Biggest Photo Tip of 2013 (Maybe)

Much of the Photo industry is driven by gear which fosters the notion that if I only had “that” camera, lens etc. What is more important is understanding what all those camera functions mean and how to access them. Even more important is to understand how those features help or hinder your particular type of photography.

I would ten times prefer to see a great image made by an average camera…

iPhones, Hate Mail and How we overcome

Recently my long time digital neighbor @scottbourne posted on twitter that he had received some hate mail for posting a lowly iPhone picture on his blog.

The following is not so much a rebuttal of Scott’s critics but some insights about the creative process in general and photography as a medium.

My platform for this piece is based on thirty years in the design business, dealing with people, photographing things and really looking and thinking. Thinking and looking are far more important than tools. It matters not whether you have all the latest gadgets or simply a pencil and a legal pad. Creativity is about thinking and looking.

There’s an old saying, “it’s a poor workman that blames his tools”. I must say this is very true. It’s taken a long time to realize that if my work is not what I want it to be; it’s not my computer or my camera’s fault. The skill is between my ears. I simply failed to employ everything necessary to get the job done. Sometimes you have happy accidents but you can’t rely on that to see you through.

Taken w/ Blackberry Curve

In Scott’s case it seems that some folks were upset that he had used his iPhone and a simple light to create the image instead of all of his high end photo gear. He was only trying to demonstrate the capabilities of the phone and that you can make decent images without a DSLR.

When I decided to switch to digital all I had was a cell phone. What I learned from using only a cell phone can be found here.

Knowing the strengths and weaknesses of your tools is the key, the brand, label, megapixels and ratings are minor in comparison to skill, thinking and looking. Being able to “see” an image out of all the visual cacophony is right at the top of the list.

The first photo I ever sold was made on a Canon A540 point and shoot camera that I bought at a pawn shop. In fact you can’t tell what camera was used by looking at the photo.You can only analyze the physical properties of the image.

Oh Yeah, there’s One More Thing. The very nature of the creative process is based on criticism. At some point you have to say, this is good or it’s trash and I need to do better. Criticism doesn’t have to be rude or unkind but it does need to be honest. Invariably when I’ve been criticized in the past, I’ve had some of both and lived to tell about it. The notion that we are going to live in a world where people don’t have strong opinions and not voice them is frankly unrealistic. Especially if you create for a living.

Guard your subjective bias and realize there are many new tools and means of creative expression out there.

Pro Photo Tips & Saving Money

What better combination right? Know what the pros know and save a little money too. I’m going to reveal the first and best tip I ever received from a working professional photographer and then give you an example you can put to use.

I learned this from a working photographer back in the days when it was film only and photography was an expensive hobby. Just like today there was always gear to buy and dream about; to cover all the photographic situations. So here’s the tip: You don’t have to buy the most expensive piece of gear with the latest specifications. You simply need the right tool for the job. Having a telephoto lens on the camera when a good 50 mm lens is what you need —this is the application we are talking about. It’s obvious but you can’t stop and change the lens if you don’t have the lens to change to. If you need a tripod, it’s best to have one even if it isn’t the top of the line from “Really Right Stuff” with a BH55 ballhead.

Camera lenses are a good example but the principal works with any piece of gear. Here’s how you can save on buying an 85mm 1.4 lens if you are a Nikon or Canon shooter [check for other camera compatibility] This is the Rokinon 85M N85 F1.4 lens, just under 300.00 dollars. Yes it’s not auto focus and it won’t have the same specs as the Nikkor or the Canon EF lens but it’s also not 2000.00 dollars either.

Thanks to Jeff Clow on Flickr for the Rokinon tip and Nutdanai Apikhomboonwaroot at

The Next Mac

I started out with my nose pressed to the digital window in 1977. In those days we fiddled and dreamed. I was an unpaid, unknown champion for Apple when it was a tiny company selling a dream. In 1984 I stood behind a guy at the local computer shop and watched him work with a program called MacPaint. I got it, both the concept and the computer. It was a zillion dollars and not a great productivity tool. I bought the dream.

The Mac was the real beginning of the personal computer as we know it. Everything that Apple has done and Microsoft copied is based on core concepts contained in that first 128K Mac. True, some of the science had come from Alan Kay and others at Xerox PARC but Apple actually made it all work and then shipped it. The next “Mac Idea” will take some doing but will be based on making the complex simple and accessible to a wider number of people. The goal is to harness the computer, making knowledge more accessible and meaningful. At the same time the goal should be understanding the importance of values, without which, advancement is only adding layers of complexity to a world that needs more simplification.

Thanks to Patrick Rhone ( on Twitter @patrickrhone ) for posting this linked story below. You can also follow Patrick at minimalmac where he sorts out the tension between complex systems and minimalist ideology.

We heard more about Alan Kay back when Apple was taking off with the Mac and its siblings. The article is the best thing I’ve read on the subject of technology in years. The place where ideas can be examined at the machine level to use a programmer metaphor.

Did Steve Jobs Steal The iPad? Genius Inventor Alan Kay Reveals All

Note: This post was based on inspiration which for me, started in the fourth grade. Publishing should be because of the knowledge, wit, art contained within. Marketing can kill a good story quicker than anything. What if it doesn’t make money? That wasn’t the purpose of the knowledge, wit or art in the first place.

Four Pillars of Your Digital Desktop

Simplenote, DropBox, Notational Velocity, Instapaper

Much has been written about these apps/services recently, with the move to simplicity in just about everything. Full reviews of these can be found elsewhere but we want to focus on how you experience them as a suite of tools.

If you’re not familiar with these apps, lets get aquainted.

Simplenote – Allows you to create, well… Notes. Free form, hit the plus button to create a new note and start typing. No formating to set up, saves your notes to the cloud as you type. Add tags, support for versions is there if you need it. There is also a mobile app for iPhone, iPod Touch and iPad. Indications are that other devices are also under development. For a complete list of desktop apps that work with simplenote, click on the downloads link on their website.

Notational Velocity also will let you create notes simply and effectively as Simplenote does with a few extra features one might find useful, especially if you post to the web. You can sync your notes with Simplenote and other iOS apps so that anything you have created on the Mac/iPad/iPhone/iPod Touch, can be accessed and worked on in Simplenote from any computer with internet access.

Dropbox is a powerful service that allows you to throw anything in a folder which resides in the cloud and then can be accessed from anywhere without the need to carry those files with you.

Instapaper Last and certainly not least is Instapaper. Let me describe; find something on the web, want to read it later? Hit the read leader bookmarklet and it’s saved in your Instapaper account where you can read later without all the distracting ads and stuff. You can also archive, favorite and put them in folders.

So, as my kids would say, what’s the big deal about that? Simply this; all of these tools, simple as they are make a powerful suite of tools for the blogger, researcher, student, collector etc.

My initial reaction to this “software” was it’s too simple, I kept looking for the bells and whistles… they aren’t there. You must start using them as a “workflow” to finally “get it” which is, they work well and don’t get in your way. These four pillars help this “big picture” guy focus on what is really going on. The ability to focus is what makes the internet and all it’s vastness manageable. Sort of like scooping from the pile and putting it in another container. The beauty is that the container can be accessed from anywhere you have a internet connection, either by WiFi or 3/4G Cellular service. Remember too, that this is essentially free if you don’t count the cost of the hardware.

Start using them and you will begin enjoying the benefits of this amazing technology.

Colophon: Typed and edited in Notational Velocity

Explore These Apps for Phone & Computer

Without much commentary
….and starring in no particular order

Simple Note
Wunderlist [free for every device]
Notational Velocity
Twitterrifc for iPhone
icebird for iPhone
Reeder (for google reader)
Mac OS 10.6.x
Kindle for Mac

Google Books

You will think, I don’t really need these until you start using them for awhile. Of course your milage may vary as always.

Further explanation and commentary forthcoming.

None of the above items are affiliate links.

Superior Value in Mac Tutorials Don't Miss These

One of the best values on the internet today, if you’re a Mac user is Screen Casts Online. These video screencasts are recorded in the UK by Don McAllister, former IT guy turned Entrepreneur. Don puts together a new tutorial each weak on a great piece of Mac software and in some cases hardware. These 20 to 30 minute videos will give you the concepts behind the software and provide a basis for any purchasing decisions. (Hint) He also offers discount codes on some software titles.

Don is in his third year producing this program which can be downloaded directly from his site or you may also subscribe through iTunes. A feature that has been quite successful is Don’s “Extra Member” subscription offer which gives you access to additional shows that are available in High Def.  The extra membership is quite reasonable for a sixth month subscription and the back catalog is also available on DVD for re-watching shows or picking up on something you missed.

You really should check it out at ScreenCastsOnline! I find I always learn something even if I am not using that particular piece of software myself.