Photography Advice

Five Things Learned From Budding Photographers with Marc Silber

The TOGCHAT Photography Podcast

Marc Silber - TOGCHAT Guest
Marc Silber

I had a great conversation this week with Mr. Marc Silber. Marc is a life-long photographer, best-selling author three times over, filmmaker and host of the Advancing Your Photography YouTube series.

Marc started out learning darkroom skills and the basics of photography at the legendary Peninsula School in Menlo Park, CA, in the ’60s. If you are not familiar with the Peninsula School they are renowned for their no grade approach to education and support of student collaboration, positive risk taking, and creativity. Marc moved on to hone his skills to professional standards at the famed San Francisco Art Institute and has since moved into teaching photography in workshops all over the country.

One of the things I admire most about Marc is his dedication to education. Not just sharing his knowledge and experience, but his own continuing education and you will see in his books, his videos and even in our conversation, he has a brilliant quote from an inspirational photographer for almost any situation.

But his quotes are not just focused on iconic names like Adams and Leibovitz. He also makes it a point to learn from new photographers. When I booked Marc to be on the podcast, he shared a list of things that he has recently learned from talking to budding photographers and I thought that would make for a great conversation and provide some excellent teaching opportunities.

Release Date: July 16th, 2021
Transcript | TOGCHAT Resources

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To purchase Marc’s book: Advancing Your Photography: Secrets to Making Photographs that You and Others Will Love


Five Things Learned From Budding Photographers with Marc Silber

Joe: [00:00:00]
Joe Edelman here, and you are listening to The TOGCHAT Photography Podcast.
You know from my experience, the people who are the best at what they do, regardless of what they do — those people are lifelong students of what they do. The desire to learn never stops. My guest in this episode has made it a point to learn from photographers who came before him, and from those who are coming up after him, and we had a great conversation about the top five things he has learned from up and coming photographers. Stay tuned!

DJ: [00:00:37]
You’re listening to The TOGCHAT Photography Podcast. The only podcast dedicated to the HOWS and WHYS behind creating consistently great photographs. Here’s your host, Joe Edelman.

Joe: [00:00:49]
My photography thought for the week: I have come to realize that I might have been suffering from depression in the early 2000s when I converted from film to digital photography. I think I had spent way too many years focused on the negatives in a very dark place.

Hey gang, really quick. Before I get too far into this episode, I don’t like taking up the beginning part of the show with a bunch of announcements and a bunch of ads. But look, I’m going to ask you for a favor. Please do me a solid, make sure that you are clicking follow or subscribe on whatever platform you listen to the TOGCHAT podcast on. And please, if you’re listening on Apple Podcasts or PodChaser, or any of the platforms that allow reviews hit that four or five stars, whatever you feel a show is worth and leave a review, be honest, it helps other photographers find out about the show. I really appreciate your help.

DJ: [00:01:50]
Next up is a TOGCHAT exclusive interview.

Joe: [00:01:54]
I had a great conversation this week with Mr. Marc Silber. Mark is a life-long photographer, best-selling author three times over, filmmaker and host of the Advancing Your Photography YouTube series.

Marc started out learning darkroom skills and the basics of photography at the legendary Peninsula School in Menlo Park, CA, in the ’60s. If you are not familiar with the Peninsula School they are renowned for their no grade approach to education and support of student collaboration, positive risk taking, and creativity. Marc moved on to hone his skills to professional standards at the famed San Francisco Art Institute and has since moved into teaching photography in workshops all over the country.

One of the things I admire most about Marc is his dedication to education. Not just sharing his knowledge and experience, but his own continuing education and you will see in his books, his videos and even in our conversation, he has a brilliant quote from an inspirational photographer for almost any situation.

But his quotes are not just focused on iconic names like Adams and Liebovitzs. He also makes it a point to learn from new photographers. When I booked Marc to be on the podcast, he shared a list of things that he has recently learned from talking to budding photographers and I thought that would make for a great conversation and provide some excellent teaching opportunities.

So let’s dig in.

Mark Silber, thank you for taking the time to join me on TOGCHAT. How are you?

Marc Silber: [00:03:38]
Great. And you know, life is treating me well, I’m treating life. Well, I can’t complain.

Joe: [00:03:44]
I’m honored to have a conversation with you, and I’ve got a lot that I want to talk to you about. So I’m going to dive right in here Mark. One of the things that I respect most about you and really enjoy about you as a photographer and an educator, you’re kind of old school. You’re a guy that can pick up a camera and make a great image of just about anything, regardless of the genre, because your skills are built on a real solid foundation of photography skills and I really respect the fact that you are an eternal student of photography.

So Mark, you had sent me an idea for a conversation today that I think is awesome. And the title that you gave it, Five things that I’ve recently discovered from talking to budding photographers. I think that’s a really great starting point for us, but before we dig in, I am curious, how did that idea come about? What kind of conversations were you having that made you think, hey, there’s an opportunity here to make sure that we’re helping people more effectively?

Marc Silber: [00:04:44]
You know, Joe, I was putting together some material for my own classes. And sometimes you can get so wrapped up in your own work or your own level of understanding, you kind of lose track of what your audience needs.

And I always like to go back to my audience and find it. Am I on the right track or not? So these conversations, literally, I invited people who read my books to a 15-minute interview with me, which was mainly me just asking them about them and finding out. You know, what were the pain points? What were the areas they’re having trouble with and what were their goals?

And that’s where this came out of. Because I really believe that if you’re teaching, you really have to know what’s going on with the audience and the kind of teaching that you and I do digitally is very different from being live with people. Cause when you’re live, you can look at their expressions and you go, wait a minute.

I know they’re not tracking here. So I better back up and go. What, what did you not understand about what I just said? Or do you need another example or whatever, but in the digital world, we don’t, we don’t really have that opportunity so much. So, so it was born out of really making sure that I’m on the right track and I’m helping people with what they need help.

Joe: [00:06:04]
Number one on your list, their biggest desires are being creative and advancing their photography to the next level, which, by the way, is worth pointing out, you do have a book called Advancing Your Photography. So expand on that, let’s start with the being creative part. What are you hearing in those interviews that people are expressing is their biggest obstacle or their challenge with being creative?

Marc Silber: [00:06:29]
Joe, the biggest challenge is sort of like stepping back. Okay. So let’s say you’ve, you’ve mastered your camera. You know, how to process images, you know, you’ve got a pretty good grasp of, of composition, but now really what’s left is where do you point that camera? Right. And that’s the creative part.

The most important part of the whole process is what goes on right here behind the camera. The camera is a wonderful artistic device, but like any device, it doesn’t work on its own. Cameras do not take pictures, Bambi Cantrell. People take pictures, cameras. Don’t it’s you with your vision that is going to point you in the right direction.

And that’s something I learned from Ansel Adams. He said the very most important aspect of photography is visualization, which means getting an idea before you press the shutter. A lot of people struggle with that. They don’t quite get, what does that mean? You know, wait a minute. Do I have to stop and think what?

If I’m out shooting action, you know, isn’t that going to really slow me down? Well, just the fact that you decided I’m going to go out and get some action photographs, or I’m going to shoot sports, that’s a vision right there. Something put you in the right place at the right time, hopefully. And that’s your vision.

So it’s that creative approach to your photography? And life for that matter. Because I don’t just study photography by a long shot, I studied life because to me and photography are one of the same, very inner mashed. And that’s why I’m constantly interested in photography because it helps me understand life.

So the biggest challenge is that you have to be inspired. You have to know where you want to point your camera. What story. You’re trying to tell when you have just random photographs, it’s one thing. But if you’re putting them together, like I have a class that I teach weekly and I’m critiquing this ongoing storytelling process, which takes your photography to a completely different level than just, here’s a sunset.

Here’s a car, here’s a portrait. But what if you somehow wove those together into one story, then it means something very different. What I would recommend right there. Start looking at your stories as an ongoing series of photographs.

Joe: [00:08:53]
Now, when you talk about the visualization behind being creative and getting things started, do you find that new photographers, or to use your phrase budding photographers, struggle with or for that matter, don’t really understand the importance of prep? An example would be, let’s say you’re going to go out and shoot a landscape. Prep would be similar to what Ansel Adams did — taking a walk through a national park without a camera and, taking notes and jotting down times and angles and lighting conditions, which today, of course, we can do with an app. For a portrait photographer that prep may involve deciding on outfits and props. Do you find that’s a big struggle for people?

Marc Silber: [00:09:34]
Well, I think in our world of everything being instant and fast and it’s like, don’t let that get in your way. Because when you look at photographers who have really mastered their craft, they take time, but they also go back to an area over and over again.

And they become familiar, like you said, so familiarity is a huge part of your toolkit. You should do research ahead of time, but also going back to an area over and over again. Can help you develop what you’re trying to get in your photograph. The story I love about Ansel Adams, one of his most iconic photographs of moon over half dome in Yosemite, we’ve seen it all over the place.

So the story behind that, I know his family. I know his son really well, and his grandson. I did meet Ansel when I was a kid too, but he was on his way to. I’ve heard it two different versions of this is I’ll tell you the version. I liked the best he is on his way to happy hour at the any hotel, which is a very iconic hotel in Yosemite and driving his Cadillac.

He looks out the window and he sees the moon. Over half done. Like he didn’t plan that event. He didn’t go well, a lot of people even look it up in the moon’s going to be at this place and blah, blah, blah. And yeah, it was sort of a chance thing for him, but because he, we knew the area so well, he knew that he had to just immediately pull over, pull this car over, got out his hostel blonde.

He did a lot of his photographs with the hospital and shot various different versions of it. He ended up using 160mm lens because he wanted the moon to be 80mm. For those who don’t know also blog medium format, normal is 80mm. So at 160mm doubles that, and it brought the moon, you know, the size of it much bigger.

And he got in a matter of minutes, you know, because you don’t have a lot of time to take those kinds of photographs, but because of his familiarity, he knew his equipment. He knew the location. He knew he loved moons. He takes a lot of photographs with moons. So he was already, he had all this prep work, as you said, you know, he was prepared, and he even coined, uh, a thing, you know, from Louie pastor chance favors the prepared mind is the pastor quote.

And he answered, Adam said chance favors the prepared photographer. So preparation is huge.

Joe: [00:12:05]
You also mentioned advancing their photography to the next level. Are you that people find that to be more of a technical challenge, or is it making an assumption that there’s a foundation of photography skills? And are there other things that they need to be able to advance? What are they telling you?

Marc Silber: [00:12:23]
It’s a kind of combination of technical tools, like for instance, exposure, you know, like, are you exposing your image so that you’re not pulling your viewer’s attention out of the frame? That’s kind of the biggest mistake. I see. A lot of you don’t want. Your viewers attention going like this.

You want them to go on your main center of attention? And that can definitely be a technical thing. Just the newer photographer may. Be thinking about, but really it boils down to where do you want your viewer’s eye to go? What’s the primary subject that you’re trying to get their attention on. And can we eliminate other things that will distract them from that?

And that’s heart composition, part control of your camera and part processing, but all those things really fit together. And if you think of photography like a vocabulary, How you string your words together obviously makes a big difference in how you communicate to somebody. If you just said, Hey, look over there.

Where what the fence, the wall, the camera, you know, but if I say, look at that tree right there, that’s where I want you to have your center of attention. Then it makes it a very clear, straightforward communication from you to your subject, to the person who’s looking.

Joe: [00:13:46]
That brings up a good question that may apply more to beginners, but I think it’s a great reminder even for advanced photographers. Coming from someone with your experience, if that tree that you mention is the subject, that’s the piece that we want to see and understanding that since we create that image, we have that experience. But no other person that sees that photograph is going to have the exact same experience. So in what order would you rank the tools that photographers have available to be able to try to force the viewer to see that tree the way we want them to see the tree?

Marc Silber: [00:14:24]
Good point. You know, it’s funny, I just talked about this in my class. There’s there’s basically the key word here is interest and that is what are you interested in? I’ll just take a little side trip here. I see a mistake being made commonly, which is photographing for other people’s interests now.

Okay. Look, of course you have to do that. Sometimes you, you know, especially if you’re a commercial photographer, you’re thinking about your client, what do they want? Right. That’s true. However, you are the artist. And what you’re interested in is really so important because if you fake it, It’s going to show in your photograph if you’re really not that interested, but you think it’s going to get a lot of likes on Instagram or whatever.

Don’t do that. Don’t go there. I mean, it’s tempting. We all do that. I, you know, I know certain photographs if I post them, I’ll get woo. You know, but that isn’t necessarily my best work at all. Um, Joe, I’m sure you’ve had this happen. You post you’re absolutely your killer image that you love. Hardly anything happens.

Okay. You post something, kind of try it like a sunset, whoa, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. So we have to watch that was social media because I call it fast food photography, and it is compared to a real meal that you took hours and hours and hours to prepare and you played it properly and you get the candles out and wineglass.

No, we go to a fast food restaurant, and we get instant gratification, French fries tastes great, but are they good for you? Not really. The thing is, is like you have to be guided number one by what is it that really genuinely interests you and then you have to go, okay. So if I’m interested in this, how am I giving my viewer a window into something that I found interesting.

You have to know your tools. You have to know your cameras. So well, Bob Holmes says, no, your camera is so well, it doesn’t get in the way of your photography, because the biggest problem that I see people stumbling with is their camera. They’re either too fixated on this piece of equipment and gear and switching gear around all the time, which is a big mistake because the learning curve for a camera.

Is not insignificant. And if you’re constantly changing the variables all over the place, you’re never going to learn the gear. Don’t do that, get to know your, your camera, your lens, your exposure so well that it does not get in the way. And you can enhance the image rather than distract from an image. So those are like some key pointers, but again, it starts with you and your vision.

What are you interested in? And what story can you make out of it? That could be interesting to other people.

Joe: [00:17:19]
Next on your list, you mentioned two challenges, getting inspired and composition. We can come back to composition, but I’m going to play devil’s advocate for the first one, getting inspired. At least for me, when I was younger, that was never an issue. There was this passion for me, like I just had to pick up my camera and shoot. However, when I first experienced a hard time of finding that inspiration, it actually came after I decided to make money as a photographer when there was a task that maybe was not something that I really, really wanted to do, but I needed to do because I was going to make money. So how are people describing this struggle to you? Is it being inspired to just pick up the camera and use it in the first place? Or is it knowing that there’s a genre or a topic they want to photograph, but just not being inspired in terms of how to approach it to create something visually interesting?

Marc Silber: [00:18:15]
How do you get inspired? I think it’s both. Photography is one form of creativity. There’re some guideposts to creativity that I’ll just point out here are some hacks, if you will. And then. One of the biggest ones is looking at other people’s work and not just photography, because you can be inspired. I’m always inspired by painting.

Pro photographers that I’ve talked to have mentioned this over and over again that they go to museums. Now that hopefully museums are opening up. We can do that again. Just go. I find the art that really resonates for you. Try to see in the art. What is it that resonates? Why does it resonate? W also how did that artists use their canvas?

The frame. To tell their story. I also get inspired by music. I get inspired by movies. Movies with, especially with a great cinematographer. What are you looking at? 24 frames, a second. That’s 24 photographs every second. And the great cinematographers know that they really are. Robert Frank was a still photographer first, a great still photographer. Then he became a filmmaker. So he carried that over into his filmmaking and you see, you see this great framing, you see the great composition, but the easiest hack, if you are a low on inspiration. Is just constantly load up your mental library with work that inspires you. And it’s not because you’re going to copy it.

It’s like you get inspired, you go out and you see something and you go, wow. I really would like to go photograph something like that myself. And you brought up a really good point. A lot of us as children, as kids growing up, teenagers, whatever, whatever age you got into photography. There’s that sort of spark, you know, you don’t have to do much inspiration cause it’s like you’re, you’re in wonderment all the time and that can get beaten down.

I write about that again in my book and there are things that you can do to build that back up again. That’s really important because having that sort of fresh set of eyes is very important in terms of obviously. What, what you’re going to do with your camera and if you’re bored or you’re disinterested, or you’re just not feeling inspired that day, you know what pros don’t have that luxury.

They got to go back. Like you said, you know, you’ve got a client, you got National Geographic had to come back and deliver the goods to, or outside magazine or whatever you have that one day to shoot or one hour or whatever it is. Annie Liebovitz. Having 15 minutes, 10 minutes with, you know, some of her subjects, that’s it.

It’s like, that’s, you’ve got in 10 minutes, you’ve got to come back with a photograph. You can’t just say, well, I’m not inspired. Um, you know, I didn’t get that photograph that day. No, you have to. And I think that’s something that each of us could take to our photography. Don’t give yourself the luxury of.

I’m not inspired. I don’t know what to, you know, get out there and do it and see what happens, but use that little hack of getting inspired by other people’s work, whether it is music or filmmaking or classical art, whatever it is, use that as a way to build yourself up and to spark your own level of it.

DJ: [00:21:39]
Enjoying the show. Please take a moment and share it with your friends on social media.

Joe: [00:21:44]
Indeed so much of our creativity comes from and is influenced by our experiences. You also listed composition and indeed this is one that I hear a lot. Certainly, there are a lot of different approaches to composition. Some people have a very rules based approach. Others have a very visual approach. What say you? How do you advise people when they’re telling you, Composition is a struggle?

Marc Silber: [00:22:08]
Well, Joe, I don’t mean to be self-promoting, but I did write a book about composition. Well, here’s the thing. I did a lot of research, obviously, before I wrote this book and I found there’re two extremes, as you said, a lot of people are rule-based.

There are no rules. Art does not have these gut, you know, a rule is like, you break it. You’re going to get in trouble. Right? There’s no composition police that are going to come here. And give you a ticket because you didn’t apply the rule of thirds. You know, there’s many beautiful portraits where the subject is dead center in the frame, or way off like Arnold Newman, way off, over here.

Right? Amazing portrait photographer, or way off over here, you know, nothing to do with any kind of rule. So I want to extremely could say there’s a lot of rules. And if you know those rules, you’re going to be a good photographer, not true. The other extreme. And I’ve heard this. From Edward Weston, our friend, every Western kind of like, there are no rules.

You just gotta go. You gotta learn it. You either have it, or you don’t. I don’t agree with either one of those. I think like most things in life, it lies in the middle. There are guidelines for composition guides, not rules. I like to think of it as a vocabulary. Now I think that most average photographers have a vocabulary of about five compositional techniques that they use over and over again. They obviously know portrait, they know the landscape, they know, maybe they know, okay. If I use a leading line, that’s cool. Right? Leading lines are always workable, but they run out of gas after maybe five, and they go, so I keep photographing the same thing over and over.

Using the same set of vocabulary, some languages, Russian, I know three words. I can’t even come up with five. My sentence structure is pretty limited. I know, duh. Yes, yet. I know. Plus placebo. Thank you. That’s a pretty limited conversation right there. So if you can broaden your vocabulary, what that means is that you then have in your mental equipment here.

The ability to see these different compositional tools like diagonal lines, add vitality to your photograph action. So you go, whoa, I’m standing on, you know, a boardwalk and the lions are all going on. A diagonal. If I had a subject on there that could look really cool because it’s going to gun it kind of give it an extra jump of light and life framing of course is your most basic compositional tool.

And there’s very many varieties of framing, but that’s always a helpful tool. And then there’re frames within frames. Which is really cool. If you can control, you know, we talk about don’t split attention, but frames within frames can look really, really cool. These are just compositional guidelines. If you have them in your tool kit, you will find examples and you’ll use them. And that’s super helpful.

Joe: [00:25:16]
There are two great analogies that you make there, and I wish more people would teach it and approach it that way. One is the use of the word guidelines as opposed to rules. And the other one is the analogy that these guidelines are tools. I could not agree more. So next on your list, this was an interesting one to me, you learned that they really want to get their work out to the world and leave something meaningful behind, but they’re unsure how to do so. So right out of the box, I’m going to assume that we’re not referring to leaving a social media profile. So what are we talking about here?

Marc Silber: [00:25:51]
Yeah, your social media profile. How long does that last? We’re talking about leaving something behind with some depth and meaning to it. And this is what came up in those conversations. I think it especially hit a certain point of your life where you really do want to have.

Left behind something that, that others could appreciate your kids, grandchildren, whoever, whoever, even if you’re really young, you could be thinking about that. My only real regret growing up as a photographer is that in start much earlier into bookmaking, I actually made with a friend, my first book when I was in the eighth grade.

And sadly, we never published it. It would have been pretty cool. It was a short book, but it would have been really cool. We didn’t have the tools that we have nowadays with things like blurb or, you know, the various different platforms where you can easily publish something. But that is important, Joe, because here’s the thing about publishing your work or even, yeah, printing it.

My mantra is make prints and put them on your own walls. That’s not fast food photography. That’s creating your own gallery. We all have walls. Even if you live in a one-bedroom or a studio apartment or whatever in a hotel room, there’s walls there. If you’re living in a van, there’s some wall space there, put your photographs on it and start curating your own images.

Beyond that, you know, there’s a tremendous satisfaction that comes with sharing your work. And conversely, if you just have your images, we used to say in a shoe box, you know, when there were prints, but now it could be on your computer, on your own hard drive. And nobody else sees them. Not very satisfying.

It’s like, if you know how to cook a great meal, don’t you want to share it with somebody? Right. You want to see them delight in whatever it was that you’re cooking and hopefully it’s good, but that’s true with any art form is you want to get it out to the world. And I put a lot of emphasis on that in my books, like how to get your work out to the world, because that completes the whole, what I call the cycle of photography.

It starts with your vision. It goes through your use of equip. Your ability to capture, which is composition and lighting your editing in the final stages, sharing with somebody else. And that’s a very satisfying thing, but many people don’t know what to do. How do you, how do you do that?

So I actually took a group in a masterclass, and we created a book with them. It was really cool. They all went through a project. We critique them every week. I helped them sequence their photographs, put the ones together that belong together. Take the ones out. You can be in love with a photograph, but it doesn’t.

So, put it over here, you can use it for something else. And then finally put it together in a book with captions and also a little story about it. And that was really cool. So these people, four of them had never been published before, and we published it as well. Very satisfying.

Joe: [00:28:50]
You mentioned the idea of curating your own work. And you talked about your masterclass where you walked people through this process. I find and I frequently see this from photographers, they photograph an event or a model, whatever it may be. But their Facebook post includes, 50 or more images which means there is little to no culling or curating happening. It’s definitely something that photographers struggle with. I often associate it with the fact that when we take the pictures, we have an emotional attachment to them since we were there and experienced the event or the subject first hand. What would be some of your top-level tips for curating to help photographers get the right perspective on their work to make sure that they’re only putting their best foot forward?

Marc Silber: [00:29:37]
I wrote about this actually. And the best tip I know is from chase Jarvis, who said, put your portfolio together with 10 photographs in it, less is more people do not want to look. I, you know, I see these websites without, you know, it’s, it seems like thousands of photographs and I get overwhelmed and I lose interest right away because there’s too much to look at, but his thing was take your 10 best photographs and put them together in a portfolio.

And he means a physical portfolio. This could also be on your website. And then as you advance, you might say that one is no longer in my top 10 collection. I’m going to replace it with this other photograph, but you only have 10 in the portfolio by the way. That’s really good advice. If you’re going out to, to pitch say, doing a show.

I guarantee you that curator does not want to look at 150 photographs. They will just show them the best 10 that you’ve got. Now they may ask for more, which is good. That’s a good sign. Leave. It’s better. Leave people hungry then going. Okay, boy. There’s too much here. I don’t know what to choose from, but, but do that.

That’s the expectation. You should have 10 photographs that you consider your best work and keep switching that out just to give you an expectation too. We’re in this world of digital photography, you can shoot millions of frames. Did you. Does that make you a better photographer?

Absolutely not. You mentioned I’m old school and I take that as a compliment. I do come from the film days and boy, you had to be, look this Leica here, you know, maximum was 36 exposures. And guess what happened after. Images were exposed. I had to go to the dark room and develop them. Then I had to print them and I didn’t want to clog up everything with all these excessive images.

So I’d rather see people slow down. Take that to heart. I mean, the beauty is with digital. You can shoot a lot of images and you should, you, should you choose different angles and whatnot? But it doesn’t mean you have to overshoot and clog up your whole editing workflow, but going back to where we’re going before, take your 10 best images, put your portfolio together, whether it’s on your website or a physical portfolio, and just work from there.

Joe: [00:31:57]
The next item on your list, I actually found a bit surprising that people raised this as a concern. They’re more interested in the art of photography than just talking about gear. Now, the reason I say surprised, is that if we go to YouTube, the gear videos far surpass the how-to videos in terms of views. It is a given that gear will always be a part of the process and there will always be people who are more into the gear than they are the process of creating photos. — Kind of like motor heads. But as these photographers and are telling you, they’re more interested in the art of photography. Give me some more context behind that.

Marc Silber: [00:32:38]
Realize this is a preselection process. These are people who are already following me on YouTube or reading my books where I’ve made this point. But the deal is this. We can be gear heads, but that doesn’t make you a photographer. When I hear a super geeky conversation, I get so bored and what’s interesting is having interviewed hundreds of photographers, pro photographers.

The amount of time they actually talk about gear is about 10% at the most. The other 90% is what you do with that gear. Cause most pro photographers, I know have shot with every kind of camera you can think of from a Polaroid to a digital or the latest Nikon, digital or whatever brand.

And they know one thing just doesn’t matter. You find the equipment that you’re comfortable with and you work with. What you do with that equipment is what’s really important. I look upon cameras as a creative tool. In any field of creativity, you have tools, we’re recording, we have microphones, these are creative tools.

This is gonna sound better than if we got a cheap mic that was degrading the sound, right? So we use it as a recording tool of a creativity, same thing with your editing software and whatever. Those are the important things. If like, what do you do with these tools? Like you said, motor. Do those motor heads go out and take long drives with their cars and really enjoy them.

Turn on the radio and have a great time. Probably not. It’s probably sitting in their garage most of the time. Right? You have an expensive car here. You’re not going to subject it to driving downtown and getting dinged up on the side of the street. That’s why I kind of personally, I, you know, it’s always good to have a car that you don’t mind.

Whatever happens to it with my kids, we go surfing and snowboarding and backpack in it. I don’t want to be worried about what’s going to happen to that car and the insight and the same thing. Is true with your, with your equipment. You want to use it as a tool and a vehicle, not as an end, all don’t do that.

And you said, yes, YouTube is full of gear. I think because there’s a bit of a misconception. If I just had the right camera, if I just had that new line. If I just had that new editing software, man, that would, that would do it. If you’re a chef and you just got a new pan and you just got a new knife and you just got the new stove. No, you look at those chefs. They could cook on a Coleman stove and it would still come out. Great. That’s not the deciding

Joe: [00:35:14]
The last item on your list, and I think this is a great one, because I know at least in my career, I benefited tremendously from this, they told you they want a mentor. So, you know, I talk a lot about the mentors that I had as a teenager that had a long term impact on my life and career. What are people looking for in a mentor? And from your experience, what do you feel people need in a mentor?

Marc Silber: [00:35:42]
They need somebody who can give them accurate guidance. There’s no BS that isn’t fluff and it isn’t overly harsh. That’s what I try to do with my critiques is I size up an image very quickly.

What’s my first impression. And that’s what I’ll tell them, because really that’s what most people are going to do. They’re not going to sit and look at your photograph for 10 minutes. If it just doesn’t resonate, something has to draw them in my most common critiquing is this is what I feel like is most needed in a mentor is somebody gives you accurate feed.

So a really common point is you didn’t wait. You didn’t wait. You got, look, the scene was set. Everything is beautifully framed. The light was pretty good, but there’s nothing going on yet. Somebody needed to walk into the frame or a dog needs to run into the frame. A bird needed to fly into the frame, a person on a bicycle, something needed to happen.

It’s like your table is set, but there’s no meal on it yet. That just requires patience. Hey, look, you went to all the hard work of finding this shot, but you just didn’t wait for that magic to occur the magic or decisive moment. And that’s a common point. I say, look, go back. You’ve got a great setting there.

Go back. And. Ansel Adams talks about waiting nine hours for the clouds to move in just the way he wanted it. It’s a really important point of photography is being patient. You know, it’s a funny thing, Joe, because on one hand you have to be able to capture things instantly because sometimes they don’t wait for you.

And there are going to be one second is there. And one second, it’s gone. But on the other side of that as being paid. And waiting until you see the photograph. That’s one thing I think you could go along and make the same mistake over and over again. If you didn’t have a coach, I’m really big on getting coached.

Like when I’m learning sports, I’m a surfer and I’ve had surf coaches and, you know, look, I could be doing something almost right. But it comes out wrong and I’ll just keep doing it because I think it’s right. And the surf coach goes, mark. You know what you’re doing is you’re not digging your hand in deep enough into the water.

You’re not getting a good stroke out of that. I’ve had swimming coaches, same thing. I’ve had snowboard coaches. I’ve had rock climbing coaches. They are the person outside that can look at what you’re doing and give you feedback. And it really. As one of my students said today, mark, I feel like you’ve taken what would take me two years, years to learn and I’m learning.

And in a matter of a number of classes, you’re shortening that learning curve. And that’s what you really want in a mentor. I won’t be U.S. with you either. You know if you’re going off on the wrong target, don’t go there. And why are you doing that? Stick with the subject over here, you know, don’t bounce out.

Joe: [00:38:32]
So let’s flip the script, what would you give people as a recommendation if they have reached that point where they realize they need to find a mentor, somebody that’s actually going to take an interest in what they are doing so that the feedback has more context. What would you say makes a good mentor?

Marc Silber: [00:38:51]
Well, I think you’re looking at two of them right here, so you don’t need to look any further easy. I’m going to look at you. You listen, that’s important. That’s super important. You’re paying attention and you’re listening and you’re, you’re asking the right questions, which is another thing a mentor should do, Socrates didn’t teach, he asked questions.

We’ve all heard the Socratic method. He knew the answer, but instead telling you the answer. A good teacher doesn’t necessarily just say, Hey look, leading lions, that’s your answer. You ask a question. Where does your eye go in this photograph? Then look at it. Really look at it right now. Where is your eye going in this photograph?

Well, oh, it goes way over to it. The edge here. Is that where you want your viewer’s eye to go? No. Okay. So a good teacher or mentor guides, their students with skills. Not just randomly. And I asked the right question, gets the. People that are teaching to look. And I think the other thing, Joe, that’s really important is interactivity amongst the students themselves.

What’s great about live workshops, which I haven’t been teaching for 16 months, whatever it’s been. I hope to get back to those, but what’s great about that is you do develop an interactivity amongst the students. And within instructor, but I think the most important qualities in a good, a good mentor are generosity and their willingness to share their knowledge and being very specific about don’t overload people with a bunch of stuff.

When I critique a photograph, I really try to just find one thing. If I think it needs to be improved and talk about that. And. Don’t don’t go, well, you know, the exposure and this and that, blah, you know, that’s overwhelming. And what I don’t want people to do is go away feeling, oh man, I really blew it.

That was really a terrible photograph. I’m never going to photograph again. I want them to feel like, okay, I got something out of it. That can improve. And a lot of times I’ll ask them, for example, if I feel like their cropping was way too tight, like, could you, could you pull it back and let me see the version of it?

Like more than just the person’s face, like cropped in like this, I’d like to see that. You know, their torso and maybe even the whole same, maybe give us some other options on that, so we can look at it and let them come back and let’s look at it. Those are the skills that I think are really cool.

Joe: [00:41:18]
Mark, you quote photographers like you have memorized an encyclopedia, which I admire and I’m jealous of. I’m curious, when did that start to be a thing for you? Have you always been that deep into it or did that happen when you became an educator an author? Going through your books, you have this wonderful habit of finding the most appropriate quotes for what you are trying to teach someone, which obviously helps to provide some authority to what you’re writing.

Marc Silber: [00:41:45]
That’s a good question, Joe, let me think. I’m not sure if I know where that happened. So growing up as a photographer, I had two main photographers that I studied a lot. One was Henry Cartier-Bresson. And if you guys are not familiar with his work, just Google it. He was one of the most prolific photographers of the last century. He worked for Paris Match in a number of different photographic journals, and he was the master of street photography and coined the term, the decisive moment on the other side of that spectrum, my other mentor was ancillary, who didn’t do that at all. He shot with large format cameras, primarily on a tripod, mostly nature, not people. He did do some really great portraiture, but mostly he wasn’t known for that. But what was great about Ansel is he wrote a series of books, and he passed along his information. Very rare, not very many photographers have written, I mean, dozens of books.

There’s five in his photo series, but he wrote a lot of other books, really where it flipped over for me was originally teaching workshops. I didn’t want to just stand up and just say, this is what I think is my idea. I wanted to bring in other photographers into the conversation. So I probably started quoting them.

Then when I got the idea for my show, advancing your photography, the whole idea was started with Ansel Adams and Annie Leibovitz. We were my first two subjects, believe it or not. And I thought, you know, Ansel Adams talks about visualization in his books and I thought, wouldn’t it be amazing to hear him actually say what he means by that?

And I was fortunate enough to get unreleased footage of him loaned to me by his family or what exactly he means. And I started using that. And so then my show was sponsored by SanDisk originally and was a fantastic gig. Listen to this. I knew nothing about shooting, video, nothing, zero. I never shot a video in my life.

And I managed to pitch this show and get it launched without me being a video. Video guy at all. U.S. but fortunately I had smart people who not only shot and edited, but they made me learn as well. That was another great mentorship. So I did learn how to shoot and edit video, but in the course of all those interviews, you know, I interviewed a Chase Jarvis or Joe McNally or Bambi Cantrell or whatever.

And when you shoot a video, you’re there live with them. Oftentimes I’ve talked to them beforehand, I shoot them alive and then I edit it. And you know, by the time you get through editing, you’ve seen it 10 times. Right? So the points of wisdom really sink in. And then I took the ones that really resonated the most.

And I put those, you know, my books. And like you said, I did try to find quotes at the beginning of each chapter. That’s really fun, by the way, it’s a fun process to go. Who said something like I’ve got the idea, but who said something that really kinda like summarizes that, you know, maybe it’s Ben Franklin. I find that fun. That’s my style. And in writing as I, I do that at the beginning of every chapter, so that’s where it all kind of grew out of.

Joe: [00:45:06]
One more question I have for you, I could talk to you for hours, so we may have to do this again in the future. But I have seen you write about misconceptions about photography that were common. What are some of those?

Marc Silber: [00:45:20]
The biggest misconception and believe it or not, Joe, and this doesn’t sound like it’s a misconception, but it is. And that it’s easy. Nothing wrong with photography being easy. But here’s the thing. If we have one of these, and we think that’s all there is to photography because you can pick it up.

Point it, boom, press the button. Oh, it’s easy to be a photographer now. Yeah, no, if you’re going to learn to play the guitar or violin, or you’re going to become good at archery, it’s not that easy. You’re gonna really have to work at it. And I think you need to approach photography with the same mindset.

Nobody can pick up a violin and start making music out of it the first day, not going to happen. So why think that just because you’ve got a really cool phone or whatever camera you got, you’re instantly now a photographer. You gotta be willing to roll up your sleeves and put some time into it. I think that’s a common misconception right there.

Joe: [00:46:18]
Great advice. I completely agree. Well, Mark, I have to I have to thank you so much. Sincerely. I really admire your approach to education and I admire your willingness to share what you have learned. Thank you so much for your time and for everything that you share with us today.

Marc Silber: [00:46:31]
Joe, my pleasure. Happy to share whatever I’ve learned along the way. It’s always something I find very enjoyable.

I really appreciate it. Thank you again.

You know I wish I had learned of these perspectives when I was in my 20s I was very fortunate to have some incredible mentors and teachers when I was in my teens, but the challenge we have to remember is that the learning never stops and the smart people are the ones who are always seeking that education and allowing it to influence their work for the better.
I would suggest that is one of the coolest things about being involved with photography today. The technology we have and the access to the whole world via the internet gives us access to people like Marc who are willing to share their knowledge and really allow up and coming photographers to avoid a lot of the mistakes that we made on the way up.
Be sure to check out Marc’s website and socials. The links are in the show notes. I would also encourage you to check out his YouTube Channel for some inspirational learning and don’t forget his books. I have them linked in the show notes as well.

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Okay folks, that will do it for this episode of the TOGCHAT Photography podcast. Stay safe, have a great week and until next time, go pick up that camera and shoot something because “Your BEST shot, it’s your NEXT Shot.” So keep learning, keep thinking and keep shooting! Adios!

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Joe Edelman

Joe Edelman is an award winning Photographer, Author, and Photo Educator.  Follow this link to learn more about Joe or view his portfolio. Please be sure to connect on the social media platforms below.
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