Braxton Bruce

Braxton Bruce

Advertising Photography

Tips and Tricks for Photography Fame and Success!

So I get this question all the time.  And the purpose of this post is not to belittle the acquisition of useful new knowledge in your field.  However, I have found that when people ask this question, what they're really asking is, "Is there a secret shortcut I can take to avoid doing the work I know I have to do to get where I want to be?"  So, the short answer to that question is, no.  


When I was in high school, I was a serious chess player.  It was my thing and I was very into it.  I wanted to be competitive and have madskills.  I did what everyone else does in the beginning.  I learned tips and tricks!  Zing!  Look at this combo I memorized!  It's a trap!  If you don't know the trick then I will win!  But what I found out along the way, as I played more, and against people with more skill, was that tips and tricks only take you past the absolute bottom of the game.  Only the people who have hardly ever moved a chess piece will fall for that crap, and if you play someone with any fundamentals at all, you're toast.  So I had to start learning the fundamentals to rise above that level.  By focusing on fundamentals, and taking the long, slow road of playing tens of thousands of chess games, I eventually became the Utah State Speed Chess Champion my senior year.  If I just brought my tips and tricks there, I would have lost every match.  Guaranteed.  On the other hand, if I went there with stellar fundamentals and never picked up a "Tips and Tricks" book, I still would have won.


Photography is the same.  Every endeavor is the same.  This is how the universe works.  If you really want to improve--I mean if you're REALLY serious--then stop asking this question and go to work.  Conceive a concept, produce the shoot, create the image, go through the retouching process, and try to market your work.  You will learn much more from this than you will ever learn by looking for shortcuts, or hoping that someone further down the road can somehow download their experience into your brain.  Tutorials are terrific.  Mentoring is valuable.  Looking at the work of 200 years of masters is excellent.  But you need to search these resources for the basics, the fundamentals.  How does light work?  How do I work my camera?  What is it about an image that is engaging and interesting?   What kind of work am I drawn to?  How can I best use composition, balance, color, contrast, focus, etc.?  The very best photographers in the world are still working to answer these basic questions, and that's why they continually improve and impress.  This is why they never tire of the process.  It's not a shortcut.  It's not a fad diet.  It's a life change.  


If you want the fruit of your garden, you have to water it every day.  There is no overnight shortcut.  It takes time.  If you want huge muscles without risking your health, it takes a long time.  You have to exercise consistently for years.  If you want to be the greatest photographer of all time, do you really think there's a shortcut for a reward like that?




Retouching Live With Braxton



Thanks for coming! The broadcast begins at 8pm today, 8/27.  I'll just be moving through my retouch start to finish (if we get that far) and answering questions along the way. So if you have something to ask, feel free to type it in the box and send it over.  If you would prefer to watch on Youtube, just click the "YouTube" icon in the bottom right part of the screen.  To make it full-screen, click the frame icon, also in the bottom right corner.

Photography Subjects: Mixing Things Up

If you look through my work that's on my website, you'll see some consistent themes.  Some subjects I just tend to stick with, and there are reasons for that.  But I also believe it's important to have some variety in my personal work.  It all depends on your goals.  If you just like getting an attractive model to sit for you in an orchard over and over again, and that's what you love, more power to you.  But my goal is to improve my portfolio, as well as my skill, and to get hired consistently.  I want to be prepared for whatever strange image requests I receive, and be able to produce any shoot effectively.  Also, there are just so many interesting things in the world in addition to attractive people.  


These aren't images that will make it into my portfolio, but that doesn't mean it's not worth shooting them.  Different kinds of photography require different kinds of problem solving.  And the more problems you've solved, the more invincible you are.  If an art director wants photos of buffalo, and I've never gone and tried to photograph some buffalo, maybe I'll run into some problems I didn't foresee.  But guess what?  Yesterday I went and photographed some buffalo.  And I ran into some problems I didn't foresee.  Like chain-link fencing that prevented me from shooting at a desirable angle.  And a shortage of bait to get them to go where I wanted.  And the fact that throwing apples out there means that when the apples are gone, and I approach the fence to take a photo, all the buffalo will come right up to the fence for more apples.  And when there are 3 buffalo at the fence, you can't take any photos.  Who knew?  Not me.  Also, buffalo are more dangerous than some other kinds of animals.  You can't just go out there and yell, "gee-on!" Buffalo will destroy you.  They will also tear up the fences.  They will also lick you with their big black tongue.  Here are some of the photos I got.  None of them are portfolio-worthy, but I learned some things shooting them.  And it was fun to talk with the owners and get to know them.  



This is another benefit of shooting whatever interesting thing you find: you build relationships.  When I initially arrived at this buffalo farm, I had never met the couple who runs it.  By the time I left, we had been talking more than photographing, and they invited me back anytime.  Now I have some new friends, and if I ever needed a buffalo for a photo, I know who to call.  It was terrific.  I'm setting up a different kind of photo shoot for next month, and I asked an attractive couple to model for me whom I have never met.  While planning the shoot, the wife informed me that her husband is a creative director at a major ad agency--my target audience.  Total random chance.  I don't know that anything will come of that, but it's a great example of why it's important to shoot often, and shoot variety.  I somewhat frequently get requests to license images I shot in college for assignments.  I didn't know anyone would ever see those.  I just thought it would be interesting to shoot, and I needed to learn.


While I was writing this, I got a Facebook message from someon in Serbia asking if I would teach him some things in Photoshop.  Someone is looking at my work in Serbia?  He found me directly as a result of a personal shoot I did, simply because I knew someone with access to an airplane.

Really, though.  It's just fun.  Whenever I do a shoot like this I'm just amazed that I'm there.  I'm amazed to be at an airport doing a photo shoot with other people who want to be there with me.  I'm amazed to be tossing apples to some buffalo.  It's hard to believe I'm in a strange crater filled with a hotspring shooting yoga.  These just aren't places I would ever go normally.  Especially not if I stayed with my work as a workforce management analyst.  These are adventures.  There is so much out there to make photos of.  Don't forget that there are buffalo.

Does A Photographer Need A Logo? And Other Marketing Thoughts

Photography is a business when it's not a hobby.  And the ingredients that keep a photography business thriving are the same as the ingredients for any business.  My philosophy and approach to my work has been to focus on mastery rather than marketing.  It's not the only way to go.  Some people become successful and even famous long before their work warrants it by focusing first on marketing and sales, and that's absolutely valid.  You see people who have hundreds of thousands of fans more or less because they have an afro, or a mullet, or an engaging personality, and technical skill is secondary.  Those people do well, and I'm always impressed that they do. But I've always been somewhat obsessed with technique, and that is what interests me most, so that's where I've focused.  I always felt like if I oversold myself, I would get people pumped and they would hire me because I'm interesting rather than for my work, or that I would be hired and not be able to deliver.  At this point in my experience, I would recommend this: if you're looking to be an in-house photographer somewhere, focus on your work.  Afros don't get you very far in interviews.  If you want to be a freelance photographer, using memorable marketing ploys, like wearing a bowtie everywhere, works.  You just need to be remembered.  "Oh yeah, I've heard about that guy.  The guy with the mullet."  When I played chess back in high school, I wore an old-man-hat to all the tournaments.  Before long, when I sat down to a game, my opponent would say, "Oh, crap.  The kid with the hat.  My friends told me about you."


So I spent years working hard to learn all that I could, and while I am still learning, and always will, I feel my work has finally gotten to where I feel confident that I could do any job I landed.  So now I'm turning my attention to marketing.  I have a portfolio I'm still working on, but am proud of.  I have a website.  I have a facebook fan page.  I have a Photoserve account at PDN.  These are the basics.  But what about a brand?  When people see my site, do they get the feeling that it's intentional, and professional?  Or thrown together and amateur?  Is my work cohesive?  Is there a mark by which people can quickly recognize me, like an afro or, since I was born with the world's straightest hair, a good logo?  I've been asking these questions and many others, and so many of the answers aren't what I want them to be.  So I've begun making some changes.


I have found and hired a team of designers to begin work on a logo and new business cards for me.  Do I know for sure that having a logo will make a major difference in getting work?  No.  But hey.

It's worth a shot.



They're great designers and by covering the logo base, at least if I'm not getting the kind of work I want, I won't have to wonder if it's my lack of branding.  The more of these holes you fill, the easier it is to drill down to what your marketing strategy is missing.  If I have a logo, website, business cards, killer work, big names on the client list, awards and an afro, that pretty much narrows it down to not making enough contacts in person, by phone or by email.  And if I'm emailing and calling, maybe I know it's not enough in-person approaches.  So just like I had to figure out how to light a subject in a cave, I'm figuring out how to reach the people I'm looking to work with.  The world of the photographer is a breeding ground for excuses, and the more excuses you can eliminate, the closer you are to getting clients like Walmart knocking on the door.


Another change you'll see is more frequent blog posts.  One post every 3 months isn't quite enough to invite a following, and I do want people sharing my work and my content with others.  So I'll be posting here more than just when I win an award or get published on FStoppers (Like I was two weeks ago!).  Sometimes I drive to work (where I do product photography) thinking about my goals and how I'll get there, so I'll start writing those things down and sharing them, as well as tips and ideas that I have.


Thanks for reading.  There weren't that many photos to keep your attention, but I'll have more of those for you next week.



Yoga Photo Shoot At Homestead Resort, Utah

After I posted my photo of Jessica doing yoga at Homestead Resort here in Utah, I promised to post an explanation of the lighting and the situation there.  Here's the photo:


There are other shots, but I'm waiting to see how many people would be interested in joining me online while I retouch the next pose before I do, so I'm not doing double-work.  If you're interested in this, you can either comment here or on my Facebook page.



This is all on-location in a big geological formation filled halfway with warm springwater.  It's roughly shaped like a big egg, half underground and half above.  The resort it sits on has improved the site with a dock and some safe areas for beginning divers to practice before they go to the deep part.  The air was hot and very humid because the water is about 95 degrees.  While we shot this there were divers under the water, as well as one to my right learning the ropes.  It was a sunny day about 10:30 when this image was taken, which is why the light enters at an angle.  



The light was a major challenge.  While a challenge was what I was looking for, and what I enjoy, it was very difficult.  I was shooting with some faulty equipment--a ringflash with only one of its two bulbs firing, and a strobe that only shoots on full-blast, and one normal light I could adjust.  It was exceptionally dark in there, and I had to raise the ISO to make it work.  I was shooting with an amateur camera that doesn't handle low-light very well, a Canon T3i.  And I turned off all the house lights because some were tungsten and some were halogen, and they were poisoning my color.  



The model, Jessica, was terrific so there were no hangups there, and I had some help with posing from her sister who came along.  I also had an assistant there which sped things up in terms of setup and takedown, so there was more time for shooting.  The whole shoot was from 9am to 11:30am including setup and takedown.  Very brisk given the conditions.



To solve the light situation, I fired one of each of my broken strobes to my right and to my left to put some fill light into the far wall of the cave, which was otherwise completely black.  I reduced their output by pointing them behind me and at the ground so it had to bounce several times before entering the frame.  The key light was more or less on axis with the camera (since we were standing on a 5-foot boardwalk with water and stone on either side.  There was a ceiling over me at about 8 feet up, which kept me from raising the light to where I normally would.  I wanted to use the natural light as rim to separate Jessica from the background, so I had to shoot with a slow shutter speed, which is difficult when your model is trying to balance, etc.  I enhanced the effect of the sunlight on the model in post to finally balance it better with the strobes.  All-in-all, we worked feverishly to get something figured out in time, and got some really great images for our respective portfolios.  Here's a natural light shot we did since we had some time left after getting the money shot:



The goal of the shoot was to just get some nice lifestyle shots associated with the location, which the resort owner will use on his website to advertise his location where people go to swim, do yoga, and scuba dive.  


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