Braxton Bruce

Braxton Bruce

Advertising Photography

Having Breadth In My Photography


Back in my table tennis days, on the way back from a tournament we had played, I was discussing with my friend Helen my interest in and outlook on the sport.  I told her that for me it was about the mastery of the process of getting good at things, and that ping pong was just one of many skills I intended to pursue throughout my life.  She disagreed with my approach, saying that it is better to work on one thing your entire life to learn all the lessons that thing has to offer. While I don't believe she is wrong about the lessons available in a dedicated lifelong pursuit, my interest lies, and always has, with taking the lessons I learned from table tennis, and chess, and music, and all the other hobbies I've pursued, and applying those lessons together to enhance the total of my experience.  And this is the approach I have taken with growing as an artist and photographer.  



People often note that the quality of my work seems to have outpaced the term of my experience.  If this is so, it's because of the time I spent and the lessons I learned from all the other creative endeavors I have explored.  It's because long before I picked up a camera, I was drawing and painting and making myself a student of art fundamentals.  It's because of visits to museums and private lessons and formal education.  I understood light before I ever lit a photograph.  I would argue that even my time at the ping pong table has contributed to my understanding of principles that now contribute to the improvement of my photography.



Within photography, I have worked hard to learn each and every style I've been aware of, and be able to reproduce it.  I have shot fine art portraits.  Editorial portraits.  Fashion.  Beauty.  I have shot food.  I have shot still life and product and sports and weddings, etc.  Every genre, and I have done it until I was proficient.  And all that effort has resulted in the work that I make now.  I understand how to create the softness of fine art and pictorialism.  I understand the intensity and emotion of sports editorial.  I can reproduce the surreal illustrative look of advertising campaigns.  I layer my images like a landscape photographer.  I have the eye for subtle lighting differences of a product photographer.  So why don't I have more varied work on my website?



As a freelancer among hundreds of thousands of other freelancers in the same market, it is important to choose an audience, find a niche you want to work in, and sell to that audience.  That way, when a creative director is looking for high-end lifestyle images to advertise a product, they aren't turned away by wedding photos and food photography.  People don't have time to sift.  They need to know what they are getting right away and feel confident about it.  So my website is rather cohesive, following a certain look which I have chosen for my audience.  And the results have proven this a good approach.



As a producer of creative work, it is difficult and even a bit heartbreaking to hide a portion of your work from the world.  I'm proud of a lot of work I have produced which never gets seen.  But, as a creative who has also selected creativity as their sole pursuit of livelihood, it becomes necessary to enlist some sense and strategy to your presentation, to get the kind of work that will keep you out of a spreadsheet-making, email-sending, meeting attending analyst job (what I used to do).  And, while I do have to send emails frequently :D I want to do whatever I can to be successful as an artist.  I want to keep making art daily.  I want to keep exploring and progressing at whatever pace I can maintain.  And this is how it's done.  Here are a few other examples of work you may not be aware that I have done:





All of those things have contributed to my ability to make the work that accumulates all of those skills into what I consider the most rewarding kind of work, which is the work I have chosen to display on my website:



Thanks for stopping by.



Shooting For Stills With Natural Light On The Red Scarlet-x

Yesterday, I received the results from a contest I entered called the Digital Photo Pro Emerging Pro Photo Contest.  And the results were good.  This is a contest for students and professionals with less than 5 years of professional experience, which I have.  It's free to enter, and this wasn't my first year trying.  But this time, they accepted my initial entry as a finalist, which was this:

I shot this back in college for a class assignment.

There were 9 finalists in total, in three categories: Fashion, Fine Art and Sport.  They sent each of the 9 finalists a Red Scarlet-X Red Dragon Lightweight Collection and tasked us with shooting a series of 5 images in the same category we entered initially, using only the Red Scarlet.  I've never shot with one of those, and have only some basic training and experience with DSLR video, so that was both exciting and intimidating.  The Red doesn't shoot stills.  So I was supposed to shoot video with stills in mind, and then grab frames out of the video later for retouching.  


My first shoot was a little rocky.  I wasn't familiar with the camera enough to know how to zoom in on the display to check focus, and balancing framerate and resolution with the other settings was a little confusing.  Fortunately I got several good shots I could use, and after retouching I had the confidence I needed to go into the next shoot.  We had only one month to prepare our series, and I decided I would wow the judges by sending 5 images, each from a different shoot, rather than 5 images from a single shoot which I was certain everyone else would do.  Besides, I have a Red Scarlet for a month.  I have to get as much footage as humanly possible before I have to return it!  All of the shoots were very challenging, particularly the rock climbing and running shoots, which were shot within 24 hours of each other in weather and temperatures around 40 degrees or less.


While I was at it, I shot a good deal of 60fps video footage of each athlete with the intent to make a video project for self promotion when all was finished.  That project is in the works, currently waiting on a song I've commissioned for the background music.  I'm very excited to have something better than a quinceanera shot on a Canon t3i in my video portfolio.  :P  What a step up this is.


So the final result was--I won.  The judges selected my entry, and here it is:




For a project shot in a very short time, with no budget whatsoever, no lighting, on a camera I was unfamiliar with, and in sometimes unpleasant weather, I am very pleased with how these images turned out.  In fact, I think several of them are consistent in quality with my normal work.  I had an incredibly good time doing this, and can't wait to do more work like it.  


So what did I win?  The prizes for this contest are as follows:


The very kit I shot these images on.  A Red Scarlet-x Red Dragon Lightweight Collection, which normally costs around $25,000.  Here's the other prize:


A $2000 printer from Epson.


So I'm now equipped to do more creative things.  I'm equipped with the knowledge of how to use the tools.  I'm equipped with a video reel with which to get work.  If you are a photographer, I highly recommend having contests as a staple of your business.  It pushes you to put your work out there.  It pushes you to make better work.  It can be a source of new gear and opportunities.  And, like this contest, your work will be published in magazines, which creates buzz around what you do.  As soon as I have my new gear, and as soon as I find out about some other cool things I have in the works, I'll be pushing my work to new levels and trying new things, and I'll certainly post it right here as it comes.


Thanks to everyone who helped me with this project, many on very short notice, at significant discomfort or inconvenience.  This is really game-changing for me.  Thanks.

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.

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