In the world of photography products, there aren’t many surprises. We see variations on themes. New strap styles may seek to innovate (and sometimes succeed), but when you get right down to it, they’re straps. “New and Improved” sensor cleaning systems may improve on those that came before, but it’s still a blower or a swab or an electro-static stroke of marketing genius aimed at convincing you that this next purchase is the one that’s going to put your photography over the top. I know…this all sounds a bit jaded, and maybe it is. A little. So, you can imagine how happy I was when something truly different found its way across my desk recently.
One of the questions I get a lot comes from new photographers wanting to know whether they should be working in Photoshop or Lightroom. I particularly enjoy their deer-caught-in-the-headlights look when I reply, “Both!” While it’s true that either of these incredibly powerful Adobe tools could, in theory, provide photographers with everything they need to edit their images, I really am a firm believer that a strong workflow rests on a solid foundation of both PS & LR. Having said that, though, learning just one of these applications can be a daunting task for even the most dedicated photographer. Learning two can seem insurmountable.
About a year ago I received an email with some bad news from a client.
“Dear Jeff– I just wanted to let you know that Gwen and Peter have called off their engagement and will not be getting married in September. The news comes as quite a shock to us, but Gwen claims it’s for the best and we’ve always trusted her judgment. I apologize for the short notice, but we just found out less than 48 hours ago. I would like to stop by later this week and pick up a refund of our deposit…”
There was a bit more after that, but it was just a blur. My attention was focused squarely on four words– “refund of our deposit.”
I don’t know about you, but I got into photography so I could spend my time taking photos. What I did not get into photography for was the post production, the marketing, the meetings, the consultations, the pitches, the proposals, and the networking. Or the countless hours away from my family. For that I could have kept practicing law and left photography on the shelf as a hobby. The things we do in life always look different to those on the outside looking in. Just like my non-lawyer friends were convinced that all of my courtroom appearances were worthy of a “Law & Order” script, I find that many of the non-photographers in my life have a totally warped view of what those of us who make a living with our cameras do every day. Realistically speaking, I’d have to say that maybe only ten percent of my life as a photographer is about shooting. The other ninety percent is the stuff that makes me wish I could afford a full-time assistant. For me, it comes down to the best use of my time. Does “insert activity here” take time away from shooting and/or family? If so, what I can I do to switch that around?
One of these days I’m going to get back into shape. Then I’m going to fly to Nepal. Then I’m going to hire a Sherpa to guide me on an arduous journey up into the highest reaches of the Himalayas. Along the way he’ll teach me his language, as well as the customs of his people. By the time we arrive at the summit, we will have saved each others’ lives several times, binding our fates together for all eternity. Sitting atop the apex of the world (beneath a sign that says, “No Flash Photography Allowed”) will be a shriveled old man with a long beard who will explain to me the sorcery and wonder behind the algorithm that determines what’s going to show up as a “suggested post” on my Facebook news feed.
As a photographer and a photography teacher I am often asked the question, “What makes a good photo?” It seems like a simple enough question, right? Any one of us could wax both practical and philosophical over what makes a good– or even great– photo. We could go on and on for hours about composition, lighting, exposure, and vision. We would all most likely offer similar-yet-different answers to a question whose very nature can’t be pinned down– and that’s a good thing. Regardless of whether you view photography as art, craft, trade, or even science, the fact that we all see it so differently is, at its core, one of the things that makes it so damn interesting.
Life if full of all kinds of debates, both practical and philosophical. Chocolate or vanilla? Dogs or cats? Paper or plastic? Window or aisle? Jazz or blues? The list goes on. Most don’t really have a definitive answer, because life without choices can get pretty boring pretty fast. The Great Debates rage on, though, throughout the photography industry as well, covering everything from camera brands and strap style to memory cards and lenses. It’s the lens debate, though, that I find particularly interesting. I’m not talking about Canon vs. Nikon or Sigma vs. Tamron. I’m talking about Zooms vs. Primes.
A few months ago, a friend of mine was scrolling through a photography website when he saw something that made him jump out of his chair. There on the screen was a photo of his 6-year-old daughter– sitting on the grass under a stunning summer sky in her beautiful pink dress, having a tea party with her stuffed animals and three kittens. There were several problems with the photo. As I’m sure you’ve figured out by now, my friend had not taken or posted this particular photo of his daughter. In his original photo, the sky was overcast, the dress was yellow, and his daughter– who is actually dangerously allergic to cats– was enjoying a quiet moment alone. More importantly, however, the person who created this composite had never asked for permission to use the original. Needless to say, my friend was more than a little pissed off and immediately set to the task of tracking down the photographer and “politely asking” that the image be taken down immediately. It took a while, but the photographer eventually complied.
I typed the title for this article hours ago. After typing it, I spent an hour answering emails, having a snack, watching a little TV, and checking up on friends and family in Israel. For a full hour after all of that, I stared at a blinking cursor. Taunting me. Vexing me. Daring me to write something meaningful. My wife just came into the office to see if I needed anything. She read the title from over my shoulder and asked, “Don’t you mean the photo you regret NOT taking?”
It’s a valid question. After all, in a world where I at least have my iPhone with me all the time, there is always a camera at hand. It may not always be a perfect shot, but I shouldn’t have too many regrets about photos not taken. “No, the title is right. It’s about the photo I regret taking.”
“This should be interesting,” she said, pulling up a chair. “Tell me about it.”
I barricaded myself in my office this past weekend, hoping to face off against one of my demons. I fought off the usual distractions. No calls or email. No Facebook or Twitter. No YouTube, memes, or cat videos. I was a man on a mission and nothing was going to stop me. If this demon was to be truly be expelled from this dimension, it would take all of my concentration. After all, it’s not every day you admit to yourself that your internet favorites/bookmarks are glaringly and alarmingly out of control. I felt pretty good when I sat down and launched my browser. Admitting you have a problem is the first step, right? If you’re anything like I am, your favorites list is filled with links to articles and websites that grabbed your interest when you really didn’t have the time to fully explore them. With one well-intentioned click of the mouse I’d been adding mountains to my digital clutter on a daily basis. When I clicked on Firefox’s bookmarks icon, I was greeted by literally hundreds of entries– relatively few of which had actually been organized into folders.