Sending Out an SOS: This homeless man was scribbling furiously, oblivious to the world around him. And the world around him — Austin, TX — was in the throes of SXSW. He was invisible to most, but not to me.
It has been five months since I started the 365 Full Frame project. Here are six lessons learned from my immersive photography experience to date:
1) Framing is Everything
You can edit a photo all you want, but it’s much easier to produce a good photo when your original capture is solid. Find your story and focus on it.
In some settings there can be many eye catching things to include in your photograph, but these can distract the viewer away from your message. Whenever possible try to frame your photo so that it focuses on your subject. Leave out as many distractions as you can. If you cannot frame the photo while capturing it, crop and if necessary (or possible), edit out distractions.
2) Don’t Take the Rule of Thirds Literally
The rule of thirds is very helpful to new photographers. For those that don’t know, the rule of thirds suggests framing your picture by dividing the frame in thirds vertically and horizontally. You then frame your subject in the middle square and capture the shot.
At the same time if taken literally, the rule of thirds can create formulaic photos with every subject in the dead center of the image. Over the past couple of months I have tried to break away from perfectly centered images. So long as my subject touches the primary center — even if it just grazes the rectangle — then I am good.
3) Edit Your Photos
There are purists who say photos shouldn’t be “photoshopped” or edited. They are wrong. Some of the most iconic film photos of yesterday were significantly altered in the darkroom. If the no filter crowd likes bad photos then God bless them, but the more time you invest in processing quality shots, the better they will look.
4) A Take-Away from the Minimalist Crowd
That being said, some photos can be overproduced. And God knows sometimes I intentionally create light intense photos because that’s the look I want. This Capitol Building shot is one where I did that to emphasize the scaffolding and the lighting.
Minimalists like images that are edited as a touch up only, instead focusing on the capture. They edit in LightRoom, but just enough to make clean, crisp photographs. My thoughts are make a great image, and when possible, do so with as little editing as possible.
This dawn image features very little editing. Per the minimalist link, 80% of the work was in the Basic Light Room panel. I opened the shadows and reduced the highlights. I sharpened the image and punched up the color contrast. Then I enabled lens correction. And that was it. The same is true of the Frosty, the Snowman image that opens this post.
Do only what you think is necessary to create a good image. Follow your heart. Every photo doesn’t have to be an over-wrought 500 Pixels gem.
5) Sunsets and Sunrises are Like Bait
I stopped taking as many sunset and sunrise shots recently. It’s not that I don’t like them, it’s just that I have found them to be less challenging as of late, in large part because I have shot all the local vistas in my immediate neighborhood. While sunrises and sunsets are photo bait for likes and what most people seem to enjoy, it’s not necessarily the most challenging subject.
There are a couple of short trips that may yield an opportunity this month. But I will likely revisit sunrise and sunset pictures in earnest this January when the earth’s tones are muted by the dead of winter. The harshness of the land in this light interests me and presents a challenge. The soft oranges, pinks and reds are less of a challenge these days.
6) People Are Difficult Subjects
Photographing people is hard. I am not talking abut the smiley pics you see on Facebook. In many ways those are easy, but they don’t strike me as good or sincere. In fact, I see most smiling pics as fake, unless they are in the moment.
Capturing people’s spirit, their true essence, is the challenge, and it’s one that I fail at often. Every month, I rent some studio time and photograph someone, usually a friend who volunteers. There is much to learn with retouching here, but I hope to get better at photographing people over the next seven months.
What tips would you add? Or, what are your thoughts on the 365 Full Frame Project to date?
Tenacity5 Media’s client Vocus and Cision released a new eBook, “What If PR Stood for People and Relationships” authored by Brian Solis and GapingVoid. The primary gist is to stop getting lost in technology, or suffering from Shiny Object Syndrome.
Shiny Object Syndrome has been an issue ever since blogs and social networks took over the Internet. Today, you can see it manifest itself in the way marketers and communicators talk about data, social tools, and mobile technology.
Let us consider data. More than ever before we see how our actions inspire people to act. Data is fantastic, and it can inform our every step. Yet, when we let the outcomes manifested as precision results drive every action, our outreach can become lifeless.
Just look at the current iterations of ad retargeting. Marketers realize people have visited us and if we offer them something worthwhile or a coupon, x % will become customers. We engage in campaigns to yield this percentage, and in doing so we sacrifice good will with a much greater population of potential customers, because they are annoyed with cheap ads and tricks.
As Brian says in the book, we need to make relationships the guiding principle in our communications, no matter how powerful the technology may be. In the case of ad retargeting, offering additional quality content with real value for a limited period of time after a visit (like three days) would be a significant change in approach. Data is great if it is used wisely.
I hope you will check out the book. It’s a fantastic read with great illustrations. The Tenacity5 team was thrilled to have worked on the project, and hope it makes a great impact on the PR business.
Science fiction offers strange futuristic views of technology. Some are positive, but most lean towards dystopia. Are technological fears portrayed in science fiction reasonable?
As a species, humans adapt technologies blindly with the hope of achieving promised benefits. We rarely consider societal impact. This is a huge issue, in my opinion. Technology itself doesn’t destroy or evolve societies, rather human use of advanced tools is the culprit.
Some science fiction books like Kim Stanley Robinson’s 2312 waver between utopian and dystopian views. Science fiction offers us the opportunity to debate whether or not we will destroy ourselves with technology.
Is such dialogue pure fear of change? Or do they remind that we always forget the lessons of the past?
In the case of robotics, the decades old dialogue started by Isaac Asimov’s robot novels has been greatly beneficial. We have been actively trying to build artificial intelligence that will become useful to society while not becoming malevolent a la The Terminator.
But we are not always so forward thinking. Applied to the Internet we do all sorts of neat things like give ourselves access to incredible amounts of information and publishing tools. Then we do things like strip away privacy and quantify human worth and status using tools like Empire Avenue and PeerIndex.
In my book Exodus, Book One of The Fundamentalists I began with a post-apocalyptic world decimated by a biotechnology terror, a direct result of weaponized viruses. This narrative device allowed me to create a world where people avoided technology and religion for centuries, in favor of an agrarian utopia. Throughout the trilogy I debate whether we as a species can use spiritual ideas and technology tools peacefully.
I have to tell you that by the end of the trilogy, technology makes a big come back as a means of defense against fundamentalism. Humans end up using both to create power structures to benefit themselves and dominate other people. And in other cases, people use these very different tools to help each other.
Because that’s who we are, at least right now. I really believe that a portion of the population will always fall to primitive negative actions, and others will rise above. The combination creates volatility.
Why do I have this view? Human beings are complicated, and create conflict. While some people are altruistic or generally good in design, we are all to some extent self-motivated. War itself is something that is a result of modern agricultural and political structures, say researchers. Even when we are not at war, we compete with each other, on an individual basis and with other nations to create the most prosperity and status.
Anyone who thinks the United States is not competing with China from a technological perspective is crazy. How many private incidents of cyberwarfare occur without our knowledge? It’s not like the Pentagon or major companies want to admit how often they are getting attacked.
Furthering blind adoption of tools, technology has proven to be a huge economic driver. Consider the way we encourage technological development in Silicon Valley and beyond? IPOs and acquisitions drive the the tech sector.
Just last month we saw Google purchase Nest for an astounding amount to empower the Internet of Things. Society will certainly reap the economic benefits of data. But are individuals and communities ready for a coming wave of metric-based vanity that determines their place in society?
So you see, I really do think the human application of technology is a worthwhile discussion. Without foresight, it can become quite destructive. What do you think?
Successful start-ups often feature an executive who gets credited for a brilliant product or strong service. The product/service is absolutely necessary for buyers, but the leader is celeberated for the wrong reason. Successful start-ups are made of great people. Great executives build teams and cultures that allow their concepts to come to fruition.
When I consider my past efforts to scale, one thing I want to do differently is build an intentional culture to attract the right talent. The culture will be clear in advance about benefits, lifestyle and tone.
Most start-ups create cultures in a haphazard fashion. They figure it out as they go.
The results are obvious. Lack of growth, high turnover, dysfunctional team behavior including absenteeism, poor work quality and infighting.
A founder’s job (and lead executives, too) is not to be the centerpoint of all things in the company, rather the principle enabler. The intentional culture builds a framework for employees to do their job with as little friction as possible.
The framework gives employees clear parameters to operate in and meet their goals. A leader’s job is to find great people, and then encourage them so they achieve their work and grow professionally.
How can you tell a company is a winner? It produces other winners. Successful cultures are marked by people who leave an organization as stronger more capable members of the workforce, including executives capable of leading their own group or starting their own company.
Hire Great Talent
How many times have you heard people complain about their boss? Tough, but hard, or crazy, or controls and interferes with aspects of the work. Bad management is the number one reason people quit their jobs.
Granted, some complaints are the result of managers balancing workload and nurturing people. If you have happy people and no work getting done, there is a problem. If work is getting done, but people are miserable, you have a problem.
Consistantly unhappy people is a clear signal that points to the founder and/or company executives. Founders and executives who cannot manage against their own shortcomings have a hard time succeeding. Some of it is personality, but at least 2/3 of management skills are teachable.
How can you tell if you are the problem as a founder?
Turnover ratio. Get above 20-30% in a single year, and there is a problem. If you are at 50% turnover, then you have a significant issue that needs to be addressed with either training or a change in leadershop. A 70-80% turnover rate in one year is a damning statement about the founder/executive in question.
One year turnover is bad for a company. You lose your investment of intellectual capital, people don’t grow from the experience, and the business is stymied with work in a constant state of flux. Plus customers are let down and leave, and the executive(s) becomes distracted by consistently recruiting replacements.
Everyone benefits when executives optimize the workplace for happiness. Some tips for founders/executives struggling with this:
1) Nurture people. If an executive (including me in the past) has an attitude of “tough, but fair” then they are pretty much an asshole. There is no room for that, and people do not succeed in a vacuum. This is one of my primary lessons learned. The executive should delegate, but be present to encourage and help employees as necessary. They are the ultimate coach, and in helping employees succeed, they win, too.
2) Employees are the center of the workplace universe. Executive attention is good for attracting business, but inside a company an executive competing for the most acknowledgement sucks the emotional life out of the larger team. An executive looks good when the staff performs well and are considered heroes by customers.
Don’t be the hero, make heroes. Want attention? Be a soloproneur. Want to make money? Build teams of stars.
3) Successfully getting work done while keeping people happy is a balancing act. An executive needs to nurture while getting team members to commit to getting work completed. Be random in rewards so they don’t become an expectation, but always be clear to acknowledge successes and strong efforts.
4) When it comes to feedback — a necessary component of getting work done — in person or on the phone is best. Emailed feedback is almost always a disaster (yes, experience again). Avoid giving negative feedback in writing if at all possible. Rather than expressing disapointment, offer your vision and a desire for better quality. Always show the desired outcome, and offer solutions so someone can learn how to get there.
How the Framework Helps
Hiring great people as a start-up is a challenge because of size and risk. Once you get them on board — given an intentional framework and the right attitude of nurturing/work balance — an executive can focus on building the business. When people can’t succeed in the framework and an executive’s assistance, well, there is little you can do other than to move on.
In my mind, part of a good framework is work/life balance. The company has ethics and principles and that drives work ethos. Then there are random rewards for performance, and stated ones, e.g benefits. These create balance.
Expected benefits, which in many ways define the spirit of the company, also attract (or repel) candidates. Here are some of the things I am doing with Tenacity5:
1) Four weeks off, vacation, personal and/or sick leave. No questions asked. One month notice in writing is required for more than two consecutive days off (past lessons learned). Team members who work with the organization for more than two years will get five weeks off. Why so much time? I want to employ rested people that deliver great creative content and strategies on deadline.
2) The work must get done, but perhaps not 9-5. Flexible hours are acceptable so long as the work gets done.
3) Junior staff can telework one day a week. Executives may be hired who work from home (if they are in a different city without an office) or if there is an office they can telework two days a week.
4) Healthcare will be paid for in total by the company.
5) If the company achieves more than 20% profitability over costs in any quarter, profit sharing will occur with all team mebers.
6) No one will be staffed on more than three accounts. It is to the clients’ and the employees’ benefit that work doesn’t get diffused. Further, employees become more capable when they learn the ins and outs of a particular business sector.
7) A new MacBook Air is provided to all new employees. If an employee stays for more than 18 months, they keep the laptop as a bonus.
Generally, this is considered a very generous compensation package. It matches my concept of a framework for an intentional culture. There is a lot to be happy about, and hopefully that will attract employees who normally would go to more established businesses. Further, given the framework and the right management attitude, I believe that people will attend to their work with enhtusiasm.
What do you think?
Featured image by FDF Photo.
You know the old glass is half full metaphor.
Well, that applies to the way we talk about and critique others. We can support the strong points someone offers, or we can tear them up.
This is particularly true of teams, communities and other group activities.
“Winners can maintain high aspirations and act generously toward others,” said Kanter. “Losers are more likely to blame others and disdain them as mediocre, creating a culture of finger-pointing and infighting.”