This is a piece I wrote for the SportsShooter newsletter. I don’t know how the idea evolved, since the thought of quoting Manowar in the newsletter is simply, well…
Here’s the article:
Issue #100 of the SportsShooter newsletter is here. Unbelievable, isn’t it? Looking back, it’s amazing to see what grew out of Issue #1, a set of nine short “articles” all written by Mr. Hanashiro. Through selfless dedication and technical wizardry, SportsShooter has changed the photographic landscape and built up an amazing community of photographers who swap ideas and images daily. The positive impact of this photographic community cannot be overstated.
Congratulations on Issue #100, Big Kahuna.
In thinking about what to write about for #100 the ideas kept flying around my head, just out of reach. So I turned on some tunes for inspiration. Finally a song came on that really made me think. This song coalesced all of my thoughts and the course of the article was clear. That song was “The Gods Made Heavy Metal” by the legendary heavy metal act Manowar. You know the words, right? Sing along with me:
The Gods made heavy metal,
and they saw that it was good.
They said to play it louder than hell,
we promised that we would!
Okay, I’m just kidding. It wasn’t Manowar that got me thinking. The song that really got me was Fugazi’s “Bad Mouth.” It simply says:
You can’t be what you were.
So you better start being just what you are.
The photographic and media industries are going through momentous changes. Everyone will be affected. And it’s going to be a bumpy ride before things settle down (if they ever do). That Fugazi song says it all: “You can’t be what you were.” If you want to survive the Internet revolution you have to make yourself a valued commodity. You have to stand out from the horde of photographers you are competing with.
Since everyone seems to be posting the same types of photographs, taken with the same cameras and the same three or four lenses as everybody else, ask yourself how you are going to stand out. I think the answer is to realize who you are and put your unique combination of skills to use. Rate yourself on the following skills typical to photography:
Creativity. Do you see things differently than others, bringing a fresh look to old stories?
Shooting Style. Do you have one? And do you work on keeping it fresh?
Timing. Are you especially good at capturing the decisive moment?
Personal Background. Where are you from and how does your life experience influence your vision? Can you tell a story that no one else can tell?
Knowledge. On what subjects are you an expert? And are you using that knowledge?
Awareness. Do you have a keen sense of what is happening in front of you, how people are reacting to you and how it fits into the story you’re telling?
Accuracy. Are you telling the truth, visually as well as keeping events in their proper context?
Personality. Does your personality show up in your photography? Should you let it show more?
Lighting. How are your lighting skills, both on location and in a studio setting?
Equipment. Are you using the right equipment to get what you’re after? Are there better tools for your current project?
Workflow. Do you have a regular, well thought-out, and most importantly, a time-effective workflow? Is it as fast as it could be?
Technique. Are you getting the most out of your equipment? Do you really know what you’re doing when you juggle exposure, white balance, JPEG and RAW files?
Technology. Do you keep current with the quickly moving technology of our field? And do you incorporate the latest knowledge, as far as your budget allows?
Editing. Are you using your head, thinking through the choices you make when editing?
Storytelling. How strong are your storytelling skills? If they are strong, are you using them enough?
Gambling. Are you taking enough risks?
As the media world continues to shift in response to a number of market forces, I encourage you to take stock of yourself. In which of these skills are you strong, and in which ones are you weak.
After you think about it, start playing to your strengths. And at the same time, build up your weaknesses.
And prepare for people to continue to proclaim gloom and doom for the industry. Maybe I discarded that Manowar song too early. We could easily adapt the second verse to the rough times in the professional photography world:
When losers say it’s over with,
you know that it’s a lie.
The Gods made heavy metal,
and it’s never gonna die.