Home Again and May Wallpaper

Just got back from a lovely week on the high seas…a 6 night cruise on Royal Princess followed by a couple of nights in Hollywood Beach, FL. This was a vacation week so I didn’t take my good gear but managed to get a few grab shots with the G9. I’ve got some fodder for a couple of blog posts and will get them downloaded from my brain over the next week or so and will post them along with a few photos. For now it’s back to the banking grindstone for a few weeks.

I remembered to do the May calendar before I left, so here it is, only a few days late! The image is from a last May and was taken along the Boone Fork from the Tanawha Trail, Blue Ridge Parkway near Grandfather Mountain, North Carolina. Enjoy!

Anonymous American Photographer

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.

Shopping and Photography

This is my 101st post – some kind of milestone!

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.

Happy April!

Wow, another month has flown by! I managed to make one blog post in March, but it’s been a busy month. This work thing sure takes a lot of time, but it is worth the effort.

Not much to say this time, but I wanted to post the April calendar for those of you who would e-mail me tomorrow if I forgot.

I would like to ask one small favor. A number of my readers subscribe via Networked Blogs on Facebook. Networked Blogs gives readers the ability to rate a blog, from one star to five stars. If you are one of those followers, I would really appreciate a few ratings (especially if they are good!). Please be honest, but please take the time to rate. I’ll be sure to do the same for those of you who have blogs.


This month’s calendar is an image from my motion blur series, taken last spring on the Torrence Creek Greenway near my home. I think it really says “Spring” by emphasizing the fresh green and soft new growth of the season.

Photographer or Tourist?

I’ve been thinking lately about the propensity that a lot of photographers – famous and otherwise – have for traveling to and doing workshops in places they don’t live, and the fascination we “mortals” have for spending big money for the privilege of traveling with big name photographers to such far-flung places. I certainly can’t blame the photographers because presumably they are being well-paid to go by those with the cash to afford their workshops, and it’s great that people are willing to shell out dollars to be able to rub elbows with famous photographers in exotic locations.

Kathy & I have been talking about and making a list of places we want to go while we’re still working and have the money, places we might not be able to afford when we retire and have the time (what’s fair about that?). I love to travel, but have accepted the fact that the kind of photography I tend to do requires that I either learn about a place and keep going there until I get what I am looking for, or wander around with a camera until I see something that catches my eye and photograph it. The former approach is very location-specific and requires repeated visits. It’s best done when it is close to home. The second approach is what I often find myself doing when we travel. The interesting thing about that is that many or most of the “better” photographs I come back with are not location-specific. They could have been taken anywhere. Then I think, “if I can make a photograph like that anywhere, why do I have to travel halfway around the world and spend a bunch of money to make it?”

Kathy & I went to Alaska several years ago. It was a trip we really wanted to take, we did it to celebrate our 25th anniversary, we took the kids and it cost us a bundle. I don’t regret for a second that we did it, it was that worth it. In preparation for that trip I convinced myself to take the plunge into digital photography. I invested a lot of money in new gear, all of it I still have and use. That was worth it. We were in Alaska for 12 days and I came back with about 2500 photographs. A lot of my photographs are pretty darned good and would make an interesting presentation to the local Rotary club or even a local camera club meeting. There are a few photos in there that I count among my “heroes,” but since I had no control of the schedule, the conditions or the weather, everything I got was due mostly to good luck. For the most part they are a bunch of ordinary photographs of some really nice locations. Some of them are probably better because of my “eye” or my skills, but most of them are pretty ordinary. The fact that I am five years down the photographic journey may have an effect of how I feel about them now, but I’d like to think I would make different and hopefully better photographs on a return trip, all else being equal.

If I spend a bunch of money to go one someone’s photo workshop or take a vacation to an exotic location, am I going as a Photographer or as a Tourist with a Really Good Camera? I suspect that it may be the latter, and I think I’m OK with that. If I come back from a great trip with a few heros, fantastic! If not, as long as I accept that I may end up with a bunch of ordinary photographs of a really nice location, I can live with that too. I feel better knowing that my expectations are in line with the expected results. Enjoy the journey, and take some good photographs along the way!

That Was Fast!

It was just what – a week or so and we were wrapping up January. Wow! This work thing makes time fly!

Just spent the weekend with Les Saucier, one of my Heros and the person I credit for much of my recent photographic learning. This was a fine art printing workshop at his home in Weaverville, NC. There is a fine art canvas printing workshop and a visual literacy workshop coming up later in March. I am very much looking forward to both of those.

I have lots to say but no time to say it, so I wanted to get the March calendar out to those of you who are interested in such things. I hope to have a chance to catch up on my writing in the next couple of weeks, but who knows.

This images was taken during our August 2008 visit to Far Creek in Englehard, NC. It’s one of my favorite shots from this location. A vertical version of this shot shows off the reflections in the water, but I had to stay horizontal for this calendar.

Hoping that March brings us our much-anticipated Spring!

Something New

A recent discovery of mine is the writings and teachings of David DuChemin. I recently read his book “Within The Frame” and have purchased a number of e-books he has written. At $5 each – sometimes less depending on his deals – they are a great deal and have provided me with much inspiration. David’s focus is on vision, as opposed to so many writers who are all about the gear, the software or the location. He is very visual oriented and his approach speaks to me in a way that I “get.”

Consider this plug to be a “thank you” for what comes next.

One of the things that David does for followers of his blog is that he creates a monthly desktop wallpaper calendar. He has even provided the Photoshop template he uses to anyone who wants to make their own. So in keeping with the tradition of sharing I have decided to offer my own monthly calendar wallpaper. Free of charge, just for fun, hope you like it and tell others! I’m going to try to avoid duplicating the image used in my print calendar, just for a little variety because I’d hate to limit myself to only 12 images per year! I’m going to try and pull images from the more “artsy” side of my portfolio for something a little different.

This month’s wallpaper is a photograph I made a few weeks ago in Belhaven, North Carolina. Belhaven is a wonderful little town on the Pungo River. A quick temperature change created a layer of fog over the water and I was able to capture some images that represented the dissolving effect of the fog on this receding line of pilings in the water.

Looking Ahead

A little over a week ago my recent period of unemployment ended. I’m back to work, in banking where I have been for 30+ years, doing work I enjoy for people I respect and for which I am well paid. With that change comes the end of a period of time where I had the luxury of being able to work on my photography full time, while looking for work and “getting paid” by collecting unemployment compensation. It was not a bad gig, but it was never permanent. I knew that, and although I hoped and to some extent still wish it could have been different I knew it would eventually be time to go back to reality. As it turns out reality isn’t all that bad.

Photography had been my Plan B for a number of years. I had regarded it as something to do if my employment situation changed involuntarily, or as something to pursue full time once I hit the lottery or was able to retire of my own volition. I knew from day one of my unemployment that no matter how much I wished it was otherwise my ultimate destiny was to get back into banking as soon as the right opportunity came along. While I’m sure that I eventually could have made a steady income from photography it is unrealistic to expect that I would ever earn the kind of income I had – and now have again – in banking. No matter what my heart told me about how much I wanted to do photography full time and all the rationalization about whether it was “meant to be” I remained focused on what had been my goal from the time I started working full time and saving for retirement: to be able to retire on my terms. It’s not time yet!

The great thing about the period I had off was that I was able to devote almost 100% of my time and effort into the numerous projects and tasks that I had been trying to cram into a part-time hobby that had been busting at the seams. Processing old files, organizing and keywording images, preparing images for submission to a stock agency, submitting images to galleries for sale as prints, filing copyright registrations – the list goes on. Looking back I accomplished a lot. I assisted Nanine Hartzenbusch at The Light Factory’s Shootout, sold a number of prints, donated a print that sold for an exorbitant price at The Light Factory’s Auction, became an assistant for Kevin Adams on his return to the photo tour business, taught a couple of Lightroom classes, did some one-on-one Lightroom tutoring and am on the schedule to teach some classes at The Light Factory this winter. Wow! That’s stuff that it might have taken me 5 years of part time effort to achieve, and I did it in nine months!

Now I get to look forward, and I am doing it optimistically. One of my friends remarked that now I will be able to afford some new gear. That may be true. Ironic isn’t it that we need to have a job doing something other than photography to afford “professional” photography equipment? The great thing is that everything I have accomplished is something I wanted to accomplish, and while I have made a little money from it they are things I wanted to do anyway. Going forward, I only have to do the things that make me happy. If I want to shoot I wedding I can, but if I choose not to I won’t have to worry about paying the mortgage. If I sell a print I’ll use the money to buy more ink and paper. Next time I teach a class for the CNPA I can let them keep all the money instead of keeping a bit for me. The best thing is that going back to being a part-time photographer doesn’t make me any less a photographer. It will allow me to be an even better photographer because I do best those things that make me happiest, and I’ll do them better without the pressure of having to make money from them. Who knows, I may decide to sell my prints for $20 each. Some people may scoff, but if I derive the most pleasure from sharing my work and if selling prints for $20 means I can share my work with more people and that more people can enjoy it, so what? I won’t of course, but I could.

I just bought a new printer, the Canon iPF5100. It’s a fine printer that is capable of making real good prints. My goal this year is to master it and to master fine art printing. Not to become the next John Paul Caponigro, but to become good enough that I can print my own work and be proud of the results. Now I’ll be able to do it for me, and I can do it with the confidence that I’m doing something I want to do because I want to do it. I can take as much time as I need to get it right and know that once I am happy with the results that’s as far as it needs to go. If other people are happy enough to buy some prints that will be a bonus, but it doesn’t have to be a goal.

While I work on my printing I am going to be less focused on taking new pictures. I don’t feel like I need to be running all over the countryside chasing flowers and bugs and sunsets and water just to take more pictures. I’ve got plenty now and I know I’ll take a lot of new ones this year, but if I never take a new one I have enough to work on that it will take me years to go through them! The great thing is that as I continue to develop my vision my photography will improve, and as I learn more about printing I’ll learn to take pictures in a way that I will be able to make better prints. It’s all part of the process. It sounds like a lot of fun, and I’m looking forward to it. It’s a new adventure!

Photo is from our recent trip to Barbados, at a beach called Beachy Head. I’m going back there. Soon!

The Price of Commitment, Continued

In the last couple of days I have been preparing to pack for our upcoming cruise, an annual tradition for the last 9 years. In recent years I have managed to convince myself that I was on vacation and took only a point & shoot camera – albeit a good camera – the Canon G9. With the exception of our first couple of cruises when I was still shooting 35mm film, and our one trip to Alaska where I had just purchased my Canon 20D, all I have ever taken on a cruise was a point & shoot camera.

A couple of months ago I decided, with Kathy’s blessing since it does effect her, that I wanted to do some more “serious” photography on this cruise. We’re going to visit several islands that we especially like, consider particularly photogenic and have only been to a few times. Given my current lack of gainful employment it is uncertain when we will be able to justify another cruise, so I wanted to get some “good” photos from this trip.

Herein lies the dilemma: how much gear is enough? In keeping with the theme of my last post, once you decide to do “serious photography” there is a certain minimum level of equipment you are committed to. I want to make sure I have enough equipment to do what I want to do, without taking so much gear that it becomes a burden. I started by deciding which camera bag I wanted to take, figuring that the size of the bag would determine the amount of stuff I would take. Something more than a point & shoot but less than my entire large 40-pound airline-legal rolling bag, preferably. My rolling bag would be a good solution for getting stuff there, since it is easy to handle and designed for travel. But it holds literally everything I use, and that seems a bit excessive. I’d still have to take my backpack, which would need to be packed separately, because I would want that for carrying my gear with me on the islands. My backpack seemed to make the most sense, since it was the bag I took to Alaska with me, holds as much as I can reasonably carry but is not too much to handle.

When I start paring down my gear I long for the days when I shot with my Mamiya 7 rangefinder. A nice compact body, three excellent lenses and a box of 220 Velvia would get me through a productive weekend. For a trip like this I’d probably take 5 or 6 boxes of film, perhaps as many as 10, and it would all fit into a small doctor bag-sized bag. My 3 lenses were 150mm, 65mm and 50mm, roughly equivalent to 75mm, 35mm and 28mm on a full-frame 35mm camera. My favorite lens, the Canon 24-70, for all intents and purposes covers all three of those focal lengths, and while the combination is a bit larger than the Mamiya kit it doesn’t take up a lot more space. So why do I need more than that? Let’s look at what I’m taking:

Canon 5D Body w/ RRS L bracket
Canon 40D Body w/ RRS L bracket
Canon G9
Canon 17-40 zoom lens
Canon 24-70 zoom lens
Canon 24-105 zoom lens
Canon 70-200 zoom lens
Canon 580EX flash
Gitzo tripod with RRS head
3 spare batteries for the 5D & 40D with charger
1 spare battery for the G9 with charger
Spare AA batteries for flash with charger
7 – 4GB compact flash cards
4 – 4GB SD cards
2 polarizers
Remote release
3 bubble levels
Lastolite Tri-Grip reflector/diffuser
Various cleaning supplies: Sensor Loupe, Arctic Butterfly, Blower, Microfiber cloths
Various tools for tightening brackets and tripod heads
Apple Powerbook laptop with 2 card readers and an external hard drive
Business cards

This is traveling light? From all this it doesn’t look like I’m leaving much behind, but there is still a lot of stuff left in my regular bag! Most amazingly, what would I leave behind? It all fits in my backpack, so if I take anything out I will have empty space. Can’t have that! Besides, other than the 70-200 there isn’t any single thing or combination of things that would make enough of a difference to matter, and I’m not leaving the 70-200 at home. No way! I’ll use it all, and there will be something I don’t take that I’ll wish I had, like my 2X extender, extension tubes or closeup lens. But I think I’ve covered 99.5% of the situations I’m likely to encounter, and that’s about as close as I can hope to get. Besides, I’m going to be doing a lot more than taking pictures!

It’s amazing to me how much stuff I feel like I need to take just to take “serious” pictures. But given that I want to be sure and cover as many bases as possible, I just can’t imagine getting by with anything less. Let’s hope the results are worth the effort!

The Price of Commitment

I don’t generally spend a lot of time on message boards, although I will admit to doing my share of posting. I recently contributed to a discussion on the CNPA forum about printers and printing. I made what I thought were some reasonable and well-explained opinions on the type of printer one might look for when getting started printing, the many types of papers involved and the importance of having a properly-profiled monitor so you would have some assurance that the colors on your screen would be well-represented on paper.

During the course of the discussion one of the posters stated that she had a printer that she “bought used 2 years ago. It is still in the box. All the horror stories about not calibrating printer and monitor before attempting to print scared me so much I dismissed all ideas of trying to print.”

First of all, CNPA is an organization of what, 2000 members now? And this particular person is one of the nicest, most social and outgoing people I know. She surely could have asked for and received help from someone in this organization! One of the dozens of people she regularly shoots with would have had exactly the knowledge she was looking for.

Secondly, how much does a colorimeter cost? In the context of the money we spend on camera, lenses, tripods, computers, printers and accessories, why would one not properly calibrate their equipment to get the best possible results?

That got me thinking about all the little odds and ends that we often don’t factor in when we sit down and calculate how much it costs to do what we do. Photography is expensive. Whether we do it as a hobby or as a profession, it costs a lot of money. And that’s not just the gear. The travel is expensive, too. We do it either because we love it, because we’re trying to make a living from it, or both.

There aren’t many inexpensive hobbies, at least not hobbies that I know of. Does a golfer spend several thousand dollars on clubs then shoot with “x-out” golf balls? I grew up in a town with the only (at that time, at least) free public golf course. I played with second-hand clubs and balls I had found. But you don’t become Tiger Woods playing that way. Would a musician buy an expensive guitar then listen to himself play through earbuds? I don’t think so.

It is possible to do photography well with used equipment (it’s all used, right?), old computers and even old printers. But for most of us that is an exception. There is a certain level we want to be at in order to enjoy what we do, produce results we can be proud of and go to the places we want to go. There is a certain pride and satisfaction that comes from pulling out a new lens or some gee-whiz accessory and using it. There is nothing like visiting a fantastic location for the first, or second or twentieth time and taking nice photographs. But then what? We want to share them, either by posting them online, selling them to publications or making prints. That’s all part of the fun, but it’s also part of the cost.

There was recently another thread on the CNPA forum where someone shared a checklist he had made to keep track of the gear for certain kinds of trips. That was great stuff and very helpful. I have my own checklist of things to take on various types of trips, from weekend get-aways to cruises. It’s a great way to be organized. How about a list of all the things we need to be photographers? How many people, if confronted with such a list, would decide to take up another hobby because of the expense? I’ll bet a number of people would, especially once they realized the cost!

Since we don’t have that list, at least not that I’m aware of, we sort of accumulate things as we go. We buy a camera and lens, then a polarizer. Maybe a nice bag. Then another lens, or a tripod. Then a bigger bag. We buy a computer but need a bigger hard drive, or some kind of software. I once heard Tony Sweet tell a group that “digital photography is really not that expensive. After the first $20,000.” For many of us that’s not too far off!

Everyone has to decide their own level of comfort based on their own personal situation. That can be determined by time, budget or other factors. But there are some things that no one should do without. One of those things is a properly profiled monitor, and it doesn’t matter which colorimeter you use as much as is does that you use one. There are many more things that are equally important or more so, but you don’t always have to buy the fanciest or most expensive version. You need to get the best one you can afford that does the job. Does everyone need a $1200 tripod or a $200 polarizer? Of course not. A good sturdy tripod is not cheap. My polarizers, and I have several of them, cost more than many of the cameras I see tourists carrying. In fact, that is often the response when someone asks me how much my camera cost.

I’ve always been a believer that whatever is doing is worth doing well. That’s why I gave up golf a long time ago. I was horrible at it and no matter how hard I tried I could never figure it out. I’ve had somewhat better luck with photography, but it is not any cheaper!

I’m also a strong believer in ‘to each his own’ but my personal opinion is that being the best photographer I can be means being able to own good equipment (not necessarily the newest or most expensive) that gives me good results, learning to process my own photos and competently print my own work. That carries a certain level of financial commitment. Not everyone shares my goals. For many people sharing photos on Flickr or Facebook is their aim. That’s great, but even then there’s still a minimum cost to play. Maybe not as much as some, but it’s there. Camera gear is great and I always want more, but to me, the ability to experiment with paper and processes and tweaking my photos to get them where I want them is part of the learning process. I consider a good printer to be an essential part of my photography equipment, and it is as important to me (or more so) than another lens or camera body. And that takes a certain level of commitment as well.

To wrap up, my point is that there are some things you just need to have in order to do any hobby. Some of them are expensive, some not. It’s sometimes hard to come up with another $75 or $100 or $500 when there are lots of other things competing for our funds, but some things are necessary, and some are just worth it. When it comes to printing, whether you print your own work or send it to an outside lab, you need to be sure that the file you are sending is accurate, and that takes “just another piece of equipment.” There are a lot of those, and as hard as it is, sometimes you just need to do what it takes.

Photographs and stuff!