Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Mandatory 2014 Year End Post: Happy New Year to Ya'll

I don't have any genuine topic of substance upon which to muse and rant and bemoan. Consider this entry a generally exhausted sigh, undercut with optimism and an air of indifference to coming challenges and the concept of setting goals as we collectively march into the new year.

Without question 2014 has been a bizarre entry into my pursuits, personal and professional, and it has seen me grow in abrupt ways to very "adapt-or-die" scenarios. It began with nearly dead business, but strong motivation toward a time lapse side project, then quickly swept into a machine gun beat of business, networking, expanded offerings and pretty much zero time for personal projects. Even despite the lull of 2014's opening months, I've had significantly more business in photography this year than in the previous 2 combined, and even now, a day before 2015 officially stamps itself on the calendars, enthusiastic clients are vetting my bids for awesome photography projects that will immediately thrust my business into the positive within the first 2 months of the new year. The dream of making my living entirely with photography is real, it has developed into a self-sustaining thing only held back by the time I have available outside a hindrance of a day job. And that feels great.

Let's look at the process of progress that was this year in the photos through which it was taken. I can say now, looking through these archives, the photos I've taken feel like they were just taken yesterday, so fast this year has moved.



Cold. I definitely remember January being cold. Polar Vortex and all, creating ice flows down the Susquehanna River that were hypnotizing to watch despite the dry, skin-cracking chill of arctic wind. I made many frequent trips up to Sunbury, PA to visit my friend Kyle, hungrily photographing the many landscapes of the so aptly named "Pennsyltuckey".



February was slow. February, thus, was for time lapses, which are inherently slow. My brain was in the thick of learning video, and I must've manipulated recycled time lapse sequences into a hundred rough draft videos in attempt to learn proper timing and cadence to create appealing music videos. It was a project that was exciting, a new talent to develop, and it commanded my attention as such.



March was no different than February prior. Time lapse was a persistent focus, and easily overwhelmed my baser appeals to photography for the novelty of motion. I attended a local convention and produced this short time lapse film for them. It was/is shoddy, poorly assembled with mediocre shots, all of which I am comfortable with and was comfortable with in delivering this unpaid product. I only cared about the opportunity to learn more of the video process, of which I hit a very hard brick wall in the post process and assembly. It would mark the beginning of my greater frustrations with the video post process (and given how begrudged the photographic post process already made me feel, it should have been no surprise that this wall would eventually arrive).



April was marked by infatuation with alternative photographic processes. Having rarely used my Nikon V1's overwhelming speed to any advantage since acquiring it, I found myself inspired by DigitalRevTV's spot on alternative format in photography, specifically the 6:2 panoramic format using 35mm film. To boot, Microsoft's investment in Photosynth software technology came onto my awareness radar, and I couldn't help but use the V1's deep buffer  and high frame rate in RAW to my advantage in the creation of fun, casual Photosynth productions.



Another of those slow months, May was marked by experimentation with stacked squares and wide panoramas. Although my end goals in what I would like to have created in time lapse finally broke through clearly, my motivation to continue the pursuit waned tremendously as the knowledge barrier of video post processing became too much of a stress in the midst of increasing real estate business work and a sudden promotion at my day job from lowly administrator to impromptu graphic designer. Months of limitless free time were quickly coming to an end, and my life would be completely engulfed in a relentless beat of business considerations.



My first major assignment as a newly crowned graphic designer for proposal work at my day job began a bum rush of travel. For weeks at a time I would be passing through the east coast at large, by train, by plain, in more hotels and different rental cars than ever before in my lifetime of traveling. It was fun, I enjoyed the huge change of pace from the drab day-in, day-out otherwise constituted by my daytime work. Finally, I was producing art not only for myself, for my own business, but for another business, one that saw the value in and sought to capitalize upon a rarely lauded skill set. While on travel, I made it a habit, a ritual, to photograph and time lapse my adventures to share. It was a grand time.



July bore the brunt of my time lapse project's death knell. I had resigned myself to the futility of gaining any greater traction in understanding the process of video construction and simply enjoyed creating time lapses for sake of the footage itself. I abandoned all efforts to assemble it into competent music videos, opting to host the last couple sequences I would make, taken on a road trip through Shenandoah Valley and Skyline Drive just before photo work would consume all of my time, on their own in my portfolio as nothing more than moving photographs. Still, some day I would like to revisit time lapse, even if my prior ambitions are largely deflated.



Real estate photography. Nothing but real estate photography. Job after job after job. I was noticed by a private investment firm which saw fit to hire me not only to photograph completed renovations for sale, but also baseline "before" photos showing off the dilapidation and wreckage of the properties prior to their reconstruction into high dollar homesteads in Baltimore City. After years of sneaking into abandoned properties to photograph their decay, I was being paid to do it with zero risk outside of falling through the floorboards. I was so well off I splurged and purchased my first professional grade camera body and lens.



A time for experimentation. It had been years since using a camera of a more traditional SLR-style construction, ergonomics that were foreign after 5 years spent shooting with diminutive, rangefinder-alike bodies in the Micro Four Thirds system. Having the capabilities of a new Olympus E-M1 in my hands was baffling enough compared to the constraints of the E-P3, with the handling characteristic changes (especially with a vertical grip) it became a bear of a thing to acclimate to. I shot many nights and many weekends, just photographing any random thing, to develop a proficiency of use with the new workhorse machine. I only had one working job in which I let slip my unfamiliarity with the mammoth camera.



Too much work. But with a few random days peppered in over which I could indulge random muses. For the first time all year, I worked away from a preset-based process of hazing every single image I ever took. I also learned the power of the new MFT sensors in some candid ISO 6400 shooting. Never before had I ever used a camera so capable of rendering such high ISO values in a usable fashion. I'm still flabbergasted.



My relentless pace of unending work for flooding clients took an abrupt hold for sake of a family-required bit of travel. My partner and I flew out to MO, and over the course of a week I would remember what it meant to relax and be truly disconnected from the hustle and bustle and immediate demands for my attention. I took pictures but did not care. It was a trip spent engaged in experiences first and foremost. If there was time for photographs later then they may or may not have happened, it simply wasn't important. It was a trip, a vacation, sorely needed. I had done twice as much photography work at this point than I had done the year before, and per my recorded metrics, nearly all of that business had been done in the past 3 months.



The last great rush. I spent my accrued paid time off from my day job to accommodate more shoots during the week, trying to race them to completion by the end of the year. And I was successful, closing the year out at just over 220% higher than the year prior. It was harder now than ever before to think of photography as the simple hobby it began as. It was something else now, something in demand, and something burdensome in a bittersweet way. Work I would always love to do, but would so often feel broken doing.


Today I'm learning to find more and more value in forms of photography lower in the stress spectrum of expectation. I've begun carrying my E-P3 again on trips out to real estate jobs, with a 45mm f/1.8 lens mounted so as to photograph clearly the scenes out my car window on trips through DC, Baltimore and Annapolis. Instagram has become something I respect in an unexpected way in that its relatively instant nature in both sharing and processing (with a welcome limitation of canned effects) allows me to simply enjoy the process of photography without the weight of pixel peeping expectations of ultimate image quality. I easily see both of those trends continuing, possibly the acquisition of a more advanced PEN-alike camera, possibly not.

My end goal, my resolution, of 2015 will be to always keep focus on the work/life balance. I let it get away from me in a huge way in the latter third of 2014, and it has left marks on my daily life that I don't think will soon go away. In regards to business, I am confident that I am self sustaining, and will continue to pursue expansion of the business as I always have. But I will also be sure to schedule mental health days where and when necessary, and not bend to self-imposed expectations to cater to the whims of every client, every contractor. A certain quality of life is necessary to function most optimally in ones practiced skills. Through 2015, I will identify and ride that line between bumming and burned out.

So after a long year in 2014, experienced in what feels a split second of happenings, from one photographer to another, hell, from one creative to others, I wish you all a happy New Year, and may your 2015 and all years thereafter be marked as memorable by your successes, whilst also comfortable and fond to think upon for sake of your sanity. Be well.