My pals at R&R Music Labs are cooking up another batch of their STL LOUD music series and among the artists featured on this edition is the power pop trio Peach. I’m a fan of the band and have worked with them in the past, so I was happy to come be a fly on the studio wall for their afternoon recording session last weekend. And since I’ve been enjoying the new website Self-Assignment.com lately, I figured I would share some thoughts on why I constantly shoot personal work like this.
Busy = Good
This may be a bit of an understatement, but I am pretty active in social media. And while I frequently crack lame jokes on Facebook or tweet about food, I have two ultimate uses for these platforms: sharing my work, and cultivating real world relationships. Social media has been invaluable to me, and when I run into online acquaintances in “meatspace” (as my friend Julie refers to the physical world), they frequently comment about how busy I seem to be. They see all the photos I post and the projects I work on so they figure I must be busting my butt. I usually smile and tell them, “Busy is good”.
While I don’t spend every waking second with a camera in my hand, the truth is that I really am busy. I figure that if I don’t have a client assigning me work, then I better be shooting something on my own. It’s the only way to learn, grow and improve. If I want to improve my food photography, I will assign myself a project that challenges my weaknesses (styling, composition). When my portraiture feels stale I will find someone to shoot with and work on my posing and lighting techniques. When I worry that I’m not prepared to take on a magazine assignment I’ll dream up some project that forces me to think like a photojournalist and go make photos that tell a story.
The biggest benefit of self-assigned work is that it forces me to think like the clients I am marketing to. For example, it behooves me to ask myself what a potential agency client would look for in my work. Why would they hire me? Why wouldn’t they? Does my work jive with their clientele and aesthetic? Am I equipped to handle anything they might ask of me? If not, what can I do? It’s a matter of being prepared to meet their needs with my product. Can you see the remnants of my past life in marketing and sales bubbling to the surface here, folks?
My Editor Is So Demanding
What’s the point of all that heavy stuff? Well, I have shot several of these STL LOUD sessions. And while each band is radically different, since they are in the same setting the photos can look a little stale. So I decided that this time I would try a completely different approach. So I gave myself an assignment, as if I were an editor at a music publication (a type of client that I frequently market myself to). The imaginary brief read something like this in my head:
- Shoot the band Peach at their STL LOUD recording session
- Try to capture details to convey the mood and the recording process. Tell a story.
- Keep the aesthetics in line with the “gritty, edgy” look of our publication
Hmmmm…OK, mister editor. No problem. And thanks for the assignment! Where do I send my invoice?
I usually shoot wide open at high ISOs with no flash, but in this case I went for a grittier “low fi” look. I popped a flash on the camera (all my lighting nerd friends just gasped audibly) and attached a Honl Speed Grid to it. I’ve mentioned these doo-dads before but it’s essentially a device that focuses the beam of light from my flash. It’s why the photos have a small circle of light in the center and darker corners. That’s not some vignette added in post, kids.
To further change things up, I shot from different angles than I usually do and photographed lots of closeup details of stuff in and around the studio. Hands, amplifier knobs, closeups, etc. all in the name of telling the story and conveying the mood. The final touch was processing all of the photos in black and white, because to me that screams “gritty” and “edgy”.
In the end, it was another self-assigned project that taught me some things and further enhanced my abilities by forcing me out of my comfort zone. Sure, it looks completely different from many of the things I shoot, but that’s what my editor wanted. And the editor is always right!
By The Way…
Peach are as kickass as ever. The tune they cut for the upcoming STL LOUD release is pretty epic. Muscular drumming, killer riffs, and a stellar vocal performance (as usual) from Melissa. Their new bassist Pat is fitting in nicely and you can catch the band at Blueberry Hill on March 24th. I recommend that you do just that.