3.07.2011

The process of reinvention. Starbucks gets it.....

50mm Carl Zeiss 1.4 shot at 1.4 on Canon 1dmk2n.
50mm Carl Zeiss 1.4 shot at f8 on a Canon 1dmk2n.

Consumers and B to B clients are moving targets.  That's why it makes sense to focus on updating your "public face", your offerings and even the way you personally engage clients and potential clients.  Many people debated the intelligence of removing the type from the Starbuck's logo but it makes perfect sense if your plan is to move beyond coffee.  They've made the foray into ice cream and music, now watch them start serving wine in the afternoons and evening.  Their core market is adults and they own the morning for the middle to upscale part of the market (Sorry McDonald's....) but the problem with adults, even the most caffeine addicted adults, is that few of them can drink much coffee in the evenings and still sleep.

That means that Starbuck's sales  probably look like downhill skiing when you chart hour by hour sales.

If you can get adults back in by changing your product mix to match hour by hour sensibilities then you maximize your investment in rent and wages.  Wine and cheese makes perfect sense.  Happy Hour at Starbucks.  Please note that this is just my opinion about how they might go forward.......

As photographers we've got some psychological and process hurdles to get over too.  The days of print sales are wrapping up.  If you sell directly to consumers (weddings and portraits) you've got to re-invent your business so that pricing and fulfillment aren't 100% dependent on the physical print being your final product.  As demographics shift the draw of the print declines in lock step with the acceleration of electronic display.  You should probably be working to a sales model that delivers final images on an iPad.  With a slide show.  With video.  With other extensions.

In commercial (advertising and corporate) photography the print is as rare as a dodo.  We deliver high res tiff files to clients who are aiming toward magazine or direct mail or brochure print production.  We deliver profiled and optimized Jpegs to web designers and web marketers.  If you gave a print to our direct clients (such as medical practices and retailers) the first thing they would do is scan it into their system and the second thing they'd do is find another photographer.  

My graphic designer spouse reminds me that color preferences change in two to three years cycles and popular typestyles change quickly too.  Refreshing the look of our logos becomes a priority when daily presentation of a website is the lifeblood of commerce.  

Website design is now fashion.  And fashions change with the seasons (warning:  this is not a suggestion to use pumpkin graphics in the fall and beach balls in summer.....)  What's your Fall line look like?

Just like Starbucks we have seasonal shifts of demand and by broadening our offerings and pushing into new markets we can smooth out the curves so that the slow times are less........slow.  Think of the addition of video services as the introduction of Frappacinos.  That was a brilliant move on SB's part to build Summer traffic.  The coffee of our business is the photo assignment.  The copywriting is the hot chocolate.  

Now, along with refreshing my brand, I guess I need to come up with names for our different products.
Anyone up for a Venti Executive Portraitiano?

3.06.2011

Ennui. Success. Anxiety. Work. Throughput. Satisfaction.



I should be happy, satisfied and feeling relatively secure right now.  Business is booming, my fifth book is just about ready to ship off to the publisher,  I've got money in the bank and we didn't panic too much during the "People to Goldman Sachs" wealth transfer of 2008-2009.  In fact, we made money in both our savings and retirement accounts.  So why do I feel more like the bottom photo instead of the top photo?

It's the age-old conundrum:  Am I better off challenged and struggling or am I better off trying to maintain whatever little lead I've accrued.....knowing that it could all come tumbling down with the capricious whip of fate? Or the duplicitous hand of a new generation of investment bankers? Am I happier wishing optimistically for better things in the future or am I more depressed knowing that there's a long way to fall?

I've been living the frugal mentality for the last three years.  Only buying what I needed to stay competitive.  Only spending on stuff we needed for maintenance.  Eating peanut butter and jelly and staying out of expensive restaurants.  But last week I decided that we're either recovering (as a national economy) or we were all going to die.  And I decided that, if there will be bread lines and riots in the street,  I couldn't possibly face them without a new MacBook Pro,  a new fluid head for my video tripod and a full set of Carl Zeiss lenses for my Canon camera bodies.  Forget frugality.  It's time to have fun.

But seriously.  I think my anxiety is tied to all the mixed messages I get every day.  The internet tells me financial armageddon is nigh.  But my clients throw me good work consistently.  And my stocks keep rising in value.  The web tells me that my chosen profession is the latest minimum wage job category.  But my rates keep going up and people keep paying faster and faster.  The schools are kicking teachers out the doors and Texans are nonchalant about class room with 40 kids.  But my kid's school district is resisting all the madness.  It's amazing.  We all understood that it was fear that caused the market (and the economy) to finally collapse.  Why can't we understand that it will be blind optimism that will bring it back?

Oh well.  Back to work.  


3.05.2011

I am NOT an architectural photographer but sometimes.......

This image is a PhotoShop merge of five files.  I shot on my Canon 1dmk2n with the plain vanilla 20mm f2.8 Canon lens.


I have high regard for real architectural photographers.  I'm talking about the rare ones who really understand architecture, who love good furniture, who have studied design and art history and bring something layered and nuanced to the equation.  Too many photographers out there do interiors strictly as documentation and they don't do it very well.  The latest trend it to light everything flat, shoot multiple bracketed frames and then do (auto) HDR in PhotoShop.  Yes.  You can see all the details.  No.  You have no idea what the architect's original intention was.  Having a tilt/shift lens and a Canon 5d2 or Nikon d700 and a bucket of PhotoShop doesn't make you a "real" architectural photographer.  Only passion, education and experience can do that.

I have no room to talk.  I have no interest in architecture.  No interest in interior design.  And beyond the comfort of my favorite chair I have no interest in furniture.  Sorry,  I also have no real interest in landscapes.  You just can't be into everything.....

But occasionally I'll do a project for a client and they'll want a quick shot of their lobby or the front of their building.  Our core mission might be to document doctors working or to make interesting portraits, and most times the architectural shots are an afterthought.  It doesn't make sense for my clients to bring in another photographer and I'm hardly technically handicapped when it comes to shooting straightforward stuff, so I often get pressed into doing this kind of work.

The lobby above is nice but it's tight.  I learned long ago that the best shots are usually right from the doorway.  I keep an old Canon 20mm f2.8 around for this kind of work.  It's wide on my 5D2 but not so wide on the 1D2N's cropped (1.3x) frame.  And on friday I wanted to shoot with my 1d2N.  I put the camera on top of my tripod and leveled it.  I put it in the vertical orientation and shot five shots, without changing any of the exposure or focus parameters.  I corrected on file in Lightroom and synced the other four to the same specs.  Then I tossed them in PhotoShop and hit "photo merge."  A few seconds later, out popped this pano.  Easy as pie.  The client is happy.  I'm happy and that's cool.

I spent my early years as a "jack of all trades" and shot many magazine features about historic houses and buildings.  I did "rack" brochures for hotels and resorts.  And we did it all with 4x5 view cameras. But what I've learned over the years is that everyone has stuff they love to do and then stuff they have to do.  The more you can do of the first the less you have to do of the second.  I never mind taking a few documentation shots but I try never to fool myself that just pointed a camera at something makes it art.  Or that snapping the shutter makes me an artist.

3.03.2011

A post in two parts. 1. Putting together photos for a book is drudgery. 2. I had a blast at Bill's class today.


Writers (pretty much all "pure" writers) have it dirt easy.  They need only string together 30,000 or 45,000 well chosen words (for an instructional photo book) and they're off to the races.  I contend that's the easiest part.  You pour a big cup of coffee, sit down at your computer and type till your fingers cramp.  Then you walk it off and come back for more.  If you've done your research, and you've actually used the techniques and the gear you are talking about, over and over again, the words should flow like water onto the screen.  In the world of pure writing there are several layers of "lifeguards" who police the turbulent literary waters and keep writers out of trouble.  There are editors who suggest things to keep writers safe from future embarrassment.  And there a proofreaders to make writers seem smarter and less error prone than polite society.  But they are relative wimps when compared to the all terrain vehicle which are the writer/photographer book producers.  We actually have to kick start both sides of the brain with that single cup of coffee.

I would have finished my LED light book before Christmas but I felt like I needed lots of examples to show what I was talking about.  I'm an okay writer but I still subscribe to the idea that a picture is worth a thousand words.  When I went over the flow of the book in my mind I figured I'd need a couple hundred decent photographs to prove......I mean illustrate.....many of my points.  From the basic, "No! used properly these new lights will not turn your watchband green..."  to "Look, the models are cute no matter what you light them with."  

The cheat-y thing is that writers can just make stuff up and write it down and few people nudge them on the fine points.  But when you write book aimed at other photographers they can be merciless photo experts.  They sometimes demand image quality over content but are happiest when they can have both.  

My brain can't do both things at once so I have to write everything out first and then go back and re-translate everything I've written into a language called, "Photo."  And, unlike pure writers,  I wanted images of beautiful people in my books which meant that I had to find said beautiful people (talent scout), work with their schedules (project manager) and negotiate for their appearance in the book, with signed model releases (lawyer work).  In the end it's the temporary acquisition of models that's most vexing.  Did I mention that novelists are free to just make up people?

I tend to overdo  stuff so when I sat down to edit thru the folder I'd set up on my computer for LED book photos I was shocked to find nearly 12,000 to choose from.  Don't feel inadequate, most are not life changing images.......

I came over-prepared, like the test taker with five hundred, sharpened #2 pencils.  Once I edit them all down and match them up with the right words I have two more tasks to complete.  I have to caption everything and I have to create lighting diagrams for the "hard of imagining."  But it's fun to know that it's not been in vain.  I've learned so much about lighting and new technology.  Anybody need an LED consultant?  

The photo above is the set up I had for shooting the image below.  I wanted to light and shoot a camera and lens because that's the product I end up with in my hand most days.  The 60D is my favorite video camera.  I wanted to show it off.  And I love the way the lens looks.


Part Two:  I've been speaking to students for the last two weeks.  I'm getting some good practice at public speaking and now I don't get nervous when I walk into a big auditorium full of people, or, like today, when I walk into an intimate setting with nine students and one very well informed professor.

With big groups all you can really do is entertain.  Thank goodness "50-something" people have actually done enough to have stories to tell, but are young enough to remember and to tell them without mumbling......

With small groups you really need to show up ready to rumble.

I love what Bill Woodhull (the photography dept. chair at Austin Community College) does with his associate degree plan.  He makes students take an intensive course on the business of photography.  No gear, no gorgeous models, just:  How do you make money, save money, grow a business, calculate your real cost of doing business, market yourself, protect and leverage your intellectual property and  so much more.  Bill needs to take his course on the road and hit the other thousands of college students whose four year programs never touch this stuff.

Anyway, I'm on the advisory board at the college and I get invited to come in every semester to tell them what I think the imaging industry is doing and how I deal with the same concepts I've outlined above.  Usually the class sits silently and I talk and then we all go home.  Today's class was exceptionally focused.  They asked tough questions.  They engaged.  And that always makes me think.

Here's my "take away" thought from the class:  I think the market for corporate and advertising photography is returning.  And doing so in a big way.  Marketers have a desperate need to re-brand, re-launch and reinvent themselves and imaging is a big, big part of branding and customer communications.  We've got pent up demand from almost four years of radically declining image replenishment.

In a word, I'm "OPTIMISTIC."  But this new energy and demand is meaningless if we let the emotional context of the last three years keep us fearful in the face of re-emerging clients.  We need to stand up and be strong about keeping prices commensurate with the value we create.  And we need to be extra vigilant about keeping a tight hold on our intellectual property ownership.  We need to mirror our clients and ramp up OUR expectations.  Because the way we handle business during this recovery year will doubtless set the stage for the way this business will go for the next ten years.  Time to "spine up" and charge based on your value and the value of your IP and not how many hours you can work.  We bring value beyond commodification.  It's time we got back to acting like it.

Thanks.  Having fun in Austin, Texas.  Wish you were here to pick up the tab for the next round.....

3.02.2011

Book Achieves Critical Mass. Light at Tunnel End. Work Gets Easier.


I don't know what possessed me.  I was freaking out about finishing the LED book.  Didn't think I had enough images and what not.  So, when I suspended blogging a week and a half ago my aim was to assess what I had and what I needed.  Turns out I have ten or fifteen thousand shots from my LED experiments/shoots/playtime.  I've learned a tremendous amount about these new lights since last August when this brilliant idea struck.  Now I'm more relaxed.  I'm editing down the photo selection, thinking about writing informative and witty captions (good luck!) and generally getting everything into the right place.  I'm much further along than I thought I'd be.

What have I found out?  That the light source is secondary to your regular day in, day out vision.  That most scenes just need a little boost of light to be successful.  That it's pretty damn fun to light with continuous light sources.  That LED's don't have some bad mojo that you need to tread carefully around.  And that they work really well for video projects.  That's about the long and short of it.

Above is Jana.  She's standing under a covered patio at my swimming pool and I'm filling in with two very small LED panels, covered with diffusion materials.  I'm shooting close to wide open with an 85 and not worrying about sync speed or radio triggers or cables or........any of that stuff.

Too much fun.  Thanks.  Kirk

3.01.2011

Hanging out with really good photographers is cool.


Living in Austin as a photographer is a bit like living in Beverly Hills for film buffs.  I stumble into my local Starbucks and there's Dan Winters.  Head out for BBQ and run into Wyatt McSpadden.  Drop into the neighborhood library and there's Michael O'Brien.  Every once in a while there's an Arthur Meyerson sighting and, once in a blue moon, lunch with Elliott Erwitt at El Azteca....

So I didn't exactly faint when Will van Overbeek called on Monday to ask if I'd take his photo for a project he was working on.  I love taking photographs of other photographers.  They seem to know how they're going to look best or, at least they know what they want the photo to say.

I grabbed a Canon 5d2, slapped the new Zeiss 85mm 1.4 on the front and got to work.  I used a giant Fotodiox 70 inch octabank on an Elincrom Ranger RX AS head and pack system, nice and close.  Will was happy and I was happier.  I had visions of my camera falling apart in my hands or the front element falling off the lens and I was trying so hard to be "professional."



Will was going to take me some place really snazzy, and probably healthy, for lunch but that particular food trailer was closed so we headed over to ArtZ  RibHouse instead.  The special on Monday is "Country Style" Pork Ribs.  We'll take two plates.

It's fun to photograph the very people you look up to in  your business.  Hell, everyone needs a role model.  Might as well be someone who loves good BBQ.

(Confession:  As good as Artz is Will actually made me a few racks of ribs during the last of the cold snaps in Feb.  If he weren't busy working for cool magazines he would have made one heck of a BBQ chef.)

Bonus: Restaurant Review: Today, Belinda and I had lunch downtown at a place called "Maria Maria" and the buzz is that it's owned by Carlos Santana  (Yes, that Carlos Santana).  The chicken flautas were the best I've ever had and the mango and spinach salad was just right.  Big place, high ceilings, tables far apart.  Loved it.  

Being an Austin Texas Photographer can be pretty sweet.  Who's coming to SXSW?

2.28.2011

More stuff from the ancient Texas town.


"If only I had a __________ I could take photos like ___________ and my career would explode like an aerosol can in a campfire!!!"  I hear it all the time.  Photographers seem so convinced that the big block between them and the holy grail of photography is that lousy camera they're stuck with.  I like the image above.  I took it in a dusty room with some light coming thru a dirty little window right behind me.  But I forgot to bring my treasure chest full of Nikon Speedlights, ala Joe McNally.  I forgot my 8x10 view camera, ala Dan Winter.  Most painful,  I neglected to bring my busload of assistants and groupies, ala Chase Jarvis.  Nope.  I managed to pull this off with a six year old, eight megapixel camera and a 50mm lens.  To make matters worst,  I shot it in the Jpeg mode.


Am I saying that these fun, casual images are in the same league as the "amazing" images my better known colleagues are shooting?  That's hard to say.  Because lately everything I see leaves me a little ho-hum-ish.  I think I've seen Joe and David rim light just about enough stuff with little flashes and sponsor reflectors.  I've never been able to pick Chase's stuff out of a line up of other quasi sport/quasi catalog shooters' stuff and I haven't seen as much from Dan Winters as I used to.  Not sure about his adaptation to digital yet.......time will tell.

But I will say that for the past few months the gear seems so secondary to me.  Yes, I still love the lenses and yes,  I'm still "academically" interested in the latest cameras from everybody but.....when it comes to actually loading up some spicy Lexar or Sandisk and heading out to freeze some photons it really doesn't matter what I grab.  I like shooting all of it.


I know this will seem like an odd confession; afterall, I've been shooting photos for nearly thirty years but I have to say that this year is the first time I can remember thoroughly liking all of my photographic work.  I like the way it looks and I like the way it feels and I like the process of creating it.  I could never look at a portfolio before without cringing a little on the inside, but now?  I see fun stuff in the finished images.  I see little details and little tones that make me feel happy when I rediscover them.  




Does this mean I've lost my critical faculties?  Does this mean I've ruptured my humility gland and replaced it with pompous self love?  Hardly.  I know that my work could be better done.  Better seen, better post processed and better cultivated.  But I've come to the gut level realization that it's just not about perfection and there are no absolutes in art.  There's no grading scale, as much as the inhabitants of DPReview crave one.  There's no hierarchy of good, better, best in the creation of a personal vision....as much as the Flickerati would love one.  I've just become comfortable with the idea that I look at things the way I like to look at them and everyone else looks at stuff and shoots it in a different way than me.  And that's okay.


In the end it's all about making yourself happy.  If you shoot for a different audience,  if you shoot for your mom's approval, or to impress the guys in the camera club, or because you think you should shoot in a style that the silly-ass consultants say is most popular with the art buyers then.....you've already lost.  Because you'll be chasing the same things as the hundred thousand other photographers in your sphere.  It's only by doing it your way that you really win.  Because in the end you can't know what's in anyone else's head.  You might as well fill yours with fun.  Viva old cameras and 50mm lenses.  And 35mm lenses and 85mm lenses.  Viva the process of shooting for fun.

2.27.2011

How to get the best images from your lenses. And a quicky review of the Zeiss 85mm ZE.

I'm not quite finished with the project that has temporarily sidelined the Visual Science Labs English language blog but I thought I needed a break from all the discipline of writing a book and I didn't want to miss the opportunity to toss out a "Sunday Rant."  So, "Hi Everyone!"

In the course of researching facts for the book I've become aware of how much is accepted for "fact" by the great majority of web users.  A case in point is the anecdotal acceptance or condemnation of this or that lens.  One reviewer is not able to focus the lens well and in months and weeks the web froths up these facts like egg whites in a souffle and pretty soon it becomes "general knowledge" that X lens is unsharp.

I've learned the three best ways to get the best results out of any lens you happen to buy and I want to share them with you right now.  1.  Put the right subject in front of your lens.   2.  Only put interesting subjects in front of your lenses.  3.  Never put a boring subject in front of your lens....

Back to the general rant.  When I started researching Zeiss lenses for the Canon EOS cameras I started reading all sorts of reviews that talked about focus shift and soft performance with the 85mm 1.4 until you got to an f-stop of about f4.  Reading these things stopped me from buying this lens for months and months.  Recently I decided to forget all that I'd read and try the lens myself.  On my own cameras.  I had high hopes, afte rall I'd tried and then purchased both the 50mm 1.4 and the 35mm f2.0 Zeiss lenses and they have both been stellar performers.


I ponied up for the 85mm and just shot 2,000 frames with it on both the Canon 5dmk2 and on my current vogue camera, the Canon 1Dmk2N.  I never use the "focus and recompose" method when I'm working close.  It doesn't take a crash refresher course in trigonometry to understand that when you are working in close with a long, fast lens depth of field will be small, human focusing errors cost big time, and little shifts of distance make for big problems.

The lens is wonderful.  When I follow good focusing procedures the camera and lens combination rewards me with results that I like very much.  And that brings up an important point:  Good focusing technique takes practice.  Whenever I write a column about the need to consistently practice technique I get lots of feedback from people with non-photo jobs virulently defending the possibility of having good technique in spite of sporadic and periodic engagement with their tools.  I'll just summarily say,  "I don't think so."  Take the camera to work and practice focusing while you're waiting for the next great thought to strike....

When used properly no microadjustment was required for either camera.  No special stopping down routine was needed.  Just straight forward technique.


How to get the most out of any lens?  Use it all the time.  Experiment and engage.  Be fearless.  And never insult your lens by putting crap in front of it.  Literally or metaphorically.  (Non color corrective) filters make good coasters.  Not good adjuncts to carefully designed optical systems.  Cats are fun to pet but have visual relevance only to your close family.  This goes for most cars, most girlfriends and boyfriends and nearly every overweight person you've found parading around in a swim suit (unless you are Martin Parr).  This limits your range of subject possibilities enormously but it does serve to concentrate your talent and focus it rather than dilute it like a pound of ice in your Big Gulp cup of cola.

If the fish aren't running try another stream or take a break to eat a sandwich or watch the clouds go by.  If you're out for a "photo walk"  (which really just means a walk with your camera along.  Do we really need a special phrase for it?) and there's no interesting subject matter a quick detour into the mysteries of convenient cracking paint and accommodating shadow doesn't make an equivalent replacement for the subjects to which you are really attracted.  We're not in an image race here.  It's not enough to fill the bucket if all you're filling it with is chum.


Why did I buy yet another 85mm lens?  I always wanted this one.  The economy has been kinder this year and seems to have a trajectory that gives me a sense of relative security and happiness.  I've been doing more and more video projects and I like the look and feel of the MF Zeiss lenses and their buttery focus rings.  I've loved the focal length for years and always wanted to know what the Zeiss version added to the equation.

I bought it on my way to speak at Dennis Darling's photo class at the University of Texas School of Journalism, on Thursday.  I used it yesterday in Pedernales to photograph a doctor for an ad.  I used it this today to photograph Selena out at Willie Nelson's place.  I shot 1200 shots this morning.  I like a lot of them.  Do I think you need this lens?  Nope.  If you have something in this focal length that makes you happy you're set.  Will this lens make me a better photographer?  Not as much as getting more sleeping, showing up more places and getting my book project finished probably would.  Did I really need it to pursue the video business?  Nope.  I have a perfectly serviceable Canon 85 that works just fine for video.

So why?  Sometimes I like to reward myself for long jags of work.  Sometimes I like to see if other brands have something special (they generally don't).  I was nostalgic for manual focusing.  It's the same reason people buy sports cars with manual transmissions.  And no,  it's not logical and it doesn't make any sense.  Some times I do things just to make myself happy.

Remember:  The number one way to get better stuff out of your lens is to put interesting subjects in front of it.  There is no other thing that will work so well, and across all formats.  If you are shooting something just to show off your technical skills or the technical qualities of your gear you missed the point.  But my regular readers know that nothing matters if the photo is not interesting....

Back to work.  Hope everyone is well.

 Zeiss 85mm at f2.8,  Handheld

All the best from Austin, Texas.  From Kirk Tuck.

2.21.2011

The Visual Science Lab Takes a Vacation.

At the crossroads.

I've written over 400 posts in the last two years and moderated over 6,000 comments.  My readers have clicked to over 1,000,000 page views.  And it's been a fun place to write about stuff I'm interested in.  But it's time to take a couple weeks off and focus like a laser on a paying project.  To wit, I need to buckle down and finish a book I'm writing on using LED lights for photography.  I haven't missed my publisher's deadline yet but I have stepped over my own, self-imposed, deadline and I need to fix that.

In the meantime there are probably 400,000 words with attendant photos that you can catch up on.  I'll be back in a few weeks and we'll pick up where we left off.

"Don't worry.  He'll be back."








2.20.2011

Working 24/7 and slowly going insane? Join the club? No Thanks!


I was rather shocked when I listened to a person from a company that makes all kinds of electronic products the other day.  She made the pitch to me that her company helped stressed out, over-worked moms by making products (like phones and tablets) that would allow a frenetic mom to "disconnect from her office" and be able to "take her work along with her" so that she could be present for her children's activities.  From what I could understand this person believed in the 1990's mantra of "multi-tasking" which has been so thoroughly discredited by psychologists and process experts over the last decade.

The idea was that, between tweets, urgent e-mails, progress reports and modifications to mission critical spreadsheets, the newly unfettered mom would be able to look up from the screen and instantly enter into her child's world just at the moment when Sally hit the game winning home run or when Poindexter cinched the national Spelling Bee with the correct spelling of "Delusional". 

The more grievous idea I came away with is that now it's no longer good enough to give a company a stress and anxiety filled 50 or 60 hours of your week.  No.  The new norm is total ownership.  The excuse is that now so many people in finance, tech and commodities work in a world market and they must be accessible to their counterparts in Malaysia, must not miss the opening bell in Berlin or Kerplakistan, must be electronically present for those important clients in Kathmandu....

I have a sneaky feeling that chronic unemployment is not caused by a lack of jobs but that many jobs are being handled by one person.  The manically compulsive super workers are stealing more than their fair share of jobs.  And they are training their companies to expect "work till you drop" dedication that trades health, family life, hobbies, community involvement and the basic richness of existence for quarter by quarter profitability.  And here's the kicker:  Those super employees aren't being compensated for doing the work of three, they're giving their employers undeserved charity.  

In the self employed world we read books on negotiation.  We learn that you never give up something without getting something in return.  That's the foundation of good negotiation.  And as self employed people we never work for free (unless we are donating our time, services, goods to a needy and beneficial cause.)  But that's exactly what the super workers of today are doing.  They are giving it away for free.  And, of course, their companies are encouraging them.

It's time we took a good long look at the American work ethic and got rational.  The unions got it right back in the coal mine strikes and the meat packers collective bargaining days:  Forty hours a week is the most you can work in a reliable and sustainable way.  And by that I mean being able to preserve your personal dignity, your physical health and the health of your family and relationships.  

If you are routinely working 60 or 70 hours a week and you don't OWN the company you work for (and, in my mind, even if you do) you might consider that you are your own "scab" and you are in some ways responsible for the downward spiral of the American dream.  That spreadsheet WILL wait until monday.  Your real life can't always be on hold.  If it needs to be done over the weekend your company needs to hire a weekend shift.

So, this is a photo oriented blog, why the hell am I talking about workplace issues?  Because from time to time I write columns that talk about some of the outrageous schedules I work.  But the difference is that my projects stop and start and there's lots of in between time for rest and rejuvenation.  Joy and pleasure.  Family dinners together and weekends puttering around helping Ben with homework and Belinda with some gardening.  Couch time with a novel.   If a freelancer in a struggling industry can do this and keep his head above water then so can the valuable employees of all sorts of companies.

The electronics that we seem addicted to are also a secret weapon that helps bosses (and clients)  suck more and more from their people by blurring the lines between what is and what isn't work.  The cellphone is not referred to as "An Electronic Leash" without good reason.  

It's all about setting limits.  Isn't that what we tell our children? 

The shot above is of Belinda in Montego Bay, Jamaica.  The way I negotiated a series of projects in the Islands was to work for a week, for my usual rate, and then go back later with Belinda for a second week of vacation and downtime.  No phones, no internet, no emergencies in Patagonia.  The vacation opportunity defrayed the travel time and longer working days of the actual project.

Shot with a Rollei medium format camera on Tri-X film at a place called "The Pork Pit."  Really good pulled pork.  A quiet week by the sea.

Added half an hour later:  I read this on Kim Critchfield's FB page and loved it.  I sent a copy to Ben and to a friend who needed to read it.  I'll post this on my wall, just to the side of my computer.


One evening a Cherokee elder told his grandson about a battle that goes on inside people.

He said, "My son, the battle is between the two 'wolves' that live inside us all.
...
One is Unhappiness or Evil - It is anger, jealousy, fear, regret, greed, arrogance, sorrow, self-pity, resentment, inferiority, false pride, superiority, weakness and ego.

The other is Happiness or Good - It is joy, love, hope, serenity, benevolence, peace, empathy, kindness, generosity, truth, humility, faith, strength and compassion."

The grandson thought about it for a while and then asked his grandfather, "Which wolf wins?"

The old Cherokee simply replied, “The one you feed." - Cherokee Elder