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Posts published in “About Photography”

The Year of 50 Short Stories and 5000 Photos – 6 months on

Today is June 1st which means it’s time for an update on my progress toward the Year of 50 Short Stories and 5000 Photos. Astute readers will have noticed that I continually update the box on the right side of this page with my current progress as I make photos or write, whether or not I post them here. What you will not know is that I have been keeping a log since January 14th of the progress I make per update. Here is the breakdown for my photographs.

Jan 14 23/5000 (0.460%)
Jan 17 152/5000 (3.040%)
Jan 19 230/5000 (4.600%)
Feb 16 354/5000 (7.080%)
Feb 21 659/5000 (13.180%)
Feb 24 1104/5000 (22.080%)
Feb 26 1202/5000 (24.040%)
Feb 28 1318/5000 (26.360%)
Mar 06 1834/5000 (36.680%)
Mar 07 1904/5000 (38.080%)
Mar 22 2013/5000 (40.260%)
Mar 23 2131/5000 (42.620%)
Mar 28 2206/5000 (44.120%)
Apr 20 2276/5000 (45.520%)
Apr 26 2400/5000 (48.000%)
May 08 2821/5000 (56.420%)
May 09 2919/5000 (58.380%)

You can see that not only has my progress been consistent, but that even early in May, I was beyond the 50% mark before half the year had elapsed. All in all, I think my progress has been appropriate and, frankly, pretty impressive. I’m surprised and pleased that I’ve stayed on track with this. Good job, Joe. Even better is that merely half way through my quota for the year, I can see and feel my photography improving. That is really encouraging and makes me want to get out there and keep making photos. The remaining 2000 (I have some on my camera waiting to be offloaded) should be a piece of cake. I will be interested to see what the final tally will be for the year.

Ok, thats great and all, but what about the other half? Let’s look at the breakdown.

Jan 14 0/50 (0.000%)
Mar 31 1/50 (2%)
Apr 07 2/50 (4%)

Ooooh. Not so good. 4% at the halfway point? Pretty fucking pathetic actually. So what’s my problem? I think I’m being my own worst enemy here. I’m getting caught in creative webs, constantly trying to write brilliant material so that when what’s coming out isn’t sparkling, I get dismayed and stop. BAD JOE! I need to learn from the photos—not every photo I take is brilliant, but every one counts. I just need to put the words down and then worry about them later. Luckily I have 6 months left, which averages out to about 2 stories every week. Totally doable. I just need not to be so fucking hard on myself with the writing and just let it be loose and creative and dark and funny and whatever. Not everything needs to be perfect. I need to remember that.

And with my impending unemployment, I will need to learn to schedule better and make time to be creative for the remaining 48. I can do it.

I will update on my progress when I hit 3/4s on September 1.

A Life In Art – John Camp

I think this is an interesting article: “A Life in Art” By John Camp

This is a particularly inspired idea.

Of the successful artists I’ve known, I’d say that the two things that led to their success were compulsion (virtually to the extent of mental illness) to do the work, and the eventual ability to monetize the effort. Most of them never get that success—they’re finally ground down and give it up….

Both suggest that while inborn talent is of some utility, the thing that really determines success in the arts (or any other field) is simply doing it. Gladwell even suggests a standard: ten thousand hours. He suggests that if you work very hard a particular art form—art in the widest sense, including sports, music, law, medicine and so on—that you will begin to reach a mastery of it after 10,000 hours of hard work. That’s 40 hours a week (no cheating!) for five years, or 20 hours a week for ten.

Check it out. Camp has some interesting ideas about what makes an artist and what it takes to excel at your chosen craft, writing or photography or editing or whatever. It boils down, as he notes above, to being a little crazy about it. Food for thought.

But most artists tend to be somewhat reclusive, because of the “compulsion” and “10,000 hours of work” aspects of their lives. They’re not back-slappers, drink-buyers, hale-fellow types.

So selling can be one of the toughest hurdles for a real artist to clear, even those who put in their time, who are doing excellent work.

Hah! I am definitely a “back-slapper, drink-buyer, hale-fellow type”, often to the detriment of my creative pursuits. I guess I have that working for me…and against me.

2008 – The Year in Photographs

The Big Picture, which I mentioned last week, put up a series of articles called 2008 The Year in Photographs. They are some of the best images of some of the most important events of last year (duh). I’m not even going to try and post my favorites. Just get over there and look.

2008 – The Year in Photographs, part 1 of 3

2008 – The Year in Photographs, part 2 of 3

2008 – The Year in Photographs, part 3 of 3

Some pretty incredible moments in there.

Update to the terms of The Year of 5000 Photos and 50 Short Stories

I’ve been thinking a lot about my progress on the Year of 5000 Photos and 50 Short Stories. So far, I am doing well on toward my total of 5000 photos for the year, currently at just under 40% after only 2 and a half months. That’s 1904 photos in 10 weeks. In 2008, before the arrival of my new camera and my decision to embark upon this theme for 2009, I only shot 2325 photos. After the new camera and my 2009 theme decision, the total was 2084 photos, but I think that the former count is more representative of my pace than the latter. 1904 photos in 10 weeks versus 2325 in 11 months. It is clear how much more productive I’ve been this year in regards to my photos.

I think that’s because I’ve not limited myself in any way regarding what constitutes a “photograph”. Well, I did make a differentiation between test photos and photos I keep, but that is, to me at least, quite clear. Test photos are just that—for testing new equipment or familiarizing myself with equipment I haven’t used in a little bit. Obviously I shoot more test photos with new equipment than with old, but test photos are test photos and don’t count toward the 5000. In case there is any curiosity, warm-up photos DO count. Specifically, warm-up photos are whatever photos I shoot at the beginning of a shoot while I am still getting into the feel of the thing. Sometimes they can be as many as 100 or as few as 10, but there are always warm-up photos. Since I shoot these with the same intent I do with later photos in the set, I count them. Test photos are shot with little concern for subject matter or composition; warm-up photos are just the bad photos early in a set while I’m getting my bearings.

What about my short story count, then? An astute reader would notice that the count in the box on the left has read “0/50” since I put the box there on January 14th. What is the difference? I’ve been cranking out the photos, but why not the fiction? After the creative submission for Hunter which I submitted on January 31st, I took a little breaky-poo from writing every day. Then I went on vacation for two weeks to CA. But, now I’m back, had plenty of time to get something done, yet there is still nothing to show.

Why not?

I think it comes down to the terms I set for myself initially. While my standards for photos are quite broad, my standards for short stories are much more regimented. I think the thing that’s fucking me up the most is the lower word limit. I have ideas, but then there’s this nagging voice in my head that says, “Well, can you really stretch that idea to 1500 words at a minimum?” and then I get stuck thinking about that stupid, arbitrary number I established. The point of the number was to get me thinking about what I’m writing, not to limit my output because I get hung up on it. It has served exactly the opposite of the intended purpose thus far. Not good.

Therefore, I submit this change to the terms of my definition of what constitutes a valid short story.

Here is the original definition:

Short story – a short story is any piece of narrative writing between 1500 and 10000 words. It can be about anything at all, but needs to fall roughly within those two limits. The upper limit is looser than the lower. 1500 words is a bare minimum, but ok since, once I get rolling, I’ll bang out 1500 to 2500 words in a sitting.

And here is my revised definition:

Short story – a short story is any piece of narrative writing up to 10000 words. It can be about anything at all and in any style, but it must be fiction.

Much better. Much less restrictive. Is it possible that some of my stories will be longer than the old minimum of 1500 words? Of course, but it’s just as likely that they’ll be 900 or 1000 words, below the old minimum, but nothing to scoff at. I have no intention of using this new lack of a lower limit as a way of copping-out on the assignment I’ve provided myself for the year. What would be the point? This is just a way of opening the door a little bit so I’m not artificially restricted, allowing my brain to breathe and focus on the task at hand—writing—rather than hitting 1500 words.

Prime lenses

Prime lenses are a total inconvenience. Not being able to zoom is a complete pain in the ass, and having to switch lenses to change the focal length is even worse. I have to carry around multiple lenses to cover a variety of settings, instead of just throwing one zoom on and going for it. They are a real hassle.

If so, then why do I love them so much? It is so much nicer taking photos with my 300 dollar 85mm f/1.8 prime than it is with my 1100 dollar 24-105 f/4 zoom that I almost never even reach for the zoom anymore. The only instance when I throw the zoom on is when I know I’m not going to have time to switch lenses, which itself doesn’t take all that long and can be accomplished with light weight primes one-handed with a little practice. The rest of the time I just leave my two primes, a 28mm and a 85mm, on the body and go from there. I also have the 50mm f/1.8 in my drawer, but I never use it not because it’s inconvenient, but because it feels cheap. I just don’t like it. I’m going to purchase the 50mm f/1.4 in the next few weeks and then retire the f/1.8 version.

I think that what I like most about the primes is that they are solid, sharp as hell, and wonderfully bright through the viewfinder. If you’ve never seen the difference between a lens with an f/4 maximum and a lens with an f/1.8 maximum through a viewfinder, trust me the difference is remarkable. It goes from a dingy, dull image at f/4 to a bright, clean image at f/1.8 which unconsciously gives me a better feeling for the moment happening in front of my lens. It’s just a lot nicer. I feel more connected to my subjects, better equipped to capture the moment as it happens.

The ability not to change focal lengths is freeing from the endless possibilities of a zoom lens. Too much choice is no choice at all. For all the time spent while I’m dicking around zooming in and out trying to get a good composition, the moment has passed. Remove the option to zoom altogether and you find yourself unfettered by choice, able to take the photos presenting themselves to you. Besides, if you really want to get closer, just move your ass. It’s not hard.

Of course, there are times when you need to be run & gun with your photography or for whatever reason you can’t move forward or backward to get the right shot, but for the majority of the time I feel like shooting with primes is just better. That is really true for all the shooting-in-the-dark I do. Every little bit of aperture counts.

As a side note, I took my first daylight photos with the 5d Mk II today, after more than 800 photos in the dark. It does just as nice a job outside in daylight as inside in artificial light.

The Theme of 2009

In theory, New Year’s resolutions are a good idea. It is in the realization of these resolutions where we discover that, in fact, they don’t always work out. How many New Year’s resolutions have you made in your life that you’ve never followed through on? How many people have you heard make resolutions to do whatever the hell it is they think they should be doing but then never do? If you’re like me, the answer to both questions is “A lot”. Sure, some people have success, but I’m willing to bet that the ratio of successes to failures is skewed toward the latter.

What are some of the problems with New year’s resolutions? Well, for one, they are often short sighted, setting a goal for the immediate to near future and not often considering 4 or 8 or 12 months from now. They are also generally too specific, not allowing for the person making resolutions to change their minds or to adapt to changing situations throughout the year. People and things change, so it’s stupid not to be able to adjust your goals accordingly.

A few years ago I decided to pick a theme for the upcoming year (2004, I think?) and stick with that for the whole year. The idea was that the theme should be broadly applicable with recognizable short term goals. That might sound contradictory, but hear me out. I wanted something that would provide many opportunities to express itself in easily accomplished situations, something that could apply to many things yet all fall under the same heading. Thus the idea of a “theme”, rather than a “resolution”.

Since putting this into motion, I have had a few years of success and a few years of not-success. Let’s look at some examples, shall we?

  • The Year of Trying New Things—This was my first theme and esaily the most successful. It exemplifies everything a year’s theme should be. Broadly applicable to many things (what new thing am I trying? It doesn’t matter, so long as it’s new) and provides short term goals (try it).
  • The Year of Writing—This year was moderately successful for a while but ended up being too broad. There were no goals to set except “to write”, which was enough for a while, but not strong enough for me to keep my focus.
  • The Year of Finishing Things—What? Serious? I broke both my guidelines here. Too specific and too long term. No good. Next!
  • The Year of Self-Care—Again, moderately successful since it was focused mostly on figuring out what I needed from my life, but not a great theme since it lacks clear short term goals.
  • The Year of Focus—Seriously? What the hell? Horrible.

For 2009 I am determined not repeat my past mistakes, but to really work on keeping myself occupied outside of work with personal creative work. And now that I have this blog running, I have something to keep my honest and not let myself slip into complacency as I am prone to do.

After a lot of thinking, I have decided that 2009 will be:

The Year of 5000 photos and 50 Short Stories

Right? It’s good, I think. It has short term goals (stories, photos) and is broadly applicable (stories about what? Photos of what?). It’s also enough to keep me busy throughout the whole year, but not so much that it is daunting. Originally, it was going to be The Year of 10,000 Photos after I was inspired by Bryan’s photo count on his site, which, if you have not seen, you should. But then I realized it didn’t carve out a space for the other craft which is important to me and not addressed professionally—writing. So a little bit of calculation was done to establish reasonable goals and the theme was changed.

But, you ask, what constitutes “a photo” or “a short story”? Well, I’ve thought about that too and here’s what I think.

Photo – a photo is counted when it is part of a set that was deliberately taken. I am not limited only to my selects from a given shoot, but at the same time, test shoots do not count toward the final tally.

Short story – a short story is any piece of narrative writing between 1500 and 10000 words. It can be about anything at all, but needs to fall roughly within those two limits. The upper limit is looser than the lower. 1500 words is a bare minimum, but ok since, once I get rolling, I’ll bang out 1500 to 2500 words in a sitting.

And you, Black Laser readers, will help to keep me honest! Follow my progress over the next calendar year. I will be posting every photo and every story to this site for you to enjoy. I also hope to make periodic comments on my status and how I’m feeling about my progress. Stay tuned, intrepid readers!

You can check my progress with this link: The Year of 5000 Photos and 50 Short Stories. It will link you to every post with that tag, which will be every post I make with a story or photos. Let’s do this.