4.12.2014

Am I consistent? Here's a blog from 2009. I thought it was fun so I'm reposting.

I guess that's like re-gifting but it's my blog so what the hell.

A Tourist In Your Own Town.

I'm sure you've done this many times. But if you haven't I think this exercise is one of my favorites for unblocking the creative gland and reforming the compositional capacitors that store pizzazz energy for the photo shooting part of your brain.  Here's the basic scenario:  You've spent the work week responding to e-mails, sending out bids for jobs (that keep getting postponed), you go to meetings. Some meetings are good.  You show your portfolio and walk away thinking that people like you and jobs may come your way.  Some meetings are dreadful, like the one with your banker who wants to redefine your business line of credit.  The worst meetings are the ones where horrible clients want to beat you up and get a better price on projects because, "the economy sucks".  And, of course, there are the daily obligations like sitting through your child's six hour track meet, fixing the refrigerator and trying to walk that fine line between saving enough money to go out for a nice anniversary dinner without blowing the regular budget.

So,  if you've survived a week of this you are probably sick of your office or studio, sick of the pressure and sick of thinking about things in general.  You've pretty much hit the wall.  Now is the time to grab your favorite camera, leave your family to their own devices and become a tourist in your own town.

If you live in a town like Austin you are probably aware that the city you know is in constant flux.  I like to take one Sunday afternoon a month just to walk around the downtown area with a camera and see what's new.  Today was a windy day with temperatures in the high 60's to low 70's and lots of bright, Texas sunshine.  We even had a few little high, puffy clouds.  I grabbed a Canon G9, stuffed in a four gig card and drove to the shores of Lady Bird Lake (part of the Colorado River which runs right through the middle of our downtown).  I parked on the south shores and headed for the pedestrian bridge which gives a great view of the downtown skyline. There are a bunch of high rise condo buildings going up and it's fun to photograph them against the stark, blue sky.

When the weather is as perfect as it was today all of Austin seems to show up to run, ride bikes and walk around the hike and bike trail.  Just the way a tourist in his own town likes it.  

I shot everything I saw as if I was seeing it for the first time.  The light fixtures on the bridge. The nearby railroad bridge and the river running underneath, littered with kayaks and canoes. Then I headed into downtown with stops at the power plant to shoot those big gizmos that look like ray guns in sci-fi movies and the anything with cooling fins.

I meandered through downtown shooting the sunlight licking the faces of my favorite buildings until my feet started getting sore and my stomach started grumbling.  I retraced my steps, walked past the car and headed to P.Terry's hamburger place for a single burger on whole wheat, all the way, minus jalapenos.  It was great to just sit in the bright sun on the wooden picnic table benches and slowly savor a chocolate milk shake.  I also photographed the P.Terry's sign for fun.

The little G9 or it's slightly bigger brother the G10 gives me some sort of license to shoot whatever I want.  My friends would laugh if I said I was shy but like everyone in post "9-11" America I am a bit reticent about pointing a big honking camera at strangers.  The G cams are so touristy, so amateur "wannabe" that they almost scream, "Look at me, I'm a perennial art student on a fine art scavenger hunt..."  and nobody but the drug dealers takes those folks seriously.  So, having a little "hand" camera is your license to peer into nooks and crannies, accost strangers,  shoot silly angles and generally lurch around trying to see if you got the shot by chimping the hell out of the LCD. (I know what I said last week about chimping but when you are a tourist you do whatever the hell you like!).

So what does this five hour hike around the monuments of Austin's attempt to be a real cosmopolitan metropolis buy me?  I think it gives me an excuse not to think.  An day of shooting without the pressure of having to turn out perfect work.  License to really experiment with the tools and the toys.  I know I got some exercise as I figured my route to be about five miles in all.  A chance to re-orient my engraved memory of what is downtown. And a good excuse to go off my very strict, vegan diet and splurge with a great burger.  (That last sentence was a joke.  I live for P. Terry's burgers and fries---even if it ends up knocking 1.2 months off my total life expectancy.....).

I returned home with 345 images on the little memory card and a real appreciation for what those little G cameras from Canon can turn out.  In bright light they are remarkable.  I think I'll get a few more.  

Now, here's the rant:  Stop buying big, super megapixel cameras!!!! Here's why: According to Ad Age, Adweek and the Wall Street Journal, the relentless march of advertising to the web has accelerated at a rapid clip during the last year.  Remember when we wondered when digital SLR's would supplant film?  And then it happened overnight?  What happens in trends like the move to digital imaging or the move from traditional print advertising to web and other forms of electronic advertising is the the momentum builds until the market hits a point of capitulation.  (From the latin, essentially meaning to behead the king.....).  Until the king is killed the armies keep on fighting but once the head rolls the armies stop.

We are on the cusp of print advertising capitulating to digital.  In a year or two the remaining traditional magazines will sit on lonely shelves and many of their trusty brethren will have been consigned to webmag status.  As photographers we have to understand that mastery of image files and the ability to summon tons of megapixels into the fray will no longer be effective barriers to entry to our field.  The D3x's and 1DSmk3's will become albatrosses that require learning the intricacies of downsizing.  No one will be looking for 50 megabyte tiff files they'll be looking for good compression and fast loading.  And more and more they will be looking for files that move.  As in video.

So where does that leave us as professional photographers? With the realization that many have already accepted:  We are content providers and it's time to re-orient our understanding of what constitutes content.  I'm nearly confident that I'll be doing my content in the near future with a laptop for writing and image editing and a couple of cameras like the Canon G series compacts for both still and video clip imaging.  All of a sudden there won't  be an endless need to spend on expensive camera upgrades and new models because web bandwidth will be come our new "line screen" and it will limit our need to provide huge files.  In  due time the new standard will be the resolution of HD screens and the schism between television screens and studio monitors will, for all intents and purposes, vanish.

When traditional barriers to entry into professional imaging are smashed we will have to compete and dominate the competition in three important ways:  First, we have to have better ideas. The ideas become our currency.  We'll have to be masters of lighting, at least as far as it serves our purposes in giving us an inimitable style. And third, we will have to infuse our content with intellectual assets that are unique to our own experiences.  Sounds lofty but what the hell does it really mean.  First. Better Ideas.  Instead of surviving as documenters or "picture takers" we will bring concepts and visions to the table and those will be our first line of commercial defense.  If someone asks for a portrait of a plumber it won't be on gray seamless paper with three point lighting but it might be in an underground labyrinth of crossed pipes and mysterious pools of lighting, complete with giant shrews and monsters over which our heroic plumber is victorious.  Second, the light on our plumber will be anything but formulaic.  The pipes themselves will glow.  We'll invent lighting that comes from everywhere and nowhere at the same time.  And third,  we'll use our dreams, our nightmares and our loftiest ideals as the fabric for our creations, making art so poignant that it brings tears to the hardest heart and smiles to the hopeless.  Or something like that.

And in the brave new digital world the walls between writing, filming and photographing will be liquid, pliable and permeable and we'll master all three the way Mr. Spock used to master three dimensional chess on Star Trek.  Because clients now understand that advertising is more like movies than it is printed posters in the town square.  And they are looking for directors and screenwriters, not camera operators and DP's.  

So,  right now is when you need to start working on your first video project.  But not with an eye for technical perfection but with an ear for the melodies of seeing.  And now is when you need to start learning to turn feelings and sensations into words that reach out and move people to try new.  New what?  New everything.

The convergence came but it wasn't the stars that aligned.  It was our creative occupations and it will never be the same again.  The tools are becoming invisible and irrelevant.  The ideas and execution are becoming the linchpins that hold everything together.  And it can all be done for next to nothing.

For those of us over a certain age the biggest hurdle will be recognizing that our previous skill sets mean next to nothing.  That we need to throw away the security blankets of "ultimate camera" and "incredible flash equipment" in order to rethink the entire process.  We need to go back to childhood and see new images and new programs thru the eyes of a child.  Our child. Our most basic and undiluted creative self.

See what a walk around town will do to you?

Making Hay While The Sun Shines (The missing post...).


I thought I would go radically off our usual subject matter and make a blog for the segment of photographers and videographers who are just starting out. Maybe you just graduated from college or maybe you're a little older and you've finally decided to quit your mind numbing corporate job and launch that creative career about which you've always dreamed.

I'd like to make a little suggestion: Save money. Save money all the time. Invest the money in something other than your photography and your really cool selection/collection of gear. Invest every time you get your hands on a check from a client. And do it for the long term.

Having a great year? Save the money. Having a crappy year?  Save the money. There's nothing worse than spending every cent you make in the glory years only to end up with squat when you hit your late 50's and the pool of people who think you are gifted, talented and of the moment shrinks down to a puddle. It's nice to have a bit of cash stashed away so you aren't 100% dependent on Social Security. When you freelance there is no governmental entity standing behind you quietly creating retirement accounts for you. It's all up to you.

But Kirk! What does this all mean? You prattle on incessantly about this camera and that camera and this lens and that lens and we've come to believe that you spend every cent that comes your way on an endless flow of gear.... Where is your moral high ground to stand here and write that we young, incredibly talented, creative people should listen to you preach about saving money?

All true. If you know me only through the blog you probably have concluded that I've never met a camera I don't like and that my family is subsisting on a mean gruel of beans, rice and government surplus grains (which actually sounds kind of healthy). But the reality is that we've learned (mostly the hard way) to save, save, save. Or even better; to invest wisely.

My secret weapon in this whole freelance game has always been my spouse who is good at scrapping the good money right off the top of every client payment. She's the one who sets up Roth IRA's and SEP retirement accounts and 529 college funds and rainy day accounts and all the rest. She smiles and listens to me rationalize just how much my "investment" in, say, a BMW M5 will return to our bottom line (as a flashy company car) as she takes whatever windfall cash put me in the acquisition mode/mood and shoves it into yet another long term (spousal talk for "untouchable") account and reminds me of just how much I like my Honda.

When kids hit college age many people are frankly shocked at two things: How quickly this whole thing sneaks up on you and how expensive everything having to do with college has become. Left up to me I would have tried to save up for the kid's college experience in one or two years as reality hit and panic backed it up. Left to my horrifying skills in delayed gratification my child would have looked forward to two years of community college and a hearty handshake.

Private colleges are now cresting the $60,000 per year mark and that effectively shuts down any sort of fast track savings plan for any of us in the middle of the middle class. But.....if you start saving for your child's college education every month from the day your child is born you'll at least have a fighting chance of making it all work out. My kiddo has spent the last part of this week up at a college in New York, checking out the whole lay of the enterprise. A text an hour ago tells me that he likes it. He's been accepted but he hasn't committed yet. Because my kid takes after his mom and not me he's made really good grades at a really competitive high school so nearly every college that's accepted him has offered to help financially with merit scholarships. Between what he's earned academically and what we've saved we can just make the spread and give him the kind of opportunity of which we've always dreamed.

But we would never have felt confident doing that if we had not also saved every single month of every single year that I've been a freelance photographer in SEP and IRA accounts. What it all comes down to is having one partner in every relationship be smart enough to make hard choices and to enforce them. To choose the retirement account over cable television. (an after tax savings of up to $300 per month if you figure that you are paying for your cable service with after tax dollars and then factor in the deduction you could have taken and the monthly opportunity costs...). That's $3600 a year and, with interest or dividends, at least another $100,000 over twenty years. Maybe more.

The same goes for choosing to buy new cars only when they've given up a proud ten years or more of service. Those cars under consideration? The cheaper the better. The lower operating and insuring costs the better. If you have to have the biggest and the best of everything you're probably not cut out for the freelance life style.

It's a way of thinking that filters into everything. We only vacation to locations where one of us has been hired to do a job or project. We eat out sparingly. We upgrade computers only when it makes financial sense in terms of time expended on projects. No shiny new stuff for us until we start squirming at the deadlines.

Look. The bottom line is that this is not a secure business. It never has been. It's one thing to make it in your twenties and thirties, surviving on a shoestring and sleeping on a girlfriend's couch, and a totally different thing to make it in your 40's and 50's. You'll sleep better if you've got five or ten or fifteen years of life expenses in your accounts and even some more tied up in your home's equity. Anything less is anxiety inflicting.

My advice to all budding creatives? No new toys until you've made your monthly financial contribution to your own future. And even then you should have a solid enough rationalization for buying the gear to get the expense past both your spouse and your CPA....now that's really creative.

We had a brief outage yesterday and a blog was "misplaced."


Some readers tried to log on yesterday evening and were met with a message that they would have to be invited to the blog to read it. The problem has been remedied although I seem to have lost the blog entry I wrote on financial matters for people jumping into creative jobs/careers. We'll see if we can't re-peice that one and put it back up.

It's Saturday. I had a wonderful swim practice with amazing coach, Kathleen Hersey (two time Olympian and amazing butterfly swimmer)  this morning followed by coffee with swimmer friends.

It's sunny and beautiful in Austin today so, after lunch with the family I'm heading out to see what's new. That's the extent of my blog today.

Camera in hand for the afternoon? The under appreciated Panasonic G6 with its new friend, the Sigma 30mm f2.8 dn.

Too much fun!