Lori Carey Photography

Thursday, January 3, 2008

Reflections on 2007, Directions for 2008

I won't lie; I don't make New Year resolutions, per se. It's just always seemed silly to me that so many people seem think they need to pick something to improve once a year, and only once a year. They usually choose something very general like "lose weight" or "get healthier", then they get obsessive about it for a week or two, burn themselves out, and forget about it until the following New Year. They're okay with that because, after all, no one actually expects to be able to keep their New Year's Resolutions.

What I do believe in is setting and refining goals on a regular basis, and I look at it more as creating a business plan for my life (what else would you expect from an MBA with 20+ years experience in the corporate world? :) Last year most of my goals were focused on my photography (imagine that!). Truth is, my photography is a very important part of who I am, but I had not been giving it the priority it deserved over the past few years and that had created an imbalance in my life.

My goals are posted above my desk where I can see them every day; I evaluate them and my progress on a regular basis, and add/delete/modify on a regular basis. I am a Stephen Covey disciple, and I truly believe that all of the success and good things I have in my life are due to steadfastly following the principles laid out in "The 7 Habits" as well as the planning skills I learned through FranklinCovey.

2007 was a fantastic year for me on a personal level photographically speaking; for the first time in many years I actually had time to think about my photography. What I discovered was that the more I thought about it, the more things I found to think about! I really started out just wanting to become better organized and spend more time shooting, but as the year progressed my plan evolved and grew. And so once again it's time for me to review my progress (or lack of) toward my 2007 goals, and refine my goals for 2008. Let's see how I did:

To start with, I took more photos in one year than I have since I was in my 20's, dramatically improved my knowledge of Photoshop, started showing my images to a larger audience, and work has continued to come my way despite my complete lack of marketing. I learned that although I had always thought of myself as a landscaper photographer, I am currently rethinking exactly what that means; how does one differentiate oneself in the field of landscape photography? And do I really want to declare that as my niche? To be quite honest, I am enjoying shooting many other things now that I am taking the camera out more, and I've received some fantastic feedback on my candid portrait shots (which are not shown on my website) and I'm wondering if I should spend more time in these areas. Landscape is so limiting because it is entirely dependent on the light; there are only a few brief hours, if you are lucky, that you can get a really good landscape shot.

My first goal from January 2007 was the most important to me;

Lose less photos that I see.
I think all photographers can relate to that one - how many times have you smacked yourself because something caught your eye, maybe even a once-in-lifetime shot, and your camera was still at home? I knew that I really needed to start carrying my camera more in every day life, not just on photo outings, and that is a major deal because even just my camera and a lens is heavy and bulky. I tried to always carry my camera on walks, whenever I got in the jeep to do more than run to the grocery store, I even took it to a bar one night. The upside was that I was shooting a lot more and I got some shots that I never would've in the past, like this social commentary at the UCI campus:

It might be hard to read all of the signs in this small version, but they say "Jesus loves you", "Bob Marley loves you", "Mozart loves you" and "Anna Nicole loves you."
It may not be a work of art, but I like to imagine the scene of events that took place in this dorm building that led to the posting of all these proclamations of love, and I think it makes a statement about the world in which we live today.

I still need to concentrate more on processing and uploading my photos; now that I'm shooting more I've fallen even further behind! But I am slowly working through the backlog.

My next goal for 2007 was to develop a system for keywording and cataloging since my collection was getting too big to manage without some sort of organization. I have to admit that I am still struggling with a method of cataloging that works for me. I've tried playing around with methods that other photographers use, and they just don't feel right for me. I understand why it's important to give each file a meaningful name, but when you're at Tree # 273 it just loses something. And developing a numerical/alpha system, where maybe LS stands for landscape, CA stands for California, etc. was driving me crazy. So, for now I am leaving the file name at its original number and appending a suffix which indicates the processing method if I create multiple versions (such as LAB if I processed it in the LAB color space), which will cause me problems when I upgrade my camera again. And I've only been renaming the files I actually convert; the original RAW files keep their original file names.

I do have a consistent method of naming my folders now, using the year, the month, and the topic. Every month also has a "miscellaneous" folder to hold all of those things that caught my eye. That part works and I will continue to use it.

I'm very happy with how I've been keeping up on keywording, but I fell into it in a kind of roundabout way. In late June I added a mid-year goal and finally decided to go public with a website. The timing was right - I had a family reunion shoot and most of the people lived out of state. The best (and really only) way to allow them to view the proofs and order their prints was via a website, so I finally got off my duff and got one up and running thanks to the great folks at Smugmug and the fantastic help I received to customize my site from the people at Smugmug's forum Dgrin. Although I had some experience with html, they really held my hand with the CSS and helped me learn how to customize my site to do almost anything I wanted. I developed a workflow routine to prep my files for uploading, and embedding my copyright, caption and keywords became part of my routine. Voila! All uploaded files are now keyworded, hurrah!

Despite the compliments I've received on my site I wasn't happy with the format of the purchasing options and I wanted to reevaluate my pricing model, so I took down that part in November to rewrite it. Shame on me, it's going on two months now and you'd never know that you could purchase photos from my website, so my very top priority right now is to get that redesign finished by the end of January at the very latest.

My final goal for 2007 (from the first round) was to complete two personal photo projects, and here I failed miserably. After seeing this feature in National Geographic, I decided I wanted to do my own essay on the border wall between California and Mexico. My first trip down there was a disaster - it had rained heavily the night before and the mud was knee deep. The light wasn't good at all and I couldn't find anything that caught my eye. My best photo from that trip was of a massive concrete cylinder on the beach, and I have no idea what it is. I still think there is a lot of potential there, and I have another location planned, but I just haven't been able to make it back down there yet.

I kicked around a few ideas for other projects, but nothing really came to fruition. I discovered a love for photographing old and abandoned buildings and ghost towns, of which there are plenty in California. I even started a gallery on my website for it, but I've only just begun with this project. I'm really a bit disappointed in myself about the whole project thing, and vow to do a better job this year.

For now I'm going to stick with the three I've been bouncing around for months, simply because they will continue to force me to "see" and continue to develop my eye. I also think they have the potential to become good stock images (yes, that is another new idea I have been paying a lot of attention to lately - ever since Smugmg started teasing us with their idea of jumping into the stock photography market). One is the rainbow project, which consists of building a body of work that consists of images of each color of the rainbow that will eventually become a montage of some sorts. Another is the alphabet series, which consists of looking for letters of the alphabet in nature and the ordinary objects around us. The third one is just a number series based on images of numbers in every day objects. I got the idea for this when I took a shot of a buoy with the number six on it; on its own it's just a buoy with the number six, but if I can put it in a series it will have meaning and relevance (at least that is my hope). And I'll continue to work on my "Time on Its Back" project, especially since I now have the proper vehicle to get to the truly remote locations.

The goal I added mid-year was to improve my knowledge of lighting and post processing. You see, the more I studied other photographers' work, the more I realized that the photos that made me say "Wow!" all were due to either incredible light or incredible post processing, and usually both. The post processing issue is a touchy one, and I know that many photographers think that Photoshop has ruined photography because too many people believe that a bad photo can be made into a passably good one simply by using Photoshop. If only that were true! But I do believe that advanced knowledge and application of things such as channels and curves and blend mode layers can help the final image to convey the photographer's meaning. So I have studied like a mad woman all year long. The biggest, life-changing book for me was
Photoshop LAB Color: The Canyon Conundrum
by Dan Margulis. It gave me a new understanding about the separation of color and luminosity, and finally made me understand the power of curves. I do a lot of photography in the deserts and canyons of California, and this book has made such an impact on me that I have completely changed my workflow to utilize the methods taught in this book. I am only working at a very basic level (this is some very complicated, high-level stuff), but I can't believe how easy it is now to do achieve results that I've struggled so hard to achieve in the past.

I had also realized that by sticking with landscape photography and only relying on ambient light, I had never developed any technical lighting skills beyond the very basics. I decided I wanted to master light and lighting. Enter
Light, Science and Magic
to the rescue.This book whetted my appetite, and after devouring it and faithfully following the Strobist blog for over a year I knew I would never be happy with just my on-camera 580EX and that it was time to buy some lights. Earlier in the year I thought I would buy a nice set of studio lights, but after seeing the amazing work being done by the Strobist followers, thinking about it for months, and realizing that I would never carry around studio lights but I could and would carry around Strobist gear, I finally realized that this was the method that made the most sense for the way I work. So a little pre-birthday chat with the spousal unit netted me some really cool wireless Strobist gear for my birthday this year (I'm a Little Christmas baby, born on the Epiphany).

Of course, that means that since I've been relying on ETTL in the past, one of my primary goals of 2008 is a commitment to improving my knowledge of guide numbers, flash ratios, and dare I say it, learning how to set my flash exposure manually. But I've already been copying lighting diagrams and trying to deconstruct the lighting in images that catch my eye, so I am really eager to get started.

There are some mountains on the road ahead, but the view sure is grand!

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