Tuesday, 25 September 2012

How long does it take to put together a photography portfolio?

Good question. One I couldn't answer with any degree of accuracy until about...yesterday.

I've been "into" photography for a long time. Studying it since 16 years ago. Properly doing it for 5 years and seriously for 3. In those last three my philosophy has been "Eat, drink, sleep" photography.

Now I'm full. You could say I've levelled up. I'm at the point where I know what I'm good (and bad) at. I have a path chosen and my sights are set on that spot THERE, just over the horizon.

I'm looking back over photos I shared on my Facebook page and website since I turned professional, perhaps prematurely in 2009. Here's the deal:

Most of them are rubbish. Really poor efforts.

Don't get me wrong. Taking those photos and more importantly, sharing them because I thought they were good was an incredibly important thing to do.

Summing up my approach to making a living from photography, it went something like this:

First of all, I awarded myself a degree for all the hard work I was going to do in the next three years. Then I actually did it. All the studying, relearning the basics, experimenting. Being bad, being good (occasionally), going off on tangents. Practising. But always doing, thinking, obsessing.

And I do feel like I have gone through the torture, the pain, the joy and the solid graft of a degree from 2009 to 2012. In fact, (see my previous post "I'll admit it, I'm lazy") I worked harder than I ever did at real university. Because it mattered. Because maybe too I'm the kind of self-learner that can't be sat down and taught. I'm not proud of that, I envy those who can simply open their minds and be taught.

There's another question in there isn't there?

When should I start charging money for my photography?

Ha! I'm not falling for that one. Google it if you like, I couldn't possibly hazard a guess. Perhaps I did it too soon, perhaps too late. I'm just glad I started and that, well, I can continue to do so. Perseverance, hard-nosed stubbornness and a well-fed savings account all played their part. I shall however, cue that one up as a future blog topic. I may even make this a meandering but meaningful attempt to cover what I feel are the important bits of being a photographer.

So back to the original question: you will have many portfolios as you develop as a photographer. Every time you make one that is better than the old one you will laugh (you will) and say something like, "Ha! Look how crap my old stuff was! Can you believe what a noob I was?"

I like photos like this, so I take photos like this.

Yes, I've done this several times over the past few years. And even as I sit here, happy with my latest portfolio -- http://perfectyellow.photoshelter.com if you're asking -- I know fully well that shortly, maybe in a month's time, maybe next week, maybe even...tonight (!) I'll do it all again.

A perfectionist will never be bored. There's a fine line between perfectionism and obsessiveness and one drives the other. It's fine. It's good. Apathy and a lack of drive in improving your own work are the death of creativity.

You might notice that the theme of that portfolio I describe as "my portfolio" doesn't even touch on many of the kinds of photography I've actually done professionally. Of course I have other portfolios. Right now, I do not have an up-to-date "master portfolio", you know, the 10 best, covering everything you do. It's taken me so long to put together that rather bloated landscape portfolio (which to be honest I couldn't whittle down to 10) that I fear it will take me a while to put together that holy grail of the versatile photographer. But damn it, those are the kind of pictures I love taking, the ones that I saw and in my heart knew, that one day I wanted to make.

I guess what I'm trying to say is, there is nothing wrong with looking at your own work and knowing what is bad about it. I had a book, a 50 page album. In it, I printed out my best work. When it got full, it got a bit like one of those reality shows: along came a contender and replaced a photo, any photo, that it was better than. Eventually, the album was full. I posted these all as prints for sale. But I saw weakness there. Most of them I spotted myself, a few deceitful individuals were yanked out by my wife. Eventually it stood at 31 images. By the evening that dropped to a round 30. These comprise all the photos in that album. I can stand by every one of them. There are flaws in my technique. There are weak contenders, yes.

But at this moment I can stand behind that body of work and say, "Look, I did this. I'm a photographer and I'd like to sell you a print or two."

It's not taken that long really, has it?

Don't Keep taking the Tablets(or why Asus and the Google Nexus 7 suck)


As far as technology goes, I'm a fairly loyal customer. In life and business, if I find a reliable partner, I stick with them. I'm a one-woman kind of guy. Not so much a fanboi as man who trusts the name of someone who has been good to me. Google, Samsung, Nintendo, Nikon. I have given a LOT of money to these multinational corporations and their related partners. Sometimes after much research, sometimes on a whim and rarely disappointed. In the case of Google and Nikon, the money I give is from my business and is an investment in services and equipment, vitally important to enable me to earn money, to eat, pay bills and yes, ultimately spend more money. It works.

Up to now.

Google's Nexus 7 appeared, without a definite launch date and took the tablet sector by storm. Until this year I had ummed and ahhed about buying a tablet device, weighing up the price versus the benefits. There's no way I could justifiy an iPad and those kind of prices and besides, I'm not at ease with the whole Apple thing. This isn't about that though. Mostly, I didn't like the 10" form factor. The Nexus 7 was perfect for my small hands and great for showing customers decent sized images (1200x800), for a price I liked: £199.

Had it not been a Google product, technically-speaking, I would have not actually bought a tablet just yet. In fact, perhaps never. But I've come to love Android, and hey, I know Google. You know Google. Everybody knows Google. The whole "Do no evil" thing may have been brought into question in recent years but they make stuff that "just works".

I was lucky enough to grab one of the first Nexus 7s to these shores (I'm in the UK) and I was bowled over by its size and its power. Within seconds of the purchase, the device was alreading syncing my email, my data and even my installed apps from my Samsung Galaxy S. I was off and browsing long before I got it home. This is what new tech should be all about.

No honeymoon lasts forever.

I noticed the next day that the micro USB port was very fussy. At one point it wasn't charging so I tried my Samsung charger and despite being a lower amperage (.7mA compared to 2A) it worked, albeit slowly. Then it stopped. Then it started. I discovered that the USB charging cable actually had to be pulled down a little until the charging icon appeared. Hmm. awkward, annoying, but not worth returning it for. Besides, no store within 100 miles had a replacement - the Nexus 7 had sold out predictably enough.

After reading on the net how common this problem was, I learned to live with it and learned to love the Nexus 7 even more. It was perfect. It was my new favourite device and my desktop PC, my laptop and even my phone were all seeing less action since its arrival. I guess that's what they call a fusion device. Work, browsing, gaming, video, music, it was spot on for all of these tasks.

The 21 day return period came and went (I'd bought it from PC World).

A few days later an odd problem reared its head: the Chrome browser kept launching itself. Uh-oh. One power cycle later and phew: no more weird browser launches.

It happened once more, a couple of weeks later. Again a power cycle sorted it out.

By this time, the micro USB socket was VERY finicky. The angle that the charging cable had to be at to actually charge was extreme. This had no doubt weakened the end of the cable, in fact it wobbled visibly. I had to buy a replacement but not before I'd tried to fix it myself: I'd read how finicky others' Nexus 7s were about which brand of cable was used to charge the device.

I removed  the plastic cover with the hope of reinforcing it with some cardboard, to give it extra purchase when plugged in. No go. This was a last gasp attempt to solve the lesser of the my two (eventual) problems. Not worth returning the unit for in itself.

Literally a day later, the browser began launching itself. And wouldn't stop. Because it wouldn't stop I figured out exactly what the problem was:

The touchscreen was being 'activated' at the exact spot where the second icon on the home screen sits: usually the Chrome browser icon.

"No problem," I thought. I'll just power cycle again and...

It was still doing it. A LOT.

So I did a factory reset. Surely this will take care of it I thought.

Yeah, for about 5 minutes.

Then it was, "Click. Click. Click-click. Click-click-click-click-click-click-click-click-click."

To do anything on the tablet I had to hold the spot where the phantom touches were occurring, while performing the thing I actually wanted to do. Thanks due to multi-touch.

I reset the device to defaults AGAIN. All to no avail.

Now, I was long over the 21 day return period but in the 2 months I'd had the device, I'd used it a lot. I'd taken fairly good care of it too. Apart from a few nicks here and there, similar to the kind of wear and tear that a phone receives, the Nexus 7 was in pretty good condition. I even bought one of those ugly soft cases for it. And used it.

Disheartened, I returned it to PC World. It was sent off to Asus. Yesterday I received a phone call that went something like this:

PCW: "Asus said you damaged the touch-screen. There are marks on the screen which is evidence that you damaged it."

Me: "What the hell?"

PCW: "Yeah, anyway, they want £189 to repair it..."

Me: (censored)

Look at this photo, the caption says it all:

Asus are telling me that these two missing flakes of paint are affecting the touch-screen three inches away.

I have obviously taken issue with Asus about this, as of 15:15 on Day 1, I have yet to receive a reply.

I'm no national tech journalist, I don't have thousands of people asking me for my opinions and recommendations on what to buy. It's simply dozens. At least once a month someone I know buys something on my say-so. I am a Nikon evangelist, any of my students are told why this is and I can demonstrate it.

Similarly, the Google name means a lot to me. But right now there is a big brown smear over that multi-coloured logo. And Asus put it there.

Asus: we both know that you released the 'Google' Nexus 7 with flaws which were not quite ironed out yet. You have no doubt been inundated with returns and are attempting to minimise money and time spent on repairs and replacements.

I will NOT be swept under the carpet. I want YOUR flaw repaired, or my Nexus 7 replaced.

I will take this as far as it needs to go and THEN SOME.

In the meantime folks, be quite careful before you spend on money on Asus products, especially the 'Google' Nexus 7.

Update: One week on and I squeezed a reply from Asus, not from their service centre, not from PC World, I had to make a complaint on an obscure website which I only found by Googling. No explanation other than "This is still a chargeable repair. Complain to ASUS UK if you don't like it." Only a street address given.

Thursday, 6 September 2012

OK I'll Admit it: I'm Lazy!

There, I've said it. That's a weight off my shoulders. Now I can look people straight in the eye with the smugness of a man who knows exactly what is right - and wrong - with himself.

Having done that there remains however the small problem of my laziness itself.

But what IS laziness? Does the reason for not having the mental and physical energy to perform a task count at all? I don't know. What I'm putting finger to keyboard about today is how it affects my life for the worse - and yes, sometimes even for the better.

If I were a philosopher - the famous kind, not the armchair kind - I'd coin a beautiful phrase to sum it all up, something like, "Efficiency is the smarter brother of laziness." In fact I'm sure someone else has already said it. I can't summon the strength to Google it but if I did, I'm positive that I'd find someone else already has, and has probably garnered a mountain of kudos for saying it before me. Perhaps in the form of one those annoying pictures with words all over it that people seem to love sharing on Facebook. Maybe even with a yawning cat on it. But you can't see the cat because the words are so big. God how I hate those.

There is a nugget of truth in there of course: efficiency arises from someone saying, "I wish I could do this faster." Whether it's to do more or simply to get it done faster in order to spend time doing nothing.

I'm a firm believer in the 80/20 principle. If I can recall it correctly, the official line goes something like, "80% of your time is spent producing 20% of your work." The reverse is the one I'm interested in though. I've probably misremembered it but that hasn't stopped it becoming some sort of lazy mantra for me to mumble to myself on the many occasions I've found myself doing little or nothing.

This pearl of wisdom, in the hands of a more energetic man would be the engine that drives the Ferrari Testarossa of a successful career, speeding through the day's tasks without even dropping down a gear. In mine it is the knackered donkey, dragging my cart languidly to the next station in life. Invariably late and at best just in time. But it seems to serve me well for own perverted (read: lazy) purposes.

Now, the smart among you will recall or will have checked what I do for a living. I'm not smart so I'll check for myself: that's right, I'm a freelance photographer. Surely this condition is a curse in my professional career? Surely even more of a curse to admit it publicly where clients could read it and think to themselves, "He's just admitted he's lazy. I'm not using him!"

There's the thing: once I'm on a job, with real purpose (ie. the promise of payment) I find within myself a new source of energy. "Aha!" I hear you say, "So you're not lazy. This whole post is a ruse. I've been duped!" Fair point. One which I can't feel compelled to counter. But how often am I actually on a job for a client? Without checking, I can't be sure. So let's refer back to that yardstick: there you go, let's say 20% of the time. This definitely isn't true but it's the least wrong of any other number I could think of right now.

This was the case in my educational years too: I rarely gave exams the attention they deserved and I've probably notched up about 2 hours of real revision from primary school all the way through university. Because it didn't seem to count. Real life is the proving ground. Well, that was my rationale anyway.

The point being that it's all very well reading these "12 things successful people do before breakfast" type article, the likes of which I find incredibly tedious and frankly, exhausting to even contemplate clicking on. I'm sure you could read one, be inspired and get a hell of a lot done in a short period of time but who on Earth has the energy to keep it up beyond breakfast? Not me! I feel I can justify my life and lazy decisions retroactively by applying my bastardisation of the 80/20 rule to it: if you only did the things that mattered, you could cut that down to 2 or 3 things to do before breakfast. And I've got that down to a tee, so long as going downstairs and using the toilet actually count as "things" that is.

If you've read this far you'll have seen the light at the end of my meandering, dilapidated tunnel:

Laziness has its place.

I've even shouted it out so you can skip straight to the message (I like your style). Doing nothing can be great and is in fact, necessary for an efficient and half-way sane existence.

For every Monday you spend working, actually doing the stuff that pays, the stuff that bosses, clients and spouses like to see you doing and note to themselves, "He's busy, good man. Have a promotion, some money, some breadwinning sex," (delete as applicable,) you have to spend a Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday AND a Friday either planning, thinking about or even ignoring it. I'm aware that the weekend leaves a gaping hole in my analogy. If I weren't so lazy I'd plug that hole with a sage and witty explanation, as it is: plug it yourself. I'm sure I've spent 20% of my day on this post already.