Saturday, March 19, 2011

Remember where you came from...

I got a question from a photographer on ModelMayhem asking about how to shoot more high fashion with more magazines etc. I read the message but didn't respond. 12 hours later, I get another message from the same photographer who had clearly gone off the deep end when he/she saw that I read the message but didn't respond. The photographer accused me of being insecure about sharing information etc. and told me that I should remember where I came from.

*Sigh* Guess I can't make everyone happy.

I read messages and sometimes I respond immediately and sometimes I don't. Lots of times, it takes me some time to gather my thoughts to respond articulately. Other times, I don't have an immediate answer and in this instance I actually felt the said photographer had more experience getting published that I did so I didn't have any advice off the top of my head. And that's exactly why I didn't respond right away in this situation.

Anyone who follows this blog knows that I share information readily. Just ask nicely. I pretty much always respond and always tell you the answer. I do this because I like sharing knowledge. I feel it's important to reward people who ask. Even people who don't follow this blog and randomly email me or message me on other forums know that I always share what I know.

But that's not what I want to talk about now.

The above photographer wanted me to remember where I came from...

So let's take a trip down memory lane and be brutally honest about where I've come from and where I am now.

I started this journey not knowing the difference between glamour and fashion. I couldn't understand specular highlights until I read David Hobby's lesson on specular highlights 4-5 times over. I have no formal training in photography/retouching. I shot out of my house for nearly a year. Going farther back, I started this journey shooting friends and family. Those Asian people in my flickr? Yeah, that's me, my brother and my wife. When I joined in April 2009 I couldn't get a model to save my life. My batting average for getting a model to respond was 1/10 and then another 1/10 of those would actually result in a shoot. I was given an ultimatum to try this "photography hobby" for 2 years before I'd have to make it or quit. I've never held a job more than 1 year in my life. I never knew what I wanted to be growing up. I lived with a fear that I was going to be a nobody (and still live with that fear). I've had friends and family tell me I would fail pursuing this pipe dream. I couldn't make enough to cover rent as recent as last November. And right now I'm wondering whether or not I'll break even on the Las Vegas Estate workshop.

For nearly 2 years I spent all my time attaining an "education". I learned as much as I could about photography/retouching and then topped that off with what I could gather about the business aspects of this business. For nearly 2 years I figured I wouldn't make the deadline for the ultimatum above. Hell, I had no intention on making the cutoff because I simply didn't think it was possible.

So, I think I'm pretty clear about where I've come from. It really wasn't that long ago.

My wife tells me I'm becoming a diva. She's probably right. I mean geez, look at all these unpaid offers from makeup artists and models that I have to turn down. All joking aside, I don't have the same amount of free-time as I did before. For each of these scenarios, I do a simple cost-benefit analysis in my head to see if it benefits my work. If it makes sense to me, I do it. But if it's an offer from an average-looking model to shoot fashion or a makeup artist to shoot yet more beauty, then I have to graciously (or not graciously) decline. It all comes down to whether or not I can use it in my book.

Of course it probably has something to do with the way I communicate how I feel about these situations. Usually my wife hears the rant-version or the melodramatic-version of the story. Probably has to do with me lamenting how people don't value my time and expect unreasonable things from me LOL! But if I remember correctly, I think it's in the marriage license that part of her job responsibility would be to put up with my diva-bullshit.

One of the little secrets that few people know (until now) is that my wife manages most of the friend requests and tags on ModelMayhem. She tags people back and says thank you for their friend requests etc. (unless I know them personally). As a result she's my "eyes and ears" for industry news. Since she sees many of the model offers, she used to bring to my attention many of the (what I considered) models of "average-appeal" to my attention and say, "Oh you should shoot her! She's got a great look!" To which I would inevitably respond, "She's too short" or "She's too fat" or "She's too old" or "She's not attractive" or any combination of the above. This would inevitably prompt her to respond that I'm too picky or that I'm ungrateful :)

Those days have since passed and she no longer suggests models for me to shoot. I've also long learned my lesson to trust anyone else when it comes to the model-selection-process. Let's just say I've been burned one too many times. Unfortunately, you can't get where I am not being picky about models. I subscribe to a very specific aesthetic when it comes to models. That aesthetic may or may not make sense to others but it makes sense to me. Call it my "artist's license" if you will. God knows it's the only time I've ever used that card :)

Remember where I came from. The irony is the longer I do this, the more I learn about where I came from. Recently I have pursued teaching with great vigor. I have realized that there has always been an educator in me. You saw it in my light diagrams and you see it in my explanations of how things work. I like sharing this with people and it makes me feel good about myself. So I teach. Fortunately most of the time I can make money from teaching. But I wouldn't do it if I didn't love teaching. I think regardless of what profession I am in, I will always be an educator. Just as I taught software training at my old corporate post. Just as I was a TA in Accounting in graduate school. Just as I was a Calculus tutor in college. etc.

I retouch because I remembered where I came from. Loving retouching is the result of a rekindled love for drawing that I lost as a boy. The feeling of holding a stylus and retouching felt like coming home.

And the odd thing is that I have always been fortunate in my life. I've never been poor. I've never gone to bed hungry. I've never worried about money. So I can't say, I remember what it's like to really suffer. Yet that being said, I've still decided to donate all the proceeds of my Las Vegas workshop to Japan disaster relief. Precisely because I remember where I've come from and that I've been more fortunate than most, that I feel that I should pay it forward or pay it back.

When I first thought about writing this I was pissed-off that some ungrateful little shit accused me of being too self-absorbed to respond to his/her message. But I've taken this as an opportunity to reflect on my current state of being and to share stuff that I've never talked about. I typically don't talk personal finances because it's "too close to home". But for once I wanted to provide insight and transparency into what's happening with me in my journey. Furthermore it's also important to me that I can be honest to myself about everything that's happened and where I'm headed. Some of this stuff is hard to talk about because it's scary, humbling, humiliating, and embarrassing. But it comes from a place of sincerity and that's something about me that will never change.

I'm not some kid that's achieved overnight success and let it go to his/her head. Hell, I'm too old to become a diva ;)

Now where are my blue M&M's?!?!?


  1. GREAT POST!!!


    You are such an inspiration!!

  2. Bravo!!! I don't know why people assume that an email recipient is obligated to respond. Heck, I remember writing a Letter to Santa as a kid and I didn't get a response. I sure didn't flame Santa with another letter. Maybe if we had email back then I would have.

  3. Fantastic post, Charles! Does this mean that I can now look you in the eyes when we meet someday, because you said that I was not allowed to.

  4. Cheers everyone :) Glad to see that my message was well received. Hope you all are doing well and yes Greg, you're welcome to drop by anytime ;)

  5. should just block that "insecure" guy

  6. That guy will never make it with a personality like that. Just flipping out over a simple MM message is no way to treat people. Nobody wants to hire a loser like that.

  7. The original message of that photographer asked me to provide some advice that would help him/her in their work. I wrote back saying that they should learn to not take things so personally otherwise they'd wind up burning a lot of bridges along the way... :)

  8. I really respect this post and to be truthful your willingness to share so openly is one of the reasons why I follow your blog so closely. Your struggles are very honest and very close to home, I think as a up-incoming photographer we all share some of the same fears and concerns so thank you for sharing.

    If you post we will read so continue to help us with your work.

    Best of luck in Vegas.

  9. excellent post! makes me think of my beginnings, then again in still feel I'm still at that stage.

  10. A journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step, thoses steps are the hardest and most memorible, hope to finally meet you soon in May in the bay area

  11. Hi Jake! :) Thanks for the kind words! I hope that the workshop enrollment goes well. Let me know if the pricing needs to be adjusted since I fear that Erwin and I have priced ourselves out of the competition lol :)

    Thank you everyone for your support. I will continue to share my battle stories here :) There's so much going on these days that needs to be addressed!

  12. I remember when I asked you a question on Flickr and you responded by creating a whole post about it on your blog and referenced me as the person who asked about it.

    Every time I send you a message you've been more than happy to respond. I'd say you're pretty damn good at responses. The other photog is probably mad because she couldn't attend your workshops to get the info that she needed from there :D

    Keep up the great work!

  13. Charles,

    This was a great post. It takes lots of courage to write a post like this describing things you deal with both in your personal life and in your daily photography work and journey. In addition to the great information to provide to your readers, you aren't afraid to share personal things that you deal with that makes you human. To me it's very cool to see photographers be real, and be humble, not divas. All of us have insecurities in different areas, it's just that many don't speak about it. I have to give you props for keeping it real and for wanting to share your knowledge. I don't know you personally, just know you as my contact on Flickr. Some time ago, you were kind enough to answer a question of mine on Flickr, and I appreciated it.

    It was also cool to read about how your wife is there to support and help you in some areas of your photography. Those were exact things my wife has done for me when I started shooting models. Even when selecting my final images, she is part of the decision process by giving me the woman's perspective, while I give the male's perspective of course. Luckily, she's also my make-up artist.

    Keep up the excellent work Charles, and keep it real. :)

  14. Thanks Ryan! :)

    Thanks for the kind words Carlos! :) Cheers! :)

  15. I always appreciate reading about the humble beginnings (even if they were recent) of popular and excellent photographers. It gives newbie photogs with similar stories -like myself- some hope :)
    Regarding something specific in this post... I don't know if you ever described this in another blog post or not (I suppose I could look harder..), but I am very curious what your preferred model aesthetic is you speak of. Of course we all know tall and slender with a nice face. But every photographer has a taste in women that really speaks to them, whether it be their features, expressions or general aura. Although sometimes I suppose it's hard to put a finger on it. I'm hoping you will elaborate on your definable taste in subjects... :)