Dialogue

How to protect your work from oblivion

I look up from the screen and notice the orange glow outside. 'This would be the perfect time to go for a walk', I think.

Mitchel Lensink
Jul 31, 2022
10 min read
A photo of a path through tall grass with power lines in the distance

A pleasantly warm breeze is coming through the cracked window next to me but it's not enough to heat up my cold hands. With ever stiffening fingers have I been working on this computer. For hours on end, it must be by now, only interrupted by the occasional stretch of the arm to take a sip of the drink next to me. That, in turn, has only been interrupted by a visit to the kitchen for a refill and of course the mandatory bathroom break. How long have I sat like this? Hours? Maybe days, even? I can't really tell, it's all a blur.

I look up from the screen and notice the orange glow outside. 'This would be the perfect time to go for a walk', I think. 'What did you say, babe?', I hear coming from the couch. I turn my head and see Charlotte looking at me with a questioning expression on her face. I must've spoken my thoughts out loud. 'I should go for a walk', I tell her, but immediately feel I'm too worn down to put in the effort. Sitting behind the computer all day is strangely tiring, for an activity that requires so little physical activity.

Charlotte, knowing my impetuosity all too well, returns to her show on TV and let's me figure it out myself. She’s unfazed when I choose to sit down on the couch next to her, instead of going for the walk I just mentioned. I scroll through my Twitter feed a little and land on a Petapixel article, written by Jim Mathis. The article talks about the importance of making sure your photos live on after you’re gone and what you can do to facilitate this endurance. This immediately grabs my attention, as it goes a little further than just properly archiving your work and is perhaps something I should think about as well.

A way to longevity

Having a backup strategy and an archive of your work is still important but I realize this is especially true during your time here. If you aren’t around to explain how to navigate your archive, will somebody take the effort to learn how to do that? Or will your work simply be forgotten? Even if people do know how to access and filter through your work, who will actually make the effort to do that? Because, let’s be honest, why should they? Nobody will care about your work as much as you care about it yourself.

a photo of a free mini library on the side of the street

An archive is mostly a collection of raw material, which is a rather daunting way to consume somebody's work. If you are not familiar with all the things somebody has made, how do you know which images are good and which ones are the outtakes? There's no structure, no story, no presentation.  It’s just a mountain of loosely categorized images. That’s where it becomes important for a creator to take that raw material and turn it into something of more significance. Mr. Mathis words this very well: 'The principle is that if we want something to be admired or respected, it needs to look like something to be admired and respected. In the case of photographic images, that means things like orderly files or better yet high-quality photo books or nicely framed prints.'

By this definition, there is some functionality to proper file management. Though I believe things only start to be viewed as truly valuable once you lift them from the screen. Let’s look at it like this: everybody creates digital files, especially photographs, on a daily basis. You're not special in that regard, even when the files you create are very beautiful to look at. Only people that take real pride in their work and are willing to go through the effort to look for a cohesive theme, to find a story, to create a narrative, to kill their darlings and be left with only the very best, to turn that into a collection of work in print form, set themselves apart.

A photo of a collection of mailboxes on the side of the road

The article makes me think about my own work and how I want it to be remembered. Against better judgement, I walk back to my computer and sit down again. My online archive, I found, is the perfect place to browse through the things I've created and look for themes and patterns. I’ve been doing this every now and then to see if I can find some cohesion that I can then use as a base for a book. The best books always have a theme like this but holding on to this principle also means so much of your work will never make it into book-form. Perhaps it's not a bad idea to follow Jim's example and simply create personal yearbooks as well. I wouldn't want to sell these in any capacity but simply having them can be a way to further increase the longevity of my work. I have turned to my usual staring-out-of-windows, as I ponder how to approach something like this. My daydreams soon turn into nightdreams as the darkness dictates it's time for bed.

Wandering thoughts

I wake up more tired than I should have but that's what you get when you don't take proper downtime before taking rest. The repercussions of that will have to be postponed until tomorrow though, as I’m determined to  now do that walk I skipped out on last night. A comment on one of my YouTube videos leads me to explore the commenter’s website and find they’ve photographed a place called Durgerdam, which is located just outside Amsterdam. Google Maps tells me it’s a modest 1.5 hour walk to get there from Amsterdam Central Station so not long after, I sit inside a train with a backpack full of cameras, snacks and water. I take the ferry to the other side of the water behind Amsterdam CS and start walking. I consider throwing on some tunes on my headphones but ultimately decide against it. I prefer to let my mind wander a little today. Photo-walks are the perfect time to do that.

I snap away with both the X100V and the X-Pro3, while I grab short video clips on the DJI Action 2, which is more than I'd usually do on these walks. Despite that, I find enough time to enjoy the surroundings and the soothing warmth from the sun, while I think about my future plans. The reason I quit freelance work a couple of months ago was to have more time for personal projects and I'm happy to see I'm doing exactly that now. I also have to be realistic and know that what was once a business, has now been reduced to nothing more than a hobby. The biggest reason for that is the lack of income from my work, which is okay for now but if I want to do more of this stuff I have to come up with a way to sustain myself through said work as well.

Monetization

I sit down on a bench on the side of the road and bring out my phone for some note-taking. 'Monetization strategy', I write at the top of a document. I’m surrounded by a soundtrack of rippling water and seagulls, which should be the perfect background music for some reflection.

The first monetization option is already live and functional on my website and that is my image licensing service. Some people have used it before and the speed at which I can deliver high quality images can't be matched by hiring a freelance photographer. The only downside is that you need to have an interest in the specific images I've created but I would say no to any other types of work anyway so I don't really loose out on much, as I wouldn’t be a fit for that client to begin with. In any case, this option is done for now.

Fine art prints

The second option should be fine art prints, which I offered before but perhaps now can do in limited numbers and maybe even special editions, like the 10K photo print idea I talked about a while ago. That would certainly highlight the possibility to order prints from me, next to the already available option to email me for custom prints that I mention in all of the newsletters.

Apparel and camera straps

The third option would be something I dabbled in before, which can be a combination of apparel and camera straps. I don't have some grand illusion that I'm special enough that people will buy merchandise that’s focused around my brand identity but I do have some ideas that will allow me to sell hats, tees, hoodies and such without looking like a stuck up narcissist. Additionally, I came up with a camera strap design that is superior to the braided straps I sold before and I personally have been enjoying the use of the prototype a lot. I believe it's only right to share this blessing with the world at some point.

Digital goods

I also think offering some sort of digital product is a smart decision. The benefit of those is that they can be endlessly reproduced and don't rely on my time and energy for distribution, outside of the initial time to set it up. I don't think selling presets to edit your photos with, is something I'm comfortable offering but perhaps something simple like wallpaper-packs can be a good place to start.

Memberships

Finally, and this is the big one, memberships. Heavily inspired by people like Craig Mod, I too have come to believe in the power of direct memberships. That's why I now allow people to subscribe to this newsletter for a monthly fee of 4 euros or commit to a yearly plan of only 40 euros per year, next to the already present free tier. This is something I have turned on a while ago but have been, and still am, very hesitant to promote. That's why I'm sticking this news all the way at the end of this story and won't talk much about it for the foreseeable future anywhere else as well. I simply don't think there's much value to be had from subscribing to me, yet.

I try to make this very clear on the sign up page as well. You can either subscribe to this newsletter for free and stay in the loop that way, or you can stay in the loop and pay money, supporting the continuation of this newsletter. That's clearly not a very enticing deal and I urge you to stay on the free plan unless you truly wish to be an Early Supporter and are comfortable with simply giving me money without expecting much in return. As a subscriber to this newsletter, you are technically already a member on the free fier and you can log into your account by clicking Login in the main menu. Fill in your email address and a magic login link will be emailed to you. You can then find your account from the same menu or by clicking here to manage your subscription. I do plan to focus more on the memberships in the future and offer more value to paid members as well, like giving the wallpaper packs away for free, for example. That's all a problem for Future Mitch though.

I also want to make clear that I do not plan to limit any content to paying members only. I believe that unlocking the commons is the best way to share your work while making money at the same time and that, as long as your work is good, some people will happily pay a couple of bucks to keep your work going. This also makes it possible to keep the work freely available, without annoying paywalls. If this sounds like a confusing and counterintuitive strategy then I would've agreed a year ago as well. These days though, I think it's the best way to make cool stuff, share it with the world and earn honest money as a creator. The whole premise of the membership program would be, similar to what Craig says so well: ‘Mitch, ya weird bird, I want to see more of your work in the world.

Once I figure out how to properly move forward with these memberships, I will get into more depth about my reasoning and motivations. For now though, feel free to subscribe for the price of a latte macchiato and become an Early Supporter. Or don’t and nothing changes for either one of us. Both are fine. Also, people I know in real life that subscribed here, I will not think of you differently if you do not subscribe now. I totally understand it's a very hard sell, and don’t you dare apologize to me for not subscribing when you see me in real life.

That should conclude my thoughts about monetization for now and the sun on the bench I'm sitting on is becoming uncomfortably warm, which causes the previously peaceful seagulls to loudly complain as well. Time to get our move on again and continue this adventure. You'll read more about that next month, when I will return with another Dialogue.

Thanks for reading,

Mitch

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