Noticed today that I was getting some odd errors from SmugMug today so I’ve had to temporarily disable the SmugMug plugin. That’s broken the images on 1 post but has fixed the rest of the issues. Apologies for any inconvenience, I hope to have this fixed up more permanently in the near future.
I’ve been reading The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin and last night I finished off the July chapter which focused on money. In that chapter there was a section which talked about 2 different styles of decision-making processes for buying; what Gretchen refers to as a “satisficer” as opposed to a “maximizer”:
Satisficers (yes, satisficers) are those who make a decision or take action once their criteria are met. That doesn’t mean they’ll settle for mediocrity; their criteria can be very high, but as soon as they find the hotel, the pasta sauce, or the business card that has the qualities they want, they’re satisfied. Maximizers want to make the optimal decision. Even if they see a bicycle or a backpack that meets their requirements, they can’t make a decision until after they’ve examined every option, so they can make the best possible choice.
In reading the description of the maximizer I burst out laughing because it described me to a tee. My girlfriend had read the book before me and I asked her if she thought the same thing and she nodded vigorously as I read aloud that description. I like to make informed decisions, I like to know about the things I’m going to purchase before I purchase them. Now just said like that it doesn’t sound too unreasonable, but I tend to take it to extremes. I’ll spend months doing research deliberating over the pros and cons of different choices, I’ll do extensive online searches for information, I’ll pour over reviews, I’ll try to check out each option in person (sometimes more than once). How bad can it get? A few years ago when I was thinking about buying a barbecue I got to the point where I was reading through reviews on a charcoal review site.
After I put down the book for the night I started thinking that maybe I’m a maximizer in other parts of my life too. I’ve been spending a lot of time trying to figure out what’s been holding me back in pursuing my photography more seriously and I think this is a big part of it. I’m a geek by nature anyway so it’s not too surprising that I lust over all sorts of expensive photo gear and it’s really easy to say to myself that I need “the best” gear. I also spend an tremendous amount of time reading photo books, watching online training videos and listening to photography podcasts all in order to learn more about photography. While the learning is great and I’ve certainly expanded my knowledge I’m not applying it, am I waiting for some magic point where I “know it all”?
Taking it further, I struggle a lot with expressing what my vision is and finding my voice, both photographically and even with this site. I don’t post as often on the blog because I haven’t figured out what I should be talking about. I don’t shoot as often as I should because I haven’t figured out what I should be shooting. I don’t pursue paid photography work because I don’t know what paid work I should be pursuing. As a “maximizer” this becomes paralysing because I’m used to not making a decision before I’ve weighed all the options. What I need to do is remind myself that none of these things have to be permanent decisions and that I may just have to be willing to try something and then change directions if that doesn’t work because waiting until I figure it all out may mean that I never figure it all out.
Looking online I’d say there’s a lot more people like me out there. Browse any photo site or forum and you’ll find tons of people spending hours upon hours of time debating every technical aspect, which camera is “better”, what’s the “best” lens, which camera has the lowest noise at high ISOs, etc, etc, etc. Instead of going out there and shooting with the equipment we do have we chose to sit in front of our computers in the never-ending search for that best possible choice instead of being satisfied with what we have, which more than likely meats all of our criteria.
Okay, I’m a little late on posting this. I had the idea just before New Years but then I let other things keep me from posting this a little earlier. I started even second-guessing myself about posting it at this point but the entire goal of this post is to challenge myself for the upcoming year and to hopefully inspire others to do the same. The other important piece of this is that this is about setting goals and challenging yourself and while New Year’s is a typical time for doing this there’s absolutely no reason why you can’t start at any time in the year with any time frame that works for you.
I’ve been thinking a lot about what I want to achieve photographically in 2012 and really it all kept coming back to the idea that I want to shoot more often. The other piece of this was I wanted to make sure to give myself a strong incentive to follow through with this goal. Last year while attending Dane Sander’s Fasttrack Photographer workshop Dane talked about when change happens and what it takes for it to happen. One of the pieces for making change happen that he talked about is what is it going to cost you. If the status quo isn’t costing you anything then you’re not going to change. This is often where New Year’s resolutions fall apart, how often do you make a resolution and even while making it know that you’re not going to keep it?
I knew that I wanted to shoot more but I needed to come up with something more specific that I could measure. In the end I decided to settle on the number of shoots that I’d do in 2012. I didn’t shoot very often in 2011 so this is a good measure for me. I’ve decided to aim for 15 shoots in 2012. Now to clarify, what I mean by a “shoot” is not simply going out for an afternoon shooting but I mean something where I’ve come up with a specific concept and then shot that concept. Alternatively, if someone is paying me to shoot something then that session will count as a “shoot”. 15 may sound low to some people but by that criteria I only did 1 or 2 shoots all of last year so this is a big increase. I also have a full-time day job so I’m most likely going to be limited to evenings and weekends for this unless I take time off.
So with my goal covered the next thing was to come up with a cost for this, what was failing going to cost me? I decided to go for the “all or nothing” approach. If I fail in this goal this year I will be giving away all of my camera gear. Should I fail I will setup some type of contest for determining who will receive my Nikon D700, 24-70 f/2.8, 50mm f/1.4 and any other equipment I currently have or may acquire this year. Basically I’m saying that if I can’t make shooting a priority in my life then shooting won’t be in my life.
Now obviously this is a contest which I have no intention in having to follow through with but the point is this is creating a motivation for me to get out there and shoot more often. To get 15 shoots done this year I’m going to have to average at least 1 a month and then manage to swing 2 shoots a month at least 3 times to make up the goal. I hope to post status updates throughout the year to keep you all apprised on how things are going and what challenges I’m facing.
Now for the inspiration part, I’d really like to put this challenge out to you as well. Are you willing to set some goals and make failing cost for you? What goals do you have, what will you make it cost? If you’re willing to take up my challenge (and it doesn’t even have to be photo-related) then I encourage you to share your goals publicly as well as what you’ll do if you fail. To help track this I’m going to encourage people to share their stories on Twitter and Google+ using the hashtag #Makeitcost. I’m really hoping that I can inspire others to challenge themselves to do more great things and to stick to it. It doesn’t matter what the goal is or what the cost is, but make it something that will challenge yourself and that costs enough that you won’t want to fail.
I’m in the process of migrating my images over to Smugmug. Apologies if over the next few days there’s a few issues during the transition.
Back in October I flew down to Florida to attend the Vanelli and Friends Bahamas cruise photography workshop. I hope to have some more details about the workshop up soon but I wanted to share one of the images from the shoot as I’m really happy with the shot. However, I think it also helps illustrate some of my personal approach to dealing with problems you encounter while you’re shooting.
I’ve shot plenty of times in colder weather so I’m aware of the concerns about condensation when coming in from the cold. As many people can tell you, this also works in the other direction in hot and humid climates when going outside from an air conditioned space. I’ve shot in SE Asia before but when I was there I wasn’t staying in heavily air conditioned rooms and it was also toward the end of the dry season so condensation wasn’t much of a concern. Nassau, however, was a completely different matter and when I pulled my camera out of my bag it fogged up badly. When I put the camera up to my eye all I got was a huge amount of blur. As I mentioned, I’m more used to shooting in cold weather so I’m used to having my viewfinder fog up when I’m outside. I’ll admit that at the time I mistakenly thought that it was just my viewfinder and LCD that were fogged up, it just didn’t occur to me that the front element of my lens was fogged as well. Perhaps because of this, I simply didn’t let it get me down and when I saw shots I took them, I just kept shooting through the problem. Because of this determination to just keep shooting in spite of being barely able to see what I was framing I took this shot.
As you can see, things are pretty fogged up (and this was after my lens had started to clear up). But, I loved the look of these side streets and when I saw that man walking towards me I knew I had to grab a couple of frames.
Now I do really like the mood of the fog that’s created in this shot but there’s just so much detail lost. Thinking it might be worth salvaging though, I played with the sliders in Lightroom a bit but just wasn’t very happy with it. On a lark, I decided to see if it might work as a black and white so I swung over to Photoshop to use Nik Software’s Silver Efex Pro. Playing with some of the presets, I found that they did pull out a lot more detail in the shot but I wasn’t happy with losing all of the nice colour. I quickly realized though that this would be a perfect application for the technique I’d described in my Making Montreal posts. The fact that Vanelli had recently talked about using that technique as well may have played into it being in my mind. I found a preset that I liked and blended it using the luminosity blending mode and I was amazed with what I ended up with. I went back in and further tweaked things like brightening up the man’s face a bit and playing with the structure sliders. I liked the look but found that I’d lost a bit of the glow to the highlights so I went into Color Efex and applied the glamor glow filter to bring but some of that look to the highlights. On the advice of Vanelli, I burned down the edges a bit and also corrected the slight tilt to the image. This is the final result:
What was most impressive about this was that I got to about 90% of the look in this image in probably less than 5 minutes of work thanks to Silver Efex Pro. By applying it as a smart filter I kept things in a non-destructive space and that allowed me to go back in to tweak things based on the feedback I got, and even allowed me to fix the rotation in camera raw. I think this shot really shows the power of the workflow I described in my Montreal posts. But more importantly, I think it also shows how important it is to not give up when you’re faced with a problem but instead to work through the problem and just keep shooting. I could have easily written off my camera as useless until the fog cleared and if I’d done that I would have missed this opportunity. Instead, I shot through the problem and I ended up with a great happy accident.
This past weekend I participated in Scott Kelby’s Worldwide Photo Walk. We had pouring rain predicted for the entire weekend so the walk leader had come up with a rain plan to shoot in a local museum, The Maritime Museum of the Atlantic. I hadn’t visited that museum in years so it was fun to walk through and look at all the nautical displays.
I had fun shooting some abstract shots of a light house lens and also working with some detail shots of the displays. I tend to enjoy shooting abstracts so this was a lot of fun for me. I even tried some handheld HDR shots as the lighting was a little challenging in some situations.
However, other people in the group found the location to be more challenging and this made me think about how our own filters can really limit ourselves from getting the shot. One example of this was that one of the participants commented that he was having a tough time because he was trying to stay at 800 ISO on his camera because the noise wasn’t great above that. Now I can’t comment on the noise performance for his particular camera (a Nikon D5000) but this really stuck with me. Yes, maybe the noise does get worse above 800 on his camera, however it might also open up possibilities in the difficult lighting. I can’t say for certain if he did pass on shots because of this but I did catch myself thinking that way from time to time. I was also trying to stick to around 800 as my “base ISO” in the shooting conditions and I did catch myself thinking at times that my shutter speed was going to be too low to handhold the shot. However, what I tried to do was to catch myself whenever I thought that way and would adjust my ISO. In some parts of the museum I had to go as high as 3200 and arguably could have gone higher. Now I shoot with a Nikon D700 which has incredible high ISO performance but the point is that I decided that getting the shot was more important than the noise. Are the 3200 shots noisier than the 800 shots? Absolutely, but I actually have a shot. I could have easily dismissed the possibility because I’d have to increase my ISO above what I considered “acceptable”.
Since the walk I’ve thought a little more about this and applied it more broadly. Settings are one thing, but what about subjects or entire locations? How easy is it to dismiss a scene as not having anything worth shooting? Once you’ve put that filter up how likely is it that you won’t find anything worth shooting? Even something did present itself would you catch it or would your filter keep you from seeing it?
Don’t get me wrong, sometimes that filter is based on experience and a serious evaluation of the scene (conscious or unconscious). However, sometimes that experience can be a double-edged sword. Sometimes we just need to silence that internal critic saying that the shot won’t work and be open to the possibility that there is something there. Will it always work? No, but sometimes by opening yourself up to the possibilities presented by a scene you can end up surprising yourself. I know I’m going to try to be more aware of my own filters and giving myself permission to experiment, even if it does mean I fail miserably.
Okay, this one may be obvious to some, especially if you have more HDR experience. But, I figured I’d share it here figuring that if I’ve made this mistake then someone else is probably unaware of this too.
So what was this mistake? It’s pretty simple but if you’re setting up your HDR shot using auto-bracketing then make sure to pay attention to what your Camera’s meter is going to use for the base exposure. I was shooting in aperture priority mode and shooting into a light. Because of this my camera was tending to pick a very high shutter speed to start (exposing for the light). This was a great exposure as part of the bracket but should have been the highest shutter speed in the bracket, not the middle. Adding shutter speed above this wasn’t bringing in any further detail. In some cases I even ran into multiple shots in the bracket being shot at 1/8000 since that’s the maximum shutter speed on my D700. Obviously that defeats the purpose of the bracketing and this usually meant that I didn’t have the slower shutter speeds I needed to bring in the shadow detail. What I should have done was picked a good middle exposure (either with exposure compensation or by switching into manual mode) and started my bracket there.
It happened to me so it could happen to you too, pay attention to your exposure!
Well the splint came off a few weeks ago and I think my recovery is doing quite well. My hand is still weak and stiff at times but overall I’m feeling pretty good and have been happy with my recovery.
The one thing I am finding tough is getting back into the routine with some things after such a long break. Fortunately, I am building up a list of ideas I’d like to post on and I have some other new developments that I hope to share with my readers in the next few weeks.
More to come.
Going to be taking a bit of a summer hiatus for the blog. I’m currently in the middle of renovations on my house and this last week I broke my hand which makes typing a lot slower.
My recovery should take roughly 5 more weeks or so. I’m hoping to still get some posts out during that time but the posting frequency is definitely going to be reduced.
Thanks to all more readers, I hope to have more for you soon.