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

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

Three Crucial Tips to Improving Your Photos

1. You can take a great photo with “any” camera. You just can’t take any “great photo”. You can make a great photo with any camera as long as you understand the limitations of that camera. Example: If you are using a box camera from the 50’s you probably won’t get a sharp close-up of a bird 50 feet up in a tree. Conversely you could get a stunning shot of your family standing in front of that tree 10 feet away.

2. Vision, knowing how to compose a shot will raise the level of your photography 500 percent. Making a great image can be as simple as getting in the right position to take the shot.

3. It’s better to take and make a great image with a “average” camera than to take no image at all because you don’t have the latest gear. Use what you have and understand why you need a certain piece of gear; not just that it’s the hot item. Having the best stuff is not as important as learning how to use whatever you have.