No one owes you a career

Last week I was helping a friend on a photoshoot. I was along for the ride, free coffee, and to light the photos. While we were in transit between locations I started chit chatting with our talent. I knew who he was, but didn't know a whole ton about him. He was some sort of singer person who also had a little side project he founded called Noisetrade. Like I do with nearly every person in the arts I meet I quickly went from questions like "so what do you actually do" to "what do you see the future of your career and art looking like long term." Some people have good answers for these questions, others have really disappointing answers, regardless I can always learn something. As Derek was talking about the music industry, Nashville, what he wanted the future of his career to look like, and how it had been three days since he had had a good cup of coffee he said something that really stuck with me. Derek has a small, yet incredibly dedicated, following. He likes that. He makes the living he wants to make and is satisfied with that. He doesn't want the moment where he gets 'discovered'. 

As we talked about what its like to be 'discovered' as a musician he talked about how much work it is and how as an artist even with management and everything else you are still running a small business. He mentioned how most artists want the fame and fun, but don't realize how much work it is to be successful on a large scale. Most people don't want to work for it, they want it to just fall in their lap. Then he said this: "No one owes you a career, if you want it you have to work hard for it".  

"No one owes you a career, if you want it you have to work hard for it" -Derek Webb

 Read that again in the context of photography not music. Photographers these days all seem to be trying to rely on the internet (*ahem* flickr, blogs, facebook) to be 'discovered' and have a career land in their lap. While there are a few (2) photographers that this has happened to, every single photographer I know that is high in their industry or even has any measure of success has worked themselves to death for it. Without lots of hard work, without a portfolio that shows a clear vision, if you're ever 'discovered' you will be passed by. If you are by some chance discovered and don't work yourself to death after, you won't be called back. Success comes from hard work, lots and lots of hard work. 

The controversial advertisement I tried to run that Facebook banned

Last night I tried to run a ad on Facebook to promote my photography. I wanted to tailor my ad to guys in Houston who are seniors and into sports so I chose an image of my friend Hunter. This image of my friend who is a soccer player was deemed by Facebook to be against their ad guidelines because, according to an email I received from Facebook "we don't allow images that promote an ideal body/physical image".

So here we have the banned ad. Guess I shouldn't try running a photo of an athlete to promote athletic photos....

And here we have the full size image

Hunter

Last spring I shot my friend Hunter. We played with fire and everyone had a great time. We had lunch when he was back in town at Christmas time and he suggested that we shoot again, everyone on set had fun the first time, so it'd be bound to be fun a second time. an hour of conversation later and we had our idea: last time he was covered in water then stood in fire, this time we would completely cover him in flour. 75 lbs later, we had a white Hunter. Everyone on set who helped did a wonderful job, and Hunter stood in 40 degree weather for a couple of hours for the sake of this photo.... 

Cheyanne

Every so often you plan a shoot, you're happy and your client is happy, but then things beyond your control go wrong. I planned a shoot recently but as it got closer to the shoot day it was apparent that it would unfortunately be raining on our scheduled shoot day (thunderstorms to be more precise). After a quick phone call it was decided for obvious reasons that we had to push back the shoot several days, not to be discouraged me and Cheyanne went out and shot anyhow that day. In a thunderstorm. While my c-stand still has water in it, the opening photo was well worth it... 

Fear. Uncertainty. Doubt.

Tomorrow night I have a personal shoot. Time, money, and a lot of mental stress from repeatedly rescheduling are all going into this shoot. I am shooting with more lighting than I have ever used before. To correctly execute this shoot my lighting will have to be very precise. I am shooting a subject on a white background, while they are covered in white (this is likely something like shooting clear and having a clear background). I am, to say the least, nervous. 

I will always remember recording one of the Houston Symphony cellists as part of a project I was working on a few years ago. The cellist we recorded is experienced  She has been Playing with the Houston Symphony for 37 years. When we were going to start the recording session she came straight from a concert and when she sat down she asked for a few moments before we started recording. She was nervous from the concert. In case you missed that, she has been playing with the Houston Symphony for 37 years and she still gets nervous when she performs. 

I was talking with a mentor about my upcoming shoot and I asked him if the nervousness the night before a shoot ever goes away and he told me that I need it, otherwise I am in the wrong career. Truer words were never spoken. 

Stay nervous. Don't get comfortable. That is when things are the most exciting.   Keep it an adventure....

Europe. Again.

If you don't know me, I travel. Lots. Just over two weeks ago I returned to the states after completing my fifth through seventh weeks in Europe so far this year. This trip I was spending time in Romania and Italy. Italy has been my bucket list country to visit just about since I can remember. It didn't disappoint. The countryside, food, people, old things, wine, and art were all beyond belief. One day while I was in Rome I was sitting there in the Sistine Chapel looking at the Michelangelo paintings and the though occurred to me: could the art being produced today be lauded for hundreds of years after it's created? BETTER QUESTION: how much of the junk being shoved out of  'creative' outlets is even art? Pondering these questions has created an interesting shift in my thinking, and is creating a shift in my photography. So I ask you: could your work be looked at fo hundreds of years and still be a definitive style/look/theme? Food for thought.
Naples, Italy

Travel, adventure, airports.


"More than three weeks." It rolls off the tongue so easily. Friends stopped being shocked by how much you travel. People move. Life goes on. I get another stamp in my passport. Another airport.  "Where are you going?" "Not even sure entirely." Having a preference for certain nations airport security over others. Fast food. Epic scenery. Waking up on a plane and not knowing which hemisphere of the earth you are on. Being home just long enough to do laundry before going on another international trip. Amazing food. Really bad food. New cultures. Interesting people. 

If you don't know me well, I travel. A lot. In 2010 I was traveling for 2 months, 3 1/2 weeks. Personal travel. Many people do a great deal of business traveling, but so far most of my travel is personal. I've spent 26 days in Europe so far this year and in November I am going back for more than three weeks. This will be my sixth time to be in Europe in the past three years. I do domestic travel too. I've taken so many trips and seen so many places, but largely, my photos of these adventures are no where to be found. Sure I blogged about my trip to Egypt. I posted what, perhaps 20 photos out of thousands and thousands of images taken on that trip. I was sitting in a friends studio a few weeks talking about an upcoming trip and showing some photos from my most recent trip and he encouraged me to start blogging my travel photos. I am by no means a travel photographer, but then again, I do go all over the world. I sat looking through photos on my hard drive, tens and tens of thousands of images sitting there, alone, unloved. This week a blog will go live. Rather than flood this blog with travel images I am going to keep most travel related stuff posted somewhere else. This should be an exciting adventure, stay tuned for when it goes live...


Rethink. Rinse. Repeat.

Imagine for a moment what it would be like if you re thought everything relevant to your art [I am going to be using photography in this post, but its worth noting that this applies to *any* art].  What would happen? If you evaluated, and re evaluated, and re evaluated your craft. What you do. How you do it. Why you do it. If your perspective on your art changed entirely, what could happen? What would happen? 

For the past six months or so I have been been eating lunch, getting coffee, talking on the phone, texting, tweeting, sending doves with quickly scribbled notes to people. Photographers, creative directors, designers, brand managers for banks, people who own post production companies, video people, painters, soccer moms, anyone who will listen and talk to me. I tell them my ideas. I ask them about their ideas. We talk about our goals, our dreams, our ambitions, our hopes, our desires. Without fail, every single person who has any level of success as an artist or potential there of is following their thing. Whatever your thing is you need to be following what interests you. Do your thing, your way. Too many people get too caught up with the idea of being a professional and forget about the art. Too often I see people start to try and monetize too early when, quite honestly, they would be much better off if they just focused on becoming a better and more creative artist and tried to express themselves better. Then work, paying work, would find them based on the work they created out of passion. Work that is created out of passion is often far better than any other work from an artist. I am going to be talking about this a ton on the blog in the next few weeks but only because it is just so important to understand. Much, much more to come....



Hunter and fire

Without a doubt there are a dozen blog posts that could be written about this shoot. The abs, the fire, Hunter, the nitty gritty photo side of things. This is my friend Hunter. He is a total badass soccer player. A while back I we spent two hours at Chick-Fil-A eating food and talking in preparation for a photoshoot. We talked about photo ideas, his car, what he plans to do with his life. This is the kind of prep work that goes into a good shoot, getting to know the subject, their background, their interests, getting to know your subject as a person can do so much for a shoot. That helps when you then ask "So lets stand you in fire. You cool with that? Rain, lets make it rain too" "This is safe right? "Uhhh of course" That ladies and gentlemen is how I cam to stand my friend in fire (yes, its real), while making it rain for a photo. We had a great time shooting that night and Hunter totally killed it. 

Take it like a man

So after the posting about doing whatever you want with your art because your opinion is the only one that matters, how do you improve? If you never listen to anyone chances you won't improve as fast. At some point you will take a photo that is good and that you like but that won't be enough. From a creative standpoint you need to always be pushing yourself and learning, but that does not mean you should ever forsake the technical side of your craft. You can always find many, MANY people to tell you how amazing or how horrible your art is but you need someone to tell you how to improve it. You need an honest, blunt, helpful opinion of your work. 

I did a shoot a while back of which I am incredibly proud (and will post soon). This shoot was pure personal work. I put money in, there was no paying client, and we had a concept that I loved. We worked hard, I pushed myself, the two guys I was shooting killed things on their part. We are all incredibly happy with the results of our shoot. I want to learn though. This shoot was purely for my benefit, so if it's going to benefit me I should get everything I possibly can from the shoot. If I have a good photo, I want to know the little details I can work on next time to make an even better photo. 

This is when you ask someone for critique. In private. Someone you trust, someone you respect. You can post the photo blindly in a forum, but that will not give you the kind of critique you need. You need someone you trust because you have to know that they will tell you the truth (no matter how painful it can sometimes be) about your photos. You need someone you respect because you should be talking to someone above you in the artistic food chain. Always be looking up, always be moving forward. 

Finally, when someone is willing to be blunt and tell you their actual thoughts about your work: TAKE IT LIKE A MAN. This is not the time to defend, this is not the time to excuse. Its a little like getting a spanking as a child, the more you cry the worse it's going to be. If someone is taking apart your work (in private, when asked for) you need to listen humbly and learn. After my shoot I sent one of the photos to a friend, he took it apart. It is always hard to have your work under scrutiny but it helps in so many ways. 

Lest I give you a post with no photo, shot this out the car window last night. Hope yall have a great Friday everyone!


Crimson Arrow

"Worse than teenage girls" was the advice a friend who shot boy bands gave me one time when we chatted about her past (she now does real estate photography, quiet, peaceful real estate work). Well as it turns out I got the chance to photograph a band earlier this summer. I talked about an idea I had with my friends in the local rock band Crimson Arrow and we decided to do a shoot. We had the privilege of shooting in a super sick location. I've seen grain elevators all my life and finally I got to shoot inside one. We had a great, albeit hot (105 outside means insanely hot inside the top of a massive metal can), time shooting with the band. 
A few days after the shoot I was with my friend Joseph West and I showed him my favorite shot from the day and when I handed him my laptop he started editing. A few swift clicks later and he gave me these sexy B&W tones. 
And last but not least, a few BTS frames thanks to my assistant/comrade Kelly (more BTS photos from the shoot can be found here).

begin


I have a vision. A vision to become a photographer. A vision to work in commercial photography. A vision to be an artist. I have a plan. A plan of how to implement this vision successfully. What I am going to be writing in the following months is my plan. It's my idea. My idea of how to launch myself into the photography and art worlds. I will explain my short and long term plans and strategies. I will explain the theories behind these ideas. I will explain how they work. I will explain why they work. The best starting place for all of this is, of course, my backstory. To understand how and why I have postulated my ideas it is important to understand what has influenced me up to this point. The ideas I will be presenting to you are mine through and through but they have been refined, challenged, and rethought with the help of many many others. From the books I've read, to the blogs I read, to the people I have had coffee with, to the music I listen to and the movies I watch, many things and many different people have influenced me, my ideas, and the way I think. 

My idea is very complex and very detailed so I will try to explain it as thoroughly and systematically as I can. I have the need and desire to publish the idea for two audiences: my clients and fellow photographers. 

I need to explain it for clients because what I am going to be doing is so very different from what they will have seen for the market I need to make sure they know what to expect. I have stood someone in fire and made it rain on them while I took their photo. There really is no telling what someone could be asked to do for a shoot. My clients need to understand this. My photography will certainly not be for everyone, which I understand, so I need to explain and SHOW them how I make my photos so that the people who do want it will be fully prepared. 

I want to show the process to photographers in hopes that someone might be able to learn something. I am just starting out. I am creating a brand. I am going to start a business. I am going to create a portfolio. You will get to see me go through the processes, you will see success, and you will (more importantly) see [many] failures. It is so unique and complex that being the imagineer behind it, I am the only person who can implement it in this way and on this scale.  Other photographers cannot copy my idea and implement it. It just doesn't work like that, however I want to expose the details so that others can see the process through which I am going in order to find MY idea so that perhaps it can help someone else find THEIR idea. So get ready y'all, here it comes….

Unpreparedness and being featured on Strobist

As a photographer it is always entertaining to watch the stats of your website but when you see a spike of more than 30k views in less than a week it gets even more entertaining. A few months ago I had a shift in thinking about what and how  and why I photograph. I mean a complete shift in thinking. I will be explaining everything about that in great detail soon. This shift of thinking has given me a very focused vision and approach to photography. As part of this I am shooting a portfolio (not to be confused with re shooting a portfolio but actually shooting it for the first time). Before my little shift in mindset my 'portfolio' was as ambiguous as anyone else's. I had no unified 'look' nor did I have and clear subject matter. This will have changed when my portfolio is launched, but as of now I don't have anything up. 

While prepping for one of my shoots I was looking for a new/different light modifier to play with and so I went to Home Depot and started shopping. I found a white acrylic globe (quite similar to the $643 ProGlobe) for $10. Being the social media addict that I am I tweeted a photo of it on my AlienBees flash and included "@strobist" on the end of my tweet since this is a steal for the money. I would have been shocked if David Hobby would have retweeted the photo. A while later I saw a notification on my phone "@Strobist mentioned you in a tweet." Was this real? It was past my bedtime that night so I had to be misreading it. There was a blog post. I had made it onto Strobist (think: Mecca). I got a second tweet from David that said something along the lines of "andddd incoming." Tweets, emails, and page views started pouring in. All from the little line in the blog post "This one is via Houston based photographer Stephen Hébert." Tweets are nice, and emails are cool, but page views of my (then) portfolio and blog are what (could) get me exposure. In the first week David's post was live I received more than thirty thousand page views from his link alone (these views were split between my portfolio and people finding my blog from the portfolio). I was completely unprepared for this. I realized then the absolute importance of always having your work ready to be thrown out in front of literally tens of thousands of people because it can and does happen. I tweeted to my few hundred twitter followers and found what I put out there rocketed in front of thousands and thousands of people. 

I am thankful that it happened because it helped reinforce a very important lesson: always be prepared. It also taught me a more important lesson: if you and your work don't stand out, you will get passed by. 

After my shift in mindset towards photography I started meeting with photographers. I started talking with people on the phone. Texting. Tweeting. Emailing. If someone would talk to me I would jump on it. I started formulating the ideas that I am implementing. These are big ideas. Very big ideas. If all goes according to plan they have the prospect of establishing my own market in Houston and challenging an entire established segment of the photo industry. My idea is very big and even more complex. Over the next few months I am going to start and systematically explaining the ideas and practices I am and will be using. I have talked about these ideas for almost six months with everyone from other photographers to soccer moms to brand managers at banks. I have refined it and rethought it many times. I have had test shoots to try my concept. I am finally ready to publicly talk about and publish it. Everything is going to change.

 Welcome to the Stephen Hébert experience. 

Europe

Another summer and I'm doing more travel. Currently I am in the process of spending 25 days in Europe (mostly split between Germany and Austria). So here is what I have seen so far with my iPhone. 


Places



 

Car lust



My beautiful (often indifferent) face

Make good art

Tonight a complete stranger after seeing only one pf my photos sent me a message on Facebook that told me how awesome my work was. I smiled, thought how awesome that person is, and tweeted about it. My friend Ryan tweeted back at me and said the following "enjoy it for 5 sec, then shake it off. you'll get a random email from someone telling you the photos are dog poo sometime // good/bad praise comes from the same place and dwelling on it only distracts from making good work." So why does he say this? Why does this matter? If you want to make good art (that art can be photography, painting, a pot of soup, or underwater basket weaving) there is a very simple process. I shall explain. 


Step 1 -> make art that interests you and that you think is good.
Step 2 -> rinse, lather, and repeat 

In the end what EVERYONE else says or thinks about your art simply does not matter. If you start listening to other peoples opinion and creating art to please that you will start creating poo. Your art is a reflection of you as an artist and your view of the world around you. Don't muddy your art with other peoples opinions. If you want to create good art, create for yourself only, don't create for anyone else. This doesn't mean you cant heed wisdom or critique from others, but be sure your motives are pure when you go to make art the next time. What you like and what motivates you will be your best work. Trust me. 

since every blog post is better with a photo, here's my oolong tea I drank the last time Ryan and I conversed face to face


Here's to inspiration

A few days ago I was sitting at lunch with a couple other photographers in Houston talking shop. A question I often like to ask other creatives is "What motivates/inspires/drives your work as a creative artist?" Now I was talking to wedding photographers who usually aren't thought of as much of 'artists', but they are. Photographers are artists. What struck me as odd when I asked these two people specifically was the way they responded. They didn't. One of the gentlemen in front of me didn't know how to answer the question (he looked like he was taking a test he had never studied for) and the other photographers motivation was money ("paying off my mortgage"). I was shocked. I wanted to reach across the table and slap them. These photographers are great people, and have decent wedding work. I respect them both. But......


I simply cannot understand someone working in a creative field without something behind the art. The gentleman who didn't/couldn't answer it was as though he had never even thought about it. This is a question that there are a great number of answers to: fast cars, other photographers work, movies, my beautiful wife, music, a eureka moment I experienced at sunrise while climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro back when I was in college. Just about anything works, as long as there is an answer. These two people seemingly had no (legitimate) inspiration or driving force behind their work (as far as I could tell). Money? That is nice, but should that be what motivates/inspires art? I was/am under the impression that art was something that was (or should be) done out of passion. It seems like without passion or some driving force the creative aspect will not be there. 


I have asked many people this question. One wedding photographer I have asked answered: "movies". So I inquired as to what movies he liked or found inspiring and he told me to go on IMDB and look at the academy award winners and nominees for cinematography. Why or how does this affect his photos? He told me that he wants to make his photos look like a scene from a movie (not a cheesy stereotypical thing, but in a serious way). Ways you can see this present in his style include the way he frames his subject and even the fact that most of his photos are 'landscape' (rather than being taken vertically). There is an influence, and it is certainly visible. 


Disappointed from a lack of answer to my first question I asked another: "Describe the visual 'look' of your photos" *silence*. "REALLY?!?!?!" I thought to myselfThese are photographers in the mid-upper wedding market in Houston. Do people really not think through this? Surely I cannot just be this forward thinking. I am hardly any kind of visionary person. Lately I have been contemplating a TON of things related to photography and one of them is my visual look, both what it is and what I want it to be. I am getting ready to brand myself and actually start a photography business based in Houston and there is much thought that has been going into the process (much more on this coming soon) but my 'look' is a big part. 


While I have been specifically speaking about photography since that is my medium of choice, this applies to other art. Painting, cooking, composing music, underwater basket weaving. Whatever your art is, it should be motivated by passion. 


So its interesting to poke at what (doesn't) inspire them, but what about me? Music. There are few things that can rapture my attention like music. People often ask me what kind of music I like and sadly I answer a super cliche 'just about anything' but it is true. Right now in my purchased playlist in iTunes I have the biebs, Usher, Beethoven, Far Ease Movement, Bach, Cadillac Sky, Young the Giant, and a ton of other people you have never heard of. Out of all the music I listen to, I find classical music the most creative. The complexity and precision with which this music was created and is executed baffles me. To contemplate classical music and think of the vision that it took to get that from an idea in a composers head to the Symphony I am listening to is astounding. 


Others inspiration, my inspiration, none of it matters in the end. What inspires you? What do you hear or see or experience that moves or motivates you? Pursue it. 




Side note, this post was written while listening to selections from Beethoven's 3rd and 9th Symphonies and Tchaikovsky's Nutcracker. 



Failure

Last month I had a photo shoot up in North Houston. I had met with the client beforehand, we had cooked up some interesting ideas for the shoot. Come the day of the shoot I went up to the Woodlands a few hours early to scout out the locations where we would shoot. Everything was perfect. Until...

I failed. Completely. 

Five minutes before my client was supposed to arrive at our first location is when it fell apart. I was sitting at a stoplight and checked my side mirror. Smoke was pouring from my left rear wheel well. I mean POURING. In all honesty I thought my car was about to catch on fire. I pulled into a parking lot and waited for the smoke to stop. Thankfully (I later learned) the only thing that caused was a small leak in my brake lines. Liquid on hot metal = smoke apparently. I never recovered though. The thought of my car on fire shook me and I wasn't mentally there during my shoot. 


So how did I fail? I mean, the car didn't turn into a flameball so I was able to do the shoot after all, and we even got some decent photos. I didn't shoot to the best of my abilities. I stayed in my comfort zone. I didn't push myself. 

After the shoot I was going through the photos with a fellow photographer and she told me "These photos aren't you. If I saw these among other peoples photos I couldn't tell they were yours. Daniela's photos you rocked. You owned that. Not this." This is in my opinion a bigger fail than making bad photos. Making 'good' photos that are made without trying isn't enough. If I wanted to do that every photo I take would be shallow DOF and natural, north-facing light. That produces 'nice' looking photos, clients love it, and everybody is happy. No. Just no. [do note: there a few people Like Jasmine Star who can pull that off well as their 'look', but I assure those people are few and VERY far between AND while Jasmine does that as her look, she also has fashion influences in her photos which adds another dimension that most others just don't have that.] I should be giving my all to every shoot. Good photos or bad as the result, I should always be pushing myself. I didn't. I failed.  


Thankfully, this was only half of my shoot with this kid. The second part we are still working on scheduling, and that, oh are we gonna rock that. So until then.....

The second, and successful, part of my shooting with Hunter can be seen here...