spend 20% of your time actually taking pictures, if that. The rest of the time is dedicated to emailing, accounting, designing, editing, etc.
Basically, being a freelance photographer is like giving your phone number to that hot girl at the bar. You put yourself out there, and you hope to god that someone calls you back. But is it worth it?
YOU BET YOUR SWEET ASS IT IS.
The perfect singles portfolio follows a formula, right? Feature, news, spot news, portrait and sports action. We have some thoughts on that, and chances are, your current body of work looks like something as follows:
Photo of a candlelight vigil: Soft, flickering candlelight, people embracing in tears and high ISOs. You gotta ‘in’ that shit.
People freaking the fuck out at a sports event: Could be players, could be the spectators at the sidelines. Either way, their arms are up and their mouths are open. For some reason this type of photo is referred to as “jube” which sounds far too much like something sexual.
The kid feature: Truly the pinnacle of your abilities right here.
The Presidential photo: Oh hey, you photographed Barack Obama once? Cool story, bro.
The ‘artsy’ photos: You added some personal photos to your website to show how free-thinking and different you are from your colleagues. Everyone photographs their loved ones sitting/being blurry in cool light, but you were the only one with enough of an artist’s soul to dedicate your portfolio to it.
The spot news photo: Look! You made it to the scene in time to catch the last flame peter out! The composition sucks, the focus is off and there’s more noise than fire, but you’re damn proud to add this essential photo to the portfolio dreams are fucking made of.
A “fun-run” photo: Man, those are some sweet-ass, completely unique shots of people running through mud/throwing color/wearing zany and outrageous costumes! But guess what? Even your grandma made that lame photo, so get over yourself.
The portrait you’re really proud of lighting: Look ma! No window light!
The ‘layered’ photo: Yeah, keep trying.
The contents of Taylor’s bag plus Leroy cat
Have you ever seen another photographer on an assignment and wondered what kind of heat they were packing? You haven’t? Well, too bad, because they want to tell you about it anyway.
Photojournalists love selfies, and they love talking about their gear, so it only makes sense that they would be all about making “In My Bag” blog posts, which is pretty much a selfie of your junk. What’s in your bag? Let me guess. A camera? Maybe some lenses? COLOR ME SURPRISED. Honestly, you are probably a nice person with good gear, but who gives two shits if we have the same lens?
Anywho, the writers at SPL have decided that since you guys apparently love this shit so much, that we’d clue you in on the mystical secrets of our own camera bags. Prepare to be thrilled.
My bag is an itty bitty Thinktank Urban Disguise 20 and it might as well belong to Mary fuckin’ Poppins because I’ve crammed as many items as possible into it. Inside you’ll find a 50mm f1.4, a 35mm f1.4, an 85mm f1.8 and a 70-200mm f2.8. The 70-200 is the red-headed stepchild of my lenses (apologies to all redheaded stepchildren), because it’s stupid and heavy. I like primes because I’m obviously really deep and artistic. Because I am a tortured artist, I have several 35mm film cameras that I like to swap in and out of my bag. One of them looks like a box of apple juice, which Eve bought for me because she’s an enabler.
You’ll also find several stray batteries, a green CF card wallet, a smeared reporters notebook, crumpled business cards and dollar bills from my ‘other’ job, plus lots of pens that are pretty much out of ink. I also like to keep tampons in the outer pocket so I can accidentally pull them out when I’m handing business cards to people.
I like to think of my camera bag as a time capsule. My own personal DSLR is a 5 year old Canon that soccer moms and I have gotten a lot of use out of. I’ve got a Tamron 28-75mm f/2.8, a Canon 50mm f/1.8, a Holga and Lomography ring flash for those unexpected hipster moments in life and an external flash with a shattered diffusor plate (from the time a few subjects and I tested the limits of our livers). Luckily, the miniature soft box I carry around acts as a diffusor just as well. I’ve got two notebooks, one for note-taking in the field and one for clarifying just how much I enjoy Star Wars.
Other crap in my bag includes pens, business cards, CF cards, an external hard drive, earplugs and a 3 month old issue of Esquire (no joke, I just never got around to reading it).
My camera bag tends to be a big klutz just like me, but it’s tough, so it gets by. I have a Retrospective 20 in army green, which makes me feel like a bad ass in a far away land when in actuality, I’m covering a high school volleyball game.
Inside you’ll often find too many lenses for my own good. My go-to lens is my 35mm 1.4, which is back in my hands after a brief vacation at my mentor’s house (apparently, I was using it too much). In addition, I have a 50mm 1.4, a 85mm 1.8, a 50 macro for beloved food assignments and a 70-200mm 2.8, for when I really want to show how much I’m packing. My Diana gets thrown into the mix every now and then, too. I also carry a flash, because sometimes, you just gotta have it. To accompany said flash, I have several dead batteries, which are obviously really handy.
You’ll find ink stains from exploded pens, business cards from assignments, crumpled notepads, and more lens caps then I have lenses. (I know, I know, I don’t know how that happened).
What’s in your bag? We really don’t care but you might as well tell us anyway.
There is a mystical land just beyond the copy desk, hidden away and kept secret. It is said that great sorcerers work there, day in and day out. All who enter their domain fear them. They are the photo editors, and you shall bow before their power.
Seriously though, working with photo editors is like being across the table from the best card player in the world. What the hell are they thinking? Do they… Do they know I’m in the room? Quite possibly even worse than the verbal lashing that can be doled out so easily by an editor is their second choice of communication: silence. If your photo editor has gotten two-thirds of the way through your take and hasn’t spoken a word to you yet, it’s probably best that you step out of the room. Don’t linger and make awkward small talk. AND FOR THE LOVE OF GOD, DO NOT MAKE EYE CONTACT.
These Shaman of the newsroom always manage to find your best image even if you didn’t see it. They’re the ones who tell you to quit your bitching and reshoot the assignment you so clearly half-assed. Without a photo editor, publications would be ass-to-ankles in Instagram photos (of whatever bullshit it is Instagrammers take photos of) and 20 different varieties of sports-resembling blur. And cat photos. Don’t forget the cat photos.
Also, the ever-elusive silent nod of approval? That’s like getting a fucking gold star from that teacher who hated you in elementary school.
So the next time you’re in the newsroom, thank your photo editor… Just don’t touch them and don’t turn your back as you leave the room.
A photojournalism professor once said that in order to be a truly successful photographer (and not go insane), you worked to put food on the table, and then you needed to find something that lit your hair on fire. I think this analogy had something to do with burning passion, but I’m not sure. At the time it was moderately terrifying. I’ve mostly blocked it from my memory.
Personal projects are what keep you going when you’ve shot nothing but building mugs for a week. Personal projects are a breath of fresh air. Personal projects are mostly bullshit.
I’ve heard tell of an age when a project was something that had some kind of ultimate long-term theme or goal (hence the term, “project”). However, as of late, a personal project is any collection of random photos you want to slap a meaningful title onto. After all, it’s…like, personal, right?
Film photos you took of trash cans and discarded mattresses? Project. Cell phone selfies you took with Hipstamatic in gas station restrooms across the midwest? Project. 25 blurry photos of you and your friends drinking PBR in sweet light? You better fucking believe that’s a project. Naked photos you took of your roommate sleeping? Maybe we should have a private chat about that one.
You may be saying, “These photos are for no one but me! I’m not trying to impress anyone! These are the photos that matter!” We disagree with you. For photos that are so deeply personal, you’ve sure dedicated a lot of your twitter feed with links directing to the new gallery on your website.
Don’t act like you haven’t done it. We all have. I have a gallery of pictures I took of my feet with a fucking e.e. cummings quote on my website for christ’s sake, and you know I linked to that shit on my Facebook.
Personal ain’t so personal after all (especially if it increases your web traffic).
Now…about those nude pictures? Hit us up with an email.
(sweet-ass chart courtesy of Janna Dotschkal)
OUT OUT OUT OUT OUT OUT OUT
The POYi chat room is a terrifying place. It might as well bear a sign proclaiming, ‘Abandon Hope, All Ye Who Enter Here,” or “Abandon All Rules of Grammar and Spelling.” Seriously, can any of you guys spell? For more fun, visit poyichatroomheroes.tumblr.com. If you look carefully, our writers make a few cameos.
We feel sorry for the poor souls watching the livestream and seeing their year of hard work fly by. It hurts even worse if it gets past the first round (and in some cases, it’s pulled in, kicked out, pulled in, then kicked out again. Melissa Lyttle has got to be weeping into her glass of Fat Tire right now).
Thanks to the miraculous interwebs, we all get to voice our opinions, because they obviously matter so much. If it’s not bad enough to hear the deputy photo editor of the NY Times digging into your work, you have to deal with ‘guest 4’ bitching about how hard you suck. Spoiler alert: you suck so hard. Even the popcorn man thinks so.
The chat room has also made many feel as though their opinions are holier than the photo gods. Chatting with the legends doesn’t make you one. Since when did ‘Will from Will and Grace’ become a photo expert? You want to define a category? Go call Rick Shaw, POYi organizer. We’re sure he would just love to hear your brilliant thoughts.
It doesn’t matter if you have a great, fucking photo that contains all of the layers (all of them), sweet light, and amazing colors. If it doesn’t involve a revolution, kiss it goodbye. Does your picture story end in death? No? OUT.
The digital age has certainly transformed photography, but the best (and also possibly the worst) weapon in the digital world’s arsenal is the camera app. The app that finally does it all: exposes, captures, and edits… In seconds! Why would I get out my gigantic camera with all its complicated buttons when I can snap a photo, send a text or two, check my email and then tweet said photo? Boom. All done. Toning? What’s that?
Damon Winter placed in POYi for a story he shot with his Hipstamatic app, and you know what, good for him. We’re not here to talk about where the line is, and the people upset about Winter’s award were actually just pissed cause they didn’t think of it first. Hell, even the guy who called Winter out took back what he said.
The problem with these apps isn’t how they’re being used. It’s who’s using them. The photographic elite shudder to know that with the aid of Instagram, everyone thinks they are a great photographer (try asking that Instagrammer what shutter speed is). Plus, it doesn’t hurt our naturally large egos that we can see how many people like our photos. Instagratification.
Suddenly, that chick from high school that worked at Olan Mils is posting a photo on Facebook, and even though you hate to admit it, it’s actually kind of a cool photo. Sure, it’s of a half-eaten homemade dinner that’s slightly out of focus, but man, doesn’t that vignette just add something? And those colors! I didn’t know beef could be teal! We’re breaching a whole new level of art here, and maybe that’s why we love to hate camera apps.
After all, it’s the solution to all of our problems as photographers. Every filter in Hipstamatic or Instagram is the long-desired “unsuck filter”. It allows us to take a photo on an assignment that we think is good but would never legitimately turn into our editor. We can just blog/tweet/facebook/tumble it later.
By all means, Instagram to your heart’s content. Just keep the fake Polaroid photos of your cat to a minimum.
This may not be applicable to every photographer out there, but I’ll be damned if there isn’t a photog out there who hasn’t been sitting around waiting for a subject and thought, “I would look so fucking cool if I were smoking a cigarette right now.” If Dennis Hopper could do it, so can I.
Journalism and cigarettes were once synonymous with each other, and a glorious time it was. Everyone in the newsroom smelled like cigarette butts, scotch and freedom of the press. How else do you think photo editors make it through a shift? All these kids with their bullshit and lust for life. One day they’ll realize just how shitty the world is, and they’ll be sucking down Marlboro reds like the rest of us.
What else is a photographer to do when killing time? The high school football game doesn’t start for another 45 minutes and you’re too broke to afford a smartphone. So do like you did when YOU were in high school: sneak out to your car and light up that American-grown goodness like the principal isn’t watching. Feel the burn. All is well.
Despite all the horrible things that cigarettes do to the human body (and we’re completely aware of those things), it just seems like the right thing to do. What better way to get quick access to a homeless population than by showing up with a carton of the heaviest cigarettes legally sold in America? Whether you’re racing across town chasing a goddamn hot air balloon because there is literally nothing else to shoot for the space on 5A; or if you’re just looking for an excuse to get out of the newsroom while the design desk crops your image more and more to fit the page, cigarettes are a staple for photojournalists.
AND, if they aren’t your bag… Well get on board, you’re missing out dude.
Note: This isn’t an intentional advertisement for cigarettes, but if Camel were to stumble across this post, I wouldn’t be upset if they sent a few complimentary cartons my way.