3.26.2023

VSL continues but KT Photo regroups. What's going on?


 It's been a long and profitable ride in the stretch limousine of photography for me. My first start in the business was back in 1979. Then came an interlude as the creative director and agency director at Avanti Advertising and Design. A regional advertising agency in Austin. When our biggest client was absorbed by Barnes and Noble back in 1987 I decided to quit the advertising business and start up again as a photographer in 1988. I can't believe that was 35 years ago. 

When I made my re-entry to photography the industry was vibrant and very profitable. I came back into it with ample savings from my advertising career and tons more knowledge about how advertisers worked with photographers on one side and what advertising clients wanted from their photo investments on the other side. I'd spent eight years working with both sides and it paid off for me in spades when the time came to negotiate and work with big clients. 

The two biggest barriers to entry back in the late 1980's were the need to have a large studio and the other need which was to have a well equipped studio. Sure, we did stuff on location, but we did a lot more stuff on our home turf. And spent zillions of man hours processing fun black and white work in our on site darkroom. I still remember the unfettered glee I felt when I purchased my Leica V35 enlarger. It sat next to my Omega D5 large format enlarger and both racked up many miles of usage in the seven years I spent in my downtown Austin studio. Throw money and knowledge at problems and you could mostly expect to make even better money doing it.

Starting in the 1990s and up through the 2010s we transitioned from a big studio to a smaller studio (much closer to home and much more manageable) and much more location work. We worked everywhere, from un-air-conditioned maquiladoras in Mexico to legendary museums in St. Petersburg, Russia. And lots of places in between. But starting in 2010 there were many changes to the industry. Some annoying and some existential. Throughout it all my business was buoyed up by having clients of long tenure, an ability to roll with the changes and adapt, and a certain sense of (maybe misplaced) optimism. Another secret has been having a "CFO" who was focused on moving any spare cash out of the business and into smarter and safer investments. Especially during the "gold rush" years.

It's March of 2023. To date I've booked three projects for the entire year. In years past we would have booked two or three projects in the first couple of weeks of January. The work of being a photographer is changing as rapidly as I would ever have imagined that it could. Printed brochures are becoming a thing of the past. 80% or more of advertising dollars are now spent on the web and of those dollars the vast majority end up supporting very small ads seen on very small screens on phones. Old guys seem to think that there will always be clients out there who will support the old status quo but I'm here to tell you it's not so. Just as no one went back and started a new trend of shooting 8x10 sheet film for magazines in this century no one is going to go back and start up more and more long form magazines that actually get printed. Or super glossy print ads. Or super sexy direct mailers. 

Most photographers plan their careers with a certain blindness, or on the strength of their own anecdotal experiences. I prefer to talk to people in the industry I work in. My son is a rich source of reality therapy when it comes to current technology company marketing. My spouse is a recent retiree (former art director) of an advertising agency that handles the 1st or 2nd largest computer maker's advertising. One of my swim buddies is a global strategist for a huge software/hardware icon. Another friend works in making predictions for a global company from Cupertino. They have different opinions but all their insight trends in the same direction. 

Eventually all meaningful advertising as well as visual engagement in the arts will take place on the internet, will not require huge files, acres of pixels, mountains and mountains of dynamic range or even very detailed photographs. The emphasis will almost always be, going forward, fast impact. Which means filling the frame with the main subject and using bright colors and high contrast. Easy work for phones and an ever accelerating move away from large and complex production. That's more and more reserved for video. Anything on a big screen will be high def video. Count on it.

Thinking long and hard about this I'm loath to spend the money, and especially the time, to continue jousting with the windmills. Or remaking lances with which to do so.  Especially as the population of windmills of merit are disappearing quickly. And not being replaced by profit centers I either recognize or really want to be part of. Could I learn to make interesting photos with A.I.? I'm pretty sure I could. But do I want to? Is that what I really signed up for? Not a chance.

I read yesterday on theonlinephotographer where Michael Johnston laid out his own financial situation and showed how the market for all things photographic (in traditional ventures) is shrinking and shrinking. How his income is reducing year over year. He's trying to find an exit strategy and I wish him luck and also send him my genuine condolences. It's like being wrapped up in a boa constrictor...squeezing, squeezing.

Reading of his business experiences and melding that information with my own view, and the predictions of well qualified friends and business partners, convinced me that commercial photography (as practiced by my generation) is in a death spiral and isn't going to recover in any recognizable way. At least not for me.

So, what to do now? My best guess is that I should spend more time photographing just for myself, spend as much time as I have routinely spent swimming and otherwise exercising, and spend more time traveling with B. And B. if he wants to tag along (pretty sure he's focused on the start-up...). I'm not "officially" giving up working as a photographer. I'll gladly accept any fun projects that come over the transom or through the genuine desire of smart and creative art directors to work with me. But the fervor to market myself and lock in work has fallen off the table as a priority. 

And it's important, I think, to say that this is not about aging or losing energy or stamina. It's about a market changing and shrinking and my lack of need to change with it. Am I still relevant? Frank counsels me that I shouldn't care and that sooner or later I will perforce need to embrace my own irrelevance as time goes by. I think he's right about that. He usually is. ( find a mentor to get older with.... ).

The French see life differently than Americans do. I just read about this in an opinion piece in the Washington Post. They see life in three chapters. Childhood, their work life (with which they keep at emotional arm's length) and the good years from 62 onward that provide time and security for enjoyment, hobbies, travel and fun. In the USA we seem to have a prevailing idea that once one becomes an adult the passion to work becomes overwhelming, all consuming and  for most very necessary. For many traditional retirement is not even an option. That written piece also gave me pause. 

From this point on I'll have to admit that my expertise on what's driving the photo market is slipping toward the muddled mainstream. That my visual style will be more and more at odds with prevailing commercial styles (if any continue to exist). I'm divorcing myself from the idea that I have to be a successful working photographer to be happy and fulfilled. 

I still enjoy writing this blog so now you'll just have to accept me as a peer and fellow participant. That's my new role and one I can get behind. I'm not willing though to accept the responsibility of becoming a geriatric influencer by any stretch. If readership falls off that's fine. I'm not monetizing this in any way now. Haven't for years.

Don't fire up a Patreon page for me and don't send me money. Smarter minds than mine have already taken care of all that detail work. From now on it's photography for fun and occasionally for profit. But without the laser like focus on profit I've maintained for the last 38 years of running a business. Time to cool my jets a bit and take a deep breath. 

More to come as I grapple with the future of the future. Nice and comfortable here. More time to walk around with a camera.

In a 2010 VSL blog post I predicted the future as we are just beginning to see it here. My take was meant as a joke. Now it's real. Take a look. Yes. Written in 2010.


 Here's the copy from the second paragraph:

"With these lessons learned we have adapted the device to serve as a verbal to visual translator.  Now I don't even have to take images.  I can describe them in various levels of detail and our Imaginizer 2020 will create visual images in the minds of the subjects who wear the devices.  So far, my verbal descriptions have been described as boring and mundane but I'm buying a thesaurus and I have high hope.  When it works right the subjects stop looking at me as subject #3210z is in the mind-o-graph above and they just get quiet, like this:"


Does this make me a futurist? Did I nail this about 13 years in advance? I think so.....


Here's the link to the full post: 


https://visualsciencelab.blogspot.com/2010/04/zero-to-60-in-one-week-camera-craziness.html

Just a refresher for all my friends who've purchased a film Leica M camera, a 28mm lens and who have decided to become "street photographers." You might have already read this one....

 https://visualsciencelab.blogspot.com/2011/05/approval-tacit-approval-implied.html

It's from 12 years ago. But I think it's appropriate for the moment.

3.25.2023

Just re-enjoying a photo I made many years ago when we spent more time playing and a lot less time arguing, posturing, competing and dissecting the things we were engaged with.


 Amy walked into my little studio in Westlake Hills with her good friend Renae. Renae was my assistant for a number of years and maybe I remember those years as "the Golden Years" of photography partially because of my collaborations with Renae and partly because we had both time and  optimism on our side. 

The studio space was perennially and almost permanently set up with lights just in case someone interesting/beautiful/wonderful dropped by. We didn't over think technique back then. We played more than we (collectively) do now. There didn't seem to be much on the line to prevent a certain insouciance and fluidity to our pursuit of things like spur of the moment portraits. 

I asked Amy if we could make a portrait and she, of course, agreed. She did a little touch up on her make up and then stepped into the sweet spot of a 40 by 60 inch softbox's glow. 

I focused as well as I could with an old Leica R8, stopped the even older 90mm Summicron (no APO or ASPH) down to f5.6, Renae did a quick check with a light meter and we snapped our way through a 36 exposure roll of Ektachrome or Fujichrome. Maybe it was Astia. Whatever. It was some ISO 100 slide film and when I got it back from the lab I thought it looked great. 

It's funny. Sometimes I post stuff to make a point about gear or technique but most of the time, at least with portraits, I'm posting stuff because I enjoy looking at it for a second, third or hundredth time. For me that's the real value of doing the work. 

And the joy of it.

Wanna Compete with stuff like this? Really? I'd rather take a walk or read something interesting.

 

Take a selfie or two on your smart phone and send it along to them. They'll use A.I. to make it into a "real photograph/headshot" and give you a bunch of variations to choose from in just two hours. For $29. Done.

And by "done" I mean the business of commercial headshots not a "task completed." 

This is all hitting right now. No reason not to enjoy taking photographs for fun. Just going to be a lot harder for a lot of folks to make a living competing.

Inflection points. The end of one era of photography and the beginning of another.

 

this is a prime example of the machines with which we used to create profit
by doing photography. No AF, no autowind, no endless buffer, no high res EVF, 
no cost free frames. But man! Could they convert vision to dollars!

and this was the work I liked to do with that camera. 

One thing we learned in the lightning fast transition from film to digital in the commercial world is that big changes to a culture, a technology or the acceptance of a new paradigm aren't slow moving events. Kodak's best strategic brains assumed that they would have years of film dominance even as late as the early 2000's only to see global adaptation of digital cameras happen almost overnight. By the same token, if you had asked industry "experts" back in 2010 or even 2012 what the future trajectory of interchangeable lens digital cameras was you would have heard, almost uniformly, that the growth of the industry was at its infancy and it was all clear skies and big profits ahead. Ask several of the computer companies a couple of years ago about desktop computer sales and they would have predicted a steady replacement rhythm instead of the 25% drop in purchasing, year over year (except for Apple whose computer sales dropped by little over 1%....outlier?). 

I would have thought that DP Review would have chugged along until at least a couple of big players took Samsung's cue and exited the interchangeable lens camera market altogether. But I guess declining sales, bloated and costly staffing and a failed strategy toward maintaining profitability snuck up much quicker and more decisively than any of us imagined. 

Photography is being re-invented yet again. I swam with a technologist from a major, major technology superpower company this morning. After our workout we got into a long discussion about all the disruptions taking place across many markets. He makes a living strategizing about technology trends. His take is that we are at an inflection point not just for photography but across a number of industries and we are never going back to the way it was only a few years (or even months) ago. And he was predicting that the disruptions, changes and creations of new tools (Dall-e, Chatbots, ChatGBT, A.I., Machine learning) and so much more is starting to look like the massive shift that occurred with the 2007 introduction of Apple's iPhone. But on a more diverse and expanded group of technologies. And across an even bigger playing field.

It's wise to remember that pre-iPhone we needed computers to function in the work space. We needed laptops for mobile computing and communication. We needed stand alone cameras. We needed music players to enjoy our music with. We needed hulking big video cameras to make movies with. We needed ATMs to do our banking. We needed maps to get to new locations in our cars. We needed phones to call people and to do primitive texting. Think ahead to now and how our phones have wiped out the need for so many peripherals we once thought to be necessary and practical. And so many services (banking, shopping, etc.) have been de-peopled and streamlined. 

I wrote a blog post while flying back from the NYC Photo Expo in 2013 (also shuttered as no longer relevant) about societal change in photography and parts of the post were prescient. Here's a link: The Graying of Photography.  Read it. It might make more sense now.

But it's not as if we didn't have clues and telltales about the onrushing inflection point we seem to be in the middle of right now. Here are two subsequent articles, each written eight or nine years ago pointing to exactly what is unfolding right now: 

https://visualsciencelab.blogspot.com/2015/10/some-observations-after-speaking-to.html

https://visualsciencelab.blogspot.com/2014/09/after-gold-rush-where-is-photography.html

I'm going to go out on a limb and predict that commercial ($$$) photography as we know it is going to cease to exist in a couple of years. No one will be monetizing the work being created at anywhere near the scale we were able to in the past. But a new understanding and market for photography will emerge. We just have to be open to understanding it and willing to take part in it. Or....we can keep copying work like Ansel Adams landscapes and Robert Frank street photography, and considering a paper print to be the gold standard, until we all die off and head to visual Valhalla to commiserate with the buggy whip makers, the floppy disk engineers and the people checking to see if anyone left their change in a payphone booth. Me? Oh I'll be hanging out by the cigarette machines looking to pick up models for after-life retro portrait photography.

The closing of DP Review is just one of many sign posts and they weren't the first to go. Not by a long shot. They held on as long as they did because they were better capitalized. Not because they were better. 

3.23.2023

A quiet walk up and down S. Congress Ave. looking for pix and enjoying a cappuccino. A mid-afternoon cappuccino.

 

Sent this photo to my spouse who is out of town taking care of family....

I was looking for something a bit different this afternoon. I'm sure these are a radical departure from my usual style but I was using the little Sigma fp and the matching 45mm f2.8 Sigma lens. I even went with the camera fully stripped down. No finder, no hood. And it worked just fine even out in the daylight. But I did have to wear my eyeglasses to see the screen well enough. 

This part of South Austin has become tourist central. There are nice restaurants and endless boutiques up and down the street. But it's lost most of its "rougher" charm. I keep hoping that the downtown area gets a dose of rejuvenation; but just enough.

Walking around with the little fp and the small 45mm lens was relaxing and with them as my casual cameras I don't set unreal expectations. The pair work really well together and the colors are nice. I was lazy today so I went with .DNG files instead of Jpegs. When I shoot Jpeg I'm always riding the white balance settings with the intention of getting as close to accurate color as possible. I also "cheated" and used Auto-ISO. 
I really love vintage trailers. They seem so 1950s. Largely replace by Airstreams and big RVs these days but the charm of a small trailer or even a "tear drop" trailer is not lost on me.

Still. I have no idea with "Leaf Porn" is and little to no inclination to find out.




That's a whole lot of "No-s" for a retail store. Maybe that's why I've never been in
even though they sell candy and I love some kinds of candy...





Austin's love affair with Willie Nelson continues unabated. And South Congress seems 
to grow a new mural every week...

 I was walking through the famous Hotel San José when I bumped into famous 
photojournalist and educator, Don Winslow. We had a great chat about Rome.
We both wished we were there right now photographing. Fun to see famous icons
sporting cameras around town! 


One of my favorite S. Congress mural destinations. It's a Home Slice Pizza. 
It's good pizza and way popular but closer to home I get better pizza
at Baldinucci Pizza. Love the Roman style crust.




Seemed like an unprovable brag but the cappuccino they whipped up for me
today puts them into the running. Yeah, It's Jo's Coffee. All outdoor seating, but covered 
in case of rain, hail or snow.






The backdoor at Amy's Ice Cream. Another Austin original that's spread across the state...

What if the other guy is right?

 

an attempt at a softer touch in processing.

I stayed out of the fracas between Mike Johnston and Moose a few days ago. Moose had taken one of MJ's photos, manipulated it and then displayed both the original and the "enhanced" version side by side and proceeded to make an argument that MJ was processing images too flat. MJ pushed back and said he liked em that way. And that they were not "too flat" from his point of view. And that was the way he intended them.  All of which started me thinking about the way I process my own images and display them on the web. My knee jerk reaction was that my own work looked "better" if it was snappier and more saturated. My black and whites better with more "clarity." But as I mulled this over and over in my head I remembered something my father used to say to me when I was so, so sure I was right and whoever I was arguing with was dead wrong. "Consider this..." he would say, "What if the other guy is right?"

Which got me thinking even harder. I grabbed a few favorite files and started looking at them made softer, harder, sharper, more diffuse, brighter, darker and, of course, snappier. By the end I was more confused than when I started. 

Then I remembered B's ever-present mantra about.....everything: "All Things In Moderation." 

And I remembered that all through her career as an award-winning art director and graphic designer for some of the USA's biggest businesses she always steered toward the middle ground. Not "boring" middle but "accessible" middle. It was nearly always work that pleased her design sensibilities, spoke to consumers and delivered for clients. 

Maybe that is a target I should be aiming for in my own post production. Timeless versus cutting edge. Comfortable instead of trendy. Happy instead of strident. It's a thought anyway.

Really though, what if the other guy is right? Can you change your mind?

3.22.2023

Taking my own advice and stepping away from the internet for the day. With a camera over one shoulder.

This is pretty much how my eyes saw this scene. Maybe not with as much saturation but with some information in the shadows...

This is how my Leica SL2 saw the same scene with the same exposure setting for the highlights. 
Some photographers reject post processing but I say, "make the shadow/highlight/clarity (mid-range contrast) sliders your allies. 

Same with the two below.



I felt a certain sense of calmness when I pushed away from the keyboard and monitor yesterday. I put on comfortable shoes. I walked. I looked at stuff at a distance. I drank a nice coffee at Mañana. I had a decent croissant as well. And as I was sitting at a café table watching the sun go down and feeling the wind pick up I did an inventory of the day. 

When I got up I read the national newspapers. Something I'll slow down on and maybe try to be more supportive of the local papers and outlets. I went to the gym and used their machines to really try and strengthen my core, my lats, my triceps and my larger leg muscles. I stretched. And felt exhausted by the end. 

I made some scans of old negatives in the office and was delighted by the results. I read a few online articles already memorializing DPR. I felt conflicted. 

The cure for temporary confliction for me is a good swim so I went to the noon workout and swam well with a smaller crew that we usually have at early morning practices. Instead of only working on swimming hard and fast I took the coach's suggestion and worked on feeling balance in the water. A fun exercise is to float on your back with your nose, belly button and toes out of the water and to stay calm and quiet. Maximum balance is hard to achieve but pushing more doesn't make it better. You actually have to relax to do that drill well. And I think we could all do a better job of relaxing.

I came back home, had lunch and then took a 25 minute nap. Ran a few errands. Ignored the siren call of the internet. Checked the stock market on my phone. Was happy with what I found and thought about going online to buy something cool. Resisted the urge to fire up the Easy Buying Machine and went off the above mentioned walk instead. Played around with my camera and with the files. 

The rest of my evening was more or less typical. Dinner, do the dishes, read until the book started dropping out of my hands and my eyes closed without my willing participation. 

It is possible to curtail time spent online. It's hard to do because it's become such a habit for so many of us.  One good exercise that might work as a first step is this: When you go out for a walk or a photo walk just leave your phone in your house or your care. Don't put it in your pocket or your camera bag or your backpack. If it's there you'll want to use it; check it; check your stocks, check the weather, see if anyone called, check your favorite website, check you stocks, check the weather, see if anyone texted, etc.

If your phone isn't with you then you won't need to spend time serving it with your precious time. Everything can wait till you get back. Really, everything will be fine. 

 

Does the endless availability of information (and subsequent addiction to gaining "knowledge") actually "kill" the process of enjoying photography?

 The imminent disappearance of Digital Photography Review (DPR) has been rattling around in my brain since I read about it yesterday. In the moment I wrote about what I thought the effect of this deletion would mean financially, both for camera companies and also the many thousands of bloggers and v-loggers that depend on the residual effects of freely and widely promoting so much gear with so much online content. And content delivered with so much detail.

The site itself is like a clearing house for comments, opinions and other ruminations from photographers all over the world. But at its essential core it's a commercial site that uses the promotion of material desire to profit, and to do so requires that the content be made as "sticky" as possible. The goal is to keep a visitor engaged as deeply and for as long as is possible. The hope is that some percentage of the millions of visitors will click on the ads and links and that will end up resulting in sales. Rants, brand tribalism and differences of opinion are part of that sticky glue that keeps people coming back. 

One thing I've found out over the course of my life is the "need" of many, many people to exhaustively research everything they do. Everything they buy and everything they use in their own processes. Consciously or unconsciously the people who have been engineering content on Amazon's DPR site have understood that set of needs for well over a decade which is why the news feed about the industry is constant and the reviews are done only, mostly, for the more popular camera types and brands. The ones most likely to sell well. The  content helps to fulfill the audience's need to sit in front of computers, phones, iPads, etc. and "research, research, research."

In some ways this could be a result of the demographics of serious, potential camera buyers. Since high end cameras could be considered luxury goods which are far better than what is needed for most photographic engagements (or real world photo work) and since a huge percentage of the people in the world can not conceivably afford to buy them it seems obvious to me that most buyers came through a college education and entered a professional workplace. The education and even the protocols of "information technology" work require doing research. Research sounds good. Research drives innovation (sometimes) while less financially rewarding work is much more codified and routine. Not requiring the proclivity for deep research.

While most people who buy expensive cameras (meaning, in this context now, any camera that's more capable and more expensive than a smart phone) start with the plan to spend much time out shooting photographs I suspect that the most avid camera consumers, because of their education and corporate training, are actually more compelled to use any camera purchase as the starting point to begin researching  (avidly and with little concern for efficiency of time) their next step up in the hierarchy of cameras. The vaunted "upgrade path." And this need for research and "advancement" is exactly what sites like DPR have long provided, enabled, goaded and manipulated. 

If the only goal of a photographer is to make a good photograph we could have decided never  to have embraced digital imaging and we'd still be able to make great pictures with film cameras. If we'd copied the process we used for buying film cameras, replacing camera bodies maybe every five to seven years (or more) the sites would have had so much less power over us. Less compelling reasons to park on a site for the purpose of "urgent" research. Less time spent seated and scrolling.

I think it was well known that we all could have stopped buying "up" the digital camera chain at any time past 2010 and realized just as good photographs as we get from current gear except in the most obscure and specialized fields. And having stopped our research, reading and forum disputes we would have had much more time to walk through the streets, forests, cities and the landscape of human relationships and make photographs that would have been superior because our time would have been spent researching the subjects and relationships of ourselves to our passions instead of making images to "prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that camera XXX had 00.15% more dynamic range than camera YYY."

We talk about the  idea that these big sites help us build community but from an overview perspective I think the readily available "bait" and the "promise of superior technical results" pushed us away from actual hands on experience and actual community to a much bigger degree than we think. We spent less time, not more, with other people. Less time engaged in face-to-face conversations. Less time photographing subjects because we like them and not just photographing random stuff to show off the wide open edge definition of some new lens offering some insanely fast aperture. 

We basically, as an online community, imprisoned ourselves in little clusters in the forums to either argue about the buying decisions we made or were going to make, or to argue endlessly about minutiae that has little relevance to our real lives. Or to our photography. 

I'm certainly not immune to the whole idea of researching cameras and lenses and I've spent too much time over the years reading it on so many different sites. But I think I know the solution. It's as easy as turning off the computers and phones, picking up a camera that you enjoy using, and heading out the door to make photographs of subjects that you, personally, find to be interesting. 

The next step is to engage, in person, with people who share your interests in photography. Meet for coffee. Meet for walks. Push each other into fun projects. Help knock down the barriers to actually engaging in the non-virtual pursuit of photographs and fun instead of becoming an endless internet voyeur of gear buying. Or worse, a continuous gear researcher. 

In the end who really cares if your miracle lens resolves a few more veins on leaves at the very edge of a frame? And who in the world would willingly spend minutes, hours and days trying to prove or disprove "equivalence?" 

Perhaps it takes the death of a historic site to get people out of their seats and on to their feet with a camera in their hand, a plan in their head, and the joyful anticipation of what awaits them as they step across the threshold of their homes and into the real world around them.

Sometimes I go hours without drinking coffee. It's called sleeping.

3.21.2023

Digital Photography Review, the Universe's biggest camera review site and online photographer community, just announced that they are closing shop on the 10th of April. Sad News. (DP Review).

 My discovery of DP Review happened back around the turn of the century when there were far, far fewer equipment review sites and the ones that were out there were variable in quality. I think it was a guy named Phil Askey that started the whole thing back in 1999. But his reviews were just great and he really was running a one man show, more or less. 

The site was based in London and the writing was always great back then. And the understanding of photography (as opposed to mumbly faux physics of recent times) was deep and both technically and aesthetically well grounded. Professionals turning from film to digital depended on the site to parse out the best new digital camera gear and to learn best practices. It was the anchor for camera knowledge in the early years of digital adaptation.

Amazon bought the site in 2007, moved DPR's HQ to Seattle and watched it grow during the lead up to the peak year of digital embrace (and sales) back in 2010 or, depending on how you measure, 2011. After that sales of interchangeable lens cameras and their lenses dropped in quantity year by year. But as the reviews declined a bit in quality and scope (compared to Phil's stuff) the enthusiasm for the site's ability to build community (forums) and become a home for various rants and hot user competitions/debates between brands of cameras grew unchecked. As did eyeballs on the content. 

Even in current times I'll go and read a camera review of some model that's interesting to me. And being both the biggest photo gear oriented site on the web and the one connected at the hip to the world's biggest online retailer (Amazon: which, of course, sold cameras, lenses, accessories, etc.) the editorial staff of DPR got the first crack at the latest test gear, the latest beta gear and the latest gear, gear. So, readers got a heads up about new cameras as soon as humanly possible. Barring NDAs. What a privileged position to be in.

While I was put off by the endless bad information in the fora, and the rage that ensued and continued almost endlessly, I did find the industry press releases they published and the camera tests the new crew tried to put out still readable and sometimes informative. They lost me for a while with all the sturm und drang over "equivalence" but after a guy named Rishi left all that died down and became floor fluff. Background noise. Rant fuel.

While I will miss the site I think the effect on the world of photography will be much more profound. Think of this: Millions and millions of viewers every month came to the site to learn about new cameras, new lenses and new accessories. Most of these products were introduced via editorials which meant that the manufacturers were getting direct access to the world's biggest market for upscale cameras at no cost to them. Well, other than sending along some cheap swag and some review cameras. Even the camera reviews (unpaid by camera makers) were amazing free marketing for the camera industry in general.  By closing the site Amazon will be removing from Nikon, Sony, Canon and even Leica millions and millions of direct connections to potential (and proven) buyers of their goods. I predict that without DPRs crew priming the pumps and waving the flags of "new innovations" we'll see a noticeable-to-huge decline in camera and lens sales world wide. And none of the camera makers will want to step up their advertising placement budgets by millions and millions of dollars to replace the lost (free and global) reach. They've been attached to the free nipple of promotion for so long they may not even know how to effectively generate demand through other media. 

The ripple effects will be endless. Without DP Reviews reviews of new top-of-the-line cameras and the implied approval provided by those reviews people who still hear about the new gear might be more hesitant to buy. It's different buying an item that's largely unvetted versus buying a product that's been vouched for by a long running and mostly respected review site. No one wants to be bit from being and early adopter.

As camera makers' reach dangerously erodes so too will sales at local and regional merchants who also depend on DPR to trumpet new product arrivals. Many of these smaller stores exist precariously as it is. This may be the event that pushes many of them into insolvency...

And if my blog were a source of income I'd be leaping into action to come up with something to replace affiliate profit sharing because a decline in (free) world wide advertising and product awareness will definitely bring down sales and by extension affiliate cash, which represents a big part of site revenues. 

You may say that this will be temporary, just a bump in the road. And if sales had been hopping along well for the industry for the past ten years I might optimistically agree but you have to understand that the overall market for cameras (not phones...) has been in a yearly free fall since about 2013. Ten years of annually declining sales already. 

What was (is?) your experience with DPR? What do you think their closing will cause? Have I missed some mitigating facet that might actually benefit the industry? 

The funny thing is that this might just bolster the commercial market for actual photography. I'll have to think on that a while before I write more. 

Just thought I'd let you guys know.

First black and white film scan with the new copy stand.


 I set up a little semi-permanent copy stand/film copier set up in one corner of the office. I'm starting to "scan" medium format, black and white film from the past.This image is my first try. It's a photo I took with a 6x6 cm camera onto Tri-X film many, many years ago. The subject is "Lou" and the location is the gardens at Laguna Gloria Museum. 

The whole set up is quite simple. I bought a small but well made copy stand, attached a Sigma fp camera fitted out with a Sigma 70mm f2.8 macro lens (Art Series). The lens was set at f5.6 and I let the camera select the shutter speed via A priority. Then I used the exposure compensation control to get the tones I wanted. Set the camera to shoot DNG files and to have a 2 second self-timer. 

When I brought the file into Photoshop I merely clicked on "invert" in the adjustments menu and I was presented with a flat but pretty well detailed image file. I opened levels and used the black eyedropper tool to sample the space between frames (which should print black if you were doing this in a conventional dark room) and then adjusted the highlight and mid-tones to taste. 

Because it's film I did have to spot out a few dust spots with the little "band-aide" icon. I sharpened the parts of the frame that I thought needed it, letting the photo spirits guide me. And then, with the click of a button, the photograph appeared on my desktop. Time elapsed? About five minutes. I think it's not bad for a first try. Might need to find a sharper negative though. I think I just missed getting the focus on her face...

Sobering epiphany strikes Kirk while undertaking new duties.


In most partnerships there is a division of labor that should play to each person's strengths. I tend to be a "big picture" guy. I like the sweep of big ideas and get bogged down by details and responsibilities for things that aren't fun. Fortunately I married someone who is both patient and disciplined, and relentless about working with details. She has, for the last several decades, put together all of the numerical evidence required for our CPA to prepare and submit our federal income taxes. And she's done a stellar job.

I try as well as I can to keep invoices logical and tidy and deposit them into a folder in drawer #2 with as much regularity as I can muster. I save invoices when boxes full of juicy lenses arrive in the studio. The lenses go in one drawer and the invoices go into a specific filing cabinet drawer and into a folder. I try not to forget writing down who and for what I've written checks. I dutifully print out my monthly credit card statements and make notations where appropriate. But there are gaps. And there's so much paper. And everyone's attempts to make me use Quickbooks Pro have failed miserably because I'd rather be outside with a camera than inside with a stack of paper, entering column after column of what seems to me to be nothing more than rationalizations about how I've spent money. 

But our usual arrangement did not work out this year. B has had to spend the last month+ out of town, taking care of her mom who had a fall and cracked a bone. Since she has her priorities straight all the work on the taxes was relegated either to me or to limbo and if I didn't step up I would be the one paying interest and penalties as a result.

So, about a week and half ago I started rounding up all the needed information. Our accountant sent me a template based on what B delivered to him last year. He suggested that I follow that guidance when looking through all of 2022's records. I concurred and got busy. I had to download statements from four different banks, from brokerage firms, from credit card companies and others. I had to assemble the invoices and expenditures from my business. Lost invoices had to be replicated and inserted. Mileage logs rescued from the abyss of the center console of my studio car. And, I had to do the same for B's half of the family "fortune." (very loose usage....)

What I discovered in this solitary and sordid ordeal was sobering. I spent a fortune on coffee last year. I guess I was so thrilled to be out and about after all the lockdowns that I made meeting up for coffee the newest symbol of freedom. I also spent way too much on wine. Not too much wine, just too good wine. I guess I momentarily felt rich but I seem to have adopted the mantra that if I was going to be a sensible (meaning not to excess in terms of quantity) wine drinker and vaguely temperate I might as well reach for the $30 and $40 dollar bottles instead of the grocery store staples from the mega-wine industry. And I found that this can get expensive quickly.

But the real culprit in sucking my checking account drier than the Colorado River in 2022 seems to have been my unhesitant embrace of buying any and all of the lenses and photo accessories imaginable. From reflectors to flashes to LED lights to hard drives, and lens, lens, lens, they all seemed fair game. I'm sure this is the way I have been living in the photography business for some time but this is the first time I've been viscerally presented with my profligate spending because it's the first time in a long time I had to sit down and painfully sift through the numbers by myself. Tallying one's own excesses is a twinge-y sort of pain. 

I was also informed by the CPA about a whole bushel basket of things I would not be allowed to deduct from the tax bill, such as my masters swim monthly dues or all those cool shoes I bought from REI along with the cool pants and the even cooler shirts. Solo runs to the bakery for coffee and pastries were also off the list. As was our weekly pizza from Baldinucci. And I found out that there are limits to what you can deduct for charitable giving so, of course I'll never donate to another charity again... (kidding, kidding). 

It was quite a blow to find that I can't "write off" the time I spend writing this blog. Or the time I spend walking around downtown taking photographs! Which, now that I know it's all fruitless, I'll never do again. 

There are things I can deduct, such as that luscious Leica Q2 that accidentally fell into my shopping cart toward the end of 2022 but now I find that I have to pay for them first. Well, I guess that wasn't an earth shattering revelation....

I sent along all those droll 1099s and W-somethings along with the results of all my  categorizations and lists to the CPA last night. They'll tabulate the results of my accounting grunt work and combine that with the constraints of the tax laws to come to some sort of end product. And then everyone will send me a bill. I'll have to once again pony up for the cost of running the federal government but also pay the bill from the CPA for keeping me out of jail and maintaining my position as a productive member of society. 

Many, many years ago, when I wrote my first book, I labored under the misguided delusion that a publisher's deadline was a real thing. I'd always wanted to write a book and have it published so I was determined to play by the publisher's rules and get them the manuscript and the 158 photographs right on time. Even if it meant working en charrette. On the very last day before the proposed deadline I was manically working to get everything ready for the evening run to the Federal Express office to get the package shipped. 

I felt pangs of panic and a general sense of life threatening "something". I started to tingle all over. My peripheral vision started to close in. I was hyperventilating. There were bright "floaters" in my vision. I was certain I was experiencing the symptoms that indicated that I was having a stroke. 

In a panic I called into the house to B and begged her to drive me to the hospital about a mile away. My nervous trembles growing worse as we navigated through late afternoon traffic. 

When I got there I breathlessly told the attending physician, and a bored bevy of nurses and other staff, about my symptoms. They did a few tests before deciding whether or not they would admit me. I seem to have passed the tests and they soon diagnosed acute panic attack/anxiety. It was suggested that I take a Xanax and calm the fuck down. Fifteen minutes later my imminent stroke symptoms completely resolved and a sense of relief washed over me. I also dodged a $1500 to $2000 emergency room charge which helped my attitude quite a bit.

B helped me get the final package together and to the Fedex. I'd made it. Right under the "very critical" deadline. 

It was radio silence from the publisher for several weeks and I finally got up the courage to call and ask them what they thought. To assuage or confirm my fear that the whole project was crap, and worse, unpublishable crap. The publishers were cavalier. They said, "Yes. It's here in the pile. We'll get to it soon." 

I asked them why they told me to have everything in by the deadline if they had no intention of getting to it with dispatch. They countered that of the 100 or so people each year who accept a contract from them to write a book, and who accept advance money to do so, only about 10 are actually able to follow through. The rest give up and return the advance. So, one out of ten people who have the opportunity to write a book actually follow through. Amazing because this is a small percentage of people who have shown a proclivity for writing, some sort of writing track record, and desire to do a book project. 

I mentioned this to my CPA and he quickly said that the IRS is not like my publisher. They are serious about their deadlines and there are consequences for missing them. Consequences that would cost me time and money. 

So yesterday, as I was racing through endless columns of numbers and trying to track everything down for the taxes I started to have the same symptoms I'd evinced back in 2007 at the near completion of book #1. This time I figured out exactly what the issue was, took a small dose of an anti-anxiety potion and laid down on the couch for a few minutes. The panic passed. I finished in more than enough time and walked away with a renewed appreciation for the power of that division of labor and the comfort of having someone else to do the heavy lifting. 

Now to wait sullenly for the tally and the emptying of my checking account by the 15th of April. Like the god Janus, success has two faces. One makes you feel like you can do almost anything while the other reminds you that it all comes at a cost. 

After seeing the huge amount of money I appear to waste over the course of a year I've resolved to be a bit more parsimonious. Maybe make more coffee at home. Maybe drink cheaper wine or none at all. And maybe to take a pass on that next miracle camera from Leica. Either all that or I need to find a quick way to double my income. Yikes.