Head Over Heels And Ass Backwards · DEDPXL

Concept_Drawing #1

That post title sums up exactly what this tumultuous relationship with photography feels like. A month has passed since my last post.

In that month – technically even before that – I have been plotting and scheming. Plans have been put into effect, I’ve met with friends, models, stylists. Done recon on locations. Checked gear. Sold old gear. Bought new gear. Now the execution lays ahead. You can go read up on that a little bit here.

As of your reading this I’ll already have one shoot under my belt, unfortunately not for my portfolio though, but who knows, that might change. A week before my first dispatch I received an email from a prominent South African pianist. It was the usual thing when I get requests for estimates: “I love your work and what you do. Would you please forward me an estimate?” I thought perhaps it would result in the usual response when I submitted my estimate — that of no reply. Or even worse sometimes the dreaded,”That’s out of my budget.”

Not this time, though. This dude had clearly worked with other professional photographers (not that I would call myself that yet) and knew the cost and the time and the effort that went into a shoot. So I sent my estimate through and two days later received a reply for a face to face meeting. Needless to say I was pretty stoked. I emailed Zack to ask for some help regarding usage fees etc. and included those in the original estimate and Charl, the pianist, was fine with it. What? Really? Holy crap! Usually your client battles you left, right and center. I’m certain it is much less than what more well known photographers are charging, but I am really happy with the estimate I sent.

So that happened last weekend the 7th of February and I am super stoked with how the shoot went. I can’t share those images just yet, but they are coming. Here’s a little sneak peek.


However, what I can share are some sketches for my portfolio work that I am shooting soon. Just a little sneak peek into my concepts for the photos. The main post image is one and then the one below. I have two more, but they aren’t sketched out very well 🙂 It involves a recreation of the Piéta sculpture by Michelangelo and the other image; a Spanish Dancer.

Concept_Drawing #2


Can I make these photos? I dunno, but that is why I am trying. Zack told me a cool story when I was in the States. I believe it is something that Gregory Heisler said:


“I don’t want to make photos that I know how to create, I want to make photos that I don’t know how to create.”


And to be honest, that is exactly how I feel. And it’s kinda shitty, because I have put a lot of time and effort into arranging these shoots and getting the people and sifting through the ideas and if I don’t produce something good I have wasted everyone else’s time and that is the last thing I want to do.

I ask myself everyday, “What have I gotten myself into?”

These images need to be made, because they are my next step. The next hurdle to overcome. The thing that will hopefully make people take a little bit of notice and get me the kinda jobs I want and shooting the kinda work I want. It’s exhausting, I am not going to lie. The last month I have been busier than I have ever been in my working life and it feels f**king great knowing that each action I take will lead to images I want to make and that is pretty damn awesome.

On top of ALL this I am trying to get a studio off the ground and working with some wonderful friends whom have once again blown my mind and offered to help for free, because that’s how f**king great they are and how much they want to form a part of it, which lets me believe it’s the right move.

I also want to start a bi-monthly zine. How the hell am I going to have the time for all of this? Right now it feels like time is all I have and by being proactive something has got to give. Something has got to work and hopefully it will be all of the above. I want to build community.

That’s it for now. Next month I’ll hopefully have some of those shots to show everyone.

Thanks for reading

PS: I want to reach out to the community here and ask for any advice regarding getting the studio up and running. What should I consider, be aware of, be wary of. Leave your comments or drop me a mail.

Bernard Brand

Bernard is a freelance portrait photographer, based in Pretoria, South Africa. Currently stumbling ass backwards into a full time photography career.

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  1. Will

    Great post. I am going through very similar circumstances with my business. I have a more refined vision and am working on building my portfolio and eventually have a studio space. I didn’t really know where to start but they way you sorted through gear, connections, and sketching out ideas before executing. Maybe that’s how I ned to approach it. Thanks looking forward to seeing some of those images.

    • Bernard Brand

      Thanks Will,

      I sometimes sketch things, sometimes not. It all depends, but I feel because these shoots are going to be like tiny productions with a team of people, having a sketch or storyboard makes sense. Try it and let me know if it works 🙂

      Thanks for reading

    • Greg


      Just a heads up, the links on your site to your portfolio are down. I get a server error when I click on them.

  2. Darren

    Do it. Go for it. It took balls for you to write to Zack and then relocate to the Northern Hemisphere. Make great work and don’t look back. Fire up the braai and crack open a castle for me. Can’t wait to see your new shoots.

    • Bernard Brand

      Haha.. Thanks Darren,

      Can’t fire up the braai and crack open that brewski until this is done, until then it’s head down and pedal to the metal, although to be honest, a wrench or two have been thrown into the works, but I am working through it.

      Thanks for reading

  3. Lex

    Setting up the right studio can be a huge boon to collaborative efforts, not just a good space to work. I have a few rolls of seamless and a good slice of kit at my apartment, but there’s a really impressive group called 5yve here in Detroit running a collaborative photo/video studio. The main guy, Myron Watkins, made sure the space works for lots of other artists, and as a result, they’ve got a constant whirlwind of activity from product photography to music videos and street art. It’s impossible to avoid getting swept up when you visit, and to me, it’s the high water mark for low-budget creative spaces. You can check out their work at http://instagram.com/the5yve, and Myron’s work is at http://www.myronwatkins.com/.

  4. Ben

    I can’t help with setting up a studio, but I do completely relate to stumbling back-asswards into things. I’ve enjoyed your writing here, as well as the sketchbook pages you’ve shared. I am/was/can be diligent at planning and sketching things out for everything in my life except for photography. For some reason, my brain doesn’t process what it takes to make a photo in that way. Instead, it is all responsive. Perhaps I am not grabbing the bull by the balls enough to take control.

    • Bernard Brand

      Do what works for you Ben.

      If that means showing up to the shoot with no idea what your end goal is that is fine. I’ve done that pretty much up to this point, but like I said to Will 2 comments back. It made sense to draw out these ideas just so that I have them on paper and kinda work through them that way and jotting down whatever else comes up on those pages.

      And it’s a good thing to show the subjects I think.

      Thanks for reading

      • Ben

        Absolutely. My comment was more of a self-critique than anything. I have a fine arts background and sketching and journaling is a practice for me with everything else, so maybe I’m doing a disservice by not laying the groundwork on paper before hand. This is the time of the year when things slow down and I’m evaluating the previous year. I am always looking for ways to improve and a different approach could be refreshing.

        Again, love the writing from you and the other contributors. There is a lot of bullshit out there, but DEDPXL has a way of normalizing the stuff we all deal with. We’re all in the same boat at some point and it is really great to learn from others in this way. Oh yeah, entertaining too.

        • Bernard Brand

          Thanks man,

          I think everyone who writes knows that it’s not just about the photography. There’s the self doubt, second guessing and all the other shit that goes with it and we’re all in the same damn boat at one point or another 🙂

  5. adam bucci

    that sample of the pianist is excellent. the sketchbook is also great. it gives me an idea of a weblog – photographers sketchbooks – from detailed sketches and notes in a moleskine to scribbles on a napkin.

    • Bernard Brand

      Thanks Adam 🙂

      I am pretty stoked with that image. Might add it to my portfolio 🙂

      That is a cool idea. Do it.

      Thanks for reading

  6. c.d.embrey

    Good photography is Problem Solving. You have to analyze and solve problems, quite literally, on the run (and not break into a sweat). The thing is, you have to jump into the deep-end, because no-one gives a damn about the shallow-end.

    If you are successful on doing the first job you-didn’t-know-how-to-do, the second one will be easier. After a while, dealing with Not-Knowing will become second-nature.

    • Richard Wintle

      “The thing is, you have to jump into the deep-end, because no-one gives a damn about the shallow-end.”

      I love this statement. 🙂

  7. rjbradbury

    Hi Bernard

    Man that saying. “Stumbling Ass-Backwards” hits home for me.

    It’s a horrible feeling this constant worrying followed by a lot of over thinking and under-doing…otherwise known as procrastination.

    Re the studio space I don’t know how much help this will be but here goes.

    I am about to sign for a space myself and am scared as hell.. I have no idea if I can bring enough people in to cover the cost over the next 12 months, know idea if local people will like my work because it’s not the usual high street stuff or selective colour you see here a lot. I have spent the last 2 months going from yes you can do this to what if you fail and have to close in 12 months… not to mention all the stuff in-between.

    The town I live in has a crap ton of studios a number of them just run events for photographers… you know the form a que to photograph a pretty lady type, whilst others are working studios. I have asked myself does Stockport (UK) have too many already.. I’m not sure if it really matters.

    Space wise I have always said it would be nice to have 60ft (L), 20ft (W), 25ft (H) but this space is considerably smaller. It’s usable and people are creating better work than me in garages or back bedrooms so no excuse on that side of things.

    What has got me to the 99% sure I am going to sign is this…

    1. I am stuck in a day job I have had enough of. The company is fine but I just don’t care about the work and have had enough of the weekly performance review meetings based off effin STATS.

    2. It for some reason just feels right.

    Is that enough? I have no idea.

    I have ideas for the space beyond client and personal work that includes opening it up to local community events. It will also be used to host my photography events and workshops.

    Look at me I am talking like it is my studio. May be this comment is me trying to convince myself.

    Why do we do this to ourselves?

    Thank you Bernard for your articles so far and your write up of the time you spent state-side. I wish you all the best and look forward to seeing your new work and your posts on DEDPXL.


    • Bernard Brand

      Hey Rick,

      Right now I am once again in that headspace. Too much waiting around and not enough action. As soon as my head goes quiet, I start second guessing, so I am trying to pull myself out of the ditch once again 🙂

      If it feels right, it’s right man. I dunno how to explain it, but I had that exact same feeling before quitting the old day job and going to intern for Zack. Regarding your studio space and plans for it, i.e.

      “I have ideas for the space beyond client and personal work that includes opening it up to local community events. It will also be used to host my photography events and workshops.”

      That is exactly what I have in mind as well. I want to supplement the quiet days/weeks/months by having exhibitions there, workshops et cetera.

      Godspeed Rick

      Thanks for reading

      • RJ Bradbury


        Some how missed the reply. So here we go almost 2 years on.

        I pulled the trigger and the studio is still open. I still over think this shit, still worry….It’s both fun and maddening at the same time.

        The only thing at the moment that quiets my mind is when I have my camera in hand and finger on the shutter.. which is both ironic and telling at the same time. 2017 has to f**king has to be a head down and work year to climb back out of this dam ditch.

        I am yet to hold an exhibition in my space.. that’s food for thought for sure. I have held networking events, shop talk events for creatives and workshops. More can be done.

        Things good at your end? Hope they are. All the best to you Bernard and if you are ever over in the UK shoot me an email and i’ll have cold beer or 3 waiting.


    • c.d.embrey

      “… and people are creating better work than me in garages or back bedrooms …”

      Do you truly believe this ?? If so, maybe you should wait …

      • RJ Bradbury

        If you look around you will most likely find someone doing more/better work than you with less no matter where you are at yourself.

        Update: I pulled that trigger and am on my way. Took one leap forwards and continued moving.

        I have no doubt that the world still has others doing better work with less but that won’t stop me getting to work myself.

        It’s still scary as hell though.

        P.S I have no idea how I missed the replies.

  8. Richard Wintle

    Good looking first photo of your pianist client, Bernard. I love how you balanced out the ambient so you just get the circles from the ceiling lights.

    And those sketches…! I’ve sketched concepts a few times but they sure don’t look like those. Great stuff. I can envision a book with two-page spreads – sketch on the left, finished photo on the right. Would really enjoy seeing that presentation.

    As to the studio… well no practical advice on studios per se, but I once helped run a small biotech company in the middle of a large city and I can give you only one piece of advice: rent will kill you. Absolutely do not spend more than you have to on rent. Less-than-pristine spaces can be painted, or tiled, or otherwise spruced up, and I would venture to guess that you don’t need to be on a main street because, frankly, are you going to be booking walk-in business? No. So industrial estates, or side streets, or older buildings… as long as they are safe and secure and have adequate and reliable power. Don’t get suckered by a good-looking location upstairs from a trendy hipster coffee shop, to find later you’re paying 30% more for it than you really should be. Rent kills. Remember that and you’ve got half the battle won. 🙂

    • Bernard Brand

      Hey Richard,

      Thank you very much kind sir. I am pretty happy with that damn shot 🙂 Hahaha.. These are my nicer sketches. I have some more stick figure looking ones that I am not showing. I like that idea. Might be a good thing to add to a portfolio? *spitballing*

      That’s good advice and I am way ahead of you on that one 😉 I’ll be renting our church’s space & they have been kind enough to not rape me with the rent, but we still need to have some of those discussions. And it is above a hipster coffee shop! Haha. Whom I know the owner of and want to get involved in catering for clients who rent out the space, so the client wins, they win and I win 🙂

      It’s a win, win.. Haha.

      Thanks for reading

      • Richard Wintle

        That sounds excellent, congrats. Good luck with it and please strong-arm Zack into letting you post updates so we can all follow how you’re getting on with it. 🙂

  9. Jin

    Bernard – that is really awesome! Good for you! Very inspiring post!

  10. Greg

    As an engineer who dabbles in photography, your sketchbook photos had me wondering if there was mathematically “perfect” lighting angles/distances/strengths for shots. Someone who is smarter than me should figure that out 🙂

    • Bernard Brand

      I am certain there are Greg, but who has time for perfection? 😛

      Thanks for reading

  11. Giovanni Maggiora

    Hey Bern
    great images, or the promise of. But what blows me away is your sketchbook. You should do a full essay from that. You’re as good with your pen as you are with your shutter.
    Thanks for sharing that.

    • Bernard Brand

      Hey Giovanni,

      Thanks so much.. I hope they live up to mostly my expectations (and of course the people I’ll be photographing as well). Hahaha. I’ve always drawn, but mostly from other images that I copy, so I am not very good at putting a specific picture in my head to paper the way it is in my head.

      Need loads more practice in that department.

      Thanks for reading

      • Giovanni Maggiora

        It’s not (just) the drawings, it’s the handwriting (too). Amazingly neat. Scary, almost… 🙂

        • Bernard Brand

          Hahaha.. Apparently that is exactly why Zack & Meg allowed me to intern, because of my penmanship.

          Ain’t that right Zack!?

        • Zack Arias

          Yep! That and your dashing good looks and solid bicycle skills. 🙂


  12. Chris Bergstrom

    Great article! I recently left my good paying photo area of New Jersey, NYC and Philly to move to Tokyo, Japan. I feel ass backwards right now myself. I have been working with local models, talent and families and the word is finally getting around. I’ve been here since February and the jobs are finally starting to come to me. I’ve even got a product photography shoot this week for a new launch of a top secret electronic gadget project launching soon and I’m the photographer who gets to shoot it! No weddings lined up yet, but I’m sure they’ll come. It’s frustrating moving to a new place and having to virtually start all over from almost scratch. I’m glad I’m not the only one who has struggles in this business. Keep on brother!

    • Bernard Brand

      Thanks for taking the time to read the post Chris

      That is a huge leap! Damn! Kudos to you for making that move and I hope things just get more traction. Keep at it man. Work hard & do good work 🙂


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