Putting together personal projects for a number of different reasons.

I don't care if you are one of my keen competitors, a retired CEO who likes to take pictures or a tortured artist whose camera is the nexus of his identity. I think you need to have a personal project through which to better enjoy your personal art of photography. Let me tell you why from a couple different perspectives.

From a personal perspective, as a commercial photographer, one needs some sort of device or construction as an antidote to the cycle of collaborating with (compromising for) your clients in the creation of marketing images that are aimed at wide audiences and which have, as their sole intention, the focus on selling a product, a service or a concept. I have a number of personal projects that I pursue when I am not working or marketing to get more work. One personal project is the creation and constant gardening of this blog. To date I've published about 2200 posts. Some are good and some are mediocre and some (I am truly sorry) are just bad. But as a personal project the blog does two important things for me: 1. It keeps me practicing and fine tuning my writing (along with a writing feedback chain of my readers...). And, 2. It keeps me out shooting photographs all the time. Which is a good thing since I think fluency comes with quantity of effort. 

The ongoing, personal project of making the blog gives me a reason to try new techniques and to try new subject matter. It cures the pervasive laziness of existence by pushing me to go out and make images that either bolster some positive point I am making about gear or to even push out a bit or social or aesthetic commentary. In about 6,800 more blog posts I should just about have enough practice so I'll be able to turn out one perfect post. A post with a breathtaking and life changing photograph coupled with writing the would make Nabokov and Hemmingway both cry with jealously, if they were still around to experience this 10,000th blog...

I have other personal projects that get my attention as well. One is making black and white portraits of friends and then making beautiful prints. Another is my seemingly endless documentation of two seemingly constant changing city downtowns. One in Austin and the other in my home town of San Antonio. These projects all provide a balance and a happy extension of the work that pays the bills. 

Recently I've been pondering a project in the area of motion pictures. I'm toying with making a series of scripted interviews of fictitious characters who can say outrageous things and tell outrageous stories. It's nice way to lower myself slowly into the water of video. (I am normally the sort who jumps in quickly to get the immersion part of the entry over as quickly as possible and to save myself the discomfort of the slow torture of sliding in, inch by inch). In a longer time frame I would actually like to make a movie out of the Novel: The Lisbon Portolio.  Any of these projects provides practice writing scripts and figure out how to solve all of the technical and aesthetic problems of video so I can provide better services to my clients and in return learn even more stuff to apply to my projects.

To an ardent hobbyist the personal project, executed with discipline, is the best way to move both the skills sets and the rigor of good seeing forward. Not only that but a personal project with deadlines and a goal at the end (A show? A book?) keeps providing a sense of direction and even meaning to their practice. Projects that require one to ask for collaborations and shared work build networks of people who can help each other succeed with their good work. You might need someone to help by holding a light in a kinetic and complex shooting situation. That person might need someone to sit for a narrative portrait. Everyone might need a volunteer crew for their video project and everyone learns more by being part of the crew for someone else's video project. 

Having a show of work at a gallery or your favorite coffee shop or restaurant is a great way to get focused on what needs to get done and always informs me of just what the current state of my imaging inventory is. I have a rule that also keeps me shooting personal work: If I show at a gallery or the bakery or even in a social slide show I always want to show work that I've never shown before. It's exciting to see what other people think. If you have time to prepare you usually find that you need to fill in a bit around the edges and it's a great way of narrowing down your field of view and getting you out shooting to fill in the missing blanks. 

Finally, a personal project helps you develop a style because, if you do it right, you've set some formal boundaries for the kinds of images that will all fit comfortably into the same presentation. That's a quick way to encourage a shooting style to emerge.

If you have a subject you are interested in, say beer, you can create something really interesting and beautiful by walking us through the whole process. And you'll learn more about that subject, not just photography. 

All the images above are part of my "Austin Downtown Project." Over time I'll have a twenty year record of what's been added and what's been demolished and begun to fade from out collective memory. If I do a good enough job I'll donate a set of prints to the Austin History Center. If I do a bad job I'll be disappointed-----but I will still have a body of work to share.

The key is to define the project, define the parameters and the end goal and then get to work on it starting now. The pre-planning should not be the project. The image making and sharing is the project. 

I have a friend who is just about to start a video on the Graffiti Wall here in Austin. He's a gifted film maker. I hope he starts on it this weekend, the weather is supposed to be beautiful.....

Swimming pool at 14mm on the Nikon D7100.

Everywhere I went on Weds. the people I talked to were already bored and tired with the low temperatures and the seemingly endless overcast skies. Cold, wet and gray. The novelty of making fires in the fireplaces had quickly worn thin. And the windy 34 degree early morning swim on Tues. had certainly notched down my tolerance for this sort of weather nonsense. 

Yesterday and today have been nearly as perfect as the weather gets in Austin, in January. I hit the noon workouts for maximum real vitamin D absorption. When I crossed the deck this morning with my goggles in hand it was about 55 degrees farenheit. The water was a less cool 80 degrees and the pool was filled to the brim with sun worshippers. 

I decided that I needed a few images of the pool to post on my bulletin board to bolster my swimming enthusiasm in case the weather takes another nose dive. I got to the pool half an hour early and walked around the periphery with the Nikon D7100 I keep in the car along with the 14mm Cine Rokinon lens. Nice combination. Lots of pixels and still decently wide at a 21mm equivalent.

I've given up trying to visually focus ultra wide lenses on optical viewfinder cameras. I'm spoiled by being able to quickly punch in magnification on EVF cameras and being able to see the images, protected from sun contamination, in the EVF. What I've been doing with this particular lens is to stop it down to f8 and then setting the focusing ring to ten or so feet and blazing away. Sure seems to work well and it turns the whole rig into a quick snapshot camera.

This is the pool I spend so much time in. During all but the late Spring and Summer months it is vacant for the greater part of every day. Our masters team uses it from about 6:30 in the morning till 9:30 a.m and then again from noon to 1:00 p.m. The local high school practices there from 3:30 till 5:00 p.m. And then we have a youth swim programs that uses it from 5:30 till 7:00 a.m. The pool is open until 9:00 p.m. to accommodate any evening lap swimmers who choose to swim after dark. 

While we call it "The Rollingwood Pool" it's really part of the Western Hills Athletic Club which is a private club about two miles west of Downtown Austin. The club sits on a handful of acres in the middle of a beautiful neighborhood and (excepting the Summer months) is quiet, secure and peaceful. When the weather is in the 60's and higher I often go there with a laptop and write stuff. Just beyond the pool in the image above is an open air basketball court and beyond that, through tree studded lawn, is a sand volley ball court. There are also two sets of tennis courts. I think that if I ever retire I'll just plan on getting my mail delivered there and arrange somehow to have hot coffee delivered by Starbucks. It's that refreshing of a spot in an otherwise frenetic and jangly city.

We've done much renovation this year to the club. We now have brand new locker rooms, each with four showers fed by a duo of tankless water heaters, and each locker room is complete with central air conditioning and heating. We even invested in a swim suit spinner! Put your suit in after workout and it spins at a million miles an hour dragging all of the water out of the fabric. No more stinky, mildewed suits in the trunk of the car....and no more trying to get into a wet suit that's been freezing overnight.

We get an interesting mix of swimmers in the pool. We have at least a half dozen recent Olympians who are here because it's so nice to be able to swim outside year round. We seem to have a surplus of driven electrical and computing engineers who are swimming to improve their triathlon performances and we have a huge component of people like me who swam in high school and college and just want to stay in shape. We also have a large contingent of attorneys who mostly seem to be diligent distance swimmers.  Our holiday parties are legend and our workouts are tough and fun. 

As a working photographer it's nice to have a place to go where no one really talks about work, everyone likes everyone else and the only competition is in the pool. It's a nice respite from the inanity that sometimes surrounds pods of photographers when they gather together. Amazingly, there is not a single other photographer who swims in our program. I'm happy to have a place to go to sample something beyond the feedback loop of photography and imaging.

I'd be curious to know what the VSL readers in various other cities do for exercise and camaraderie when they need to shut off photography for a while and just have mainstream fun. Especially the folks who live in the great white north. Anybody care to share?

Stationary Mindset. Moving Target.

Let's see... This week I've been taken to task for not still using the 12 megapixel Olympus EP-2 in my regular, commercial workflow, for buying cameras with optical viewfinders, for buying a full frame camera and for writing too much about video. I don't know what to say except that times change, progress slithers onward and people in changing situations can make different choices.

I suspect everyone in my age cohort would have been much happier overall if everyone was still shooting medium format black and white film and making delicious prints, in happy solitude, in the darkroom. But I suspect a lot of that longing is misplaced and the delirious pleasures mis-remembered.

Culture and society, and culture and society's tastes are moving targets and so is technical advancement. I'm more and more interested in video from a commercial sense out of an instinct for commercial survival. Last year video sharing increased on Facebook by nearly 80% over the year before. Of the four bigger websites I shot images for last year three have video components in them while two have huge video across their splash pages. Here's an example: http://www.aurea.com/index.html

And here's the page where they used our portrait images: http://www.aurea.com/about-aurea/leadership  If you mouse over any of the portraits they transform to color (I think it's neato and someone had to program that as well).

And here's a typical use where a client has embedded a video I produced for them into a website that we have also provided extensive still images for: http://www.salientsys.com/products/pos-transaction-tracker/

I guess the point I'm trying to make is that we content creators who used to call ourselves photographers are no longer in a binary world where a wall exists between still imaging and motion products. Our clients more and more want both and the learning curves are about equal on either side of the process divide. I can learn to do and sell video well and then I get to keep both sides of the content product creation. It's easier for a client to deal with one supplier, one lighting style and one creative vision than a mix. Having both halves of a project is a greater overall incentive for the artist than having just one or the other. And it is inarguably better for the bottom line.

I've said it many times, there are no longer any barriers. I can go after web video and video production companies can and are going after the total package, including photography, as well. It's a contest of making the best overall selling proposition to the final client rather than futilely sticking to your guns and remaining (still photographically) pure. 

I'm guessing that the pushback I am getting from some readers is due to the heterogenous nature of my audience. Many here are long term photo enthusiasts who have no interest in video while a good number here are working professional photographers; some who have embraced the idea that motion will become part of their mix and some who are still locked in an emotional battle with themselves over whether or not to accept it and whether or not the transition is really even inevitable.

I can't really answer that for anyone except myself. I have the luxury and the burden of having a number of technology clients. They are good clients but the nature of their businesses drives them to demand a different mix of media and engagement with their clients. And to be technologically au courant.  It seems that 2015 is the year that all of them embrace richly mixed multi-media content in all of their various outreaches and communications with clients, customers and prospective markets. I am learning quickly to understand and satisfy the needs of the clients as they relate to video and I think failing to do so will change the landscape of my business.

For better or worse you are along for the ride here because I can only write about what I know.

And I know that the next ten years of imaging will be driven by a mix of still images and video and that for most clients the bulk of both will come from single points of supply. It's part of our job (and our responsibility to our imaginary stockholders) to make sure that we get a decent slice of that pie.

I re-evaluate the tools I use all the time. If they work I use them, regardless of whether they have EVFs (which I much prefer) or OVFs (which I have good experience using well for over 27 years...). What I'm looking for are the production tools that get the jobs I anticipate doing in the next few month done well, and the ones that make me happy to use them. Sometimes the two curves don't always line up.

Side note. The image above was shot with a Rokinon 14mm Cine lens on a Nikon D7100 making it, effectively, a 21mm lens on the DX sensor. It required a +11 setting for the lens's inherent distortion. I like the intersecting diagonals and the color palette in the image.