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Do You Know Your “Why”?

I have to admit. I’m a skeptic. I’m not really much into new age self-help gurus. Not impressed by psycho-babble. Don’t buy into the trend of the week. Not an Oprah fan, sorry.

But, a while ago someone sent me a TED video by Simon Sinek, a writer and sort of  modern day philosopher. It really struck a chord. In the video, Sinek speaks about why some people or companies are always the artists, the trendsetters, the innovators, that command unbelievable loyalty. One of the examples he used was Apple. Apple has an unbelievably loyal customer base. But why?

The answer is actually the question. It’s the Why? Apple is always the innovator because they do not focus on the “what” (computers and electronic gadgets) or on the “how” (cool designs and innovative products) even though they do both of those exceedingly well. But Sintek observes that people embrace not the how, or even the what, but the WHY.  In Apple’s case, the “Why?” is that Apple, at its core, believes that technology should enrich and make our lives easier, not more complicated. (Ironically perhaps, I’m typing this on an iPad… so there you go.)

It made me think about the “Why” for my studio. Everyone knows “what” we do. We sell photography. Some people even understand the “how” of what we do. That we create beautiful portraits that not only flatter our subjects, but that capture personality and spirit. That we provide unparalleled service so that our clients can fully appreciate and enjoy the images we create, usually by displaying them proudly as something beautiful for their homes.

But, is that it? That’s the “what and how”, but WHY are we in business? The obvious answer for any business, it may seem at first, is to make money. But let me tell you honestly… there are far easier ways to make a living than photography, and I’m not rich, that’s for certain.

Yet, I wouldn’t want to do anything else… Why?

It seems many studios I see focus only on the “how” and “what” of photography. How many sheets of paper you get for $xx dollars. How many different poses or outfits you can fit in a session. I have  always been known as the innovator and trend setter in portrait photography in my market. I have always been the studio that the others try to emulate. Perhaps the reason for this is not the “how and what”. Perhaps the reason is actually the “WHY”.

The “WHY” is the reason I do what I do, and is the reason we are in business:

•    I believe everyone is beautiful, and everyone’s beauty and inner spirit should be captured and recorded, because every life is precious.
•    I believe our children and our families are our greatest achievements.
•    I believe that the art of photography has the unique ability to give us joy and happiness in celebrating LIFE.
•    I believe portraits of our loved ones should be family heirlooms to be treasured for generations, not disposable pieces of paper sold by the square inch.
•    I believe strongly in the value of professional photography to “Celebrate the Story of Life”.

We had a tragedy in our community a few years ago. A young girl whom I had photographed, was tragically killed in a car wreck, just weeks before her high school graduation. Being in business for 30 years, this sadly wasn’t the first time this kind of thing has happened. It’s always difficult, but this time it hit me particularly hard.

I don’t know if it was because we had worked more closely with this young woman and her wonderful family than a “typical” client (she was a member of our “Senior Model Team”… seniors that act as ambassadors for our studio to their class). Or maybe it was because I’m just getting older and starting to appreciate just how short life actually is. Whatever the reason, this time, it was different.

Kellenyi-2402When we went to her viewing, her family had many photographs of her on display. Many of them I had taken. Her too short life on display for everyone to share, and remember. My heart broke for that family.

When we stopped to pay our respects to her parents, they hugged me and thanked me for the beautiful images of their daughter that they would have forever. I gotta tell you… I wasn’t expecting that, and it  really kind of knocked the wind out of me. I’m not typically at a loss for words, but I was speechless and couldn’t really do anything but try (uselessly) to fight back the tears.

But, in a sad way it made my choice of career, and the years I have devoted to my art, all seem worth it. Worth it for that moment anyway. Worth it for whatever small comfort my work could offer that family at the worst time of their lives.

My “why”, I think, is maybe a pretty good one.

I celebrate life.

Do you know what your “why” is?  If not, I hope you find it.

Please feel free to leave a comment, and tell me about your “why”.

Dennis

 

 

 

Also posted in Dennis Kelly Customers, News and Happenings, Tips

So, What’s the Difference?

I was preparing to photograph a young lady’s senior portrait session the other day. She had her yearbook with her from the school, and she and her mom were looking through it as I was getting ready. The mom said to me, “You can always tell which pictures are yours in the yearbook!” I said, “Really? How?” She replied, “I don’t know, they just look… so much better! Can’t say exactly what it is, but they stand out from all the rest.”

Then she asked me, “What’s with all the photographers around now who try to copy everything you do?” Now, I knew exactly what she was talking about, but I wanted to hear her perspective on it, so I asked, “What do you mean?” The girl chimed in and said, “There’s a whole bunch of brand new photographers and when you look at their work, they just try to copy all the poses and backgrounds and stuff that you do. A lot of them don’t even have studios and just shoot like, at the park and stuff.”

BB-Ad_DPKellysmall“Oh, and how do they do with that?” I asked. “Not very well. First, it’s lame that they just try to rip off your ideas, plus, you can tell that they just don’t ‘get it.”

“What do you mean by ‘They don’t get it’ ?”

“It just looks like they try to copy what you do, but you can tell they really aren’t as good because the pictures just look kinda lame….”

Well, they say that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, but actually I knew exactly what they were talking about. There’s a whole new crop of “photographers” in the market these days who haven’t put in the years of training and apprenticeship to learn the craft the way I did when I was new to the field. I worked for other studios for 11 years before I felt my skill level was sufficient to hang out my shingle and advertise myself as a “professional photographer.” Now days it seems like having a website and a digital camera is all it takes. Heck, you don’t need to take time to learn posing and lighting and all that stuff! It doesn’t matter if the picture is too dark, or off color, or poorly lit… just throw a Photoshop effect on it and call it art… or, find a photographer that everybody likes and try to copy whatever he or she is doing. Most people won’t see the difference.

Sad, really. Having a digital camera doesn’t make you a “photographer” any more than having a stethoscope makes you a doctor. It’s good to know that most people can see and appreciate the difference, but sadly, too many people are getting really getting ripped off by those claiming to be “professionals” and delivering really sub-standard work disguised as “art”.

Here’s some things to look for when considering working with a professional photographer.

Semi-Pro or Do It Yourself?

There is an explosion of “new” photographers entering the profession these days. I see their work often on Facebook and social media. Many of these newer professional photographers have little more than a digital camera and a very basic understanding of photography. Many of them offer a low cost session and “all the files” on a disk for a very low price so you can “print them out yourself.”

We can understand the appeal to many consumers who are attracted to the low prices these “new professionals” can offer. After all, they aren’t burdened with the overhead of a studio, insurance, education etc.  And the appeal of having “all the files” on a disk to print out yourself or share online sounds better than paying for individual prints from a studio, doesn’t it?

But, what are you really getting for your money? A fancy digital camera does not make you a good photographer any more than a stethoscope makes you a doctor. But, the sad thing is, many people do not understand or appreciate what a professional, with years of training and experience, really brings to the table. If you went to a fine restaurant and ordered a meal and they brought you out a bag full of ingredients for you to prepare yourself, do you think it would taste the same as if a 5 star chef cooked it for you?

Here is an image of a lovely young lady I had the honor of photographing lately. I thought it would be interesting to talk about some of the steps that go into making a professional portrait, and perhaps why you would want to hire someone skilled to create it, rather than just a friend with a nice camera.

Shot one is typical of what I see on Facebook and other social media sites more and more. This is an outdoor portrait in a lovely location, and is what you would get out of a modern digital camera set on “A” for automatic or “P” for program mode. It is sharp and well exposed. Today’s cameras are really a marvel of engineering. Even someone who knows nothing about photography could pick up a camera and get an image this good.

But let’s take a closer look… is it really good? There are deep shadows in her eyes, and the light, coming mostly from overhead, is making the pockets under her eyes and cheeks look very dark and strong. “Seeing” light is one of the most difficult things an aspiring photographer needs to learn. Some never learn to do it. Once I discovered how to “see” the light, my world changed. I now am constantly “aware” of light… all the time, everywhere I go, everything I look at, I am conscious of the direction, character, and quality of light all around me. It’s who I am.

So, the first thing I did here was to modify the poor light. The key to this is to make the light flattering, without looking artificial. In this particular case, I added some flash, off camera, to mimic what would have been ideal “natural” light, had it been there. I carefully adjusted the flash output to closely match the ambient lighting so as to keep the image looking balanced and natural. In other instances I may have chosen to use reflectors, scrims (to block the overhead light) or perhaps a combination of all 3. The key here for the photographer is 1st, to realize the light needs to be modified, and 2nd, to be able to control it accurately and quickly.

So, much better. Let’s zoom in and see how modifying the lighting on the subject has opened the deep shadows in her eyes and let us see her beautiful facial features.

But, we still have some problems. The color, while accurate, (she is standing under a tree that is filtering greenish light down from the sky) is hardly flattering. We don’t think of healthy people having bluish-green skin. The camera, on auto setting, will only record what is there. But by carefully adjusting the color settings, we can compensate for the unflattering color cast and produce a beautiful, warm appealing skin tone.

Much, much better… right? Hold on, we’re just getting started. Let’s take a closer look at our new and improved portrait.

Our addition of quality lighting to the subject has had some unintended consequences. Notice the somewhat unflattering shadow from her nose onto her cheek and from her hair onto her neck? Just because these are “natural” doesn’t mean they are good! There are also some messy looking fly away hairs around her head. And, while our subject in this case has a flawless completion, this would now be the time to fix any blemishes and perhaps soften the slight lines under her eyes.

Ok, now we’re getting somewhere!! Are you beginning to see that there should be a LOT more going into a professional photograph than just taking a sharp, clear picture?

Here’s what we’ve got now. Beautiful, right? But we’re still not done.

Our client really wanted to have her outdoor portraits done with some beautiful fall colors. Unfortunately, the area we had to work in hadn’t really started to show the brilliant oranges and yellows we typically think of when we think “Fall”. So, into Adobe Photoshop we go, where with some advanced masking and color manipulations, we can selectively change the green foliage to a more suitable color palette, without altering the skin tone or other colors. Also, our subject here is not in the least bit heavy or overweight. But notice how the loose fitting shirt is blooming out around her waistline and adding some pounds that aren’t there? That won’t do! A little bit of “tucking” of her shirt will give her back her truthful waistline.

Next, I used a technique photographers and painters have been using for centuries, called a “vignette.” Simply put, we often will selectively darken the edges or certain areas of the image in order to focus the viewer’s attention on the subject. Notice how, by slightly darkening the edges of this image, the feeling of depth and dimension is increased and your eye is drawn into the subject? It’s subtle, but important.

Lastly, there are a few distracting elements that were kind of bugging me a little. Minor things, but why not take care of them and make the image “picture perfect”?

So, here we go. Before and after. Most people will see a pretty obvious difference when shown side by side. But most people also would not see much wrong with the “before” image without the “after” image to compare. This is the level of technique and attention to detail that should be the mark of a true professional.

I hope you found this article informative and helpful.

Dennis Kelly

Also posted in Dennis Kelly Customers, News and Happenings, Senior Portraits, Tips Tagged , , , |