Recorded: Welcome to the ReWork with Allison Tyler Jones, a podcast dedicated to inspiring portrait photographers to uniquely brand, profitably price and confidently sell their best work. Allison has been doing just that for the last 15 years and she’s proven that it’s possible to create unforgettable art and run a portrait business that supports your family and your dreams. All it takes is a little rework. Episodes will include interviews with experts from in and outside of the photo industry, mini workshops and behind the scenes secrets that Allison uses in her portrait studio every single day. She will challenge your thinking and inspire your confidence to create a profitable, sustainable portrait business you love, through continually refining and reworking your business. Let’s do the rework.
Allison Tyler Jones: Hi, friends and welcome back to the ReWork. Are you feeling a little burnt out? Are you ready for a vacation? Are you feeling like you’re in a creative rep with your work and you just are going to die if you take one more of the same type of session? Maybe you just need a break. Maybe you just need to listen to this episode, this conversation that I’m having with my friend Drake Busath, from Busath Photography in Salt Lake city, Utah. Drake is going to talk about how he gets out of creative ruts, how he uses travel and personal projects to get him reinvigorated, to refill his creativity and bring him back to what he does for his “Day job”, with a new vision and new purpose. And I know you’re going to find this very relevant to your own creative process. Let’s do it.
Allison Tyler Jones: Welcome Drake Busath. It’s so great to have you back on the ReWork podcast. I’m so glad that you’re here.
Drake Busath: Thank you very much. I’m happy to be here.
Allison Tyler Jones: Well, and between the last time that we talked and now, I’ve actually been to Salt Lake and taken a tour of your studio and met both of your boys, which was awesome. Such a great experience. I loved your studio. That was so much fun. Thank you for letting me do that.
Drake Busath: That was a lot of fun for us too. Everybody cleaned up the place a little bit, swept the floors, dusted the shelves and that was a lot of fun. It was an honor to have you, and I love it.
Allison Tyler Jones: I loved it. Yes, we both loved it. It was really great. So today, what I wanted to talk about, I thought, it’s summer 2022, hopefully people are back traveling again a little bit more. It feels like the world’s coming to life a little bit more than we have been for the last two years. And, one of the things that people may or may not know about you that are listening to this is that, not only do you have a portrait studio, but you also have groups of people that you take through these Italian, Italy workshops where you take them to a photographic excursion, and you are a travel agent extraordinaire. There’s no doubt in my mind, some of the most amazing travel experiences that I’ve had in my life have been as a direct result of your either advice or your leadership as we went through Italy.
Allison Tyler Jones: So, what I wanted to talk to about today is, how specifically you, as a photographer, who has run a portrait studio for many years, uses the personal projects and travel and these kind of passion projects that you’ve gone off on over a period of years, what has maybe sparked that? What does that do for you? How does that keep you relevant? Keep you interested? Get you out of ruts, all of that sort of thing.
Drake Busath: Yeah. The burnout and the ruts, the two issues of my life. Burnout happens when I’m just doing too much work. The ruts are just a common problem for me when I’m, because also doing too much work, I just find myself doing the same thing over and over again. And creatives need to create, not just reproduce. And, I completely honor being a craftsman and recreating that same portrait for a client after client after client. And I know that’s a necessary part of our business, but I personally get bored with myself and I get frustrated that I’m not moving forward. And so, I’ve always needed some kind of passion project. And so, I’m glad you brought that up, because that’s been super important for me. I’m about 40 years now into the business and our studio is celebrating 50 years this year.
Allison Tyler Jones: Wow.
Drake Busath: Yeah.
Allison Tyler Jones: Congratulations.
Drake Busath: And, my parents started it but technically I have been here all 50 years because I was in junior high.
Allison Tyler Jones: Yeah. You were.
Drake Busath: I was in the dark room processing black and white film when we opened it in 1973. And so, 50 years. You’re going to fall into some ruts for sure.
Allison Tyler Jones: So, how do you identify that? What are the symptoms in your mind of either a rut… You’ve said before that you think the ruts are the things that lead you to burn out. If you stay too long in a rut, then you burn out or what is the symptom for you? What does that look like in your world?
Drake Busath: Well, I remember a lot of instances where I’m looking back through my work, especially when I was presenting at conventions, I’m going back through my work, picking images to show, and I realized that, it’s just all the same. It hasn’t changed in the decade and that’s been a frustration to me. And, I can always choose enough good images to put the show on. But in my heart, I know that I haven’t moved forward. And then, there are times when I’ve gone out. I don’t know if anyone listening could relate to this but, I’ve done maybe three sessions or four or five in a day and had to go out to the car, close the windows, roll the windows up and just scream. Just absolute scream because, I am completely fried on doing the same thing. It’s usually something like, “I just did a full day, the same exact day that I did in 1994.”
Allison Tyler Jones: You’re having Groundhog day.
Drake Busath: It’s Groundhog day and that’s a huge frustration for me. It may not be for everybody. But in my heart, I have that need to create. So, I’ve always looked for projects and opening a second studio was one that I needed in the 90s to satisfy that, scratch that itch.
Allison Tyler Jones: Okay. So, tell me about that.
Drake Busath: Well, that was somewhat successful, kept it going for 15 years. But I’ve eventually closed the shop because, it wasn’t moving forward. It was just static and just at a standstill. But, I tried one memorable failure, an effort to break out of the rut was, trying to start a children’s business. A complete, separate children’s studio chain. And, we developed the product, we developed the business plan, we found locations. And, that didn’t get off the ground because I got sick and couldn’t follow it through. But, I have a feeling that it may not have happened anyway. I think what is common for me in my efforts to get out of ruts is, inviting danger into my life.
Allison Tyler Jones: Okay. Do tell
Drake Busath: I get too safe. It gets just too common, too repetitive, too safe. And so, starting a second studio 50 miles away was inviting danger.
Allison Tyler Jones: That felt like danger?
Drake Busath: Yeah.
Allison Tyler Jones: Until actual danger came into your life in the form of cancer.
Drake Busath: And then I had a real danger. But, other passion projects that… After that, I was going around giving lectures at conventions and the days of lots and lots of conventions, and I was in a rut doing that, feeling unsatisfied. So, we got together with some friends, Michael Taylor and Helen Yazi, and said, “Let’s do this in Italy.” That was going out on a limb. I’ll never forget sitting on this bus the first year we tried this. So, we had a bus full of people, strangers who picked up in Rome, and I’m sitting at the front of the bus in that little guide, jump seat. And, I got both fingers crossed and my legs crossed and my arms crossed and no idea what I was getting into. I just knew we were going to the location I had never been before; we were visiting towns I had never seen before.
Drake Busath: I had been in Italy a lot, but not to this particular area in Tuscany. So, that was inviting danger. And, those are the most satisfying moments of my life when I’ve been way out on a limb like that and pulled it off. And so, that’s a memorable and then that’s continued and morphed into something different now. But it’s also… As I’ve done those workshops in Italy, and now in the states, I’m doing, them here too, I’m always going out on a limb and trying to teach something I really am not that expert at.
Allison Tyler Jones: Like what?
Drake Busath: Like landscape photography. We started a number of years ago, my niece in St. George, Utah says, “You do these workshops in Italy, why don’t you do it here in your own backyard? It was the national parks and slot canyons.” And I said, “Well, because I’m not really a landscape photographer. I’m a hobbyist that way.” But, the idea grew on me. And so, we just advertised it and all of a sudden I’m in the hot seat, teaching landscape photography. So, I had to learn very quickly some of the techniques that I didn’t know. And over the years…
Allison Tyler Jones: Yeah. I definitely looking at your landscape work, I would not call you a hobbyist for sure.
Drake Busath: Well, I forced myself into that dangerous position of looking stupid in front of people that actually did know what they were doing. And so, it forced me out of my route. It forced me to really learn some new skills. Now we have… We do that every year. It’s called Utah Photo Workshops and I have friends that help organize it, but I go out and pretend I’m a landscape photographer once a year. But I am. I am. I’m not out backpacking all the time. I’m not, as I haven’t earned that title like some have that I really truly respect. I’m honest about it with the workshop attendees that, “I don’t make my living doing this. I’m a people photographer, but this is something I do to get out of my rut, to shake off the boredom and the burnout. And it’s good for me.” It’s good.
Allison Tyler Jones: And, how has that helped to go to a completely different discipline or the inviting danger when you come back from that? How has that helped you get out of the rut or avoid the burnout?
Drake Busath: I find myself teaching these principles that help me. In Italy for instance, everyone comes with similar mindset. We all, us Americans and Brits do this. We stand in front of monuments and objects and we photograph them and we try to flatter them. We pretend we’re the Chamber of Commerce photographers. We’re idealizing everything and we spend a week photographing things, objects. And so, one of the lessons that I try to introduce real early in the workshop is, stop photographing things and photograph light, photograph shadows, the shape of shadows, the edge acuteness of shadows, photograph iconic shape and form, and make suggestive images rather than literal images. And, that is a lesson that I learned during the process of teaching these workshops, is to be less literal, which is really healthy for a portrait photographer. We tend to spend all of our energy flattering the subject, and we end up with oftentimes a fake, artificial kind of look. And even if we do get a likeness that’s realistic, it could have more. It could have more suggestive cropping, more suggestive lighting. By that I mean…
Allison Tyler Jones: Like interpretive. Like there’s a concept there versus not suggestive as naked girls.
Drake Busath: Exactly. Right.
Allison Tyler Jones: I gotcha.
Drake Busath: A lot of… Recently, the last few years, I’ve had the strong feeling that I needed to let go of beauty a little bit. I’ve been so trained to capture, make everything beautiful and flattering and just letting go of that a little bit in favor of interest and…
Allison Tyler Jones: Meaning?
Drake Busath: Yeah. There you go. Ambiguity, let’s say.
Allison Tyler Jones: Yeah.
Drake Busath: Okay. Meaning yes, but meaning’s hard. It’s hard to define that when you’re in front of a river, a castle or a street, when I’m over there photographing and I want to create something, let’s call it fine art, I have to go to this… This is something, another lesson that I’ve really learned recently that, I have to analyze the scene and think, “Is this something that I would hang in my own bedroom? Is this an image that has some kind of meaning to use your word to me, or that at least has the flavor that I would hang?” And knowing what I like, is probably the hardest lesson for professionals that come on these workshops. We are so trained after a decade or two to know what the clients like and satisfy their needs, that we forget what it is that we like. So I have…
Allison Tyler Jones: That’s a good point.
Drake Busath: Yeah. Most workshops will have one or two professionals along with some amateurs. And, it’s the professionals that can’t answer that question very well. And, that’s where I found myself is, I don’t know what I liked. I am just shooting on commission and satisfying the client’s expectations. And yeah, I built those expectations a decade ago. But so over there, getting out of the rut means shooting for myself and getting the judges out of my head, I had to stop PPA print competition, I just had to stop it, because it was keeping my world small.
Allison Tyler Jones: Interesting.
Drake Busath: And, I didn’t know what I liked or if I dared enter what I liked. So I just stopped that. I had to get the clients out of my head and the judges out of my head. And eventually, it meant shooting more ambiguous images, less literal and less about the subject itself and more about… And, if there is a subject in the image, leaving open canvas around it more than usual or cropping it dissectively and I come back to my portrait business with all of that in my head, and I am a better portrait photographer. I really am. I’m more interested in the light play on the background, for instance and seem to feel better after these experiences trying to create fine art.
Allison Tyler Jones: Well, I remember you saying something about, it’s such a valid point when you’re saying, we don’t know what we want, because we’ve just been doing, serving clients and doing the same thing for a long period of time. Especially if you’re successful at it, if you’re good at it, it’s just like the band that’s playing their hits at every concert. Everybody wants to hear the greatest hits. They don’t want to hear the new stuff that you’re trying out. They want to hear the things that… Or the soundtrack of their childhood or their college or whatever. So, I feel like that when you start down that road of like, “Well, what do I really like? What really lights me up?” I found that, sometimes that starts from a place of what I know I don’t like. I know I don’t like Thomas Kinkade paintings.
Allison Tyler Jones: I know that I don’t like literal landscape stuff. Just exactly what you’re saying. If you want to take a picture of the Coliseum by the postcard, because you aren’t getting a better picture than that. If you’re going to do that, then what’s your interpretation of that or what is… Like you’re saying, the light play or the feeling that you had when you were in the eternal city and how you felt seeing that for the first time, you had mentioned before at one of the presentations I had heard you give, about when you went to Venice and how Mark Rothko’s paintings had been like a very influential for you, just like that play of light and shadow and that spare. And it was more like you said, suggestive of something rather than a literal interpretation of what is a more abstract interpretation.
Drake Busath: Right. Just color blocking in that case, where it’s just color against color. So, isolating some kind of feeling is the challenge. That’s a lot to ask somebody, go out and do shoot something less literal. So, I feel like it’s important to get into the specifics a little bit. So, some techniques that I use a lot, I try to explain isolation techniques. If we walk up to walk into a space that… And this could apply with a portrait as well. Walk into a space in Italy though, and down an alley or someplace that attracts you. And then, just sit there for a few minutes before you start photographing. That’s important. Experiencing a place with all your senses. Just lean against the wall and feel the stone, the coolness of it, listen to the ambient sound in that alley. Maybe there are voices coming out the windows or maybe, there’s a river nearby and then notice it from 360 degrees, kind of stand there and look behind you and then try to isolate what it is.
Drake Busath: That’s the essence of that place. And, that’s where you need some specifics. You need to think, “Well, could I isolate one color against another, the way Mark Rothko did in his painting? Is that what’s attracting me to this place?” Maybe initially, it was that really cool lamp and cobblestone and maybe there was laundry hanging out the window. But, maybe it’s the color contrast in that laundry and it’s a tight crop of that. Or, my friend who used to travel on these trips with me, just recently passed away. And, he was a complete amateur and started from scratch and he taught me that… He said that… On one trip, he described his experience with the cobble stones. And the fact, there were flat stones mixed with the cobble rough stones and the locals when it’s raining, would walk on the rough ones and when dry, they would walk on the smooth ones.
Drake Busath: And he got so caught up in that, that was the essence of that town for him is the roads. And so, he created some really interesting images of just these winding little roads looking down the entire time and never even saw the rest of the town. It’s kind of isolating that, the essence of that. And then once you’ve figured it out, then we talk about even more technical specifics, like isolating something with selective focus, where we’re going to open the aperture and let the background go soft and or isolate something the object or the laundry or the brick or whatever it is, with selective lighting. So, we’re going to walk around until we find a strong, directional light on that, or climb into a dark area and look out toward the light, so we’ve got selective directional light.
Drake Busath: And so, there are a bunch of those selective lessons that really help people, because it is really common to go on a photo workshop or tour and have the instructor say… And I’ve gone on these and the instructor says, “Let’s do something more creative. You don’t speak creative.” If I’m learning a new, getting out of my comfort zone, I need some assignments. I need some specifics.
Allison Tyler Jones: Well, one of the things that’s coming to my mind when you’re talking about this is, the first time I went to Europe. The first couple of days, it was just like, “Oh, that’s that thing.” The Eiffel tower or the whatever. Like, “Snap the thing, snap the thing.” It was almost like you’re just visually just getting proof that you were there, I guess. Yeah. It’s just kind of like the little green, emoji. “Check, check, saw that, saw that.” And then I realized, this is not satisfying me in any way. This is not… I feel like I’m an observer on my own vacation. I don’t feel like I’m really inhabiting this place or feeling the spirit of the place that I’m in. And so, then when I started to really just not do exactly what you’re saying, but kind of more selective things. Like in France to me, is flowers.
Allison Tyler Jones: And, there are flowers in this one little medieval town called Denon that we were in, that was in Brittany, the flowers were growing out of the street grates. These little beautiful flowers. And so, here’s this ugly old crusty grate. And then, a cobblestone walk or whatever, but these flowers were just coming out of the grate. Rather than weeds, it was flowers. And then, these old stone walls that supported the city down by the river, all these different flowers, some were hanging, some were growing up. And, that just seemed like such a theme to me. That fleur, that whole idea of floral. So then, that’s all I would see.
Allison Tyler Jones: And, I felt like then everywhere I went, as I went more into that detail, I felt like I had visited it better. I’d experienced it more. And so, by the end of the trip, I felt like if we had a tired day and I hadn’t really photographed a lot of where I had been, I didn’t feel like I had visited it quite as well, as I did when I was really observing those. So, what you’re describing is actually a better experience.
Drake Busath: Yeah. It’s a better experience. And, traveling with a camera then makes sense. You’re not working anymore, because it’s work to try to record everything. The Eiffel tower. Now, you’ve got to get a better picture of the Eiffel tower than the average Joe, because you’re a professional. So, now you’ve got to walk a quarter mile backwards, so you can frame it in these build. And in the end, are you going to hang that in your bedroom? Is that going in your personal space? Maybe you want, maybe it’s meaningful, but probably it’s the flowers growing out of the grate. And everybody is different. I’ll say that. I said that to several groups had in. One, then visited a guy and I would say, “Sunset, for instance. Sunsets, are you going to hang a big, color saturated sunset in your bedroom? Probably not.” And then I went in this guy’s apartment and he had a saturated color sunset.
Drake Busath: Some people do. But, that’s more about accomplishment. “Of the 225 photographers that shot this scene today, I want to be the best. I want to beat them all and then Instagram it and just show everybody my skills.” And that way of traveling is just work. It’s just work. And the way you’re describing, if you can get the judges out of your head, and I don’t mean just the PPA judges…
Allison Tyler Jones: Yeah. Your own inner critic.
Drake Busath: Your families, because that’s usually who we’re thinking of. We’re thinking of, “Let’s impress everybody when we go home.” Like you said, we saw this and this and this and us that are in the profession, we’re trying to impress them with our skills too. And this just becomes a task. So, I had to give that idea up of impressing people at home. Because, go home and show them the flowers coming out of the grate and it’ll be meaningful to 20% of my family and the others will think I’ve lost my marbles. I’m doing a lot of my personal, my less literal work is, a lot of camera movement. Which is kind of caught on as a movement lately. Intentional camera movement. ICM. It’s pretty popular now, which I think is silly to say intentional. Of course it’s intentional.
Allison Tyler Jones: That’s like the off camera… OCF. Off Camera Flash.
Drake Busath: Yeah. There you go.
Allison Tyler Jones: Or IPS, In Person Sales. Everything’s got to have an acronym.
Drake Busath: But, a lot of times you find yourself in situations where it’s kind of mundane and touristic. And so shooting with the blurs, I call it schmear. It takes that mundaneness out of an image and leaves me with the impression of the place.
Allison Tyler Jones: Yeah. Well, I love the stuff that you just recently posted from your trip to Sienna, those images on Instagram. Because, with those costumes and the Pollio, that whole thing going on, it’s so beautiful and so picturesque. But, has not it not been photographed 50 million times? And then the image that you so kindly gave me when I came to visit you, that’s being at the framers right now, that will be hanging in my house.
Drake Busath: Oh, nice.
Allison Tyler Jones: It has that feeling, that energy, that movement. I really love that. The one that you gave me is more of like light hitting a wall. And then there are people walking down that walled city, I really felt like that really captured the spirit of the place.
Drake Busath: Good. Well, if it’s in your closet and I come to visit, I expect you to bust it out.
Allison Tyler Jones: No, it’s going to be on the wall. I’ve got plans.
Drake Busath: Yeah, it’s interpretive. So, how do you apply that to your portraits when you come home? And that’s been really meaningful to me. When I come home, I am a better photographer. I know I am for a month or two and then I have to go back to Italy.
Allison Tyler Jones: Yes.
Drake Busath: Recharge.
Allison Tyler Jones: Yes. Oh darn.
Drake Busath: But I allow myself, I find to invite danger into a session.
Allison Tyler Jones: What does that look like?
Drake Busath: Well, you’ve got somebody who’s dressed their children. Let’s say, it’s a young family. The other day I did a job. It was a pro bono job for a hospice group. Then, this baby had a heart defect and is terminal. And so, it’s a hard situation to go into. But, beautiful young family and they have certain expectations and there’s no reshooting this. So, it’s dangerous in the first place. We’ve all felt that. And then, I want to take it to another level of danger and say, and I’m going to try something new. I’m going to use a wider perspective lens, because I’m inspired because of this self project I’m working on in Italy, I just was working on last month. And so, I’m going to try the same kind of feel where I’m working real close to them and I’m going to get some distortion, and his legs going to come forward and be his foot’s going to be real large.
Drake Busath: And, I’m inspired by other photographers that work that way. It’s not like I’m inventing this. But, I am going to decide before I get in the house, “I’m going to do this. I’m going to do this. I’m not going to fall back into my rut of four people grinning at the camera. I’m going to get some perspective. And that wide perspective, I’m going to let the expressions be a little less grinny and I’m going to be a little more interpretive about the situation here and the baby is going to be the center of attention. And the two year old is just going to have to… I don’t care if I see the back of her head or whatever.” Then they have a great dane. It’s a great dane, two year old…
Allison Tyler Jones: Two year… Yeah. That’s just Tuesday at three. That’s just normal.
Drake Busath: Is it for you? You live alone.
Allison Tyler Jones: Yeah. But, it’s crazy. That’s what you and I always talk about, like…
Drake Busath: I usually try to-
Allison Tyler Jones: The tutorials where they have the beautiful models.
Drake Busath: … be a little simpler. Come to my gardens or I know what’s going to happen and where are these clothes? But anyway, that was an experience last week that I just found, I thought this is fun. I’m on the edge. I feel alive when I’m in dangerous situations. And, I don’t even know if I succeeded that session or not. But I think it doesn’t matter because, I know we got enough. We reached that level. I don’t know if I succeeded in being…
Allison Tyler Jones: In satisfying yourself.
Drake Busath: Yeah. We’ll see.
Allison Tyler Jones: But, I think that’s such a good point because, when you’re first starting out in photography, it’s so hard. You’re just trying to get the math, and get an image and try to figure it out and everything feels like danger.
Drake Busath: That’s true.
Allison Tyler Jones: It’s danger all the time, which you don’t realize until you’ve reached a level of mastery that actually, that’s kind of the fun part is the conquering of all of those things and you get the accident when you… I remember hearing a quote that, like the difference between good photographers and great photographers is, great photographers know how to recreate their mistakes because, you saw the mistake and you’re like, “Oh, that was because I lit it from a 45 degree angle at the rear and I’ll just do that again.” Rather than like, “Oh, I wonder how that happened.” So, when it feels less dangerous, then it’s easy to just… Like you said, you can walk in and do it with your eyes half closed and how do we make ourselves do something different?
Allison Tyler Jones: I think we all could say that we would like more, really great qualified leads. But what happens when we get contacted by a potential new client? We’d sometimes have that pit in our stomach of, “Oh, it’s not a good time right now. I don’t want to call them. What if they ask me hard questions? Oh, I don’t really know that I have the words to say.” And, we put it off until we call and they’ve already booked somebody else. Or, maybe we don’t ever call or we’re just letting things fall through the cracks. So, if you’re ever find yourself in this type of situation and you feel like, “I just don’t know the words to say, or I don’t know how to talk to these people, or am I doing it wrong?” I have a solution for all three of those things.
Allison Tyler Jones: If you go to dotherework.com, we have three different free resources for you. One, is our ultimate client consultation guide that is going to help you step by step, walk that prospective client through your process, how it is that you work. It has all the little speed bumps so to speak, along the way to help you remember to say all the things that you need to say. Next, is our cheat sheet of frequently asked difficult questions that has an exhaustive list of all the hard questions that clients come up with, that will help you get started on answering those confidently, so that you don’t have that feeling in the pit of your stomach anymore and you’re going to pick up that phone immediately.
Allison Tyler Jones: And lastly, is our sales sabotage evaluation tool. And, that is going to help you to figure out where you are screwing it up because we all do at one time or another. So, go to dotherework.com and wherever you’re at in your business, if you’re needing to rework your message, if you’re needing to rework your answers, if you’re needing to rework your sales process, they are all right there on that very first page. They are free, they are resources to help you in your business. Go do it, download them now and start doing better. Start booking those clients confidently and start selling them your gorgeous, beautiful work, because they need it.
Allison Tyler Jones: So, you came back and you did this portrait session, and you’re just pushing yourself, your shorter lens was the example in this case. But, was that inspired by something you had seen in travels or it was just like, “I’m just breaking with what I would normally do. I just want to do something completely different”, or did you have an idea in mind?
Drake Busath: Yeah. It was inspired by street photographers and I’ve never been a true street photographer. I’ve spent a lot of time on the streets in Europe, photographing candidly, but I made my living with a 70 to 200 for the most part. And so short lens, it doesn’t sound like much to some photographers, but it’s dramatic change.
Allison Tyler Jones: That’s dramatic. Yeah. Dramatic for me too. Same.
Drake Busath: Doing portraits with a 35 millimeter for instance. So lately, recently I took on a self project in Italy and I’ve given it a name, character. It’s basically portraits of old people with character in Italy. And I want to photograph them in their own space and with natural light without any artificial lights or reflectors, I want to shoot it handheld. I want to shoot it in the mode, in the method of the great street photographers, I’m close to them. So, I’ve got a lot of gathering, a lot of story with this wider perspective, but I’m close up and it’s a freedom for me to pursue that. It’s out of my comfort zone, but it’s also really enjoyable to let go of perfect lighting and flattering. It’s like I was saying, letting go of beauty. That’s been this journey that I’ve been on.
Drake Busath: So I’ve been over, I was there in the fall doing sessions. I did about 15 of these sessions and then I did a few more this last month and it’s going to be a book project, and I’m going to mix it with photographs of the actual streets and the walls and the accidental architecture, the wiring on the exterior building and the plumbing on the exterior and all that character that is part of these villages that Italians know how to preserve and not cover up. Peeling plaster and the mismatch and brick and stone. So, that all relates to these portraits. And I think, that’ll be a fun collection. For years, for 20 years, I’ve really separated my life. And I think, maybe some listeners could relate to this that, portrait photographers are not considered fine art photographers, at least not in where I travel. And so, I sort of hid the fact that I made my living making portraits on commission. And so, I could talk to these people who are fine art photographers. Right?
Allison Tyler Jones: Right.
Drake Busath: They’re like a few rungs above me on the art ladder or something. And I really had that sort of sense of insecurity about what I did, until recently. And, that’s a lot of years to feel that, but it finally dawned on me that, I’m good at portraits. I’m good at working with people. I have a lot of skills and I can apply that. I just have to let go of the beauty flattering part to make these fine art. And by fine art, I just mean images created for me, not for the client.
Allison Tyler Jones: Well, and I saw a few of those when I was at your studio. And when you say… As soon as you said earlier, letting go of beauty, I was thinking of, there were a couple of images in particular these guys, I don’t know if they were in a factory or there were some kind of machinery.
Drake Busath: Farm. Just their farm [inaudible 00:35:09]
Allison Tyler Jones: And they were not technically beautiful, but there was something so real about those images that made those men beautiful. It was like, you really could see who they were in a way that the beautifully back lit, old grandma with the babushka, with the garden flowers or next to her, it just doesn’t quite convey. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, I just really loved those images. I felt like they were very… I can’t really describe it.
Drake Busath: Well, there’s some awkwardness that contributes to that, I think. That’s refreshing to me. The way a 75 year old man, who’s worked all his life on the farm, his hands are dirty and he’s got his overalls on and he stands in this real awkward sort of hunched way at the camera and that’s beautiful. Because, if he’s doing it in that situation, you put a suit on him and put him in the studio, it wouldn’t work. So it’s not traditional beauty, but it’s… I agree with you. It’s just beautiful to see these people in their livelihood. That’s long term. So, we’ve recorded video on these folks too, to record the details of their lives and that’s important to me, because I think knowing their story makes them more beautiful to the viewer. Knowing that they remember the war and they remember like… Sorry. If you start me on this road, I’ll talk all day.
Drake Busath: But, those are beautiful experiences. And again, I come home after those and I can allow a little bit of that awkwardness in a session and not say, “Let’s bring your right foot forward and point your toe to the camera and create a beautiful diagonal with your right leg, where let’s cross your feet the opposite way”, I can allow some awkwardness if it contributes to the story.
Allison Tyler Jones: Well, I think just… I want to reiterate what you just said is that, knowing their story makes them more beautiful and that’s great for you that heard the story. But, I would contend that the images that you’re making are also telling that story. I did not hear their story. I don’t know who these people were. But in every one of those images, I felt there was an honesty or an unvarnished feel to each one of those, where I felt like I kind of knew a little bit about that person. And to me, that’s the most successful portraiture is that, bit of honesty where it isn’t quite polished, which you know I’ve never done print competition. So anybody looks at my stuff and is like, “Yeah, no kidding.” That’s…
Drake Busath: Well, you’ve been a huge inspiration to me. And I think, you’ve moved me that direction. So, I do. I channel your style and your thinking quite often when I’m shooting.
Allison Tyler Jones: Wow.
Drake Busath: So thank you for that.
Allison Tyler Jones: Well, thank you for that, but I need a little more. I think we help each other, right? I need probably a little more polished and sometimes, and maybe you need a little less or whatever, but that’s the beauty of traveling, seeing how other people live, I think that’s another really interesting thing that… I hadn’t traveled a lot when I was younger. It wasn’t only has been in the last 10 years that I’ve really done more traveling. And to just see how other people live and what they value. And even down to Americans, everything needs to be new. You want to redo your house, take everything out of it. Scrape out the old and put in the new words. Everybody’s so precious about their marble countertops. “Oh my gosh. Are you sealing it? Oh, you can’t ever have a lemon on it”, or whatever. I’m like, “Have you ever been to Paris? The bars that have been there for like 200 years, I think the marble’s going to be okay.”
Drake Busath: It has character. Yeah.
Allison Tyler Jones: It does. Those of those images that you created have that layer. And then, how can we bring that into our own work? Is, can we see the layers of personality or in the people or the families that we photograph?
Drake Busath: Yeah. Can we allow… It’s that same concept of just sitting there for a minute with them and not making assumptions. But, to find the essence of, especially with a group, how they relate to each other? To me, that’s the essence of the image that needs to be told, not just flattering each one of them individually. Early on, I learned that you create, you’ve put a group together in a triangle and if you face them away from each other, it’s easier to form a triangle. That’s so stupid. It’s just so dumb to have a group of people in the same picture that are facing away from each other. Why would you do that? So, it’s the opposite. Yeah. It creates maybe a little more group design issue for you, but you give that up. You give up that 1970s ideal of that, group shape sometimes and that’s where you’ve rubbed off on me right there. It’s reality that’s important, especially five years, 10 years, 15 years later.
Allison Tyler Jones: Right. Well, I do think of that too. Because I think of the portraits that I have, that my mom had done when we were growing up and where those guys, probably former electrical engineers that are now the only ones that can run those cameras, the [inaudible 00:40:17] and all that, were doing their second career. And, they’re not putting up with any kid act in any which way. It’s like, you’re going to sit here and you are going to do what I tell you to do. And you’re like, “Sit down, shut up and smile.” That’s it. The hair is all to perfection. And I remember, that not being the most pleasant experience. And then having kids that are differently abled and realizing, there’s no way I could ever get my kids to do that. “Normal stuff.” And so then, when you look back the favorite images, that images that are legend in our family are not… We still love those. We love those formal portraits.
Allison Tyler Jones: But the stuff of legends are the ones that my dad caught or that were like, told more of a story. Or maybe it was a proof from that same photo session where some kid was throwing themself on the floor or pinching somebody else. It was like that moment between, that showed something real. And, that definitely influenced my work for sure.
Drake Busath: You could use those same words to describe successful travel photography, especially street photography. You’re looking for quirkiness and character and oddball moments and awkwardness, and those are the ideals. And so, street photographer coming back into a studio to do a portrait of teenager or a child or a family, might have some real things to teach us. They might be on the floor with a 24 millimeter, really close to the subject and letting the dark silhouette out of this child frame, the other child. And so, incorporating those to that discipline into studio work is fascinating to me. When you were here, did you see my passion project wall with a bunch of black and whites pinned up on?
Allison Tyler Jones: Yes. I was going to talk about that. That’s on my list to talk about. Yeah. I love that wall so much.
Drake Busath: I was worried about… I wondered how you would judge that.
Allison Tyler Jones: I loved it. I thought it was so cool. You said you were about to take it down.
Drake Busath: Well, to swap it out for another one.
Allison Tyler Jones: Oh, okay.
Drake Busath: Can I describe it?
Allison Tyler Jones: Yeah.
Drake Busath: It’s just a hallway, a long wall that the clients walk past a lot on their way to and from. And, it’s usually had framed images up on it. And I was frustrated because, where I would have, I would have an image I wanted to show, but I didn’t want to invest in framing it, mounting it, hanging it with other like images. So, I just started printing these, because we print in house, so I can print a canvas with the whiteboard around it and just push pin it to the wall. And so, then that ended up just a whole wall floor to ceiling..
Allison Tyler Jones: But, you layered them… So they’re all black and white. They’re all dropped dead gorgeous. They’re all…
Drake Busath: They’re not all
Allison Tyler Jones: They are.
Drake Busath: They’re experiments.
Allison Tyler Jones: I was there. I was there. They’re all dropped dead gorgeous. And they’re all kind of layered, almost like collage wise on this wall. So, it’s very arresting. It’s really cool.
Drake Busath: I just pinned on top of each other and I can pull one off and put a new one up. Any day of the week I see, “Oh, this would be a good… This is kind of a strong and black and white.” So, I send it to the lab and pin it up and pull another one down. And they’re in a theme. And when the black and white theme comes down, I’ll put up these character portraits from Italy or senior graduate pictures that they didn’t choose, let’s say.
Allison Tyler Jones: That’s a good idea. That would be my favorite wall.
Drake Busath: Yeah. Or like, you’re talking about little interpretive travel pictures. Because, the clients need to see that we’re passionate about the work and that it’s not all… We’re not all in gold leaf frames with hand embellishments and it’s not all institutional here. They really want a photographer that’s got some passion for fine art. I think. That’s what I would want. So we have it, we don’t show it. It’s sitting in our computers and I think that can be fun and that it’ll be there. Our other photographers will put up a show, but it’s not a static show. It’s like a rotating show and it’ll be up for a year and it’ll have new pictures pinned up every time they come to the surface.
Allison Tyler Jones: Well, I love that idea because, like you said, it introduces an element of danger. In that, you’re putting up what you could maybe say would be experimental pieces. Definitely not your normal stuff that you’re doing for clients. So, that’s an element of danger. But also without much risk, as far as like, you’re not saying I’m committing to put this as a sample on my wall for the next three years, because I’m framing it and lighting it and all of that. It’s literally push pinned up there. So, I think there’s so many cool ways that you can do that, that I just love to I’m… I took a picture of that wall. Do you mind if I post that on the show notes so that people can see what it looks like?
Drake Busath: That’d be great. Sure.
Allison Tyler Jones: That’d be okay? Okay. We’ll definitely post that on the wall.
Drake Busath: I was worried about that because, I thought smart sales people would show what they want to sell. That’s what we’ve always learned. And, if I want to sell 30 by 45s, that’s what I better have on the wall. And not just a push pinned snap with a white order pinned up with push pin. So, I was curious to see how you would react to that. I thought you might come in and say, “Drake, you’re killing your sales here.”
Allison Tyler Jones: I know it says the heartless business woman. No. But the soul of the artist looked at that and was like, “Oh, I love that so much”, because I think we all love a mood board, we all love an installation. It’s an installation.
Drake Busath: Exactly. It’s a giant mood board for the clients to see.
Allison Tyler Jones: Yeah. So, there’s nothing about that piece of work or that wall, that I think would even translate into somebody coming in, “Oh, can I buy one of those?” It definitely was very much had the feel of you have this work in progress or this kind of mood board feel to it. So, I don’t think you were in any danger.
Drake Busath: Hey, I’m happy to know.
Allison Tyler Jones: I know.
Drake Busath: Thank you. I am relieved.
Allison Tyler Jones: I know. Well, you know I tell you.
Drake Busath: Honestly, that was inviting danger into my life. Allowing you into the studio. Period.
Allison Tyler Jones: You’re so full of crap. Oh my gosh. No, it was so great. And you say I’ve influenced you, which is a huge compliment. But really, you have influenced me so much by just that observation, that idea that, when you go into some place or even into a session, that my personality is just charge ahead, move fast, get what you need, do what you’re doing. And, you definitely have more of that chill energy where you can sit back and observe. And I think there’s such a value in that to observe and see what’s going on. And, whether it’s in travel or in a portrait session and the lessons that you’ve highlighted today, these projects that you’re working on, I think are really going to be super helpful to our listeners, to helping them avoid their own ruts or get out of them or avoid burnout, because I think we’re all a little burnout.
Drake Busath: Yeah, for sure. It’s the commonality in our business and we really need these little passion projects. For me, constantly twice a year, kind of a thing.
Allison Tyler Jones: I love that. So, is there anything else that you would advise our listeners in this area? Whether it’s travel photography, passion projects, anything that you’d like to lead them with?
Drake Busath: I think, taking on a project in your own hometown without traveling is important as well, because it can really play into your business success. My dad did a project in the 80s called Honors In The Arts and he volunteered it. He proposed it to the Chamber Of Commerce where he would photograph… They would choose artists or contributors to the arts in Utah and he would photograph them and they would honor those people at a banquet, three or four or five people each year. And that turned into 50 large portraits that hang now in symphony hall in Abravanel Hall, downtown. And so, it was important to his career in developing his style. He was way out on a limb. He was photographing a sculptor in his studio. He didn’t have experience with that at the time or an artist out in the field painting plain air or all sorts of lighting challenges.
Drake Busath: But, it was huge for the development of our business. We’ve been talking about satisfying your own scratching, your own creative itches. But, this really did turn into a business success for us. And, that established us really in town as it was because of the subject matter, it got a lot of media attention and these big gala banquets that where they would announce them. So I would suggest that, and I’m looking for my next project is similar to that and I’ve got one in the works now, called Faces of Change and it will kind of follow this character’s project for me. But, I’ve got to kind of do one at a time, I think in that mode. But, it can really be effective. And, I think the crazier the better. The nuttier, more off the wall, the subject matter is the better.
Allison Tyler Jones: Or the more out of your own wheelhouse.
Drake Busath: Yeah. Because, you need to get attention these days and more so than in the 80s. It was easier then, but today it might be skateboarders that no one knows how creative and talented they really are or highlighting somebody in the community that is interesting to look at.
Allison Tyler Jones: That’s interesting.
Drake Busath: So, I like that as a passion project and people that are providing service in the community that don’t get noticed, that’s my faces of change concept. I don’t want to photograph celebrities at this point in my life. I think that’s a pretty good business model if you could do it, but it bores me.
Allison Tyler Jones: Yeah. That’s never been attractive to me. I’m like, “Give me the, not as cute. Give me the manager of the celebrity and they’re not as cute wife with their couple of their kids.” I’d rather photograph real people than… Not that celebrities aren’t real people, but…
Drake Busath: You know who’s the king of that? Michael Taylor. I just saw collection of his behind the scenes maybe, is that what it was called? It’s people in the theater that make the show run and it’s not the star of the show and is fantastic. And, he’s always worked in that vein. He’s been doing that for as long as I’ve known him.
Allison Tyler Jones: Yeah. He’s a master.
Drake Busath: Yeah. He’s fantastic at it, but I love the subject matter that he chose, that it’s not celebrity and we can all chase celebrity and we know that we’d get more attention doing that.
Allison Tyler Jones: Yeah.
Drake Busath: We’re judged by whose in front of our camera a little bit. So, that’s another thing you got to… That’s the safe way to go. But inviting danger is more interesting.
Allison Tyler Jones: And fighting danger. Okay. This is a totally off topic, but I think, have you ever seen the documentary, 20 Feet From Stardom?
Drake Busath: No.
Allison Tyler Jones: So, it won the Academy Award. I don’t know, maybe five or seven years ago. And, it’s all about the backup singers from Bruce Springsteen, Michael Jackson, whoever. All of these famous, famous people, and then they’re talking about Rolling Stones, all these backup singers, the music is ridiculous. It’s so good. And then, they’re interviewing these and some of these people like Luther Vandross used to be a backup singer. There’s some that made it the 20 feet to stardom. But most of them didn’t and they just had the stories from the one of the Rolling Stone’s famous songs like, This Woman, the… Oh, I can’t remember the song, but she showed up. She’s pregnant, shows up in curlers, because they needed a backup singer and she starts riffing with Mick Jagger. It is so good. So, it kind of goes along with that.
Drake Busath: That’s beautiful.
Allison Tyler Jones: And that’s another place for inspiration too. I feel like film-
Drake Busath: Yes.
Allison Tyler Jones: … and documentaries and things like that. The behind the scenes, how things work, the story behind something, I think is really good for inspiration for portrait photographers, so that you can kind of get behind that. Just the pretty facade.
Drake Busath: Exactly. That’s really a great theme. A great word to take into a session with you. Documentary. How can I channel a little bit of that in a portrait session? That’s really meaningful. I’ll look that up. 20 Feet From Stardom.
Allison Tyler Jones: Yeah. 20 Feet From Stardom, 2013 American documentary. Nine years ago. That tells you that I’m old when I said it was five to seven years ago.
Drake Busath: If I am not remembering. Yeah.
Allison Tyler Jones: Yeah. But, I think you’ll love it. It’s all the music from… It’s just really, really, really well done. Really inspiring. As are you. Do you remember Mr Drake? And we just saw the Seinfeld episode last night, was the rerun was about the Drake and we love the Drake.
Drake Busath: That was so fun. You know I’ve never seen that, but I’ve heard about it forever.
Allison Tyler Jones: You need to watch it.
Drake Busath: I used to show up at weddings and after that episode came out and people were always like, “We love the Drake.”
Allison Tyler Jones: “We love the Drake.”
Drake Busath: I don’t know what they were talking about.
Allison Tyler Jones: Yeah. Well, I appreciate your friendship. I appreciate you taking the time to share with our audience, because it means a lot. I think, when we try to do… What we do for a living is hard and it can wear you down, it takes a lot of… My friend, Kim Wiley said to me, one time she says, “Pieces of my soul are hanging all over the city that I live in.” And I think that’s true. When we do our job to the best of our ability, it takes it out of us. And at some point, that’s got to be replenished and if it’s not, then we’re going to burn out. So, I really appreciate you giving of your time and talents and suggestions and we’re going to post all that stuff on the show notes so everybody can look at it.
Drake Busath: Thank you for having me. It’s always fun to talk to you.
Allison Tyler Jones: I appreciate you so much. Thank you.
Drake Busath: Bye bye.
Allison Tyler Jones: Have I told you lately how much I appreciate you being here? I know that you have so many demands on your time and so many demands on your attention. You could be watching Netflix, you could be listening to a true crime podcast, but you’ve spent time here at the ReWork, learning to make your portrait business better. And, that really means a lot to me. If there’s somebody that you feel like could benefit from this episode, that you could help them and help us spread the word in helping other portrait photographers build better businesses, please go to where you’re listening to this episode and hit that share button and share it with them. And, if you have time and can give us a review, you don’t even understand how much that means to a little tiny podcast like ours, to see those reviews and see how we’re helping.
Allison Tyler Jones: And, if you have another minute and can send me a DM and let us know what you would like to hear in the future, what you really enjoyed hearing about, maybe things that weren’t that great, how we can do better, we always want to do better, and we always want to support the portrait photography industry in helping you build the best businesses ever. Thanks again so much for being here.
Recorded: You can find more great resources from Allison at dotherework.com and on Instagram at do.the.rework.