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Going All-In


This is a long-ish post; if you just came to see the the photo of the beautiful blonde, scroll down. It’s ok, I’ll wait here.

But if you want to know how my life was changed, at a wedding photography convention, in of all places, Las Vegas, I’d like to share that story with you.

I’d also like to hear what you have to say about this. Maybe your experience was different. Maybe you’re not a photographer, or didn’t go to WPPI, and wonder why all this matters, or how this might affect your choice of wedding photographer.

So I’m going to make you a deal – the same deal that someone made with me a week ago. I’m going to go All-In for you; this was a hard post to write, but this only works if you go All-In too – and read the whole thing. It won’t take that long, and you just might have an experience like mine. I hope you do. ]

It’ll be a week tomorrow morning since WPPI wrapped up, and I’ve been letting a few ideas roll around in my head since I got back from Vegas. Is just ‘Vegas’ ok with you? ‘Las Vegas’ seems so formal, and formal… Vegas is not.


I like to let several ideas percolate at the same time, see what sticks and what doesn’t, see what makes sense, and what combines into new ideas. I don’t know if you do that – I don’t know if anyone else does that; but it works for me.

I think my subconscious is probably smarter than I am, so I give it a little more elbow room; some time, some quiet (or music; right now I’m listening to Digitally Imported ‘Classic Trance’… yeah it’s dated, but I dig the flow…), and generally I try to not interfere with my grey matter doing it’s job.

But I also have to put a time limit on it, or I’d be just another auto-pilot slacker, and that’s how I feel looking back at so much of my life. First I was a ‘computer guy’, then I was a ‘server guy’, and then a ‘firewall guy’, and even a ‘network guy’. If it beeps or blinks I can probably build it, configure it, and fix it. But I did all that on auto-pilot. I bought a car, a house, and essentially, I bought a life.

Sort of.

It’s not a real life that I bought. It’s one of those auto-pilot lives, where you just get swept up in the 9-to-5-and-beer-on-Thursdays. It’s a life you can buy at big-box stores and the mega-mall, and it was shiny and new and exciting. It’s hard to examine your life when you are on auto-pilot, asleep.

Then I woke up.

It didn’t happen all at once. I didn’t go off the deep end and turn my life upside-down. I finally got off my butt and started hiking and snowshoeing in the mountains here. I decided that digital photography had come of age, in both quality and cost, and I started photographing my hikes.  I rediscovered what it felt like to be creative, to use an SLR again, to not be on auto-pilot, and to start seeing the world around me.

Fast forward to WPPI 2010, and I knew I couldn’t miss a couple of speakers; Jasmine Star; her success story, like her advice, is pretty awesome, yet down to earth, and Dane Sanders, because I knew that he knew ‘something’, and I had to know what the ‘something’ was.

The first concept that stuck in my head was from J*, I had a light bulb moment when she simplified the solution to a really common problem creative types often face: “How do you differentiate yourself in a market like photography?”. The temptation is to be ‘creative’ with packages or pricing – but that misses the essential differentiator – the photographer! You are different, so by just being yourself you will be different. Don’t be anyone but the best you you can be. Really simple, but I’ve never seen it put so front-and-center before; usually the best we get is “Be Different!”. This answers the natural follow-on “How to be different?”

I knew that I’d fully absorbed this idea, and extended it’s meaning, when I was reviewing images I took during WPPI while chatting with a guy on the same flight home about photography:

“Y’know, there were five other photographers there, but I got this shot.”

So not only am I different, but my images are different if only because I’m unique.



The second set of ideas that have been rattling around my head were inspired by Dane Sanders, in his ‘Anatomy of a Creative’. He opened with a couple of notions that I was already receptive to – getting out of auto-pilot for the session, and getting engaged with the discussion.

It was Dane that made the “Going All-In” promise a week ago, which for everyone made it more interactive, and not just a presentation. But he was also asking us to invest a little bit of trust in his message; even if only for two hours. Dane led the discussion, asking questions of the audience,  and really got us to think, instead of just sitting and absorbing content.

As part of the ‘Anatomy of a Creative’ we talked a bit about what it meant to be who we are, and I realized I had a disconnect between myself, my wife, my clients, and all my various photographic styles. In his terms, I wasn’t operating at the intersection of who I am, and what I do, so I’ve been in this weird zone of tension for years.

Why? Partially because I don’t do photography full-time yet; so I live in two very different work worlds, but that’s just a minor disconnect, and one that a lot of photographers face.

I’ve also been keeping my wedding photography mostly separate from my glamour and beauty photography, when I should be embracing the two as one style. After all, what bride wouldn’t want a photographer that knows a thing or two about making women look their best?

But here is the big cause of the tension:

The crappy part about waking up from auto-pilot is when you realize that you haven’t been All-In, and can’t be All-In, for the ones closest to you when you aren’t fully engaged in your own life, when you aren’t even All-In for you.

And that’s what happened about half-way through Dane’s session; I realized what the effect of being on auto-pilot all those years was. I was asking so much of those around me to reach my goals, but I wasn’t returning the gift, nor was I even giving that gift to myself.

Wow. Heavy.

I pulled out my iPhone and text’d my wife: “Miss you”. I almost had to leave the auditorium it hit me so hard.

The effect of this on the client-photographer relationship is profound. Just showing up on time, having fun with the clients, and getting some cool images isn’t enough for wedding photography. You need to be All-In, and by that I mean you need to actually give a rip.

And then you are going to take entirely different images than you might have taken before, because you just don’t want to connect with your clients – you need that connection with your clients, to share that feeling, and communicate that gift as their images.

What does that feel like? A little like the last five minutes of the movie ‘Scrooged’, when Bill Murray, as Scrooge, realizes he’s been on the wrong path and talks about the feeling of giving, and getting hungry for it. Getting greedy for that feeling of giving, not just at Christmas, but every day and all the time.

Near the end of Dane’s session was a very short movie – it’s only about 45 seconds long – and if this doesn’t snap you out of auto-pilot, maybe nothing will.

(Apologies to Dane, I’m going to repost some of the clips, and interpret them as I experienced them)

Last Day Dream [HD] from Chris Milk on Vimeo.

Ask yourself: “If this were me, have I been paying enough attention to remember much more?”.

I think this next clip really brings home what it takes to go All-In; you have to answer a lot of questions about who to trust, what your fears are, and what you have to leave behind to get where you’re going.


This ran again at the end of the session as still images combined with open-ended questions like “What if you only had five years to live?”.  By this time the discussion was over, and the audience was really soaking in the message.

I left out the Mad Men clip, if you want to see it, hit up YouTube. All of the sudden the value of photography to capture memories becomes pretty clear, doesn’t it?

For you Fast Trackers out there, there was also a pretty cool clip on leadership, in the form of ‘Lone Dancing Guy’.

For everyone else, this will take the edge off this post:

If you’ve read this far, you went All-In, so thank you, I hope I delivered. Please leave a comment or send me an email.

At the very least I hope you saw a little sliver of the material and discussion that goes on within the industry… doesn’t seem very industrial, does it?

If you’re a photographer and this reached you, and you want to know more, check out Dane Sanders and Fast Track Photographer.


p.s. Dane – you asked us to go All-In;  I think I did – and then some. The trip was worth it, thank you.


One Response to “Going All-In”

  1. Alex Gordon says:

    Какое симпатичное сообщение…

    [Disclaimer: This is a long-ish post; if you just came to see the the photo of the beautiful blonde, scroll down. It’s ok, I’ll wait here…..