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Welcome to the online blog for traveler/writer/photographer Steven Barber. Come in. Relax. Take off your shoes and socks -- or any other article of clothing, this is the internet. Have a look around. I hope to intrigue, amuse, entertain, and maybe provoke you just a little. I love to find adventure. All I need is a change of clothes, my Nikon, an open mind and a strong cup of coffee.

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Taking Stock

"Necessity is the mother of taking chances." 
                                          Mark Twain

I am fortunate to count among my friends quite a few people who are successful artists of some kind. Musicians, photographers, painters, comic book artists, actors, singers and writers.

Recently -- as in two months ago -- I made the decision to commit, really commit to my photography as both a vocation and as a business. Yes, I've had a good amount of work published and in art shows and the like, but it's always been a side business which got attention when I could. I consider, and I think reasonably, myself to have been a semi-pro. I get paid for the work and I think I'm a pretty good photographer when you get right down to it.

But I didn't take the steps necessary to take it to the next level. As I looked around at the successful people around me I wondered why I hadn't "taken off" as they had, and the answer is -- being directly honest with myself -- that I hadn't really applied myself to making it work. All of the successful artists I know work hard at their craft, but also in the marketing of it.

One of my friends -- my British "best mate" James Moran -- just posted a brilliant piece on Taking Stock of his writing career at least once a year. It's a great read and really pins down why it is he's successful and will continue to be. It resonated with me to a great extent and crystalized much of what I have been thinking and doing for the last two months.

First, as anyone who reads this blog regularly knows, I recently opened an online store to market canvas prints (and later, other products) based upon my photographic works. Many of the shots are filtered so as to look more like paintings than photographs, and that is part of the "art" of what I do. The online store, which I've only really started to market, is simply a logical and needed step in making my "second career" as a photographer more of a primary income when and if I ever get the opportunity to retire from my "bill paying" career. (I enjoy what I do in my "day job", but if I were to win the lottery I admit that's the first thing chucked out the door.)

Reading James' post reminded me that it isn't just taking a series of almost unrelated steps which make for a career, it's having a plan and working on that plan every day.

In that light, I have to look at my goals and realize/plan out what I'm doing and where I'm going with my work. There are essentially four different and yet closely related elements and goals I have by the end of the year.

1 - Teaching. I have dipped my toes into the instructional waters and found myself enjoying them. To that end I have several sessions booked at a camera store that seems to like what I do and supports me. (I support them as well...it's where I buy all my camera gear.) 

To that end I have created a couple of presentations geared toward Travel Photography and getting that moment versus just a series of pictures of people in front of famous structures. How do you make your work stand out? A second class in in the works, and I'm currently trying to hone down what it will be about. I've been given carte blanche to come up with ideas, which they will then vet and (hopefully) give me approval to move forward. I'm also instructing using one of the existing templates on Capturing the Moment, an excellent presentation designed by their instructional director.

To that end I am booked for a number of sessions through the next six months.

2 - My book CHASING MARTINIS is essentially finished. I have a handful more parts to add, but I have a mockup of perhaps a third of the final pages ready to be printed to be used as a sample for potential publishers and/or agents. 

What I need, now, is to begin to market the book. Finding an agent is the first part of this. I am frankly unaware of the process for finding a publisher for a book of photography. (Oddly enough I am far more familiar with how its done for fiction and other books, but since coffee table books are a different beastie altogether I'm in the dark.) Fortunately I am willing to learn by trial and error. The topic is a marketable one, and several ideas I have make it even more of an interesting project for the eventual publisher. But it's job #2 for my photography career.

(Several people have suggested self-publishing, but this in inherently too expensive when it comes to photography. I'd have to seek the coffee table book for nearly $200 just to break even. This needs a scale above what I can afford to spend and then try to get into stores myself. I need people familiar with marketing and distribution, and I am not.)

3 - The online store. I just need to keep pimping it. More than any other project this one is the one designed to bring money into the coffers. There are, as of this writing, nearly 40 images uploaded with more to come. I am starting out with canvas prints because I believe it displays a number of the works in the best possible way, and can be a strong artistic accent piece for the buyer. Photography is a tricky item when it comes to marketing. Unfortunately, as I've discussed in the post, many people regard it as a "pseudo-art" because "anybody can take a picture". This is true, but not a complete answer. Anyone CAN take a picture, but not everybody with a camera makes good art.

The images selected for the gallery are the things which resonate with me, and I believe strongly that they work well with a number of design styles. The prints are designed as accent pieces for rooms, not focal points (though they can function as such). Are they my most artistic shots, perhaps. They are a different species than are my martini shows, or my travel work -- though examples of both those categories have made it into the mix.

So it's an open and ongoing effort.

4 - Continuing to work on and improve my skills.

I had a discussion with a musician the other night at a gig where my wife was performing. The discussion centered on the need to work on your art, improve it, and never get complacent. No matter who you are and how successful you've become, everyone can benefit form ongoing training. I'm nowhere near being that successful or skilled, so I continue to work on knowing my camera better, improving my eye and becoming a better just of what is and is not photo-worthy.

To that end I am not only being an instructor at the camera store, I am going to be taking a number of the classes myself, working with the other photographers to hone my skills and becoming better at what I do. It's the only way to grow as an artist, and I am finally allowing myself the conceit of considering myself one. 

James' blog entry is the jumping off point, and has instilled in me a more fundamental approach to this artisty thingy. It's something I want to do, but it's something I need to take the steps to do. Not just "hope" something happens, because it probably won't. As he notes in his blog,: "you never “break in”, you just keep moving, and have to break in again every time you do something new". It's an important recognition that nobody is ever so successful that they can just rest on their laurels. 

(Well, some can. It's called "retirement".)

Everybody needs to try new things and improve on the old ones.

So that's where we are. Just felt I had to write it down.


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