As I’ve shared earlier in my blog, I’ve been blessed to many times over with the generosity of knowledge from fellow photographers – nuggets of advice, inspiration, philosophy and a few tall tales along the way – which have definitively shaped me as a person, and how I capture light. Amazingly enough, my journey began with a small black box, with a plastic fixed-focus lens and a 126 film cartridge. It was a foundation, stronger than concrete, poured by my grandfather, some 40-years ago.
Having been taken under several wings over the years, I’ve made it a point to “pass it forward,” mentoring other photographers – from seven to 77 years-old — helping them hone their craft and perpetuate old-school photographic techniques. For me, mentoring is much more than a workshop: My workshops generally focus on shooting a particular type of image (sunset, macro flora, wave motion, etc.), and the methods to achieve repeatable results in a single session.
Mentoring goes far beyond that, as it’s a broader commitment to help someone advance their imagery over a long period of time. Sometimes, the mentoring is reviewing images and giving feedback or suggestions on a recent shot. Other people like “mini assignments,” such as choose a flower, and shoot it five varied ways, so the viewer thinks they are looking at five distinctly different flowers. The objective with mentoring is to help the photographer grow at their pace, while encouraging an advancement in technique or broaden their comfort level, every time they pick up the camera.
Then there’s what some photographers refer to as the Ultimate Workshop: An internship.
When I was in college, internships had a bad rep. It pretty much meant you were going to be someone’s slave for the summer, fetching coffee or lunch, making copies, taking suits to the dry cleaners and being a gopher. In return, there was no pay, and you got the “essence” of what it was like to work in an office environment. Oh, you were also the brunt of the office jokes.
I‘ve always thought what an internship SHOULD be, is an in-depth, crash-course in the field you’re looking to enter. There’s no BS, and it’s no holds barred. You learn every aspect of the job, hands on. You don’t run to get coffee, you’re running the printers. You’re not assembling promo kits, you’re assembling prints, canvas and aluminum. There’s no mindless entering of names and addresses into a database, you’re learning to use the latest imaging software, accounting programs and order processing systems. In essence, at the end of the three-months, an intern should have a comprehensive working knowledge of not only advanced photographic techniques, but how to run a successful photography business. The main benefit: avoiding the pitfalls many of us encountered (and learned from), and getting them on the road to success, right out of the gate.
Since the beginning of March, I’ve been working with my latest intern, Audra, to develop her shooting skills, and showing her the “business of photography” ropes. She arrived with a great eye for composition and strong shooting chops. Our work together wasn’t about redefining her shooting style, but gaining a heightened awareness of the nuances of a scene, what techniques to use to bring those out, and how to work with the elements (natural light, atmospheric conditions, etc.) to make extraordinary images.
We spent a good amount of time at my venues, taking stock of what was selling at the galleries, determining what images would better suit their clientele, and tracking sales. At my weekly Artist in Residence shows, the emphasis was on the interpersonal relationship between artist and potential collector, the dance of learning their tastes and marrying that with a piece of art, that fits like their favorite pair of shoes. More importantly, it’s becoming comfortable telling the story behind the image, so the client makes the all-important connection to the piece and the artist.
There were many days spent in the studio, processing images in the digital darkroom, printing/matting/mounting prints, learning how to print images to a roll of canvas, apply UV coatings, then properly stretching them onto stretcher frames. Audra had the unique opportunity to be a part of introducing a new piece of technology to the studio, when we added equipment to produce dye-infused aluminum in house. Here, she had a front-row seat to the learning curve a studio experiences, when it adds a new imaging process — to be a part of the growing pains — and understand the investment of time and energy (plus the dollars involved) to keep a business at the leading edge.
Moreover, she leaves the Island with a portfolio that will dazzle any stock agency or gallery, and a depth of technology and printing knowledge that a service bureau rarely finds from someone fresh out of college.
But Audra wasn’t the only person who benefitted. I did as well. I’ll be the first to admit that I’m not the savviest person at managing social media. I tended to view it as a necessary evil that takes time away from shooting, developing new techniques and evaluating the latest gear and photo toys on the market. She was able to show (and prove) to me that it isn’t rocket science, it IS manageable, and it can bring a host of new admirers to my work. My monthly Facebook Inspirational Poster Contest was her brain child – the marriage of my images with quotes from my followers, making something unique, and found nowhere else.
Was it all fun and games? Heck no! We shot in very hot and humid rain forests, and froze our butts off in the middle of the night atop Haleakala to shoot the Milky Way. There were massive print runs for our mainland outlets, and we did a full change out of stock in three galleries… in a two-week period. We worked through computer failures, network glitches and a printer that developed a mind of its own. Through it all we also completed an epic project, uploading and registering over 200,000 images to the U.S. Copyright office.
In the end, three months barely felt like three weeks. We had fun, sharing both frustrations and laughter, and we both got an education, measured in growth by leaps and bounds. I received a fresh outlook on my images and business, and the industry gains another great and talented photographer.
Kick some ass, Audra!