Being a Professional

Being the guy behind the lens is a glamorous business.  Every shot is flawless, every subject an Oscar winner, every lighting scenario is golden hour, every day is amazing!   



Yeah right.

I've recently learned that people know me as the guy who takes pictures of Utica.  I'd like to make a correction to that statement; I'm the guy that takes pictures, it just so happens I'm in Utica while taking them most of the time because I live here.  Many people know me as the guy that takes pictures for that "food magazine".  They always enjoy the photos, as they should!  The food always looks amazing.  

Ok when a guy gives you a burnt egg on a plate and tells you to shoot this because "we don't want to waste any food" you know what time it is?  That's right!  It's time to be a professional!  Hey if I can make Utica look good I can make anything look good(I'm from West Utica, I can say these things). 

Not every shoot is amazing or something I look forward to.  Yes this is my passion but it's also a job and has to be done the best it can be every time.  In the beginning I used to shoot and thought everything I shot was beautiful, amazing, fantastic, that is until I looked at what I shot on my nice Retina display and saw how fucked up my image was.  Eventually I got to a point where I was ok with what I shot and what I saw in post was ok.  Today I hate everything I'm shooting, I really do.  I've developed an extremely discriminating eye, but you know what?  What I see on my 5k Retina display looks stellar.  Is it the gear?  No, well maybe, it's most likely the experience.   


When you film an interview it's always painful to see the person talking on camera not possess the ability to complete a sentence.  It's not easy being on camera, I hate having my picture taken and if you put a camera on me you won't get much out.  That camera will be capturing what you say or do forever on a recording or until the hard drives stop working.  But that why I'm here, I understand what cameras do to people.  When an interview is being filmed or I'm taking a portrait I let people know that all this equipment doesn't exist, it's all junk and I'm beneath you.  When they realize that it's not the millions of people watching they are talking to but just me or my interviewer, all the pressure goes away, they can speak or smile(or not smile) freely.  This is how to be a professional.


Look, not everyday is going to be amazing, and I never say my shoots are amazing.  I let my finished work speak for itself.  Camera work is messy.  The composition is never perfect, the lighting/color/tone is never perfect in camera, the camera gets shaky, the focus is out, but that stuff never makes it to the final cut.  That's the stuff I always see that you never will.  It's work to make a good piece of art.  Always show up to the shoot on time and always deliver on the deadline.  Always mind everything and never give anyone less than your best.   


If I can make Utica look awesome, wait till you see the burnt egg! 


Down to the last lens

Huge Thunderdome style video wall being built at the Utica Aud for Country Music Concert

Huge Thunderdome style video wall being built at the Utica Aud for Country Music Concert

This is for all my fellow gearheads out there.  We've all been there.  Someone on our Facebook feed buys a new camera, B&H Instagram feed shows a new lens, YouTube says this is the best tripod, Amazon has a cheaper memory card, The other photographer took a shot of his new Doc Martins, whatever.  First thing that pops into my head is, "Oh man!  My stuff is never gonna look as good as that looks now!"  Right? 




As a person who's worked in technical production for 15 years now, I've worked with lots of gear.  Fleets of tractor trailers full of gear.  Lights that can turn a dark room brighter than a summer day.  The question is, how much gear do you REALLY need?  Let's say today, I step into a time machine and go back to myself when I bought my first DSLR with a kit lens.  Would the stuff I shoot look anywhere near what I'm shooting today?  


I'd bet on it.


So does having the new gear make you better?  Well this takes me back to my Heavy Metal days when I was shredding guitar in front of 1000s of people(ok maybe 100s).  I had a tendency to get a new guitar and beat the crap out of it rendering its resale value $20.  But what did I care?  It was just a tool to get my message across.  I never owned a Les Paul, but played with a lot of people that did.  I could still sweep arpeggio them under a bridge.  Ah!  So it must come down to 3 things then.






Being a musician gives you the gift of pulling emotion out of people with a tool.  The same goes for photography and filmmaking.  Sure you could keep spending money on new equipment and spend more time thinking about what lens or light you want to use over what is this story really about?  But people have made films with DV camcorders and won Cannes, won Sundance, WHY?

Because the guy with the camera put in his/her 10,000 hours of practice, developed good cinematic technique, and went over the message of the film a million times.  Gear at this point is icing on the cake.  Ever ate a cake made completely of icing?  Again, it comes down to the balance of these 2 things:


Remember production value doesn't mean more gear(although I've used tons of it).  Production value can come down to someone experienced with visual storytelling, who put in the practice of his/her craft, and only brought one lens to the shoot.

Now if this doesn't inspire you to make film, this movie here was shot on a Panasonic DVX100(a DV tape camera)



Happy Shooting

Matt O