Category Archives: lessons learned

Life, wisdom, and photography

I feel really bad that I’ve been so delinquent in posting here! It’s just that I’ve had so much on the go! So many wonderful things, many of which I can’t wait to share with you. So it’s not that I’ve lost interest and am not posting here anymore. It’s just that there are only so many hours in a day and until a few things get ticked off the list, I don’t have as much time as I did. But it’s only temporary. 🙂

Recently, I had lunch with a new friend. She was a participant in one of my fine art flower photography workshops this spring.  She’s a wonderful photographer and  it was a treat to have her in my workshop. Her enthusiasm was contagious and I loved how she rose to the challenge I issued my students – to force themselves outside their photographic comfort zone and try new things like multiple exposure, panning, and image overlay. She produced some beautiful images during the workshop.

Purple Aster  copyright Shelley L. Ball

Purple Aster
copyright Shelley L. Ball

Last week we met for lunch to talk photography. It was wonderful. Any opportunity to talk photography with kindred spirit makes me happy. 🙂

As we got talking about all of the various projects we are each embarking on or considering, the topic of how to tackle the big ones – the ones that take several months or more to accomplish, the ones that seem daunting, – came up and we both shared how the intimidation of these big projects can be a barrier to even starting them. But during our conversation, I recalled some wonderful wisdom that was imparted to me on our arctic expedition this summer, advice on how to tackle the really big, intimidating things. I won’t give away the punchline. Instead, I encourage you to read about it on my friends blog, “Wynn Anne’s Meanderings“. I guarantee it’s great advice though, very practical. I’ve started using it in my own life, to tackle those monster projects that I’m afraid to start. And it works!

Wynn Anne is a great writer and her blog covers all kinds of topics from photography, to philosophy of life and everything under the sun. So I hope you’ll tune in and check out her blog. She also has a beautiful 2015 calendar of her images that is for sale so please hop on over to her blog to have a look. Her images are fabulous!

copyright Shelley L. Ball

copyright Shelley L. Ball

 

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Filed under Creative Photography, lessons learned, photography

Arctic Expedition 2014 – the story of our adventure… part I

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August 4, 2014 · 5:53 pm

Perils aside… let’s talk about passion

My last blog post, a few days ago, was about the perils of following your passion, whatever that may be. In the photography world, many of us would quit our ‘day jobs’ in a heartbeat, to become a full-time photographer. That doesn’t necessarily mean you hate your day job. It just means that you have a greater calling. It just means that there is something you are really, really passionate about and that you wish you could spend all your waking moments doing it.

Like I said before, for me, photography (and the things associated with my photography such as writing, conservation, environmental preservation, and connecting with people) is oxygen. Sure, I find it hard that I can only ‘breathe’ part time. 🙂 But let me tell you, it’s better than not breathing at all!

"You conceive your world in your mind and then create it with your hands" - Chris Widener

“You conceive your world in your mind and then create it with your hands” – Chris Widener

To reiterate what I said in my last blog post, read Malcolm Munro’s article on the perils of following your passion. Then dial that message back one or two turns. I wholeheartedly agree with Malcolm. You NEED to be a realist. But at the same time, don’t give up on your passion. And don’t become disillusioned. Just be realistic about what you can do given your current circumstances.

The key is: find a way to make it work. Might not be the way you first envisioned it. But this is life. We don’t always get what we want, when we want, in the way that we want. So, instead, tweak your expectations. Trim your sail. Refine your course. You WILL get there. It’s just that the path you take may very well be different from what you first envisioned. But that’s ok. It doesn’t make you any less successful at achieving your dreams.

"Dreams express what your soul is telling you, so as crazy as your dream might seem - even to you - I don't care: You have to let that out" - Eleni Gabre-Madhin

“Dreams express what your soul is telling you, so as crazy as your dream might seem – even to you – I don’t care: You have to let that out” – Eleni Gabre-Madhin

Oh, and one more thought…. don’t give a rats fuzzy bottom what anybody else thinks about your passion for photography (or whatever else it may be that you want to do – as long as it’s legal and ethical). You’re following your passion for YOU. Not for them. For you. In doing so, however, just ensure that you meet your responsibilities to yourself and your family. You know, the important stuff like mortgages, food, vehicles, utilities. It’s hard to process images in Photoshop when your electricity has been turned off due to non-payment.

I’m only a part-timer, but I feel like I’ve been around long enough to be developing a pretty healthy view of what the photography world is really like and that, typically, it takes a massive boatload of hard work and long hours to make a living as a photographer, especially in the field of nature or wildlife photography. But don’t let that stop you. Be persistent. Be positive. Be determined.

Here are a few more great quotes – fodder to fuel your drive to fulfill your passion…

"The people who get on in this world are the people who get up and look for the circumstances they want, and, if they can't fine them, make them." - George Bernard Shaw

“The people who get on in this world are the people who get up and look for the circumstances they want, and, if they can’t find them, make them.” – George Bernard Shaw

"The most fortunate people on earth are those who have found a calling that's bigger than they are - that moves them and fills their lives with constant passion, aliveness, and growth." - Richard Leider

“The most fortunate people on earth are those who have found a calling that’s bigger than they are – that moves them and fills their lives with constant passion, aliveness, and growth.” – Richard Leider

"For the first couple of years you make stuff, it's just not that good. It's trying to be good, it has potential, but it's not. A lot of people never get past this phase; they quit. If you are just starting out or are still in this phase, you gotta know that it's normal and the most important thing you can do is do a lot of work.... It's only be going through a volume of work that you will close that gap, and your work will be as good as your ambitions." - Ira Glass

“For the first couple of years you make stuff, it’s just not that good. It’s trying to be good, it has potential, but it’s not. A lot of people never get past this phase; they quit. If you are just starting out or are still in this phase, you gotta know that it’s normal and the most important thing you can do is do a lot of work…. It’s only by going through a volume of work that you will close that gap, and your work will be as good as your ambitions.” – Ira Glass

"The one thing that you have that nobody else has is you. Your voice, your mind, your story, your vision. So write and draw and build and play and dance and live as only you can." - Neil Gaiman

“The one thing that you have that nobody else has is you. Your voice, your mind, your story, your vision. So write and draw and build and play and dance and live as only you can.” – Neil Gaiman

"Don't be trapped by dogma - which is living with the results of other people's thinking. Don't let the noise of other's opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary." - Steve Jobs

“Don’t be trapped by dogma – which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of other’s opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.” – Steve Jobs

"To practice any art, no matter how well or badly, is a way to make your soul grow. So do it." - Kurt Vonnegut

“To practice any art, no matter how well or badly, is a way to make your soul grow. So do it.” – Kurt Vonnegut

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Filed under Abstracts, conservation, Conservation & Environment, Creative Photography, Digital Photography, Dreams, learning, lessons learned, Life's short...., Nature, nature photography, Opinion, Philosophy, photography, Reflections, small business, Vision

The Perils of Your Passion….

A few days ago I read a really interesting article called, “The Peril of Following Your Passion”, by Malcolm Munro. In a nutshell, the article was about the perils of following your dream to become a professional photographer (or any other career path, for that matter). It’s about that ‘leap of faith’ moment, when you decide to quit your day job to pursue your photography passion, full-time.

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There’s been lots written over the past year or two about following your photography dream. In particular, David duChemin has written a lot about it. His takehome message is that life is short, so follow your passion. Be willing to take risks. Make it happen now.

I don’t disagree with David’s advice. Life is short. Sadly, there are events in life that remind us starkly of this reality. Do you want to go to your grave having a long list of unfulfilled dreams? Me neither….

However, I think that when we decide to make that career shift, to follow our passion, our dream, to break the chains of that job that is so deeply unsatisfying, well, we just need to be smart about how we do it. I think some of Malcolm’s message is maybe a bit harsh. The image that says, ‘don’t follow your heart’…well, I disagree. I’d tweak that statement and say, be smart about following your heart.

Feathers-1162

I’m an optimist, but also a realist. However, I’m not a pessimist. I do believe that in the grand scheme of life, we should ultimately follow our hearts. But I think we need the foresight and wisdom to follow in a sustainable way. Would I love to quit my day job to become a full-time wildlife and conservation photographer? You bet! In a heartbeat. That’s nothing against my job or my employer. It’s just that for me, photography is oxygen. I need it. It’s part of who I am. I can’t survive without it. But I also can’t afford to quit my day job to do it full time.  So instead, I’m trying to be smart about feeding my passion. I do it part time. I do it in my ‘spare’ time. Is it easy? Nope. Is it challenging? Yup. Does it sometimes cause unhappiness in my family? Yup. It’s hard to balance your own needs with those of your spouse and/or your kids. But bottom line is that you need to feed yourself and your family. You can’t default on your mortgage payments.

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So, my opinion about following your passion is by all means, do it! If you don’t, you may regret it. Just find a way to do it that won’t lead you to future of grief. You have a responsibility to yourself and to your family (if you have a spouse and/or kids). But with the internet, there are a ton of ways you can get your photographs ‘out there’. Is it easy? Nope. Does it require a LOT of work? Yup. But that doesn’t mean you don’t do it. You just work your butt off to pursue the things that make you tick. You find a way to make it work. You might not have the fanciest most high tech dSLR. You might not have all the lenses you want. Just find a way to make it work for you. Build your equipment up slowly. Buy good used equipment. That’s what I did initially.There are a number of ways to be smart, creative, and successfully follow your dream. You just might find that you aren’t following that dream the way you thought you would. But that doesn’t make it less wonderful than your grand plan. It just makes it feasible and realistic.

I encourage you to read Malcolm’s article, especially if you’re just starting out in photography or if you’re young and trying to work out your career path. Whatever you do, don’t give up on your passion. Just be smart about how you pursue it. Be a realist. Read Malcolm’s article.

And then draft your plan to pursue your passion…

Shoot for the moon!

Shoot for the moon!

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Filed under Digital Photography, Dreams, learning, lessons learned, Life's short...., nature photography, Opinion, Philosophy, photography, Rant, small business, tecnhology, Vision

Nobody’s Perfect….

I’m an Apple lover. I’ve been using Macs since I first started using computers (which, by the way, was during my 4th year of university, many moons ago. It sure beat using an abacus for performing statistical analyses!). In fact, I was such a dedicated Mac user through my 150 years as a graduate student that during my year as professor of ecology at Bates College, back in 2000-2001, I had to get my students to teach me how to use Windows and to show me what it meant to right and left click on a mouse. I know what your thinking and no, I was not embarrassed. I simply hadn’t been dragged into the Windows world and I was more than happy to let my students teach me something. And it made them feel good, so what the heck. 🙂

So yes, I’m a dyed in the wool Apple user. I have been dragged, kicking and screaming, into the Windows and Microsoft world. I had no choice. Resistance was futile. 🙂 And at work and at home I use PC’s. But everything to do with my photography is done on an Apple. I own an iPad and an iPod, but not an iPhone. I’m not addicted to Apple products (there, I finally said it. No more need for an intervention….I admit I’m addicted) because they are currently the ‘in’ thing. I was an Apple addict back in the days when a Mac was a little square box with an 8 inch monochrome screen. So believe me, it’s not the hype that has made me an Apple addict. I don’t use Apple products just because all my friends use them. It’s because I really, really like Apple products. I think Apple is smart (mostly, but see below), innovative, creative, and forward thinking. And I like that.

So is Apple perfect? Nope! We all come with warts and hairy moles (ok, maybe not hairy moles). In a recent blog post, Photoshop Guru Scott Kelby, wrote about one of Apple’s warts. He bought a new retina display MacBook Pro. A slick machine. He likes it. But… as he learned painfully, leave it at home. At least for now.

During a shoot, with tight timelines, Scott learned that the new MacBook Pro doesn’t have a cable lock slot. In other words, you cannot use a typical laptop cable lock to secure your laptop. It sounds like it was a painful discovery for Scott. Perhaps it was more of a hairy mole than a wart. But it sounds like he has found alternatives for laptop security. Still…. it’s annoying as $#7&^%!!! to discover, in the middle of a shoot, that you can’t lock down your laptop. It may not sound like much, but when there are clients and big $ at stake, something seemingly little can be a big problem. Read Scott’s blog post to learn about his experience. I’m hoping he’ll follow up with a post about the solutions he found and which one he’s settled on.

In the meantime, I hope someone from Apple is reading Scott’s post, smacking their palm on their forehead while exclaiming, “Doah!” And more importantly, I hope that they are going to be in the office late tonight so that they can do some wart (or hairy mole) removal and ensure that the next round of new MacBook Pro’s that get produced have a teensy-weensy little slot on the side of the laptop casing, so that the rest of us can use our cable locks to ensure our new MacBook Pro’s are safe the next time we’re surfing the web at Starbucks and we need to run to have a pee. It’s either that or wear Depends. 😉

I hope Apple’s listening….

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Filed under Digital Photography, equipment, lessons learned, Opinion, technology

The Debate Is Dead?

It’s been a busy, busy week and so I’m late with my blog post. Plus,  I knew what I wanted to post about, but needed a bit more time to mull it over to make sure my ‘assessment’ of the situation sat ok with me. So, finally, here I am. Better late than never? ;o)

While in lived in New Zealand (2003 – 2009), I  belonged to a couple of camera clubs. One was focused on nature photography, the other, a typical camera club. The latter camera club was quite large and a well-established one that had been around for many decades. I learned a lot during the time I was a member there. I was just really getting back into photography after about a 20 year hiatus. I finally had the time and money, after being a student for 150 years, to put into photography. The club has a pretty serious focus on competitions and so the ‘feel’ of the club is quite different from others that don’t have competitions. For me, the competitions were great for learning, but once I got to a certain point, I found their benefit dimished. But that’s a whole other debate for later.

Bird foot prints in the sand. This image has not been colour-enhanced. This is what it looks like on the slide. Cool light in winter, late in the day, resulted in the purple sand.

I was a member of this particular camera club at a time when digital was really just coming in. Sure, digital had been around for a little while, but digital SLR cameras were insanely expensive, about 2-3 MP, and just were not mainstream. Some pro-photographers owned them and 2MP point and shoots were just really starting to find their place in the consumer market. It was the beginning – the very, very beginning of the digital revolution. If you plotted a graph of the number of the digital cameras sold per year, at that point in time, we’d be on the line, just as the curve was barely starting its upward climb. Ya, I mean really at the beginning.

One of the things that amused, irritated and intrigued me at that time, were the discussions going on in our camera club. The “Big Debate” (film vs. digital) was just beginning to play out. Over the next few years, that debate became front and centre in our club and probably most camera clubs around the world. How could it not? Photography, as we had known it for over a hundred years, was on the cusp of changing in a huge way. And people don’t take kindly to sea change. As a scientist, I’m well acquainted with ‘theory tenacity’, which in a nutshell, means that people don’t really like big changes or new ideas (not even scientists). It’s a deeply ingrained human trait. Anything that goes against conventional thinking is viewed with suspicion. It makes me picture people with squinted eyes and furrowed brows. That look of, “Mmmm….. I’m not so sure about this.” As a scientist, I also think that constructive and healthy debate is good. Not just good, but necessary. We should look critically at new technology, ideas, trends, etc. But we should also keep an open mind. I remember being astounded at the fervor of the debates and conversations people were having at the camera club, about digital vs. film. I was also quite surprised by how many people were so adamantly opposed to digital, saying it would NEVER be as good as film. That the quality of slide film would always outperform anything that digital SLR’s could offer. My philosophy with nearly everything in life is ‘never say never’. I keep an open mind. I’m wary and critical in a healthy way. As the saying goes, ‘be open-minded, but not empty-headed’. But the first step is to (even cautiously) consider that something new might actually have value, maybe even a lot of value. I guess narrow-mindedness is a huge pet-peeve of mine, for many reasons, and so when this digital vs. film debate was at its peak, I just couldn’t get my head around folks saying that digital would never, ever out-perform film. I was also amazed at how intense and nearly acrimonious some of these debates and discussions became. But hey, when over 100 years of a certain way of doing things is about to change forever, I guess people can get pretty passionate about things.

Likewise, summer sun late in the day bathed the beach sands in orange and yellow. I have punched this up a TINY bit compared to the original slide, but only to bump up contrast to give it punch. The colours have not been manipulated and I have not ramped up the saturation way up.

So, fast forward to 2011. Is the debate still going on? Are people still arguing about film vs. digital? What do you think? My feeling is, it’s a done deal. It’s all a moot point now. Go to a camera club meeting these days and does the word “film” even get mentioned? Maybe it does when one is reminiscing about the ‘old days’. ;o) But seriously. It was an intense debate at one point. So how did things turn out? What’s the ‘answer’ here? Obviously, the answer is highly personal. Each photographer has their own opinion, and rightly so. But if we look at the numbers – number of digital point and shoots sold annually, number of digital SLR’s sold annually, number of roles of film sold or developed annually. What do the numbers say? I haven’t taken the time to Google it and find the exact numbers. To be honest, I don’t think I need to. I think the results are so overwhelmingly clear that we don’t need exact numbers to see what’s happened. In a nutshell – digital won out.

Again this what the slide looks like. I have changed the hue or greatly ramped up the saturation. I find with scanned slides, I have to really ramp up the contrast a lot as well as using levels or curves to give the image punch. That's my biggest complaint with slides - great for subtle things, but the images really lack that punch and vibrance. They just don't pop the way digital images do.

Sure, folks still shoot film. I still own a film camera – a Mamiya 645 medium format. Haven’t used it in a while although I keep meaning to (but the film is harder to get and developing expensive and more importantly, you don’t get the immediate feedback that you do with the LCD screen on a digital camera). Medium format film is still good. The larger film size brings with it the benefits of greater resolution. But is medium format film still better than your average digital SLR? In my opinion, no. I think they might be equals or in some cases, digital is still better. And for a number of reasons. Quality? Maybe they’re equals, maybe they’re not. I’m still sitting on the fence on that one and not sure which bum cheek should get the sliver.  All the other benefits of digital, in my opinion, mean that digital – as the overall package – wins. I’m speaking for myself here. Others may feel differently and I welcome any comments or opinions on this topic. But I suspect the debate really is over, that the discussion would be pretty quiet. Camera clubs don’t debate film vs. digital anymore. Rather, they debate how many megapixels one really  needs to get that amazing image quality. The debate has moved on.

For me, all of this thinking about the debate over film vs. digital resurfaced because I recently borrowed a Nikon Coolscan film scanner from a friend. I have a huge slide collection and wanted to digitize some of it so I could use it. I hate the fact that I don’t see those images and that they sit in a drawer. I’ve pretty much weeded out a reasonably small number of ‘keepers’ from the reams of slides I have. And those are the ones I thought I’d scan and hopefully do something with. But I’m just not sure anymore. The slide scanner I’m using is a very good one. It’s not a flatbed scanner, but a dedicated slide/film scanner. I’m scanning at about 2900 ppi and my files are anywhere between 35 and 65 MB, depending on whether I scan as a jpeg or tiff, 8 bit or 16 bit. I’ve optimized the captures for image quality. But you know…. even after all that, I’m really  not that impressed. I look at my slides and think, “Enh…..”. They don’t tickle my brain. I don’t know what it is. Maybe I’m being too hard on them. But they just look different. I prefer digital.

Taken in subtle light, but is still lacking something. Even digital images taken in dull or subtle light have a certain 'punch' to them that film lacks.

The first think I noticed was that they lacked the ‘pop’ of digital – that punch, that contrast, that zing. I looked at my slides on a light table and at the window, just to make sure it wasn’t an artifact of the scanning process. Nope, not really.  And it’s not that my slides were stored improperly. I always stored them in archival-quality sleeves, in a dry, cool place, free of humidity, etc., etc., etc.  My conclusion was…. that film just doesn’t cut it for me anymore. I’m disappointed in film. When I was shooting it, it was fine. It’s all we had. And I always shot low ASA/ISO to avoid graininess, unless I specifically wanted the grain for effect. But now, I’m disappointed. When I look back on it all, I’m really thankful for digital. It suites me really well.

Am I going to finish scanning my ‘keepers’? Yup, I am. But in looking at the results, I think I’m a lot less likely to do as much with them as I first anticipated. I have some slides from places that I will likely never see again – like the Chatham Islands of New Zeland. Heck, the Chathams are a place that most people don’t ever see! But it’s’ a unique place, with a unique story and I would like to scan those slides for a bit of writing and storytelling to go along with them. But as for my slides of the Canadian sub-arctic, of the American southwest, of my 5 months working as a biologist on the very tops of the Colorado Rocky Mountains chasing ‘mountain chickens’? I need to get back to those places. I need new images. I need to photograph them with the technology available today. Maybe I’m being picky, but I just feel like I need another kick at the can.

I like the patterns and colours here, but wish it just popped a bit more. If I try to bump up the contrast or vibrance anymore, then the image ends up looking overcooked.

One thing that confounds my opinion of my slide images (to a certain extent, but doesn’t explain all of my disappointment with film) is that the overall quality of my photographs has improved. Not just technically, but artistically and compositionally. I’m a better photographer than I was back then. And so I should be, if the old adage, ‘practice makes perfect’ is really true. But I think my development as a photographer isn’t solely limited to practice. I feel it’s due in part, to the much faster, more efficient learning we do with digital. We get immediate feedback by looking at the LCD screen. With film, I’d get gung-ho once in a while and record all of the settings (what we now call metadata) for each frame on a roll of 36. But that became ‘old’ really quickly and after a few rolls, I’d be back to my lazy ways of not recording the info. And even if I did record it, I’d have to wait several days to weeks to get my film developed (depending on how much money I had on hand). And then I had to block out a chunk of time to sit down with my slides and my notes and see what worked and what didn’t. I did do some bracketing, but I also tried to get it right the first time. But I never knew until I got my film developed and that lag time in between does not facilitate efficient learning. I know that old slide shooters with years of experience could dial in a manual setting and nail the exposure first crack. Those people spent years if not decades shoot film and slides. But for those of us who were learning at the time, it was both painful and slow. Not with digital. I learned more with digital than I ever did, in all the years with my film cameras. And I could afford to shoot crappy images in the name of experimentation. As a result, my images have improved dramatically (I’m not saying I’ve reached the pinnacle – I still have a lot to learn). But my images are better and far, far more creative than they ever were. Frankly, with film, I couldn’t afford to be creative. Literally, I could not afford the amount of film and developing necessary to let my creative skills flourish. Not so with digital.

So what’s the bottom line? For me, I think the debate is long gone. It’s over. It’s all a moot point now. Digital is IT. There is still a place for film with a limited number of shooters. But mainstream is digital. Hands down. And what have we learned from watching this (re)evolution happen before our eyes? For me, it just emphasizes that we need to be open-minded. Embrace technology to the point that suits you. But don’t just look down your nose as something because it’s new and different. Not every piece of new technology is some magic bullet. Pick and choose what suits you. But at least consider what it has to offer to you. Regardless of whether we’re talking cameras or anything else in life, narrow-mindedness just doesn’t pay. The world is our oyster so crack open the shell and enjoy what’s inside!

A Footnote: During the height of the film vs. digital debate, for those who were all for digital, how many turned to their film colleagues several years later and said, “I told you so!” ;o)

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Filed under Creative Photography, learning, lessons learned, Opinion, Philosophy, technique

Creativity, Critiquing, and Clients: is beauty only in the eye of the beholder?

With a title like this, you know this post is going to be a ‘dog’s breakfast’ (as they say in New Zealand). And yes, in one sense, it is. But seriously, there is a coherent point to this post. And an important one too.

I thought I’d write about a recent experience I had. This experience was not a good one. It actually left me feeling disappointed and deflated. However, the positive side of it is that I was reminded of some very important lessons. And hopefully so was my colleague, the other character in this story.

There are three main points I want to hit home here, based on this recent series of events. I’ll elaborate on each of them below. And I’m going to apologize in advance because I know I may sound preachy here. That’s not my intent. I just want to share something important with you, so bear with me.

1. As photographers, we are artists. We have the freedom to create and our creations are inspired by what we see and feel, not what someone else dictates.

2. Although our images are the result of our creative processes and what we see and feel, we can all benefit from receiving constructive feedback on our images now and again.

3. All communication should be respectful. How you say something is as important as what you say.

You might be thinking, what the heck do these three things have to do with each other? Read on…

As photographers, we are artists. We have the freedom to create. Our creations are inspired by what we see and feel, not what someone else dictates. Nobody should be telling us what we see and feel and therefore, what we should create or how to create it. These things – the things that drive our creativity – come from within us. We shouldn’t be making fine art images simply to please someone else. Sure, it’s different if you’re shooting stock or commercial images, where you’ve agreed to produce something specific that a client wants. But for fine art images, our creations should be our own, not someone else’s.

Although our images are the result of our own creative processes, we can all benefit from receiving constructive feedback on our images now and again.The heart of this point has to do with the emotional connection we have to our images and whether or not we succeed in communicating this emotion. Sometimes we think an image we have made is really good, but for whatever reasons, it isn’t actually as appealing to other people as it is to us. That’s often because we still associate the emotion of the moment – the moment we made the image and the reason that inspired us to take the photo – with the image today. It’s like we have an emotional hangover with the image. This is where having someone you respect and trust to critique your image can be helpful. Have them tell you, in their opinion, what the good things are about your image, what the not-so-good things about it are, and most importantly, how you might consider doing things differently next time to improve the image, if they feel it needs improving. But ultimately, it’s up to you what you do with this information. You may agree with it or not. Or agree with parts of it. Don’t be defensive or arrogant. Take the comments on board. Consider them carefully. But… ultimately, the decision of what you do with those comments is up to you. It’s your creation.

A key point here is that criticism – the feedback we asked for – has to be constructive and it has to be delivered in a positive way. Hollow opinions such as, ‘this stinks’ or ‘it’s terrible’ or ‘I don’t like it’ or ‘…any magazine, art buyer, or art collector wouldn’t touch it!’ are not helpful. If that’s the kind of feedback you’re going to dole out, don’t bother! It’s useless and offensive. Think of how you would feel if that’s the feedback you received about one of your images from someone you respected and trusted!

All communication should be respectful. How you say something is as important as what you say. It doesn’t matter who you are speaking to or what the topic is that you’re discussing, ALL communication needs to be respectful. This is absolutely critical when you are critiquing a colleague’s image or in fact, in any kind of communication you have with your photographer colleagues, clients, prospective clients, or anyone, for that matter. If you are commenting on a colleague’s image and don’t deliver your feedback in a constructive and polite way, you will very quickly lose your credibility. They won’t bother to ask you for your opinion again because they don’t value it.

You might be thinking wow, don’t be so thin skinned. I’m not. Working in academia for 20+ years has helped me develop crocodile hide! But to be honest, I don’t really think there is such a thing as being thin skinned. If someone is offend by what you said to them or how you said it, then you are the problem, not them. You need to regroup and try again. Be sensitive to the person’s feelings. Delivery is everything.

I know I’m sounding preachy here; I don’t mean to. The reason why I mention these things is because I hope that these points serve as reminders to us all, of how we should conduct ourselves – treating our clients, our colleagues, our friends and our loved ones with the utmost respect that they deserve.

Maybe you’re thinking ya, I know all this stuff. But I think it’s worth reminding ourselves of these points now and again. Yes, even the ‘seasoned pros’ need to be reminded. Why? Because recently, a photographer colleague of mine provided feedback on some of my images. This is something I value very much because it helps me take a step back from my images (remove the emotional hangover), provides a different perspective and helps me to grow as a photographer.  In this case, I had been discussing with my colleague, my possible enrollment in his photography mentoring programme. Part of the programme involved image critiquing. Great! But sadly, I quickly discovered that the feedback I was getting consisted only of very negative opinions with absolutely nothing constructive contained in them. Frankly, some of the comments were downright offensive. And he treated me as though I’d only picked up a camera for the first time last week even though he knows that’s not the case. I think he really wanted my money, but his ‘overselling’ backfired. His comments were incredibly condescending. I mentioned this to him in a very carefully and politely worded email because I didn’t think he would want to be perceived in such a negative way and I figured he didn’t realize what he was doing. But all I got back was a very offensive and blunt email saying essentially, that I don’t have time to read your email; you are not my client and unless you pay me for my time, I have nothing more to say to you. Wow! I was stunned! I completely understand that paying clients have to be the priority – you have a contract with them and products to deliver on time. However, once those contracts have been fulfilled, you’ll need some new clients too. I just cannot fathom why someone would be so rude to a potential client (who was also a colleague and friend). He had been courting me as a client, but the moment I told him I was going to delay my enrollment in his programme for a while, I was not only dropped like a hot potato, but he was asking me to pay him to justify his earlier comments. That’s not the way to treat a potential client, a colleague, and a friend.

I don’t think I have to tell you that this is most definitely not the way to run a successful  business. And this was coming from a photographer who had been in business for over 15 years! Needless to say, due to a string of highly unpleasant and frankly, arrogant comments he made to me, I decide that I would not be his client. By this point he had nothing useful to offer me – no useful feedback on my images, no useful advice on how to treat prospective clients, and no useful advice on how to run a small business. His credibility was gone. I’m saddened by this. I don’t know what would compel someone who I think is ultimately a good person, to behave so badly. Everyone makes mistakes and one poorly worded email can be forgiven. But several downright offensive communications are over the top.

On one level, this whole situation still bothers me. But as with all bad things, good things can come of it. Learn the lessons and move on. I was reminded of how vitally important it is to treat people with respect and how ugly the consequences of not doing so can be. It can take many years to build a good reputation, but only one day to destroy it. Bad behaviour will catch up with you – eventually. And when you’re trying to make a living from your own small business, this can be disastrous.

I won’t forget the lessons I was reminded of with this situation. Arrogance isn’t pretty, nor does it ever result in anything good. Be honest, but be respectful. Treat people well and they will treat you well in return. I won’t forget this.

My attempt at a moody winter landscape. The clouds were so thick, blocking out all but that glowing sun in the sky, it felt like I was experiencing an eclipse! I tried to capture this mood. Was I successful or not? (copyright Shelley L. Ball)

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Filed under lessons learned, Opinion, Philosophy, respect, small business, Vision