Step X Step: Recapping the PDNedu/Nikon 2013 Photo Industry Mashup

Compiled by moderator Jill Waterman

Autumn Jane Marquis buries her face into her horses mane at the Matador ranch in Eastern Montana.

Last fall, an exclusive panel discussion with Nikon Ambassadors Ami Vitale, Corey Rich and Jerry Ghionis had New York’s Jacob Javits Center abuzz with creative inspiration and business advice. These three diverse photographers shared candid opinions and expert guidance on how to maintain a solid presence in a shifting field. Before this free, Nikon-sponsored event, preregistered attendees were treated to a catered reception while mingling with these renowned photographers and viewing projections of their work. Those in attendance walked away fired up to put the combined advice into practice in their own growing careers.

“I thought the panel discussion was superb,” noted a photo educator in the audience. “Ami Vitale, Jerry Ghionis and Corey Rich really did an awesome job. I think they’re exactly the type of photographers students should be listening to.”

Panelists Corey Rich, Jerry Ghionis and Ami Vitale discuss their work and offer valuable career advice to an enthusiastic crowd of students and educators who assembled in the PDN PhotoPlus Expo Theater on the trade show floor. Event image courtesy of Nikon Inc.

To allow everyone to benefit from each panelist’s career tips, we’re pleased to recap their comments here. And this October, we’ll be holding our second annual PDNedu/Nikon panel during PhotoPlus Expo 2014. Watch for full details in our fall issue.

Ami Vitale : Global Documentarian

A mother is consoled by her family at her daughter’s funeral in Kashmir, India © Ami Vitale

According to Ami Vitale, it is the most exciting time to be photographer. “I am embracing all the change and constantly pushing myself to learn things that have made me uncomfortable in the past,” she explains.

When asked what she’s doing to keep up and expand her presence, Vitale notes, “Doing things you’re afraid of pushes you to the next level. For example, I was terrified of video and making films, so I went back to school to learn this craft.”

As a strong proponent for emerging photographers to learn multimedia rather than just work in still photography, Vitale reasons, “Cameras like the one I carry can shoot high-definition video, and this can enhance our abilities as storytellers. This is already playing a big role in my future, so I’m grateful I made the jump to learn a new skill as a filmmaker.

“Almost all my clients ask for video now in addition to stills,” adds Vitale. “The old models of business are in crisis, but opportunities lie ahead if we redefine ourselves and embrace the new technologies. In a time when media is struggling and searching for a new path, I find that I’m busier than ever telling meaningful stories in new ways for a variety of outlets.”

Collaboration has taken on a prime importance to Vitale, so she finds herself working together more with people and organizations on issues she cares about. Two prime examples: the organization Ripple Effect Images and the Alexia Foundation. Ripple Effects Images is a collective of National Geographic photojournalists who document programs that empower poor women and girls around the world while also allowing organizations that are helping these women to use the images for free. The Alexia Foundation, for which she serves as a board member, helps photographers and filmmakers tell important stories of social justice.

“I think sharing your knowledge is very important in today’s world,” says Vitale. “It’s not a zero-sum game. Sharing and spreading your knowledge creates opportunities for you and lots of other people. There’s a global democratization of media and no better time to be alive.” In summing up her essential goals and looking ahead to the future, Vitale notes, “My most important goal is to use photography as a tool to create awareness and change. Photography is not about me and my career.”

“I see educating and teaching people from around the world to tell their own stories as a critical component of awareness and change. In the past five years, I’ve felt much more engaged and connected than ever, and I hope the next five years will allow me to engage even more.”

An Egyptian camel owner sits with his beloved animal in the desert outside of Cairo waiting for tourists © Ami Vitale

Corey Rich: Storyteller of Extreme Adventure

A digital composite of Chris Sharma rock climbing/deep water soloing on The Arch, his project in Cala Santanyi, Mallorca, Spain © Corey Rich Productions

“I love telling stories, and I love telling stories in remote locations,” says Corey Rich. “That’s what I enjoy doing the most.” Yet what Rich has learned over time is that it’s his ability to tell stories in wild places, facing the elements, that also enables him to do the same with his feet planted firmly on the ground in a corporate environment. Rich has successfully cultivated two sets of clients in his career: outdoor clients who want him to tell stories in really remote, wild places and corporate clients who are attracted to his image making due to the exotic and dramatic nature of his adventure work. ”The work that I do in the outdoors, in adventure environments, often gets me the jobs in advertising and the corporate world,” he explains. “Yet those shoots have nothing to do with adventure.

While it’s a different type of challenge, it allows me to push the level of creativity and the visual sophistication,” he adds. “We get to be more creative in those environments because we’re less limited in the access to locations and in the tools we can bring.” Perhaps Rich’s biggest creative adventure of the past few years has been his enthusiastic adoption of storytelling through video. He notes, “I’d say that the majority of the work I’m doing now is either behind the camera shooting or directing video.”

He’s extremely excited by the creative possibilities of this medium, from slow motion to aerial cameras to camera movement devices. “I feel like I’m a kid in a candy store at the moment. There are so many opportunities in the motion world to take a small-band style of production and increase production value. We have the ability to use all those tools now, but it requires building the right teams.”

Most recently, Rich and his team have fixed their sights on social media as an essential aspect of cultivating a dynamic presence for the business. “The reality is that social media allows us to touch an audience that’s much larger than any mailing list we can buy or that we could afford to market to in print. So we’ve tried to really focus on creating compelling content on a weekly basis. We’ve also put a lot more energy into our blog,” he explains.

“Our main objective is to say something interesting, so a reader or viewer can walk away with some engaging information.” In regard to his future goals, Rich says, “The simple answer is that I’d like to tell longer format stories. I do a lot of three-to-seven-minute video projects for the Web and for corporate clients, but I’d love to sink my teeth into a 60-minute-plus story, where I can really take time and be creative and tell a compelling story that I care about and that will affect the world in a positive way.” At the end of the day, Rich advises, “the goal in life is always to work on projects that are engaging, work with people you enjoy being around and hopefully make money in that process.”

Mikey Wier riding at Heavenly Mountain Resort in South Lake Tahoe, California © Corey Rich Productions

Jerry Ghionis: Wedding and Portrait Specialist

Jerry Ghionis’s style combines vintage glamour with contemporary fashion. He says, “The latest styles and trends in photography actually don’t pique my interest at all. I have lived and worked through many trends and realize that quality photography, mastering your craft and beautiful storytelling will never go out of style.” © Jerry Ghionis

Jerry Ghionis seeks to do three things in his pictures: “I want to make people laugh, I want to make people cry and I want them to hold their breath,” he explains. “I want to show people joyful images and get them to respond to my humor. I want to show images that touch them—emotional images that tell a story, that immortalize moments and that show my empathy.”

He aims for a perfect blend of glamour, story, emotion and technical skill. “I like my subjects to be glamorous but natural,” he says. “In other words, to balance the beauty of a pose or a directed image with the natural sense of a photojournalistic moment.”

In terms of his photographic process, Ghionis is very much a traditionalist. “I focus on what I do well and work hard to always do it better,” he notes. To that end, he outsources most of his production work so that he can maximize the time he spends concentrating on his craft. “I believe a business owner should work on his business and not as much ‘in’ his business,” he adds.

While Ghionis prefers to concentrate his photographic efforts on still imagery, video, multimedia and social media outreach also play an essential role in his business offerings. In 2008, he founded the Ice Society, a subscription-based Web site featuring video footage and instructional audio of his location shoots at wedding, fashion and portrait sessions.

“In today’s generation, most people haven’t assisted other photographers for a period of time, like we did 10 or 20 years ago,” Ghionis explains. His instructional videos are an effort to bridge that gap and “are dedicated to empowering fellow professionals and enthusiasts to take their photography and their business to new heights.”

Yet at a basic level, Ghionis believes that success in wedding photography is more about communication, listening skills and knowing how to read people than about focusing on technical brilliance. “The ability to have an endearing and attractive personality and the ability to work under pressure while still being technically proficient is especially important,” he says.

“I believe it’s the trust and confidence that you build up when you book the couple that will lead to that kind of confidence in your camera,” he advises. “On the day of the shoot, I’ll often quickly take some beautiful portraits of the couple, both individually and together, and then show them the results right from my camera. That serves to build even more confidence and also to build trust in me to the point where my clients will pretty much do anything I ask. Once they trust me, I can create the beautiful images that they booked me for.”

For a personal alert to pre-register for our October panel, send your e-mail address here with PDNedu/Nikon Advance RSVP in the subject heading.



PDN August 2016: The Fine-Art Photography Issue



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