Number Crunching

A little while back I sat down during a quiet patch and did some sums. I was interested in finding out what my "hit rate" was - how much of my work was actually fitting in with what I want to be shooting, how much ends up in the portfolio and so on. I split the shoots into 5 categories:
  1. Utter Crap - Shoots which I have no intention of ever doing again, and was only doing for the money, or because I felt obliged in some way or other.
  2. Non-commercial - This covers shoots for charities, as well as the occasional "favour" for friends which I don't charge for.
  3. Tests/Personal - Experimental work intended for the portfolio, as well as stuff that goes towards personal projects.
  4. Bread and Butter - The sort of work that comes in all the time, and although it doesn't set my world on fire, I'm quite happy to shoot it, as it's generally a pleasant way to earn a living.
  5. Desirable jobs - All the commercial shoots that "tick all my boxes", jobs that are creatively fulfilling, properly produced, and allow me to exercise some creativity.
I counted up every single shoot from 2007, and this is what I came up with:
  1. Utter Crap: 16 shoots/12% - Of which none made it into the portfolio
  2. Non-commercial: 11 shoots/8% - Of which none made it into the portfolio
  3. Tests/Personal: 25 shoots/19% - Of which 4 made it into the portfolio
  4. Bread and Butter: 36 shoots/27% - Of which none made it into the portfolio
  5. Desirables: 44 shoots/33.3% - Of which 13 made it into the portfolio
Now, there's all sorts of things I can draw from these figures, in fact I've been surprised at how useful this exercise has been. Firstly some general trends. The proportion of personal/test work is particularly high because I was working on my yearbook up until the end of May. Commercial work (crap, bread and butter and desirables) makes up over 72% of my shoots - but then as a working pro this is how it should be if I want to carry on paying the mortgage! I'm trying to remove as many of the "utter crap" jobs as possible from my diary, as they have no redeeming features besides the cash when the invoice gets paid, but it's encouraging to note how small the percentage is already. As far as the overall number goes, I'm fairly happy with the amount. 2007 was an average year in terms of turnover, plus some of the shoots actually represent a whole week or more of shooting, although to balance that out, some only represent about half an hour or so!

On a positive note, desirable work already seems to be the biggest chunk of what I do, and it has the highest proportion that ends up in the portfolio. This would seem to be a very positive, reinforcing trend, as besides the fact that I already want to do more of this kind of work, there's the added incentive that more of it will end up in the portfolio, therefore will enable me to attract more of this kind of work, and so on. I'm slightly disappointed in how few personal and test shoots ended up in the portfolio, but on reflection that's because so much of it was devoted to the yearbook, rather than the more conventional method of shooting tests specifically to get new work into the portfolio. I find it odd that not a single "bread and butter" shoot got into the portfolio. I think I've obviously reached a stage with jobs like this (think golf instruction, fitness instruction, basic portraits etc) where I do a decent job, but have stopped investing gallons of creativity into it, as I'm usually wasting my time if I do!

Moving forward here's what I'm planning to do based on these results:
  1. Completely remove any "utter crap". I've pretty much already ticked this one off, as I've not only got rid of the few clients who used to give me this sort of work, but when clients call out of the blue, I'm very careful to find out what the shoot entails before I say yes.
  2. Plan and execute test shoots more carefully to ensure that more of them end up in the portfolio.
  3. See if I can get more out of "bread and butter" shoots, even if it means shooting extra stuff alongside the job.
  4. Keep aiming for those desirable jobs - they're self-reinforcing, and great to shoot anyway.
This exercise took about an hour all told, all you'll need is an old diary, and I can highly recommend it!

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A Photographer's Reading List - Self-Help/Finance/Business.

Self-Help/Personal Growth.

I dislike the term "self help" as it implies we're a bit pathetic, and need an american style motivation tape to get us out of bed in the mornings. "Personal growth", I feel is much more appropriate, as we're all essentially OK, but a little direction here and there can make a world of difference. As my tutor from college used to put it, as we progress through life we can't hope to become completely different people, but we can hope to become better versions of ourselves. Maybe some of us need to spend time working on self-discipline, whilst others need to confront their fears about shooting creative work as opposed to just commercial. Either way, I feel that being embarrassed about reading such books is a little old-fashioned. Mind you, I still don't read them on the bus!

One important caveat I should add is that none of these books will change your life on their own. In many cases the problems/issues they are addressing are deep-seated personal habits, and in a similar way to giving up something like smoking, they won't change overnight. If you expect to simply read through each book like a novel, and then magically to be cured of your fear/lack of self-discipline/insert your problem here, you'll be disappointed. What these books will do is kind of guide your way for you, and provide you with tools and methods to lead a fuller life - it's up to you whether you use the tools or not.

"Art and Fear", by David Bayles and Ted Orland. A superb little tome (you'll finish it in a day or so.) Concerns itself with the inherent fears involved in producing work that is different, and how we deal with it. If you're trying to move your career on, or feel like your photography is stuck in a rut, start here.

"Feel the Fear and do it Anyway", by Susan Jeffers. Something of a classic this, and rightly so, as it deals with all the ares of your life where you may be held back by fear. We're not talking about the "swimming with sharks" kind of fear, but the ultimately irrational "can't pick up the phone and get new work" kind of fear. Highly recommended.

"The Artist's Way", by Julia Cameron. Similar to "Art and Fear" this is essential reading for those who feel they've strayed off the path a little bit. If, for example you were full of ideas and inspiration at college, and destined to be the next Nick Knight, and yet you currently find yourself shooting pack shots of shampoo bottles, then I'd recommend reading this book!

"The Luck Factor", by Richard Wiseman. OK, we're straying a bit into weirdo territory here - how on earth can anyone make themselves more lucky? All i can say is, read the book and find out - you won't know until you try.

"Think and Grow Rich" by Napoleon Hill. The original success manual, first written in 1937, and it probably inspired more people than all the rest put together. Essential reading really, if you can ignore the slightly materialistic approach it often takes, and his obsession with huge business magnates. If you read between the lines just a little a much better title would be "Think and become abundant" because essentially the methods he espouses can be applied to success/riches in the broadest sense, something that he only alludes to briefly. This link goes to the original text - apparently there's a whole heap of different versions out there, some of which differ enormously from this version.

Although not a book I feel I must mention a website at this point, Steve Pavlina.com. Steve is concerned with personal growth, and everything on his website is free, including about 6 hours of podcasts. The site covers a wide range, from quite basic stuff on how to get out bed earlier each morning, to stuff that most people will sniff at such as lucid dreaming and psychic experiences. However, given that you don't have to pay for any of it, what have you got to lose?

Business and Finance.

"The Elephant and the Flea" by Charles Handy. Some of this book may seem a little large scale for someone who runs a one-man business, but if you read it closely you'll find a superb analysis of how to make your way as a "Flea" in a world of "Elephants".

"My Mamiya made me a Million", by Keith Cogman. What can I say? This book, and this bloke's attitude towards photography and learning is one of the reasons this site exists. His approach is wonderfully accessible, he hides nothing from the reader about how a photographic business is run, and whilst some of the info may now be a little out of date, chapters such as "Meeting People and Caring" will never lose their relevance, and are applicable to every branch of professional photography.

"Beyond the Lens", By the Association of Photographers. Should be compulsory reading for any student of photography who is actually serious about making a living, and most photographers keep a copy by them for reference purposes. Includes information on copyright, licensing, codes of practice, contracts, working ethics, insurance, tax and financial matters, as well as an appendix with template forms for model releases, licences, invoices etc. It's also being continually updated. This link goes to the online version where you can buy one outright, or buy it chapter by chapter - how very clever.

"Financial Management for the Small Business", by Colin Barrow. Does exactly what it says on the tin, but in a very accessible and approachable way, given that most of us hide under the duvet when anyone mentions finance.

"Best Business Practices for Photographers", by John Harrington. John is a very successful commercial photographer over in America, and what this book does is detail all the nitty gritty bits that go into running a business as a photographer - something I'm having my own crack at with this blog. If you're working America this should be a compulsory purchase, and even if you're not all the sections about psychology, professional presentation, dealing with clients and so on are essential reading. For those of us outside the US the finance sections are a little irrelevant, but only because they are so specific and tax laws vary so much from country to country.

Intro, Monographs, Critical Theory, Technique.

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A Photographer's Reading List - Photographer's Monographs

This is the place to look for inspiration. It's also a good place to increase your overdraft, as not many of these books are bargains! The list is deliberately random, in keeping with my theory of drawing influences from as broad a range of places as possible.

Random Collection 1:

"LaChapelle Land", by David LaChapelle - Bonkers portraits, glamour and beauty stuff. And, yes I do own one of the original Hardback, boxed copies, well done me.

"Star Trak", by Anton Corbijn. For portraits with impact, find a good lith printer (Mike Spry), a Hasselblad with a standard lens, and lots of famous subjects. Does help if you're Dutch though.

"Vietnam Inc", by Philip Jones Griffiths, credited with helping to turn public opinion against the Vietnam war (I find that claim a little far-fetched - it came out in 1971, I suspect the Tet offensive of 1968 might have had a more tangible effect on American public opinion!) Either way, it's a superb work of photojournalism.

"Poles Apart", by Galen Rowell, now sadly departed he was a mainstay of National Geographic for ages, and someone who truly lived life at it's extremes.

"Filming the Impossible", by Leo Dickinson. Much of what he pioneered has been done since, and we've become very inured to "extreme" photography in the past 30-odd years. However - he did it first in many cases (including an ascent of the Eiger by a previously unused route, with camera gear) and his stories of how he achieved all this are very compelling indeed. Plus, he went to my college - hurrah!

"Arnold Newman", Arnold Newman, sadly passed away last year. He left behind him a legacy of probably the finest environmental portraiture the world has ever seen. His compositions are nothing short of perfection.

Random Collection 2:

"Cyclops", by Albert Watson. Kind of like a modern day Irving Penn - has the same dedication and precision to whatever he turns his hand to. Even if you don't recognise some of the images in the book you'll have seen his work, as he's shot more Vogue covers than anyone else in the past 25 years (I think - don't quote me on that!) And by 'eck, his lighting really is something.

"Robert Capa", by Phaidon. A huge monograph covering almost all his work, and although you'll recognise a few of the more famous ones, there are countless gems that are less well known. The last few pages are particularly heart rending as after covering the Spanish civil war, the Sino-Japanese war, World War II, and Korea, you're forced to look at the pictures of a patrol of french infantry advancing along a road in Indochina, knowing that at any minute our Robert is going to step on a mine.

"Paris", by Robert Doisneau. Him of "Kiss by the Hotel de Ville". Beautiful reportage/documentary/photojournalism/candids, delete as appropriate. Should only be read whilst listening to Miles Davis and smoking a Gauloise.

"The Americans", by Robert Frank. Some of the best "moments" in photographic history, and still a template for any wannabe documentary photographer.

"Motel Fetish", by Chas Ray Krider. Slight change of direction to sultry ladies in cheap motel rooms. I absolutely love the narrative that's going on in many of these images. Very few photographers, with the possible exception of Helmut Newton, have ever managed to convey both intimacy and voyeurism at exactly the same time. Since this is one of the key tenets of photography I rather like this book. And I'm a sucker for ladies in sexy gear in hotel rooms, how sadly predictable of me.

"Physiognomy", by Mark Seliger. A staple of Rolling Stone for much of the 90's, Mark's work sums up everything that's great about American culture - larger than life, exuberant and exquisitely produced and executed. I know he's got a whole crew of people working for him to build sets. light things, fetch props and so on, but I can't help feeling a little jealous now and then.

Random Collection 3:

"Jonvelle", Jean-Francois Jonvelle. Lovely French ladies, lounging around in their pants. And sometimes not even their pants. Has a similar intimacy/voyeurism feel to Motel Fetish, but without the performance of the latter - these feel more natural. There was a sequel a few years later, imaginatively titled: "Jonvelle(s)", though I've never bought it as it's essentially more of the same.

"McCullin", by Don McCullin. Probably the definitive collection of his work, though other monographs of his go into more depth in certain areas. Should be read in conjunction with his autobiography, "Unreasonable Behaviour", required reading for anyone who thinks that going off to photograph war, conflict and suffering is in any way "cool".

"Tory Story", by David Modell. Incisive and sympathetic portrait of the Tory party from 1993 to 2001. Beautiful photographs, though it's very hard not to gloat at images of Tories humiliated or suffering, after all they did spend 18 years f**king this country up the arse.

"It's Nothing Personal", by John Stoddart. Some very striking stuff in here. Got to be careful what I say at this point, as although I like some of his work, on a personal level I'm not so fond of him. I'll leave it at that to prevent the libel writs flying.

"Australians", Polly Borland. Very strong portraiture indeed. Didn't realise so many Australians had infiltrated our culture, to quite such a degree.

"Famed" by Michael Birt. The British version of Arnold Newman - more understated, but still very beautifully put together.

"The Last Sitting", by Bert Stern. Famous for being the last images of Marilyn Monroe ever taken, and for the fact that she defaced them, none of this detracts from the work, which is a superb and intimate portrait of an icon.

General Inspiration/Collections:

This section covers all the books that comprise the work of more than one photographer. Following my ethos of drawing influences from as wide a cross-section as possible, books like these are particularly good - in inspiration terms they offer more "value for money".

The Graphis Photo annuals are always a good read, though quite expensive. They comprise a "best of" from commercial/advertising photography around the world, and as such function as a shop front for photographers. A few copies of these, coupled with the requisite AoP awards books (see below) will equip you with all the info on who's doing what at the top level of photography right now.

The annual Association of Photographer's Awards books are an essential - not just as inspiration, as you'll find the very cream of the crop here, but as an important resource for assistants/students looking to gain an insight into who's working at the top level of the industry. The link goes to the 18th awards (2001) as they are often out of print. The AoP themselves are a good place to look for older ones, as is Ebay - the same could be said for the Graphis books.

Images of Rock & Roll, by Rolling Stone. A superb collection of music photography from the 60's to the 90's - everything from scintillating live shots to elaborate studio set-ups.

"Kate" - basically a collection of shots of Kate Moss published in the late 90's. She might be a coked-up nutter, but she has worked with some of the best photographers of the recent decade. Seems to be very expensive on Amazon, so might be another job for Ebay.

Images of the 20th Century, by Getty Images (link goes to 1990's - there's one for every decade). Although they are now the MacDonalds of the image library world, that does mean they have access to an enormous archive, and they put it to good use in these compilations. Each decade covers areas such as, news, daily life, culture, sport and so on, and they're a bargain at a fiver each. I dread to think how little the photographer's are getting for the use of their images.

Although not a book, I have to include the blog Conscientious here, as it's such a fantastic collection point for fine art and photography in general. I would include far more web links, but they're coming in the near future, and I'd rather keep these posts strictly physical for the moment!

Intro, Technical, Self-Help/Finance, Critical Theory

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