Don’t worry about being better than anybody you know personally or whose work you admire. Simply try to be better tomorrow than you were yesterday. You are not so much in competition with others as you are with yourself.
— Bill Allard (via A Photo Editor)

The Lure of Diminishing Returns

Keith Green points us to this New York Times article on Kwaku Alston:

“‘I just got back to basics,’ said Mr. Alston, 40, who has divided his time between Venice and New York for nearly 10 years now. 'I had been just pumping out commercial images all day long, that when you looked at it, you said, 'There’s something missing here.’ The passion wasn’t there. I didn’t enter this to take pictures of celebrities.  I had a passion for the things I saw when I was walking down the streets.”

If you ignore what you’re naturally best at, the product will either become boring or, if it makes money, a business. It isn’t art anymore and it isn’t much of a life anymore.

This is not a touchy-feely sentiment. Follow your passion into business, without the background of Kwaku Alston, and you may end up homeless.

But, ignore your passion (as a hobby or business) and you’ll continue to see diminishing returns on your creativity until your work is just like anyone else’s. That’s the kiss of death in both art and business.

The Middle Manager Aesthetic

From this week’s Roderick on the Line:

Merlin: “If you’re talking on the phone at lunch you’re not a powerful person. A powerful person is allowed to eat without doing work.”

John: “Most people’s concept of what a powerful person looks like only goes up so high - to middle management. Most people, the highest they can conceive of is the middle manager, so they emulate the middle manager’s taste in clothes, in cars, in houses, in music and culture. The middle manager is the aspirational unit for the vast majority.”

The Best Photos of 2011

  • Are too personal to be found in any publication.
  • Are probably on your phone.
  • Are dulled by filters and cheap tricks.
  • Are not subject to criticism.
  • Are not dependent on Flickr comments.
  • Are probably of people and places you’d love without the image.
  • Are not for sale.
  • Are perfectly imperfect.

Know Your Teacher

I treat every blog I read as if I have a lot to learn from the author, as if the writer is my teacher. It’s a high standard, but it needs to be. My time and attention are my most valuable possessions. I have a limited supply and can’t buy more. 

There are so many photography blogs riddled with so much nonsense, it’s hard to imagine this kind of filter is being applied much by our community. The blogging industry is filled with those who’ll sacrifice what’s best for their readers for what’s best for their advertisers. Consider who you’re giving your time and attention to and whether you’re learning anything new. If you wouldn’t consider your blogger much of a teacher, move along. If you don’t find a suitable replacement, you’ll regain precious time and maybe learn a thing or two on your own.

Drive-By Photography

Far too often, we equip ourselves to stumble upon a photograph. We get lucky occasionally and that carries us through the next several failed attempts.

For years, my biggest photographic failing was my tendency to commit the crime of drive-by photography. I jumped in the car in search of as many inspiring scenes as possible within a 100-mile radius of the city, as many weekends as possible. 9 times out of 10, I came back disappointed. It was a waste of several prime years.

It wasn’t until I started I started searching for stories, instead of scenes, that the 9 out of 10 decreased to maybe 6 out of 10. I targeted specific places, with a specific angle (story angle, that is).

Failure is still a requirement for growth, but now I judge failure based on the story I bring home, not the technical aspect of the images.

Where would you go today, if your goal was to seek out the most interesting story in your area?

Life happens between frames. If you don’t put down the camera to experience your subject, how can you bring anything uniquely personal to the subject?

The Value of a Photograph

If you believe the value of a photograph is measured in monetary terms, you live in an ever-shrinking bubble. Photography is now just a tool used to express a story. That story can be used to sell something, connect with someone or document something. The story is what holds value.

Photo Stream's Hidden Benefit

Apple recently introduced Photo Stream in iOS 5. It’s function is to store, in the cloud, the last 1000 pictures taken with an iPhone (currently the most popular camera on Flickr), sharing them almost instantaneously with all your devices. The problem was, it stored every photo, whether you liked it or deleted it. If you took 5 photos of a scene and only 1 was a keeper, all 5 remained in your stream no matter what you did to the originals.

Upon first glance, this feature seems contrary to the lesser photography philosophy of ruthlessly editing your photos before anyone else can see them. Indeed, photographers complain about this feature nonstop. But, what some photographers call a bug is a welcome feature for one segment of photography: the citizen journalist.

In the past, it was a hassle to take a picture, upload it to the cloud and make it untouchable to any authority who may confiscate the device and attempt to erase evidence (yes, this happens even in the “free” world). Apple has succeeded in incorporating all this seamlessly into to it’s stock camera app. I can’t wait to see what Apple and the fanboys come up with to further exploit this feature.