Dealing With Change – And How Transitioning Can Be Good For Us All

Text: David Geffin     Images: Courtesy, August Bradley

Cinematographer August Bradley is well versed with career transitions. After an initial start in business as a marketing strategy executive, he moved into the world of commercial photography, later transitioning into motion as a cinematographer. Today, while still a working DP, he’s already veering off to the horizon and into future of expressive visual mediums like VR, fractal art, and interactive graphic design.

What makes August so unique is his experiences exemplify an ability to adapt and change to an industry in a state of unprecedented flux and uncertainty. His approach to his career is a ‘case study’ of how we can all successfully transition from our current career pathway to a completely new one, from one piece of hardware to another, or even simply from one job to the next.

Change Is Inevitable

What is it that allows someone to succeed in one arena and parlay this experience into finding success in another, largely-unrelated, field?

Whether we work within the world of stills or motion, on the creative or business side, we can all learn something from August’s approach to dealing with change and managing transition.

August kindly spent some time talking to me about his path, and what follows is what I personally feel are the key elements that has helped him, and which we can all apply to help our own careers and development in the industry.

Building A Foundation

August has had a number of big career transitions and shifts. Now, primarily a cinematographer, he was brought up in a visually stimulating environment with a mother who was a professional photographer. He grew up assisting her and from a very early age, all the while never thinking he would make a career of photography.

The “foundation” for August was actually built in the business world. He was always interested in business and earned an MBA at Harvard.

“I think [my MBA] was extremely helpful, much more so than going to art school. We were graded on how well you could present your case to a class of 90 people. How you present yourself – and your work – is incredibly important in any artistic career.” – August Bradley

Hearing people debate other ideas, and being open to those ideas, was the approach to collaboration and the foundation that allowed him to later work closely with ad agencies for stills campaigns. As August also pointed out, this approach was even more of an imperative with film and motion work, where we have to align larger teams than those in the world of commercial photography.

This foundational background and critical thinking is essential for anyone looking to get started in the industry. We all have to work hard breaking into creative fields, and nothing helps more than the ability to understand how to deliver value to the client, and to do so consistently, with fresh creative insights.

Getting Started

August explained he really got started in professional photography while working full time as a marketing strategy executive – first internally at leading consumer brands, then as an outside consultant.

“I’d take months of time off after completing a big strategy project and would go on these adventure travel trips. I was starting to take more and more photos, and was slowly being drawn back into the world of photography.” – August Bradley

While working out of Tahoe, he started to get calls from agencies in the Bay Area as his images were appearing in magazines and getting client visibility. Increasingly more and more of his projects were in San Francisco, and then LA, where he’s currently based.

For August, the Hasselblad Masters Award, Graphis Gold awards, and being chosen for the PDN Photo Annual were some early forms of industry recognition, which helped raise his profile. In turn, this helped his photography career gain momentum, generating commercial client work.

August became known for his conceptual photography – developing high fashion looks, building intricate sets and a custom wardrobe and taking a very theatrical, prop-driven approach to his stills shoots.

Interestingly, his inspiration was taken from literary fiction as much as anything else. August consumed novels by authors like Thomas Pynchon, David Foster Wallace, Don DeLillo, Gabrielle Garcia Marquez, Richard Ford, and Jonathan Franzen. These books influenced the mood, tone, and ideas in his photography.

August’s start in the industry is revealing for a number of reasons. His desire to create and to base the initial photo work around his love of travel and exploration became self-fulfilling for the work he would begin to book and be paid for.

This led to awards and industry recognition – certainly not a prerequisite for success, but helpful feedback and a form of peer validation that indicated he was on the right path. Markets like these can be very useful when we’re working one job and attempting to transition to another.

Getting started – and understanding how your work is being perceived – can be a real challenge in today’s social media focused world, where “likes” don’t (and shouldn’t) necessarily be translated into work that speaks to your vision or development as a professional.

Although these days with the internet being all-pervasive and being an accessible platform to get your work ‘out there’ and seen, being close to the work and jobs when you get started is still essential to building momentum and connectivity into the industry. Just as August’s own move “out west” to be close to the work at the start of his career as a photographer, geography and our proximity to the type of work we want to book can be critical. Plus it provides the ability to connect with other creatives and potential clients who are in those markets.

Making Moves – The Transition To Motion

Things changed dramatically in 2008 when the recession hit.

 “Almost immediately, ad campaigns dried up.” – August Bradley

Rather than waiting and wondering, August attacked. He undertook an intensive transition process first focusing on motion content production skills, with a plan to grow beyond that once that first initial part of his transition was complete. He was preparing for changes he saw coming in the industry.

At the time, DSLR filmmaking was just taking off, and he began thinking of the need to diversify. But he didn’t just want to be a photographer who could shoot video – he set out to develop skills on the level of the film and broadcast shooters who were specialized in motion. Once he achieved that, he intended to find ways to tell stories across mediums.

“I didn’t see a future in just stills work – to me, it was more about ideas and stories and less about the technology or format they’re presented in… or to be able to adapt the presentation to best fit the story.

 I figured I needed a broad range of capabilities, and motion was the direction that most excited me. It was liberating to have the dimension of time.” – August Bradley

August is now primarily a cinematographer. He has a self-described obsession with shaping light, bending that light through creative lens selection, and forming compositions and camera movement that reveal story and character.

More recently, he brought a team of creative people together from various disciplines to established GLASS Media Lab, a hybrid creative agency and production company. The mission with GLASS is to both build an experimental motion-media research hub, as well as serve clients who need a turnkey solution for new forms of marketing and storytelling. In other words, August has created an organization designed specifically to embrace and encourage change.

For many of us, change is a terrifying notion and we can be paralyzed while trying to assess how to react to it. For many, the head-in-sand approach is one we opt to take, consciously or otherwise.

August’s approach is more focused on embracing the opportunities change can bring. These opportunities are often missed out of fear and it can result in new directions for our careers that we never could have foreseen. This mindset approach is not something specific to the jobs we do, the industry we are in, or who we work alongside, but is a complete approach to the world in which we operate.

Whether you are a glass-half-full or a glass-half-empty type doesn’t matter – it’s how you react to the uncertainty we find ourselves in that is critical.

“Share A Coke” TV Commercial with Pretty Little Liars star Shay Mitchell. Camera & Lighting for the commercial by the cinematography team at GLASS Media Lab and DP August Bradley. Working with Executive Producer/Director George Kenyon and Klutch Creative.

August spoke about how his initial opportunity to move into motion was unusual. Based entirely, on his stills portfolio, he was hired to be the DP for a TV commercial. When he started out, he knew what he wanted to create (and had been hired for this vision), but did not know the lighting tools of a cinema production set. So he built a strong team of gaffers, grips, and ACs.

 “It’s harder to get the same level of lighting precision on a motion shoot. Strobes and the diverse range of photography light shaping modifiers had spoiled me. Plus those actors kept moving around!

 But on a motion production set, you rely on a team of specialists to a much greater degree than in photography. So I built and trusted my team to implement. ” – August Bradley

As those of us working in motion know, lights can be incredibly hot and take a lot of power. Fortunately, August started working with high quality gaffers, ACs and grips, building a team of experts. He explained what he wanted the end result to be, then let them translate this into technical solutions. Along the way, August learned the tools and the process on larger production sets.

August mentioned that he did things “a little backwards” by typical industry progression route standards. His advice to anyone looking to transition to motion was straightforward and practical:

“Start small and use a ‘photography mentality’. Keep the production and technical elements simple, maybe pull in an assistant or two and just start there. One or two lights. Show what you can do. You don’t need big budgets to make beautiful work. Once you show high quality work with basic tools, you’ll get opportunities to work with the next level of equipment. But in the end it’s never about the equipment. And usually fewer lights and simpler setups are better.” – August Bradley

His advice is useful for any of us as we find our own approach to work, be that in our existing industry, or as we transition. Equipment isn’t necessarily a limitation – a DSLR or small mirrorless camera can shoot perfectly acceptable video these days for any photographer looking to jump into motion work.

The big takeaway is that building a great team of excellent and reliable people is the most essential foundation for growth. Articulating a clear vision, while allowing those experts (be they gaffers, grips, ACs, set designers, prop stylists or art directors) to do their best work in support of the overall design, is essential.

“Whatever level of team and tools you have, you must deliver the NEXT level of creative output. You must always create at a level above your resources. Then you will start getting the next level of budget and resources, at which point you must then deliver work a level above that. So you ratchet up.

 If you’re the guy who always delivers a level above, you’ll be in high demand. And you will see your resources increasing.” –August Bradley

Cages & Light: A short film Directed by August Bradley featuring fashion designers Louis Verdad and Hugo Boss. City lights and distant memories collide as three solitary people confront the situations that confine them.

Dealing With Limitations

“You’re always going to be under gunned, under budget or under-resourced in some way – but that’s the nature of the game. You have to outperform whatever constraints you’re up against.” – August Bradley

Today, we all have to deliver more for less. Whatever we’re given is never really going to be enough for what we’d like to do. Whatever you have at your disposal, you need to find a way to deliver beyond it.

Some clients have unrealistic budgets and big expectations, you need to decide if it’s worth it. If it’s not, let them know what the job requires – help them learn, explain what they will get for the larger investment.

 But if you accept the project, even at the lower budget, then over-deliver. Get that reputation.” –August Bradley

Many of the most glamorous jobs will have low budgets and high standards, trading on their prestige. These can establish credibility. There’s a reason people are lined up around the block for gigs attached to anything with cache. These can also end up as a waste of time. In the beginning it’s hard to tell the difference. You’ll learn over time which opportunities are truly valuable. But take some chances.

A pragmatic mindset, and being able to deliver value are true assets we can bring to any job, regardless of budget, and can act as a great way to secure ongoing relationships with the clients we serve now, and those we wish to work with in the future. Clients will certainly value creative excellence, but if you can’t deliver a quality product in a timely fashion to an agreed budget, then you’re likely not be able to sustain longevity with any client base.

 

Zoetrope Optika – We had early access to the new and innovative Zeiss Otus lens and wanted to work with it on a short concept film. This is the first short film shot on the new lens (it was shot shortly before the lens was released).

Thoughts On The Industry

“Just as when I moved from stills to motion, I feel like I’m diving into a rapid growth stage again by embracing VR, fractal tools, and interactive graphic design. I really get into learning new things.” – August Bradley

August notes he is primarily a cinematographer, and will continue to be – but he is still focused on what might be next, what his next possible growth might be.

He also explained that he sees those coming from a graphic design background having an advantage, an eye for aesthetic detail and a great sense of context for the artwork. For this reason, and his innate curiosity, he develops this skill set.

 “Any artist would benefit from learning other creative disciplines. We should all explore other arts and technologies, then combine them – what cognitive researchers call ‘unusual associations’. I think that’s a better strategy than just being a purist in one field.” – August Bradley

As well as spreading our creative or artistic horizons, August also values and advocates building a community of mutually supportive fellow artists. This has been an underlying foundation of his journey.

 “Artists who really succeed come out of clusters. You need those little communities and you want to build those relationships – wherever you are.” – August Bradley

Our thanks to August Bradley for talking to us on how he works and his amazing imagery. Check out more of his work on his website, and make sure to follow him on TwitterFacebook, and Instagram. Read more on Medium.com on August’s fascinating thoughts on the future of the medium of creative expression