2017 – The Year I Stopped Caring

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These past few years, I have written a year end wrap up and new year preview.  I laid out plans for success for Generator Photography.  Because if you fail to plan, you’re planning to fail.  It was all about setting out goals to strive for. Solid, verifiable goals.  As you know, dreams can inspire you, but goals can change your life. Goals are all about action. Goals turn dreams into reality.

Yadda, yadda, yadda.

2017 is the year I stopped caring.  By focusing on these solid, verifiable goals, I have tried to turn this, my photography, into something I believe it was never meant to be.  I came to see “success” strictly in terms of money, marketing and financial sustainability.  Who doesn’t want to earn a living doing what they love?  It’s an enticing goal, and full of allure.  But it’s not me.

I’ve talked before about how my mother wanted me to become a CPA.  I think I would have been a great CPA.  I would have had a big income, a well funded retirement plan, profitable business connections, and I’m pretty sure I would have hated my life.

2017 is the year I stopped caring about trying to make this a career.  Please understand, I’m not giving up trying to get paid gigs.  Quite the opposite, the more I get into off-camera lighting and portrait photography, and as I get better at these marketable skills, I think I have a real chance of earning income.  Just, not enough income.  That used to bother me.  I wasn’t working hard enough, hustling enough, marketing myself enough.  Don’t let your dreams be dreams.  Just do it!

Pass.  I’m doing this for me. To fulfill my creative goals, not pay off my financial obligations. I am following my vision, and I’ve decided that that is enough.  I’d tired of looking at myself as failing every goal.  This year, I’ve stopped caring.

2017 is also the year I stopped caring about constantly generating content.  I have spent many years shooting for the sake of shooting.  Which was great, by the way, not a mistake at all.  This is how you get good, you practice all the time, you work at it daily.  But some of that wasn’t just practice.  I put pressure on myself to develop my brand, to constantly generate content, and to have my sites never be stale.  I’m done with this.  If I go a few days without posting a photo, maybe Generator Photography won’t come grinding to a halt.  We’ll have to wait and see.

2017 is the year I stopped caring about camera gear.  My desire to get a really good zoom lens to replace my prime lenses tell you that I have stopped caring about bleeding edge sharpness and moved to caring more about what the picture says, rather than how sharp it looks.  I’ve come to believe I need to be able to capture a moment with passion and emotion, rather than with only dry, sterile technical skill.

Full confession, I may have mislead you on that last point.  I’m still interested in gear, but it’s all about lighting gear these days.  I’ve traded reading lens reviews to brushing up on off-camera lighting techniques.  I’m still buying year, but it’s new Yongnuo flashes and triggers, 48″ Octoboxes and reflectors.  And stands.  So many stands.  I still don’t have enough stands.

In short, 2017 is the year I stopped caring about where I think I should go.  And started to simply enjoy the journey.

Get in, hang on, it’s going to be a great ride.

Who’s with me?

365 Days of Instagram

Generator Photography is finally on Instagram.

https://www.instagram.com/generatorphotography

It’s where all the popular kids are.  And, if I’m honest, that is part of the reason I wasn’t on it.  I’m that kid who likes to go to parties, but also likes to stand in a corner alone and feed my superiority complex by smugly judging everyone else.  Yes, I’m that kid.

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By now Instagram is THE conduit for sharing your work, your life, your art.  Which is a shame, because as a photographer, I actually think that flickr is a better platform over Instagram.  Here are some things flickr has that Instagram doesn’t*:

  • Albums & collections: very easy to create and organize, makes finding things later on much nicer, just wish more people used collections though.
  • Tagging: Works very much like Lightroom and can even pull LR tags automatically. The ability to search my own tags and narrow down by tags, flickr even adds its own ones and you can search by predominant color in a photo. I can go to a list of all my tags when trying to find all photos from a particular camera, film, place etc. very useful.
  • EXIF: If photo has exif data it’s clearly displayed on the page and i can click through for extensive exif data as well. If a photo has GPS data in it there is a world map there and you can quickly drill down to where it was taken.
  • Privacy settings are varied enough and useful, public/private/friends/family, change who is allowed to comment or add tags.
  • Select what kind of copyright (or lack thereof) i want on photos, flickr has 9 different options to quickly select from.
  • Stats page for each photo with graphs and even where the viewers came from, there is also a summary stats page where i can see various things about all my photos. The Recent Activity page as well, lets me see if anyone has commented or favorited any photos so i can quickly respond.
  • Photos just look better on flickr.  There, I said it.

But while flickr is not in the death spiral it once was, sadly it is highly unlikely it will ever reach the level of popularity that Instagram has.

But, then again, Instagram isn’t just for photographers.  It’s for celebrities, and people who want to photograph their lunch, and their puppies, and their kids, the books they are reading, and sunsets. And a whole lot of other stuff.  It’s actually pretty cool, and I’m sorry my patronizing attitude stopped me from jumping in.

The question was how, exactly, should I jump into the pool?  I have many years of work behind me.  Do I post a large chunk of it all at once?  Only the best shots?  Or just make a clean break with the past and only post new work?  It was a puzzle.

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The answer I came up with was 365 Days of Instagram.  What I will be doing is posting one photo on Instagram every day for 2017.  This will be in addition to the regular work I will be posting throughout the year.

365 Days of Instagram will accomplish two things.  First, it will mean I have fresh content every day. On social media, it seems like you are only as relevant as your last tweet.  Or your last post.  Usually, because of my 9-5 weekday work schedule, I can often go long periods without posting any new pictures. By guaranteeing one post every day, I know that my Instagram page will not be quickly forgotten and end up covered by dusty, internet cobwebs.

Second, even though this turns every day into Throwback Thursday, it will give me a chance to really go through my back catalogue and post stuff even regular, faithful followers of Generator Photography haven’t seen for a while.  And, after one year, all will have a wonderful, complete picture of my work and my art.

I couldn’t be more excited about this upcoming year.

Soon, I will post my thoughts about 2016 (sort of sucked…but not?), and what’s coming up for 2017.

Stay tuned, friends, good stuff is coming.

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*This list is directly quoted from a Reddit thread in /r/photography, “Thought’s on Flickr’s Future?”  I would have given the author due credit, but they have since deleted their account.

My Week With The Sigma 24-105mm f/4 Art Lens

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A few weeks ago I rented a Sigma 24-105mm f/4 DG OS HSM Art Lens.

I have decided this is going to be my next lens purchase. Unfortunately, I can’t afford to get one now, but I can afford to rent it for one week to see if it’s going to be the right choice.

If you read my blog, or have been following my photography for any time, you know I am a prime lens evangelist. For many years I have only owned prime lenses, and I love most everything about them. However, the one large downside is the inconvenience of changing lenses all the time. Which is why I want my next lens to be a zoom. I guess I’m getting lazy.

Why this specific lens?  It came down to two different considerations; the type of zoom lens I need, and the price.

There is a lot of variety in the zoom lens market; by the type of zoom, and by manufacturer. There are wide zooms, standard zooms, super telephoto zooms…it gets complicated. You have to know what you want to shoot, and get the appropriate zoom.  All I want is a walk-around zoom.  I’m not selling my prime lenses, at least not all of them.  For my portrait work I’m definitely keeping the 50mm f/1.4 and the 85mm f/1.8.  But, for the rest of the photography that I do, specifically the urban and suburban landscape stuff (that I need to shoot more of), I honestly don’t need everything bleeding-edge sharp.  Flexibility is much more important.

The most common standard zoom, especially if you are going to shoot portraits, weddings, and other commercial photography, is the 24-70mm.  Many also use a 70-200mm lens, but I don’t need a 70-200mm, because I don’t normally need that length of telephoto.

Now comes the price.  Nikon’s top of the line Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 24-70mm f/2.8E ED VR Lens runs about $2,400.00.  That’s no bueno for a budget minded photographer such as myself. Even the next tier Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 24-70mm f/2.8G lens, which is still a great lens, runs around $1,700.00.    Yes, there is always the used market to consider, but I would much rather get my main lens new and under a warranty.  Yes, there are 3rd party offering to consider, but even the Tamron runs $1,300, and the others are hit and miss in terms of quality.

Nikon’s normal “kit” lens for their full frame camera is a 24-120mm, which is a very good lens, don’t get me wrong.  And, as I see there is a refurbished lens currently being offered at a very reasonable price, all this might be for naught, and I might just get that lens instead.

The reality is that, for $900.00, the Sigma might be the best bang for your buck in lenses right now.  Sigma has been exceeding expectations and hitting home runs with their Art lens line.  And, at 24-105mm, I like the extra length it gives me over a standard 24-70mm.

When the lens arrived from LensRentals, the first thing that struck me was the size.  Not overly huge, but being used to smaller prime lenses I noticed the weight immediately.  I used to make fun of people switching to Sony A7s because they didn’t want the weight and bulk of carrying around a heavy DSLR.  Bro, do you even lift? Now I know what those people were talking about, they were all using zoom lenses instead of prime.

The first test I wanted to do was see how sharp the lens is.

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Straight out of the camera, with only some exposure and color balance tweeking in Lightroom. These look fine.  Very good, actually.  Better than I was expecting.

Over the week I was able to do my normal car spotting,

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got in some urban landscape work,

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headed out to the desert and got some killer off-road pics,

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and even did a paying gig as a family photographer!

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All in all, the Sigma 24-105 Art lens performed brilliantly.  It did everything I asked of it, and did it extremely well.

Do I have some complaints?  Sure, the vignetting can get a bit strong at times, and while the center is plenty sharp, it can get a bit squishy on the edges.  But, those are mostly things pixel-peeping photogs like myself would notice.  The weight slowly became a factor after carrying it around for a few hours, but that’s just me being a wuss. In the real world, this is truly a magnificent all around lens.

I cannot wait to get it for real.

At the top I said that I want a zoom because I’m getting lazy.  That’s actually not true.  I want a zoom because my priorities are changing.  For a long time now my concerns have been mainly technical; getting images sharp, learning everything I can about Photoshop techniques and off camera lighting. I can honestly say that, while I’m not on a professional level with any of these, I’m comfortable enough in my abilities that I’ve become more interested in pursuing my vision and expression as an artist, and also expanding my brand as a paid photographer.  This one lens will be a huge part in making any and all of that happen.

On Critique

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You will never grow as an artist if all people do is kiss your ass.

I have a Bachelors Degree in Art.  I also have an Associates of Arts Degree.  I have spent a lot of my life doing academic study of art and artistic technique.  I have no issues with people who are self-taught, many self-taught artists are wonderful, successful, and immensely talented.  I made a decision to pursue formal education and, as I’ve written about before, it is a decision I constantly struggle with.

A large part of that education was critique; critique of other people’s work, and people critiquing my own work.  With base level art classes, time in class is often allocated as work time.  The instructor wants to see what you are doing and how you are doing it.  Being able to provide real time guidance in technique and vision are important in this stage.  Later, in upper level classes, class time is mostly devoted to critique.  You are expected to do your coursework, your art, outside of class.  Often times you would have 6 hour classes of nothing but critique.

I loved these classes.

It always felt like I was defending my children, my creations. And defending them to the death, because the knives certainly came out.  And I gave as well as I got.  I have no qualms about confronting a piss poor artist who thinks they are all that and letting them know their pathetically low effort, cliché riddled painting was the cultural equivalent of a dumpster fire.  This wasn’t posh know-nothings playing at polite, high-brow exposition, this was scrappy, hungry, highly visionary, adrenaline-fueled artists who were passionate believers in their craft.

Constant critique honed your skills, and your ideas, in the way only hand to hand combat can.  It forced you to solidify the meaning behind your art.  Usually you couldn’t get away with shallow, fluffy, nebulous sentiment when explaining why you created what you did.  “I just went with my feelings.”  Nothing has a more hollow ring to my ears than that sentence.

Good critique is difficult to find. Especially these days. Certainly social media is partly to blame.  We don’t put up our art to get shot down.  We strive to amass “followers”.  My advice to new photographers is never try to get “followers”, try to get better.  Find someplace where you can get honest feedback about your work.  There are still dark corners of the interwebs where knowledgeable people share their advice in a helpful manner.  Seek them out.  Or, better yet, print out your work and get involved in your local, real world community of artists.

Most importantly, however, is know that you learn to receive critique by giving critique.  It sounds strange, but critique makes more sense the more you give it out.

Here’s some quick tips about giving proper critique.

Be clear: It’s so easy to talk just to hear yourself speak, especially in the arts.  Artists almost always get tripped up by drowning their critique in multi-syllabic, fancy sounding words. The more obtuse the word, the better they think they sound. Artists love to pretend like they know what they are talking about, even when they don’t. Especially when they don’t.

I squandered most of my academic career slogging through publications like ARTForum magazine, where they had long (My God, so long) reviews of exhibits or 10,000 word essays on meaningless, useless contemporary art theory.  I imagine that most of the articles could have been hacked into much smaller, more digestible pieces.  I’m not saying always avoid being Dostoyevsky and only be Hemingway, but often the less you say, the clearer the message.

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I recently got invited to shoot this monster out in the desert, a 2017 Ford Mustang RTR. I am extremely proud of how this set came out, but I still shopped it around to a few of my trusty online critique groups for their reaction.  One person in particular managed to write the longest, most rambling nonsensical critique I have read in a very long time.  I actually had to revert to diagramming some of their sentences just to decipher what they hell they were saying.  Don’t be this person.

Be clear, be concise. Don’t be afraid to use small, proper and powerful words.

Be specific:  It might be fun to tell someone, “Your photograph sucks.”  And, who knows, maybe it does.  And sometimes people need to get knocked down off their high horse by hearing such a comment.  But it never helps people improve.  Saying “I don’t think putting your subject in the center of the frame works for this photo” is much more helpful than “Your composition is boring.”  Saying “You should avoid over smoothing a model’s skin” is much more helpful than saying “Your model’s skin looks weird.”

Be objective:  Or, more specifically, don’t try to turn someone else’s artwork into your artwork.  If someone said that their artwork is about the evils of racism, but as the viewer you cannot interpret any meaning or connection to racism in the work, the you can say that the work had failed to meet its objective.  However, if someone said that their artwork is about the evils of racism, and you said that was boring and clichéd and it should have been about the evils of postmodernism in social media, then you haven’t critiqued the work at all, you’ve simply projected what you would have made onto what someone else had made.  Don’t make this mistake.  “I would have have desaturated the red.”  Is that because it would improve the artwork, or would you have desatured the red just because it’s your style?  Be very careful not to project your own tastes and preferences on other people’s work.

Be nice: There are times when harsh critique is called for.  However, for everything else, there’s manners.  And never resort to personal attacks.  You are trying to help someone, act accordingly.  Especially if they are genuinely interested in getting better.  Which we all should be interested in.

A Clean Style

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I recently bought a pack of VSCO filters. I have yet to use any of them.

For those who don’t know, VSCO are post-processing filters that replicate a selection of the best and most popular film photography from back in the day. It supposedly gives modern digital photography a vintage film look.

Normally I like this look. Filters like VSCO and others get flack from some photographers because they believe it is a lazy post-processing technique, or that people are simply using these filters to copy popular Instagram or Tumblr looks without developing their own style.

From what I understand, most good photographers can uses these preset filters as a starting point only, and then alter and adjust as needed until they have something that matches their own style, or the needs of a client.  VSCO is just another tool in the toolbox.

I take back my original statement: I have used one VSCO filters a total of four times.  Here is one example.

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I started with a filter that simulated old Tri-X black and white film, and tweeked until I got something I liked.

But, for some reason, I just can’t bring myself to do that with other photographs, especially photographs of people.

I like a simple style. I have tried to cultivate a simple style.  I have worked very hard to never rely on fancy edits or post-processing trickery.  From searching for basic geometric shapes that exist in suburbia air-conditionerlight-pole-shadowsuburban-mailbox

to trying to get the cleanest, straightforward shots of cars and other cool stuff, I like to think of my style as bare bones, letting the objects and colors speak for themselves.

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Sometimes I watch cooking shows.  I don’t cook, but my wife does, which means when she is watching cooking shows, I’m watching cooking shows.  While never actually learning how to cook, I have learned one thing from watching cooking shows; when you start with really great ingredients, a good cut of beef or fresh vegetables, you don’t need to do a lot to them to make a great meal.  If the ingredients are delicious to start with, you’re most of the way there.  In fact, pouring heavy sauces or using too many spices over good ingredients can actually serve to wreck a decent meal.

This is how I approach my photography.  I want to start off with something great in camera.

This doesn’t mean I don’t do post-processing work.  It means I work to make sure my post-processing work isn’t noticed.  Sharpening, gradations, dodging & burning, cloning, curves adjustments, these are all tools in my toolbox that help me create the best final image possible.  But my goal is never to draw attention to these edits. My goal is to make sure you, the viewer, never notice them.  I can do several dozens of tweeks, adjustments and changes to a final image, hundreds even, and my hope is that you’ll never be the wiser.

I like a clean style.

On Marketable Skills, Arts Education, And Why Photography Is Important

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Throughout my time training and being on the road as a truck driver, I tried to keep a blog, Turn All The Wheels.

As I transition to a new job, I am going to try to keep that one going, just as a more personal journal of what is going on in my life.  That said, I have just finished an entry that is very relevant for this photography blog.  If you want to read this post in situ, the link is here. It could be useful to read this within that context, but I feel this mostly can be a stand alone essay.  It starts here:

“In addition to all the reasons I gave in my last post about coming off the road, there are two more reasons that I didn’t mention. One is rooted in my personal life, and I’m not going to share that here. But the other is very public, and I wanted to talk about that for just a moment.

I realized how important my photography is to me. And it was killing me that I was not accomplishing as much as I would have liked while on the road.

A few people have asked me about CDL school; how did I feel about spending money on a school to only be in the job for five months? I tell them that I spent over 5 years getting a Bachelors Degree in Art that I’ve never really done anything with, so 1 month of training for 5 months of employment is the best ROI I’ve ever gotten from education.

I have two competing views regarding my choice to major in Art. On the one hand, yes, it was a bad decision. Obviously. My mother was a CPA and she always said that I should have been one as well. Said I would have been good at it. And I probably would have been. But, more importantly, it would have given me a marketable skill. My mother could say that she was an Accountant. I know people who identify themselves as a Nurse, or a Teacher, or a Welder, or even a Truck Driver. Being able to say, “This, this is what I do” is a solid place to be, especially when looking for a job. Which is what I’m doing right now. Again.

In times like these, yes, I regret making that decision.

However, then I think about this in other ways. I think about how maybe, just maybe, the purpose of education should not be solely for monetary gain. We should strive to educate ourselves not only to be good employees, but to be better people. The prevailing attitude that education should serve a utilitarian function that only makes kids into wage earners rather than well-rounded adults is extremely dangerous. Knowledge of the arts, of music and dance and theater and literature should not be looked at as folly that will never enrich our bank accounts, but as fundamental to our growth as better citizens within our society.

The fact that I can appreciate a painting by Caravaggio or Picasso has done zero for me financially over the years. But when I look at Caravaggio’s The Calling Of Saint Matthew, I see a dramatic struggle between light and dark, between being caught up in your mundane duties and being made aware that I am called, we are all being called, to something greater than just sitting inside at a desk counting money all our lives. Or, when I look at Picasso’s Guernica, I see the horror of war made with a visceral impact that simple realism could never match. And it makes me want to fight harder than ever to end violence and war, at least as much as possible, in this world.

Art, real art, great art, tears at our chest, touches our heart, confounds our brain, makes us sympathize with the lonely and desire to love with the lovers. Art celebrates beauty, and challenges everything. This all sounds pretentious and overblown, I get that. It doesn’t stop me believing that majoring in art, while never enriching my wallet, made me a better person.

I’ll never say my art is equal to Caravaggio or Picasso. Hell, I doubt I’m even a good a photographer as Ken Rockwell. But, being creative is a part of me, and has been from my earliest memories. And photography has become a true passion, one that I’m determined to pursue.

You’re probably saying, “Yeah, you said that about truck driving, too.” Fair point. Here’s my response.

I’ve told this story before, that after my mother past away in 2011, we divided up her belongings into two separate, distinct categories. There was the stuff, mostly junk, that we ended up either giving away or throwing away. And photographs. When my dad passed away in 2014, we repeated that process. My wife’s father passed away this year. Most of what he owned has been sold off or thrown away. What did my wife save, carefully pack and bring back home with her? Photographs. Stacks of photographs.

When I go, my memories of sunsets, and movies, and laughs with friends and family will be gone too. But, hopefully, my photographs will continue to be around. Hopefully someone will collect my work, the way Carole and I have collected our families photographs. And maybe, just maybe, my art will inspire others in ways similar to how other artists inspired me.”

 

 

 

And we have restarted. Again.

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I just wanted to give every one a quick heads up, Generator Photography is back up and running after a long, hard Spring and Summer.

If you want to read about my many adventures throughout most of 2016, my other blog can be found here.

Turn All The Wheels

Since the beginning of September, I’ve been to a couple of really great car shows, and managed to get some of the cobwebs blown out.  It has been a long time coming.  As always, check my flickr page for my latest work.

I have some plans for the immediate future, I’ll write about those soon.  I also have some plans for 2017, I’ll write about those later.

Again, this is just the blog equivalent of an old friend quickly texting you that they’re back in town after a long holiday and they just want to hang out for a bit.  Catch up.

Who wants to go get some coffee?