If you're going to teach self-defense techniques you better be a black belt. If you don't know what the hell you're talking about and you give seminars claiming to teach people how to "fast-track" themselves into Ninja status and they get killed because they're overconfident, who the hell's fault is that?
You. You own that one.
You just participated in getting somebody killed. Somebody's son or daughter or mother or father is now dead because you were so full of shit that you made the person think that they could fend off any enemy and they were wrong. Dead wrong.
Years before he died, my mentor, Rocky gun gave me a piece of advice that I'll never forget. “Never fall in love with fame”. And for that I will forever be grateful. He went on to explain that one year you may be speaking in front of an audience of a thousand cheering fans and if you thrive on that, the next year if you have to address an audience of two hundred you'd be completely crushed. He told me that being a teacher is one of the most honorable positions in the entire world. No matter what you teach, if you teach children how to tie their shoes, if you teach a seriously brain injured person how to hold a fork again, it is the most honorable profession on earth, and you should respect that.
I was 23 years old at the time and had not even shot my first wedding, nor did I ever think that I would be in a position to be in front of a crowd teaching. I don't even know why the conversation came up but it left an indelible impression on me that would last forever.
Rocky died at the age of 42, and I'm really sad that the wedding photography industry today will never get to know who he truly was as a friend and a mentor. I remember one time he was scheduled to give a seminar in Hawaii and, due to an error on the brochure printing, there was only one person signed up to hear his program. He was in Los Angeles at the time, and still packed all of the slide projectors, carousels, a dissolve machine, and all of his photographic equipment, and flew to Hawaii to give an eight hour seminar.
Standing next to a big projection screen presenting to one man sitting in a chair.
I asked him later why he didn't just reschedule, and Rocky said that wasn't this guy's fault, and if he is a student searching for a teacher, "it's my duty to be there". It is an absolute honor to be there.
There is no bigger responsibility in this great earth than being a parent. You take somebody with an open heart and an open mind who is completely trusting, sincere, vulnerable, and yearning for your help. You take that responsibility and you respect it. And you give everything you've got to be the responsible guardian. The next most honorable thing that you can be is that of the teacher. Just because you didn't give birth to a person doesn't make their hearts less open, their minds less eager, or their spirits more trusting to you, their teacher.
I've long since gone to another chapter in my professional career since leaving wedding photography nine years ago. I feel really good about the things that I accomplished in wedding photography. I was really successful in wedding photography. The other day I added up how much I earned shooting weddings, and the figure was about $10,000,000. I shot over thousand weddings, I did pitch meetings in front of at least three thousand potential brides and grooms. I worked day and night in the bedroom of my parents little apartment with my $254 in savings, charging $150 to shoot a wedding. Many nights I slept underneath my desk, thinking about what I could do to make my product-service-referrals stronger year after year. And the knowledge I gained was pure spun gold, and immediately with inspiration from my mentor, I felt that if there was anybody who wanted help in improving their lives, getting their children a better education, reducing the stress of their day-to-day existence I was there full tilt 100% ready to support and guide you away from devastating obstacles.
I still give a limited number of speaking presentations to photographers every year, and I never charge a speaking fee. It is my absolute honor to be in a position to guide you and help you to make your life better.
Here's what it's like to speak in front of an audience, and the reason that I bring this up is because I'm about to segue into what-the-hell-is-going-on with the crazy personalities that have spawned so much controversy, with their self-serving inspirational seminars and workshops that are high on what the Texans would call, “All Hat and No Cattle". It's a term the cowboy ranchers use when somebody is full of crap.
When you are front of an audience for the first time, it is the most thrilling and yet nerve-racking thing you'll ever experience. It's life or death out there and especially now in the Twitter world, (where people can say you suck while they're sitting in their seats with other people in the room also receiving and RT'ing those Tweets) ... all of a sudden 45 people leave the room all at once.
It's absolutely stupefyingly terrifying. So when you are up there you'd better be really captivating. It's like Ashlee Simpson when the lip-sync track went on live. You just dance an irish jig and want to bury yourself alive right then and there.
That pressure is where a lot of today's speakers find themselves after finding their way to the podium. The old adage, “be careful what you wish for” couldn't be more applicable here. You're standing up there bare naked with a bunch of people with Twitter broadcasters in their hands ready to beat the hell out of you if you suck. So you can't suck. And some (and I can totally see why this would be the case) resort to making things up to keep the audience in their seats and keep them cheering. In the end (if the audience stays through the whole thing and they cheer), you can understand how it would be a flood of endorphins filled with ecstasy and relief. You not only didn't get killed, they actually like you. You rocked it.
Now put yourself in the convention where there's a whole bunch of other novice speakers like you, who didn't get the beautiful advice about teaching as a kind, gentle, honour from Rocky.
Hundreds of people are sitting in your audience with pens out and notepads. The convention floor is filled with people deciding whether to go to your seminar or somebody else's scheduled in the same timeslot. In the weeks leading up to your workshop, you're absolutely panicked because you have nightmares of walking into a room that has a smattering of people, the microphone feeds back with a loud squeal and it echoes in the empty hall. The deepest form of rejection one could ever face. So you Tweet about it. You get sponsors to give you free products as giveaways and you Tweet about that too. You give little teasers on your blog with tall tales of an amazing, “epic” experience that is unlike any other. And then you work on your program.
Do you want to talk about f-stops and shutter speeds? You want to talk about how important QuickBooks is to the efficient running of your business? Or would you rather talk about much bigger things? Like the inspiration you got from Jesus and that voice that spoke to you in the middle of the night that said, “you can do this”. You're always picturing the crowd and the skeptical looks on their faces when you write your program.
I was at a PPA convention one year where I was having dinner at a banquet table with other medal and degree recipients. I sat next to a guy who came from Bent Fork, Arkansas who took it upon himself to tell me how he himself was shooting a thousand weddings a year in his town of 80,000 people and charging $10,000 per wedding. I had to know where this is going, so I egged him on a bit. I asked him, “that is absolutely amazing that you can make $10 million a year!” (When I said that figure he looked absolutely befuddled) and then I went on asking, “golly Gee whiz what is your secret??” And he went on to tell me this:
"...well my secret is this; you know when the ceremony ends and all the guests spill out onto the front of the church? I pull up in a big pickup truck with a whole bunch of T-shirts that say the name of my studio on it, and I start throwing them out to the guests. Sometimes it causes a stampede but you'd be amazed at how these people fight over these T-shirts! And from that point on everybody is wearing my T-shirts all over town and I'm booking all the weddings...”
He went on to tell me how he was going to begin giving seminars on his secret to success. And then my heart sank heavy because I remember so clearly the words of Rocky and being a teacher.
So bullshit is nothing new. In motocross, we call it, "bench racing".
I can understand this guy. He was sitting next to bona fide new PPA degree recipients and he felt on the spot and he felt like he wouldn't really fit in, so he won a teeny bit "overboard" in embellishing his situation. I understood that then as I understand it now- as I see a brand-new crop of photographers spilling out into the public, giving seminars and workshops, promising to share knowledge that they don't really have. There's Twitter. There's Facebook. It's a visual popularity contest and so everything counts. You have to be cute. Yet the say the magic things like, “girlfriend, can we talk?”. You have to be "real". You have to be just like them.
So this is why I sit here gnashing my teeth throughout the day because for some reason I've become the Jon Stewart of this ridiculous madhouse that we call the new wedding professional photography industry. I hope you can understand that the people who want to fit in, be seen, and be admired, are of the same mentality that made Kim Kardashian a tremendous superstar while having absolutely no talent whatsoever. It's this fast-paced, fickle, myopic generation of social network “rock stars” that create the buzz, that whip up the hype that you too can be something amazing. That you, that's right you, have the potential for greatness. It's within you. You just have to unleash it. You just have to say NOW. You just have to say, “I'm going to go for it”. Sometimes you just have to say "hell with it, I'm going to take that chance". Period. And with the help of the Lord Almighty Jesus, if you go forward with a servant's heart you too can achieve greatness.
This all makes me really sad as a new parent. I would never feed a line of bullshit to my son or daughter like, “you are destined for great things”. That's a can of corn and you know it. There's a thing called a histogram in all things (outside of digital imaging) that apply to wealth, obesity, IQ, height, etc... Some will be exceptional, some will be really "not", and the great majority of them will be somewhere in the middle. In all likelihood my children will be somewhere in the middle and I won't demand anything different from them. I want them to be happy. I want them to be sweet, kind, and most of all, peaceful. So for me to tell them that they are destined for greatness? What happens when they get that first C- on a test that they tried so hard to ace? Will they be crushed? Will they doubt themselves? Will they spend years on the therapist's couch because they can't figure out what went wrong with them?
Picture yourself in front of a big fickle audience at WPPI. Picture yourself telling them that, in all likelihood next year this time, they'll be exactly where they are right now. Tell them that the world, according to you, is nothing different than they already know, and see how long you can keep them in those chairs. Do you see what I mean? You have to give a show. You have to give them their money's worth and you have to entertain, be cool, be fabulous, dress awesome, wear the fab sequinned top and the Louboutins... and profess to have amazing success in your core business. (without being specific about numbers.)
This, I believe, is what happened to Scarlett. I knew Scarlett very early on, and she was certainly incredibly positive and enthusiastic in my audience. I think around at some point she sensed that Twitter was an amazing broadcast tool and she found some traction with the “girlfriend” audience. What would you do if you were her? What would you do if you grew up with inspirational pastors who just absolutely rocked the congregation with their uplifting message? Pastors who inspired you, and told you that you could go on to do great things? It absolutely makes sense that Scarlett went the way that she did... with videos and workshops pretending to be an authority on photography. She loved having the audience.
Unbeknownst to many of us at the time, there were actually two crowds forming. There was the angry crowd who was Tweeting that something smelled like bad fish. They were slamming at a faster rate of speed that the ones who were saying that Scarlett was fantabulous. The undercurrent audience were the ones who, (like me), worked for years pleasing their clients in a professional way. They were the ones who actually knew how to work a camera, who photographed more than a handful of weddings before becoming an authority on how to be successful in business.
The slammers were brutal. They took the claims that Scarlett made publicly about being so “blessed” by Jesus that she was able to pay off her house in cash (with the earnings from her wedding photography). Industrious investigators then went to the public records and found that Scarlett actually was quick claimed her home to her by her father for something like $100.
Imagine if you were Scarlett at this point. I remember being the recipient of a zillion emails about the websites and hash tags that were completely dedicated to humiliating Scarlett, making cheap digs better physical features and combing all of her information to find things that would humiliate her even further. And I remember thinking, man this is a really tough pill to swallow, but I hope that it is a lesson to others in this industry. Be warned that you have to respect the honor of teaching. You have to be a black belt in karate before you teach people self-defense techniques, or you will give them the false sense of, “awesomeness” that will get them killed when attacked by an assailant. Or slaughtered in their dream of being a successful professional photographer.
I was as surprised as everybody else when I saw Scarlett's newest video about "prospering in your career with the guidance of Jesus", (for a monthly membership fee). I'm not here to judge what she's doing because I think that judging by all of the hashtags and forum comments, the crowd is doing a great enough job in judging this. I'm just here to warn others that Scarlett is that person who doesn't know how to fight, while proclaiming to be a black belt.
My guess is that she grew up with uplifting inspirational pep talks all of her life telling her that she too can become something great. What this does in the meantime is it tells you that if you fit in were 90% of the people do in the histogram of life, that you will likely be ignored by your congregation or clique. There is something about this God squad mentality that I've seen that makes people feel as if they have to be outstanding. That they have to be rich, own a yacht, a horse ranch, multiple homes, drive a Bentley and have a beautiful spouse in order to be and feel worthy. Then they take this image any repeat it unto others with an uplifting message about how one can land to the far right of histogram with the help of Jesus.
I think all of this is the most pussy thing, the saddest human existence of all.
You know what the saddest human existence of all is? It's the being a fake teacher. It's lower than being a false prophet, and sadly today I find that more people are combining being false teachers and false prophets at the same time. If you are a fake teacher, shame on you. The world is not calling you fabulous they are LAUGHING AT YOU.
Which brings me to DJ and Jasmine. I know DJ really well and respect some of his attributes and some things I think he's working on. DJ is a person who is extremely sensitive and very insightful. We spent a lot of time together as he was building his network and community and gaining popularity as a speaker for Pictage. He had an unmistakable charisma and a huge draw with the crowd that came built-in with his looks, in this increasingly profile-picture-dominated webworld.
Quick tangent. At WPPI this year, this girl was looking through the convention booklet trying to decide which speaker to go sit in on, and she commented, “what is she doing even speaking here...she's not even cute!"
So, add to the requirements and lower the bar. Now, you have to be cute to get people in the door, and tell even taller tales to get people to not tweet against you. Awesomeness.
Okay so back to DJ. We were in Cancun (celebrating my birthday) before he got into monetizing his popularity. I had just introduced the Chromedome, and before we went out to the beach, I looked at astonishment as I had sold $180,000 with Chromedomes in one day! DJ was starting to sell his Showit slide presentation software (which I highly supported because I thought it was absolutely brilliant) but his server crashed and his sales were then of course $0 for the day. I knew right then and there that this man was changed forever. He saw what was possible with e-commerce on the Internet. And I said to him, “this is your time to go on tour”. He did this for a while, and it didn't suit him perfectly, so he began grooming others, like Jasmine and Scarlett and Stephen Knuth (yikes, "Photographer Of The Year") and Zach and Jody Grey. If you don't know who they are, they are new, young photographers wearing scarves, holding traffic signs in their promo photos, and seen in sassy poses.
Jasmine is lovely. She's deservedly the new "Oprah" of the wedding photography generation. She comes during this perfect storm of ease-of-use in digital photography and the rapidly expanding blogosphere. And it's now a girl's world.
Jasmine is an adorable writer. Her blog posts are so entertaining to read. I can completely understand why so many girls relate to her. She's pretty, she's stylish, she has a cute, very adorable husband who supports her and she's a very good photographer to boot. She's far from the best, and she's nowhere near financially as successful in her core photography business as many of my photographer friends, names you've never heard of.
But her moment is is exactly in the center of the inertia of the undercurrents going around in the imaging world. Instant sharing of images. Incredibly automated cameras to do all the thinking for you (except for creativity). And in a visually fickle world that has a one second attention span, plus, she has a great profile picture.
If you look through Facebook or all of the zillions of bludomain template websites, you'll see profile pictures of photographers copying Jasmine's unique style sickeningly to caricature levels. No female photographer is going to be without pretty curls or a bow in her head, lots of makeup and holding a white 70-200mm f2.8 lens possibly wrapped in a lens-skin (an idea that never took off like I thought it could). And then the work started to copy the copies of the copiers. Shooting into lens flare became not just an artistic accident but a goal. The photography session then became about imitating the blogs of the cool chicks. The vintage couch out in the field...the couple holding hands over the railroad tracks-then kissing-now walking away from you-now turning towards you walking toward you on the railroad tracks, now jumping over the railroad tracks. Let's go look for a graffiti wall. Then after let's find a big hayfield so the boy can dip the girl deep in a kiss.
This results in mom-tographers now shooting more for their blogs than for the couples. They begin to market to the girls on the web who love that overprocessed Photoshop look with contrived situations and backgrounds because they too want to be the busy mother of three cute little tykes all in matching BabyGap clothes with the epic busy day, busy career, loving husband, and, “how does she do it all?”
This is where Jasmine shines. And this is where DJ shines. DJs strength has always been about community building online... which is why when he joined forces with Jeff Jochum (another community-builder specialist who has gone on recently to teach sparsely attended workshops to budding photographers who wish to find seed capital and then create an "exit strategy" for their new businesses.) Jeff is an amazing guy. I remember sitting with him meeting for the first time at Pictage's offices. He went on and on about how he was working at Pictage not for the money (because, he inferred, he was already wealthy from some business exits that he had capitalized on). It was disappointing to find that Jeff was just another upper-middle class struggling guy trying to make a living rather than the baron-mogul he professed to be.
DJ and Jasmine are brilliant. They really are. They say in Indy racing that victory is so sweet because you can be real close to the finish line but if one washer falls in the wrong place, you wind up in last place. That's what makes victory so sweet. When you find your sweet spot in business, it's awesome as well as evasive to most people on the histogram. To find money - to find success - is extremely rare and when you find it man, take it for the longest ride that you can. Like Kim Kardashian. Cash it in. And that's no harsh judgement.
The audience will create a market for you. They will demand that you publish a magazine. They will ask you to go on tour and they will absolutely love how cute you are, how inspirational you are in keeping people in their seats captivating them with your, “I'm just like you-and you are destined for greatness” message.
When the magazine came out my wife Melissa said, “good for Jasmine!” And we both respected her as a businessperson who understood and perceived correctly her market niche.
Which finally after all of these pages brings me to the thing that annoys so many people about the “method”... Something about top 10 things to do when you're shooting your first wedding. People are up in arms about this, a “spray and pray” comment as well as the, “don't take too much equipment with you to wedding because you might only get confused”.
It absolutely makes sense why this is out there. Think about your self standing at a podium in front of a big audience and you're about to speak. Ask yourself-what would you say to these people to keep them in their seats tweeting about the awesomeness of your presentation? Would you tell them that they need to invest $12,000 minimum in photography equipment? And read your manual from beginning to end followed by second shooting for a professional photographer for at least a dozen weddings? Or would you get up there and say, “Girlfriends! You can do it! Put the camera on P mode and spray and pray! You are destined for greatness!
The crowd goes wild!!! The Tweets start broadcasting from the seats in the audience. But the one thing that is hard to deny is the parallel force of Tweets by the established people who know better than to trivialize the seriousness of shooting somebody's once-in-a-lifetime event, like their wedding. The undercurrent Tweets are thumping like the beat of war drums in the distance of the jungle, and just like the situation in Scarlett's case, hash tags are forming.
What is the greater responsibility? The honor of being a teacher and a guide to others, or the pressure of watching the seats empty out at your seminar?
This is why we're where we are.