All posts by Tom Dills

Branching Out, and Buried Treasure 3

I spent most of Saturday helping out at The Light Factory’s annual Shoot Out. It was the 20th such event and is a Big Deal. A number of professional photographers donate their time to do portrait sessions for individuals and families, and the customers range from singles, to singles with kids, singles with pets, to full-blown family shoots. There was even an “After Dark” Shoot Out that I’m sure had some interesting subject matter.

I had a blast assisting Nanine Hartzenbusch, one of my ‘buds” and a veteran photographer with roots in photojournalism who is making a go at being a kids and families shooter. Nanine is not used to working with an assistant and I’ve not done much (any?) assisting so neither of us had any expectations or preconceptions. We were a perfect pairing! I helped set up lights, move them around, help get the kids posed and – probably the most important job of all – got to use an assortment of squeeky toys and other gimmicks to help get the attention of cranky toddlers and with any luck help to turn a “reject” into a “keeper.” At least I hope so! It was hard work! The Saturday session only lasted a half day, but when I got home I was whooped!

Anyway, the experience underscored for me the importance of learning new things in order to grow as a photographer, as an artist and as a person. It is a rewarding experience to help make special memories for families, especially when it also helps support a local organization that does a lot of good in the community. I like the idea of being an assistant, and think I may make a go at trying to do some more of that work for other photographers. Eventually I might even get good enough to get paid for it, but in the mean time I’m thrilled to have a chance to gain some knowledge and experience doing something I really enjoy. Even if I don’t pick up a camera I think the exercise of looking and seeing other photographers in action will help me grow my own vision.

The photo is another one from the archives. From June 2005, the image was taken just after sunset from the parking area of the Craggy Gardens visitor center along the Blue Ridge Parkway just north of Asheville. The various peaks around Craggy Gardens are usually the best places to be, but the parking lot is a pretty decent sunset spot during the summer months. This image underscores the importance of sticking around well after the sun has set, especially when there are clouds around. Sunset itself was pretty nice, but these high whispy clouds lit up big time just after sunset.

Buried Treasure 2

I may be posting some more old photos over the next few weeks. I’ve been making a concerted effort to go back through the archives and catch up on my unprocessed images from Digital Day One, which was sometime in late 2004.

This particular photo was taken almost exactly 4 years ago today – 5/7/05! It is image #204 on my Canon 20D, which was actually my second digital camera, the first being my still-trusty Powershot G5.

This is a view from Waterrock Knob on the Blue Ridge Parkway, taken a few minutes after sunset.

A Hat Trick!

In hockey a Hat Trick is what you have when you score a goal in each of the three periods, and the term is often used to describe three of something in a game, month, day, etc. May is the first time ever that I’ve had photos in three magazines in the same month!

Our State Magazine ran a full-page layout of one of my Cape Hatteras Lighthouse photos, which is the photo attached to this post. WNC Magazine hasn’t come yet but they are running a stock image I sent them for an article about Franklin, NC. Blue Ridge Country ran 4 of my photos of Hendersonville, NC to accompany an article about that town.

This shows the value of persistence, organization and more persistence. This is the first image in Our State in about a year and the first in Blue Ridge Country for almost a year. WNC Magazine is currently not doing paid assignments, but I had been keeping up with their calendar, and as a goodwill gesture I sent them some stock that included images from Franklin. Even though I told them they could use anything for photo credit they are paying me their standard rate. That’s more than fair and fine by me!

The competition is tough, but it pays to be organized, be persistent and send only your best work.

Blue Ridge Country (Again!)

I just received my May/June 2009 copy of Blue Ridge Country Magazine, and they have featured 4 of my photos to accompany their article on downtown Hendersonville, NC. One of the fun things about Blue Ridge Country is that they don’t tell you whether or not they are using any of your photos, you just get the magazine and look inside to see. I knew that I had sent them some good stuff and had been hopeful they would use it. It’s great to see “Photos by Tom Dills” at the top of the page!

I’m a little behind on processing new work, but the attached photo is another one from our February visit to Hilton Head. This tree was right outside our condo, and I photographed it a number of times during our visit, under different lighting and with different backgrounds. I haven’t decided exactly what to do with them but I’m thinking that they will make an interesting poster.


In my last post I mentioned how much progress I have been making on a lot of my goals, so I thought I might elaborate a bit on what those goals are and what has been keeping me busy. I still won’t be able to get into the details in this post, but I’ll lay things out in a little more detail here and try to outline some of the specific activities in future posts.

Being a glass-half-full kind of guy, I have been trying to use my time to my best advantage, and have developed what I call a three-pronged approach. I have every hope of jumping back into a banking job soon, so I have made a list of things that I want to accomplish so if I end up with only a few more weeks off I can feel like the time was well spent. Understandably a lot of my activities have been centered on photography, since that is my passion, but also being a realist I know that there are other things to take care of as well. My activities have centered around the main topics of (1) finding a new job, (2) catching up on and furthering my photography and (3) taking care of me.

As far as finding a new job, I have set up a list of contacts and have been working them regularly. I set up a system of checking websites and applying for jobs I find there, and I have been working any contacts of contacts I come across. Once my severance runs out I’ll have to jump on the Unemployment bandwagon, and there will be a certain amount of work associated with that. Like everything I do, I go 100% on the job search stuff in the time I have allotted for it. I have a system and a routine and I do it. Nothing scientific, but in this economy there isn’t a lot of point trying to spend more than a few hours a week trying to find banking jobs, because there aren’t a lot of new ones being posted and there are more productive things to do than check the same websites 5 times a day. Chances are whatever job I land won’t come from surfing websites anyway, so while it’s something you “have to do” the contacts are the most likely source of success.

I’ve had photography goals for a long time, and have developed a pretty elaborate system for laying them out and keeping track of my progress. When I was working a Day Job I really had to be careful to not try and accomplish too many things, because it is tough to do as a part-time venture. Despite the fact that I was putting a lot of time into it I was often frustrated by all the things I wanted to do that I didn’t have time to do while working a full time job. The main thing holding me back has been that there is barely enough time for taking and processing photos, let alone all the business things that you really need to do in order to have a successful photography business. What has amazed me over the last several weeks is how little time I have actually spent taking and processing photos! I’ve been networking, I put together a submission for a juried art show, I’m working on another submission for another art show, I’ve submitted a number of images to various magazines (many of them successful!) and have for the first time registered my images with the Copyright Office. I’m writing an article/tutorial on how to use Lightroom to prepare images for copyright registration, I have a couple of critique/review sessions coming up with pro photographers, and I’m in the process of developing a marketing and business plan for a photography business in the event that the banking thing doesn’t work out. I’m working with our local REI store on doing a paid workshop on Lightroom & Digital Workflow, am leading an outing for our local CNPA chapter for this fall and I am looking to expand my marketing of my stock portfolio and magazine submissions. I want to work on my writing and am hoping to take some writing classes at the local community college. Oh yeah, I also need to take and process more images and write more on my blog!

The “taking care of me” part is not just me personally, but taking over some of the things at home so Kathy doesn’t feel like I am just sitting at home “playing photographer.” I have been walking every day – 45 minutes or 1.5/2 miles, working on getting some long-overdue maintenance projects done around the house, running errands, making phone calls and generally taking a lot of the burden off of Kathy since she is gone all day. It’s hard on her and I have been trying to ease the load as much as I can. The nice thing is that since I don’t have to spend all evening working on my photo stuff, I can be with her and we can do things that are relaxing instead of trying to play catch up.

In a nutshell, that’s where I am and what I have been doing. I’ve got a lot on the calendar for this week and am hoping for some more progress. As I process more images I’ll have some fresh ones to post, but in the mean time I’ll keep digging into the archives!

Why I don’t Twitter/Linkedin/MySpace/Facebook/Whatever

I just finished reading the paper (yes, the paper paper, as opposed to the online paper), and in it was an article talking about how many people these days don’t check their voicemail, because of all the alternatives they have – text messaging, e-mail, Twitter, etc. One guy even said that it was too much trouble for him to check his voicemail, because doing so took 7-10 steps versus 1-3 steps for e-mail. Now, I realize that I am way in the minority, but you don’t have time? Um, what exactly are you doing that pushing a button 7 times is keeping you from some super-critical task? Are you working on a super-top-secret plan to save the Antarctic ice shelf from crashing into the ocean, or advising Obama on his foreign policy initiatives, or what? I don’t get it, but that’s OK, I’m not sure I want to get it.

While I will accept the fact that all the people who spend all their time on their cell phone, talking/texting/e-mailing are probably all talking to each other, I can’t help but wonder what the heck they are talking about? I write this not because I think it’s amazing that people are so consumed by communication, but because those who seem so consumed by communication are way too often the last people I’d want to talk to!

I guess this struck a nerve with me because in the last several weeks I have received invitations from a surprisingly large number of my friends to be their “buddy” or whatever on whatever social-networking site they are involved in. Before I go on I want to say that some of my friends are readers of my blog, so before you think I am talking about you specifically please be aware that I am talking about society in general and that any resemblance to real persons, people or places, fictional or otherwise, is purely coincidental and not intended to be personally directed, defamatory or insulting in any way. Whew!

Of course, of all the invitations I’ve received, none of my friends are using the same social-networking service, so in order for me to participate, I would have to join them all. As interested as I am in what all my current friends are doing, and while I’m sure it would be interesting to find out what some of my old high school friends and college buddies are up to, and as much as I know that a lot of these sites are good for networking that could lead to a new job and all that, it just doesn’t seem to be a prudent use of my time and would just introduce a whole lot of distractions that I’d just as soon do without. The irony is that several of the invitations came from people that already have way too many distractions, and the last thing they need is some new thing to worry about keeping track of and never being able to keep up with. That’s why I stopped watching TV several years ago, and if my cable stopped working it might take me weeks to realize it. Sorry, but it’s just not for me. I won’t say never, but not today.

What does all this have to do with photography you ask? Well, it doesn’t, except that over the last several weeks I’ve been prioritizing the things I need to do to make myself useful around the house since I am no longer earning a paycheck. Between looking for work, trying to use the time to catch up on developing my photography business, getting some overdue projects done around the house and doing all the things that are really important, I’ve decided that more communication is the last thing I need. I close e-mail during the day to minimize distractions, I have a To-Do list that I have been working diligently on, and I’ve made some impressive progress over the last several weeks to the point that I feel really good about the direction things are going. I’m really excited about some of the things I’ve done – such as doing my first copyright registration last week – and I’ll try to write about them in greater detail over the next several weeks. I’ve even taken some pictures!

Somehow I think it’s OK that long-lost classmates stay that way. There might be a reason for that! And my current friends – sorry, but you’ll just have to settle for seeing and talking to me face-to-face or at meetings. I hope that’s OK.

Another Quote

I guess I’m into quotes lately. Maybe it’s because of all this time I have for deep thinking. Yikes.

Don McGowan is a nature photographer, best known for his work in the Smokies. He’s also one of my ‘heros.’ He’s a deep-thinking, passionately creative photographer. Don publishes a sometimes-monthly newsletter called “A Song For The Asking,” and in his February 2009 newsletter spends a lot of time discussing principals from Eric Maisel’s Coaching the Artist Within. There are 12 skills in all, and I think I just need to get the book and read it, but it is in Don’s discussion of the second skill which he refers to as “passionately making meaning” that hit me like another brick between the eyes:

““Regardless of whether or not the universe is meaningful, of whether my odds of succeeding are long or short, of everything at both the existential level and at the practical level, I am going to intentionally make meaning.” What this amounts to is saying to yourself that you’re not going to wait on the universe to announce to you what you should do; you are going to decide, based on your own best understanding of truth and reality, how you will matter.”


SoFoBoMo 2009

I read about SoFoBoMo (aka Solo Photo Book Month) last year and thought it was a cool idea. I didn’t participate because I thought I was pretty busy. I had already planned on participating this year and was going to do a book of photos from my office window. But since I doubt they’ll let me in there to take pictures I had to come up with a new plan. I think I have a good one.

A couple of months ago Aaron Johnson of What The Duck started selling duck plush toys. I purchased a couple of them, having no idea what I was going to do with them. Now I do. Mr. W.T. Duck is going to hit the road! Like the garden gnome but much better, old W.T. is going to have his pitcher made all over North and South Carolina. I’ve already asked for and gotten Aaron’s blessing, and he says he is “flattered.”

The project doesn’t start until May 1, so I’ll have to dream up some great locations over the next few weeks.

You can buy your own W.T. Duck here, but no copycats!


Jay Maisel is the guest blogger on Scott Kelby’s blog today. A portion that I find especially compelling is here:

When we shoot we should savor what goes on in front of us, allow things to develop, anticipate things, not be in such a hurry to move on to see how much more we can see quickly and superficially. It’s all there, if we take our time and look, things have a way of happening in front of you. Standing still is also a good way of covering things; just let the world come to you. To paraphrase an old cliché – Don’t do something, just stand there. Be patient.

Read the whole thing here….