intentional storytelling

 

I love shooting film.

You’ve probably heard it said many times, but film is different than digital photo shoots because of how intentional you have to be with each shot. It’s true – plain and simply, each shot costs money. I’m still very new to this game, so let me be the first to say, I waste a lot of money. Finding the right kind of film, getting the perfect settings, making sure the camera doesn’t malfunction, making sure the time of day is right – it’s all so much to keep in mind, I often screw up several pictures on a roll of film. It can be honestly overwhelming. Digital is easy compared to this; I can take 300 shots and not have to worry about losing a penny.

I used to be a part of the newspaper at my community college. The professor who ran it always said, “A picture is worth a thousand words, unless you have a thousand words.” He probably got that from someone else, to be honest. But this statement has proven true again and again for me – so long as those thousand words are intentional.

Have you ever written flash fiction? I love it. I had a professor in undergrad who challenged me to write a story every week under 750 words. Seems easy, right?

Wrong.

I found myself cutting whole paragraphs and sentences of what already felt like a too-short story. Those cuts are a lot like the settings on a film camera – you have to be precise with that shutter speed, the aperture, the focus, in order to get the image you want. Intentional writing is a lot like film photography. If your challenge is to write a thousand-word short story, you have to have complete and total control over every single word that goes into your piece in order to create the exact image you want your readers to see.

This summer, I want to shoot a lot of film. My goal is to have an entire roll of perfect shots. Yeah, that sounds crazy. It is crazy. But my hope with this isn’t just to improve my photography skills – it’s to improve my writing skills. It’s to train my brain how to be intentional with every single piece that makes up the thousand-word portrait of my story.

Want to join? Leave a comment below to let me know what you think.

Branding & Authenticity – Can You Have Both?

Hiring someone to create your social media content – is that allowed? Does that discredit you as a person? Does it make your account “fake”?

The first thing I do when I get a new client for social media is write their branding document. Without this, everything else would fall apart. A branding document outlines the author’s persona on social media – essentially, it establishes what kind of content will be posted or engaged with and what language will be used on which platforms. To a lot of people, this sounds like some kind of script, a rulebook for how to stay in character and play the role. In reality, it’s so much more than that.

Branding is essential for consistency. Consistency is essential for engagement. Engagement is essential for discoverability. And finally, most importantly, discoverability is essential for website traction and sales.

The chain works like this: Having a consistent brand means you consistently post the same kind of content, the same style of photos, the same style of writing. It’s an art. If a user likes that style of art, then they’ll support the artist with a follow.

Now, imagine for a moment that there’s a talented portrait artist. They’ve been doing realistic, bright-colored portraits for a few months now, and they’re starting to get a few commissions for their work. They paint a commission and send it back and it’s done in a dark, impressionistic style. The client didn’t get what they signed up for, and they’re not happy. Suddenly the other clients withdraw their commissions. They have no idea what to expect from this artist anymore.

It’s the same with a social media page. Users commission us, in a sense, by giving us a follow. They like the content we’ve been producing, and they want to see more of it. Posting something outside the lines of the style they signed up to see will make them withdraw their commissions – we lose followers.

Followers are important in engaging with our posts. The likes, shares, and comments actually boost posts in trends and hashtags and search pages. The more engagement you get, the more easily discoverable your content will be. It’s as simple as that. So if you have no followers to engage with your content, you’ll never be discovered. If you never get discovered, you’ll never get traffic on your website, and then you’ll never make a sale.

So staying consistent in your content is actually critical to gaining sales.

To circle back to the original question, does this make you inauthentic on social media? Not at all. To phrase it another way, is the artist inauthentic for painting in the same style every day? No. That’s one dimension of their life that people want to see. We can acknowledge that yes, they may have an interest in dark impressionism, but that’s not the side of the artist we’re interested in.

In this sense, people are a lot like diamonds. We have multiple facets of our personality that make up every part of our beautiful selves. But not everyone in our lives are familiar with every single facet. They can’t be, if we want to keep our sanity. Does showing only one facet of our humanity make us any less human? Not at all. Branding a social media platform to focus on one element of your life does not make you any less authentic. It makes you an artist. And most importantly, it keeps you sane.

b&w museums and my failures with film

The first time I ever used black and white film, I was at the Portland Art Museum using my Olympus 30 RC point & shoot camera. This camera was the absolute bane of my existence. I got it for $15 at a garage sale, and I could not figure out how to focus the thing. Turns out, you can’t really focus point and shoot cameras, thus the name. Learning film is a process, folks, and I am only just beginning. (PS – if anyone knows something about how the focus works on this camera, I would love to hear about it!)

Fortunately, some of these pictures turned out, and I discovered a love for shooting black and white film at artistic locations. I tried doing a second roll on that camera and the film jammed and I accidentally ruined the entire roll trying to get it unjammed. Third time’s the charm, though, right? Wrong.

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There were a couple more failed attempts at capturing life on this camera. I got my film back from the Tulip Festival and cried when not one single shot came out focused.
 

I came very close to giving up entirely, and then I turned around within the hour and bought a Pentax K1000 off of Craigslist. Within the next hour I was downtown at the local university taking trial pictures.

After I got these shots back, I was relieved that I could actually figure out how to focus images. These pictures gave me hope that I could actually get better. The rest has been a learning experience with many patient friends and family as I tried out different shots at different locations with different people, many times in rivers or the rain (sorry Adriana). But one thing I never gave up on was taking black and white photos at museums. So when I got to go to The Getty with my family a few weeks ago, I saw an opportunity to redeem myself.

Not all of the pictures turned out perfect or even completely in focus, but it’s a step forward. There’s something unique about taking photos of art and removing the color. It forces you to look at the simple shape and construction of the works – how do the shadows work together to make up the figure? What is it that determines how a piece makes someone really feel? What shapes did the artist prioritize?

Fun fact, for a time in my life I wanted to be an art historian. I was also really into studying world religions. But my focus has always been on writing and book publishing, so I didn’t have time nor the resources to look into those subjects more. While I might not be able to justify taking college classes or paying money to study these things full time, I can combine these interests with other hobbies. It sometimes seems impossible to get started on any side project with limited schedules. We can only dedicate so much time to our hobbies before having to return to work (unless, of course, you’re one of the lucky ones who makes a living off your hobby). But if you go outside the box, you might be surprised at the paths you discover. Try combining some of your passions to save time – you never know what the outcome might be.

RAGBRAI 2018

Sometimes I forget I’m athletic. Even now, writing this, I don’t feel like calling myself athletic is accurate. And then people point out that about a month ago I rode my bike across a state.

Here’s the thing: RAGBRAI isn’t about being athletic. It’s a literal party, and people happen to be exerting more energy than usual.

The Register’s Annual Great Bicycle Ride Across Iowa is in its 46th year and still going strong. Essentially, 15,000+ people get on their bikes and ride from the Missouri to the Mississippi River over the course of one week. This was my fifth year doing it, which I didn’t fully realize until I got home and looked at my bike map. I’ve had this map since I rode my bike across America when I was fourteen. It’s my record of every cross-state and cross-country bike route I’ve taken. When I went to trace out this year’s route, I was surprised to find four jagged lines already making their way across Iowa.

While it was my fifth year riding across, it was my first year going with a film camera. As I continue in my endeavors to learn film and capture the spontaneous nature of humanity, I discovered that RAGBRAI couldn’t have provided a better or more fun opportunity for capturing such moments.

Every day was full of small towns and places to hang out. Farmers and businesses alike come out, provide great food and drinks, and talk to riders. At any of these stops during the day, thousands of bikes would crowd every open space in the town—basically, bikers took over. I cannot express how grateful I am to these towns for not only their patience in letting us do this but also their eagerness to host us.

Often I hear that Iowa is just a giant cornfield, and that’s partially true, especially if you’re just driving down the freeway. But the whole truth is that Iowa is a farm state with thousands of farming and rural communities that come together in only the most Iowan of ways. The Midwestern charm and hospitality finds its home here. I have never met nicer people anywhere in America, hands down. I mean, who else would let fifteen thousand drunk bicyclists take over their state for a week?

The best part about this ride is the riders. I’ve never seen a group of people so footloose and energetic. It is most people’s one vacation of the year, and they really get into it. Not only this, but if someone crashes or has a problem, everyone stops to help, no question.

There’s so much to say about this bike ride. I couldn’t possible cover it all in one blog post. Over the next few years, I’m excited to keep going back and capturing the ride on film. If you know about this ride and have any ideas for shots you’d like to see, send me a message. I’d love to hear from fellow bike riders who are into photography.

McIntire Wedding // What I’m doing with photography

Last week I had the honor of shooting my very first wedding.

I’m very humbled that my lovely friend, Liz, asked me to do this. She’s also a photographer. I met her through grad school at Portland State.

The thing that I learned pretty quickly with shooting weddings is that it’s more than just a typical portrait shoot. You’re not just taking pictures of a subject or an event – you’re taking pictures of one of the most important days in someone’s life. It really hit me during the ceremony. I was humbled. Not only was I allowed to witness this beautiful moment, I was asked to capture it on camera. Amazing.

Maybe this feeling of overwhelming  humility wears off over time, but I really hope not. I’m not planning on going into photography as a full-time career path. I plan on keeping it as a side thing. Mostly, I do photography for publicity and social media. But if a friend asks me to take headshots or they need someone to take some pictures at an event for their website, I’m more than willing to step in and help. Being asked to do a wedding is such an honor to me. It blows my mind that I would be given the important task of capturing the whole day – forever. Being asked to capture something like this is no small request, and I cannot thank Liz enough for trusting me with this.

I’m not going to call myself an official photographer. That’s why photography is not at the top of my services page; I’ve got a lot of other things going on right now. I’m technically working three jobs at the moment, so starting my own photography business honestly sounds like a nightmare. There are a lot of other more well-established photographers who have put much more time and work into getting where they are. Trust me when I say they deserve your money a lot more than I do. In fact, I can even recommend some to you if you’d like.

Maybe down the road photography will become more of a frontlist business project for me, but for now, it provides a great hobby that gives me a break from reading and writing all the time. Don’t get me wrong – I love reading and writing. That’s why I’m in the publishing business. But I need other creative outlets outside of those things. Besides playing viola and taking pictures, I’ve also started drawing. Trust me when I say I’m no Picasso, but it’s still a great way to give my mind a break and my hands something to do. I’m one of those people that can’t really stop moving, unfortunately. It’s more of a curse than a blessing.

While I’m here mostly to talk about why I’m not calling myself an official photographer, I want to make it clear that I am still beyond grateful to take part in something like Liz’s wedding. She’s a beautiful bride. I mean, look at her.

Photography is a special and intricate thing. It opens doors into special moments in someone’s life that you wouldn’t have gotten to otherwise witness. I’m excited moving forward. And, as always, if you’re interested in any of my services, please do not hesitate to reach out to me.

Congratulations to Brian & Liz!