Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Twenty Thirteen (a.k.a The Year After Everything Changed)

Allow me to preface this belated posting with a nod to all the many "draft" posts that never seemed to make it up to this public forum this year. Much as I've been producing content on which to read about, far too much of it stank of whining and complaint and self-pity to warrant any outward interfacing. They were my own tensions with which to wrestle. As such I've deleted many, but published a few backdated entries that were at least sensible.

Now, onto other things.

2013 has been a year to test my fortitude in relation to keeping my brand new business alive and viable, my budgets in vigilant check, and my ego under control. A practice in not rebounding too wildly into a negative state following an overwhelmingly positive year in 2012. I know my history with extreme rubber banding following any extremes of experience - managing a balance was critical this year. And despite what are perceptibly negatives in experience this year, I'd like to think I managed things rather well (and a couple chance positives certainly bolstered that effort to ride the neutral line).

So join me as I stroll down memory lane and consider the wide swathes of change that occurred in 2013 (and perhaps how I'll adapt to them in 2014).


Come January of 2013 I was still very much stuck on my fixation of risky infiltration. Since about October of 2012 a local counterpart and I had developed a drug-addiction like penchant for finding our way deep into properties that weren't necessarily abandoned (at least not in their entirety), an effort that we acknowledged was less geared toward capturing stronger photos but more indulgent of the adrenal rush involved with the video game-like skirting of security patrols and bypass of fixed security points like guard stations and security cameras. Enjoyable as it was, there was no rational way to sustain that practice for long - tempting fate as regularly as we did only bore plainly foreseeable consequences.

Consciously, we broke our high-risk pattern and redirected our energy toward the only other relevant thing to us at the time - portraiture. When I came up with my business plan in 2012, I'd stated that pushing into the realm of fine art portrait work would be a goal to achieve in 2013. However, in practice, my tightly controlled portrait work only ever seemed to involve friends and cold, lonely nights of boredom. The only break portraiture ever made into my business at all in the year was a Valentine's Day portrait setup I ran for a local park, operating a rather suave setup utilizing the PENPal bluetooth transmitter on my E-P3 connected to a tablet connected to a laptop connected to a printer, a complicated mess of frosty tools in the Winter cold that rather efficiently pushed out 8x10 prints for paying customers. It was a fun gig, an experiment in convoluted workflow in a harsh environment that worked surprisingly well but has since not seen renewed use. I fault myself for that - another chance opportunity hoarded all my spare attention for the rest of the year.

The same week as the Valentine portrait job I was contacted by the COO of a high profile development firm in Baltimore offering the kind of job I hadn't even dreamed possibly coming to my doorstep in just a year's time. Paid and tasked for two entire days to photograph one of the most iconic living structures in Baltimore City. Keys in hand, free reign over whatever spaces I deemed fit to shoot. I still think fondly on that job today as the kind of operation I would like to be involved in more often. Certainly not a bread-and-butter sort of venture for any business model, but it combined the freedom to practice my own sense of aesthetic in tandem with fulfilling my business obligations strictly because I was hired on the merits of my vision and sense of aesthetics. Much as I may operate a business, I still consider myself the eccentric artist, and to be presented such a clear avenue by which I could combine the two... it was a dream job. And when the final day of the shoot came, I sat on the rooftop of that building and enjoyed the sunset with my affectionately chosen post-rock anthems playing over speakers behind me. I felt like I'd conquered something, like David having slain Goliath.

And then, naturally, everything fell to shit.

Occupying the "bread-and-butter" slot of my business model was a contract feeding me travel rental and real estate listings to photograph on the regular. A hefty portion of that work took place in Washington DC, or it did until another photographer local to the DC/Metro area was extended a contract not unlike mine. And suddenly the steady, healthy income stream vanished. Job bookings dropped from 4  or 5 on any given weekend to 2 or 3 in any given month. My well dried up, reducing me to a mere prospector. But with no reliable network for regular business outside the contract that found me obsolete, I did the best thing I could do with the situation. I got back to the experimental and the adventurous shooting I spent the earliest month's of the year trying to get away from. After all, it was that high risk execution of photography that was the very thing that had gotten me noticed in the first place.

With a certain fondness I christened this phase the "UE Renaissance". The latter months of 2012 leading into 2013 involved unconscionably brazen acts of infiltration only because of boredom and a certain jaded sense of the known and available locales popular among practitioners of urban exploration. However, with the weather warming to a tolerable climate, the drive to explore new areas and find new locales saw a sudden crop of freshly rotten places populate the map. To say it was a welcome distraction from the woes of my nearly-lost business revenue would not do this renaissance period justice. In the absence of need for business sense, the thing that had so rooted me to a small area, my gears oriented toward adventure outside my traditionally accepted locus of control. I wanted to get out of the DC Corridor.

So I did.

Beginning with a weekend run up to a friend's place on the Jersey side of Pennsylvania, I developed a quick and early affinity for "Pennsyltuckey". Being from a relatively flat area of the Northeast visually polluted by sprawling highway systems like a blood infection emanating from DC, the contrast in scenery against the rolling, lush green hills hugging tight against wide networks of rivers left me enamored. It was a kind of scenery I'd never much been surrounded by before, and its allure kept me coming back as a reprieve from the relentless concrete makeup of home.

When home or otherwise unable to swing a trip North, pairing with friends in a hiking group introduced me to the local pockets of green oasis. Though small and curiously sequestered, weekly hiking trips became fresh new avenues in which to practice the art of nature photography, a discipline I'd never given much thought prior. And along with it my approach to photo editing churned and cycled with change as I stepped out of the circle of Adobe Devout and embraced alternative software, some engineered for specific effects, somehow working in tandem to create looks I'd hunted unsuccessfully for years. Abandoning the tried and true routine of processing, I stepped into nigh-dreamscape territory. It didn't matter if it was popular or perceived as cheesy. In taking myself less seriously, I took my art less seriously, and in shirking perceptions of expectation I found a most liberating, uplifting kind of freedom that has managed to define the tail end of the year.

Mid-year saw my personal travels bloom in the self-prescribed ethos "you'll never see it if you're never there". Complacency was a thing for other more stagnant and lethargic people. I had to see things. I had to be places. I had chapters to write in the cognitive novel of memories. And so I rather aimlessly went everywhere I could to do things I hadn't done as they came along. With the renegade UE crews of Baltimore and Tennessee I drank and camped in an abandoned curb stone quarry, feasting on burgers cooked with poor drunken shoddiness in the pitch black. Against every impulse I've held in the past 10 years, I braved Baltimore's Gay Pride Parade and ensuing after-party with a good friend, complete with drunken return train ride and follow-up bar run of regret. With that same friend, insane times were had hiking beneath the Key Bridge with such illustrious happenings as jumping snake attacks and MRSA infected waters (many apologies to this friend who spent days in the hospital combating the infection). Per tradition, my annual pilgrimage to the Steel City took place, but with an entirely new crowd of people and less anchored in the Golden Triangle of the city's commercial district. No, with this new company of incredible people in tow, far sketchier lands, broken towns of proper Pennsyltuckey abandonment, were explored, only to be toasted to, nightly, on a rainbow LED lit riverside.

After the weight and drag of the early year, my muse had ascended from an optimistic cadence to a vivacious tango, a full sprint of energy and motivation.

Two outings at the groaning end of Summer defined this inspired period for me in a uniquely personal way, however, as back-to-back events that acted like remarkable exclamation points to a trans-formative phase of life. A childhood friend I'd heard little from in the years after High School roped me into an outing to Deep Creek for 3 days of relative isolation and mutual catch-up among friends. It was a remarkable weekend retreat for more than just the revelry and company, edging closer to a pointed kind of introspection on the kind of company I keep, the kind of company I want to keep, and the kind of company I should keep.

The crew at Deep Creek, myself included, were all very similar, with relative little differences in the natures of our upbringing, backgrounds and education. Smart, motivated "kids" who took the reigns of their own lives earlier than expected (or sometimes condoned) by parents. In the early years of our growth we all kept the company of less motivated, less capable people. Company that was no less charming or amicable as any friendship should be, but lacking in a mutually shared pursuit of more, of better, of new... of discovery. And in those early adulthood years that shared passion for self-betterment went unfulfilled, at least until we all came into our own having learned to identify the rare company that encouraged us to be more.

Given that critically common similarity, the willingness and reception to challenge of self, even a mere 3 days spent in the company of those old friends was intoxicating and rich. Paired with the dramatic swing of warm and cold temperatures, brewing incessantly varying degrees of fog and steam and color simply floating in the sky, the weekend provided a thoughtful period in which to exercise what felt like a higher level of photography than ever before. Slower, patient, more thoughtful. Because thought was the definitive aspect of Deep Creek, for all of us. We exhausted ourselves with questions and concepts and ideas that would only ever resonate with those who shared in the driving quest of curiosity and shunned complacency like a heretic in church. For the vacation that it was, however relaxed and carefree, by the end the fatigue was both mental and physical. To date I've yet to muster the mental cohesion to approach many of the photographs I took on that trip.

Only a week after Deep Creek and my closest creative companion and I were on the road following highways West, driving into the sunset until the Rockies in Colorado inevitably halted our charge.

My friend managed to achieve his own impulsive life goal, finding opportunity to comfortably move to Colorado for both work and pleasure. He graciously invited me along for both the company and the help with the long trek. Prior to this trip, I'd never really traveled much beyond areas bordering home, certainly never traversing half-a-country of land westward. Though I'd seen plenty of landscape photos and film of the Midwest, that is all those territories had even been to me, imaginary lands seen in magazines or television screens. The difference in translation, difference in impact would be far, far different when experienced. I knew this, and was giddy for this epic adventure with a dearest friend.

Our first day of the trip was spent driving almost entirely. We drove until we escaped the suffocating familiarity of East coast terrain, until the trees looked different, until the air smelled new. We drove until our backs ached and legs were stiff. We drove until Saint Louis. 16 hours, an entire two-thirds of the trip accomplished in our inspired escape from sameness.

Henceforth it was new territory, sights ne'er before seen (at least for us). Our pace slowed as we drank in the transitioning landscape, in quiet awe of the foreign lands found within our own borders. In particular, I remember Kansas very distinctly. The State had long been presented to me as choice for storm photography and film, and the description of its vast expanse of clearly visible nothing often spoken of sarcastically. Per expectations of aforementioned sarcasm, I was prepared to be utterly catatonic as we crossed the State, bored of the empty sameness. It had never occurred to me that the sheer enormity of that nothing, how truly gargantuan and unending the land stretched into a distance, obscured only by dust storms and the mortal inadequacy of the human eye. A kind of impact that could never be translated by anything but physical presence, experience. Possibly one of the most gorgeous "nothings" one could ever see.

We stayed the night in Kansas, ruminated on the incredible variety within our home country that we were all but blind to in the relative microcosm of the Northeast. I suspect he knew this remarkably different world was out there already, the kind of thing you experience as a child and long to return to well into adulthood. Longer and longer into the journey, and especially in the oasis of Colorado Springs, I gave very serious thought to abandoning my life as I knew it, beginning anew in the refreshing unfamiliarity of this new landscape.

Having marched steadfast in the first day of the trip, we found ourselves with 2 days to spare exploring Colorado before my flight home (which I begrudged). We hiked and photographed throughout the Garden of the Gods and imbibed ourselves on scenic overlooks, every song on the car radio an anthem of arbitrary accomplishment. Ascending Pike's Peak, we stood deaf and dumb in the face of the visage atop the mountain. This was where the Immortals stood. This was the God Perspective. And in keeping with a recurring theme throughout the year, it was appropriately where I incapacitated myself with injury.

Home and able to adjust to responsible living as I waited for my damaged knee to heal, an unexpected trend suddenly re-entered my realm. For months, nearly half a year, my business had fallen completely to the wayside with hardly any clients to speak of available or interested. I had already come to terms with my pipe dream of operating a photographing business having crashed and burned, a one hit wonder forgotten by the next fiscal year. But something changed. Somewhere the market had shifted, or perhaps marketing had somehow managed to appeal in a new way. The contract that once upon a time fed me job after job in DC... suddenly I was being fed clients in Baltimore. And not in small numbers. It didn't take long before 2 or 3 shoots a weekend spontaneously grew to 5 or 6 with last minute bookings, then 7 or 8, then too many to handle in just one weekend, I had to take time off my staple day job to accommodate the influx of new business.

It was back. Not a zombie, the undead, some husk of decayed dreaming revived for an animated sputter before its final aching gasp. It was reanimated, ascended. My contract was feeding me more clients than I could sometimes handle without panic and stress. A businessman interested in kick starting an automotive modification shop commissioned my help in producing images for marketing materials and to promote his brand. Independent realtors came in bidding on my rates with respect for my timeliness and style. So much business it took but 2 months to produce over half of my yearly profits.

I functioned like an unrelenting machine. Until the onset of the expected end-of-year-holidays slow down, there was time for little else but work. Two months spent photographing almost exclusively in the working sphere and I had no idea what to do with myself once the clients put their shoots on hold while they spent time with their families. And so began one of the more curious, certainly more spontaneous pursuits of the year, a left field anomaly.

Time lapse.

Barring aimless toying around in my younger, more experimental years, I'd never pursued time lapse with any sort of dedication to the craft or interest in learning its very delicate intricacies. The underlying inspiration to grapple a new medium was beyond me outside of a basic interest in capturing the sunrises and sunsets I enjoyed on the daily commuting to and from work. Some nebulous driver in my creative core determined the still photo was insufficient, that the light must move and change to inspire and have impact. And so began a rapid ground-up learning of a new skill, one that, try as hard as I may, doesn't seem so much marketable as it does attention-getting (which, who knows, may perhaps make marketable after all).

Beginning with small JPG files for speed and ease, graduating to batch conversions in RAW, manipulating in varied software, the entire post-process was unfamiliar and amorphous. But the initial capture, the process of acquiring the photos required to produce the final video, presented itself to me as an opportunity to relearn relaxation, a sort of meditation to discover how to be at peace in the process of doing nothing after a year of near breakneck pacing. Patience was the critical aspect, and in practicing each morning and evening, I learned to slow down enough to sip at life at an easier pace in contrast to experience binging.

Early on, before I understood the rapid pace at which I'd learn and refine technique, I set myself the shortsighted goal of producing a time lapse compilation in just a month's time, right before the turn of the new year. With much of the post-process still in a rough, unrefined state, I trudged forward regardless, insisting on meeting an arbitrary, unintelligent goal for sake of tenacity. It stood as proof of process, proof of progress, proof to myself that however trivial or inane the pursuit was worthwhile for how it left me feeling upon its completion and for no other reason to speak of. An unimportant, irrelevant objective to all but the progenitor.

I would look forward to 2014 as The Year of the Progenitor.


With the new year I look forward with contented optimism. With a slew of medical interruptions and the months-long phase of business flat-lining, 2013 proved on the whole to be incredibly difficult to march through without sinking into soured thought and pessimistic predisposition. Having kept my chin up through some of lowest of lows, I greet the new year now with the expectation of positive retribution for sake of karma, but rather resolution in knowing that even if I am met with yet another challenging year, I can manage to stay afloat no matter the punishment it sends forth.

I intend to continue with my pet project of time lapse production, and aim to reach a more professional grade of quality by the end of 2014. With clients still gushing in from my standing contract, I aim to take advantage of the broad networking opportunities more actively than ever before, selling myself to realtors on the basis of those qualities I offer that even the long established businesses fail to provide. The end goal is to broaden the scope of my business' bread-and-butter elements, to lessen the single-point-of-failure of relying on a single business source too heavily. When warm inviting air returns, I may very well make it a point to hike every single day and photograph the nature I once took for granted. I will travel through Pennsyltuckey and make my pilgrimage to Pittsburgh and absolutely drive myself out to Colorado once again, perhaps taking a more northern route through Chicago and South Dakota.

However it's stated the theme remains the same. I aim to make 2014 not a year of sweeping change but one of refinement. My world changed in 2011 when a car accident prompted me to re-evaluate my life and abandon the person, the other me, left dead in that wreckage. 2012 saw the introduction of a life's dream in the establishment and success of a business in photography. 2013 tested my resolve and in a very subtle series of ways polished off the end goals of my expected lifetime, making bare, plain and clear what mattered, what was the kind of underlying passion one doesn't shake with time. The rest is... sand. Dust. Forgettable and forgotten. I step into the new year knowing exactly what I want to do, exactly what I want to achieve, exactly where I want to be.

Let's see if I can beat my own expectations.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

In This Modern Market (I Am Suffocating)

Abuzz with the persistent nagging hum of a regiment of bees or incoming locusts, the internet has been alarmingly enthusiastic in recent weeks, a slew of smart marketing techniques and vagary that culminated this morning in the official release of Nikon's newest magnum opus, the Df. I would be lying to say I wasn't wrapped up in the image being sold by the Df's cryptic, subtle campaign myself. It was a bit of marketing genius, selling not a camera, but a fantasy. Those ads didn't sell you a camera with a rattling of specifications, they barely showed the camera at all. They sold the perception of a lifestyle, a grizzly guy in Scotland camping in the woods by the beach, wandering wistfully through old castles and enjoying scenic overlooks of old cities. Were they ads for a travel agency, we'd all be booking flights to Scotland right now. Instead they were ads for the Nikon Df, and by association we're all, collectively as photographers, salivating at the promise of interesting lives if we only have a Df in our hands. By proxy, the camera makes us interesting people who do and see interesting things. Fantastic marketing - their advertising leads should get bonuses for the next 3 years.

I've been waiting all year for the "right" camera to be released, the next upgrade to my increasingly antiquated (or so my concept of technological progress tells me) camera system. In general, the digital imaging marketplace has undergone a strange sort of surge in product innovation - everything released this year has seemed a strong march forward from the systems of yesteryear. At least in the mirrorless market. And I genuinely hate stating that because it's a subject that causes a level of division in major photography circles that inevitably degrades into the crudest name-calling and capslock rants, but it's bare naked truth denied most often by the masses who allocate some measure of self-worth in the model and brand of camera they're shooting (and let me clear this up now, your worth as a photographer is never in the gear you're shooting, so please, value yourselves as photographers for more than the engineering prowess of a board of men in Japan). With new sensors, new processing engines, the abandonment of the AA filter, integrated WiFi connectivity, incredibly sized high resolution EVFs, blistering CDAF systems and now even on-sensor PDAF... I might go so far as to say this is the first year in which the march of progress in the mirrorless marketplace officially outpaced the CaNikon foundations that served as the bedrock for camera technologies for the past decade. As such, my proclivity toward nostalgia has me staring longingly at the Df, less in a genuine longing to handle the camera for sake of superior functionality, but more for desperate desires to handle that style of camera one last time.

This has been a marked year of change in the digital imaging marketplace, and the longer I sit on my hands and refrain from the urge to upgrade, the happier I am that I've held back and exercised restraint. While the technologies released this year are clear and logical upgrades for each brand's niche engineering ethos, those new innovations are also very young, fragile and amorphous in their introductory state. One more iteration to work out the bugs and perhaps then they will stand as safe and sound investments.

But then there's the Nikon Df. There is nothing new there. An homage to a familiar ergonomic standard abandoned some decades ago for being unwieldy and inferior. Dials and knobs for ISO and EV and shutter speed, ancient technology long usurped by multi-use mode dials and (P)rogram auto modes that do the math of exposure for you. An antiquated sensor, lauded for being the heart of the flagship D4 yet already eclipsed in performance by the likes of the D800 which also happens to boast an autofocus system well beyond the capabilities of the Df. Every aspect of the camera is a clear regression. No video, no integrated WiFi, no new technologies here. A clear cut poor investment in every sense at its price point. Yet it's still oh so difficult to defy the thought, "If only I had a Df, I could be that handsome, interesting grizzled man in Scotland".

Monday, August 19, 2013

On Commitment (And Complete Inability To Practice It)

When I began this blog... oh... what, 3 years ago now? Yeah, when I began this blog its intent was to function as a personal sounding board vaguely tucked under the guise of a forum actually presenting questions to a non-existent audience demanding contemplating and serious answers. That is the function of every blog-type site I've ever engaged in since teenage years, because much as speaking to oneself out loud can be therapeutic and helpful in organizing and prioritizing ones thoughts and pending actions, deliberating them intensely via written/typed word is that much more effective an internal dialogue (and also masks your inner craziness from those within earshot).

Obviously this blog's veiled dialogue aided me in the earliest steps of kicking off a business venture I never really expected nor intended to work out as well as it has. While in its earliest stages, the business, the audience, they were all pipe dreams, fantasy constructs to stir up needed optimism and enthusiasm in the midst of the stressful gear shifting at work. I would blog primarily about the quandaries nibbling at my brain but in reality already knew a perfectly sound answer to. A false conflict, conjured dilemma. The idea of having a problem to solve was and is the motivation. As the months rolled on, however, the process of business management, meeting new clients, tackling new jobs well outside the ballpark of my norm, it all became less and less the new wave and far more routine. Not that it was a negative, but that foundation of motivation was no longer necessary, the work had become second nature at comfortable pace with the advancement of my craft in the arts as much as in business. I blogged less and less because I had less and less self-doubt to compete with.

Which is to say I'm feeling pretty confident about myself as an established Professional Photographer these days, which I say proudly, but also humbly as I know the risk of becoming too secure. I'll change gears again if needed, but thus far I'm pleased with the yet-upward trend in my business.

Unfortunately I can already foresee the glass ceiling above my head and know the steps necessary to tap it with a diamond. Despite the enormous outpouring of loathing I've already doted upon the facilitators of Web 2.0, it is the deplorable key to taking the next step. Facebook, Twitter, more photo sharing sites with premium account membership fees to shell out for, a tiresome carpet bombing effort intended to expand my audience in the hopes that one in the droves of gallery counter ticks is that once-in-a-lifetime "in" for some spectacular job I was just so lucky to be contracted for. Like buying $50,000 in lottery tickets to win the $30 million dollar Powerball.

I've never really been much of a gambling man. Investing in a Web 2.0 flurry of activity would be less a monetary issue, and more a problem of commitment. And I would never bet on myself against commitment. As the life cycle of this blog, my Facebook page, stagnation of my website, they all speak volumes about my inability to commit to managing much more than one or two primary outlets or forums of creative business energies. As with all things of actual importance in our lives, time is the greatest limiter, and my day absolutely does not allocate space for engagements I'm less than enthusiastic about. I don't want to spend my time writing or coding, I want to spend it editing photos in new ways, taking new photos, tooling with new techniques... I'm the hands on type, the man in the small shop who hand-makes clocks all day every day because it is what he does. I do not have the time to play publicist for myself so... intently.

Well, let me rephrase. I probably do have the time, I just don't want to do it. Admittedly I am lazy in that regard. But even so much as sitting down to write in this blog again, for the first time in six months, is taxing and strenuous. To pinpoint a subject, narrow the field of focus directly to that one thing, that singular idea, plaguing one's thoughts at one specific point in time that has long since passed and been replaced by other thoughts, other problems, other considerations... it's not easy to commit to a single focus. No easier than it is to commit to several audience-expanding forums each demanding a different yet no less narrow singular focus. Leads me to think the issue more psychological on a baser level, a chemical level. It pains me to upkeep these extensions of publicity, my spirit simply not being in it, at any time, ever.

The solution, as I see it, is to tackle each of the many slowly, steadily, one at a time, submerging in their singular focus one at a time until it is committed to routine much as the motions of my business photography has. For some it will be easier, just mechanical motions made to upload images to more galleries. A time sink, yes, but a time sink at worst. The other, more difficult, mediums, this blog, for example, Tumblr, the Facebook page, they demand a higher sense of interest, a legitimately creative effort, if they are to be genuinely effective. They demand that I become a writer as well as a photographer, and although many have told me time and time again that I write well and should consider writing in a professional sense, it's never been something I felt able to commit myself to with the ease and consistency of photographic pursuits. More valuable than any other discipline in the world is the ability to motivate oneself to do things they do not want to do. I learned that from my early years in therapy. Granted, then it was in regards to socializing despite inner demons demanding solitude, in this instance the expectation is to force a creative motivation to surface despite it being buried under a mound of disinterest. But it is what I must do if I wish to accomplish the goals I have set for myself, if I wish to keep myself relevant in this fickle, forget-you-today media market we all are bombarded and consumed by.

Shifting gears is always tricky. But I have some ideas. And even if I haven't acted yet, at least I recognize the problem and it has me thinking. Can't shift gears if you sit on your hands.

Thursday, January 31, 2013

The Photo Processing Quandary (And What I'm Doing to Change Things Up)

Possibly the most frustrating aspect of the process of modern photography (and please keep in perspective the adjectives "modern" and "photography" in this diatribe... digital artists don't necessarily count) is in the editing. What's worse, it's often a self-inflicted aggravation, and one that is painfully difficult to bypass. In the context of my own experiences, when I first dove into the world of photography I was amply satisfied with a basic JPG popped right out of the camera's processing engine. Tack on a year or two and I'm still shooting JPG, but tweaking sharpness, contrast, saturation and color profiles to get it to look just a little more the way I want. Another year or two and I'm using in-camera editing options to soften skin tones and adjust tone curves and color temperatures, cropping and the classic "convert to black and white". The choices were there, albeit limited in scope and largely dependent on shooting it right the first time. Paired with minimal Photoshop tweaking they should've been the last step. The "more than good enough". Nope, eventually all of us who stick to the photography game long enough can't help but step into the RAW waters. And immediately the wealth of choice and complete lack of restraint was... crippling.

I must be clear about this point, I am in the camp of people who demand an absolute balance in all things. When I go to the grocery store and am presented with 4 or 5 different brands of coffee to choose from, at different levels of quality and price point, I am comfortable with my ability to decide and commit. Should I ever step into a coffee supplier warehouse, be faced with literal HUNDREDS of brands of neblous differences in quality and similarly vague price-to-quality values... I'd sooner burn the warehouse down than decide on a bean. While choice is a wonderful, valuable thing to have, the oversaturation of it is downright crippling.

I've been committed, more or less, to RAW shooting for the last 3 years and have yet to really find a fashion of processing with it I can comfortably commit to. Shooting strictly in JPG, options for image alteration were limited by the lossy format, but with RAW the sheer wealth of image data allows for such reckless manipulation of the image that a single frame can go from low key to high key portrait, balanced and flat tones, it can glow with intense softening or be a gritty, textured black and white. Options galore, and while some people do take the route of multiple uploads of the same frame processed in different styles, my innate application of psychology plays too heavily against that route - redundance of the same image, the same subject, inevitably numbs the audience to the subject, and the first time the audience views the subject determines the lasting impression that audience retains of it. So, in short, when I process and share an image for the first time, I am establishing the basic imprint that subject has on that audience, and it is damn hard to decide how I want the audience to feel about a subject in that permanent fashion. Especially when I have a wealth of messages I could communicate with my processing in a single image.

In my mental process of creating an image, however, that paralysis-by-choice is not present until I sit down at the computer to edit an image, usually some hours, if not days, after its capture. At the images inception, in the moments it is constructed and taken, the scene has an impact on me immediately, the scene conveys a point to me and it's very clear what message I want to share. The rub of that, of course, is that the feeling has typically faded by the time it comes to process. Were I to fine tune a JPG I could probably capture the scene perfectly with the impact it originally presents to me, however, another rub of the lure of RAW, I've become spoiled by the elasticity of the RAW files, and although my relationship to it may be begrudged, I know the breadth of editing the format opens up allows for the development of images with that much more impact. But, again, with so much time between capture and processing, even if I were to run immediately home and load the files up I would be completely frozen by a million what-ifs.

Now onto my proposed solution(s) for this quandary.

The first step involves my standards for images I elect "worthy" of processing. My galleries only offer a meager fraction of the actual volume of images I produce. Many photos I take are in candid situations, time spent with family and friends, portraits well enough composed on their own but not deliberate nor controlled. Four years ago that style of portraiture was my highest echelon, my standard, but since the growth I've experienced has elevated that standard, those candid photos often fall by the wayside when they really shouldn't. Just because an image is not artistically considered in every facet does not mean it should not be shared, especially given the capture of emotion possible with images taken in that context. My solution regarding these images, while not to deeply process them as I would my far more deliberate captures, is in the liberal use of Lightroom presets I've collected from several reputable sources. Minor tweaks combined with preset adjustments have produced images that, while not necessarily high art or gallery-worthy, are attractive and appealing in their own right and I have begung sharing them en masse across the social networks I befouled but a few months back. And they've been received in an unexpectedly positive fashion. Enough so to prompt my consideration of my next step in the process of letting go of my strict standards of processing.

For some time Olympus has had available it's PENPal PP-1 accessory, a hotshoe mounted bluetooth transceiver capable of storing, sending and receiving images from the camera to a paired bluetooth device. It never got much traction or popularity what with the simultaneous introduction of wifi SDHC cards into the market and reluctance on Apple's part to implement compatibility with the device (knock out iUsers from the market pool and that's nearly a death-seal for a device like this). In result the product is now super cheap compared to its introductory price point and, fortunately, it is completely compatible with my Samsung Galaxy Tab, a tablet I've owned for 2 years but seen an unfortunate lack of use for barring as a GPS and media player. So... here's the plan.

In the field I can compose and capture the photo as I normally would, even keeping the RAW format for a point later down the road when I may want to doctor the image with great attention to detail. Once satisfied with the capture, I can convert it directly to JPG in-camera, setting color profile, sharpness, contrast, saturation and gradation characteristics, even applying rudimentary skin softening for portrait work and adjusting tone curves (unique perks to we Olympus Elite). With the image as well developed as is possible in-camera, I can then transfer it over to my tablet via the PENPal and open it up in any number of photo editing programs, from Photoshop Express, Snapseed, Instagram, what have you. Depending on the program, an already competently handled image can then be polished and immediately uploaded via 3G connection to a breadth of social networks. And the joy of it is any one of these steps can be skipped depending on the impulse I feel in image handling that day, and should I fail to find interest in editing a RAW at the time or feel it is too high quality to suffer such barbaric edits, the RAW file can just as easily be loaded up into Lightroom for a more refined approach.

Editing on-the-fly. It's a belligerent and defiant approach to the post-process compared to the cripplingly strict set of standards I've come to apply to my choice of processed images. And while there is still a wealth of choice involved in the options of how a photo will be edited, the span of choice is still defined by its limitation given the way tablet and smartphone based photo sharing apps are by trend and nature. Editing on the tablet will either result in a hyper-stylized image using an intense preset filter effect, small, subtle adjustments of a couple key image parameters lending a gentle refinement of the image or a combination of the two. It will all be very basic and unrefined, but that is exactly what I need at this point in my growth as a photographer. Far too often I'm shoving my head in the sand, opting to ignore trends, opting to close myself off to experimentation for sake of a cookie-cutter process and cookie-cutter images lacking in that charming expression brought about only by a willingness to play around. Sometimes it's not the "perfect" shot from the model shoot, but the goofy out-take with the genuine laughter that really comes forth and calls attention. Both have their place, neither is worth neglecting.

Assuming I latch onto this new approach to the post-process, a newer, high resolution 10-inch tablet would certainly be in order. The Nexus 10 comes to mind immediately. A newer tablet with a newer version of Android would open me up to the Adobe Photoshop Touch software, a much more comprehensive photo editing tool that would favor a tablet with larger screen and retina-burning resolution. Add in pressure sensitivity response to any utilized stylus and you have a tool designed with photographers in mind.

I feel it could be applicable to the business aspects of photography as well. For some time now I've been trying and failing to develop a solid portrait market, always falling short due to an inability to narrow down a target market and appeal to them directly. As of yet, it's still just friends and friends of friends, which I can't really complain about because it's still fun and good practice. But introducing tablet-based editing to the picture, I could easily see handling a candid shoot for an hour or so on-location, then heading to the nearest coffee house, grabbing a latte and sitting down with the subject to sort through the images, pick the winners, transfer them to the tablet and edit them not just to my taste, but to the subject's. Collaborative portraiture, eliminating the wall between photographer and model in the post-process. It could be an interesting engagement.

More difficult than anything is keeping oneself open to innovation and sweeping changes. It's easy to become stubborn and shoehorn one's entire process into standard battery with no relief, no deviation and far too much self-imposed pressure. Even with the business aspect tossed in, photography is not "srs bzns". It is not a life-or-death affair and with the basics down you are not being pressured or judged by your output. Processing is relatively new dilemma in the photography world, once the realm of graphic artists and dedicated film developers. With the advent of digital, photographers are inflicting upon themselves en masse an extra step that was never theirs before, and it's not necessarily the easiest skill to learn, especially with the constantly changing standards of how and where an image is displayed (we certainly aren't making prints much these days, and show me two screens with the same color rendition and gamma and I'll show you where Jimmy Hoffa is buried). We're learning two skills these days whether we like it or not. No sense in swimming against the current - embrace it, let yourself flow and somewhere downstream, where the waterway forks, you'll know where to float.