6-Month Reflections

It’s unofficially been 6 months since I made the move to Portland. Although my move in date was December, I’ve been working here since August. Here are some things I’ve learned during my stay here networking with other photographers and working as a commercial photo assistant.

Portland_Waterfront_Shadow-4.jpg

Realization #1 - You’ll never know everything, just be good at using your tools

I didn’t realize how much I didn’t know, and it’s been a humbling experience learning how all of the pieces move together to create a final image in studio. I never valued being an assistant enough; I figured that if I went to school, and picked a few video workshops I could learn enough to work my way to the top of the industry, or at least the middle. There’s always something to learn.

Realization #2 - Different doesn’t mean functional.

If you’re creating photos as a photographer solely based on what’s out there already, you’re sabotaging yourself if your only goal is to be different. Just because something hasn’t been done, doesn’t mean it’s exciting; that’s not enough. Be contemplative, and curious, look for inspiration in the every day, and be observant. Be a part of the culture around you, and engage your experiences in the creation of your artwork. Develop the narratives you want to tell as an artist over time, not just in the moment, or with a week of prep. Take notes.

Realization #3 – Don’t get comfortable, and be thankful for what you have.

I’ve been busy, but the photography market in Portland appears to be slow. From what I know about the industry here, many photographers depend on agencies and studios for work, so it’s hard to know when that work is going to come, and how much of it will be there.

There are advantages to starting with small businesses and building a diverse client base from scratch. I view building a client base almost like stocks. Build small and invest in small operations that look promising, while eating part of your fee if you have to. Do this with a lot of small businesses, and do photo work in different industries. My theory is that you treat your client base like the S&P 500. If one industry goes down, another one might keep you afloat. Specialization has its place, but to survive in a competitive market, diversification might be essential. If work becomes scarce, you need to find ways to make new work, and grow it over time.

Goodbye 2018

2018 was a year filled with both hardship, hope, and personal growth as a photographer and as a person. I’ve entered into a career where others say the market is too saturated, where I don’t necessarily know what next month looks like, and one that would have me take risks I’m not always comfortable with. On the other side of things It’s provided me with more opportunities than I could have hoped for.

Starting in April of 2018 I took the business full time with the intention of building some experience before making a move to Portland after July. In addition to my marketing efforts in Humboldt County, I was able to take the first week off of each month to take networking trips to Portland to meet photographers in the industry and see how everything worked before I came up. I was able to speak with several photographers who gave me some of their time and understanding of the industry; Portland overall has been extremely generous and welcoming. I’ve been able to make more trips to visit family, and in general have a lot more freedom with my time. This wouldn’t have been possible without my Aunt and Uncle who allowed me to stay at their place for networking trips, and then for photo assisting work afterwards. Here’s a small sampling of some of the work I’ve completed this year.


If there are any photographers or self employed artists reading, I’d like to share what I’ve learned these past few months.

  1. Networking is an artists greatest asset, and the immediate goal isn’t to drum up business; it’s to learn. Be genuine, be curious, make friends. The photography community can be really friendly, and in some places cutthroat, but if we don’t support each other we won’t survive. Other artists understand that, and clients understand that too. Work will come out of necessity, and if it doesn’t you have to find a way to make ends meet. It’s one of the risks you take to do something you love.

  2. Don’t undervalue your work, but weigh the costs and benefits of your pricing structure. There are two general approaches to this. 1. Charge what the work is worth, and find clients who will pay. Some months will be hard, but you’ll have time to make portfolio work. Be careful with your savings. 2. Price yourself with the market and stay busy; then ramp up pricing later.

  3. Plan for future goals by working towards them every day. Break up long term goals into bite size chunks that can be accomplished each day. Set aside time for research, marketing, education, networking etc., and don’t settle once you’ve gotten enough work. Keep pushing yourself to be better. If you can’t adapt to stay ahead, you won’t survive.

  4. Ask for a no. Even if something seems farfetched, you should always try. Go for the big clients you could never imagine getting. Apply for jobs you want to do if you have some of the skill; resumes don’t need to be 100%. Ask to talk to people in your industry you look up to. Some of them won’t reply to an email. Others will set aside time to meet with you. The worst that can happen is a no. Best case scenario you get a job, make a friend, or build a connection. There’s nothing to lose.

  5. Negotiate. if you’re asking for something that would normally be met with a “no”, address those reasons ahead of time, and find a way to incentivize a “yes”. People aren’t always going to help just because they’ve been asked. What’s in it for them?

  6. Hustle. Marketing is a long term game, and you may not see the results of it for months or years. Be memorable, be unrelentingly professional, and always strive to make work you’re proud of.

Thanks to my new friends in Portland, and the ones in Humboldt who helped me get here; Happy New Year!

New Directions

It's been three months since I last posted (too long!), and life is full. I've started working with some new clients, came up with about a dozen half-baked business ideas, moved to a new apartment, and through all of that I've come up with a few art pieces I'd like to create. Given that I'm pushing in several different directions, I thought It'd be best if I share some photos.

 

This is some work I've been doing for K. Boodjeh Architects in Eureka.

Some Photos I've taken in between jobs and editing:

Some Photos of my amazing friend Marissa who's graduating from University today:

And some photos I'm going to save for a small black and white photography book sometime next year:

In the future I will be working on growing the architecture side of things, possibly taking a small step into basic product photography, and doing an overhaul of my website for SEO in preparation to offer stock photography. In addition I'll be expanding my client network and prioritizing time to make room for artwork again. It's going to be a lot, but I wouldn't have it any other way.

Cheers!

-Ryan

Frozen

As a photographer I've been in a pretty contemplative mood lately, but I'll end any notions of being vague right now. I want to be inspired, I want to make new work, and I want to put the days of doing what falls on my plate behind me and forge a career. The only way I know to do this while I wait for the readiness to jump in full time is to take pictures, and make art.

I've never been one for fairy-tale focused photography, or the creation of Disney characters. I've always said to myself they lack creativity, but in the search for inspiration, I've learned to take every opportunity, and this one wouldn't be the exception. My friend Marissa mentioned that she was going to be in a live production of Frozen, and after some talking, we jokingly decided to do a photo shoot. We picked a date, Marissa ordered the dress, and we roped in her boyfriend Daniel to drive us up the mountain and assist with the photo-shoot. Our friend Natalie is a talented make-up artist and she met with us at Marissa's to get her hair and make-up Elsa-ready before our trip up to horse mountain.

The shoot started slow, as there was no scouting ahead for snow with the unpredictable weather. We walked around, I found our first stop and we started shooting after setting up the lights. At this point it set in how cold it was going to be, Marissa began to feel the effect of wearing heals in the snow, but we were there already and she was determined. After several shots and a couple feet warming breaks we finished our first shot and started scouting for the second.

While looking for another scene, I found a frame in the forest that was distinctly mine. It's hard to describe, but to put it plainly, a photographer can take 100 nice photos, but only one of them is theirs. They would quickly toss out the other 99, just to save the one.

 

The rest of the shoot was easy going, but the cold had taken its toll and the sun was fleeting. We took some final portraits with the setting sun, packed up and began the trip back home, privileged to watch the remnants of a beautiful sunset in a warm SUV.

The Carson Block Building

It's been an incredibly busy year so far and there's so much to look forward to for 2016. To give an update, I've been doing a lot of work for Pacific Builders, a local building company responsible for the restoration of the historic Carson Block Building in Old Town Eureka, a project I've kept mostly under wraps for the last 6 months. The first photo below is of the theater, still waiting to be fully restored at a future date.

 

Walking onto a large project the first few times is a humbling experience, but as a photographer it's oddly satisfying. You hear the sound of nails piercing wood, sparks flying from welding torches as busy workers shuffle past up the scaffolds to continue work on the outside. At every corner is an intersection of history, the old chipping paint and flooring being sanded down, soon to be replaced and restored to their original glory. Early morning sunlight streams through holes that will soon be windows and bounces through the job site fences to create light patterns on the walls. While I entered this building thinking it would be amazing because of the theater (which it was), I found myself amazed at how the light travels through the turrets on the outside and the amazing view over old town and the bay.

For those interested in a detail of the process, the Carson Block wasn't up to earthquake code before the restorations, but as a requirement of the project, any structural supports had to be added to the inside to preserve the historical exterior. This meant hoisting massive metal beams up and through the windows, then cutting holes between floors to position and install them. This is one of the few unconventional challenges of the project and it's a project I thoroughly enjoyed seeing progress.