Sometimes when I walk to my car before a shoot and open up the boot, I look at this mountain of equipment and think to myself “Why the hell did I ever pick up a camera?” Who in their right mind would pursue something so unpredictable and undervalued and continue to do it after they’ve been beaten down repeatedly. Then I get in the car, fire up some music that I love and I’m on my way. My mood changes. I start to get excited about what lies ahead. My mind starts over throttling with ideas. I turn the music up. Usually it’s Eric Church. I start wailing along to it, pretending I’m on some deserted highway in New Mexico, when in reality I’m actually 100 cars deep in early morning rush hour on the dreaded M6. I don’t give a shit. Maybe earlier. But now, I’m in the zone.
I listen to songs that mean things to me, such as “Those I’ve Loved” or “Mr. Misunderstood” or “Take It Easy”. You see, when I’m on my own, my mood enhancing drugs are music and photography. Forget cocaine or booze. All of this stuff that some people would call pretentious actually works for me. By the time 6 hours have passed and I get out of the car feeling like someone has jammed a pole up my ass, that sinking feeling I had before I took off is a distant memory. I’m called a frog for a reason (apparently). I jump around like a raving lunatic when I get excited about something. And that’s where my mind is at when I arrive at a shoot. Ask anyone. Seriously, do. I doubt anyone would disagree that when I walk into a shoot, I’m the most passionate and animated weirdo you’ll ever see. But you see, as subconscious as it is, it’s infectious. It rubs off. Whoever I am shooting – a model, an actor or an artist, will be zoned in with me and that is an automatic recipe for success. If I’m shooting a cover, I will not stop until I get THE shot that we’re both happy with. And I’ve not failed yet. Why? People say I’m talented as fuck and I’m this super photographer. Bullshit! If you work hard enough and put your all into something, you WILL get results. If you want to. If you go in half-hearted, or if you are spent and feel like it’s no longer something that excites you, well my friends, take a hike. You’re done with it. And it shows. Trust me. You see, this is the life of a true creative. It’s a rollercoaster flying through quicksand. And it never stops until YOU choose stop it. The quicksand is always there, but so am I. Sometimes I sink. Sometimes I tear it apart. But I will never fear it. And that’s what living is.
Sometimes I also think “Why the hell do other people bother picking up a camera?” Yes it’s true. Everyone’s a photographer now (apparently). Thanks primarily to technology and someone who comes up with a stellar idea “Hey lets make an app that puts stars on your photos”. Seriously what? Everyone’s a photographer until they are forced to use the manual button. It’s true that cameras are so sophisticated these days that anyone can take a half decent photo. Well done. You’ve graduated from kindergarten. Now what? You start complaining that you wish you could take better photos and wonder why you can’t. Let. Me. Repeat. Do the hard yards. Become a geek. Spend your evenings actually researching techniques instead of looking at porn and then go out and practise them. Lose yourself in it all. Come back and do it again. Don’t think you’ve mastered it because you’ve taken one photo that you’ll be happy to blow up to 6 inches and put on your mantlepiece amongst all your faux antiques. It’s probably shit. And if it’s not, it was probably a fluke. Do it over and over until you can look at your camera and call it your bitch. You don’t stop learning. Ever. From anyone in life. This is the reason I see photographers outputting the same old stuff – some of it is not bad, but some isn’t great either. Because they think “I can apply this filter and it will make my photo look awesome.” Once again, horse shit. If you don’t know what you want to achieve with a photo, you’re just going to be floating aimlessly in the realms of guesswork for the rest of your life. Think before you take a shot. Before I even click the shutter, I know what my photo is going to look like once it’s edited. I have a vision and a goal and by Christ I will achieve that. Don’t be reactive and just shoot away thinking I can sort that out in post. If there’s a mouse sticking out the ass of a model, physically remove it for fuck sake. Photoshop will not help you there, no matter if you zoom in 1600% and remove that mouse pixel by pixel. My point being, it’s all about forethought and hard physical work. Sitting in front of a cornerstone graphics application for hours might seem like hard work, but it’s child’s play compared to actually making sure you have it right from the get go. I’ve heard said about me “Oh his photos are nothing special. He just knows how to use Photoshop well.” Very good. I applaud you for your foresight and understanding of what I do. Have you ever been on a shoot with me? Do you have any idea of my work ethic and thought process before, during and after a shoot? I don’t think so. I’ll agree with you on one thing. I do know how to use Photoshop well. I’d be a bit inept if I didn’t after using it daily for 21 years. But let me answer your ignorant appraisal with a question. Would you instinctively know what settings on your camera will output a photo that you can throw into Photoshop and create something you are proud of and that makes your client use the words “killer?” Let me hazard a guess. No. I’d hold back on passing judgement if I were you as to my capabilities. Or don’t… I really don’t care because you see, I focus on what I do and ignore the world. I don’t care about what other photographers are doing. I think for myself, keep a cool eye on the market, and move with it at my pace. If you start worrying about what people think of you, you become one of them. Because these people only breed negativity due to their own insecurities and jealousy. Something I’ll never be when it comes to my profession, because I know first hand how destructive those emotions can be.
It’s funny how the people in this industry are perceived. I’ve met a lot of photographers, some I like a lot, some I just nod gracefully and politely and feel super proud of myself that I am so far detached from the way these people go about their business. What’s really amusing to me is that I can name a select few photographers who may be seen as self-promoting wankers (of course, I won’t), but who are in actual fact the complete opposite. These people are not only business-minded and serious about their profession, but the same people that are perceived as self-glossing are actually the ones who are knowledge-sharers and really want to grow creativity in the world. They’re not jealous. They’re not protective and secretive of their superpowers. They’re open and they get a buzz out of helping other creatives grow and learn. And these are the ones that post a lot of stuff online to that effect. And I’m one of these people. The way I see it is yes, I post a lot of my work for the world to see. Well fuck. This is what I invest 90% of my time and money on and I’m proud of it. Of course I want to show it. By the same token, I have had countless direct messages and emails from people asking for tips and advice and I reply openly to every one of them. Because I was one of them. I still am one of them. We’re learning forever. So let’s help each other for fuck’s sake. I applaud the sincerity of certain photographers in their open agenda of knowledge-sharing. And they know who they are – as do I, and I will always have time for them. And then you see the humble quiet people-pleasers who are actually the ones who are so far up their own asses, they’ve probably invested in and recycled that pole that was shoved up mine after my six hour drive. I call them “Cloak & Dagger Photographers.” The ones that proclaim to be faceless-names and attack the ones that according to them are “narcissistic” or “self-glossing”. That green monster is so transparent, as are you my dear dark ones.
So my journey has been a short one. But it is an endless one. My first professional shoot was just over 3 years ago. Jaw drops. Yep. It’s true. Am I proud of what I’ve achieved? Damn straight. And I rich? Fuck, no. Have I made bad choices? Big time. Do I question my direction? Daily. Do I wish things were different in my life? Sometimes yes. Will I stop? Never. Why have I achieved what I have in such a short amount of time? Work ethic. Professionalism with clients. Listening. Understanding a brief. Not because “I’m the best”. If you saw how many photos I used to throw away, you probably wouldn’t think that. The “best” photographers are the ones who didn’t have the benefit of being able to shoot 1,000 unseen frames to get 1 killer shot. Thank you. The analog photographers are Gods. Canon can bring out the 1DX Mark 4 Million with a portable Mercedes attached to it. Nikon can bring out the D-1 Billion -S with an ISO range which lets you light up heaven. *Yawn*. Go have a look at some shots of The Rolling Stones or Johnny Cash or early Metallica. That is skill and talent. And it still exists nowadays, but from a select few. Most “photographers” will just fire in hope. I did it. Hands up. I did it, but I learnt from it. A lot of people won’t bother taking that next step and learning composition, lighting and – very importantly – patience, where they can cull their frames to 1/10th of that because they think they have the technology at their disposal so why bother. Well you’ll always be wondering why you don’t take better photos if you think like that. Because you’re not progressing. So in my three years, I’ve learnt so much because it’s something I love. I continue to love photography even if I get bored of it. I break new ground. i look for ways to reignite my boredom. I’ve done it a number of times and by God, I’ll be doing it loads more in the future no doubt.
I mentioned the phrase “You’re the best.” That’s a funny one. It would appear, from experience, that everyone is the “best” until money gets talked about. I’ve lost count the amount of times I’ve been told this only to be snubbed by a client when it comes to the crunch and figures are talked about. And what actually makes it even more frustrating is that my rates are nowhere near the level of what they should be based on industry and client appraisal of the quality of my work. I’ve always been rather selfless when it comes to helping the industry grow – to my own detriment. Is that bad business? Maybe a little. But I have empathy. I understand that for a struggling unsigned artist, every penny counts. So I help. Because in doing so, I’m helping grow a music industry that I believe in. I might – naively – also believe that there is loyalty in this industry. I’m yet to see it. But I live in hope. I offer payment plans. I work for rates that I am comfortable with but rates that I cannot drop any more before it becomes a true labour of love. And then to either be snubbed completely (and silently) or to be told that’s too expensive, all I can say is this. You get what you pay for. Sure there are rogues out there that will happily attach their name to your product for “exposure” or even a bottle of whiskey, but do you really think spending thousands of pounds on production of an EP or album only to have it accompanied by inferior photography and artwork is going to do you justice? It screams one thing – “I’m not really serious about this.” And ultimately that’s not going to generate you record sales. And it’s not just aspiring artists – it’s big corporations, who make millions of pounds profit and who will still try and knock you down to almost slave labour rates. It’s the industry. Photography is, sadly, undervalued. There are countless memes and quotes and anecdotes online that highlight this. Why? Because it’s true. Apparently creative work is no longer something that is considered high value. And that’s the irony of it. Being creative is seen as being talented by people who aren’t. And yet that talent is worth shit when it comes to the crunch. So I’m constantly thinking about my future in this industry.
Which leads me onto the “now” and the “future”. I’m always reinventing myself because that’s what creatives do naturally. I’ve shot live music at a sprint pace for almost 3 years and I am spent with it. It’s no longer exciting for me. I’ve shot every artist in the genre that I love several times and I just can’t see myself getting excited anymore about wandering around the pit to get the same shot of Blake Shelton’s nose from a different angle. I’ve dabbled and obsessed with the mystique of tour photography. I soon learned that even that isn’t something that would satisfy me – financially or creatively. The catalyst was earlier last month when I was randomly contacted and recommended for a job which meant relocation to Nashville and being employed full time by one of the biggest artists in the country music industry. After reading the job description and the logistics of it all, of course meant it was not even a decision that I could entertain seriously because as much as I am a creative monster and a passionate photographer, I’m a father first and foremost, and when presented with the opportunity, the penny dropped (so to speak), that no amount of prestige, money or “dream come true” would ever be a substitute for time lost with my kids. My dad left me against his or my will when I was five years old. I would NEVER do that to my children intentionally. But, what it has shown me is that I have the utmost respect to be even considered for such a role. And that, to me, is the measure of my success. Whether it actually eventuated or not is irrelevant. Being given the opportunity and considered for a role that really is one of the rarest job openings you could get opened up my eyes and made me realise that “Hey you know what, I’ve made it. Now, what’s next?” And that’s the question. What IS next for me? I haven’t made any firm decisions about live music yet. Most people may have noticed a steady slow down of my activity on social media with live music. I have one more thing to tick off the bucket list and I’m fortunate enough to be doing it. In August I’ll be attending and shooting Eric Church’s two shows at the fabled Red Rocks Amphitheater in Colorado with full access for Eric’s management and that to me may well be the end game. But, being a crazy creative, anything could happen between now and then. I know Alice Cooper is playing London in June – might just dabble in something like that for the fun of it. One thing I’ve never had the luxury of shooting, being predominantly within the country music scene, is an artist like that who will play up to the cameras endlessly – could be fun.
Beyond that? I’ve learned anything is possible. I’m relishing in the creativity of directing shoots. I’ve become a strobist – I love owning light and making it do what I want. Album cover shoots, complemented by the full process of the artwork design is something that’s growing for me. It’s a slow burner but at least I’ve kept the spark going. This is my whole point. Reinvent yourself. If you’re stale, don’t become cynical. Would you stay in a failing relationship because it’s “comfortable” and be miserable? Same rules apply here. My relationship with photography is a volatile one. My camera probably looks at me and thinks “for fuck sake, make up your mind”. And I will stare it straight down the sensor and reply “It’s my mind that is keeping you active and working, so shut the fuck up and do as I say.” For me, photography is my business. I won’t allow myself to get bored in my business. I chose this and I will see it through. I’m not a spring chicken anymore, so I have a couple of decades left and one thing is for sure, I will make my mark somehow. I’ve proven that I can in the short space of three years – to the disgust of a few, but also bringing pleasure to many, and that’s what I’ve focused on. As it’s a business, I have to go where the money is. Especially now. I have two children that depend on their dad and see me as a superhero. If that means doing weddings, head shots, merchandise, editorial, product, glamour or even porn – so be it. Photography is photography. You aim to get the best and most appropriate results for the brief no matter what the subject. And if you’re good enough, you can do any kind of photography. But you have to know how to use the manual button. And you have to be open to pushing yourself out of your comfort zone. Remember that folks.
Thanks for reading. And don’t worry .. or do… Flex will never go away