Braxton Bruce

Braxton Bruce

Advertising Photography

Getting and Working With A Photo Rep

One of the great learning experiences of 2013 for me was getting my first photo rep.  I had read all the paradoxical jive on the web about how you get one and why you should want one.  I didn't have a roaring pipeline of clients hiring me regularly, so I thought having an agent would be fantastic to help me get those big clients; however you're not supposed to waste an agent's time by asking them to rep you unless you already have some value to bring to them.  That's basically the state of most up-and-comers, I think.  I need an agent to get work, but an agent won't rep me until I get work.  Fortunately for me, an agent saw my work and contacted me with an offer to be repped.  Very cool.  


I had some companies approach me for bids prior to having an agent, and my newbieness was really apparent to me.  I didn't know how to negotiate, and I lost bid after bid.  Having an agent really gave me the power in those situations to find out the budget, to have someone negotiate on my behalf, etc.  I have since done a lot of studying about negotiation and have gained confidence in my ability.  There were smaller jobs I bid on for local clients also, where the client laughed at me through email, "I laughed out loud when I saw those numbers." That made me really second-guess the accuracy of my pricing.  Having an agent gave me a resource to which I could turn to confirm my sane-ness.  I had indeed billed correctly; however, I later learned that the client wanted to pay about 200 dollars for the job I bid several thousand on.  So I told him that the other photographers he found who bid that low are probably his best option.  I gained some valuable experience and confidence by virtue of my agency, and now feel more empowered on the business side of what I do.


I have decided to move on and keep doing my work solo until find a new agency that is a good fit.  There were some changes in their organization I was uncomfortable with.  Sometimes just having an agent doesn't mean you're both getting what you need out of the relationship, and that's ok.  


There are some exciting things in store for me in 2014--educational opportunities, teaching opportunities, and some business ideas I've been working on.  The deadline for Communication Arts is next month, so I'll be preparing some work to enter there.  2013 was a major milestone for me.  It was the first full year during which every cent I earned and lived on was made from photography.  That's a goal I had been working toward for years, and now it's done.  There is more than a small part of me that wants to show all the naysayers I met over the years who said it's too competitive and I couldn't make a living this way that I can and did make it, so it feels good to have achieved my goals.  That's not my pure motive and my drive certainly doesn't end there, but as for 2013, that was the last year I'll ever have to think about that again.  Moving on.


Kickstarter Project: Portraits of Liberty

Today I launched a Kickstarter project.  As many of you know, I'm somewhat interested in politics.  There are a lot of people out there doing research, activism and journalism beyond the status quo, who have helped me to know how the world really works.  I want to participate in their efforts to secure and protect individual liberty in the U.S. and in the world, but my talent is in making images, so that's what I'm doing here.  I'm going to travel around the world making portraits of these brave people and put them into a hard-cover book that will be available for sale, and given as gifts to those who help fund my effort.  This will put these images and a short bio and story from each subject into the hands of people around the world who can look through and gain interest in the work these folks are doing.  Here's the link to my project:

Please go listen to the video on that page and if you feel like I do, please make a contribution.

Today was the first day and already I have 6 contributors, and Adam Kokesh and Connor Boyack have confirmed that they will sit for me.  I began a conversation also with Ben Swann's marketing director, so I'll provide updates as I get more folks on board.  

It's been a long, exciting day for me, and I'm ready for bed.  Good night!  I hope to see your names on my project tomorrow!


Retoucher Interview


So today I had the pleasure of being interviewed!  I decided it might make an interesting read for anyone interested in becoming a retoucher, or a photographer for that matter.  Here you go:


1.   How did you get your start in the industry?
I got my start in retouching during college.  I liked retouching and thought it would be a good skill to use for income between photo jobs.  I had a teacher who was a working photographer, Ed McCullough, and he told me how his retoucher found him.  So I did the same thing.  I took a deep breath and emailed my favorite photographers asking if they'd like to do a test.  That means editing one or two of their images for free, or for a low price, just to show them what you can do and see if they'd like to use you for future projects.  Of course, I was contacting some of the best photographers in the world, so I only had one of them hire me for actual work since they can afford the best (and I wasn't the best).  And the one who hired me stopped hiring me after 3 jobs.  
So you shouldn't assume no one will bother with you, but you should also be prepared to fail.  It's part of life.  On one of my first big fitness shoots for a national company, everything went great.  I made $1200 in one day just for shooting (subbing for their in-house guy). It was amazing.  Months later I called asking for a tear sheet or some of the images I shot and was told that they couldn't find the shots because they re-shot everything I did.  They never told me why, but you can imagine how discouraging that is.  Stuff like that happens.  But you just keep going and do your best and improve your craft.  I continued doing the work I could get, including small-time work, and practicing with my own photos as well.  I've also offered those services at a discount to fellow students now that I'm graduated to help them get a good portfolio ready, and establish some relationships to get future work.
2.     Was there a specific moment where you were like, “This is what I want to do”?
Honestly, I wanted to be an artist.  And then an illustrator.  And then a 3-D animator.  My degree is in illustration.  And then I realized that I could tell my stories and illustrate my ideas faster and more realistically with a camera than with a pencil, so I started to dabble and mostly taught myself photography.  My favorite photography has always been the most high-production, highly idealized, highly retouched work, so I was fascinated with retouching as a tool for getting the look I wanted.  So photography and retouching wasn't my life calling from the beginning, but it has become my goal and occupation and I'm content with it.
When you're an artist, all you hear your whole life is, "You will starve."  "It's VERY competitive."  You should do something where you can make money."  And those things make me want to punch faces.  But instead of punching faces, I just channel that desire into proving them all wrong.  Regarding the idea that you're a photographer or painter or whatever and that's your one true calling, I don't buy it.  It's good to know what you want and go for it, but being too bound to one idea of your identity or your future is limiting.  I prefer to have a strong direction and pursue it until it leads me somewhere.  And if it leads into another discipline that's a better fit, why, I'm going to go with it and see where that leads.
3.     What sort of services do you provide your clients?
I'm primarily a photographer.  I've done portraits for magazines, photographed cars, shot product full-time, shot models for portfolios, musicians, won contests, and I've done families and babies and weddings and all that, too.  And with that variety has come a wide variety of retouching skills, which I offer as a service as well.  I've shot a wide range of subjects, because just like art led me to photography, I had to see where photography was going to lead me.  And I started where most start.  With families and weddings.  But the work I like best is advertising work, so once I realized that, that's where I started directing my branding and marketing.
4.     In what ways do you work with your clients to maintain unity in a composite?
It's ideal to be on set with a photographer to make sure they do the things that result in a successful composite.  This doesn't happen most of the time, though.  I did a retouch yesterday for a photographer of two images.  It required compositing a background into another image.  It was supposed to be a plate image, but the photographer had shot it at a different distance, and with the lighting on the opposite side of him.  Both of which are total no-nos.  Rather than make him re-shoot, which I don't think he would have done, I just flipped the plate image and did some warping to align the images the best I could.  Sometimes the material you receive is hard to work with, but they're hiring you to make the image better than they know how to make it.  So I just did my best, and it looked great.  And then, of course, on delivery I mentioned some pointers about what to do in the future to ensure a successful retouch.
5.     If you were to hire someone what sort of technical and/or aesthetic skills would you seek in a potential employee?
I have a full-time job as a product photographer, and I recently interviewed some people for a photographer/retoucher position with my company.  In order of priority, here's what I was looking for: 
- Portfolio quality: No haloing, no weird filter effects or over-sharpening, basically no bad technique.  Images that related to the job I was hiring for.  For example, don't bring fashion work to a product photog job.
 - Education: People will tell you that having a degree doesn't matter, and for some specialties that's true, but if you want full-time work, it does make a difference.
- Experience: We looked for candidates who have done what we do before.  I got the job on the merits of my portfolio, but I prefer to work with someone who has been proven, who knows a workflow and has some work ethic.  There are lots of divas in the photo world.
- The tie-breaker when it came down to two qualified folks was that one just wanted a better job than what they had, while the other wanted it to learn and improve her knowledge and craft.  The manager and I chose the latter, because to me, that's the most important priority.  And I'd rather work with someone who can take criticism without getting defensive.
6.     Would there be a technical test for applicants?
There would be a technical test.  I would want to know that the applicant had either abilities and experience similar to my own, or that they could demonstrate good basics and some mad teachability.  I don't mind training someone if they're not a weasel. Tests for retouchers usually involve retouching something, or in interviews they will sometimes just ask what tool you'd use for a certain task, etc.  If the idea of a test like that scares you at all, go practice immediately.
7.     What qualities would you look for in a portfolio?
The most important thing about your portfolio is not necessarily high technical skill.  Most applicants for photo jobs send in images that are irrelevant to the position.  If you're applying for a fashion retoucher job and you send in world-class car interior photos, you'll lose to the person who sent in basic lookbook photos of girls in clothes on a white background.  Start there.  Once you know what you're applying for, then just make sure your work is impressive, consistent, and aesthetically similar to the style of the company's current branding.  If you do all three of those and your work is relevant to the job, your chances are very good.
8.     What would your advice be to someone just starting out and seeking work as a retouch artist?
If you're just starting out, you need to build a portfolio of GOOD images.  If you make anything that looks lame to you the instant it's done, it's not going in your portfolio.  That was practice.  Figure out what you did wrong, and learn how to do it right.  Then try again.  When you have 10-20 images you're really proud of, and you know they're pretty good, then start sending out links to your work to photographers you admire and build relationships.  Ask for tests.  Photographers are much more happy to help than you think, because we all realize how hard it was to get where we are, so we're usually happy to help others who are really trying.  If you never reach out, you'll never get hired.  Getting used to rejection is step 1 of any marketing effort.  Most 'no's are simply because the photographer isn't looking for help, etc.  It's nothing personal.  It may or may not be about your work.  Just keep learning, keep improving.  If your work is world-class, people will say yes.  And the big secret is, they say yes before that, too, which helps you become world-class.  I'm still improving my craft.  Still working at it.  I'm not where I want to be yet.  It's totally normal to feel like a newb at first, or after 5 years, or later.  


My Son Is Famous!

One of the perks of being a photographer's son, or spouse, is that you get photographed a lot.  I needed some kids to shoot using a product that was going to sell at Michael's stores around the country, and I just happened to have a couple of kids handy at my house.  So Eli came in and modeled for me, and now he's on the packaging for the product.  It's fun!  He's a really cute kid, albeit impossible to shoot for more than 30 seconds at a time.  

Eli is the singing sheriff.

By way of other updates, I'm getting published for the 3rd time this year in Popular Photography.  They don't tell you what place you've won in their contests until the magazine goes out, so I don't know that yet.  I've applied for a master's degree program at Art Center College of Design, so we'll see if I get accepted there, and then we'll see if I can raise $120,000 for tuition! :O  I also had a job interview last week as a product photographer with a company that just found me and contacted me out of the blue, offering me the job.  That was flattering, but I'll most likely be staying with my current position, where I'm rather content.

I have high hopes for the future and I'll keep shooting!  I recently finished an image illustrating something called "Sleep Paralysis," so I'll make another blog post about that soon.



8 Steps To Become A Master

So I got an email from a good friend today asking if I'd send him some ideas about how I go about getting good at things that he could use for a lesson he is teaching this week.  Let me count the ways.


1. Get inspired.  It's important to find something you can really get into.  This can either be because you have a friend who has a certain hobby or you've seen someone do something really amazing that makes you think, "Wow, I wish I could do that."  Having genuine interest is a critical foundation that will keep you motivated when things get hard.


2.  Get humble.  We often think it's the people who are great at things who are prideful, but it's often just the opposite.  Most people never make it past step 1.  Why?  Because we don't like to lose.  We don't like to fail.  And if you try your best at something, whether you win or lose, suddenly everyone knows what you're really made of.  It's safer to just stay home, and say, "I could do that if I really tried," than to try and prove you can't.  But safe gets you nowhere.


3.  Fail.  And get used to it.  No one wins Olympic gold their first time out to the track.  And even the best in the world fall off the balance beam.  Those world-champions have worked, and fallen, and failed for 15 years in preparation for the moment when they really make it.  There are injuries and coaches yelling at them.  And the reason they're on that podium is because they had the humility and discipline to keep training regardless of it all.  It's not that the successful are a different species that never gets discouraged.  It's just that they keep working despite it all.


4.  Be honest.  If you do well, admit it.  If you do poorly, admit it.  Then ask why.  The ability to analyze your own results is critical.  You cannot always rely on a coach or mentor.  Your friends won't tell you the truth.  You have to do it yourself.  Why did I fail?  Was it overconfidence?  Was I too slow?  Inconsistent?  Did I get angry?  Lose focus?  Simply outmatched?  When you can find your own faults in an honest way, without belittling yourself, that's when you know what to work on tomorrow.  And when you can admit that you did well, and why, that's when your personal feedback loop can offer motivation and critique independently, without the need for external validation.  This is the only sustainable system.


5.  Learn from people who are better than you.  This won't work unless you've gotten past step 2.  Find someone who is much, much better.  Watch what they do.  Copy it.  Analyze it.  Look for patterns.  Then find someone else even better and repeat.  The more perfect the example, the better.  You might feel uncomfortable copying someone's style, but when you've learned from 15 different people, and taken the best parts of each, suddenly you have a unique style and approach.  It's ok.  Don't reinvent the wheel.


6.  It's not sorcery.  We often think that when someone can do something amazing, it's because they know some ancient Chinese secret we can never discover.  The truth is, to be a master, one simply needs to master the basics.  The best tennis players in the world aren't doing flips and hitting behind their back.  They are doing the same strokes taught to the clumsiest beginners.  They've just done their forehand so many times, and have developed such consistency, that they almost never miss.  Same with their serve.  And their backhand.  And their chop, etc.  It's about basics and consistency.


7.  Stay humble.  When you start winning, it's easy to call it good.  But as soon as you decide you're really good, you've stopped improving.  And there's always someone better.  If you never lose, that means it's time to move on to a level of difficulty where you consistently fail again.  And remember--you're not doing this to beat someone else.  You're not doing it to impress anyone else.  It's just for you.


8.  Endure.  It's hard.  People often think others are born with skill.  That it's somehow all a gift.  There are some with more natural talent than others, but every single person who succeeds worked to get there.  And every single person can become better than they are.  With work.  You may get sick.  You may be tired.  You may not have someone there telling you you're doing great.  And the voice in your head may tell you you'll never make it.  But in the end, all that matters is the goal, and if you keep your eye on the prize, all else will fall away, and you'll keep doing the small things that add up to success.  Just keep swinging your forehand.  Soon you'll be able to beat every single person who has not put that time into theirs.  And then you'll keep on.  You'll start at step one over and over, and do it all again.  Just because you want it.


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