A few days ago I encouraged people in the photography and filmmaking community to shine the light rather than spread darkness. It was my answer to the amount of drama that was brewing in BOTH industries (for different reasons). The bigger of the two dramas was by far the controversy served up by ex-wedding photographer and Showit Fast CEO/founder David Jay and his “Photo System.” The internet exploded in blogs, Facebook posts, tweets and Tumbles about the travesty of it all. Countless hours were lost as people all over the world read super long blogs posts (kinda like this one here).
So I wanted to try an experiment. Let’s see if instead of all the negativity, we could get as many people as possible praising photographers (or filmmakers) they DO like, and sharing why. Because in the end, I know that the drama has the negative effect people expect. It never serves the industry. It will only bring it down.
The Comment That Inspired This Post
The few comments I had on that post were for the most part praising the effort. Then one brave soul took me to task. It was long-time blog reader of mine Alexis Cuarezma. Alexis left me a long comment that I really respected and appreciated. He asked me two fair questions:
- Why was I and other “friends” of DJ not speaking out about this stupid system? and
- What were my thoughts on “The Photo System.”
So Alexis, this blog post is for you. 😉
As always, I approach this subject with objectivity and practicality. Ironically, not until I was challenged by Alexis did I even read the The Photo System thoroughly. I have no doubt some of you may disagree with some of my sentiments below. All I ask is that before lashing out due to the emotion of it all, take some time to really sit on and think about what I am going to share.
So, let’s begin with the one part of “The Photo System” that seems to be the biggest bug up people’s you know what.
The Spray & Pray and P-Mode Controversy
Robert Evans is a highly respected wedding photographer with a very successful studio in Los Angeles, has shot over 800 weddings in over 22 years, including the wedding of a Mr. Tom Cruise (and I think Lenny Kravitz too). Once on an episode of my video podcast “The FlipSide,” (where I ask photogs and videogs to give one simple, quick bit of advice. “Bit sized advice shot on a bit-sized camera.” Clever huh? Anyway, I digress). I asked Rob to offer some quick advice to photogs starting out. You know what the tip he gave was? Spray and pray. (Just the messenger folks).
There’s another photographer I want to tell you about. He is largely regarded by old-timers and newbies alike as one of the most talented, professional and giving professionals in the industry. No one would question his talent, experience, knowledge or desire to elevate the industry. He’s shot the weddings of Kelsey Grammar, Christina Aguilera, Christina Applegate, Hilary Swank, and Annie Leibowitz herself has praised his work. He is none other than Joe Buissink. Joe has spoken on numerous occasions to rooms full of hundreds of photographers about shooting in “p” mode. (He jokes that “P” is for professional.)
I’m not a photographer so I haven’t looked into why these two respected professionals have suggested spray and pray and/or using P-mode. I vaguely remember Joe explaining at a Pictage conference how and why he uses it occasionally. But I don’t think that even matters. I just found it a very interesting observation in light of the controversy. Do with it what you will.
Over-reacting and Journalistic Integrity
There are many tips DJ mentioned in that system I would totally get behind: making friends; using minimal amount of equipment; effectively using social media; serving others; charging a high fee and including the “products” in the service; putting the value on YOU as the artist; many of his workflow suggestions; having a unique website; having a promo video (this was my favorite part 😉 ); listing your phone number on your site; keeping your logo simple; blogging; extensive and effective communication with the client before the wedding; what to prep before the wedding.
I’m going to stop right there because it’s actually making me frustrated having to list it all. That is a lot of information. Information I didn’t even know was in the system because prior to last night, I hadn’t read it that closely. Based on everything I’ve been reading, I thought the whole system was filled with terrible photography advice. Now that I have read it, all I can say is: “Am I missing something?” Spray and Pray and P-mode make up like 2% of the whole system. So, you mean to tell me, all the lost hours, the long blog posts, the tweets, the hash tags, the vitriol…all of that was caused because of something that was a hugely insignificant part of the whole system?
Let’s assume you hate the spray and pray and P mode advice. Well what about the other 98% of the system that you didn’t mention. Is there ANY value in it? If yes, why not say that? To do a review of a photography BUSINESS system and not give a full analysis vs. a clearly emotional reaction to one tiny aspect is akin to journalistic irresponsibility in my opinion. You can still give the System an overall poor grade if you like, but if you’ve covered ALL the bases, I then can take your analysis of it more seriously as an objective, rational, level-headed review.
I would have loved to read something like this:
“DJ’s system gives poor advice for anyone serious about the craft of photography, but his advice on the business and marketing aspects are pretty sound. Take the business advice, but pair it with a good education in the craft as well. There are many sources you can get that education.”
Then give the sources. THAT is the kind of review I think would have genuinely helped the industry. Just that one little paragraph and we could have been done with it.
FWIW, here are some parts of the system I don’t agree with or would change:
- Including prices on your site. I think that makes it easy for people to shop you around without contacting you.
- Not sure I agree with the “hour glass” method.
- I wouldn’t have had a photo of Mother Theresa for the “Serve” section. Using her image for a commercial enterprise seems sacrilegious, even if you’re sincere in your belief to serve. Instead I would have a photo of Kenny Kim. Kenny is a real-life example of servant-hood in the photography world who has a huge following precisely because of his servant attitude.
- I would take out any verbiage that disrespects any other photographic belief system (e.g. the comment about old timers being “clueless.”)
- Jury is still out for me regarding Spray and Pray and P-mode. 😉
Drama Will Never Help the Industry
Show me one ounce of proof that the drama that has stirred up over the past week has helped the industry. The people who love DJ love him even more now. The ones who already hate him hate him even more. If I were a newbie, I’d just be more confused by the drama.
What if instead of complaining about DJ and how his system is hurting the industry, write a long blog post to say why it’s important for newbies to understand their camera. Call it “The REAL Photo System” or something, making it an obvious allusion to DJ’s thing. THAT would help. You are actually then TEACHING something. But if you go all “Days of Our Lives” on him and all you do is spew vitriol about what someone else is doing which you think is hurting the industry, but don’t take that time to explain how you think it should be done right, all you’re doing is fueling the fires. Again, from what I can see, the drama has not helped the industry one iota. There has LITERALLY been MILLIONS of dollars in lost productivity in the industry over the past week.
Calling People Out Publicly Seldom Helps Anybody
For the most part I don’t believe in publicly calling people out. I did it once on my blog and I regretted it afterwards. As I mentioned yesterday, I briefly did it last week on my personal blog, then almost immediately retracted what I wrote. Why? Because it NEVER, EVER leads to anything good, and as I’ll allude to later, you will ultimately just draw more attention to the very thing you dislike.
IMHO, the wise thing to do in situations like this is to ignore the thing you dislike or disagree with, then proactively teach what you think IS right. Check out these tweets regarding DJ’s system.
And one of the reply tweets nails it on the head.
BINGO! Instead of complaining about it and making it more popular, go make your own system that is better. I know my dear friend Zack Arias wrote a long Facebook reply to DJ and he made some excellent points in it, but this one short tweet of his is by far the best advice I’ve seen regarding this thing.
When other leaders in the filmmaking industry teach or encourage something I think is bad, I don’t use my platform to call them out. Instead I passionately and vociferously teach what I think will help filmmakers.
- I encourage renting vs. buying
- I encourage talent over tools
- I advocate telling good stories vs. just showing pretty images
- I frequently bemoan the over-use of shallow depth of field shots then show why I think it’s bad
- I teach about the 180 degree rule and why you should follow it (and when you should break it)
- I teach when and how it makes sense to offer your skills for free
There are leaders in the industry who either specifically teach or by their actions practice work that is counter to all of these things. And in many cases I think it’s bad for those watching. In appropriate venues I have addressed those people about these issues (e.g. a formal interview, comments on a private forum, etc.) And when I do, I earnestly strive to do it in a spirit of respect and diplomacy.
But If I wrote a scathing blog post every time a leader in the industry did or taught things which are the opposite of these things above, there’d probably be ten times more drama in the filmmaking world than there already is. Instead, I stay focused on what my experience has taught me, and I put it out there for the world to see. I know the world will hear and see some education that is conflicting. It’s up to the world then to deem which methods they feel is better suited to them. To me that’s far better than them reading public battles among industry leaders, like kids watching their parents fight.
Story Time: Rob Bell and his Book “Love Wins”
Last year, popular emerging-church pastor Rob Bell released a controversial book called “Love Wins.” It rocked the Christian world pretty much the same way DJs photo system is doing here in the photog community (I’m sure DJ would love being compared to Rob Bell). Lots and lots of pastors and Christian bloggers blogged about how terrible the book is in relation to the Christian gospel. You know what: they blogged it right to the top of the NY Times bestseller list.
This is how my pastor handled the topic. He gave a very powerful and compelling sermon that anyone “in the know” would obviously know was meant as his rebuttal to the controversial topics in Rob’s book. Yet not once did he mention Rob’s name or his book. It was one of the greatest demonstrations of wisdom I’ve ever seen. On the off-chance that one of the 12,000 attendees of my church didn’t know about Rob’s book, they still wouldn’t. (Many of whom are “newbie” Christians, or people considering the faith who may not even know Rob Bell). Those that did know about the book, heard a loving and well-reasoned argument against it, one that wasn’t emotional. So no matter how you may fall on the “Love Wins” debate, you now had a reasoned argument against it and could make a more informed decision.
Guess what, as Gary Fong rightly pointed, all the Photo System drama did (including, ironically, his own blog posts) was to lend more eyeballs to the very thing all the drama stirrers hate. How ironic is that? Both Rob and DJ are laughing all the way to the bank. (I”m sure they’re not really laughing, that’s just a figure of speech. But, you get my point).
Just a Banging Gong
Lastly I’ll say this: it’s obvious that my faith forms a lot of how and why I do the things I do (sorry Gary. 😉 ). So I hope it’s no surprise that part of my take on this issue stems from that. There is a part of the bible that ironically many people in this industry have heard probably dozens, if not hundreds or even thousands of times. It’s one of the most popular verses read at weddings. It says that even if what you say has truth, if you say it without love, you might as well be banging a gong.
That’s what we’ve been hearing and reading IMHO. A lot of gong-banging. I’m not saying you have to love David Jay. If you’re not a Christian, I can’t judge you in that regards nor expect you to do that. But you don’t even have to be a Christian to see that there is truth in that verse. If a sage and experienced photographer, respected in the industry, took DJ aside and had a respectful, heart to heart about how you feel this is affecting the craft of photography, I know that would have a far more powerful affect than what’s going on now.
So there you have it. I encourage you to at least ponder what I’ve written.
I have a busy weekend ahead shooting a number of projects (including my entry for the Chick-fil-A Leadercast film). So my replies to your comments may be slow coming. But as always, I encourage you to comment. Agree or disagree, I want to hear from you. I hope you can do it in the spirit and respect of the guy that prompted this whole post. Alexis Cuarezma.