Creative integrity – or, the Struggling Artist Myth explained

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For the past six years, I’ve shot for pay full time, and occasionally for the better part of the preceding ten years before that. During the last six, the proportion of images of any sort shot with my own creative vision as primary motivation vs those shot with somebody else’s – i.e. for a client or as part of a commercial assignment – has swung from 100-0 to perhaps 5-95. This is expected, and both good and bad. It’s what actually had me stumped in my early pro days: every time I met a successful or established photographer, they almost never had a camera with them – or if they saw something spontaneous, they’d use their phone to shoot it. I wondered why, especially given their access to ‘better’. I think I know the answer to this, and to be honest: I’m not sure I or anybody else is going to like it. Read on if you dare.

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Working with multiple systems and formats in the field

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Q, H5D

A typical assignment for me may involve a) quite a variety of objectives, and b) quite a variety of hardware. Whilst the obvious solution would be to go with one complete system and suitable backups, this isn’t always possible for any number of reasons – from weight to lack of coverage in that system to cost or practical versatility. I had a recent email discussion with a reader and fellow pro over how to manage this in the most efficient way possible – both from a cost and logistic standpoint, but also a creative one. Often, suitable equipment for a broad range of optimal coverage* may require a significant shift in shooting mindset between different bits of hardware; for obvious reasons this becomes quite a bit more challenging when you’re working under pressure. I thought it might be an interesting topic to examine further…

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Creative development for working pros

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The Crawick Multiverse, Scotland. Part of one of my most satisfying commissions from 2015

Here’s a serious consideration for all working professional photographers: how do you ensure your work stays fresh? We face several challenges. Firstly, unlike those in conventional employment, there is no obvious career development path; no HR department or performance review officer to ensure you attend the right courses to (supposedly) give you the right skill set for the next position up the ladder. Secondly, our clients almost always hire us on the basis of our portfolios: this is work we’ve already done, i.e. historical. It would be nice to be hired on the basis of imagining what we could do, but for obvious reasons, this is unfeasible. At very best, we are hired based on what we might do for a client in a given situation which might be outside our current scope of experience, but still based on an extrapolation of what have previously done.

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On Assignment photoessay and challenge: Making a $200 watch look the business

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Today’s photoessay-on-assignment-report hybrid comes courtesy of a regular client who both makes their own and OEM watches for other companies. They’re not a big name – you’ve probably never seen the brand outside Asia, if at all – and they’re certainly not competing at the high end, but they do have mass-market volume; it’s a very different sort of assignment to the kind I normally undertake in Switzerland. It doesn’t require much skill to make an exceptional watch made with no consideration for price look exceptional; the challenge there is making it look extraordinary – otherwise your photography has not added any value or even done the object justice. My job here is very different: how does one make a $200-retail watch look like a $2,000++ one?

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Does the audience matter?

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Work like this, I produce for myself and myself only: I don’t care if anybody else likes it; frankly, I wasn’t even going to upload or share it, but it got accidentally included in a batch. I know it certainly has zero commercial potential. Perhaps that makes it amongst the purest images I create?

Here’s a sticky question I’ve been battling with for a few months: does it matter what other people think of my images? Although it may sound rather egotistical, I think it’s actually a very valid consideration from several standpoints: that of the hobbyist/ amateur; that of the commercial/ professional, and that of the artist. And I’m pretty sure the answer is different for each one. I’m not even going to try and answer the question of what one should do if you fall into all three categories…I suppose it requires a healthy dose of schizophrenia.

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Managing the creative commercial populist disconnect

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What a mouthful of a title. It should really also have the subtitle “what pays isn’t always what’s popular or what I want to shoot” – but that would have exceeded the string length for post titles, run off onto three lines on the title, and completely ruined the front page design aesthetic of the site.

But I think there’s really no simple or concise way to express it. What sells/ what clients pay for is not always what is popular with the viewing public; in fact, it’s usually completely uncorrelated since the commercial side of things seldom elicits an emotional response in the way personal photographs do. And on top of that, what photographers actually enjoy photographing is seldom what pays – sometimes also because the nature of the subject matter means that it has no commercial value in the first place. So, as a commercial photographer, what do we do?

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