Photographers continue to find themselves in this predicament… It is not the lack of ideas or the passion fueling these ideas. They are in abundance. But it is the process involved in realizing them, turning these ideas into reality. It requires resources. Expensive ones. That’s where a lot of photographers falter, at least those who are in the initial phase of their photography careers. And eventually, even when there is a steady flow of money, it somehow always feels like there is a dearth of it. It’s unfortunate that most photographers don’t usually make for good businessmen. It’s a skill, no doubt, to be able to manage the creative and the business side of the art form. But a handful have managed to do well in both. One of them is Zack Arias, an established and well-known name in the industry. However, don’t be fooled into thinking that he always had it all figured out. There were lessons, distressing and harrowing ones, that taught him how to navigate the complex and sometimes, the cut-throat world of commercial photography.
The Chance To Assist A Friend In Photographing A Wedding
One of the mistakes that most photographers make early on in their careers is being infatuated with gear. Owning several cameras and lenses does not give you credibility, and neither does it speak of your expertise. Your photographs do. It’s one of the first lessons that Zack learned, after he went into serious debt. “I was always caught up in buying all this equipment. In the end, I found myself in a very bad place, financially. My family life came crashing down. The bills continued piling up. And each time that I had to pay for them, I would end up selling a piece of gear. In the end, I was left with nothing,” he said. What also contributed to the problem was Zack’s cluelessness when it came to marketing himself and networking with potential clients. “I was shy and didn’t know who to approach. Later, when things got better, I decided to follow this rule that I created… My ability to talk to strangers increased my chances of paying that month’s rent. This really helped,” he said. His situation changed when he was offered the chance to assist a friend in photographing a wedding.
New-Found Respect For Wedding Photographers
When asked about his stint at wedding photography, Zack admits to not being very kicked about the idea initially. “I considered weddings to be the low hanging fruits that would never get me the magazine assignments that I had dreamed of shooting. But if I was to get back on my feet and start photographing again, it would have to be through weddings. So, I swallowed my pride,” he said. He shot his first wedding in October 2003, as Marc Climie’s (friend) second shooter. Zack describes it as the greatest day of his life. The experience wasn’t just invigorating, but it also made him certain of his decision to pursue photography full time. At the same time, Zack developed a new-found respect for wedding photographers. “It is one of the most difficult things to do, as it requires the photographer to be adept at shooting a variety of subjects. I recall Marc not being very kicked about shooting formals after the wedding. So, I took it off his plate.” “I am glad that I was Marc’s second shooter, as it gave me ample of opportunity to experiment with my style and technique. I experimented a lot with lights and flash,” he said.
However, after spending seven years photographing weddings, Zack decided to call it quits. During this period of transition, he was already shooting musicians and then decided to pursue a career in music photography… making portraits of musicians and bands. This later paved the way for editorial and advertising work.
Inspiration Is For Amateurs – Finding Photography Assignments
However, despite all the inroads he had made, Zack realized that taking pictures slowly began to feel more like a job. “I wanted to shoot photographs that meant something to me. Pursuing commercial projects left me with very little time to shoot for myself, and I didn’t want to spend the rest of my life shooting orchestrated pictures,” he said. Managing the business part, took up a lot of time as well. He also got caught up comparing himself with others, and eventually began to dismiss his own work. Soon, depression kicked in. But, a Chuck Close quote helped to get him out of his rut. “Inspiration is for amateurs. The rest of us just show up and get to work. If you wait around for the clouds to part and a bolt of lightning to strike you in the brain, you are not going to make an awful lot of work. All the best ideas come out of the process; they come out of the work itself.” “After putting a lot of thought into it, I decided to put out a call on social media, asking if anyone would be interested in having me come over to their homes and photograph them. It worked. Photographing strangers became therapeutic… I wanted the portraits to be something that I wouldn’t shoot for a magazine. I would walk around the house with them, till I found a spot that I liked the best. And I made sure not to overthink it, and just go with the flow,” he said.
Zack calls himself a ‘control freak’ and is super critical about his work. He remembers his first photo mentor, Steve Schaefer, who instilled in him the significance of never getting comfortable with what you do, as it will most certainly result in stagnation. At the same time, Zach emphasises on the importance of not being so critical that you paralyse yourself. “But, be open to constructive criticism,” he said. “I love being a part of conferences and panels and putting myself out there, in front of other photographers. Only listen to people who matter to you,” he added.
As his career grew, Zack began to teach, through workshops, around the world. His OneLight workshops and tutorials became famous for their simple breakdown of the off-camera strobe or speedlight, equipment that most photographers shy away from. When asked, what prompted him to teach, Zack responded, “I’ve always been helping photographers, even when I was in school. I know how daunting lighting equipment can be, and I’d like to pass on that knowledge to anyone who’s interested.” “But I have a love/hate relationship with teaching. I realized that I wasn’t shooting as much, as the workshops took up most of my time. But you got to choose, and strike a balance. However, the best part of teaching is that it solidifies your own learning in the field. You’ve got to be damn sure about what you’re saying,” he said.
A Strong Foundation Turns Into Muscle Memory
Zack also emphasizes on the importance of being professionally technically sound. “I will always fight for the craft of photography. You must have a strong foundation, so much so that it turns into muscle memory. But ensure that it does not get in the way. Remember, your camera and technical prowess are only the facilitators. Your vision defines the image.”
One of the take away points from my conversation with Zack, is the importance of never settling down for anything… Even if it feels mildly comfortable and appealing, never settle down, unless you’re absolutely sure about loving it. Moreover, give yourself a chance to evolve, and this can only be possible after you have experienced a variety of things. “Find that one thing that you do well, and become known for it. There was a time when I was doing a lot, but then I decided to focus on music photography, and that’s when my career took off.” “For anyone starting out in this business, remember to pay your taxes, and hire an accountant or anyone who can help you out with your finances. It should be the first thing that you do!” he said.
Zack is one of the panelists of SILK INSPIRE 2017 festival, and will be in India on October 6th-10th to give a seminar, as well as a master class. He will be available to meet photographers. Get your ticket for India’s first Wedding Photography festival, and come meet him in Goa this October.