Thursday, December 27, 2012
Let's start with what stands out to me as the event of greatest impact on my process of photography and a very likely culprit in my dilemmas of late. My copy of Photoshop "expired" and, due to monetary concerns left me tied to acquiring and learning Lightroom in its stead. Doesn't necessarily sound like an enormous switch, both programs are stellar pieces of Adobe imaging software, but let me tell you... from a guy who has spent over a decade comfortable with and familiar with layers and the nuances of digital art, not just photographic development... MOVING TO LIGHTROOM EXCLUSIVELY AFTER YEARS OF A PHOTOSHOP PROCESS HAS BEEN IMPOSSIBLY DIFFICULT. Developing RAW files as one does in Lightroom has always been simply the first step of my Photoshop process, thus leaving every image I process feeling incomplete. I am so familiar with an array of layer-based adjustments after the initial development of a RAW file that I'm not sure my images will ever again manage to bear the same tonal qualities and infallable crispness. Having a perfected decade-long process interrupted and ultimately abandoned due to software constraints is akin to a chef losing his hand. Sure, he'll be able to prepare delicious courses much as he did before, but even the subtle differences from his forceably altered process will stand out at least to him. It comes down to a time concern, time and a willingness to learn. I certainly bear both, however it has been something of a struggle much as all learning inevitably is in the beginning.
Okay, that's the biggest issue out of the way. And honestly, my First World Whining may as well stop there as I didn't zero in on any of my other "problems" until the Photoshop Fiasco, but like all changes or life events that get us even the slightest bit down, the mind tends to autopilot itself into other subtle woes just to indulge itself in some artificial misery.
I'm not sure if I've ever said this before, but our brains really do rather suck at permitting us complacent satisfaction. That or I'm simply crazy... suppose both statements aren't exactly mutually exclusive either... hmm.
In the near term, since the "personal life" of photography is such a mess for me at the moment, I've been steadfast and focused on more formal business elements of photography, which is a good way to at least keep my mentally centered on the skill and keep my warmed up at all times. You can't make art all the time, I suppose, but at least with the business end of things running my mind and hands through the technical motions I'll be practiced and prepared when the muse-bug bites hard. After so much time spent out of the game I'm eager to get back into the enjoyment of photography. It's all a matter of needing mental clarity to know the what, how and why. With the holiday season coming to a close, I suspect that clarity is fast approaching. It better be...
... I think booking a vacation in Philly might do the trick.
Wednesday, December 26, 2012
Yesterday, like many of us, I was busy in the thick of celebrating the holidays was various circles of friends and family. A few days earlier I attended (and somehow wound up photographing) a dear friend's wedding and immediately afterward spending time with one side of my family for their early Christmas festivities. Cruising down from 4 hours north, a friend of my better half and mine came down to spend the week with us over Christmas time in what has been a non-stop binge of movies, video games and delicious food. And yesterday, as expected, more time was spent with the remaining side of my family in an enjoyable parade of giddy kids who were surprisingly open to the idea of smiling for the camera. What a holiday!
Naturally gifts were exchanged, and en lieu of my desperate push towards legitimizing all the time I devote to photography and its practice, the assortment of gifts I received this year were very specific assets that have been like missing links, holes that needed to be filled but I've always been too stubborn to buckle down and purchase them. And, oh, are they welcome additions to my toolbox!
They couldn't have come at a better time in my ongoing endeavor to establish a strong photography business. Earlier this year, in February I believe, I wrote a long, elaborate business plan as a sort of guide to determine what and how I wanted to grow as a business entity. A very sizable portion of that plan focused on portrait work, both candid and studio, as being a sort of bread-and-butter element of my efforts. As the year went on, my focus shifted much as it should be expected to over time. I had one major commercial job and for a good couple months following I was enamored with the idea of pursuing commercial work, and only in the past month or so have I really settled on the fact that pursuit of commercial work may very well be the great lost cause that ruins many a rising photographer. With that hopeless ambition out of my system, however, I'm once again back to basics, refocused on my original plan and aiming to open up my business to a new market.
With the heavy hitters in lighting equipment graciously gifted to me, last night I took it upon myself to complete my kits completely with the frivolous little things missing from my camera bags. Red filters, step-up rings for lenses thus far lacking in proper filter usage (M. Zuiko 45mm f/1.8, I'm looking at you), and lens hoods and accessory port attachments for my Nikon V1. Another lovely gift I received this holiday was the Nikkor 1 30-110mm f/3.8-5.6 lens, something that seems outside of my usual circle of appreciation for fact of it being a zoom and long telephoto, but given the nature of the V1 and the simple fact that, sometimes, you really do need a long lens, it adds an entirely new realm of capability for me, something I've not had since dropping DSLRs 3 years ago. With the crop factor in mind, this 30-110mm lens functions much more like a 70-300mm telephoto, and paired with the V1's breakneck speed (I mean, come on, 60FPS in electronic shutter mode...) photographing wildlife and sports has once again become a realistic possibility for me. And, even though it may be a zoom, the uniquely close focus distances of all Nikon 1 system lenses makes it a fantastic portrait zoom capable of producing appropriately shallow depth of field based not on aperture, but the element of DOF rendition that far too many seem to neglect, proximity. I would be lying were I to say I was not absolutely excited to try it out. Inclement weather forecasts be damned.
This, of course, makes my brain itch slightly when I consider how much I do still love my Olympus kit. It's difficult for me to maintain multiple camera systems as I imprint a sort of emotional value to each. When I use one overly much, part of me feels that I'm leaving the other feeling neglected, and that would absolutely describe how I feel about my poor E-P3, stuffed in a bag and only ever seeing the light of day for real estate jobs and the occasional night shoot. With the remote coming in, I fully intend to try night shooting with the V1. Miserable as I felt it was the last time I used it on a tripod, I suspect that after spending so much time with the camera and learning its nuances I'd be capable of working with it more comfortably now than before. This all, of course, solidifies my real quandary - why am I maintaining two similarly capable systems?
In the end, of course, I can at least state with confidence that, although I enjoy shooting with the V1 and do tend to carry it around and shoot with it more, the photos I'm taking are rarely of a superb artistic quality. It tends to be the camera I shoot family gatherings and social events with, not art so much as function. The E-P3, on the other hand, remains my go-to for intentioned artistic shooting and working jobs, and it will likely remain that way even once my MFT body is upgraded to the next PEN or the OM-D or whatever fits the bill. The V1 remains my little experiment, and while it may take some attention and budget away from solidifying my MFT assets, it still seems a worthwhile venture. After all, the best camera is the one you have on you all the time, and I certainly carry the V1 around far more willingly than lug around the MFT bag.
How typical... I steer away from DSLRs because they're too big and heavy, and sure enough I'm starting to treat MFT the same way because there's a new champion of tiny sensor goodness in the ring. My logic centers are an absolute mess!
Monday, December 17, 2012
After months and months of putting prose into practice, of applying myself and dwelling less on the informal application of theory and thought in my craft, I return to this blog with one assured sentiment - I finally know where I'm going.
Now, with that statement made, let's work on making it less nebulous.
Some time in August I hit a curiously low point brought on by self-imposed, manufactured stress in regard to the effort required to promote my brand. So overwhelming was this stress that it brought on a recession from the marketing binge I'd engaged in prior. Seeing little result from what felt to be gargantuan efforts, I became disheartened, retreated from the legions of desperate upstarts trying to establish a strong name for themselves and acquire new business. Those efforts had only ever resulted in but a single commercial shooting arrangement in my court, and the headache of Web 2.0 quickly lost its allure. Coinciding with my deflated enthusiasm, the company for whom I often photographed property listings had hired another photographer who seemingly devoured the majority of my shooting gigs.
My optimism tested, all that was left was to submerge myself into a forray of personal adventures. Artistic shoots. And I absolutely appreciate their effect, as I've never felt more aware of my baser motivations.
In September I spent much of time photographing a local steel mill that had gone the route of much of America's once proud steel industry. I was inspired by the work of Edward Burtynsky, whose work I'd seen documented in the film Manufactured Landscapes. His years-long series of photos covering the scars in the Earth left by modern industry and strip mining efforts struck me as notably poignant, even definitive of what I found myself trying to express in much of my urbex photography. Until seeing another's work, the creative fruits of a well established photographer, I never quite understood what it was that I was attempting to express myself, but understanding Burtynsky's theme, his direction, and how he defined it before ever engaging in the photographic process... it made me rethink my own approach to photography. My work had always been documentarian at best, with little point outside of what was in the frame to be seen. Suddenly I found myself wanting something more from my own photos. Documenting a rarely seen place was no longer enough, it needed something personal.
But I didn't know what. And for a good while I had no idea what it was that I craved out of my own images. I continued working like some automoton photographing places in a formulaic corner-to-corner approach much as I'd photographed everything up to that point. A good friend and I went on a week long road trip through the greater Northeast region of the States and despite firing off many hundreds of frames not a single one spoke to me. They were all the most boring photographs I had ever taken. But the experience of being in the places in which they were taken was so rich. A bridge needed to be built, some pathway by which to correct the awful disconnect.
I suppose it had clicked before, but it took time for me to dedicate myself to putting it to practice (and admittedly I'm still working to apply it to my shooting more earnestly). It was people. The people I was with, the ones I was sharing experiences with. It was never the places themselves that bore the bulk of the memories, it had always been the conversations and the antics and time shared with unique and wonderful people. When shooting on my own, for fun in this sort of manner, the photos that mattered had always been the ones that featured those with whom I was shooting. So foolish that it took so long for me to recognize.
Despite seeming so obvious and simple now, that was a huge epiphany to me in September. It took a good amount of time shooting with my "Bro from Philly" for me to recognize it. It was a concept that had occured to him long ago already, so I more or less felt like I was playing conceptual catch-up with him. As a result, I found myself shooting less, but the crop from personal photo outings being that much richer in end product. Finally it all clicked (pardon the pun), and I spent far more time enjoying my friends' company on urbex adventures than wasting my time hunting behind a lens.
Oddly (or perhaps not), the establishment of my realigned focus on the people, not the places, coincided with a lessened interest in urban exploration per se, but certainly not a diminished interest in being in rarely seen or unique places in the company of those with whom I most connected. While still embarking on the occassional urbex run, the state of decay and abandon of the locale became less interesting to me than the simple uniqueness of the place and the quality of the people. Instead of sneaking into mills and hospitals, I relaxed on 500 foot high cliffs until the stars populated the night sky away from civilization. I made bonfires on beaches sandwiched between Baltimore's finest in industrial assemblage. I spent nights under bridges and recounted life's trials and tribulations on long walks down train tracks. I watched people wander like ants from rooftops for hours. All moments I did my best to capture with the perpetrators in context. People. Not just places.
That missing satisfaction from my personal photographic pursuits realized and addressed, I once again felt in a proper place of mind to return to the business-centric approach to photography that defined the first half of my year. Not because my personal shooting was in any way affecting my business approach to photography, but after having exhausted myself with marketing and promotion, the peace and order I'd come to with my personal endeavors came with a fresh surge of motivation, ambition. Like having one's finances in order, a sense of clarity and control returned. And almost too coincidentally, the company I was contracted to for real estate photography conducted an audit of its photography division, culling its photographer roster by a significant amount... but deeming my work and my methods of conducting business worth keeping. A more reassuring indicator that my business sense is sound... nope, can't think of one.
Once again recomposed, I know what directions I wish to head in. They are somewhat divisive in that they both require different approaches, but neither approach wholly excludes the other. But honestly, my problems being squarely centered in the "what gear should I invest in next" department is reassuring in its own right - my methods are competent and in many ways superior as evidenced by my retention at the hands of bloodthirsty auditors. What I have established now is just fine, and while equipment acquisition can make my job easier they won't bring anything particularly new to the table that my method doesn't already provide. My new business focus is more appropriately focused on expanding to new markets.
In the beginning of the year I wrote a business plan that largely focused on portrait photography as a platform on which to expand. To date I have done absolutely nothing to establish myself in the portrait photography market. It exists, I've seen it put to practice by many local photographers, but they apply their craft in different ways than I intend to implement mine. It's like a trump card, or maybe an Ace up the sleeve. I only need to apply myself to it. Unlike my real estate work, there is no larger company feeding me clientelle. But I suspect that I'm already well known enough to where finding eager clients for portrait work wouldn't be difficult. Establishing that new market for business is my goal for 2013. And I've never been more ready to take it.