Broken Banjo Photography

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Beth and her Traveler's Outfits: Palo Alto, California.

This is Beth.  If you have been involved in Nonprofit Technology over the past few years, you have probably heard of her or been influenced in some way by her research and writing.  Last year, while I was shooting a conference in California, she contacted me to take some headshots for her latest book.  As a world traveler and speaker, she has amassed a lovely collection of outfits, and our shoot turned into a series of "Beth Around The Globe"!  Special thanks to Steve Fisher for assisting on this shoot.
The first outfit (and one of the boldest!), representing California/Texas Beth.  A version of this image is what she ended up using on her book jacket.  I used three lights, AlienBee 400's for these images.  We are on Beth's patio, and she is standing in front of a white, wooden wall, with woodgrain and slats plainly visible.  By aiming one light directly at the wall on full power, we were able to blow out the background, and no detail was visible.  Two lights with reflector umbrellas provided my key and fill.  The light on her hat, camera left, is bleed from the background light, which I decided to leave, rather than block that light with a barndoor.
When there are a bazillion cameras on the planet, and somebody around you always has some way to record the moment, it becomes very hard to stand out.  No matter how hard I market myself, I am, frankly, shocked when someone hires me; the sheer number of photographic options out there is staggering, and it comes down to one key thing: Networking!

I am a terrible marketer, but I love talking to people.  I'm going to use this idea to begin a brief brainstorm right in front of you, dear reader, that might help all of us become better photographers (or whatever your profession is) and help us all contribute to social good while earning a right livelihood.   
Here is Saudi Arabia Beth.  She travels the world as a consultant and speaker, and likes to collect local outfits when she can.  She said on the phone, "Can I change outfits a few times?"  I said yes, imagining some various hats, or perhaps pinstriped shirts vs. turtlenecks.  I was thrilled to see the variety of options she had accrued!  
Now, I am not a nonprofit, but I work with them and sit on the board of one at the moment.  Using Beth's "Networked nonprofit" concept (albeit bastardizing it a bit to apply it to a solo-photographer business model), I am trying to conceive of ways to build my personal photography business.  I am not a landscape photographer, and rarely an art photographer.  I take photos of people.  Therefore I need to talk to people!  I love documenting social events and being asked to take portraits of individuals and organizations at work.  

I need "in"s.  I need invitations.  You can walk up and down a street all day taking portraits of strangers, but it will be a long time before that builds into a paying business.  Those people need to begin asking YOU to take their photo.

And my best connections always come from personal references and meetings.  The blind email query works sometimes, but it's rare.
Here is Kenya Beth!  I loved this outfit.  Note that I stuck with a white backdrop for all of these.  One outfit, coming up, is all white, and so we had to do that one last, by moving indoors with a different light setup.
In the description of her book, The Networked Nonprofit, Beth states that:
Networked Nonprofits are simple and transparent organizations. They are easy for outsiders to get in and insiders to get out. They engage people to shape and share their work in order to raise awareness of social issues, organize communities to provide services or advocate for legislation. In the long run, they are helping to make the world a safer, fairer, healthier place to live.
Hey, it's Lebanon Beth.  When confronted with numerous different types of outfits, it's obviously important to feature each one and its interesting elements, while also providing a number of different angles and poses for the subject.  If I had just done headshots, we'd have lost the interest of the outfit itself, but we had to stay fairly close to make sure designs are captured.
 So, how can I be "simple and transparent"?

  • By being honest about the level of service and quality of work that I can offer ("Sure, I can be available to shoot a series about livestock.  I need to remind you, though, that I work primarily with humans, and would need some assistance by someone skilled with sheep-wrangling.");
  • By being upfront about what I need to charge for a shoot ("I'd love to work within your budget.  Unfortunately, I can't go much less than $X, because I need to cover my operating costs.");
  • Be being upfront about my intentions when networking ("Yes, I'm a photographer, and, by the way, I am expanding my clientele, and would love to work with you");
  • By inviting my clients to take an active role in our shoots ("Can you provide an assistant from your community, someone who knows the subjects I'll be working with?").
Dubai Beth has a different background.  White outfit = dark backdrop, for obvious reasons.  Maintaining separation is important.  For this shot, we moved indoors.  Behind her is her living room, with all lights off and the shades drawn to keep the California sunlight outside.  Two lights were set up with reflective umbrellas on either side of her, aimed directly sideways, and one small speedlight was held above my head, vertically-oriented, to catch her face.  The side-lights brightened her outfit from slightly behind, and cast shadows on her face, which you can see on the camera-left side of her face.  In post-processing, I found that the blackness was not quite complete, due to bleed of sun around blinds, so some simple burning was involved, as well as slight adjustments in Lightroom 4.
How can I "engage people to shape and share their work in order to raise awareness of...issues?"

  • By allowing my images, whether commissioned or personal, to be used by nonprofits and quality organizations to further their causes;
  • By offering discounts and trades to nonprofits and organizations that support causes that I believe in.
  • By specifically searching out individuals and organizations whom I support, and pitching directly to them.
Much of Beth's focus is on fundraising and social media in the Nonprofit world.  Again, this cannot translate directly to a personal for-profit business, but I like to think that, no matter the designation of a working org or individual, we can all use our talents for social good (and hopefully earn a living as well, so we don't have to have second and third jobs).

I have a copy of "Measuring The Networked Nonprofit", which brandishes a tiny little 1/2 inch square version of the first photo on this blog post.  That was my first author photo on a book cover.  Of course I bought a copy of the book when it came out (now I at least ask for a couple of copies as part of my contract when an author wishes to use my images).  The social media aspect of the book seems foreign and unreachable to me at times, but nuggets have helped encourage me to become more active on Facebook, amongst other outlets.  Twitter is still a distant tool for me, but perhaps someday I'll cave to it.
 In Measuring the Networked Nonprofit, she writes often of working for the social good.  It's honestly very challenging for any of us to donate time, money, or energy, or even dedicate brainpower to the larger societal picture, when we are not making a decent living.

In the past year, I have tried very hard to focus primarily on photography, struggle as it is to have a consistent income, and not revert to working on non-beneficial odd jobs.  The odd job still has its place...the day of comfortable middle-class-ness is still a ways off for me, but I am working towards it, pulling up on those bootstraps (or slipperstraps, since I often work from my home office), thumbing my nose at the "economic downturn", and dedicating much thought to building my personal life in conjunction with supporting a world that I want to live in.

In an interview on Fast Company's Co.Exist site, she states that:
If you are either cash poor and time rich or cash rich and time poor, it is important to give. Giving your time to help a nonprofit, whether you are helping to sort food at a local food bank or contributing your professional skills to a nonprofit, can have an enormous social impact. And it can be a rewarding experience.
Yes, I know.  I will do more.  On the financial down-season, it is tough to feel confident enough financially to even leave the house sometimes,  but I'll do more of it.  For social good and for myself.
And of course, there is Death Star Beth.  Can't forget her. 


  1. Love the blog post and the photos! I've become friends with Beth via Facebook and my own interest in social media and non-profit work. I'm also an amateur photographer learning more every day. Great to meet you here and learn about your own quest to make a living as a photographer!

    1. Thanks for reading, Stephanie! Get in touch any time.