Jared Polin Interview: Fro Knows Photo Founder Flexes Marketing Muscle to Internet Fame
Image attributed to Adam Lerner
Jared Polin is an accomplished photographer whose work has appeared in Rolling Stone, Spin Magazine and countless other international publications. He has recently pointed his talents to the business world and established himself as an entrepreneur, and in 2010 launched FroKnowsPhoto.com, a fun and informative website for photographers that provides guidance in the art, process, equipment and experience of capturing moments in photos.
The popularity of Polin’s “I Shoot RAW” brand of merchandise has catapulted Polin and FroKnowsPhoto to worldwide recognition, creating a legion of fans and photographers of all skill levels who flock to the site for education and assistance.
"I have this large following on You Tube, so I thought I might as well exploit that in the way of filming podcasts because not a lot of people film their podcasts. They just put up the audio, but I’m a very visual person, and so we started shooting it with three camera angles. Now we shoot it with four. We run it like a TV show. We light it like a TV show. It’s all about professional quality content. The shows end up being anywhere from an hour and a half to two hours at this point with various guests."
In addition to being a renowned photographer and online superstar, Polin is a trusted advisor and consultant to brands and companies looking to expand their online visibility. A recognizable personality at social media business and photo conferences around the United States, Polin is a sought-after speaker and a leading expert on photography and the use of content development and marketing.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): I understand that your mom, who passed away of cancer in 2008, inspired your love of photography?
Jared Polin: I don’t know that she directly influenced me. It’s a hard one to explain. She was the photographer of the family and was always taking photos, but it wasn’t something I looked at as being, “Hey, I want to do that, too.” It was just that she took point and shoot pictures in the 1980s, and everywhere we went, that’s what she did. Looking back, I can see that some of the photos had a more photojournalistic aspect to them, and that, I guess, resonated with me, but that wasn’t really the reason I started being a photographer.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Was it something you wanted to do as a career from a young age?
Jared Polin: I started shooting when I was thirteen, so I was pretty young. I was in junior high school at one of the basketball games. The yearbook photographers were these two girls that were just shooting warmups and shooting from angles that I thought didn’t seem to be the way you should shoot sports.
Being that I grew up in sports and love sports, I thought I could do a better job, so instead of saying, “You girls are doing a terrible job,” I went home and borrowed my mom’s point and shoot Fuji Discovery camera with film. I was very good at anticipating the moment and capturing it even from the time pressing the button to the time actually getting the image. I just had a knack for capturing the right moments, and it grew from there. That was the first time I shot.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Those are some very emotional images on the website of your mom. What made you decide to keep a photo diary of her during the stages of the illness?
Jared Polin: It was more of me hiding behind something to hide me emotionally. That’s basically what I’ve come to realize. I like telling photo stories, and you have to tell the good with the bad, and I told my mom that. At first, she didn’t want me to really shoot, but then I explained to her the point of showing the good and the bad, that everything is not always happy and it needs to be documented. I just thought I would do the photo story.
When we rushed her to the hospital the first time before knowing anything was wrong, I brought my camera with me. I ignored all the nurses telling me about HIPAA bullshit, and I said, “Screw you! I’m taking pictures. What are you gonna do, arrest me?” I think certain rules are bullshit, and I was taking photos of my mom, so I kept doing it. That was just my thing to shoot.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): From what you’ve said in videos about your mom, she was a very strong person. Was it her strength or her faith that kept her coping with cancer day after day?
Jared Polin: She was the more religious. We’re Jewish, and she was the practicing Jew of the family for the most part. She was in the choir. What kept her going was that she just wouldn’t give up. She never wanted to … she was just always a tough cookie. Mom didn’t give a shit. When somebody would tell her she couldn’t do something, she would do it anyway, so I guess that’s partly where I get that.
If somebody tells you that you can’t do something, you tell them to go fuck off! That was a mentality I went with, too. If somebody tells you that you can’t, screw them. You can do it. I know that growing up, mom had it tough. She was smaller, and it was a different time. In the 50s and 60s, if you were smaller, it may have set you back with the younger kids, and you didn’t belong with them. It was just a different time where they seemed to not have compassion or understanding of developmental stages.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): That’s probably true. Tell me about the website (FroKnowsPhoto.com).
Jared Polin: Going back to kind of the same reason I started taking photos in the first place, I was looking at You Tube and searching around for different photo things, seeing what other people were doing photo wise. I didn’t like the tutorials that were out there. I didn’t like the content. To me, it was boring, stale and honestly some of the worst information I’ve ever seen, in my opinion. It doesn’t mean that it was right, but it was what I believed.
Instead of sitting there and being a troll on the Internet and telling somebody, “Oh, you’re giving the wrong information,” or “You suck,” which is stuff I’m used to reading now, I decided to do it myself. I said, “I’m going to create something. I have the ability to do this.” We all have the ability to do this, to put out content in this day and age. I felt like my work would speak for itself because I think my work is pretty good, and beyond that, I thought I had a message to get across, so I decided to try it.
Four years ago on June 1, 2010 was when the site launched. I had a couple of videos up before that under my name as Jared Polin from my website, and then I started doing one or two videos a day. It’s four years later and still averages over a video a day if you take it all across the 1,500+ videos. That’s how the site started. The whole idea behind making videos was that I have trouble sitting down and trying to write an article.
Writing articles would take forever, but if I want to make a four-minute video, I can sit in front of the camera for four freaking minutes and get the point across better than I could by trying to articulate it in text. I also knew that You Tube is owned by Google, so it’s the largest search engine in the world. If people are going to search information, they’re going to find my videos … if I put out a ton of quality content. That was important. It was consistent, quality content, the kind that people could latch onto and find their way into my channel, subscribe and watch other videos.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): And the podcast?
Jared Polin: We just released episode 91 as of today, and there was a little break in the middle as I moved and tried to figure out how I was going to continue and do things right, but in the current form of the podcast, I have a co-host, Stephen Eckert, who does a great job. He came on board and helped me with the audio in the beginning and doing multiple cameras.
I have this large following on You Tube, so I thought I might as well exploit that in the way of filming podcasts because not a lot of people film their podcasts. They just put up the audio, but I’m a very visual person, and so we started shooting it with three camera angles. Now we shoot it with four. We run it like a TV show. We light it like a TV show. It’s all about professional quality content. The shows end up being anywhere from an hour and a half to two hours at this point with various guests.
Guests are an interesting thing, too, because almost all the photography podcasts out there are people sitting on Skype or Google Hangouts. They’re just talking in front of the camera and screen grabbing it. That, to me, is not professional. I’m not saying it’s wrong. I’m just saying it’s boring. I’d rather have someone sitting in front of me in person that I could interview because then it’s real. You’re feeding off of their emotions. You can read their emotions. You’re not just sitting there on a computer just bullshitting and being stagnant and just sitting there.
The podcast was just my way of invading somebody else’s ears. While we’re offering the audio, might as well give them the video, too, to download or to view on You Tube. It’s just about giving people different kinds of content to consume. The more they consume, the more they’re aware. The more they’re aware, the more they come back for more.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Is your specialty concert photography, Jared?
Jared Polin: I shot a ton of concerts, probably about 500 shows or so over the last twelve years. The way I look at it is my specialty is telling stories in images. It’s basically photojournalism, but it just so happened that musicians made for interesting subjects that do interesting things, that look interesting, that live very interesting lives and travel the world. It gave me an opportunity to capture that.
You could shoot an everyday person, but it just seems that a “celebrity” may translate better in images than an everyday person. That doesn’t mean that I don’t go ahead and photograph everyday people and tell their stories and be able to exude emotions from people based on the images which you can see on my website. There’s my mom’s story, and then there are the photos of a 100 year old factory.
The factory was just something I did because it was out of the norm for me. There were only a couple of pictures with people in them, but the other parts were all these 100 year old machines and chairs. Just giving life to subjects that aren’t alive was pretty interesting. Being able to exude emotions and bringing something out of people that look at the photos is what I go for. I know I’m classified as shooting musicians and concert photography, but I think a lot of it comes back to just capturing the moment and telling photo stories. To me, it’s all about photo stories, not just one single image, but a series of images that makes people feel like they were there.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): In addition to photographing the actual concerts, you also spend some time alone with the artists to shoot them privately.
Jared Polin: That’s what I like doing because anybody can shoot a live show, but not anybody can get access directly to the artist and spend time with them. I’ve taken pride in doing that for the last twelve years, getting access for that just by asking. To ask for the access, you need to be able to back it up with the work that you do. I lead with the work I’ve done for other musicians.
I started as somebody in the pit who didn’t have access to anybody, but I started picking up the phone. I started beating down doors, showing people my work. When you prove that’s what you’re gonna do, you’re going to get access because your work speaks for itself. For them to let you in and let you see their lives and invite you to places where their families are is unique. Not everybody gets the opportunity to do that.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): It must’ve been difficult in the beginning to “sell” yourself in that way.
Jared Polin: I started shooting concerts in 2002, so it was still a time for shooting with film, and the world wasn’t inundated with people trying to get into the pit with their digital cameras, so it was a little different back then. The first one I shot, I called and asked for a photo credential. I said that I was shooting for a college newspaper, and they gave me access. I went and was surprised at the whole three-song rule. I knew nothing of it at the time, and I thought it was weird. It didn’t make any sense to be able to shoot a show and only shoot three songs.
I just kept shooting and calling Rolling Stone until they finally called me and sent me out on gigs. I got access to places that Rolling Stone tried to get access to but couldn’t, but I was able to do it when I got to the show. It’s just dealing with people. I guess it’s like sales. You say it like it is, and you get what you need.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): You recently went to New Jersey Six Flags and was stopped at the gate by security because you were wearing your “I Shoot RAW” t-shirt. The security officer kept telling you that it was a “family friendly park” and that the shirt was “inappropriate.” Did you get the feeling that she thought it was a sexual innuendo or a gun comment?
Jared Polin: I have no idea. I understand that the shirt has multiple meanings because it’s my shirt, and I get it. It brings out connotations to people, but that’s because they don’t know photography.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Yes, it’s just a photography term.
Jared Polin: The whole point of creating something like this shirt is that it creates a discussion. People come up to me all the time and ask what the shirt means, and then you explain it to them. Usually when you explain it to somebody, security and all, they go, “Alright, that makes sense.” But this one particular woman was refusing to tell me what part was wrong. At first I thought it was the sexual thing.
I thought that she thought it was sexual. I was clearly explaining to her that it wasn’t, but then I started thinking maybe she thought the shoot thing was inappropriate or “unappropriate” as she said, which I don’t think is the proper use of the word. I just wasn’t sure. It’s bullshit anyway, but I never got an explanation as to what was the issue. I’ve worn the shirt all around the world. I’ve flown with it, and I’ve had TSA ask me what it is, but they’re never asked in a way that meant I couldn’t fly.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): What are your ambitions for the podcast, Jared?
Jared Polin: I like the podcast the way it is. I see doing more infotainment type of thing like a half hour or hour show where I go and shoot and educate, do things in interesting places. That’s a general overview of what I’d like to do.
I’m in the works for some of that stuff, so it’s just a matter of pulling it off and starting it and shooting it. That’s where I’m going. That’s what I want to do to create that type of content. It’s more infotainment because it’s entertaining, fun and informative, and that’s what I enjoy doing.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Standing roughly 8.5 inches tall is the FRO talking bobble head …
Jared Polin: I’ve always wanted to do a bobble head. I think three years ago I wanted to do it, but at the time, it didn’t make sense to invest in it. It’s a great promo tool for me to leave with people. It’s a great marketing thing. It’s not something people will throw away. This is a pretty nice business card. Somebody’s not really going to throw this out. They’ll leave it on the desk or put it on the shelf, whereas business cards are just pieces of paper or plastic.
I get handed a million business cards. They go on a pile somewhere unless I want to keep one or get in touch with somebody for a certain reason, but if somebody were to give me something interesting, something that stood out and was unique, I’d be more apt to keeping and remembering it.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Very interesting idea. Any upcoming projects you’d like to discuss?
Jared Polin: I’m going to be teaching at CreativeLive in Seattle which is a free class. It’s free if you watch it live, and then people can buy it if they miss it. I’m also releasing my next video guide which is basically a guide to DSLR video which is the next evolution for anybody with a DSLR. Now that they can make video and make money at it, people want to know what they need to do, so I created another guide that’s similar to the beginner guide of getting out of audio that shows people a crash course on shooting video. That’s something that would cost them $20 or $30 thousand to go to a two-year school to learn, and we’re going to do it in about six hours.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): What advice do you give to the beginner who wants to pursue photography as a career?
Jared Polin: The advice is to shoot. Just shoot. There’s a plethora of information out there. There’s a ton of free information online. I sell a video guide, the basics of photography, that I think is better than most college classes and have had people say that. For $67, they get a crash course on understanding the Exposure Triangle which I think is the fundamental and basics of photography that everybody needs to know in order to go shoot whatever they want to shoot.
People ask if they should go to the New York Institute of Photography online. That’s just a freaking name. It has nothing to do with New York. All they do is charge you a lot of money, give you assignments, critique your work and print you out a certificate. If you’re a young kid coming out of high school, I don’t really recommend that you go to a photography school by itself.
I went to a two-year photography school. I don’t know if that’s the right option anymore. I don’t know that going to a two-year photography school and having no background in anything else makes much sense because photography is not the easiest thing to just make it in. In my opinion, you need to know marketing, branding, advertising and business, so you may want to go to a four-year school where you can minor, have an education and get your certificate to teach if you want. I’m not saying it’s a fallback plan. I’m just saying you’re setting yourself up with the right tools to be successful because you can do marketing, audio/video recording and all the stuff that goes hand in hand. If photography is something you really want to do, all that stuff is going to help you.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): It is the digital age of photography also, so that should be taken into consideration.
Jared Polin: It’s much easier to shoot today. When I started and was shooting thirty-six shots, I’d have to get my mom to drive me over to the printing lab and had to wait a day to get my stuff back. Then I’d think, “How will I know what I did wrong?” Now you have it right on the back of your camera. You can see what it looks like on your screen. You can tweak from there and get a general understanding of what you’re doing wrong, and then you can correct it. So get out there and shoot.
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