Not everyone is built that way but I am. I'd be lost without focus and planning--lists, milestones, goals, ideas, projects. I don't always achieve everything I set out to do (still haven't finished that book) but I enjoy the act of dreaming and setting goals. People make fun of me for still doing New Year's resolutions, but I really don't care. Too much of life is unpredictable and I like to plan at least a few things that are up ahead of me (and document what is behind me).
At age 21, before the Internet was a daily ritual, and research was easy, I spent months studying books and maps and travel guides. I went to seminars and planned a six-week backpacking vacation alone in Europe. I hit nine countries and met up with friends and relatives along the way. I planned where to sleep (sometimes on a train, sometimes in a hole in the wall), what foods I wanted to try, and I took 36 rolls of film with me (and used them all). I even planned some spontaneous, "unplanned" time built into the trip. (I wish I could say I was joking.)
In the last few years, life has unfortunately wedged its way between me and the pursuit of my goals. It happens. Like two people who grow apart but stay together. Health issues, insanely heavy workloads, depression, social obligations, and heartbreak have all contributed to an ongoing, low-grade motivation malaise. When I tell people this, I often get scolded with "Jackie! Are you kidding? You are the hardest worker we know, and you are always doing fun things, and you regularly feed your creative side!" But, you know what? It's almost always for "the Man." Always just a cog. A creative cog is still a cog. I rarely create simply for Jackie, because I'm compelled to make something for the sheer joy of it, rather because a company or client is paying me to do something for them. There just wasn't time in my schedule for gratuitous fun projects. I mean, please. I had mouths to feed. (Okay, just two cats, but still.) If I happened to be somewhere awesome, I'd pull out my phone and load a pic to Instagram. That had slowly become the extent of my non-client creative expression.
In March, I left my day-job at Amazon. A change of pace and a new direction is needed. And getting back to creative work was on top of my list of goals. A friend who knew I was itching to do more creative work sent me a link to a photography workshop. On a whim, I signed up for it. It was John Keatley's "Survival Guide" workshop in Seattle. I didn't know John Keatley before this workshop, but I certainly knew his work. That portrait of Macklemore, and the one of Annie Leibovitz clearly stand out. I went into this weekend workshop knowing I was going to be learning from one of the best.
I didn't even pick up my camera the entire weekend. Yes, you read that correctly. I did not take a single photo with my pro gear. I snapped a few iPhone pics (see below), but for three days, we focused not on the craft or the skills--it was assumed going in, that we already had those--but rather the business end of things. And more than simply "business"; when I think of business, I think paperwork, bookkeeping, client management, schedules, taxes. And yes, it did cover these topics. But for me, the standout topics were things like image branding, what to charge, industry types to connect with, finding your unique niche and, perhaps most importantly, working on personal projects. We even talked about how to develop your future style and how to point yourself in that direction.
The mentorship provided was, for me, a game changer. Part of the workshop also came with a one-on-one portfolio review with John and I got absolutely invaluable insight and critique. John and his wife Nichelle could have just been hands-off instructors, and it would have still been successful. But what put it over the top for me is the one-on-one interaction, the camaraderie, the no-holds-barred instruction, and their post-workshop follow-up. They've made me feel like my success is their success. There are very few instructors, or even people in general, who can be true cheerleaders. I'm immensely grateful to have met caring people who have had success in the photography industry and value helping others do the same.
That is not to say the entire workshop was glitter and cupcakes. It was insanely intense. With a very ambitious itinerary, John dove into the hard stuff right out of the gate. The first morning, we were already standing up in front of the others bidding on projects--we had to tell how much we'd charge for what type of shoot, what we'd include in those charges, how long the shoot would be, what we were shooting, and what we needed to do to accomplish that shoot. We got into small groups and we could pick from a list, or make up our own, so I ditched the list and picked a dream gig: shooting for Starbucks. The exercise ended with us pretend-shooting for Starbucks, how we'd go about it, and them licensing three of our shots for a ten-year period. (Starbucks, did you hear that? I'm coming for you!)
There were also peer reviews. So not only were you to use what you learned in the workshop to shape your own portfolio and brand, but you reviewed others' work and helped them shape their focus, as well. There is nothing that helps you "get" something better than diving straight in and having to do it. And not once, but multiple times for others.
The workshop was more than just enlightening; it actually put us in charge of own success, and aligned us with others who are doing the same thing. I absolutely feel that I (and any one of us) could easily shoot for a huge client. The exercises in the workshop gave me the confidence, power, and intimate knowledge to know how to be a high-level pro. Not just the craft behind the shots which I've already been doing for more than a decade, but the whole business end of things, that can seem overly daunting to a creative type. But sorting this stuff out properly allows you to enjoy the creativity that comes from the gigs, focus on landing them, and provide direction for your energies.
And it hasn't waned. I'm still riding the wave of confidence since last month. Not only that, I've come up with some really fun personal projects just for me. (More on those later, when I have something to show.) I've realized--and this workshop solidified it--that creative people absolutely need play time to help fuel their work time.
I'm currently getting my website ready to launch. It's taken longer than I'd planned to set up because the work I did in this workshop actually helped shift my direction slightly (that can absolutely happen when you sit down and scrutinize where it is you really want to go). I'm redoing a few things, and having a lot of fun doing it.
It's almost go time.
|Giving presentations on hypothetical gigs|
|John Keatley is a well-known iPhone portraitist|
(His workshops come with wigs. Don't ask.)
|A bunch of the guys wore wigs around all afternoon.|
|At one point, our lesson was interrupted by disco music and a pink|
ice cream truck coming in through the garage door.
|John and Nichelle Keatley|
|Ice cream truck break|
|Fashion photographer, M. Moore|
|Two guys in glasses. Just because.|
|The venue: Blackrapid Studios (don't even THINK of parking there)|
|Taking a quick break to walk around the block.|
|Lonnie, one of the workshop attendees, freely admitted that he drinks|
coffee from 7-Eleven. IN SEATTLE! Much teasing ensued.
|Nichelle taught the very important topic of accounting and organization|
Also, John is doing another workshop in July--this time in St. Louis. If you need mentorship to help you get to a higher level of pro photography work, John and Nichelle are it.