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A creative blog on The Whole 9

The Photography Blog is written by members of The Whole 9 Creative Photography Circle. For a short “bio” on today’s contributor, scroll down to the bottom of the blog. Enjoy! – Mike Hayward, editor

Crib Notes from a Photography Webinar

by Mike Hayward, editor, The Whole 9 Photography Blog

[Full disclosure:  I am not related to anyone at,  nor do I own stock in the company,  nor have they recompensed me in any manner for writing this nice article about them.]

Photoshelter keeps looking better and better to me as an online photo web site.  Photoshelter is (of course) a business first, offering online assistance in getting your very own photo web site up and running, either for next to nothing or lots of money – all depending on how good you want to look and how much of your stuff you think you can realistically sell.  But they’re not too shabby when they simultaneously offer up user-friendly articles, information – even web-based seminars or “webinars.”  Of course, most of that is on their Photoshelter blog side.  Regardless of where they are, the Photoshelter team has their act together.

I’ve attended two of their recent webinars and what they might lack in pizazz they certainly make up in substance.  “Attended” is a much-too-formal word.  What you do is get on their e-mail list, get notified and sign up for one of their webinars, get a confirmation e-mail and, when the date and time rolls around, you click on, kick back, and enjoy… Unless you’re like me – in which case you bar the door to a darkened room, sit at attention in a straight-back chair, and take copious notes.

The most recent Photoshelter webinar featured a visit with photographer Tim Mantoani.

“Tim Who?” someone asks.  Hey, no points off for ignorance here.  In fact – at least for me – that’s the whole point of the Photoshelter webinars:  get to know some respected photographers, hear how they shoot, what they shoot and why, look at some of their better known images, and become interested enough in these people to actually go to their web sites and kick yourself up and down the stairs for not being able to make photographs like them.

(There should be a single word for the simultaneous feelings of hate and envy, appreciation and resentment.  Not remembering what that word is, I will move on using another word.)

I am chagrined, I say, chagrined when I look upon the work of someone like Tim Mantoani.  And then I get more upset as I listen to this guy (on the webinar) and I begin to realize what a nice guy he is.  And then the epiphany comes…  I am blessed by his blessedness.  I will become a better photographer by his grace and talent.  (Go ahead – sneak over to Tim’s website and see if you don’t slowly feel the same way.  Go ahead, take in the Photoshelter webinar with Tim and hear what he has to say about his personal head-on with cancer.  See if that doesn’t choke you up and make you say “Dammit! I don’t want to be like Tim Mantoani!  I WANT TO BE TIM MANTOANI!!)

Waitaminute, waitaminute!!! – Don’t do any of that now.  Stay with me here until I finish.  Here, I’ll let you see his splash page and that’ll have to hold you for the time being:

Okay.  Moving on.

The title of the webinar was “Focus on your passion: Finding yourself in your photography.”  (You can find the replay on the Photoshelter blog site if you have 90 minutes to spare.)  The host/moderator was the ever agreeable Allen Murabayashi, the guy behind Photoshelter (I think).  If you scroll back up to the picture of the Photoshelter team, I believe Allen is the second guy from the right – the one with his hand up (probably directing the photographer).

Here we go with my notes:

“Build your book”  (I’m guessing Tim meant your portfolio.)  This will show everyone that you’re not a one-trick pony and should help lead to different kinds of shooting assignments.

Anytime you’re out on assignment, always find time to shoot for yourself.  As Tim said, “If you are selling photography, then the cheapest price will get you the job.  However, if you are selling the photographer, you have to make the client buy you.  Find time (even when you’re out on assignment) to shoot personal work – and then promote it!”  Tim went on to talk about the many times he would shoot something for fun and how these images were parlayed into money or similar shooting assignments (and more money).

Put your passion into your photography;  if it’s honest and sincere, it will resonate with other people.  One of Tim’s passions was shooting famous photographers with a 20 by 24-inch Polaroid camera (we’re talking about a BIG camera here) to build his terrific “Great Photographs” project.  Here’s what the studio set up looked like:

Quite often Tim would mention some person he would run into while on an assignment and, because Tim had a vision of that person in an image in his head, he would say “I’ll pay you fifty dollars if you…”

A large softbox is often the only lighting equipment he’ll take on a (location) shoot.

If you keep saying things like “I can’t afford to go to…” or “I can’t afford to buy a…” you are denying both your potential and your future as a photographer.

A portfolio tells potential clients that you can deliver the same good work in a certain style over and over again.  (As an example, I invite you to visit photographer Miles Aldridge’s web site and see if he doesn’t blow your mind with the same kind of images over and over again.  You might want to do this after you finish my notes, otherwise I’ll never see you again.)

Always try to get a model release.

“Rejuvenate and re-invent!”  Take something old and make it new.  Take something new and make it old.  Tim has taken classes in making wet plate tintypes and he has a working penny arcade photo booth in his studio.  He has used both techniques to make new and profitable work for himself.

If you’re shooting a group of people, try to make an unspoken connection between all of them.

“You are the author of your own life story.”  “Sometimes the simple pictures are the best” (e.g., shooting white on white.)  “Take the biggest chance when you have the biggest opportunity.”  “Build a support system to keep you on task.”  “Hold yourself accountable.”  “This is not a dress rehearsal.”  Remember:  “You won’t care about what you did in life; You’ll care about what you didn’t do.”  “The roller coaster is more fun than the merry-go-round,” and so on.

“Go talk to people,” Tim advises – and he’s talking specifically about people who are involved in the photography business.  Ask if you can buy them a drink sometime (All you want to do is talk about photography, not sell them a photograph).

The best way to get a foot into an agency, Tim confesses,  is to flatter someone.  (Know what they have done, find something they’ve done that you like, and tell them you like what they did.)

Stay in touch with the people you meet and talk to.

*  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *

Well, I know you have a lot of website-jumping to do, so I’ll simply say “that’s it.”  And, hey!  Remember to stay in touch!

  1. Photoshelter is indeed a wonderful site. Haven’t tried any webinars yet, but there’s a lot to be found here (including some excellent images). However I’m a little less blown away by Tim Mantoani an Miles Aldridge than you were. There’s no question that both of these photographers are very accomplished, talented, successful commercial artists. But both of them are primarily studio based, judging by my initial perusal of their websites. That’s fine and it’s great having all the controls, lighting, backdrops etc. that a commercial studio provides but it does lead to a certain narrowness of style: mostly professional models, posed, staged, perfectly lit, perfectly sharp and, for me, a just a bit too commercially designed. Frankly they’re both working in Annie Leibovitz territory and for awesomely brilliant work, both conceptually and in execution, she’s the one to learn from. Also, especially in Mantoani’s work, it seemed that a lot of negative space in the compositions was designed to allow for the addition of text rather than being an integral part of the composition itself. That makes perfect sense for images created with editorial and advertising in mind, not so much for art.

    Mantoani’s big polaroid series is interesting because it portrays other photographers holding their images, but I didn’t see a great deal of difference between the polaroids and his other studio work. Some of his portraits, especially in the ‘Personal’ series are phenomenal and utilize location very effectively. Others don’t seem to go as deep into the soul behind the eyes as I’d like. For me, great portrait photography is more embodied in the penetrating eye of a Karsh, Cecil Beaton or Irving Penn, and of course both Herb Ritts and Avedon are paragons of combining commercial sensibility with the sublime artistic capture. For me Mantoani’s “athletes on white” shots are the most compelling because although staged, they captured extreme action moments frozen in time and space in a credible way.

    Miles Aldridge in his most commercial work is mining much the same territory as Mantoani, although he’s far more fashion and less sports oriented. I don’t see quite as much of the duplication/repetition as you see in his work, although he certainly has certain techniques he utilizes a lot, especially in his often reductivist use of color. But looking through his various portfolios, I find a broad range of subject matter, compositional approaches and design choices. Once again though, we’re mostly looking at posed models and I don’t get much of a sense of authenticity.

    When Aldridge does go for emotion and drama, there’s often a stagy, overwrought quality to the images (“Guilt Trip”, “Dolls House”, etc.). Some might call it pretentious. If he were doing this in a self-reflexive way to make a statement about art or culture or to ask questions, then I’d be with him. If not, then the images become more of a simplistic dressing and manipulation of dolls into provocative poses than an investigation. I will admit that even if the latter’s the case, a lot of these pictures are hysterically funny, so I’ll give him points for not taking himself too seriously. At least I hope he doesn’t.

    The quasi-religious figuration Aldridge utilizes in a number of images I find more interesting. And when he applies his taste for kinky eroticism to advertising (the “Minuit” watch series for instance) it’s pretty catchy stuff, though far from pushing the envelope. As stretches even further into this territory, I sense him straining for effect (as contrasted with the purer form of this stuff you’ll find in Bourdin, Newton and hell, I’ll put it out there- David Kern).

    Certainly the practical advice Tim offers is excellent for all photographers who aspire to commercial success. The fact that he has, against incredible odds, achieved this success himself is inspirational. Here’s a guy who knows what it takes and has gone the distance.

    But again, when one uses words like “brilliant”, “memorable” and “inspired”, when it comes to pure awesomeness, maybe I just look for a bit more mystery, revelation and surprise in the images that grab me most. Though one may only rarely, if ever, achieve it, that’s what I think is worth striving for.

    By the way, there are some outstanding photographers doing this sort of commercial work right here on theWhole9- ‘nbedu’ and ‘hughhamilton’ come to mind, and for some fascinating erotic photography, check out ‘mjbandes’. I also think newcomer ‘icypaprika’ has done a really interesting series blending conceptual and potentially commercial photography (incorporating text in the original composition).

    So, just my 2 ½¢ worth of personal opinion & punditry. ☺

  2. While a style and substance critique of some of the photographers mentioned in the Phototgraphy Blog above may be fair, I’m sorry that dangerousideas overlooked the main intent of the piece – which was to inspire Whole 9 photography members to learn more about the style and substance of other, perhaps more prominent photographers.

    Dangerousideas’ opinions and comments seem well founded and well said – and I welcome the opportunity for other Whole 9 photographer-members to learn from what he has to say, whether they agree with him or not. I certainly agree with most of what he has said here, although I do not agree with his artistic statement regarding mystery and metaphor (and you’ll have to go to his Whole 9 home page,, to read it).

    I personally do not feel we should minimize the artistic or creative contributions of photographers who work in studios or photographers who work commercially in advertising, editorial, or fashion or those who leave a lot of negative space in their images. (After all, negative space can often have a strong psychological impact.)

    Whether or not we are attempting to work in the same or other fields – for money or for personal pleasure – the point is that we can still learn from one another. And dangerousideas will be the first to agree with me.

  3. Absolutely! 100%. Clearly the basic purpose of the original blog entry was to motivate photographers on theWhole9 to check out and learn from other professional and highly successful photographers. I applaud this wholeheartedly. In no way do I wish to give the impression that I discount the creative demands of commercial photography or the artistic value of the images produced. Nor would I contend that negative space can’t have tremendous psychological and compositional value in an image (only that negative space introduced in a composition solely for the purpose adding unknown, extraneous advertising or editorial text can detract from the compositional integrity of the original).

    In any event, my intent in offering my thoughts is to stimulate discussion, not pass judgement. Although I write what I believe, I also tend to like playing the devil’s advocate. I want people to disagree with me and to offer their own takes on the subject. Creativephotographycircle puts a lot of time, effort and thought into creating this blog, I urge readers to respond and get involved.

  4. It’s funny that by how reacting to someone’s statement and then actually taking the time to research their point of view can actually stimulate thinking and lead to learning…which is what this post and these comments have caused me to do. It’s wonderful to have a place where spirited discussion can take place knowing that everyone is coming from a place of positive intent and open-mindedness. Thanks to both of you for sharing and broadening my vision.

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