By Guest Columnist, Dr. Charlie Martini
When last we saw Kirk he was heading off in the specially equipped racing Honda Element (with lasers, machine guns and ejection seats) vowing to find happiness in the world of photography. We have every hope that, when the prescription drugs, triple strength coffee (you know he goes through a pound of Jamaican Blue Mountain every week day.) and the bottle of Jack Daniels give out he'll be back demanding that I get my scrappy, punter butt out of his chair and let him get back to work. And, of course I will, because of my profound respect for his diligent visual research and my deep personal fear of his temper.
His last foray of this nature was aptly chronicled here: Kirk's Crazy Journey. I can only hope this one is shorter in duration and less fraught with litigation after the fact.
But first, a brief introduction. I have a doctoral degree in astrophysics, I'm into racewalking, as a native Englishman I root for my local football club (that means soccer to you world-ravaging yanks) and love a good cuppa in the morning, with biscuits, if you please. I am masterful with my version of iPhone-o-graphy and am a big, big fan of the wide gamut world of HDR.
Today I'm going to talk about the things that make me positively hopeful and enthusiastic about the practice of photography. My goal? To take the nasty aftertaste of defeatism left by Kirk's last column out of your mouth and put it back where it belongs. And not a moment too soon, eh? What say we get along with the tale.
I've been involved with photography for a long time and here are the things I've seen change for the better:
1. I no longer have to pay for film. Now every frame I shoot is free. Like the wind and water and my spirit. I am free to express who I really am with no economic consequences.
2. I no longer have to pay for processing. Since I live alone, and am too ugly to effectively date, I used to resent all the time I "saved" by having a "lab" process my film. Now I get to do the processing on my own computing machine and it serves to fill up the empty hours of my "bad part" of the day; that part that spans from the time they force us out of the VSL labs at the end of the day til I come dancing back through the air locks and biometric security in the next morning.
3. With the magic of the internet I can share my images of turtles and cat whiskers and blooming flowers and artistically blurry waterfalls, and members of full contact poetry slams, with people around the globe. Often I will receive the honor of a request that a photo of mine be used in a book or magazine or on a website. Even though there's never really a "'budget" to pay me I find the magic and rush of seeing my work spread across the internet as magical as the moment in Titanic when hero and heroine find themselves together on the deck as the ship goes down. It warms my heart so to be integrated into the discussion. And there's tremendous value in that! Just an amazing feeling of well being. I'd like to have a credit but have been reminded many times that space on the web is just so expensive.
4. Cameras have gotten so good that I can take fabulous photos anywhere. At anytime. For any reason. And that makes me feel empowered. Just last night I was sitting across from a couple in a nice restaurant and they were breaking up. It looked so sad. I put down my copy of Flat World and watched keenly. It was pretty quiet but she was crying a bit and it looked so dramatic and real and great that I leaned across the table and shot a bunch of frames to put up on facebook. I know they won't mind. It's part of the new universal ethos of maximum share. And, as we learned in lower school, sharing is always good.
5. The ISO performance of our mighty plastic recording beasts have become so superb I can even take photos of things I can't see. It's an amazing approach to art and one that works from time to time. Kirk has tried to explain how the quality and direction of light are critical to a photograph's success. But we all know what a curmudgeon he is. It's just another one of his time wasting excuses. If I point my camera at the general vicinity of something that seems like it may be exciting and set the autobracket just right I always come away with something I can rescue in Photoshop. If I didn't shoot I'd never know.
6. When I'm not in the lab trying to join up string theory with photographic composition I sometimes get to do free "imaging" work for my bank. I'm so proud that they let me submit photographs for their use as they are one of the biggest bank holding companies in the world. Mucho prestigo! But they're nice and I like to help them out. They appreciate the work I do and they are very nice about explaining the paperwork that helps me give them all my rights to the material. I'd try to charge them but, hey! we're all like family and it just seems like the right thing to do. When Kirk's last paycheck to me bounced they were so sweet about only charging me $80 for my bounced checks. That's what real love buys. You watch my back and I'll wash yours. I'll tell you this! Back in the good ole days this was an opportunity we never had. Especially if we had to pay for film!!!! Now I can say I've had my work used by XXXXX bank. (The contract I offered to sign said I couldn't actually use their name....)
7. Have you ever noticed that just owning a really good camera gets you invited into cool places? Since I'm pretty well known as "uncle Charlie" by everyone on staff, here and at the bank and, oh, at my favorite restaurants (love American style bangers and mash). I'm often asked to attend marvelous weddings and bar mitzvahs and office parties. (I'll never forget that really swell Christmas party in the Denny's "private" room. Those Walmart assistant managers can parteeeeee.) Funny thing is they always ask me to bring along my camera, you know, "just in case". But, would I be out on a Saturday night without it? Would I? Not bloody likely. To stay on the "A" list I've gotten into the habit of sending everyone a DVD with all the photos on it. Sharing brings me closer my fellow man and it spreads something we at VSL call, name recognition. When a real job shows up I'm sure they'll remember me!
8. Potential riches. Kirk has harped long enough on the his old song about the deflating value of photography but I've heard there's still a path to riches via a little bit of magic they call, "stock photography." It was a bit expensive to get started in since the stock photo companies wouldn't accept images from any of the cameras I had at the time but twelve thousand dollars later I was ready to get rich. I had a new, top of the line, approved camera and a couple of really great lenses. Now, all I have to do is to shoot whatever I want, keyword it, process it and upload it to the stock photography company's website. They have a skyscraper filled with crack editors who will help winnow down my submissions to a tight group of "super-winners." With a bit of elbow grease I've been told we'll be able to make at least a dollar for every image we sell, and possibly thousands of dollars. Honest, it's happened before!!! Logically, the stock company will take their 70% (it's only fair for all the hard work they do) but that still leaves me with 30%. I don't need my calculator to tell me that if all 6 billion people in the world pull out their gold credit cards and buy just one of my pictures just one time that's a whopping one point eight billion dollars!!!!!!! And don't worry, I am upping my chances at unimaginable wealth by uploading dozens and dozens of images at a time. If Kirk would turn off his "rainy day rants" and get to work he could potentially make billions as well. You can drag an old horse to water but you can't always resuscitate him. At least that's what my mum used to say. Tuck just doesn't seem to get the new economy. It's not about the big deal anymore. It's about hundreds of thousands of very, very, very tiny deals all coming together nicely.
9. Unlimited inspiration. Did you ever have one of those days when you left the house and you just didn't have any idea what to shoot? Or why you even brought your camera with you? Doesn't happen to me anymore because I use the Inspiration Image Juggler on Flickr and the Random Greatness button on 500px to see what everyone around the world is shooting, right now. And then I go out and try to shoot exactly the same thing. Most guys on the sites even provide equipment lists to help me and instructions on how they shot. Takes a lot of the guesswork out of the process. And it gives you a much greater chance of artistic success. We certainly never had this in the good old days.
10. Never before, in the history of all photography and even art, have we had so many experts on the web tell us exactly how to do really good and unique photography. The one thing they all share is a remarkable optimism. They exude hearty confidence. They are indeed, the confidence men. They want to help us make photography fun. And part of the fun of photography is buying stuff. And so they teach us stuff we really need to know to be successful in being happy and we reciprocate by spending thousands of dollars a year on really cool gear that they talk about on their websites. It's amazing how much you can learn absolutely free. Just last week I learned that I really couldn't do effective portraits without this 45mm 1.8 lens from Olympus three of the guys were blogging about. The hard part was deciding whose link to click through. Never had this kind of "free" education before. And no strings attached. The real winner? Me. Now I've got the tools that will make my portraits sing like Madonna. (She's Brit now, you know?)
11. HDR. Oh my God!!! Have you seen this kind of photography? It makes every photograph look like a really, really cool painting. Seriously! Technicolor on steroids. Oh yeah, there's a learning curve but that's beautifully handled by that free education aspect of the new web 3.0. Essentially you find just about anything that might make a decent photograph and then you shoot three or more exposures. One for the shadows. One for the highlight. And one for the mid-tones. The more different exposures you shoot the more information you have to play with when you get back to your computer. But it's worth it because just about every photo will end up with the same ultra cool look. Almost like magic. (I have to make a wee confession here. I always wanted to be a painter but I didn't have the time or stick-to-it-tiveness to learn exactly how to do painting. Probably my ADHD... but now all my work can look like paintings and I've even used these incredible tools called "actions" to make the whole process almost automatic.) When I show the images to my friends they are always amazed. But I can walk them through the process pretty quickly and in no time they're knocking out these colorful masterpieces by the bucketload. What's not to like about that?
12. Really, really great workshops. Thousands and thousands of them. (If Kirk weren't so glum and bitchy and anti-social he could have a whole, new career in the new part of heaven I call workshops. That would take the gray air out of his negativity balloon!!!) In the old days there were one or two groups that held workshops and they were very prissy. They had the gumption to demand portfolios in order to get into a class. Hello!!!!!! I'd like to have a portfolio. Isn't that why I want to take your class??? But now there are thousands and thousands of them and they're on every topic you can imagine. And the amazing thing is that they're all taught by super busy, super hard working pros who have so many clients it's amazing they can even squeeze a random weekend in. I've taken 42 in the last five years and at least half of those were about how to use my "porty" flash. I've learned a remarkable amount. One teacher was so helpful in showing me what the manual for my camera really said. Another helped me find a method that would trigger my flash when I take it off the camera!!!! Really. I can't make this stuff up. Usually we see a slide show of the teacher's work and I must admit I've spent some time in the shadows of giants.
And all the top teachers seem to know each other and recommend each others workshops and that makes me feel more comfortable, taking advice from a trusted source. Pre-web it was just a shot in the dark. If I ever take the step to "Pro" I'll be ready. One light. Off Camera. HDR. And now maybe even LED. What more could any client want? And it's not so far fetched. There's a big ad agency in our town and I've actually toyed with the idea of putting together my best work and showing it to the person they call the "art buyer." I'm trying to narrow down my portfolio so I'm only showing my best work (I learned that in a workshop). So far I have vacation golf photos from Maui, animals shot with DOF at the local zoo (workshop), a few different photos of plates of food I ordered at restaurants (when I thought the plates looked good), and lots of street photography of people's backs. If I can interleave some waterfalls and some dramatic HDR sunsets and some shots of my neighbor's kid playing in the hose I'll have a pretty cool and well rounded selection of images. And I know most of them are good because we had critiques at a number of the workshops. It's like a stamp of approval.
In closing I have to say that the promise of the internet and of photography is that the markets have never been bigger or wider or more open. I can sell my images anywhere in the world and feel safe that the U.S. Copyright laws are there to protect my work at all times. If I can assemble my 1,000 true believers and they can feel good about my work then I can throw it all out onto the market with a healthy dosage of abundance energy and it will come, unerringly, back to me a million fold. And that's the real promise of the new economy. You just have to have a little faith. And, as I'm finding out, a lot of patience. But, it will happen.
Whether you are a pro, an aspiring pro, or an enthusiastic enthusiast there's never, ever been a better time to be a photographer. New markets are opening up everywhere. The education process is practically free and the barriers to getting in, either as an insider enthusiast or a new pro, are all gone. Let's face it: Anyone can do this and everyone needs photography. Saturated marketplace? That's what the glum experts said about gold ten years ago. Who's laughing now?
Thanks for reading. Hopefully Tuck's not working on a big doco and will be back to take the reins this Friday, coming. Cheerio. By the way, he's not really as glum as they make him out in the comments section and he does have a life outside of his blog. Oh well. My task is done and Bob's your uncle.