Proud father documents award winning swimmer boy.

So.  Ben has been swimming with the Rollingwood Waves for ten years.  Since he's now fifteen that means he started when he was five.  He doesn't miss workouts.  He always has a good attitude and he's had some awesome coaches.  I'm proud of him for following through on his commitment to swim.

 For the last three years he's been coached by Whitney Hedgepeth who is also the Masters Swim coach for the University of Texas swim program.  Whitney was a swimmer at UT and she went on to win one gold and two silvers at the Atlanta Olympics.  Ben has also been coached by All American, Chris Kemp and gold medal winner (Butterfly) Tommy Hanan.

This has nothing really to do with photography other than my usual comment that learning how to be disciplined is important in everything you undertake in life.  Ben is remarkably disciplined and self-reliant.  He knocks out homework early.  He practices to win.

Yet another image of Ben.  This time he's clutching his "most improved swimmer" award.

Will he swim for the high school or college teams?  Right now it looks like swimming is losing out to cross country.  Running 6 or 7 miles a day in this heat?  It just takes some discipline and some acclimatization.  I'm confident he'll do fine.

Some random stuff I like about Austin.

Sadly, for a photo oriented blog, this is a pretty damn mediocre photograph.  But it reminds me that while people are working in offices all over the place a large number of young adults are off playing in the middle of the day.  This is the Lamar Bridge.  It spans Lady Bird Lake in the center of Austin.  Today I watched as dozens of trim, athletic adults paddled to the bridge on standing paddle boards, climbed the spans and jumped into the slow moving water.  It reminded me that we were all enjoying active participation even though it was 3:00 pm on a toasty (near record) Summer afternoon.  Today's camera:  a Canon 1dmk2n with a Zeiss 35mm f2 ZE.  This is what I get for shooting into the light.....

Let's not be affected and call this a "photowalk".  Instead let's just say I went out for a walk and I took along a camera....

This is the view from the new pedestrian bridge addition.  The ped bridge spans the lake and provides lot of "no car" access to the 12 miles of pristine running trails that border the lake in the center of our town.  The road for cars is on the right.  The road for bikes and walkers is on the left.  This is an additional bike way.  The running trail it actually next to the water, just to the right of the car road.
It really was a blue sky day.

We may be in the middle of a severe drought but you wouldn't know it by looking at the premier city parks.  It's emerald as far as the eye can see.  The power plant has been closed for years.  Now it's used for trendy/cool parties and as a set for dozens of movies.  

These are water coolers.  They are two of dozens and dozens that Luke's Locker and Runtex (running stores) put up around the lake to augment the old, warm, permanent fountains.  I like it when businesses in our city do extra stuff for their clients. For free.  Without a subsidy or tax abatement.  And check it out,  no one steals the paper cups and no one throws the paper cups on the ground.  Little stuff makes a city more fun.  When it gets super hot (over 105) there are still a lot of runners (dozens?) who brave the mid-afternoon heat.  Sometimes Runtex sends people out on big three wheeled bigs with coolers of water attached.  The ride up to the huffing-puffing runners and ask them,  "Are you staying hydrated?  Need some cold water?"   It's like having a lifeguard on the running trail.  I forget there are obese people when I'm hitting the trail.  Out of sight out of mind.

I love the Pfluger Bridge.  It's the pedestrian bridge I keep talking about.  And since it's a wide open space with no cars on top it's become more of a hanging out, sightseeing, balcony to the downtown skyline in both directions.  I use it as a portrait location.  I run across it.  I park south and head north of the lake to get to Whole Foods.  Sometimes, when the light is cool and fading quick in the winter, and the sky starts turning purple and orange I just stand on the bridge and watch the day fade.  And it's beautiful and doesn't cost anything for the show.

I love the fact that all over central Austin there is spontaneous street art.  Chalk drawings.  Stencils.  Political statements and free form sculpture.  A culture that takes time to do art is robust and doing well. If you don't like it don't sweat it.  It's all ephemeral.  It wears off quick.  If it's not nice it'll get cleaned off  with dispatch.

I love the fact that we have so many outdoor venues.  And that people don't carve their initials into the picnic tables to often.  And that they are mostly painted bright and cheery colors.  This is at Flip Happy Crepes.  They have blue tables at P. Terry's Hamburgers.  I love businesses that aren't afraid of bright colors and bold statements.

I hate to say it but I really like the tall buildings that keep springing up all over the downtown area.  It may not make a big dent but ever residence building that goes up means less traffic on the roads outside of downtown, less suburban sprawl and more concentrated night life and restaurant choices.  Now it's fun to go downtown and hang out.  Twenty years ago there was, like, one coffee shop and the streets were deserted after 5pm.  Now it feels like a big city.

And every open space seems to get more and more trees.  Don't care which side of the political spectrum you're on, no one hates trees......I hope.

So, what was I doing downtown?  Well, I worked all last week and all the way thru the weekend. I finished up video projects, I shot in San Antonio for two days.  I did a big slide show for the kid's swim team. And I didn't spend any time shooting just for myself.  In the same way runners and swimmers crave a workout when they've missed a few I missed just walking around with my camera looking at stuff.  I also wanted to get to REI and buy some "technical" shirts for Ben and Belinda.  You know the ones I'm talking about?  They use a special thin fabric that breathes and wicks off moisture and they have a built in SPF of 40 or so.  They keep you feeling about ten degrees cooler than a cotton t-shirt and they keep the UV off your skin better.  I found a bunch on sale at the downtown REI store.  Score.

And who could miss a quick walk over to Whole Foods for one of those chocolate, coconut and toasted almond bars, washed down with some fresh Sumatran coffee?

Add in a little walk thru downtown and you've got your own event.

Do we choose to sacrifice everything to make a dollar?

I don't know what the answers are.  I'm not sure how photographers should market this year or in the next few years.  The markets are changing.  Things are not the same as they were four years ago.  Nothing ever returns to a previous stasis, where markets are concerned.  But even though I'm not the sharpest blade in the knife drawer I do know instinctively that some stuff doesn't work for everyone.

There's a wedding photographer in California named Jasmine Starr.  I've never met her.  I've seen her work all over the place.  It's no better or worse than tens of thousands of current wedding photographers who shoot "day of the wedding" stuff with Canons and Nikons and very little controlled flash.  When I see her work on the web it's a style that mixes very narrow depth of field, lots of emotion and movement (which can be cool and is probably what people are happy to pay for) and very little technical wizardry.  All the brides are beautiful and all the venues tasteful in a "lobby-of-the-Hyatt-Westin-JWMarriott-Ritz Carlton" way.

Consensus says that it's not Jasmine Starr's photographic work that led Photo District News to proclaim her as one of the "top ten wedding photographers" in the United States but her prowess as a marketer and her emphatic approach to reaching prospective clients.  In other words, the "magic bullet" of marketing.  The one every photographer in the business seems to be looking for.

Her secret?  According to many articles about her and her messaging it's all about her blog.  She combines false modesty with faux intimacy.  Brings together pop consumer culture with a "behind the scenes" tableau of her own personal life, writ large.  She is gabby and takes prospective clients into her "confidence."  She is not afraid to talk about crying.

Her blogs have discussed shoe shopping (she says mentioning top brands is important = Manolo Blahnik),  house hunting with hubby, what she had for dinner and which designer dresses rock.  She describes every wedding she blogs about in gushing prose that makes every couple's story sound like a love epic that rivals Dr. Zhivago  or Gone With the Wind.  And she implies that, once swirled together by the fortunate commerce of wedding photography, she and the couple have become, and will remain fast friends for life.  As in, "put on your cutest sandals and let's head to Nordstroms for some lunch and casual shopping."

Lately, web bloggers and pundits have distilled the "gold" from her marketing and are selling it to photographers at large in massive doses that include frantically twittered "top ten" lists of things to do and not do.....

And photographers, who have nothing to do with the wedding business, are on the forums (fora?  forae?  Chat bars?  Comment sections of image sharing sites?) talking about trying to showhorn the Starr message into their businesses of shooting kids sports or shooting advertising or other commercial work.

Here's the general advice:

1.  Be happy and bubbly all the time.

2.  Blog a lot (I've got that covered) and only talk about successful success stories.  (Crap, I missed that part....)

3.  Blog about yourself in a self-deprecating and accessible fashion.

4.  Breezily discuss popular status brands in cars, clothing, phones and zip codes.  (What if you live in Des Moines or Waco?)

5.  Gush about how great work is and how "super" you feel to be able to do it.

6.  Tell stories that people can related to.  Personalize your marketing.  Talk to your sorority sisters.

It goes on and on.  It's relentlessly positive and glossy.  And, if you are a young and passably good looking person booking weddings in the environs of L.A./Santa Monica I'm going to guess that this is a superb marketing strategy.  It's just important to never get old, never gain weight and never look over your shoulder......

But how does all this relate to us?  To the photographers who want to do advertising work? To the photojournalists?  To the editorial shooters?  To commercial photographers?  To the people who were born with lots and lots of visual talent but average bone structure? (No problem here, of course.)  People whose primary customers are not retail?  Not once in a lifetime sales?  Not 18-26 year old women?

Well, there is one primary disconnection.  Most clients (other than those in the market for "retail photography" which consists of weddings, portraits and weddings) don't spend time looking at photographer's blogs.  But more importantly the above advice may require you to change your personality, change who you are and change what you sell.

If you do wonderfully complex still life work your clients probably value your mix of creative vision with your focused technical abilities.  Trying to appear all bubbly and excited might cause them to question your technical skills or your thoughtful approach to your work.  If you are a corporate photographer you are likely not selling the "fun/sizzle" of your projects as much as you are selling your ability to work under time pressure and to be as reserved and attuned to hierarchy as possible.  To fit into the corp. gestalt.

If you are an advertising photographer you are likely to be prized for your ability to do big and complicated productions with many people.  Another attribute might be your ability to lead.  More so than your ability to share and cry.  In fact, crying might be a deal killer.

But the bottom line is that the bottom line isn't the end all and be all of existence.  We might prosper by changing each of our personalities but at the point when "gush" becomes a selling tool at what point do you lose your lunch and surrender the last vestiges of what made your choice of profession a good idea?

Maybe I'll succumb.  I can hardly wait to go on a highway construction job site and gush about the supervisor's really cool Red Wing boots.  Or his Dickies work trousers.  I wonder how that would go over?  Next time I'm photographing Michael Dell I might cry tears of joy at our "special moment" and see how that goes over.  Fun times ahead thanks to groupthink marketing.........

But I'm not here to pillory Jasmine.  That would be nuts.  She's mastered her market and it's as tough a market as anyone else's.  I think her basic messages are the ones I also talked about in my book, The Commercial Photography Handbook:  1.  Develop good personal relationships with clients and potential clients.  2.  Be like your clients as much as you can be without abandoning your own personality or values.  3.  Stay in touch with your clients.  And need I say it?  Ask for the sale.

Rock on Jasmine.