11.20.2014

I was mulling over something today. To wit: Do I want to be a camera reviewer or do I want to take photographs?

(written yesterday): Camera reviewer or photographer? I'm not sure you can reasonably do both. Just as I am not sure you can be a successful and dedicated commercial or fine arts photographer and also be a successful workshop instructor. I think each disparate layer impinges on the layer of expertise on either side.

I was mulling something over today. I need to either commit or walk away from a camera maker's promotional campaign. If I stay with the program the camera maker sends me a pro level APS-C camera and some lenses that seem really cool on paper. I get the camera and the lenses for free. But of course there are strings attached. I need to use the camera on a regular basis and share five images a week for the next few months. I would also need to do a little bit of social media sharing which I never seem to be able to pull off sincerely.  Somehow it just doesn't seem worth it to me. I feel like I'm accepting some mink lined handcuffs.

I might love the new camera in the short term but with the gear attention span of a gnat I'm sure the love letter will last longer than the love (as we say in Texas).

I called a friend who has been a successful and well paid photographer for decades. His business didn't even slow down during the depths of the most recent ultra-recession. He's a great source of "no nonsense" advice. I laid out my dilemma for him and he said, "Well, I guess you need to decide if you want to be an online camera reviewer or if you want to take photographs. I don't think you can do both----well." You have to love friends who are totally frank with you.

I went through the same process when I decided not to do more photo workshops. I realized that the time commitment to do a workshop correctly is huge and the payback is disproportionately small. I'd rather hunt for cool assignments or do my own work than divert my attention and give up my scheduling freedom to teach. I've already done my stint teaching and I learned that teaching is the ultimate in procrastination for an artist. At least for me.

My friend also pointed out that while I am no superstar, no big name, famous photographer I do have roster of clients who are international companies and concerns. They pay big dollars for the work I produce. In fact, one good day of corporate shooting would pay for the camera the camera company is dangling in front of me right now. My friend queried, "why would I want to give them a stream of high value creative content, week after week, for what amounts to a small one time payment?"

Deep down I know he's right. On one side of the ledger is----a free camera and a lens or two. Another addition to the cabinets full of stuff I have already. That's pretty much it. On the other side of the ledger is the hassle of learning yet another menu, shepherding yet another type of battery and changer. More time spent choosing stuff for each shoot.  Spending time looking for shooting material to fulfill my obligations and the possible opportunity loss of working with other camera manufacturers and sampling gear that may be a better fit for my shooting style (and personality). It's also a lot of unpaid, extra work.

Of course, all of this made me look back at the work I've done on this blog. I enjoyed it more when I wrote about the direction of the industry or the methods of shooting well. My two favorite blog posts are still "Lonely Hunter, Better Hunt" and the one with the Joseph Conrad quote, "The cave you fear to enter holds the treasure you seek." Not ramblings about EM-5s, various Canons and Nikons or endless variants of kit lenses and other crap.

The other problem with accepting a bargain to get free stuff is that you lose your objectivity/credibility, to some extent, with your blog audience and even with yourself.  No matter how hard you try to remain neutral. You start to question your own motivations when you select a camera or a subject to put in front of the camera. Subconsciously, you start to pander to the strengths of the tool instead of objectively using it in the service of your vision.

I'm knee deep in cameras and lenses and light on time. One more system might just bury the last ounce of resolve that I have to actually go out and shoot something that's meaningful to me. I guess I've made up my mind on this one. Now I just have to write the e-mail.


35 comments:

ODL Designs said...

Interesting reading you think out loud on your blog.

Seems your friend sees quite clearly, of course to counter him... If you shot for pleasure, enjoyed the process and did it in some spare time you both get some mileage for your blog, a little excitement with the new body and technology and the Camera Body itself for your efforts.

It doesnt have to be a chore, although I am sure at times it will feel like it. Cup half full I guess is what I am saying :)

Edward Richards said...

I assume you make money off reviews by monetizing the increased hits you get to your WWW site from all the gear heads. The camera itself is not worth the time unless Leica or Phase One is sending you new equipment to keep.:-) If you do not have a way to monetize the additional hits effectively, it is not a very good deal for the reasons you discuss. Might be the reason that so many camera reviewers are terrible photographers.

John Krumm said...

I think you'd be better off buying or renting the camera because you want to evaluate it for your purposes, then sharing your opinion if you want on this blog, at your leisure.

Andrew Livelsberger said...

I ran into a similar issue with my business and my blogging/forum participation habits. No, I do not have any camera makers wanting me to run their gear through the mill, but it is easy to get caught up into writing about the newest gear.

The big thing is, growing as a photographer has less to do with the gear than the knowledge to use it in a fashion that will give us a predictable result.

While it is not always as glamorous, working toward photographer education will make everyone a better photographer.

Working toward showing the newest gadgets makes everyone lighter in the pocket book if they succumb to the marketing or the GAS. Besides, tons of places out there are reviewing the gear. If you do decide to do it, how are you going to stand out and make your gear reviews better than the pack? Is there even time in the schedule for that?

When I do gear reviews, it is either for the equipment I use or if I had a decision process to make, I'll review the gear and explain why I made the gear decisions I made. A few months back, I needed to decide between Fuji X and m43 and m43 won out - more for reasons that make sense to me and the way I work.

Bottom line is that if you now what you are doing as a photographer, then you'll know the pros and cons of the different camera systems. From there, gear purchases become more of a buy what you need to get the job done and less about want or keeping up with the crowd.

Not telling you anything you don't already know, but sometimes we can't see the forest because we are too close to the trees. It helps to have others help ground us back to a stable position.

Jim Simmons said...

Yes, you've made up your mind. Clearly. Now go forth and click.

Old Gray Roy said...

Kirk;

You have a dedicated and caring audience for your blog. Whatever direction it takes we will follow your thought patterns in the clear and concise language we have become used to.

One day at dusk I watched a hawk searching for food, circling the fields in front of me; until it was too dark to see. It was that event that delineated,for me, the meaning of the saying 'No one goes hungry in captivity'.

Whatever freedom means to you is exactly the direction you should take.

Anonymous said...

Good call. Totally agree with your decision on this one. I always read the reviews...but, the other stuff is the most interesting.

Dave Jenkins said...

If you cut back on the camera reviews in favor of more substantive posts, you are probably going to lose some readers. If you're cool with that, then go for it.

A friend of mine says "If you have a large number of uncommitted people, then all you really have is a large number of uncommitted people." That could be paraphrased to read "If you have a large number of gearheads, then all you really have is a large number of gearheads."

And gearheads are notoriously fickle.

In other news, I'm having fun using my OMD-5s for corporate work. Started a recent project using the Canon 6D and multiple flashes, but while just fooling around with the OMDs, found that the auto white balance and exposure metering are so good that I could actually shoot the job by available light in jpeg mode. (But being cautious, I shot RAW at the same time. Doesn't look like I will need those files, but always good to have them, just in case. . .)

BillH said...

Your decision sounds right to me. I am grateful for the posts you have made about using m43 cameras. That helped me make purchase decisions for my camera and my wife's.

Unknown said...

If your review convinces me to buy it I will do so through your links...

Kepano said...

Good on you, Kirk. There are ample equipment reviewers on the web. I follow your blog to read your thoughts on the industry.

Ken said...

"why would I want to give them a stream of high value creative content, week after week, for what amounts to a small one time payment?" I think that says it all.

Gear reviews, from reviewers who do nothing but review gear, are reviews that I do not value highly. Rather, I value the reviews of people who use the gear and use it at their own volition vs. an endorsement.

For example, Zach Arias made the the choice (before being a Fuji guy) to shoot with Fuji. He reviewed his personal copy of the X100. That help some weight. He still shoots them but points out that he is using m4/3 for video and is honest in his appraisals.

The photo reviewers that jump from brand to brand because of what is shipped to them always make me suspect.

I remember back in the day you shooting with your Olympus E-3 and then you came to m4/3, mainly with Panasonic but have some love for the OM-D line as well. If for some reason, you started espousing the merits of Sony APS-C (ex. the upcoming a7000 I would suspect may be the case), Fuji or Pentax, then I think the credibility is gone to a large extent.

However, if Panasonic or Olympus wanted to offer you the same deal. This would be WORTH considering. It would offer you early access to new gear coming down the pipeline in the system you already shoot. You would utilize your current lens line up, etc.

You clearly are leaning toward NOT taking the deal. Do what you know to be the best thing for yourself and not a third party. I look forward to more posts about the art and craft of photography from you :-)

Unknown said...

I've been in your shoes and completely understand your reasoning. Years ago I might never have believed I would have better things to do with my time than write about and shoot with "free" camera gear. Now I barely have time to use what I own, and the thought of shooting something with unfamiliar gear is unappealing to say the least.

BTW, you forgot to mention one more downside: Internet fanboys and trolls flaming you for praising or criticizing whatever you review, or asking why you didn't invest more unpaid review hours on their behalf, or why you don't know how to conduct a proper lens test, or...

Have you e-mailed your response yet?

Kirk Tuck said...

I guess what I'm really saying here is that I'll only be "reviewing" cameras that I'm really, really interested in owning and shooting. I'm just not cut out to be "on a team."

Kirk Tuck said...

Yes. Deal done. Or undone. Depending on how you look at it...

Anonymous said...

I read your blog mostly for your photo ramblings, not camera reviews

In the long run, there is more money in selling your expertise to clients who value you than going for the brass ring (not so free stuff)

Michael R

Nigel said...

I'll only be "reviewing" cameras that I'm really, really interested in owning and shooting

Amen to that.

I really enjoy both aspects of your blog - but equipment anecdotes are interesting only when they are sincere, which is what makes yours stand out.

Gato said...

Post 5 images a week for "the next few months"? That sounds a lot like work and a long commitment. Even if you really like and enjoy the camera. How many times would you have to pick it up for your walk on a day you'd rather carry something else?

And how many of your readers want to read that much about one camera? At this point I'm skimming or skipping over your Nikon posts, waiting for you to get back to writing about photography.

I suppose if you want the maximum number of clicks and income from the blog camera reviews are the way to go - at least for the short term. But it seems to me you built your core audience writing about making pictures and running a business. Will the blog sustain long term as just another gearhead site?

I think you and your friend are on the right track. Buy the camera if you're really interested, then use it and write about it as much or as little as moves you. When you're done sell it or trade it and move on to the next new toy.

Dave Jenkins said...

When you review cameras you are interested in for your own work, your reviews are far more interesting and helpful than typical reviews.

cfw said...

Make the camera company a counter-offer. That is, you will be happy to accept the new camera and lens to test, but only on your schedule, and with one write up only about your experiences with the camera, say, within one month. They may not accept, but why not?

Richard said...

Kirk, I have been following you for years and your have what appears a good case of GAS (Gear Addiction Syndrome). Here is the post by someone who had it bad and how he cured himself.
http://www.f-stopeight.com/letting-go-of-the-camera-the-action-steps-i-took-to-break-free-from-gear-addiction/
I love reading your columns, but I also aware that a large number of your followers also suffer from GAS and if you stop doing "camera and lens reviews," you might lose some followers. Hang in there. I think it is more interesting to hear about your cool assignments.

Ray said...

The internet is full of camera reviews, but what it often lacks are honest, down to earth, stories on how photographers meet their daily challenges and/or what motivates their photography related activities. Even the most mundane of subjects can be a more enjoyable read than a another dissertation on camera x, y or z.

G Gudmundsson said...

Being a regular reader of your Blog, for a number of years, since the Oly EP3 or there about, this is my take:

You are an honest person or at least an all or nothing guy. You focus very deeply on what interests you. And .... you are independent. That for me is the key.

Selling your soul to an electronics company for an ice cream? You got to be kidding us, your admiring readers ...

You are also a blabbermouth, of course, so that goes a long way explaining this post ... :-)

Anyway, the only thing that I disagree with is your assertion that you're not a star, big name, hot shot photographer ...

Grow up, you are! Hang your insecurities on Henry White! ... (how is the second book coming along?, I'm waiting .... )

Finally, thanks for a good read, as ever...

thequietphotographer said...

I'm not so much interested in gear, I'm more interested in the images and the stories behind them.
Which you are very good in telling us.
Of course behind a good, or better an interesting photo there always is a camera. Your way to review cameras is different from the many other reviews in the net because you "connect" somehow gear and photos, and this make them more interesting .
robert

Anonymous said...

So... apparently there will be no NX1 review coming from the VSL. Oh well, that's fine. ;)

Patrick Dodds said...

Was there an element of also feeling flattered that the company was approaching you, which may have made any decision a bit harder? Or are you beyond that now because of the success of your blog / your business / your work? I'd likely be very flattered because of the stage I'm at with my photography (i.e. a long long way to go) but very likely it is a bit different for someone of your calibre. FWIW, your decision seems like the right one.

Carlo Santin said...

Your friend is right. I used to read Robin Wong, I liked his approach and his style, I thought he took interesting photos. I stopped reading once he became a shill for Olympus, even though he is upfront about it. Leaves a bad taste in my mouth and somehow taints his work and his perspective. I'd hate to see that happen here.

sixblockseast said...

I was looking forward to your NX1 review but totally understand your friend's advice and the subsequent decision. But I do fear for success of the NX line if Samsung can't get an adventourous photographer such as yourself to try out their new offerings.

Godfrey DiGiorgi said...

Go with what makes you feel more powerful.

For a time when I was running my photo business. I had a relationship with a major manufacturer. I thought it would lead to more business. Instead, I just became known as "someone who uses the brand." I felt they didn't live up to the promises they made when we had agreed to work together.

Online camera reviews are a dime a dozen, and they're all just opinions and talk. It's the credibility of the reviewer that matter, and the credibility, for me, comes from a photographer who is using the gear they talk about to achieve satisfying work and complete jobs for clients. It's hard to have time to do both well.

Stick to your principles and do great work.

Anonymous said...

The Fuji Mafia always makes me LOL.

You know who I'm talking about.

They clearly have business relationships with Fuji, but somehow pretend their reviews are unbiased. The hook is they point out one or two flaws which equals complete objectivity in their minds.

And of course, if anyone brings up these glaring conflicts of interest, they turn into crybabies will full-blast fake outrage that the fanboys love to cheer on.

Steven Lawrence said...

I would tell them to give me the camera for a month with no strings attached, no free camera and lens, and at the end of the month send a courier to pick it up. A month is enough time for you to have a moment here and there to try the camera. You can share with us your good impressions or your frustrations with the camera. You let them know also that you may not have time to even open the box. Of course if you are like me that is unlikely.

Jim Tardio said...

There's just too much new stuff constantly coming out. Reviews are pretty meaningless.

It's getting to the point where I'm starting to hate camera equipment.

MO said...

I like to read the ones u like to write to. So please write the post u enjoy😉

Grant said...

Yes Kirk, I agree that your posts that I treasure most are the ones that ask questions about how we operate and how we find our photographs.

And yes to Carlo Santin, I had exactly the same experience of losing my appreciation of Robin Wong's blog once he became an Olympus staffer.

And yet, as you have noted in the past Kirk, your gear reviews are the posts that get the most hits, and get me pretty excited too. But in my case, I can honestly say that I do not read or find any motivation to read your gear reviews that are about the cameras handed to you for the purpose of reviewing. The ones that I love to read are the ones that document your personal journey through the discoveries of excellent equipment that just turns you on.

Joachim Schroeter said...

Kirk, I really liked the "Lonely Hunter, Better Hunt", at the time and when re-reading today. However, I couldn't find "The cave you fear to enter holds the treasure you seek." - would you mind re-posting the link? And thanks for all the valuable thoughts and also fun reads.