Dear Fly Fishing Photographer…

Believe it or not, you CAN make money at this game. Oh yes! It’s not just some pie in the sky myth that might come true on the 4th leap year of the new Etruscan moon cycle while the tide is full and Mother Earth’s Unicorn plays Greensleeves on a diamond encrusted ukelele. Believe it or not, there are clients out there that would pay money, and decent money at that for quality imagery. Yet, currently, these budgets are being allocated elsewhere as it’s just that easy to find the next travel-hungry lensman ready to jump on a plane and deliver “everything” for a week’s worth of pina coladas and a pre-planned sunburn.

Yes, it’s true–travel is exotic, fun and fantastic for the time being. But think about this–someday, you will truly end up realizing that dream of making a living as a full time professional photographer,  and there will be no side job or other income to pay those bills that are not being paid with a high five to your bro on the front of a panga. Keep in mind you actually just paid to get to that panga (I know, flights are cheap yo!). Sure, everything’s covered once you’re there, but that’s where you’re coming up short once again–you’re working hard, using your hard-earned (and paid for) equipment and spending time away from the computer or other jobs that would be putting legitimate income into your bank account. It all feels pretty good, until you get home and have to spend another 20 hours editing, processing and uploading the unlimited number of images you owe the lodge for the “free but paid and STILL paying for” shooting gig.

It’s all good, cause you can come home and then license the images to the next rod, reel or apparel company that has been trained to trade product for imagery. A new reel–suh-weet! Add that to your collection and then hustle back to the computer and list it on Ebay. Feels quite proper, until you actually think about the cycle here. Let’s see…reel company trades you a reel for imagery. You then go and hawk the reel for a fraction of the new price, justifying the deal done for trade and finally actually putting some cold hard cash in your pocket. Then you realize this means that one less person will be purchasing one less reel from your local fly fishing shop which will be ordering one less reel from the manufacturer which means the manufacturers expendable income for things like marketing (imagery) is hurting even more. It’s an ugly cycle. One that really only hurts everyone in the end…

In all fairness though, there is plenty of room to play devil’s advocate here. Many of these trips yield legitimate “portfolio-building” imagery, establish relationships with decision makers, and contribute to the overall sexiness of your brand (not talking about the sick silhouetted casting tattoo on your once-rippling lats there, chieftain.). I have certainly been there. And at times, I believed it to be the right decision.  The decision process is/was cloudy at best. To make it even cloudier, you get plenty of time with a rod in your hand and it feeds our incessant need to fish (it’s a sickness!). At different times in your career, it may feel more justified than not. But in the end, it leaves you feeling sheepishly satisfied at best.

One certainly can’t blame the clients. They’ve been trained to take full advantage of us photographers who are essentially peeing in our own kiddie pool time and time again. If I could get a t-bone for the price of a hamburger, you better believe I’d do it.But I can’t help but think it hasn’t bitten them as well.

So, what to do? Decide today that you will make informed decisions. Weigh the pros vs. the cons. Think beyond the next month. There are extenuating circumstances, yes. But take a moment to think about whether the next uber trip to pluto’s fifth moon to fish for the dragon-eyed bumblefish is really going to do anything for you (and those with whom you associate on a professional level) but pad your ego and crowd your Facebook page.

This post is neither a me vs. you post, nor an us vs. them post.  We can all work together to make this industry stronger and healthier than ever before. Mediocre photographers say yes to mediocre deals, which leaves the client with mediocre imagery, which shows the world that they cater to a mediocre crowd looking for a mediocre experience. That spells one giant FAIL for all parties involved. Exceptional photographers say yes to deals that benefit both parties equally. Is there a cash component involved? Ideally, yes. At times, perhaps not, but that lies upon our own shoulders to determine if what we do gain is of adequate value vs. what we deliver.  It’s up to us to educate, negotiate and deliver.

Now.  About that tattoo…

Edit: I’ve had numerous responses to this blog post privately. Some will take this post to be preachy–I don’t mean it as such although it’s somewhat inevitable when addressing a topic such as this with a side of sarcasm. It has nothing to do with jobs I may or may not have been awarded and everything to do with a fluid thought process that influences the way I look at my profession. Let me clarify by noting that each photographer has every right to approach his or her business as he/she so chooses. There are many, many other factors I consider when approaching a shooting opportunity than the bottom line, cash in hand result. Whether this post has you nodding your head in agreement, or cursing the monitor through clenched teeth…it has served its purpose. We progress when we think and analyze. We digress when we refuse to give even a small place in our minds to an alien approach or thought process…

Still Loving Still (photography)

Vietnamese Junks settle in for an evening's repose in Ha Long Bay, Vietnam.

What can I say? Even in the current craziness of the generation Y multimedia gobble-fest, I am still in love with a medium that has changed relatively little since its inception over a century ago. Sure, the way in which we create the photograph has changed quite drastically for most, but the end result remains rather unchanged. Simply put, still imagery can convey a message or tell a story quicker than any other medium out there. It’s ability to produce instantaneous thought provocation is undeniable. Joy. Sadness. Anxiety. Awe. Sympathy. Empathy. Desire. Disdain. You can’t help but FEEL SOMETHING in an immediate fashion when you look at meaningful imagery. It can send you reeling into the future, or transport you back in time. And that’s why I for one, (and many others out there I imagine) will ever fall out of love with this timeless medium.

11 Best of 2011 from AdamBarkerPhotography

2011 was a spectacular year on all accounts. Foot upon foot of pow skied, fish from Wyoming to the Bahamas hooked, festivals in the far corners of the earth, ancient pathways crossed–all contributed to what could perhaps be one of my most productive years behind the lens. Cliche as it may be, I can’t help but look back in review and share some of my favorites from the past year.  As always, many thanks to my sponsors: Arc’teryx, Suunto, Mark Miller Subaru, Mountain Khakis, Manfrotto School of Xcellence, Clikelite Backpacks and Singh Ray Filters. Hope you all enjoy, and here’s to an even better 2012! (click on images to view larger versions)

1. Jesse Hall takes a moment to ponder human flight, as he stands inside the hot air balloon from which he’ll subsequently launch himself into gravity’s liberating grasp. Park City, UT.

2. Angler Al Chidester finds himself surrounded by all that is good in this world: fresh air, fall foliage…and fantastic fishing in some of western Wyoming’s most treasured water.

3. Fire and rain over Warm Creek Bay, Lake Powell, UT.

4. Hazy skies make for ethereal and ancient interpretations of East Jerusalem, Israel.

5. First light envelopes Agua Canyon in a glow only Mother Nature could furnish. Bryce Canyon National Park, UT.

6. Ralph Lauren’s Double RL Ranch shows its true colors in crisp early morning light. Dallas Divide, CO.

7. Angler Geoff Mueller admires a healthy bonefish (caught and released) in Abaco Island’s skinniest of water.

8. Calm in the chaos of Hanoi traffic, Vietnam.

9. Bavaria’s finest color smiles upon a lone farmer’s shed in the fields near Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany.

10. Skier Drew Stoecklein can, in fact turn right. At just the right time. In just the right place. Alta Backcountry, UT.

11. Angler Geoff Mueller and Oliver White tense up as they ply the waters off Abaco Island for huge permit.

The Value of Vision

Image of William Atkin House at This is The Place Heritage State Park in Salt Lake City, UT by AdamBarkerPhotography

It’s so easy these days to reduce photography to nothing more than pressing a button on the latest camera, with the latest lens, packed in the latest backpack, etc. etc. etc. There’s no question that photography has much to do with equipment. It’s also true that generally speaking, better equipment will yield better results, assuming the photographer has the technical knowledge necessary to utilize the added features and from more advanced equipment. It is most true, however, that exceptional photographers rely on that which is in their head, and not in their hands to produce imagery that will rise above the clutter of mediocrity.

Which brings me to this image from this morning’s shoot in Salt Lake City. I hadn’t planned on shooting this house. I hadn’t really even planned on shooting at all to be honest. But I woke up and the skies looked promising and I needed to breathe some cold air. The skies certainly delivered, but I soon realized that my vision for the scene in front of me had nothing to do with vibrant, cheery color.

This home is a replica of one built in 1877 by a mormon settler named William Atkin. It was located eight miles south of St. George on a 160-acred farm that later became the one-family town of Atkinville.

A one-family town in the middle of nowhere–I’m sure they saw some beautiful sunrises, but I can also imagine the over-abundance of hardships encountered in such an endeavor as well. Lonely. Bleak. Cold. And thus was born this image, which has moderate resemblance to the original (below). I can tell you exactly how I did this, but I’d rather you simply study the image and answer that for yourself. It’s about externalizing the internal thought process at the time of capture, and relies more on cognitive decision-making when shooting the image than reactive experimentation on the computer after the fact.

What’s the point of all this babble? The point is this: if you have no personal investment or direction in the final result of what you hope to create when you click the shutter, there really is very little substantive story-telling to be showcased. Without a story, you have no audience.

It’s likely that I will embrace the in-camera version of this image at some point. After all, I am a sucker for colored up clouds, and it is a beautiful and serene scene. However, on this morning, this was my vision. Vision has value. It’s value is far greater than the latest and greatest doohickey that just hit the interwebz. Vision, or the lack thereof, is ultimately a very large factor in whether you will succeed or fail in your quest to produce exceptional imagery.

Breakdown: Anatomy of a Stock Ski Image

It’s a pretty slow start to winter here in Utah this year, so I figured maybe I can tease ol’ Mother Nature into submission with some love from last year. I spend a great deal of time shooting skiing in the winter, and it’s about a whole lot more than shredding pow and high fives (though that definitely makes up a decent chunk of it!). There’s a great deal of work that goes into every image,  on both the part of the photographer and the athlete. It requires vision, communcation and an understanding of the end product from both parties. Read on for a little insight into the making of this image of Carston Oliver at Alta, UT.

1. Rule numero uno in most, if not all ski imagery is tack sharp focus. Obviously, there’s a little wiggle room here if you’re going after some other sort of creative effect (blur, etc.), but by and large, your images MUST be tack sharp if they are to stand any chance at getting published. This requires communication to the athlete as to exactly where you hope for the climactic action to occur. This is vital to communicate, as I typically frame my image around this “hot spot”. If the athlete misses it, the shot will likely be a throw away. Carston hits the mark nearly every time. When working with new athletes (to me), I’ll typically give myself a bit of tolerance in either pulling back from what I expect the final image to be, or by following the athlete to a greater extent instead of having him simply ski through my frame, holding the camera still. If I trust the athlete and can see the exact frame I hope to capture, I will pre-focus on the hot spot, as was the case here.

2. I am a stickler about paying attention to the edges of your frame. It’s vital to have that separation between the skier and the edge of the frame for both aesthetic and functional reasons. Firstly, it gives the subject of the image adequate breathing room, and negates the visual tension that would occur were the skier too close to the edge. Secondly, this is very usable (and necessary) space for copy. This image was shot for cover dimensions, and this space around the subject is a must!

3. With most side profile ski images like this, you need to decide what to include in terms of terrain and line choice. Do you want to show where the skier is coming from or where he’s going? Or do you want to include both? In this image, I knew the backlit powder trail would be an integral part of the shot, which means I needed to show a hefty chunk of turn behind the actual hot spot. Again, this is crucial to understand before the action takes place, as it affects the entire dynamic and composition of the image. Additionally, there was a small cliff directly underneath this turn. So–the shot was best when showing where the skier had come from, not so much where he was going. I’ve employed the ridgeline, turn trench and powder spray as leading lines, taking the viewer from the upper right corner, directly to the skier, where the viewer can then wander into the space below (see #2) and continue digesting the remainder of the image.

4. This background serves two purposes. First, it gives the viewer perspective and a feeling of exposure. It serves as the separating element between the skier and “all the rest”. It’s the contrast I always look for both in terms of subject matter, texture and color to give separation and add depth to an image. By using a telephoto lens here, I’ve compressed the scene, bringing that background directly in and almost “on top” of the action. This is a great way to fill your frame with the goods, and get rid of everything else. Lastly, this background serves as usable space for a magazine masthead. Ideally, it would be a little less busy, but it still works dimensionally.

5. More negative space. Again, crucial to the hopeful editorial success of this image. This space is absolutely necessary if this image is ever to have legs as a cover. Editors need aesthetic, functional space in which to add copy, headlines, etc. It also helps to provide that clean separation between foreground and background.

Want to make this work for you? Find aesthetic locations with good snow. Then hook up with skilled athletes that can exact turns with surgical precision, while maintaining that perfect photogenic form. Finally, learn how to communicate your vision in a verbal manner. It looks completely different from the athlete’s perspective, and it’s up to you as the photographer to make sure you’re both on the same page. Good luck!