Friday, September 11, 2009

Stealing Photographs and Ignoring Copyrights

What an odd bunch photographers are. Bob always wanted to take pictures. Amanda wanted pictures taken. He took pictures of her spends his waking moments and sleepless nights trying to devise ways to keep her from getting them.

I started working on this very problem in 1975. Twenty-one years later, I retired financially independent at age 50.

Once the solution was found, I sang on the way home every night. No indigestion. No lying awake at night stewing and fretting. Other photographers said it couldn’t be done, but I’d heard that phrase all my life, so it no longer bothered me.

The way photographers price their work, especially wedding and portrait photographers, comes from a time that no longer exists. The handwriting was on the wall in 1975, and certainly before that. My guess is that it began around the time of the invention of the 35mm camera.

The grave was dug for many photographers when the photo-copying machines started going into malls, libraries, and supermarkets. Many labs happily copied copyrighted images. Our livelihood. And our lab’s livelihood depended on our success... or so we thought. Kodak built the machines to copy our work – and then stuck a little sticker on it to gloss over the fact that they’d sold out. Other photographers came to me and wanted me to help ban copy machines from coming to our town. Other photographers came to me and stayed late, whining about the problem. Everywhere I lectured, the problem came up.

I thought about it a lot. I thought about the changing world and the copy machines coming into town and it made me wonder if it might have been the same thing for the livery stables in an earlier time trying to ban the automobile from coming into town.

I thought of how painters felt when photography came into town.

Then do you know what I thought of? I thought of the painter who, when asked what he felt about photography being invented. He said, “I love it. Thank God it’s here. Now I am free to paint!” I took that to mean that he was tired of being hounded to paint someone’s portrait. he wanted to create art instead of likenesses. He probably especially hated painting those little bitty passport “photos.” Worst of all was trying to make 18 little squirming boys in baseball uniforms hold still for 3 weeks while he painted the group mural.

The automobile has come into town.

Yet, there are people out there who are still trying to ban it, to stick warnings all over it. Threatening the public is a very popular approach to the problem. The final resort for many photographers is to drink heavily and often.

By 1981, I had the solution and began implementing it. They said it couldn’t be done. But I knew I had no choice in the matter. I pride myself in thinking long-term thoughts involving long-term effects from accumulating cause. Cause and Effect. Work it out. Be realistic, pragmatic, and painfully honest with all the steps of the problem. I knew that those who did not take this steps I was taking would be caught short. I warned them over and over. I’m still warning them, apparently. At least those who haven’t gone under.

The pricing structure photographers use is as old as the horse and buggy. Folks, the world has changed. I’m amused by those who resist change, and doubly amused by those who don’t expect change to occur.

Everything we own, everything we have, everything we do, and yes, even everything we “know” will change. What we “know” keeps us from learning. Growth comes from change. Even a cabbage knows that, and so every day it changes. Some changes are big changes, like when it decided to change from a seed to a seedling. Other changes are smaller, but just as essential, such as leaning to the right to catch more sun instead of leaning to the left as it had always done before...before someone parked a wheelbarrow there and blocked the sun from that angle. Being able to change like that is called adapting. A cabbage seedling can adapt in an hour. Do photographers need a century?

What did I do to adapt?

Prepare to hate me.

Perhaps the cabbage seedling could have waited for someone to move the wheelbarrow before it began looking for new light. Perhaps the livery stable owner could wait for the automobile “fad” to die out. Perhaps photographers are waiting for the world to turn back in their favor.

But here’s the odd part. The horse and buggy fell out of favor because they were no longer desired or needed. In today’s world the desire for photographs is higher than any other time in history. There’s been a quantum leap in demand. There aren’t enough photographers to go around.

Here’s an interesting thing about that. The more there is of a thing, the more demand there is for the best of it, and the more value will be placed on it. If there were only three people who could sing, there would be no demand for it, but since everyone can sing, suddenly there is a clamor to find out who can do it best and to throw lots of money at the winners.

Photographers now have that same opportunity. The demand has never been higher for the best in photography. When I started my career, people didn’t think about pictures very often. Maybe on an occasional Saturday night. And there might be one hanging somewhere in the house. Our house, growing up, had none. We were lucky to have wallpaper. The awareness and knowledge of photography in our culture is incredible now. What an opportunity!

When I had my studio, I had “competition” that sold 30 portraits for $3.99. My film cost more than that. Did I whine? No. Actually I was glad they were there. Why? Because with them there, I was “free to paint.” Being free to paint is an attitude, not buttons to click on a photoshop app. To have companies in my town who could take the coupon clippers off my hands was a help to me. I was free to create. The better I created, the more value I had, and the value loomed large when compared to the $3.99 portraits.

All this essay so far was a preface to the point of whole thing. Here’s how I solved the photography theft dilemma. Here’s how I got them to stop copying my stuff. Here’s how I got people to throw money at me. Here’s how I got to retire early. Here’s how I gained financial independence enough to be unemployed for 13 years and never draw a dime from the government. Here’s how I got to be the state’s most award-winning photographer, a PPA Master, Photographic Craftsman, the state’s first ASP Fellow, and 4th recipient of the ASP Gold Medallion. Here’s how I was able to sing every night on the way home. Ready?

I began charging for my creative talent instead of the photographic paper. I charged for me, not the pictures. How did I do it when they said it couldn’t be done? I did it gradually. Back then I had the time to do it. My ultimate goal was to give my pictures away for free. I have reached that goal. I grin every time I do it, too. My ultimate goal in life is to take my last breath thru grinning lips. Since I don’t know exactly which breath will be my last, I try to laugh often...just in case.

Here’s how I did it. Every time I changed my price list, I increased the price for ME and lowered the price of the PAPER. A little bit at a time. Soon, I was changing my price list four times a year. At the end, I think I was changing it about once month. The changes were small but cumulative. I wanted small and gradual changes because 96% of my clientele were repeat. EVERY time I handed anyone a price list, I pointed the change out to them.
Typical speech: “We changed our prices – I’ve raised the price of my time and talent, and that made it possible for me to keep the picture prices the same, which makes them lower because of inflation. These three prices even went down in ADDITION to inflation. What do you think?”
I don’t remember a single person complaining when I explained it to them that way. Most said they liked it better that way. Some said, “It’s about time. You’ve always priced yourself too cheap.”

I ended up making my living from my talents, and letting the print prices cover the lab bills and some overhead. I was on the way to giving them away for free when my career ended. No, it didn't go belly up - I stopped because of a deadline I'd given myself when I was 16.

How do you keep people from stealing from you? Help them get what they want. Help them by making the pictures too cheap to steal. Show them they’re better off money-wise AND quality-wise to get the images from you. Then prove it. What CAN’T they steal? Your talent. (Make sure you have some talent. Otherwise I wouldn’t recommend you trying this at home.)

I think of a wall with a picture hanging on it, and the wall is covered with wallpaper. The person who created the wallpaper design was probably a salaried worker, and the wallpaper was sold by the square foot. I have yet to pull up a chair and sit in front of some wallpaper and marvel at it. There are such seating facilities in museums, and the creators of such works was not paid by the square foot. The artist was paid for being creative. If you charge by the square foot, you’re mocking your own creativity.

Every time We changed the price list, I marveled about how easy it was and how much more sense it made for everyone.

I love making sense.
I love adapting.
I love change.
I love photography.
I even love photographers, although sometimes it doesn’t show.

I love life itself. My life is valuable because I keep it real, not fake. I don’t pretend. I don’t flatter. There are lots of teachers out there who are determined to be liked by telling what you want to hear. But I don’t really care whether you like me or not. I have always said what I think needs to be said, and I do what needs to be done. There are lots of teachers out there who will tell you what you want to hear so that you’ll like them well enough to pay for a seminar or workshop or buy their DVD. I don’t need your money.

Can we still be friends? I may be the best friend you have in the business. George Bernard Shaw said, “A friend will stab you in the front.”

I'm on Facebook if you want to comment or chat about this.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Posing Seniors

While giving a workshop one time, I mentioned a senior girl I'd photographed. I told the class that as I was taking her into the shooting room, she told me, "By the way, if you grab me by the ears to pose my head, I will bite you."
I stopped dead in my tracks. What an odd thing to say, I thought. And that's thinking something, because I was pretty sure by that time I'd heard it all, and thought it all.
So I asked. I HAD to ask her, "Why would you say such a thing?"
She calmly replied, "Because I bit a photographer once, and I think it only fair to warn you that I'm quite capable of biting photographers and already have a record as well of having done so."
I enjoy people who can express themselves so well, especially seniors. Now you have to know, if you don't know me, that I didn't normally enjoy photographing seniors. My attitude was that seniors are unformed humans. This fairly unpopular attitude got around schools until my senior load dropped from 500 per year down to around 15. I tried to make it an even lower and more perfect number, but somehow never could get it any lower than that, mostly because there are always some people like this particular senior that gain my respect.
I also didn't want to get bitten. I don't mind getting shots for things like that, but I hated the idea of having to take the time to go to the doctor, or the vet, or whatever.
So I asked.
"Why, may I ask, did you bite a photographer?"
She said, "He grabbed me and plopped me down on a posing stool as if I were a lump of clay on a potting wheel. Then he grabbed one of my ears in each hand and jerked my head around over my right shoulder. It hurt. Fred, I don't mind being grabbed. Sometimes, in certain circumstances, being grabbed has been pleasurable, but I had never been grabbed by the ears before. It wasn't pleasant. So I told him that it hurt. I told him that if he wanted me to turn my head a certain way, I would willingly do so because I was fully capable of following instructions."
"So," I carefully replied, "did that work, you telling him that?"
"No," she said, with lips that were beginning to lose their color. "The very next pose, he grabbed my ears again. OWW! I said, and that's when I bit him."
"Okaaaaaay," I said.
"So, now I'm telling you," she told me clear and simple sentences, "if you want my head a certain way, just tell me. I can understand English and I'm intelligent enough to follow instructions."
During her session, I never did get bitten, but I do remember several times saying, "I sure like the way your head is turned just now."
Anyway, during my workshop, I was telling the class this story. Just as I finished the story, one of the students raised his hand and excitedly said, "That's exactly why I use their cheeks instead."
For a minute I wondered why he was in my workshop, and then I wondered why I was even giving a workshop. But I remained calm. I put down my measuring tape (Why I was holding it, I don't know. I don't know why I do half the things I do.), and walked over, bent down, and bit him.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

97 Silly Rules - #33

Silly Rule #33. Don’t use red, because red means anger.

My answer – Red CAN mean anger, but it can also mean a thousand other things. I have red library walls, and sure, I get angry in here occasionally. I’m angry right now (guess why!). But that isn’t why I made them red, and red is NOT what made me angry.
If red means anger, then why do so many temples have big red doors? Why do rooms made for contemplation have so much red? Why do so many museums have red walls? Why do so many homes have red doors? And restaurants? And brothels (so I’ve heard). Superman’s cape. Cincinnati Reds.
They all have their reasons for their reds. Red can mean energy, enthusiasm, appetite, and 997 other things. A good photography judge won’t be as narrow-minded and simplistic as the one I quoted here.

Adina St John's self-portrait with red

Here’s a Facebook dialog between a photographer, pictured above, and me:
(Fred) ...Before we go further with my critique, since you are one of the few worth saving, you need to answer a question: talk to me about your state of mind as you set up the red shot - step by step. ...I don't do casual glances at images. Neither do I do casual critiques. I have nothing to gain by this except to give back to a profession I love, a profession I wasted a lot of time and energy learning and following some silly rules.

(Adina St John, here using the speedy Facebook style of writing): i was thinking about this all night and all morning.
regarding the red...after high school, when i moved back to the city, i stayed with some family. from there, moved directly in with (future, at the time) dh. so really have never lived alone. the studio is the first space i've had that is just for me. and i wanted it red. talked with some friends about it, was cautioned against the glares and color casts i would have to deal with. figured who cares, and did it anyway. i painted the wall in the office area, and a half wall that goes around a sink and minifridge.
my point...i that the studio is my own space, my happy place, or whatever you want to call it. my space that is just me. not wife/mom/pta/taxi driver or any of those other labels. and red makes me happy. thus the wall is red.
the actual photo...i'm calm here, relaxed, the only thing to focus on is work. i've got 4-5 hours a day, a couple days a week, that are photography driven. most people find it contrary, but the red soothes me, because it's me. i wasn't sure exactly what i was going to get with the photo, but i knew i wanted the red, and i wanted the calm.

Adina, I couldn’t have said it better.

Even the red bullfighting capes that the matadors of Spain use does not mean anger. Yes, it may INCITE anger...among bulls. And I will certainly keep that in mind the next time I decorate a corral.
See, red means many things to many people. To some it is simply a very pretty color. Red poppies in my terraces are certainly not angry. The red poppies in Flanders Field have become symbolic of a great sadness there. My Red Horses have nothing to do with anger, but rather the Will.
Don’t use red in a picture because it means anger? That’s not only silly, it’s simple-minded, simplistic, and wrong. Grrrrr! Now I’m getting angry.
Besides, getting rid of that color would leave an obvious gaping hole in your box of crayons.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Making a Portrait: The Creative Process - Part One

Making a portrait. Sounds simple enough, right? This one won’t be, though, for reasons that will become obvious as we go along.
People have asked me along the way, “How do you think up some of your images?”
“Show us how your mind works.”
“Talk to us about the creative process.”
When they come to a workshop, there will be someone who always says something to this effect, “I don’t care about how to take another dang picture, I came because I want to watch those gears turning inside your head.”
“I want to watch you think.”
Apparently, to some, I’m something of a curiosity. Anyone who’s seen the movie “Elephant Man” should know that I watched it with more than a nodding acquaintance.
When I do a seminar or lecture, lots of people don’t seem to mind if I never get around to photography per se; it’s all connected anyway. Deal with the photographer, and the photographs will come. "Feed a man a fish...." You know the rest.
What I’m about to do here, I don’t think has ever been least not to my knowledge, and it certainly won’t be done in the way I’m about to do it.
I’m going to document the process of going about the creative process, culminating in a photographic portrait.
This is not about taking a picture - it will be about making one. A very specific one, and only one.
This is the first installment of that process.
In truth, the process has already been underway for about a month, so let me bring some of you up to date.
About a month ago, someone asked me to become a Facebook friend. “Don’t know if you remember me or not, and there’s no reason that you should, but we met perhaps fifteen years ago through a couple who happen to be mutual friends.” That was all she said.
I accepted, and when I clicked the “accept” button on Facebook, a feeling suddenly swelled up in me that had not occurred in over a dozen to fifteen years. I heard myself say aloud, “I have to do another portrait.” WHAT????
Then I said, "Oh, my!" (or something to that effect)
For those of you who don’t know, I retired early from a professional photography career in order to find out what else was in me. I set the date for this retirement when I was sixteen with the goal of then spending a year of solitude in some wilderness, somewhere, as the “intermission” between the first and second halves of my life on earth.
Knowing that date so far in advance, I was able to do, in photography, all the things I desired to do. Many people, not knowing how long their careers or lives will last, will procrastinate and find themselves coming up short in the end. Having achieved my goals, I was able sell my business, all my equipment, lock, stock, and barrel, and walk away grinning, and without a single regret. I was done, and every cell of my body knew it. I was Done with a capital D.
So when this urge sprang up within me, around 14 years later, I was one surprised dude. I remember walking around and around, in the kitchen, in the library, up and down the hallway, up and down the driveway, through the garden, up the hill, through the woods and back, for the rest of that first day with this strange new seed germinating within me. I examined it as some kind of a curiosity, and picked at it as if it were some kind of a rare insect bite.
Whims are not part of my nature, and so when one comes along every few years, it gets my attention. Or rather, I should say, I have learned to PAY attention, for these never seem to turn out to BE whims. And this one wasn’t either.
I cried twice over it, depressed as hell, thinking it might be one of those Stage Seven Photographs. They're scary, and like I said, depressing as hell.
This story will introduce you - and me - to the first “Stage Eight” photograph. More about this Stage Eight stuff, and the previous Seven, later.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Silly Rule Number 19

Silly rule # 19:
Heads can be shown in profile, or in a 3/4 turn. Nothing in between.
My response:
Are you kidding me? Where do these requirements get started? Certainly they don't come from the masterpieces in museums that everyone bows to.
My guess is that memes are involved. Memes, to save time for you two people who are interested enough to look it up, was a word invented by Richard Dawkins in 1976, and refers to the contagious imitation of ideas. It's an oversimplification, but I have to move on.
There are an infinite number of positions for the head in a portrait. To limit it to a couple, besides full frontal is an atrocity. It would be like limiting all words to one or two syllables. What? Screw that!
Where a head ends up in a photograph often depends on the moment. If the moment is more important, and it often is, then let it be. Judge the moment and not the turn of the head. What an arbitrary and silly way to see things!

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Silly Rule Number 43

Pardon me while I take the rules out of numerical sequence. My nature is to deal with what's on my mind, not necessarily what's next on some arbitrary list.
Rule 43:
In the woods, the worst thing you can wear in a picture is white.
My response:
But a bride in the park, in the woods, among the trees, and even sprawled in the leaves and dirt, is somehow okay. And on the beach, OMG, white is practically required. How "od". It gets confusing. What if there were, say, a palm tree on the beach, and the subject was not a bride? The palm is a tree. Should someone wear white or not? What if there were enough palms to qualify as a forest? What then? What. the. hell. then?
As usual, arbitrary rules end up getting in trouble.
Who starts these rules? Often it’s a really nice image that people like enough to try to copy. And they copy without understanding what it was they liked in the first place.
Carefully copying van Gogh's paint strokes will not make you a van Gogh.
After a hundred people copy a style, it starts becoming popular. It develops a force of its own, pulling more and more unsuspecting suckers into its vortex.
Soon, the bride looks good in the woods lying sprawled in the dirt. People only look good at the beach if they’re wearing white. No “navy” blue. Not near the water. Anything else in the woods will not conform to the paradigm formed in the minds of programmed people.
Soon, the “in” people will condemn your work for not forming the same paradigms in your mind. They will look at you funny, and shun you.
We can’t have that, now, can we? CAN WE!!! No. We are all too lonely, and need all the friends we can get. (sigh)

Monday, March 23, 2009

Photography's 97 Silly Rules

Everywhere I go, it seems, except for two recent trips to Wal-Mart, people ask me, "Where are all those rules I hear judges keep talking about?" Or, "I'd sure like to get my hands on a list of them rules BEFORE I make my competition prints."
I told a lot of them that I'd try to follow the judges around and make a list of all the rules they talked about.
So I did.
I love making lists, and I collected 97 of their rules before they got wise to me. After that, they'd shut up whenever I walked into a room where they were pontificating about some formula for beauty or some such nonsense.
I won't give all 97 at once, because I'm just too wordy and you just won't have the time, but here's number one, and I'll put up more shortly.

Silly Rule Number 1: First you must learn the rules before you can break them.

Here is Fred's response:
No, you don't. After you learn them, they become a part OF you. Trying to break a rule after it’s part of you is like trying to intentionally break your leg. Very few are capable of it. Getting rid of a rule once it's become a part of your taste is like trying to switch from a food you love to a food you hate. Very few can do it. It's like trying to self-amputate. Very few can do it. Of course, I know that you the reader can, but nobody ELSE can that I know of. Not even me, not completely, and I’m really sore about it. I respected people who told me that. They meant well, though.

In the world of rules,
There are no rules...
Only fools.
- Ogden Nash

Sunday, March 22, 2009


Three teenage boys laid a board across a homeless man's chest in the park and stood on it until he was dead.
When later asked why they did it, one boy said, "Because he was ugly."
Another said that he couldn't stand the shirt he was wearing. "It was one of those awful stripey things."
The third boy never did like to talk much.
Beauty is very important to popular culture. How they define beauty varies from time to time and from culture to culture. One thing remains constant though. The more adolescent the taste, the more narrowly defined beauty becomes. As you work to convert photography into money, as you work to convert knowledge into wisdom, try to broaden your definitions of beauty. Broaden your limits. Doing so will remove more of your limitations. True beauty is infinite and everywhere. Only ignorance will cause beauty to be defined, and the smaller the mind, the more narrowly defined beauty becomes.
I'll tell you one thing though - next time I go into town, I'll be a little more thoughtful about which shirt I wear.

Lighting - an explanation of my rules

My two simple lighting rules may appear at first glance to be simplistic. That's because they are simplistic.
Do I have no respect for good lighting? I sure do. I have drooled over some pictures that had nothing going on except for some magnificent light. The photographers probably knew it, too, but didn't care. I didn't care, and I'm glad they didn't care.
I've rarely been known for my mastery of light, although I've had a few pictures that had nice light. My photos often deal with intentional shadows more than intentional light. In many circles these are seen as two separate things, and only the light is important. I think that distinction is rather od. (Sometimes I enjoy spelling odd in an od way. It can, on occasion, give me a little shiver of deliciousness.)
Do I preach one thing and do another? Yes.
I rarely stay with two simple rules of lighting. In my studio I often had 20 to 40 lights going at once. I did an image once that had 83 different lighting situations, all accumulated over a three-month period on a single 4x5 negative. (A national print judge, during a taped critique, said that I should be thankful that I had a lab that could do such superb work. I did have a lab that did superb work, but this print was a simple, straightforward, machine print. Economy.)
So am I a hypocrite? Call me anything you like, but let me explain something first. I have watched many photographers work. The best ones spend very little time fiddling with their lights and equipment. The worst ones fiddle and fiddle and fiddle some more. I watch the subject wilt in the process - sometimes literally. The moment fades. The cheese dries out. The flowers droop. The smile disappears into something resembling a locked jaw. Muscle tone weakens. Joints stiffen. Eyes glaze over. Attitude fades and a lesser one takes its place. Things that should be starched wilt. Things that should be soft harden.
Anyone who has ever said, "Hold it, hold it, hold it," while they tinker one more time with the kick light will almost certainly have a well-exposed piece of crap.
Play with the light if you must. I usually do. Just understand what I finally figured out:
1 - Sure, photography is writing with light, but it is rarely ABOUT the light. It is about the moment, the story inside a moment. Don't stretch that moment into a danged hour and a half while you fiddle around. The moment will be gone. And the one you try to recreate with your perfect light will be a fake one, a lie. Truth is beauty.
2. A perfect image rarely presents itself as a gift. What we see almost always has defects. The more experience we get, the more things we find that need fixing. Fix them if you must, but realize that you are making an exchange. Be very careful about that exchange.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

The Image in the Blog Banner

The image above was shot directly into the sun, well after sunrise. There was still fog. Normally the sun in this situation would destroy any chance of recording the scene by overpowering the exposure.
So what I did was hold a board horizontally across the sky with one hand and the camera in the other. I carefully let the sun peek just a fraction of itself under the board. I wanted the sun there, not gone. The balancing act did the trick.
Sunrises don't always have to come up over the mountains or something - sometimes they can come up under something.
Thinking creatively is often nothing more than saying to yourself that a problem can be solved and then going about finding a way to do it.
People often say that I like to be different. I don't really. It just often appears to be a goal of mine because my results appear different, but it's never a reason for doing what I do.
Doing something "to be different," in my opinion, is adolescent.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Fred's Rules for Lighting

I suppose you should read the previous blog to give this one context, but regardless, here goes:
Fred's Lighting Rule #1. If it's important, put some light on it.
Fred's Lighting Rule #2. If it's not important, put some shadow on it.
You're welcome.

Lighting Rules

This post will be dedicated to Danielle and some others who have not bothered with the rules, for whatever reasons, but who have still produced magnificent photographic and artistic results.
Lighting Rule #1. There must be detail in the highlights.
Lighting Rule #2. There must be detail in the shadows.
Lighting Rule #3. There must be sufficient contrast in the image that it doesn't produce a gray-ish appearance.
Lighting Rule #4. Women and children under three should be photographed with soft light.
Lighting Rule #5. Men and diamonds must be photographed with hard light.
Lighting Rule #6. Women with wrinkles should be softened with extra soft light.
Lighting Rule #7. Men with beards should be sharpened with extra hard light, and perhaps titled, "Old Salt."
Lighting Rule #8. Kicker lighting should not hit the nose.
Lighting Rule #9. Kicker light should not overpower the cheek.
Lighting Rule #9. Back-lighting should not be stronger than the key light, and especially not equal to the fill.
Lighting Rule #10. Lighting should accentuate the face.
Lighting Rule #11. Lighting should never allow the viewer an opportunity to imagine that the intent of the photograph was meant for anything other than to reveal what the face looks like.
Lighting Rule #12. Light should always come from above.
Lighting Rule #13. Nature only has one light source. I was told this one by a judge who condemned what he counted to be five light sources in one of my outdoor images. I had shot the image with about a 500mm Hasselblad lens, and had no lighting or reflectors of my own to modify what I saw, only what nature provided. Some people need to get out more often.
Lighting Rule #?. (More to come. Feel free to send Fred your own, whether it's a rule that you follow, a rule you think is silly, or a rule that you abhor.)

Personally, I have no lighting rules in my photography. I have two guidelines that I follow, however:
Fred's Lighting Guideline #1. If it's important, put some light on it.
Fred's Lighting Guideline #2. If it's not important, put it in some shadow. My first clue toward this end was with painters, not photographers. They would often leave canvas blank where nothing important was going on. Idiots, on the other hand, tried to cover every square millimeter with some kind of color.
This is why bagpipes never caught on very well. There are no spaces between the sounds.

I sometimes find myself breaking my own guidelines.
I find myself laughing at the rules all the time.

Sunday, March 8, 2009


All the newest digital stuff is great. It will help great artists create more great art. It will help mediocre artists make more mediocrity. It will help highly productive people become even more productive. It will help lazy people get through their day with less effort.
But it will not make a single artist. Digital is collectively just another set of tools. It makes for a bigger toolbox, a better workshop, and a more versatile ability for those who desire it.
It will help the great become even greater. It will help the average become more mediocre. It will help the silly to turn out even more really bad crap.
But it will not make a single artist.
And that's okay.

A Facebook Conversation About Portraits

Facebook is a wonderful forum to discuss things. You can walk away when it starts getting cloudy. You don't have to write OR READ a lot of words.
Here's one about portraits (occasionally modified for added clarification only):

It starts with my daily Profile Update - the one that starts out for you by saying, "Fred is...."

Fred is wondering, after a 13 year hiatus, why in the heck he suddenly wants to do a portrait.

(Friend): portrait of whom?

(Fred): Someone from long ago.

(Another friend): Old habits are hard to break, eh?

(Fred): It has nothing to do with old habits being hard to break. I think 13 years is sufficient time to conclude that this is not "an old habit," and even if it were an old habit, 13 years should be sufficient time to conclude it to be broken.

(Friend One): portraits are really about yourself, but you knew that right?

(Fred): There is a difference between a portrait and a self-portrait. The talent of a professional (commercial) portraitist is to tell a story about the subject and to stay the hell out of the picture. Of course, this is impossible, but should be held to a minimum. And, of course, I am not referring to those people who come to an artist, whether camera, brush, chisel, etc., to obtain their art and then requesting that the artist use them as the subject.

(Fred) And this question should be clarified long before the portrait session begins.
I think for the portraitist to automatically assume any portrait they do is basically a self-portrait is vain and rude.

(End of Facebook conversation)

Here's a conversation I had in the past with a potential customer:

(Customer, which I will refer to as client because the word is shorter): I'd like to book a portrait session with you.
(Fred): Who will the pictures (I was a photographer at the time.) be primarily for?
(Client): Primarily I want them for myself, for posterity, and perhaps a few for friends and family as gifts.
(Fred): Do you want this to be a documentary image or are you looking more for the art?
(Client): The art. I want you to do your thing.
(Fred): Do you want to be in the final image?
(Client): Huh? Oh, un, yeah. I guess, uh, yeah. That would be nice.
(Fred): Do you want to be recognized in the image? In other words, do you want your face to show, stuff like that?
(Client): Well, I thought so, but now I don't know. I guess I was just thinking like that out of habit.
(Fred): I'm not too keen on habitual thoughts.
(Client, laughing): I should have known. I guess that's why I came to you.
(Fred): So you're looking for art more than likeness?
(Client): Yes! That's exactly what I mean.

Here's another:
(Client): I come to git my kid's pitcher tooken.
(Fred): Okay.

Here's another:
(Client): I'd like to make an appointment for my three-year-old daughter.
(Fred): What kind of portrait are you looking for?
(Client): I want a nice remember what she looks like at this know, I want one every year around her birthday. I don't need anything artsy, but I want something good. You know, not just what she looks like, but something that shows her personality...who she really is.
(Fred): I understand.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Stolen Photographs

Few people know this, but on the last day of my career, I had 500 eight by ten prints stolen. I had spend the final year selecting those photographs and having them custom printed. They were to represent the best of my career, for me and for those who wished to know.
I set them out for public viewing at the auction, where I sold everything there was, lock, stock, and barrel. Negatives, files, business, equipment, paintings, books, frames, sets, backgrounds, etc. Forty cameras, including the Sinar P2. Cherry. The auction was to empty my plate in preparation for going into solitude for a year in the wilderness - a spiritual quest that I had been planning for 34 years.
Someone laid their coat over the whole stack and walked out.
The approximated $10,000 cost is negligible compared to the total damage done.
Whoever did it should know that stealing is wrong.
Whoever did it should know that stealing my lifetime achievements is rude. Stealing my career's best, after they had at that point become irreplaceable, is beyond the pale.
Whoever did it should know that when I find him, I will very likely k*** him.

(For the lawyer types out there, here is some fine print. One word that comes to mind that could possibly be k***ing can be done with a boot. The thief should draw his own conclusions this matter and what my intent behind the asterisks is, and at his own peril.)

Friday, March 6, 2009

Listening to the Birth of an Image

The oddest thing, hearing a part of me pounding out orders to other parts.
Today it happened again. After a while I have learned to pay attention. This instruction was to make a portrait. I haven't done one officially in 13 years. I never said I never would again. Maybe I should have.
This is not one of those "Oh, gosh, what do I want to do next? Maybe I'd like to...." types of feelings. This one is full out. They are not common. And they get my attention when they do pop up.
I say pop up. I know where they come from. They come from my subconscious. The images are often complete, and when I get one, all I have to do is go do it. And I can't stop until I'm done. This is not a desire - this is a have-to.
Seemingly out of nowhere, and my heart's pounding. Odd. Interesting. Very odd.
I watch it form from nothing. I know what my friends will say for a while: "Fred, you're in a daze again. You're walking around and around. Say something."
And I've heard others tell others, "Leave him alone, he's busy inside."
A few have said, "I like to watch the wheels in his head turning." Or, "I know that look on your face, Fred. I can see the gears turning faster and faster. It's exciting."

Sorry I had to write this here, but I had to see the words this time, someplace more official than in a notebook or a box of notes. Somehow there are words involved in the image. This is new.
This time, I want to watch.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Composition - Part Two

Interesting that my sixth grade teacher failed to tell me about formulas when she was teaching us to tell stories. Durn her hide.
Interesting that my high school art teacher failed to advise me of all the rules that went into art. Dang her.
Interesting that my college music professor failed to help me compose music through the use of easy formulas. Darn his hide.
Interesting that the composing rooms of the College print shop and the Branson Beacon weekly and the Fulton Daily and the St. Charles Daily Banner News all failed to clue me in on the simple formulas involved with telling a story. Drat. I could have saved years.
Then I joined some professional photography organizations. I did it because I was told it would improve my photography. I needed their help, because I didn't think I was telling my visual stories very well.
Thank you, all you composition experts, for helping me with so many quick and easy formulas.
Too bad that all those formulas end up telling the same story. Durn. Darn. Dang.
If all of had the same story to tell, if every wedding was the same, if every senior was the same, if every poet or writer or musician or artist only had one composition, then by god, we could go with formulas.
"Oh, calm down, Fred. It's not that important."
Well, yes it is. I wasted two decades of my life, buying into all the rules and formulas, only to find out that they forced my stories into sameness. Mediocrity. No story at all - just some middle ground that middle people could all agree on. Group hug. Satisfaction. Merits.
But I don't have 20 more years to start over with. Age, cancer, bipolar, etc.
Drat. Somehow, drat isn't quite working for me.
Discuss among yourselves.


Composition, I learned in the sixth grade, was all about telling a story.
Then I found out in high school art class that composition was all about revealing the intent of my painting.
Then I found out in college music appreciation that composition was all about creating a message through the use of sound.
The composing room in a publishing house, I found out early in my first official job, was all about arranging steel letterpress letters and wood type into words, then into sentences, then into paragraphs, then into essays that would tell that story. Sometimes there were etchings available that helped tell that particular story. That story was supposed to communicate something, and that something was supposed to be important enough to justify all the WORK that went into the telling of it.
Interesting. Story. Message. Communication. Feeling.
I began to formulate a conclusion.
Let's talk about this more later.

Fiction and Fake

Fiction is not fake. Many people, and some groups, fail to understand the difference.
Fiction is a wonderful thing. Fake is bad, cruel, mean, seditious, harmful, and often illegal.
Great truths can be explained, believe it or not, better by fiction than by nonfiction. That's why fables are there for children, why the greatest novels become the greatest, why myth is so strong, why the Bible has parable, why allegory exists.
How do I define the difference? While neither are "real," fake is the only one to carry with it the intent to deceive. The very purpose of fake is to deceive.
Mark Twain wrote fiction.
That email you got from Africa telling you about how "you're going to get three million dollars just as soon as..." is fake.
Helping a senior girl to become herself in front of a stranger and a camera will take you to the Truth.
Forcing a senior girl's arm into an unnatural position in order to conform to some formula sold to you by some convention speaker who claims that it follows some art dictate, will get you fake.
Truth is beauty.


Not many care about Truth much anymore. I'm not whining, just statin' the facts, ma'am. I can deal. At the same time, though, people have a longing, and they whine and complain about life not being what they think it should be. They make a million bucks, travel the world, and try to have a thousand "friends" on Facebook. Sometimes people grow up and don't know it, but they're still on infant formula and the bottle (the one with the little rubber nipple). Life is no longer satisfying. They crave solid food. They bite the nipple. Hard.
Well, I have some of the answer. Ready? Can we talk? Can we talk about stuff that you have absorbed into your DNA that is poisoning you? Before you answer, I will tell you your answer. You will say one thing and not mean it. "Oh, but I mean it," you claim. Right.
I already know how to make enemies: you tell people what they NEED to hear instead of what they WANT to hear.
We're talking photography, now, and not religion, politics, or (yawn) philosophy. Guess what. They're all connected. Everything's connected. And that's good.
When you have a subject to photograph, try to find the Truth. Don't force and bend and pose and fix and correct and change the subject into some formula you have in your artificial programming. Please.
Look for the Truth. I capitalize it because it is that important. When you find the Truth, TAKE THE DAMNED PICTURE!
If you can't find the Truth, and usually you won't, unless you're photographing kids under the age of three, then your biggest responsibility as a photographer looms large. Directing.
Direct the subject out of his/her self-consciousness and pretention, and work at it until the subject understands, at a subconscious level, that all you want is the Truth.
Learn to see it. Look for it. Don't look for some formula. Look for the Truth. I will help you with it as time goes on.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009


Yeah, Keats said something about, "Beauty is truth, truth beauty...." He ended up claiming that maybe that was probably all you really needed to know.
Well, that was before the internet. Before blogging. Before hair plugs. Before fake boobies.
I'll give him credit for part of it, though - truth IS beauty.
Just watch out for the second part.

Pretty just ain't what it's cranked up to be by the popular culture.

Looking at Photographs

Looking at someone else's photographs won't make you a better photographer.
Looking at Elvis won't make you a better singer.
Looking at pizza won't make you full.

How Many Shots to Take.

Taking more pictures than your competition down the street doesn't make you a better photographer. It cheapens your work.
I remember, at one time in my career, trying to figure out how many shots were actually possible at a wedding. I kept increasing the number.
I never did arrive at a final answer, so one day I went in the other direction - what's the minimum number of shots that can be taken at a wedding?
Ah, good question! Karsh, I had read, would spend the day with his portrait subject, but would only take two shots. I don't think he shot weddings, but it got me to thinking.
The answer for a wedding shoot, I found out, was one. It was my last wedding. I told the groom, the one who booked it, who wouldn't take no for an answer when I told him that I no longer shot weddings, that, fine, I'd go, but one was the most number of pictures I would take. The other option was zero. If I couldn't find a good and proper shot, I would leave without taking any pictures at all. I told him that because I didn't want him to be disappointed.
"Also," I said, "I want you to book a professional photographer to back me up and take all the shots I missed."
"I thought that was what I was DOING," he whimpered. "I thought I WAS booking a professional photographer." There was a wee bit of exasperation in his voice, but not much.
I decided to push my luck. "And you have to promise to tell the professional photographer, before you book him or her, that I'll be there only for a short time and to not be bothered by it as we were not in competition for your money or duplication of shots."
He agreed.
When I arrived at the wedding, the first thing I noticed was a stretch limo slipping in some January ice, slowly moving sideways toward a sheer 15 foot cliff. A dozen people were standing around watching. I stopped, jumped out, grabbed my handy half-gallon orange juice jug full of dry sand, ran over to the limo, poured some sand beside both downhill wheels, and escaped. The limo stopped sliding two feet short of the cliff. The driver was sweating profusely in the cold weather. I spoke with him for a minute until he calmed down and then gently helped him find out who was in charge. Then I poured a trail of sand as he inched the limo back up toward the road. All safe, I looked up toward the place where the wedding was taking place. All the guests were either plastered against the windows or outside cheering. It was a good start.
Five minutes gone.
I carried my camera case inside, and the young professional photographer who had been hired to shoot the wedding turned and gasped.
"Wh-wh-wh," he said.
I introduced myself.
"I know who you are," he said. "But, but, but..."
I could tell he hadn't been told, as per my agreement with the groom.
"Let me help you," I offered. He was now shaking too much to get a clear shot of the bride's family.
"They w-want a picture cutting the cake," he stammered. "What should I do?"
"Great idea, cutting the cake" I offered. "Glad you thought of it. Can I help you with that?"
He began to calm down. I suggested "artistic" shots of the rings on a napkin and other such things. He calmed down to the point that I thought I could leave things with him, and I went off to look for my shot.
I got the shot.
Back home, I developed the film, printed an 11x14, b/w from a color neg (a half-used roll of color was already in the camera), worked on it with a bit of yellow dye in three areas, wrote a two paragraph essay, matted it, framed it, and hung it in my gallery.
"Your picture is ready," I told the groom on the phone.
The couple came over, and while they stood in front of it, I handed them a sheet of paper with the words that went with it. "Here," I said, "this goes with it."
And I left.
A few minutes later I went back to check on them. The bride was crying, quietly, but I could tell. The groom was holding her. I went after a box of tissue, thinking, "this is either very good or very bad." In the picture I hadn't shown either of their faces. Her dress didn't show. There was the back of her veil and part of his cheek. There was a window high up from inside the restaurant next door, a lamp, and some wood flooring.
I handed him the box of tissue.
"It's good," he said, and handed me a credit card.
I breathed a little sigh of relief.
"I'm sorry," I said, "but we haven't discussed money. I don't know how much to charge."
"Does it matter?" he asked, tilting his head toward his bride. She still hadn't spoken a word, and never did.
I calculated later that I'd made more profit (not gross) on that wedding than almost any other of the 1300 I'd shot. I was almost sorry, almost, that I had retired from weddings.
I still had so much to learn.

Price Lists

I was able to retire early because of one principle - I made sure to charge less than the customer had expected.
How did I know what they expected? I asked them. Simple as that. Expensive research, huh.
Typically, I tried to keep my pricing to this ratio:
20% - "You should raise your prices."
70% - "I'm happy."
10% - "Got any coupons?"
Before you think I'm making this up, ask my lovely wife, Rita. She knows it better than I did. She did most of the business while I became an aaaaa-rrr-tist.
When I lectured around the country, I gave my price list to whomever asked for one. Invariably, they thought it was a joke.
But the joke was on them. I'm retired, and those who laughed, aren't.
Many of my clients who said things like, "Wow, Fred, you should raise your prices," volunteered that comment. That was nice. I always tried to give nice people something nice. Free wallets. A hug. Something.
The people who weren't nice had to go out and stand in the parking lot.
We'll talk about that sometime.


I know. Business.
Yecchh. I just threw up a little bit in my mouth.
Business, for me, was a fun game, a game to be played while I became an artist. An artist in the field of photography.
But to be successful, you must know your business intimately. It's a lot more important than going to some workshop in order to learn to move your key light one more damned inch higher.
Intimately. Every penny. Every average. I knew in my head whenever an employee made a mistake on the computer, when my accountant made a mistake on his books. "Here's a wrong answer," I'd often say, "now go back and find the mistake."
Don't depend on others for the answers.
Don't make others responsible for your success.
Don't put others in charge of your money.
Those who do usually end up in the news.