This past weekend I attended a presentation by noted nature and wildlife photographer Bill Lea. During Bill’s presentation he showed a number of excellent wildlife images – bear, deer, fox, wolf and more. At one point he made the statement that a successful animal photograph should always include a “glint” in the animal’s eye. I agree completely, but to take it a step further, I feel that a successful photograph of any kind is one that puts a glint in the photographer’s eye.
I subscribe to receive e-mails from Christie’s and Sotheby’s with results from various art auctions. Sotheby’s recently had an auction of photographs, many of which were historical photographs by famous photographers. A large number of them were daguerreotypes from the 1840’s. There were a few Westons, a Cunningham or two. Adams, Strand, Stieglitz and Steichen were among the names listed. But what struck me was the number of photographs – primarily the daguerreotypes – that were listed as being by “Anonymous American Photographer.” I couldn’t help but think, “is that our fate? Are we either famous or anonymous?” Scary thought.
I was having a conversation today with a friend about my approach to photography, and it caused me to think about the fact that although we make dozens if not hundreds of photographs each time we go out, the percentages of “keepers” can vary dramatically depending on our approach, our intended result and our ability to make tough editing decisions. It occurred to me that our approach toward what and how many images we keep is a lot like our approach to shopping. Some people buy lots of “stuff” even if it isn’t really something they need. They like it, it’s on sale or something caused them to want it so they bought it. Sometimes they buy these things and keep them forever, even once they decide they no longer want them. Others buy less frequently but what they do buy is well thought out, the purchasing decision is fully analyzed and the item purchased is exactly what they were looking for.
My approach to shopping made that transition long ago. I rarely shop, but when I do it is for exactly what I want, I get it and I go on. My photography is headed in a similar direction but is far less developed. My approach toward photography seems to be evolving from one of quantity to one of quality and as it does, I find myself keeping fewer images. The ones I do keep are ones I am happier with and that I will probably hold on to for a lot longer period of time. I feel like I am making better choices and that the resulting keepers are much stronger than when I was keeping a lot more. I wonder if this is because I am thinking of my images as prints instead of just pictures on a hard drive. Somehow thinking about and making prints forces me to take a harder look at an image. I find that a lot fewer of them are making the cut. Something to think about.
Now I just have to convince The Boss….
She’ll probably tell me to clean my sensor more often.
Image is a combination of 5 photographs of a tree that I shot during our visit to Hilton Head this past February. It was shot in different kinds of light with different sky backgrounds. I’m trying to figure out what to do with it.
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!
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.
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.”
I got into a discussion with some of my photo buddies this past weekend about “developing a personal style” and got to thinking about it on my own. A lot of photographers (and other artists) have a recognizable, identifiable personal style, to the point where you can pick out their work among a group of images or prints. I don’t think this is something you can “do” as much as it is something that “happens.” You can’t for example put on your To Do list: “Develop personal style today” or something similar. And it doesn’t happen with a certain camera, lens or Photoshop plug in. I think it must come from hard work, from taking a lot of pictures, using whatever influences and inspiration you have in you, editing your photos into some kind of organized structure, and showing them to others.
Everyone has a personal style, but not everyone’s personal style is individual or unique enough to be recognizable. But some people’s personal style definitely stands out as their own.
(1) I went to a meeting of an artist’s group last night. Several of the painters talked about having worked from a photograph to do their paintings. I couldn’t help but think that if they would just learn to take better photographs they wouldn’t have to bother with the paint.
(2) Photographers who like to get all righteous about their work being art and say it is more dependent on their vision than their equipment always say that they get upset when someone asks them what kind of camera they have to get those nice pictures. One of the typical lines is that “painters don’t sit around talking about what kind of brush they used, or their brand of easel or what kind of palette they use….” Well, when someone (not me) showed their photography, one of the painters said “what kind of camera do you have, it must be a good one?” I was tempted but kept my mouth shut. I was a guest, after all.
(3) Most of the painters seemed to be more interested in whether the photographers would photograph their paintings, presumably for free, than they were in what kind of photographs they made.