1.06.2014

The Transparent Commercial Photography Blog.


By the lore of the web I have done everything wrong with this blog. The articles are too long. The articles are too personal and the articles don't have, as their raison d'ĂȘtre, the motive of constantly pushing product and making money. Sure, I put in ads for things at Amazon from time to time but I've long since given up really trying to push sales of my five books. And my attempts at "selling" are abysmal.  Besides, the blueprint for financial success from affiliate advertising calls for three "gushy" articles about brand new gear for every one article about the actual art, or existence within the art of photography. It's sad to think that my core readers might not come here if I did follow the formula but they'd be replaced with legions of boring, linear thinkers like those that argue, ad nauseum, about aperture equivalence or shutter shock

I think photography blogs have more or less run their course. For every blogger who really understands the gear, like Ming Thein or Michael Reichmann,  there are legions of hobbyists who take duffle bags full of crappy images, review every camera that comes down the pike and fall madly in love with each of them. Every single one. Ming and Michael are leveraging their experience while almost everyone else is flexing their marketing muscles.

I am also commercially inept (as a blogger) because I have a soft spot for mutts and eccentrics. I love weird cameras like the Pentax K-01 precisely because it is a very functional camera wrapped in weirdness. My friends throng to the Olympus OMD but I am increasingly intrigued by the Panasonic GH3, a truly eccentric entry in the camera race.

What's all this leading to? Just a New Year's resolution.  To wit: I'll continue to write about whatever interests me, on my own schedule and people are welcome along for the ride. If I want to show images of dusty road barriers and construction fences I probably have some reason for doing so that my therapists and I haven't quite figured out yet. Maybe we never will. 


My promise to whatever readers remain is that I will be not only factually honest but also emotionally honest in both the information and my presentation. I won't be gushing about stuff I'm lukewarm about just to churn sales numbers and I won't present myself as the most famous and profitable photographer in the world when the real truth is that I'm located (both physically and economically) in a second tier, though very popular, market and my clients are representative of that regional mindset and geographic sales territory and not huge, international consumer products markets. Yeah, we do a lot of medical practice, high tech and manufacturing photography. I'm not a fashion photographer I'm a journeyman commercial guy who might be shooting routers one day and former presidents mugging with chubby executives the next. With lots of infrastructure stuff in between. 

I'm not an expert in video but I'm learning it quickly and publicly and reporting my results directly back to the blog. Not because I think the results are glorious but because they represent what I'm doing and getting paid for in the moment. Now. Not theory. Practice.

When I show a portrait I'm not showing off I'm showing what. The portraits aren't necessarily put up for critique or praise as much as they are for an illustration of what I'm thinking right now. How I want to make images right now.

I'm like everyone else out in the real world that I know. I have a mortgage. I put money in a retirement account and a college account. I pay property taxes (extremely high in Texas since we have no income tax....) and I work in a market that's constantly changing and transitioning. The blog is just a hobby. A lark. A way to reach out beyond my geographic constraints and push ideas out to a wider world and, in return, hear back from people for whom my information resonates. 

I may not answer comments instantaneously. There's no staff for that. My kid's track meet takes scheduling precedence over someone's complaint about my use of a technical term or someone's witty riposte. My morning swim practice has priority over the world's need to know how I really feel, deep down, about the latest kit lens for a camera system I don't even own...


Looks like beautifully lit bookends.

Looks like a guitar to me.






Photography has changed. Is changing. Will change. Blogs will reflect that changing landscape. My take on blogging is this: In the beginning bloggers were filling niches. One guy was the Sony/Minolta gear writer while another guy concentrated solely on professional grade Nikon gear. On the other end of the spectrum were people like David DuChemin who concentrated on espousing his vision of, well, his vision. Michael Reichmann created a written museum dedicated to the progression of Medium Format digital while Michael Johnston fought the good fight for prints and the actual output (in prints and books) of real photographers. David Hobby did his thing with little flashes while someone else made a blog composed completely of images of New York street fashion.

And then the blogs started to change. Most of the ones I've mentioned have remained mostly true to their core messaging but they've learned through experience to finesse the financial end. But hot on the heels of their real or imagined success have come legions and legions of mercantile bloggers. Guys who get it on the retail end. Write about the Nikon D4. Paper the site with ads, links and not so subtle pokes in the ribs. Write about the Powershot Primo Deathstar, gush and sell. Link, link, link.

Gone for most of those sites is the time honored ratio of merchandise to actual thought. No more three to one. Not even one to one. Just one, one, one.

And here's the reality: DXO runs the real numbers about sensors. I have no delusion that they are inaccurate, I just think the numbers don't matter that much anymore.  DPReview does a great job testing all the feature sets and letting us know what's working and what's not. Several technical lens review sites run the lenses they are interested in through a series of objective, machine measured tests and they let us know what the numbers tell them. And the legion of mercantile bloggers all run with the same borrowed facts. They glean the buzz from the sites that matter and extrapolate.

Most reviewers don't spend much time with a camera or lens or camera and lens. They can't. The marketers need their samples to be like currency and keep moving through the system. Two weeks. Maybe. And in the two weeks many still have to hold down their day jobs, pick up their kids from school, fight the weather and find time to shoot, process, hold, fondle and get to know a new camera with new menus and new features. Really? Two weeks? I think it takes longer than that just to feel comfortable with Olympus or Sony Nex menus....

So they use the same metrics and since the web has become the Universe's biggest echo chamber the mercantile bloggers all grasp for and "interpret" the same factoids. A camera gets tagged as the resolution hero and nothing can bring it down. Not a super noisy shutter, indifferent-to-lousy focusing and a distinct desert of lenses. Once the camera is collectively anointed it is universally praised in spite of its flaws. And once an eccentric camera is tagged as out of the mainstream it's effectively sidelined by popular consensus. It's all about aggregation at a certain point. The aggravation of aggregation.

I love the reviewers (and I am guilty from time to time) who go on and on about the feel in hand of such and such camera. The location of the buttons. The way the plastic feels under their exquisitely sensitive hands. The weight and balance. As if everyone had the same sized hands (glove makers take note) and the same pre-training from other, previous cameras, as to where buttons and switches "should" be....

In the perfect world we'd figure out what cameras fit our needs and our budgets and we'd go into a store and try out all the ones inside our intersecting Venn Diagram of choices and we'd scroll through the menus and then buy the model that feels right to YOU. Not to Steve or Kirk or Hans. To YOU. And then you'd ignore all the camera reviews until years later when your camera finally breaks and costs too much to repair...

I've talked about the current decline of camera sales in north America. I've talked about the reasons for a decline. I'm now predicting a decline in blog interest. Why? As so many (even gifted) hobbyists and practitioners have moved on to cellphones as their implements of visual expression their needs and tastes have changed. A man or woman happy to snap and share on a cellphone probably isn't doing photography commercially and the only reviews (into the future) that might interest them would be about new phones with new cameras and new map apps and new transactional features.

Just as camera sales have dropped something like 40% I speculate that blogs will experience a similar decline. It will be like musical chairs and the remaining gear buyers will continue to read every blog about the new Turboflex and then, almost randomly, click through to the sale. There will be fewer sales, overall to make. Fewer clicks to share.  And some bloggers will be leaning a little more heavily on the ole day job.  In the end, as bloggers, industry writers!  we'll be, once again, speaking to people who have a deeper interest in the art. Something beyond the gear fantasy. Maybe even about the process and result of picture taking. Wouldn't that be novel?


33 comments:

Unknown said...

If there is only one blog left I hope it's yours.

The only one consistently worth reading.

Anonymous said...

Sad to hear you predict the end of blogs, one of the few pleasures of my life is to read yours. In the sixties we had camera shops run by enthusiasts and i use to go up to Newcombe in Bond Street to look at Leicas. Obviously although they were well beyond my dreams the manager would let me play with one.
One question I would like asked before most go round with their iphones, what has happened to the lens hood. Hope you will go on blogging for years.
It beyond me to alter my site entry but would like to say my name is Alan , cant bear being know as anonymous

Claire said...

And then there are people who see there photoblogs as an illustrated, personal journal that they share with whomever want to come for the ride, dont promote it *whatsoever*, have zero ad featured, and prize editorial freedom over anything else. Yeah, that would be me ;) (I've never made ONE cent from mine, and wouldn't know how to even if I wanted it !). Kirk don't change a thing. I love your blog, your images and your rants, even if I don't always agree with your statements, or find your choices weird, but you've introduced me to more than a good thing (NEX cameras and PEN lenses, if just that) and I'm gratedul for it. Now if you could just complete and release that novel, I could stop pestering you with it !

David Hori said...

Perfect. Thank you.

Dave Jenkins said...

I'll add my voice to the many who will post that you should by all means keep on doing what you're doing, Kirk.

In possibly related news, I note the steep decline of the Digital Wedding Forum web site. I joined in 2003, and for six or seven years it was the place to go for all sorts of discussions, not only about wedding and portrait photography, but photography in general. Then gradually, many of the old stalwart posters whose thoughts and opinions were worth reading began to drop off. A few got out of photography altogether, many dialed down their wedding activity, and perhaps moved into other aspects of professional photography, and some probably no longer felt the need for the camaraderie provided by such a site to people who were making the transition from film to digital and/or learning the business and practice of wedding photography. The DWF is a shadow of its former self.

I think that as long as you keep doing what you're doing your blog will stay healthy for as long as you care to continue it.

Dave Jenkins said...

By the way, really nice photographs of light doing its thing to abstract objects in this post.

John Krumm said...

Sounds good to me Kirk. I read VSL and TOP on a regular basis, that's it. I check Thom's a little less frequently. Luminous landscape when I hear about a good article. And then I listen to podcasts, with the only really good one by Ibarionex, The Candid Frame. I think all the better stuff has a "do my own thing" quality to it.

A recent blog I've fallen for, not photography, is Hyperbole and A Half...
http://hyperboleandahalf.blogspot.com/

She takes around 30 days between each post, but still has a large audience. Of course if you read her latest post you can see why it takes a while. A personal work, and well constructed.

Chad said...

Per your hypothesis that blog interest will wain due to the uptake in cell phone photography - I thought I would never say this but the one feature that might hold hope for traditional photography is social media integration.

Initially I turned my A7's wifi feature into airplane mode until I was on vacation and my wife wanted to post some photos to Instagram. Within a couple minutes, I had the function figured out, downloaded the Sony app for my iPhone and was editing images in VSCO cam and sending to my wife for posting. We are literally talking about a minute or so per post.

This will improve with future upgrades to in camera editing and social media integration per the efforts of companies like Samsung. I think you know something of this Kirk!?





Mike Rosiak said...

"I'll continue to write about whatever interests me, on my own schedule and people are welcome along for the ride."

Just keep on keepin' on - that's why I'll keep on reading.

(And what the other folks said (above), that goes for me too.)

Kirk Tuck said...

I'll keep on writing even if I eventually end up just writing for myself. Oh wait, I already said that. :-)

Unknown said...

Kirk you and your comments are always welcome in my world. I come to your site to experience the photography insight that you willingly share. I always amazed with your images and the fact that I am of retirement age means I know where you are coming from with your rants. :-) Please keep your thoughts coming.

robertchevola said...

I like this blog, as it is. Real life experiences, thoughts, idea, beautiful portraits...it's great, I'll follow it!
robert

Gato said...

This reader thinks you (mostly) get it right. Keep up the good work.

As to blogs going away, seems like every time I look I find more blogs and less to read. You and TOP are about the only ones I check regularly anymore. Seems like most of the rest are just selling workshops or cameras. I won't miss 'em.

Lanthus Clark said...

Hi Kirk!

I have three blogs that I keep alive for the same reason I go out most every day and take photographs. I enjoy doing it!

As long as you enjoy doing this blog and have fun writing then carry on and provide us (your readers) with the content we have come to enjoy so much. As soon as it's a drag then stop.

I hope you carry on, and thanks for having us along on your journey!

Regards

Lanthus Clark

G Gudmundsson said...

Love your blog. The honesty of it. Please keep up the good work.
Best regards
from Iceland.

Anonymous said...

I much prefer to read what photographers think than what technicians think.

This is because I want my hobby to be "photographer", and not "technician".

- Dave H.

Carlo Santin said...

No income tax? I dropped my cup of tea when I read that. I'm sitting at 35% income tax here in Canada, and it's about -20 right now...nice dig at Sony too, well-deserved imo. If it's the same focus system as that in my Nex 6 then it is shameful indeed.

Mike Shwarts said...

What you do "wrong" is what I find right about this blog.

Kirk Tuck said...

Carlo, We Texans pay the typical National income tax. Say 28 to 36%. Then we pay a sales tax of 8.5% on most purchases. And then Austinites pay enormous property taxes on their homes. Mine is just about into five figures.... It's amazing. And the weather was nasty today. Lots of sunshine, sure but it only got up to freezing today. Finally, we don't get to use the metric system....sniff.

Frank Grygier said...

Taxes Yes but the Wildflower Center is free this month. Love the blog!

Chris DellaCorte said...

Kirk:

I've been quietly following your blog for years and connect with your nuanced and professional view of photography. I am no professional but I can recognize one (like you) when I see one. I am sure many other readers will agree that you have been very generous to share your knowledge with us.

As an aside, Since 2004, I've been teaching classes on digital photography on behalf of our local park district and interest in intermediate and advanced level classes has dropped off but casual event photography and now cell phone photography is on the rise. As you've pointed out time and again, this field doesn't sit still.

Please, keep up the great work.

CDC

Anonymous said...

Thank you. This made me think of an old geek's saying:
In theory, there's no difference between theory and practice. In practice, there's no similarity.

Bill Bresler said...

Interesting that I have been ruthlessly editing bookmarks, then you post this. I think your approach is interesting and thought-provoking. Also possibly career-saving, with all of your yammering about video/still and the future. Makes sense to me, although my photog pals don't want to hear it.


Gregg Mack said...

Kirk, I don't comment much anymore, but I still read your blogs on a very regular basis. It's the only one that I still visit on a regular basis. I just had enou

Gregg Mack said...

I love your blog, Kirk! Write whatever the Hell you want to write about.

Paul Perton said...

Hi Kirk. Different approach, but I posted something similar a couple of days ago on Dear Susan: http://dearsusans.wordpress.com/2014/01/03/blogging-is-dead-long-live-blogging/

Anonymous said...

If there is only one blog left, I hope it is yours, TOP, Thom and Neil van Niekerk. If one can make but one request, Kirk, if at all possible, it would be for a few more posts that are a bit like Thom's "teaching points". One learns a lot from your blog on how you see things in a slightly indirect way but something more direct and blunt would be nice too. These wonderful portraits of yours do not fall from the sky so whatever you are willing to share as teaching would be much appreciated.

Lenya

Stephen Lewis said...

You writing about what interests you is precisely why your blog is part of my daily reading. Your openness to change has helped me renew myself as a photographer and writer. Appreciatively, SL

Chris Pattison said...

Keep it coming Kirk. Whatever and whenever.
One great development is happening here - subscription based magazine for landscape photography. UK based, but by no means UK centric.
http://www.onlandscape.co.uk/

Andre said...

Kirk - don't change anything. Do what you love, write about what you love, in your own (and special, beautiful) style. Your honesty -not to mention true professionalism- is what sets your blog apart and what makes it not just worthy of reading, but a true pleasure in a world full of hype, nonsense and deceit. There are only very, very few blogs this good. 'Nuff said.

Roland said...

First of all, please excuse any mistakes in grammar or spelling. English is not my native tongue.

Thanks Kirk for the inspiring articles you wrote. I've been following your blog for some time and you definitely influenced the way I'm practicing my hobby. In the beginning, it was about gear … Consider yourself guilty because I downsized from big white lenses to m4/3rd after reading your posts about the Olypus pens. My wife and my spinal disks want me to thank you … Today there's not much gear left, just a X100s. I'm happy and I try not to read any new camera or lens reviews. I'm concentrating on the things I see and feel and no longer on the stuff I carry. Okay, a camera with a nice portrait lens would be great and perhaps some LEDs. The spirit is willing …

It's the same with the blogs and forums I've been following. When I lost some of my interest in stuff, I lost my interest in most of the blogs. At the moment, I'm following only five photography blogs. It's yours, one about lightroom, one about "fashion street photography in New York" and two German ones. There are some more in I my feed reader but I'm not reading them on a regular basis.

Your blog is about pictures (and video) and not primarily about gear or your ego. And I have the impression that your writing is based on experience and not on hearsay. Your blog is about the things that really interest you and it shows in your writing. It's authentic and not a collection of information that's available everywhere.

I'm not sure if the number of photography blogs is going down. The percentage of the good/interesting ones (as in "interesting for me") is diminishing. Lots of people are looking for their 15 bits of fame. Eating something at the moment? Great, take a picture, put it on the web and et voila … you have a new blog. Is it interesting or inspiring for anybody else? Don't know … at least not for me.

The world of blogs and social media grew more and more diverse over the last years and I have the impression that this development will continue. Perhaps the majority prefers social media sites like Pinterest over blogs because they are easier to maintain. But the amount of background noise on the web is growing steadily. And yes, there is some interesting stuff on Pinterest, on Flickr and on "you name it".

I won't ask you to "please do not change" because we all have to change. It keeps life interesting. But whatever change occurs, please remain authentic.

Happy New year from Munich. Instead of snow we had a sunny day with temperatures in the high 50s.

Roland

Andrew Johnston said...

Dear Kirk,
I follow your blog and very much hope you continue to treat us all to your thoughts and insights. I think there will continue to be a role for those such as yourself who really explore and use equipment before writing about it (in many ways I'm similar), but I agree it's a hobby not a commercial model.

However, I would like to make one practical and hopefully profitable suggestion. I read your blog via the RSS feed and your Amazon links are usually invisible to me. Can I suggest you make sure that the general links are included directly in the standard of your articles, and also maybe consider a "donation" option?

Thanks
Andrew

Greg Crombie said...

Hi Kirk. I just wanted to say that whilst I am a typically wild eyed, fanatical photography enthusiast, I am also fond of a good read, and your blog always provides one. The overall trend regarding photography blogs may well be one of declining popularity, but your musings will continue to have a place for those of us who love a well written article about the love, passion and, indeed, philosophy of our favorite obsession.