What I Learned This Year #5: Jessyel Ty Gonzalez

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I should preface this by saying I’m no writer. Expect many a grammatical error, little to no humor, and a read so long, dry and all over the place, that you’ll begin to doubt The Egotist hereafter. I also use a lot of parenthesis (incorrectly).

This post could have been titled, ‘The Current State of the Photography Business From A Photographer Who Is Still Learning A Lot About the Photography Business.' Ahem. Most of what I’ll say here will apply to photographers, but perhaps there’s a nugget or two that will be of some use to you good lookin’ ad folk…

Print Isn’t Dead. I Think.
Before this year, editorial work was non-existent for me. Blame it on the economy, micro-stock, magazines not being up-to-date like online publications, etc., but the times – they were a-changin.' This resulted in me getting laid off from my staff shooter position at a local magazine. Long story short, after months of weeping, I caught an incredibly lucky break, and began a journey into commercial work. Although this transitional period was painful for me (it haunts me to this day), what I learned this year is that photography is currently in demand.

The good news: instead of calling it print, I consider it just ‘imagery.' Heading into this all-digital world, we still need it. With the ever-increasing amount of screens in front of people’s eyeballs, purty pictures/illustrations/videos are needed for our monitors, tablets, mobile devices, or whatever.

Advertisers are beginning to realize that generic stock images are of no use to them.

Although producers and art buyers have a plethora of stock options, the need for unique and original imagery is rising. Magazine work – print or digital – is coming up again now that the dust is settling. And with better technology and faster speeds, imagery is proving great for rich content mobile ads.

In talking to a few photo buddies, 2010 was a good, busy year. That said…

Evolve, I Says!
In the past, there was low production value in digital work; there was this mantra that if it was for a tiny/digital screen, you didn’t need a big production (i.e., a photographer who knew what they were doing). In this digital frontier, you don’t need the resolution that print or OOHs do, so shooting a web banner with a mobile phone and no special lighting was permissible. They weren’t the nicest-looking ads, though.

Good photography wasn’t needed because, “it was just for a web ad.” But as the importance of digital and mobile has risen, great agencies have evolved their productions and realize good photography is needed because, “it’s for a digital ad.” This is great to see.

However, some trends could hurt photographers, too. There’s a growth in video frames replacing the photographic still. I used to double-team with TV productions, shooting the same talent for the photo portion of a campaign. No longer. With video cameras such as the RED, the resolution is so high that two birds go down with one stone. Boom!

Between the RED and lenses that will make photography a keyboard-clicking affair, I’m realizing stills alone may not be able to pay the bills in the near future.

Video seems to be the hot ticket right now. Like Hot-Pockets hot. With DSLRs pumping out gorgeous video at an affordable price (sort of), it’s what’s separating some photographers from the herd. You may not like it, but this is where our world is heading to, handsome readers.

A Short Ditty on Micro-stock
Talk to any pro photographer about micro-stock, and you’ll hear tales of wrath and hatred so vile, you’ll question humanity forever. None of us like it.

Yet, I did it when I was in college, shooting ridiculous amounts of clouds, flowers and textures, and was getting paid around $300 a month for it. As a college kid, that was a fortune. It allowed me to buy some gear and, in some crazy way, it’s what allowed me to get to where I am today.

So I get it. But now that I’m older and make a living from my photography, micro-stock is the Lucy to my Charlie Brown. Even TIME Magazine created a stir earlier this year when it started heavily using micro-stock, even for its covers, paying photographers $30 (!) for them.

So here’s what I learned: I wasn’t going to sweat it. How long can TIME continue before their subscriber count falls due to poor quality, or how long can the photographer afford to spend all this time on shoots and post work for only $30? Doesn’t seem sustainable. Here’s what I say: even if a job is strictly for exposure, I’d rather work for free, but not for cheap. Take from this what you will...

You’re Not Hard to Find, But You’re Still a Risk
In working closely with many art buyers this year, I came to learn that they probably know who you are and have seen your work. After all, it’s their job. Between social media, books, mailers, emails, web portfolios, showings, and more, there’s a chance they’ve spotted you.

Here’s what one art buyer told me, though: ”There has never been as much good photography as there is right now. There has also never been as much bad photography as there is right now.” Whoa.

This can be a tough time for art buyers. Everyone has a digital camera. The law of averages comes into play, and with post-processing and technology allowing you to shoot in near-darkness, people are going to get some amazing photos. What you don’t know is that there might have been thousands of bad shots in-between. In a professional setting, you need to deliver constant results and know what you’re doing. Therein lies the problem – some photographers have no idea what they’re actually doing. (That’s why this commercial gives me the lolz.)

For as simple as photography is – aperture, shutter speed, ISO – it’s also mind-numbingly deep, and most of us don’t realize it until we’re in the trenches. Being up to snuff technically will put you at an advantage, because in the end, a lot is riding on you. That’s probably why most art buyers are going to play it safe and get someone established they can trust – rather than take a chance on someone whose portfolio could be deceiving. Not an absolute, of course, but a harshness that adds to the fact that the commercial world is a tough cookie. Which brings me to…

Getting Paid for Photography Changes Everything
Everyone has a camera. Photography is fun. So when people learn that they can possibly be PAID to do this fun thing, their eyes open up like a fat kid in a cake shop. It looks like such a glamorous job, after all...

So here’s what I learned: it’s only fun and glamorous if you LOVE photography. And yes, we all “love” photography, but this is the kind of love that country singers talk about – the kind that hurts.

Photography as a hobby is much different than photography as a profession. If you don’t have this love or mindset, sulfur will rain from the sky, and you’ll quickly realize it’s not glamorous, doesn’t pay much, is very stressful, difficult, overly competitive, and you’ll hate every second of it.

Here’s a scenario: you’re on the set of a big photo shoot. You have a couple of clients there with you – one over your shoulder, the other looking at the tethered monitor. You have a creative director, an art director, and a lot of other people you don’t recognize – some of which may not like you or your work. It’s a roomful of creative people – all with different ideas, visions and egos, and you swear a few of them are giving you the Kubrick stare. Ultimately, you need to pull off what you say you can pull off – that simple.

The shoot goes on for fourteen hours. You’re constantly being asked to change this, adjust that, and you’re expected to do it on the fly without the slightest hesitation (people feed off that). You need to continue to sell yourself, be fun, joke around, and not show any doubt, as it will be noticed. You’ll be criticized, and must have a thick skin. Some people are only there to look for and call out your errors. You don’t get into this business to get praise – no news is good news. At the end, you’re mentally and physically challenged, and that was just the shoot – the easy part (there’s a lot that happens before and after that adds to the insanity). Then you do it again the next morning after only sleeping for four hours.

Although it always isn’t like this, this is a part of my life. It can be stressful. In fact, based on percentages, CNN Money says it’s the most stressful job in America. And even though that’s a lie (there are no lives in the balance here, people), I have seen four friends and two colleagues quit photography altogether because commercial work was too stressful, not worth the money, or because it’s not what they signed up for. I’m not telling you to not even try, but like everything in life, you have to work hard, know your shit, be aware of pitfalls, and practice, practice, practice before stepping up to the plate. (Baseball metaphor, for the win!)

I’ll leave it at this: Adjusting to the commercial world wasn’t easy, and there were days when I wanted to cry and scream at the frustration of it all. Now, I can’t believe I get paid to do it. I have been to some amazing places, met amazing people, and worked on some great campaigns. Yes, it can be stressful, but it’s also a dream come true if you can work with the pressures involved…

Final, Quick Learned Things
Look, I can go on and on. I’m at 1,500 words on this, so it’s probably best to wrap it up. If you’re miraculously still reading and have any questions or want to talk shop, contact me.

In the meantime, enjoy these last tidbits of knowledge. May they serve you well, young Padawans/Knights:

- Conan was right: “If you work really hard and are kind, amazing things will happen.”
- Don’t talk shit. It’s a remarkably small world – especially here in Colorado – so don’t let it bite you in the ass.
- Respect your crew and producer. Keep everyone well fed.
- Out of camera does not equal a retouched photo.
- Don’t compare yourself to other photographers – you’ll only go crazy. (AVVEEDDONNNN!)
- Know your limits, and don’t promise something you can’t deliver or don’t know.
- Buy your gear if you can. Renting adds up. Rent it out yourself to make up the costs.
- Not one art buyer I’ve talked to likes HDR. Also, they don’t seem to like iPad’s as your portfolio. Use it as a supplement to your book, instead.
- Keep shooting personal work. It’s probably more important than any other work you’ll do and will develop your style and genres. I started a daily photoblog to keep fresh. (Plug!)
- Photo rental houses and studios are still very difficult to find in Colorado.
- Take risks.
- Practice, practice, practice.
- When writing about what you learned in your profession this year, don’t make it a 2,000-word article that no one will like or read through.
- Enjoy the ride while it lasts…


This article is the Tits McGrits. I hope to work with Jessyel someday.

Great article, very informative!

like button.

Jessyel's photoblog is amazing. Inspirational +++

Great post, hot portfolio. Dayum.

Nice article! Yes, I read the -whole- 2,000 words too! And you'll have to correct yourself in the beginning of the piece when you say there's no humor, funny stuff throughout. Cheers and here's to what 2011 can bring.

I like your writing style. And I am certain you are even more entertaining in person.

You and I traded a few emails a while back. You are looking for clothing designers that can put together a model for a photo shoot? You ran a craogs list ad looking for a formal dress....I think.

If you are still looking, I am still sewing.

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