I recently submitted my website and it’s work to a fellow photographer that I admire greatly not only for his work but his contributions to other photographers of all levels; hobbyist and amateurs to professionals alike – Zack Arias.
I feel very fortunate to have been chosen to be critiqued by someone I admire so much. Having anyone you look up to actually look at your work is one of those ‘heady’ type of things. I was ready for anything he might say – like, “Your work is complete and total CRAP!” to “I love it!” – though honestly I didn’t expect the last one. I mean, the whole point of a critique is to have an honest opinion. I did kinda know ahead of time that he might be critiquing my site, so I did kinda flood it with some additional images – fully expecting him to call me out on the additional fluff, but wanting him to see it at the same time. He’s a very busy man and I wanted to take full advantage of the time spent on my site, and that meant posting stuff to get an opinion on it. Something other than the typical, “that’s nice” I mean.
I know I’ve grown a lot in the last year in abilities, (and gear), but I know I have so much to learn still! It’s actually daunting to step back and look at that aspect of things. To know that you’ve come such a long way already, but to see you have SO much farther to go! I’m not discouraged by this, mind you. Just aware.
It’s after doing this that I decided it was time to do something else to force myself to take that next step. I had felt like I hit a bit of a plateau and I was searching for something to push me forward. Something that wouldn’t cost me money especially… as I don’t have much to invest at the moment. If I had funds to invest I would be traveling to Atlanta to take a class from Zack, actually; which is still something I plan on doing at some point in the near future!
So, what do I do? I submit my website to Zack for a critique. This made me nervous, but I wanted to know what a photographer of his caliber thought of my site and my work. Now, I know that most understand what critiques are… but have you ever looked at Dictionary.com to see what they have to say on the subject?
I would like to point out the one thing that caught my eye in that – “But this use of critique is still regarded by many as pretentious jargon…” This is interesting to me since I’ve been receiving comments from those of you who have watched Zack’s critique of my site and work back on November 4th [’09] basically stating that his critique seemed to be just that. I would also like to point out that I do NOT feel this way about his critique. I do not regard what he had to say about my site and the work I’ve been creating as “pretentious” anything. I understand fully what he was saying with each point he made.
However, I recently received a message from a client that articulated quite well what many others have been saying to me since they too have viewed his critique. In this message Karen explained her viewpoint on a few of the points Zack made. First of which was about my old logo/watermark.
One of the very first things that Zack (and his wife, Meg) had to say about it was basically, “what is it?” Well, it’s an abstract drawing I made several years ago of a Mousebird; an african species of small bird that I used to work with. I actually have a VERY similar rendering as a tattoo on my right forearm and often get this same basic question. So, when Zack and Meg asked what it was I was not surprised. The species of bird it is based on is not common or even well known unless you live in the same area they do – where they are actually regarded as pests because of their habit of raiding people’s houses for food; not unlike mice which people are much more familiar with here in the states.
So I understood where they were coming from on that one. I almost expected it. As far as how it relates to my photography – well… it doesn’t really. Not anymore. See, when I first started taking photos I was still an animal trainer for a local park – working mainly with a variety of avian species, aka birds. So, nearly all my photos were of birds. I’ve been published for my work on that subject – I actually recently gave permission for one of those photos to be used in an upcoming publication that will be released only to libraries. Kinda cool. But I haven’t considered myself a nature photographer for quite some time. I do however still photograph animals on occasion, but since this is not the “target demographic” I am trying to reach, the logo just seems like some odd squiggle.
But that’s just the type of uniqueness that Karen and a few others have stated is part of my appeal. To quote Karen, “I did not know what it was originally either, but that made it all the more interesting. I think it was unique, just like you and your vision for your work.” It is a good thing to be different and memorable. Plus, Karen also stated that it is a “conversation starter” which is also a very valid point and should not be dismissed. I have never wanted to be just another photographer out there… creating the same stuff that everyone else is. I’ve been searching for what I can create that will be unique and still desirable for potential clients for some time now. I’m starting to find my way there at this point with all the themed shoots I’ve done and am currently planning.
Well, the question then is what do I do with all this knowledge. Do I redesign my “branding” and go with something more traditional or do I stick with the unique and unidentifiable logo? Hmmm. I’m not sure at this point what the answer to that is. I have pulled the old logo from the site and replaced it with something more traditional for the time being, but I have not definitively decided what I will or even should do there. I’m always grateful for any opinions you may have on this subject! To those who have already given me your opinions I would like to say Thanks! I am reading them all and thinking on all you have to say.
Another criticism Zack had on my site specifically was the fact that I had photos of things like kids and weddings in the same place where I have my themed work. Again, this was a point that I kinda expected. I mean, if you look through my portfolio and see all the portraits and kids and then go to my Character tab and look through photos of the Sweeney Todd shoot you might at least pause at the contrast. If you’re a parent and wanting me to photograph your kids, would photos like this:
startle you? Might it scare you away? Or does it show, as Karen articulated so well, that my work is, “…versatile, AND that you can bring your uniqueness and whimsical sense to ordinary subjects and situations!” … “not bound by an age group or other demographic. I think it crosses boundaries, and that is what I like to see.” Again, another valid point. I can see both sides again on this one. I have been thinking this over since the critique and decided at first to pull those photos, (kids, weddings and such), from the site but I plan on putting them back up at least for the time being. In order to display all my work, Zack recommends I make another site to post the kids, family and wedding photos on.
However, I have one problem with doing this at the moment. I am having business come in with these images displayed together. To me that means that potential clients are not deterred by the contrasting images. It doesn’t mean they aren’t startled by them, but perhaps it is like Karen and others are telling me. That the character stuff – regardless of how shocking it might be – does display a uniques that clients find appealing rather than repelling? Since the style in which I shoot remains consistent, I decided it was best to leave all the images up so as to give the best comprehensive view of my work.
Lastly, I would like to state that I am in total agreement with Zack on the lack of story with my themed shoots. What is the point of all these images, if not to tell a story? I have taken that to heart and am currently working on another themed shoot where I am implementing these changes. I am creating a storyboard of sorts with sketches in order to see the story on paper (not just in my head) before we even do one shot. I like how less nervous it makes me about the overall shoot. Normally, I just kick ideas around with Chris (my husband) ahead of time but never write anything down… so when the actual shoot arrives it’s more impromptu and chaotic. I’ve found that I come up with neat ideas in those types of situations… but taking the time to plan some things out is proving to be a lot less stressful for me. Which is always a plus! =)
Ultimately, I have pulled some of the shots from the site in response to Zack’s critique that I feel did not portray my abilities as a photographer to the highest standard with which I am capable. I have redesigned the logo – temporarily at least. And have also replaced the family, kid and wedding photos which need to be displayed – with the idea that I may make an additional site to display them in the near future.
Again, I would like to say a big THANKS to Zack for his critique and to all my fans who have taken their time to not only watch the critique, but also to write me with their opinions on what they saw. The combination of everyone’s opinions helps me to grow as a photographer and as a small business owner. I am so grateful to everyone for taking the time to not only look at my stuff but to let me know they did and what they thought! [*blushing*] It really means a lot to me! Thank you! =)