An Inspiring Day with Matthew Jordan Smith

31 10 2010

As anticipated, travelling the other week to Dallas, TX for Matthew Jordan Smith’s workshop was definitely worth the effort.  Aside from meeting a great group of fellow photographers like Dixie Dixon and Frederick Van Johnson, the daylong seminar was filled with nuggets of wisdom and guidance.

A great deal more information shared by Matthew during the daylong session, probably too much to keep you interested in reading a post of any greater length. So I’ll share a few highlights here. If the information resonates, be sure to catch his presentation at WPPI in Las Vegas (February 21-23, 2011).

 Throughout the day Matthew freely shared the stories behind some of his most memorable images as well as how synchronicity continues to play a role in his career.  The bottom line for Matthew, though, is that, “After 23 yrs of shooting, it’s not about the cameras and gear, it’s about the relationships.”

 For Matthew, three things are essential for enhancing one’s life:

  • The people you meet,
  • The places you go, and
  • The books you read.

 Matthew’s recommended books:

Other books mentioned during side conversations with other attendees included The Artist’s Way, Julia Cameron, and The Traveler’s Gift, Andy Andrews.

Your You’niqueness

Another nugget, which I’ve heard from a couple different teachers lately, is that the “secret sauce” to defining my own distinct creative vision is, who else, but ME! There’s only one of me, and only one of you, so as creatives we remain unique by emphasizing one’s own “You’niqueness.” Based on that, clients will generally self select the aesthetic that is most appealing to them. The trick is to be OK with the fact that some folks will like you, and some will not. Trying to be all things to everyone only muddies the clarity of vision one strives for as an artist.

In this respect, Matthew once again helped us out with some practical advice as to how to become better versed in finding and nurturing our creative vision. He follows a daily regimen of clearing his mind of all the “mental clutter” and spends five to ten minutes in the morning writing out whatever comes to mind to help clear space for strong concepts to reveal themselves. 

Practitioners of Zen Buddhism call this concept, Shoshin, meaning Beginner’s Mind. “It refers to having an attitude of openness, eagerness, and lack of preconceptions when studying a subject, even when studying at an advanced level, just as a beginner in that subject would.” 

A strong creative vision for a project goes hand in hand with approaching it from a heartfelt sense of what makes you feel good. Matthew emphasized the importance of mining your life experience to discover what you love; what makes you feel the most alive; what made you pick up a camera for the first time; what do you show your best friend; what did you love as a child; what old movies make you feel good, and so on. 

Another technique Matthew finds useful is keeping well stocked source of reference material.  From a variety of lists handy to many binders of magazine images which caught his attention all of it provides a great jumping of point to flesh out conceptual approaches to a shoot.  One of the lists which he finds most useful is a list of opposites which helps define a strong layout to a story spread. 

Matthew pointed out that, “similar looking images opposite each other in your book fight each other.” Magazine photo editors use this principle rigorously to create engaging editorial layouts and is a trick we can use is presenting our best work. Here the start of my list, feel free to add more in comments. 


  • B&W – Color
  • Saturated – Neutral
  • Formal – Casual
  • Details – Wide Environmental
  • Full length – Close Up
  • Looking at camera – Looking away
  • Smiling – Serious
  • Happy – Sad
  • Energetic – Quiet
  • Big – Small
  • Front light – Back light
  • Shoot on white – Shoot on black
  • Eyes open – Eyes closed
  • Etc.

Before we jumped into our rotations of using a variety of ProPhoto gear to photograph our model, Matthew summarized his philosophy to being successful.  BTW, the ProPhoto D1 1000 Air is super cool – me likey!

Seven Steps for Success

  • Believe fully in your dreams and your work
  • Surround yourself with positive people
  • Find your T.E.A.M – your creative family
  • Devote time for you – stay in love with photography
  • Get the ball rolling – as soon as you have an idea get on it right away
  • Visualize 10 minutes every day what you want your career to be, lifestyle you want, work you want
  • Get out and shoot; get away from your computer and shoot.

As I mentioned, we did have an opportunity to shoot and stretch our creative muscles a bit. Many thanks again to our model, Jenn, and make-up artist, JD. The session helped set up our assignment from Matthew Jordan Smith to submit two images to him based on the theme of AMERICAN BEAUTY. 

I think this was probably the most valuable element to the whole day – being pushed/encouraged to create and get after it.  So, I am happily in the midst of pre-production for my AMERICAN BEAUTY shoot.  Soon as I have some outtakes I’ll blog about them.  In the meantime, let me know what you think of these…

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Chase Jarvis Opens Up About His Fave Lens & What Turns Him On…

26 10 2010

The video and images below are supplementary content to an article  I authored for Seattle’s SunBreak, an online editorial magazine, titled Chase Jarvis, “Seattle 100,” and the Pursuit of Creativity. The article celebrates the launch of Jarvis’ latest book project SEATTLE 100: Portrait of a City (launch video below).

You can keep up with latest SunBreak content via Twitter @thesunbreak, Facebook or via the free iPhone app.

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My Fickle Friend: Inspired Creativity

11 10 2010

At least for me, I love being around other creative folks. It just feels good to me to support and participate in the creative process. Currently, being “between” jobs provides me three days a week to focus on my campaign for my next position in the public relations field as well as invest time in my passion for photography. The other two days I have our 18 month old son at home with me which offers its own rewards.  But, as one can imagine I have a fair amount of “alone” time.  This has its pros and cons.

To help tip the balance toward the “pro” side of things, I’ve started to carefully pick a few workshops to attend which helps further build out the network of folks I know in photography industry and continues my education around my craft. In Galen Rowell’s words from Inner Game of Outdoor Photography (see Reading List), “The key catalyst for all forms of creativity is to visualize oneself as an active participant rather than a passive observer.”

In September I spent an amazing few days with Dane Sanders at his Fast Track Photographer seminar. I am still learning from the insights and distinctions Dane shared during class time and plan on writing up my learnings in a future post.  But one thing I heard loud and clear is Dane’s encouragement to “GET AFTER IT!” In a follow-up 1:1 conversation he made the clear point that it’s better to be in action than to continue reading technically oriented blogs, continually tweaking images and content, and generally keeping one foot in the pool – it’s time to jump in and start swimming.

Which brings me to Matthew Jordan Smith whom I first met through my work on behalf of the Microsoft Professional Photography team.  After initially meeting him up here in Seattle, and then spending more time with him at WPPI 2009, we’ve stayed in touch on and off.  There are few people who I’ve met who are consistently, and authentically, interested in encouraging folks to “always dream big,” whatever their passion. Matthew is a creative force with a catalog of inspired and beautifully executed images to back up his reputation as a top fashion and celebrity photographer.

His example inspired me to just ask him whether he’d be interested in having me come to his upcoming Dallas workshop to help and assist in whatever small way I could. And lo and behold he agreed.  I was gob smacked, honored, excited and nervous all at the same time.

Kind of reminded me of when I got an assignment from my communications professor at college to interview a speech writer and decided to go straight to the big leagues and called the White House to see if someone on the communications team would take a meeting. The agreed and the following week I was on a train from Kingston, Rhode Island to Washington, D.C. – definitely a memorable experience and got an A.  

So, this Sunday I fly out to Dallas to attend Matthew’s Creative Experience workshop and have the same anticipation as my trip to D.C.  Having witnessed him present at WPPI in front of hundreds fellow photographers I know it’s going to be great and I wholly believe it will be an amazing experience for the twenty or so folks who choose to attend the workshop.

I look forward to meeting the other attendees and diving into the participatory process of creativity and learning.  When I return I will post images from the seminar and a summary; also watch my Twitter feed for up to the moment impressions.

In closing, I’m interested in hearing about your experiences too.

  • Do you have a favorite workshop experience?
  • What key lesson/insight have you learned this year from attending a workshop or seminar? 
  • Do you have any “must do” recommendations on workshops?

All the best,


Dallas Workshop Page:

Facebook page:

Follow on Twitter: @Matthew_JordanS


 Note: All images used are Copyrighted by Matthew Jordan Smith

More Inspiration from Photographer, Chase Jarvis

8 10 2010

>>> SEATTLE 100 – to hit bookstores this month; pre-orders shipping, like err, now <<

On and off for the past couple of years the name Chase Jarvis has popped up on the radar for me. As of late, Chase and the multitude of great projects he produces are now a frequent source of inspiration for me.   

Aside from the great work he does on behalf of commercial clients like REI, Reebok and SanDisk – and potentially more important – is his commitment to the creative community. Following on from the acclaimed Best Camera iPhone app and book, The Best Camera Is The One That’s With You, as well as ongoing quality programming shared through CreativeLIVE seminars, is the soon to be shipping SEATTLE 100: Portrait of a City.

Aside from what I am sure will be great photographs of very interesting people is the fact that Chase has committed to pay it forward.  In his words, the book is:

“10×10”, hard cover, 240 pages of b&w portraits of amazing people, bios…and in many ways a full ethnography of the city. Just $26 bucks at Amazon for a book originally meant to be priced at $70. Consider it a cultural fabric that underpins not just Seattle, but a concept that is relevant to everyone. 100% of my proceeds from this book are going to support culture and art at

Chase is great about sharing details about the various happenings and milestones leading up to the launch on his blog; latest entry, as of this post, is HERE.  The book is expected to have an initial run of 5,000 copies – am sure it’ll sell out, so I’m glad I got my copy pre-ordered. You can order from Amazon here.

Mark your calendars for the launch party and gallery exhibition on October 21, 2001. Watch his blog for more details to come.

I applaud Chase for giving back so generously; he sets a high bar.  To use a context shared by Dane Sanders, Chase’s attitude comes across as “for each other” and provides a compelling invitation for us all to offer support and encouragement to fellow creatives as we pursue our endeavors.

If I could ever be of “help” to Chase and his team I’d certainly jump at the opportunity.  In the meantime, I’m watching the mailbox everyday for the book to arrive and will hopefully find a means to attend the gallery opening. 

#  #  # Read the rest of this entry »

Ponder This Everyday

7 10 2010

My Dad sent me a link to a very short, but effective, 30 second speech by Bryan Dyson (former CEO of Coca Cola), here it is:

“Imagine life as a game in which you are juggling some five balls in the air. You name them – Work, Family, Health, Friends and Spirit and you’re keeping all of these in the Air.

You will soon understand that work is a rubber ball. If you drop it, it will bounce back.

But the other four Balls – Family, Health, Friends and Spirit – are made of glass. If you drop one of these; they will be irrevocably scuffed, marked, nicked, damaged or even shattered. They will never be the same. You must understand that and strive for it.”


Baby Steps

2 10 2010

Will anybody read this? Why bother? Is what I have to say going to be of value to anyone? While I have a vision in mind as to where I’d like to see this experiment go I wonder how long it’ll take to get there. Do I have the discipline to keep the conversation going once I start engaging?  So many questions… Feels like alot of chatter going on in my head cluttering the path to a clear view of where I’m heading, but as Lao-Tzu says, “a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.”

So, as I gain familiarity with the nunaces of creating a compelling blog, which includes learning the ins and outs of using WordPress, I hope you’ll hang in there with me. Perhaps we’ll learn a few things together.  And, there’s an open invitation for you to provide input and feedback through comments, etc.

What I know at the moment is that this blog will be largely focused on just a few topics; photography and fatherhood being the main ones. Will I become known as a “Daddy blogger” who is also a photographer or vice versa is something we’ll have to figure out along the way. As I sit here writing I think each informs the other equally. 

A companion site to this blog, I have my photography website which I continue to tweak with updates every once in while. A change soon coming is an improved “ABOUT” section and think the same content will be worth sharing here on the blog, so watch out for that.

Before I sign off though, what do you think about the name, Durable Meaning? For me, the name describes the intention with which I approach my role as Dad, as photographer, as well as blog author. 

I’d like to believe my parenting (along with my wife’s) is leaving a constructive  impression on the boys, providing them with guidance and love to help them derive a life filled with meaning and satisfaction.  Similarly, I’d like to believe my photography provides my clients with a collection of images which are treasured because they capture a meaningful milestone. And, perhaps even this blog will eventually provide some enduring meaning for readers – we’ll see.