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Mixing Business With Pleasure: Make the Most of Your Travel by Creating Epic Imagery

Friday, March 31st, 2017


Mixing Business With Pleasure: Make the Most of Your Travel by Creating Epic Imagery with Sal Cincotta

Want more information on this article? Get access to video content and additional supporting images. Launch the April issue of the magazine by logging in or signing up for a free account by clicking here. Shutter Magazine is the industry’s leading professional photography magazine.


I have been a full-time photographer for about 10 years now. I love every single minute of it. One of the things I love most about my job—or maybe better stated, life—is traveling the world and eating incredible food. My waistline is proof of that. Many of us started in this business out of passion. There is nothing wrong with that, but what else do you want out of your life and career? I would be perfectly content traveling the world, enjoying incredible food and cultures, and making epic imagery. That’s my list of priorities at the moment. If this is something that is of interest to you, keep reading.


Where Do You Want to Go?


Map it out. Every year, we put together a list of destinations we want to travel to. It’s basically a wish list. That’s right, dream big, my friends. I have been to China, Iceland, France, England, Scotland, Japan, Ireland, India, Brazil, Germany, Amsterdam, Portugal and all throughout the United States. All on business. And it’s all tax-deductible.


This is where it starts. Where do you want to go? You have to set a flag out there that you are marching to. Until you do that, nothing will ever happen. Dream big and don’t be afraid to start planning today.


Passports and Visas


I learned about this the hard way. Depending on where you are going, you may need travel visas. And do yourself a favor: When you hit customs in a foreign country, do not say you are there for work. That will trigger an entire sequence of events that you will not be ready for. Foreign countries are very protective when you say you are there for work. Granted, we are there building our portfolios, but we look like glorified tourists. Embrace that.


Certain countries, like China and Brazil, require visas. The process can be simple if you plan accordingly and have all your paperwork in ahead of time. Of course, if you plan on being a world traveler, get your passport now. There’s no sense waiting for this. These are all simple things, but all take time to process.


It reminds me of a recent trip to China where the process can take two to three months. We had to find a broker and pay them a rush fee to get our visas expedited. Now we have a five-year visa, but this took time and planning. Do your research. Every country is different. As of this writing, you don’t need visas in Europe or the UK.


Make the Most of Every Day


When I travel, I want to shoot every single day. Something has to happen, or I start to twitch. On a recent trip to Iceland, I was shooting 15 to 18 hours a day. It was amazing. Just start doing your research. Look for incredible locations at your destination. They are everywhere.


You have a decision to make. Are you going to be a tourist or a photographer? I lean more to the photographer side of things. Of course, we are all tourists in a sense, but I don’t want to spend my days walking around every single tourist trap in the land. I want to have maximum exposure to the locale. I want to operate like a local where I can. This means using public transportation and not eating at McDonald’s. Maximize your days. Sleep is overrated, and that’s not why you are here. Sleep on the plane ride home.


Here’s something else I like to do. In almost every country I visit, I look for a national gallery. There is nothing I find more influential than looking at the great painters of the past. Talk about talent. It’s one of the most inspiring things I do for my own growth.




Good luck with this. It’s more than likely not going to happen, especially when you are working internationally. Again, do your research. Shooting in each country brings its own set of challenges. Shooting in China in front of a government building could end with you behind bars. In a country like Iceland, no one cares—about anything. You can shoot wherever you like for the most part. When we were photographing over there, we had no resistance. However, in Japan, we were stopped literally every place we shot. Even when we tried to get permits or permission, it ended with either a no or just no response. So tread lightly here.


In Japan, I created this incredible image of a bride walking up a set of stairs. Believe it or not, this was a train station. We were being very low-key and respectful of other travelers, but within five minutes, we were asked to leave. We begged for forgiveness and just another five minutes, and the security guard smiled and said ok. So you see, if you are respectful and courteous, you will get a lot farther.


Now, this doesn’t always work. On a recent trip to Horseshoe Bend in Arizona, I was immediately asked to leave. I tried the same thing, asked for five minutes, and I was told no, absolutely not. The frustrating part was that I had gotten a permit, but that permit was only good for a certain area that was 100 yards away from where I was trying to shoot. Locations and permission and frustration are all interrelated. Get ready to adjust as needed.


Location Scouting


We have learned about this the hard way over the years. If you want to maximize your results, plan ahead. Do your research and location scouting. This extends well beyond your location. Check weather, time of day, sunrise and sunset times, etc. All this matters if you want to create something epic. We use Google to find great locations and then Google Earth to check the actual surrounding areas. This is incredibly useful in checking sight lines and obstructions well before you show up to the location.


There is a ton of apps to help you predict sunrise and sunset, and also to help you determine where the path of the sun will be. This is important. Think about it. If you want to create a silhouette shot, it’s going to be almost impossible if the sun is in a location where it’s front-lighting your subject and the background you chose. Why leave something like this to chance? Instead, we have a Word document we refer to as “the football” that has all our travel details, pictures, concepts, dresses, models, etc.


While we try to be very organized before the shoot, I would be lying if I implied that everything always goes smoothly and according to plan. That’s laughable to even think about. Almost every shoot I go on has some level of adjustment, something we didn’t plan for. #pivot.


Creating Something Unique


The formula for success is more than just showing up to a gorgeous location to take images. When I am traveling, I work with real clients: brides and grooms, seniors, commercial, etc. But I can’t do 14 shoots all with clients. As much as I would love that, it’s just not possible. Instead, I maximize my time at any location by booking models looking to collaborate and build their portfolio.


I take it a step further. I bring my own wardrobe. I use the site, created for photographers, to do just this. Build your damn portfolio. Stop talking about it. Go do it. Bring a wedding dress, bring a fashion gown, do something unique. I do this for my portfolio and for my actual clients. We create something they can’t live without. We give them a unique, stylized shoot, something they are going to gladly spend money on. And think about the referrals. They will gladly spread the word to their friends and family. Best of all, they won’t have to do too much bragging. When their friends and family see these exotic images, they will immediately want to know more.


Get out there and make your dreams come true. And if you don’t gain at least 5 pounds on your next trip, you are not doing it right.


Want more information on this article? Get access to video content and additional supporting images. Launch the April issue of the magazine by logging in or signing up for a free account by clicking here. Shutter Magazine is the industry’s leading professional photography magazine.

Never Give Up: The Art of Pushing Through When You Feel Like Giving Up

Sunday, January 1st, 2017


Never Give Up: The Art of Pushing Through When You Feel Like Giving Up with Alissa Zimmerman


Want more information on this article? Get access to video content and additional supporting images. Launch the January issue of the magazine by logging in or signing up for a free account by clicking here. Shutter Magazine is the industry’s leading professional photography magazine.


This time of year has represented an incredible struggle for me for as long as I can remember. The days are shorter, the temperature is colder, motivation is often nonexistent and hibernation mode is on full power. This is the time of year when you’re stuck behind a computer screen day in and day out instead of being outside on photo shoots. It’s mentally exhausting, and very easy to let yourself fall into a funk.


This dark time of year, it’s easy to want to give up. Here are some tips to help you push through the mundane days spent in front of your computer when you feel like throwing your hands in the air.


Take Time to Understand Yourself


Losing perspective is usually the catalyst for the seemingly never-ending thoughts of, “I can’t do this anymore.” That lack of perspective is an interesting beast to learn to control. Learning to control your mind and negative thoughts is one of the most powerful things you can do as you grow within your business.


The most valuable skill I have learned in business is the ability to acknowledge when I am in a dark place and talk myself back into the right perspective. That doesn’t mean things don’t get tough for me on a regular basis. That doesn’t mean I don’t still struggle with perspective. It just means I have trained myself to become more self-aware, and to understand that in these dark times, there is always a light at the end of the tunnel. It’s all about whether you choose to see it.


Remember Your ‘Why’


Think about why you started down the path you’re on. Reflect on the decisions and sacrifices you have made over the course of your journey to get you to where you are. Why do you continue to fight for your business every day? Why do you wake up every morning and hustle until you close your eyes at night?


For me, it’s the satisfaction of knowing that I am an integral part of building something bigger than myself. I am a 29-year-old successful woman working my ass off every day to build a career and a life for myself. It’s about waking up in the morning, going into the studio and having the luxury of creating with my closest friends, people I consider family. No longer do I dread the thought of having to go to work every morning. It is something I fight for every day because I never want to take these opportunities for granted or lose sight of the fortunate life I have worked so hard to build.


There is freedom that comes with reflecting on your “why” anytime you’re feeling disconnected. Write your why’s down and keep them in an easy-to-access place for the times in life when you need some clarity.


Set Daily Goals


When you feel yourself getting overwhelmed with work and your personal life, make a short, realistic list of tasks to accomplish each day. This can lighten the weight on your shoulders.


I keep a master task list that I pull from to create my daily to-do list. During those times when I feel the weight of the world on my back, it’s difficult to focus. My master list only perpetuates the situation. So in this scenario, I start fresh with a piece of paper (there’s something therapeutic about handwriting tasks when I feel I’m in over my head). Write down everything that needs to get done in the upcoming seven-day window, no matter how mindless or strategic that task may be. Go through that list and decide which, if any, tasks can be delegated. Determine the urgency for each task that is still on your list. Assign tasks to each day of the upcoming week, along with an estimated length of time per task. That gives you an idea of how many hours of work are needed from you per day.


This allows me to get a grasp on what’s overwhelming me. It could be as simple as a client order that is late and keeps getting pushed back on your to-do list. Until you lay everything out, you won’t be able to put together a plan of attack to get over the mountain of stress you’ve created for yourself.


Reach Out to People Around You


It’s easy to let yourself spiral out of control when you feel like you’re stuck in a dark place. The worst thing you can do at this time is isolate yourself from your team, family or friends. Whenever you feel like giving up, there is always someone in your life who has been in a similar situation and can relate.


I find it beneficial to have my “person”—that one friend I know I can reach out to when I need advice or simply just need to get something off my chest. Sometimes all I need is a quick venting session—10 minutes to spill everything that’s bothering me, and my person simply listens and doesn’t give any advice unless I ask for it. Be careful with this person in your life, however, as these types of relationships can start out with healthy venting sessions and lead to negative complaining and cancerous mindsets and/or behaviors. It’s important for that person to be your voice of reason when you’re going down a wrong path in your thoughts.


Cut Out the Cancer


The phrase misery loves company could not be more accurate. Surrounding yourself with cancerous people only leads to you giving up on yourself. A sense of entitlement can form over time as you spend your days whining about your problems without ever coming to any kind of solution. You will find yourself quitting, which you will justify with any excuse you can come up with. All because you’ve surrounded yourself with people who have positioned themselves as your support team when, in reality, they are just negative influences looking to bring down everyone else around them and form a union of misery.


It’s just not worth it. Cut the cancer out of your life as soon as you feel it creeping up on you (you will know when it’s happening if you follow your instincts).


Switch Up Your Routine


At work, if I do the same thing over and over day in and day out, I get bored. This boredom leads to restlessness, and the restlessness leads to a feeling of claustrophobia. That causes me to panic, and any stress in my life is multiplied tenfold. I get to a point where I just don’t want to do anything anymore, and would rather give up. Call it burning out.


Don’t go down that road. Switch up your daily routine. For a while, I was opening my laptop and checking email the second after opening my eyes in the morning. I made the small change of waking up and getting ready for the day right away, not checking email until I get into the studio. This made a huge impact on my daily routine. I found that I wasn’t getting as stressed out at the beginning of my day.


Take a Step Back


Many entrepreneurs believe they have to work seven days a week, 20 hours a day to be successful. Sal will probably kill me for saying this, but sometimes, you just need to take a step back and reevaluate where you want to target your efforts.


The work will always be there, I promise. Your health and peace of mind will not, however. So if taking off a day, a week or even a month is what you need to get yourself back on track, make sure all your ducks are in a row and tap out.


Once you’ve reached the point where you still feel like giving up and none of these tips seems to be working, take a day off and take a deep breath. Everything will be okay once you get your mind right.


Want more information on this article? Get access to video content and additional supporting images. Launch the January issue of the magazine by logging in or signing up for a free account by clicking here. Shutter Magazine is the industry’s leading professional photography magazine.

A Step Back in Time with Melanie Anderson

Thursday, December 1st, 2016


A Step Back in Time with Melanie Anderson


Want more information on this article? Get access to video content and additional supporting images. Launch the December issue of the magazine by logging in or signing up for a free account by clicking here. Shutter Magazine is the industry’s leading professional photography magazine.


On a recent trip to Italy with my daughter Sarah, we were walking the streets of Venice when I was reminded of honeymoon photos I had seen of my parents that they shot more than 45 years ago. I contacted my parents and asked if they knew where those pictures were and if they could send me a few. I was thinking how neat it would be to visit some of the same places they did on their honeymoon.


My dad sent me several images, two specifically that I decided would be fun to reenact. It was quite an emotional experience, knowing I was in the exact spot my parents were at almost half a century before, and here I was now, enjoying the city with my eldest daughter.


It took only moments to figure out the first location, the corner of the Piazza San Marco, in front of Saint Mark’s Basilica. I positioned myself in the far left corner with the building visible from behind. We found this challenging since the buildings had been painted and updated, but we were sure this was the location.


The pose was another story: ensuring the shoulders and chin were angled the same, trying to duplicate the expression, etc. It took us 40 images and 30 minutes to get just the right look. You will notice the original pic of my dad has a sepia tone. I had a difficult time finding just the right tonality. After many attempts, I decided to just convert the image to black and white, and found just the right look for the feeling I was attempting.


Heading into Florence, we encountered the same challenges. This picture was captured at the Piazzale Michelangelo, overlooking the beautiful landscape, views of the Cathedral, the Bell Tower, and more. You will notice that the background in my dad’s picture looks closer to him. I had a terrible time with that. In the end, we decided it must have been due to the lens he used at the time, as the iPhone was unable to achieve the exact same look and feel and the distance to the buildings in the background.




My dad used a 35mm Nikon Reflex with Kodachrome 35mm film. I used my iPhone 6. Yes, I know, Melanie, how could you? You used your cell phone to recreate an image from over 45 years ago? Why, yes, I did. When traveling, I find that my phone captures incredible images, many of which have been published in this magazine and won several print competitions. Today’s technology allows me to create on the fly. I like to travel light and use apps to edit my artistic vision quickly. The editing apps I used for this project were Snapseed, Picfx and Mextures.


The photos here of my dad in Italy were taken with his iPhone. He opened up the album and captured them and texted them to me. It’s ironic that he took a printed picture from an album that is over 45 years old, captured the moment with his iPhone and sent it to me from Maryland to Italy. Digital technology has come a long way. I didn’t even think about attempting this project until I was already in Venice and felt nostalgic knowing I had seen an album 20 years before, and felt compelled to recreate a moment in time.


Importance of Printing


Imagine if my parents hadn’t printed these pictures. When I asked Dad for copies, he said he didn’t have many, that it was expensive to print and they didn’t have the money at the time, so they did not capture and print as often as they would have liked. I’m so grateful for the ones they did print. I would not have had the emotional connection I have now to Italy. Having seen these images when I was a child, and then being there, was a flashback moment for me. It wasn’t until we were in Venice that I remembered seeing images of them from Italy from so many years ago. The impact of them actually being printed and placed in an album affected me some 45 years later. This makes me want to go back through old albums and see what else I can recreate.


How different our process is now: We capture everything, everywhere, anytime via our phones, and upload immediately to social media. We have thousands of images in digital albums online. So many memories captured, yet none printed. This experience has changed me. This was a reminder to capture and actually print images from my travels. I want my children and grandchildren to know me through photos, by having them actually printed and in an album. It’s an opportunity to share an experience that I doubt would happen if all these images and experiences were shared only online.


When people ask how my trip was, these are some of the first images I show them. I am so glad I took the time away from site-seeing to take a step back in time and relive a moment and location that my parents enjoyed so many years ago.


Action Plans:

  • Find old photos of your family, and recreate them.
  • Print and create an album of your travels.

Share these experiences with loved ones.


Want more information on this article? Get access to video content and additional supporting images. Launch the December issue of the magazine by logging in or signing up for a free account by clicking here. Shutter Magazine is the industry’s leading professional photography magazine.

Finding Balance with Blair Phillips

Thursday, December 1st, 2016


Finding Balance with Blair Phillips


Want more information on this article? Get access to video content and additional supporting images. Launch the December issue of the magazine by logging in or signing up for a free account by clicking here. Shutter Magazine is the industry’s leading professional photography magazine.


If you look back during the working years of your grandparents, you may not find quite as much chaos and hurry in their daily routine. It is safe to say that most of us lead a rather chaotic life. A generous amount of the stress we endure is self-induced by our wants. We require more and participate in more than our grandparents did. We are always on the go and seem to be juggling several things at once. Rushing every day and being in a hurry seems to be a way of life. Mixing self-employment along with all of this just adds a truckload of stress to the mix.


Creating balance between your business and personal life seems to be an unattainable goal that your business wins every time. You need to slam on the brakes and take control. You must devote equal parts to your family and business. We all have to make a living, but we do not have to do it at the expense of our family.


Family is what got you to where you are in the first place. It is time that you stop assuming your family is fine with not being number one. There are a number of things I have put into practice to give me that balance. The average work week for most of us consists of five days. Why? It does not have to be that way. I decided years ago that I would love to have three days a week off to be with my family more. I knew I would have to work harder through the week to make this possible, and I did just that. That alone brought so much energy and happiness to my life.


Business owners find it hard to take vacations. We hate to miss an opportunity while we are away. Think of the opportunities you are missing with your family. One of the biggest benefits of being self-employed is the freedom. Over the course of a calendar year, we vacation a total of two months. You may say that is ridiculous or impossible, but with the right work ethic and focus, it can happen. When it comes to school functions, why are you just marking them on your calendar and not attending? There are eight hours in an average work day. You can sacrifice a couple of those hours every once in a while to be at those functions. It is a choice you have to make.


Let’s dive into the topic of scheduling photography appointments. I used to work until as late as 9:00 most nights. I had to accommodate everyone else’s work schedule. I just assumed that when people told me they could only come after work, that meant I was going to be forced to work late evenings forever. If someone is committed and wants something bad enough, they find a way.


I changed our hours to begin at eight in the morning and leave at five in the evening. We did not miss a beat doing that. It improved morale. It amazed me how people were suddenly able to find a way to get off work early. Dentists aren’t open at 7 in the evening, so why should your business be any different? I have branded myself through social media and the way I live my life in the eyes of the community. My brand shows that I am committed to my wife and family, and that I work hard four days a week. People know my family always comes first. While my business is very important, my family must come first in order to maintain happiness. When your home life is happy and content, you will see the energy of your business grow organically. With that being said, my clients know my family time is very dear to me.


One of the biggest markers for stress and lack of balance within your business is the overwhelming amount of debt most people carry. Nothing kills the mood of a workplace more than the feeling of being under that debt. Before you buy anything, tell yourself to “act your wage.” When budgeting for your personal and work lives, ask yourself if a purchase adds value or if you just want it.


I have implemented the two-week rule. I’ve eradicated impulse spending. I think hard about any large purchases for two weeks before buying. It is amazing how much more rational my spending has become by doing that. Remember, you have to save money for those vacations.


Another stressor is having to complete things you’re not good at and that you really do not enjoy. If you have those, figure out a way to delegate them to someone else. There are tons of companies you can outsource things to. Of course they add an expense, but that may free you to spend more time on the things you are the best at. In turn, the bulk of your energy will be spent making more money.


Do you ever have the feeling of never getting everything accomplished, or that you are juggling way too much? Of course you do. We used to feel like we were letting way too many things fall through the cracks. We were able to fix most of that with one very inexpensive office supply. That was a large whiteboard that hangs in our production office. We put the must-do daily tasks on that board for all to see. Each day around lunch, I can see what is still there, and we discuss a plan to see that those remaining tasks are finished by the end of the day.


I never wanted to be a manager. I always envisioned myself being able to just let people handle what they needed. I quickly learned that it is necessary to be a manager to protect what we have worked for over the past 12 years. Acting as a manager has allowed us to be way more productive and eliminate an entire work day per week, all while accomplishing the same amount of work.


You need a comfortable workplace. Treat your staff with respect and compassion. It’s important for your staff to see that you are working just as hard as they are. Try your best to make it easy for employees to attend their child’s functions as well. Do not be difficult if they need to be off for a doctor’s appointment, or if they need a day off from time to time. Treat your employees to something nice occasionally to show your appreciation. Have their car detailed, or simply shut down and treat everyone to lunch.


If you are going to spend time doing a job, you would like to be rewarded as much as possible for doing so. Sift through your records and find what brings you the most profit. When you find what that is, that should be your main motivation. I used to photograph a ton of weddings every year. Once I began looking at all the hours I had invested, my profit margin was not exactly what I thought it should be. I knew that to remain sane, weddings were going to have to fall by the wayside.


I began researching jobs I had done, and realized that shooting a sports league for four hours on a Saturday yielded me three times the profit of a wedding. I saw the light at the end of the tunnel. Shooting volume jobs became my sole focus. I knew that I could work really hard during certain months of the year and have more time off. It is all about believing in yourself and your ability to make something happen. If you believe in yourself and hold your family on the highest pedestal, you will find immeasurable success.


You spend a staggering amount of time looking at your smartphone screen. Nearly everywhere you turn, you see someone with their face buried in their phone. I noticed myself always reaching for my phone if I had a spare moment throughout the day. I was generally just thumbing through a social media site to see what others were doing.


I didn’t like that about myself. Why was I not spending all my time and energy growing my business, or making more time for my family? I made a vow to only use social media for my own posting. No longer would I sit and scroll through pages and pages of others’ posts. When we get home in the evening, everyone’s phones go completely out of sight. This has allowed us to all stay connected and maintain a harmonious balance of love, laughter and closeness.


It is important to remain connected with the outside world, but do you need to know what everyone had for dinner? I encourage you to lead your life with no regrets. Take a moment before acting on a situation. Take a moment to think about the impact your reaction will have on your conscience when you lay your head on your pillow that night.


If there is something stressing you at work, leave it there. It is not fair to you or your family to bring that stress home with you. You control your balance and happiness. The choice is yours.


Want more information on this article? Get access to video content and additional supporting images. Launch the December issue of the magazine by logging in or signing up for a free account by clicking here. Shutter Magazine is the industry’s leading professional photography magazine.

Cut the Fat with Sal Cincotta

Thursday, December 1st, 2016


Cut the Fat with Sal Cincotta


Want more information on this article? Get access to video content and additional supporting images. Launch the December issue of the magazine by logging in or signing up for a free account by clicking here. Shutter Magazine is the industry’s leading professional photography magazine.


In life, as in business, you occasionally add dead weight. The time is now to cut the fat from your life. We are not victims. We cannot blame others for our misfortunes any more than we can give them credit for our hard work. Where your life goes from this moment on is completely up to you. You and you alone control your destiny. Don’t ever forget that.


This philosophy doesn’t apply only to your personal life. It applies to your business as well. Tired of failing? Tired of shitty clients? Tired of the people around you tearing you down rather than building you up? Well, now is the time to cut them out of your life, no matter how hard that may be.




Don’t trust anyone. As a native New Yorker, I tend to keep people at a distance, always thinking someone is working me for something at any given moment. Tough way to live? Sure is. Welcome to life. Life is tough. Trust should be earned. I know many of you believe in trusting first, and that is certainly a novel idea—one you see in movies where there is always a happy ending.


I bet right about now I sound like a bitter old man, but I assure you I am not. I value the trust I have in people. I value my friendships. I love the people who are close to me, and I want to invest my energy in those very special people in my life. If nothing else, it protects you until those random people in your life have proven worthy of your trust. What’s wrong with that?


Make no mistake. I have been burned. I have trusted people and let them close to me only to find out I was off about them. These have been family members, friends, business associates and even some clients who have burned me. I can’t help but think that this little mantra has also protected me from unnecessary heartache as well.


We all need support.


Life is hard enough without true support. Surround yourself with people who believe in you and want to be part of your journey. You can’t do this alone. It doesn’t make you weak, it’s just reality. We all need support in everything we do. That support comes in a multitude of ways. Some is true physical support. Some is just knowledge—knowing there is someone out there we can bounce ideas off of to get some honest answers.


Don’t underestimate the importance of building your very own center of excellence. For me, this is my true core group of people I trust with everything I do. I trust them more than family sometimes. I just know that this select group of people is going to be there for me when shit hits the fan.


Here’s something I am constantly preaching. There are two types of people in this world when FUBAR strikes: people who are going to stay in the trenches with you to help you weather the storm, and those who will hit you over the head with a shovel to save themselves. Make sure you have the right people around you at all times.


Support and friendship when you need it most.


Everyone is your friend when things are going smoothly, right? I have tons of friends. Everyone loves you when they want or need something, but how many will be there for you when you need them most? These are your real friends, people you want to hang on to.


Make no mistake, this is a two-way street. You can’t just expect people to give, give, give—you have to build some credit in the bank, so to speak. Are you there for your friends and family? For the people that matter most? It can be a shoulder to lean on, it can be offering your services for free. I do this for a ton of people close to me—it’s my way of saying thanks. Think about it: Do you understand how much time is worth? Your time? Giving them two hours of your time to take their pictures, drive there, edit them, etc.—that’s truly giving.


You have to take care of the people who are closest to you in whatever way you can. Make the hard choices sometimes. It’s not always easy to make the tough decisions, but sometimes you have to. If they are not willing to do the same for you, then you have to rid your life of these people. They are cancer for you, and will suck the life out of you. There is only so much of you to go around—give it to those who value and appreciate it.


The two-faced conundrum.


The worst thing you can do is surround yourself with yes men. I have found these people to be extremely dangerous to my state of mind and my business. Trust is the single most important attribute in the people I have near me. That doesn’t mean they are the most qualified or the best at whatever they are doing, but trust is huge. I trust them to act in my best interest at all times.


Having people around you who just agree with you all the time is great for the ego, but utterly useless for anything else in your life. It gives you a false sense of confidence. This false confidence can get you into trouble in the long run. I want people around me to challenge me and tell me when I am wrong and offer an alternate viewpoint.


You want to have people in your life who will push and challenge you, not say one thing to your face and another behind your back. These are not real friends, nor are they people you want to associate yourself with on any level.


Weed these people out of your life immediately, and you will be better off.


No one can do it alone. We need partners.


At the end of the day, we all need help, friendship, companionship. We need to feel connected to something. Don’t go it alone. Look for people you can trust, people you can depend on, people who share your vision—even if that vision is nothing more than ensuring you are successful.


A partnership can be as simple as working with a trusted vendor or working side by side with people you trust. It’s the same in business and your personal life.


Walk away from this with your eyes wide open. Know that there is only so much room in your life and only so much time you have to give. Make sure you are giving it to the people who will cherish it and be there for you when you need them most. Everything and everyone else is a waste of time and energy. I would rather be surrounded by 10 people I can trust versus 100 people who are just there to leech off me and add nothing to the relationship.


We are not victims. No matter how tough life seems right now, no matter how much you are struggling in your career or business, you are not alone. There are people out there who care for you and will be there for you.


Now, let’s get our shit together and make 2017 our year.


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5 Years: A Journey from Entitlement to Leadership with Alissa Zimmerman

Tuesday, November 1st, 2016


5 Years: A Journey from Entitlement to Leadership with Alissa Zimmerman


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The millennial mindset is a strange and ever-changing phenomenon, especially when it comes to finding and maintaining a career. Employers struggle to find the right person in this generation, and they struggle trying to keep millennials happy and occupied long enough for them to turn their new job into a lifelong career.


This idea of a lifelong career (or, hell, even a five-year career) is almost unheard of today. Why? Because my generation has lost perspective of what it means to establish and prove oneself early on in a career and build a life around hard work, dedication and commitment to grow within a organization.


I have been with Cincotta & Co. for five years. Before this job, I was your typical millennial: Entitled and self-serving, I had myself convinced I deserved everything just for being me. Because, you know, I was special. The concept of earning my place within any of the four companies I worked at right out of college (over a two-year window) was completely foreign to me. I wanted everything in exchange for nothing, and never lasted more than six months in these jobs.


My first year with Cincotta & Co. was a challenge. I had finally met my match in a boss who refused to even acknowledge all of my “almost-accomplishments” that I believed made me so unique and valuable to any employer. It took me about a year to gain the right perspective in the role I started in. It was a year of ups and downs, public meltdowns, late nights, early mornings and a boss who pushed me so far that I almost quit (ironically, I found out I was going to be fired the same day I had planned to resign).


But that’s what it takes sometimes for the right people to gain the right perspective—you have to be pushed to your breaking point before you see the light. Sal’s managing technique is just that: He pushes you to the edge of the cliff, and when you think you can’t go any farther, he pushes you more. It’s up to you whether or not you choose to jump or turn around and fight to get back on solid ground.


Having the right perspective as an employee changes the outcome of your performance. It’s that simple. Before I had any perspective, this was only a job to me. I came in at 9 a.m., completed the mundane tasks on my to-do list, and left at 7 p.m. I was a busy bee, nothing more, and certainly nothing of value to the company. Once I was able to shift my mindset, I understood that if I wanted a raise, a bonus or a day off, I actually had to do the work. I had to go above and beyond my daily task list and be proactive in proving myself within the organization.


I had to take a step back and completely change the way I viewed this job. It had to become my career, how I identified myself, so I would be able to take pride in and ownership of the projects I was a part of. Once I was able to shift my mindset, everything started falling into place. I was excited to come in every day, excited about playing a role in new opportunities, and, most of all, I was excited and proud to know that my opinion started to matter to my boss. I finally felt like I had purpose, which is the foundational desire of every millennial in the workforce.


Hard work was something I had no problem with in my first year on the job. But hard work is not always smart work. As mentioned above, I was a worker bee. Sal gave me a list of things that needed to get done, usually basic tasks like shipping orders, cleaning the studio and other administrative tasks. Nothing I was working on was strategic to the company—so at any given moment, I could be fired without causing a hiccup in the company.


This is where hard work came into play. Employees who are strategic to the success of a company understand “work hard, play hard.” Working hard doesn’t mean late nights, early mornings, and blood, sweat and tears just because. Working hard is working smart—not getting caught up in things that aren’t important, things that pull you away from the tasks that actually need to get done. And when you can add that motivating factor of playing hard at the end of the work, the working hard never seems so bad. Especially when you’re all in it together.


Which brings me to my next point: your team. The thing I respect most about my boss is the team mentality he instills in all of us. He has always operated under the idea that your team is only as strong as your weakest link. He understands that his success is a direct result of the team he has built. We are the A-Team, constantly competing to be the best, both internally and externally. Sal is both our coach and quarterback. He’s the one setting goals and leading us to victories while pushing us to be the best version of ourselves every day. This is so important in a boss. Leading by example is the best way to go, and encouraging your team is the only way to guarantee performance. A little recognition goes a long way.


How to find and maintain good employees is one of the top questions photographers ask Sal. I am proof that not every good employee starts out that way. It takes time and a lot of bumps in the road to get someone to the level where you need them. It’s about whether or not you see the potential in that person, and if that person has the stamina to persevere through the first one or two years—past the entitlement.


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What to Do When You Feel Like a Failure with Vanessa Joy

Tuesday, December 1st, 2015



What to Do When You Feel Like a Failure with Vanessa Joy


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When I first came to Shutter with this topic, I was ready for Sal to hit me over the head. Not sure why, though, because Sal is one of the most supportive people I know—and, let’s face it, he isn’t scared to ruffle some feathers if it benefits someone. Maybe it was because secretly I didn’t want to talk about this. I didn’t want to admit it and step down off the pedestal that some put me on. That pedestal is pretty; it makes me look pretty. But it’s nothing if it’s not open and honest, so here we go.


Almost every wedding, engagement and photo session I do, I come back home feeling like I failed. Most of the time I say to myself, “Why did they hire me?” or, “They’re going to hate these and sue me.” Sometimes when I look at other people’s incredible work, I degrade my own and think I should just throw in the towel.


Why admit this? Because I know a lot of you are thinking it too. I recently saw a friend’s status update admitting that she’d been up all night, anxiety-ridden and having a panic attack, after a tricky wedding, feeling depressed because her photography is nowhere near where she wanted it to be. The ironic part? I had looked at a photo of hers three days before that made me think this newbie was going places and I’d better step up my game.


Toward the end of the year, burnout really comes in to play, knocking most of us on our ass. It’s normal. Most of us get into a creative rut and comparison frenzy—even those that you think have it all together. But we’re not going to sit and have a pity party, not here, not now. Put the ice cream back in the freezer, save the glass of wine for a happy occasion and let’s find a way to get back in gear.


Step 1: Look at the Facts


Hey, you emotional train wreck, let’s not go jumping off the track just yet. What do you know is true? Often, things aren’t as bad as we feel they are, and it just takes a step back and a reality check to get us back on track. For example, what I perceived as my worst engagement session I did in 2014 turned out to be my most profitable session all year. When we think our photos are horrible, they’re actually the best photos our clients have of themselves. So if you think things aren’t going so great, look at the situation realistically, and make any necessary changes.


Step 2: Stop Comparing


The only person you should be comparing yourself to is you. Take a look at your work from two or three years ago. If it’s the same, guess what? It’s time to move your ass and make a change to better yourself. If it has improved, then pat yourself on the back. Continue to look at other photographers for inspiration, but don’t overfeed yourself other people’s work so much that you start putting down your own. After all, “Comparison is the thief of joy,” as Theodore Roosevelt once said.


Step 3: Surround Yourself With People Who Are Better Than You


The late motivational speaker Jim Rohn said that we are the average of the five people we hang around with the most. Are your friends the kind of people you want to be? Are they motivating you to hone in on your strengths, or are they enabling your weaknesses?


I’m not telling you to ditch your lifelong friends, but don’t be afraid to add new ones to the mix. Having a mentor or someone who’s doing bigger and better things than you can be extremely inspiring, and if that person is good at getting you into high gear, then keep them around at all costs.


Step 4: Stop the Vicious Cycle


Are you a victim of this typical creative cycle?


The key is making sure you’re staying on top of enhancing your photography instead of waiting for your work to become stale. Here are some tricks I like to try when I’m feeling creatively stumped:


  • Off-camera flash
  • Double exposure
  • New posing
  • New props
  • Long exposures
  • Night photography
  • Personal projects
  • Get published
  • Styled shoots
  • Workshops/conferences


Step 5: Refocus Your Energy


Here’s the thing about feelings: You don’t have to let them control you. Instead of letting yourself get buried by the onslaught of emotions, use them as motivation to kick it up a notch. You don’t have to give in to every emotion and whim. You have the power to decide what to do despite how you feel.


A few months ago, I told Sal that looking at his latest travel-photography masterpiece made me recognize the creative rut I was in. He told me to keep pushing it, and you know what? I took two of my favorite pictures that month that I’d ever taken, while messing around with double exposure and Profoto B1’s.


All of this also applies to when you’ve seriously failed. I have failed. I’ve hit rock bottom, smacked my face on the pavement, never wanted to get up again, failed. Truth is, you need to be failing or at least feeling like you are. Failure and pain can push us ahead and be our best teachers. Deal with failure however you want—just make sure you can get back up again.


Maybe you can’t relate to all of this and you’re on top of the world. If that’s you, you probably have a different problem. And that reminds me of a quote by Nobel laureate Frank Wilczek: “If you don’t make mistakes, you’re not working on hard-enough problems. And that’s a big mistake.”


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Finding Balance

Tuesday, July 1st, 2014


Finding Balance

I’ve met so many people over the years who don’t have the faintest idea how to find balance. In fact, they’re not even aware they’re off their axis, slowly spinning out of control. While the term finding balance is overused in photography and business, that doesn’t change the importance of working to establish your priorities and have the kind of fulfilling career and life you deserve.

Think about somebody you might have met once who, with a certain level of pride, shared with you they haven’t taken a vacation or sick day in several years because they’re working so hard. They’re so overfocused on their business, they can’t take time off. They’re control freaks who haven’t learned to delegate, and have a serious misperception about priorities.

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Defining success

Friday, May 2nd, 2014

Defining success


Success. This is a big word that we sometimes allow to define so much of who we are and what we do. In our industry, we look to who is speaking at WPPI,
who is shooting whose wedding, who is doing this or that. We look to those people to define success in our own minds. We want to be like them because they are successful—right? The same goes for society at large. What neighborhood do you live in, what kind of home or car do you have, do you get to travel, where do you work, etc.? Social media has made the magnitude of this phenomenon so much bigger. On our news feeds in the morning, we catch up with what everyone else is doing and what everyone else is being successful at. The idea of success glares at us daily on our phones, tablets and computers, and it is harder than ever to disconnect and be content with where we’re at in life.

Our society and our industry have notions of success that can drive us to move forward and that can also break us down. Or, worse, it can drive us to really lose track of what is important in the first place. It is so hard not to compare work, scour blogs, walk the trade-show floors, and want everything, or go hear people speak and compare everything everyone else does to what you do. It’s toxic not only to our industry, but also to you and your loved ones.

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