I find myself staring in the distance as I hear the sound of a new email coming in. It’s another one of Kyle McDougall’s ‘Field Notes’ emails.
I manage to bring myself back to the present and open the email. The e-mail contains a list of DOs and DON’Ts for 2021. Interesting. I quickly scan the email as I notice my eyes linger over point number three in the list of DOs
Make something for a group of people, not everyone.
Funny. I was just thinking about that. I continue reading the email but find myself stopping again at point number five in the list of DON’Ts.
Don’t try to please everyone
There’s even a parentheses that reads “this one is especially important!”.
The timing couldn’t be better as I was just doing some soul searching regarding my own work. Sometimes I can’t help but wonder if I’m being too friendly with my work. Too safe. Too scared to receive some bad comments.
It’s not like I haven’t had them before. Though in the past, a bad comment has lead me to trying even harder to make better work. Now I think that’s a bad strategy. Or at least I try to think that as often as I can. When somebody does not like your work, it might not be for them. It might be for somebody else.
I figured I should write a more articulate point on the matter of producing work for yourself, or a core audience, but I haven’t structured my thoughts well enough. Let this first blog post be the first step in formulating a coherent opinion. Hopefully I can write down a better story in the future.
A new homepage for my website. Finally. After 115 revisions and iterations, I think I have settled on a new homepage design for my website that I am happy with.
Why did I change it?
The old design was nothing more than a gallery of images. It looked nice but it did not serve its purpose anymore. It was a leftover from the time I did nothing but host images on my website. Maybe a contact form. I had nothing else to show to people. Or at least I felt like I had nothing to show.
That has changed now.
I started making Zines, I am about to make fine art prints and write these daily updates now. It’s all part of a bigger whole that I can now confidently tell people I do.
I’m sure I’ll make some iterations here and there, like update some wording or shuffle some elements around, but at least my homepage now is a more clear reflection of what you can expect from me.
The old homepage is moved to a separate ‘Gallery’ page but perhaps I’ll change that for a proper ‘Projects’ page in the future. First, I need some more projects to display. For that to happen, I need to make them.
I sit down after a long day at the office. I open my Heineken and drink it straight from the 33cl can. Today is not a glass-type of day.
I take a first, refreshingly invigorating, sip.
I turn off Night Shift and True Tone on my iPhone to let my eyes adjust for what I’m about to do. I need proper color accuracy.
I open the Spotify app and type in ‘Frank Ocean Cayendo’. I hit play on the top hit and set the song to repeat. I let it all pour out of the tiny speakers of the tiny computer I’m holding in my hands. Tonight is not a headphones-type of night.
Frank Ocean croons the line ‘Si esto no me ha partío’, ya no me partiré nunca’. I’ll have to look up wha that means but it feels right.
I then browse to my App Library and look for Lightroom Mobile CC. My editing app of choice. A few days ago, I’ve set myself up for this moment and synced any fresh photographs on my MacBook to Adobe’s Creative Cloud. I love sitting down with the images in my hands. Manipulating them with my fingers.
I take a second sip of my Heineken beer. And a third.
The cats start to wake up from their afternoon nap and break the otherwise dormant room.
I look back at Lightroom Mobile and notice an album called “20.01.01 Bowie & Cobain”. I should use this moment and edit the pictures I’ve taken of them. Their youthful play reminds me they won’t be kittens forever. It’s a good thing we’ll always have the photos.
Just as Frank Ocean restarts his song for the third time, I arrive at a shot that catches my eye. It’s different. A little more… artistic?
I take the final sip of my beer and immediately get up for a new one.
I take another look at the photograph and notice how abstract its composition is. Am I even looking at a photograph of a pet? There’s a symmetry. A simplicity. A balance. And still, a story.
Bowie gets tired of running around the house and joins my editing session by laying down on my lap. I show him the photograph I’ve made of him but he doesn’t seem to care much. He’ll care more when he’s older, I’m sure.
I finish the photo set and return to the one shot that caught my eye earlier. I distinctly remember myself thinking
My afternoon was marked by de- and reassembling a vintage Voigtländer Color-Ultron 50mm f1.8.
You might think I’m crazy dismantling such intricate and technical objects but I think it can be quite fun! To me it’s a little challenge and it’s nice when it works out as you planned.
What was I to succeed in though?
To understand my goal, I have to tell you about how this lens works.
To avoid making this a history lesson, an important trait of many vintage lenses is that they have a little pin on the back that needs to be pushed in to give you access to the full range of apertures.
Using this lens on my digital Fujifilm camera, this pin isn’t pushed in automatically. Some vintages lenses have an switch that allows the lens to be set to ‘manual aperture control’ which basically locks the pin in a pushed down position. This allows you to use the lens on modern day cameras without any issues.
My lens does not have such a switch.
Well, I could buy an adaptor that is made to push the pin in. That’s the easy solution. I could also open up the lens and modify it to have the pin pushed down permanently.
Guess which option I’ve chosen.
It took me a solid 5 hours from start to finish. Especially putting it all back together properly is tricky business!
I’ve taken a few photos along the way. They only were for myself as a reference but I’ll share them here so you can have a quick look as well. I converted them to black and white for A E S T H E T I C S.
You can see in the GIF that I managed to keep the pin pressed in. Success!
The only issue is that the focusing is now reversed. Sight…
Today marks the day that I sold my first fine art photo print! I’ve made and sold many prints in the past whenever people requested it. This time is different though.
This print is made on a very high quality photo paper. The type of paper that museums use. The colors look amazing, the print does not fade or yellow over time and the texture. Oh the texture. I have never seen a print like this before.
I’ve signed and dated it on the back to complete it as a proper art piece, directly from the artist (that’s me!). I’m proud of the result and it makes me feel… accomplished.
I’ve sold my work before, many times. But this feels different.
Hear me out. I went on a trip, took photos on said trip, posted them online and somebody reached out to me directly with an interest in purchasing a print (already amazing). I then take the time to learn how to properly make a photo print that lasts, that has value, and before you know it there is a physical version of a photo I’ve made.
If you think about it, this might be the only way of going full circle with photography.
First, you see something in the real world, a physical thing. Then, you take a photo of it. Which is an abstract representation of that physical thing in the form of (these days) ones and zeroes. Finally, you convert those ones and zeroes back to a photo print, placing it back into the physical world. Full circle!
This print was made on request and it’s a one-off like many I’ve made in the past. I’m now looking into a proper way to implement selling prints in my shop as well though. More on that later!
This is a cliché. As creatives, we need to make more physical products. Photographers in particular can benefit a lot from printing out their work.
Looking around, I see many people making photos with the sole purpose of posting them on Instagram. I used to do that too. The reason for that was I had no other place to put them. I was constantly looking for other outlets though.
In my search for a better, more worthy, place for my photos, I grew a bigger and bigger resentment of social media. Not to sound elitist, or like I figured it all out. Not at all. I simply no longer believe that social media should be the end product of your work.
Social media is a tool, not the goal, and should be treated as such.
I try to accomplish this by making photographs that have some coherence between them. Something that tells a story. Something that has meaning. Even when I’m taking random shots of everyday moments, I treat them as part of a bigger thing that will someday have value.
Think about those 30 year old photos that we now look at like: “damn, those were times, weren’t they?”. That’s exactly the reason why we should document our current life as well. This will sound a little pretentious but I believe it is my duty as an image maker to provide the future with a record of the present.
With that in mind, I have upped my production quite a lot. At the same time my output has been minimal. I have a few things in the pipeline though. A few more Zines, fine art prints (finally!) and maybe even a book. All these are the result of longer-term photography projects. Projects that are meant to live on my website and in the physical world. Places that have longevity. Places that I own and have control over.
As I said a few days ago, impatience only prohibits your creativity. Therefore I think it’s a good call to try and make more physical work. Print your photos and look at them on something other than a screen. Feel them in your hands. Shuffle a stack of them around and create pairs, combinations, compositions. Make a book out of them.
It takes a little more time making something but then it lasts a little longer as well.
It’s day number three and I already don’t know what to write. That shouldn’t matter though. The goal is to write down anything, so I could just call it a day with these four lines. Most of these daily updates are just notes to self and they should be treated as such.
Okay a few more then.
I’m thinking about adding a separate email campaign that will deliver these daily writings to your mailbox. Until I figure out how to do that, you can use this RSS feed to stay updated. Not that anybody still uses RSS but it’s something.
I have a first draft ready for my first email to my mailing list. I’m also figuring out how to properly approach that as well.
I should update my websites homepage. Loading 30 images does not make it particularly fast. Plus I have many more things to share than this images. Next week might be a good time to make this happen.
I’m working out a way to add a BIMI record to my websites DNS. This allows my email to display my logo icon. Nerdy, but pretty cool to have. I think these little upgrades are appreciated by people, even when it’s not clear how much work it is to add such tiny upgrades.
I find myself thinking out loud a lot recently. Sure, it’s something that I’ve always done. Haven’t we all, on occasion? Though in recent times it has transformed into rule, rather than exception. Why is that?
To start, I’ve noticed that saying my thoughts out loud help me structure my inner dialog. This is especially true when there is a lot of it, as it quickly tends to get messy then. All these words flying around in my head, bouncing off each other, without a clear trajectory or conclusion. It’s not productive and thinking out loud helps alleviate that.
It also helps when I can hear my own thoughts. The sound of my own words resonating in a room, back into my ears, helps bring perspective.
“Is this thought as good as I think it is, or does it sound stupid once I say it out loud?”
After all, it adds another of your senses, hearing, to the process. It’s immediate feedback.
So why did this habit intensify lately then? Is it because I have more thoughts? Or am I simply less good at structuring them? I can think of multiple reasons for that but the one that comes to mind first, is that I’m working on many different things at the same time.
Perhaps that’s something that I should be cautious of. Tone it down a notch and keep more focus. That will almost certainly focus my thoughts as well. On the other hand though, I’m having too much fun with everything I’m doing. Why stop that? As long as I move with purpose, I can’t go wrong.
All I need to do is make sure I’m not merely talking out loud, but actually *think*. Ask questions, summarise, conclude. Oh, and write things down. That helps a lot.
Photography is easy when you know where to point your camera. Finding those things might be the biggest challenge.
The trick is perseverance. As long as you keep pointing your camera at things, you will eventually point it at something meaningful. And then something more meaningful. Then twice in a row. Eventually you start to just get a feeling for things that might be worth a shot.
Until one day it becomes a part of how you view the world.
This brings me to an excellent point Kyle McDougall makes about impatience in his ‘Field Notes’ mailing list:
“Impatience will only lead to you creating images that are a fraction as deep and impactful as they could be, because you end up focusing on the outcome rather than consistency and honesty.”
This resonates with me a lot and I could pull a bunch more quotes from his email to underscore this.
Regardless of your feelings towards today’s instant-media culture, you can’t deny that it feeds on impatience. Everything needs to be shared immediately and people expect instant access to anything you create. Being impatient with your work does not benefit you at all. Making good work takes time. Give yourself that time.
Take the time to wonder, to wander, to find focus and allow yourself to be the best you can be.
Daily writing. That’s something I want to do. Why? I’m not sure yet. Partly because I want to become better at writing. Maybe even more because I think that keeping a constant flow of though can lead to many new things. New thoughts.
On some days I have these contant words echoing in my head. For those days, I think writing things down might be cathartic. Bring some structure to the chaos.
On other days I feel completely blank and have trouble formulating concrete ideas. Daily writing might help bring more clarity on those moments.
Next to that, daily writing might be a good 365 project for the coming year. It’s been too long since I’ve done anything like that. It was 2015, when I started my photography journey.
Regarding any rules, writing can be in any form or shape. Preferably it’s a blog post like this one. Though a tweet is also fine. Maybe even a photo of an entry in my physical journal. It doesn’t matter that much.
Let’s see if I can make this last a full year again.
Oeh, I can get a 10% discount when I subscribe to the newsletter. Awesome.
“YOU ARE NEARLY THERE!“
Okay I did it, now where is my discount?
Oh, I just need to confirm my email address.
“THANK YOU FOR JOINING OUR FAMILY!“
Okay nice, let’s buy that thing now.
Wait, another email?
“YOU MIGHT ALSO LIKE THESE ITEMS“
But I just bought an item, leave me alone.
“Please read our top 5 blogs about things that are a little related to your purchase“
Oh my days, are they for real with this? Where can I unsubscribe again? I already claimed that discount anyway.
“We are sorry to see you go! Would you rather receive our bi-weekly updates instead of our daily emails? Please click below. If you want to unsubscribe, please fill in your email, phone number, first- and lastname, residential address, current profession and what you ate for breakfast.“
Screw this, I’m definitely cancelling my order.”
Why I don’t like newsletters
Sounds familiar? That’s one of the reasons why I don’t like newsletters. Another reason is that everybody seems to have a newsletter these days and they’re all stuffed with calls to action and psychological tricks to get you to buy stuff. It might work, but I don’t like it and I think it’s clutter. If I care about something, a brand, a person, anything; give me clear and genuine communication and you got me hooked.
We can all feel it when we’re being sold something. I don’t want to receive your email to then having to click something to go to your website, so that you can monitor my behaviour, so that you can create a persona around me, so that you can then send me better targeted emails, so that I eventually give you my money. That happens so often now that I’m completely desensitised when it comes to email marketing. The only button I still look for is the unsubscribe button.
Social media isn’t the answer
Okay so I don’t like email marketing, social media should be the perfect (semi-)modern solution to communicate with an audience then! It’s personal, it’s direct, it’s easy to access. Everything you’d want.
I also have an issue or two with social media. That is that even when you approach it with a genuine and personal angle, it’s still oversaturated. Even if you manage to be an actual human being on social media and don’t fall victim to tricks to game the algorithm (read: buying advertisements) there is still so much stuff going on there. How do you stand out without doing some crazy aerobics?
The fact that these platforms are all owned by big corporations that are in it to eventually sell you stuff (or your stuff) doesn’t help either. I might be overreacting to all this but it just doest sit well with me.
Email without marketing
Which brings me back to email. It’s still a great medium and it’s not going anywhere soon. You might hear messages about how it’s broken and not user-friendly anymore but I think it still beats the user-friendliness of these social media corporations. At least with email, you know what the service is. It’s linear. You write a message and send it to somebody, that somebody receives the message and reads it (and sometimes they respond!).
Email is great. Just, without the ‘marketing’ part. It’s slow enough for you to have to think about what you are writing and it’s direct enough for you to get your message across reliably. You can also assure that there isn’t some algorithm messing with the amount of people who actually get to see your message. If you send it out to 10 persons, those 10 persons receive your message as well.
What do I like about email?
Sure, everyone already receives multiple emails everyday so how do you make sure they actually read your messages. The chances of getting lost in the chaotic mailboxes are everything but slim. I don’t know if all this will even work but I do know which emails I still like to receive:
Simple and easy design that’s pleasing to look at. Just some good formatting can go a long way. No need for fancy designs.
A clear and concise message. I want to know why you’re emailing me. Spill it out. Don’t send me a list of things you think I might be interested in.
I know a real person wrote the email. Not some marketing expert that’s hired to sell me something.
What can you expect from me?
So, what do I plan on sending in my emails? Right now I’m thinking about sending the usual stuff like:
Photography tips and tricks I’m learning along the way that I think might benefit other people as well.
New blog posts but then with the full text already in the email.
Keep you in the loop about work in progress that I’m still finding a place for (this is an exciting one!)
New expositions or events I’m hosting or attending so we can link in real life.
Major updates to my portfolio page with exclusive new work that I’d like you to look at.
New publications like Zines, prints or books that I want you and your family to buy but only if you like them (I don’t want sympathy-buys).
Other future endeavours I can’t begin to understand yet.
Concluding, will I stop posting to social media? No, but I don’t want to rely on that being my only way of connecting as well. Also, can you click through to my website after reading an email? Sure! You don’t have to though. I think that’s special.
Do I think people are interested enough in what I have to share? I have no clue. I don’t have the illusion that I unequivocally deserve your attention. I can ask for it though.
When you are starting out in photography, it makes sense that you do this with a lens and a body that are considered to be more ‘standard’. For most people, that can be any camerabody with a 28mm or a 50mm lens (35mm equivalent) on it. Why those two focal lengths, you ask? Simple, most smartphones have at least one or two of those lenses built in.
I actually recommend that you start your photography journey on a smart phone; but even if you don’t, chances are that your first camera gear will not include extremely wide-angle or super-telephoto lenses. I also recommend that you eventually give telephoto lenses a try though. Let me explain why it’s a good exercise, as well as an opportunity to create unique images in an environment that you might think you have already exhausted creatively.
My telephoto lens experiment
A few weeks ago, I mounted a vintage 135mm lens on my Fujifilm X-E3. My Fujifilm has a APSC crop sensor. This means that any lens on this body will have a 1,5 crop compared to a full frame sensor. In this case, that means that my vintage 135mm lens, actually translates to a (near) 200mm lens! The lens was made to be used on analog SLR bodies and looked pretty ridiculous on my little X-E3.
What kind of photos I produced
I usually shoot with lenses that are a little wider (18mm, 23mm and 35mm are my go to lenses). It was interesting to see how different the process was when taking the 135mm for a spin. I had to completely change the way I looked at the world. The compositions I usually seek out on the street, were not a possibility with this lens as I had to stand way further back to get things in my frame. You can see a few examples of the final results below.
Why you need to try a telephoto lens
First of all, I realise that using a telephoto lens on the street or for a landscape might be a bit strange. If you think about who uses a telephoto lens, nature photographers or sports photographers might come to mind. There are a few reasons why a telephoto lens might be a great idea though, even if you mainly shoot on the streets or have a knack for landscapes.
Lens compression is real
While some will argue that lens compression is a myth, the effect is certainly real. A telephoto lens causes a certain look in your photos that make all the objects in your frame appear much closes to each other. You can also refer to this look as making the image look more ‘flat’, because all the depth is removed from your photo.
Whereas wide angle lenses cause your subjects to appear to have more space between them, a telephoto lens will do the opposite and ‘compress’ your image.
Take this shot by Adrián Metasboc below. It’s a typical wide angle shot of a street. If you look at the next image though (it’s a slider), you can see how the photo would’ve looked if he would have used a telephoto lens. Do you see how all the objects in the photo appear as if they are much closer to each other? In the third frame, the effect is exaggerated even more (at the cost of some quality loss, but you get the point).
While this effect looks pretty cool, it requires some thinking to be executed correctly. You need to know what scene can benefit from lens compression and you need to know why you use it in a particular scene. I will go into depth about some ways on how to use lens compression to your advantage below.
Layer your photos
My favourite way to use a telephoto lens, is by trying to add layers to your photos. By using the above mentioned lens compression, you can create some excellent photographs that will show all the layers in a particular landscape. These layers reveal themselves with a telephoto lens because all the elements in the photo will appear bigger and closer to the foreground than they in reality are.
An excellent example of this can be found in this photo by Simon Matzinger.
As you can see, Simon manages to highlight the layers in a landscape by bringing distant mountain ranges closer to the eye. The atmospheric haze of the earth puts some extra emphasis on ruggedness of the ridges.
The art of eliminating elements
I believe that photography is an art of exclusion, rather than inclusion. This means that interesting compositions often come to life when you leave certain elements out of the frame, rather than include everything your eye can see.
A telephoto lens will prove to be a great aid in accomplishing this in your photography. The narrow field of view will force you to think about what is important in your photo, as opposed to what might not add to the composition.
This photo below, made by Dave Hoefler, shows what you can accomplish by focussing your composition on very few elements.
This image only shows some treetops and clouds but it tells a certain story of mystique and conveys a very clear mood. This is only possible because Dave eliminated any other element from the photo. His foreground could have been littered with urban elements, cluttering his composition, but you can’t see any trace of that in the final image.
Learn to look differently at the world
A telephoto lens will teach you to think outside the box. If you are confined to a very narrow field of view, you will have to think twice to create an interesting composition. What kind of photo do you want to make? What elements are important for the story you are trying to create? What elements are better to be removed? Those questions are inherent to shooting with a telephoto lens.
Sure, a wide angle lens will allow you to create epic landscape views and include vibrant skies in your photos. While it’s not always easy to get up close and personal to take your photo, it might be even harder to take sufficient distance. This is especially true when you live in a densely populated area, like I do. I believe that if you take on challenges like these, you will eventually become a better photographer.
Embrace the limitations
If you force yourself to work with the limitations of a telephoto lens, you will end up with more unique perspectives of places you might already be familiar with. Take your time to look through your viewfinder and look for things you normally wouldn’t pay as much attention to. The next time you go out with your regular lens, your vision might have changed and your eye might catch a thing or two you wouldn’t have otherwise. Incorporate that in your work, and you are on your way to becoming a more well rounded photographer.
I have told this story a lot but I really like to write it down one last time. This also gives me the ability to just link people to this article whenever I get this question again. That question being:
It’s a valid question and I understand why people would ask me that. At the same time, it’s also a pretty double-barrelled question. Simply because I can answer it just as well with; “nope” as with; “yes I did study to become a photographer!”. Let me explain my reasoning behind both possible answers.
No, I did not study photography
To start with my first answer, I have not followed any official studies or courses to learn photography. That is partly because I only developed an interest in photography when I was already doing a different study. For a long time, photography was a hobby next to the thing I was actually studying (Social Psychology, if anybody wants to know). That means that when I had to make the choice of what school I wanted to go to, a photography school wasn’t even something I considered.
While I do realize I could still simply do a photography course whenever I wanted to, I never really felt like this would make me a better photographer necessarily. Don’t get me wrong, I think somebody teaching you photography can be very efficient. I am not trying to say you shouldn’t follow a study.
To be frank, if I was into photography when I started studying, I might’ve chosen a photography school as well. I just believe that you don’t really need to follow a photography study to become a good photographer. I mean, despite that I didn’t receive any training, people are still willing to pay for my work. That must mean something about my level of expertise. Right?
A student of the craft
That brings me to my second possible answer on the question if I studied to become a photographer which was: yes I did study photography. You might wonder, how can I answer in such a way when I just elaborated so thoroughly on why I never followed such a study? The answer is simple and perhaps a bit cheesy but hear me out.
The reason I can still say I studied photography despite never going to school for it, is because I’ve taught myself. I learned everything from the internet (iphonephotographyschool.com, what’s up!) while then putting everything I learned to practice in real life.
It might seem like an obvious answer and not really something worthy to write about in such lengths. Still, you would be amazed how often I get asked this question. I still get surprised reactions when I tell them how I became the photographer I am today. So no, I did not follow any photography studies but I have always been a student of the craft.
It’s almost as if there is some general tendency among some people that don’t believe they can become good at anything. They just have to set their mind to it. Is that a cliché? Maybe, but it could not apply better to this subject. I think to them it seems like too much work, too much time you need to invest and simply not knowing where to start. While I can understand that sentiment, I actually never felt like that when I was finding my way through all the knowledge I was acquiring.
Keeping it simple
The whole point for me was that I just thought photography was fun. I didn’t even own a camera, all I had was an iPhone 5. I was intrigued when I learned how easy it is to take good photos if you know a few tricks. To keep things simple for myself, I focussed solely on perfecting my use of those few trick. Only then I moved on to new things I could learn to master. I had so much fun taking reflection photos and looking for symmetry in my first year of photography. I didn’t even felt the need to upgrade from my iPhone. All this kept the practice of making photos as simple as it could be. That laid the foundations for everything I did after that.
Knowledge will come for those worthy
The reason I believe I studied photography, is because I believe that studying something does not have to be institutionalized. I think that when learning something you are intrinsically interested in, you will put in the time and effort automatically. I never made a conscious decision to devote my media intake to mainly photography related things. It’s just that I happen to be drawn to that kind of content and information because that is what I like to read and watch. Skipping an article about anything related to the topic is hard for me, even when I believe there is nothing for me to take from it.
For example, I still watch beginner tutorials on Youtube, just because I believe there might be one tiny little thing that sparks an idea. Just as I still click on links to articles that appear in my Twitter feed when I already know there is a good chance there is no new information for me there. I believe that a so called ‘rookie technique’, explained only a little different from how I first read it, can still lead me to develop a different vision on something I thought I already knew.
All the above is why I believe that I am good at what I do. That is why I think that I still study photography every single day. Even though I never studied to become a photographer.
This story has been long overdue, since I have actually been on this trip before going to Curaçao. I just didn’t have time to finish all the photo edits in time for my Curacao trip so I had to do that still upon return. There is a good reason for that though.
You see, where I focus heavily on lowering my workload by shooting JPEGs for my personal work, Calgari Watches actually pays me to shoot their products. This means a couple of things. First of all, they are allowed to have some creative control over the output. In this case, they required me to deliver a very particular editing style. I had to dive into the characteristics they where looking for and develop my own presets to accomplish this. Secondly, I need to be flexible when I am doing paid work. Does the client want a re-edit? Do I need to shoot in difficult lighting? Non of that should be a problem.
This means that I still stick to shooting RAW for all my commercial work. It is significantly more work to get to an end result but it also guarantees I can deliver what is being requested from me. Therefore, this story is coming to you with a little delay but it’s not less true because of it. Now that that’s out the way, let’s continue!
Prague through new eyes
This wasn’t actually my first time in Prague as I have been there before as a kid. I was so young though, that I can barely remember anything from it. Add in that I am now a photographer at heart and therefore see the world in such a way, you can probably understand how excited I was to revisit.
The whole trip was from Friday evening until Monday afternoon, which provided us with plenty of time to roam around the city. Going there specifically to utilise the city and its backdrops for a photoshoot is a little different from your average citytrip though. I mean, sure you want to experience some culture and see some sights but the goal is to come home with some amazing photos. So what do you do?
The center of Prague is pretty walkable and provides you with anything you could wish for if you are looking for some classic Czech sights. I always like to aim for some diversity though, so while we did our fair share of roaming around the city center, we hitched a ride or two to some other areas in the city as well. They might not be as nice to visit if you are there a just a tourist, they are very interesting if you are looking for some unique photographic opportunities.
Before I go on a trip like this anywhere, I always have a quick search on the internet for so-called ‘Instagrammable places’ and ‘Instagram hotspots’. I know how that sounds and I do get itchy from this as well but nonetheless, it’s a great starting point to get an idea of how photogenic a city really is. I mean, I can make a photo anywhere but if your goal is to shoot brand images that will have a certain wow-factor with the audience, you need to have a certain Instagrammableness1 to it.
“I have been finding more and more focus in my work recently and I am happy with the direction I’m heading in. My work for the local paper comes to mind, but directing my energy into long(er) form projects like this is also something that provides me with peace of mind.“.
It has been a few months since I wrote these words and I feel them stronger than ever.
Relocating and focussing my energy is something I have made a personal goal, which I am gradually getting better at. This involves a lot of saying no to people, which is going quite well, but also saying no to myself. This last bit needs a little more work. At this point, I feel like my days are only getting shorter as I am getting busier and that is not something I am comfortable with. I am actively trying to narrow down the things I spend time on and be more present when I do as a result.
We’ll see where that takes me in the next few months.
Arriving in Curacao is a relief after months of the cold back home. I can feel my skin loosing its tension. My muscles relaxing.
I haven’t come here with a specific purpose other than to unwind. It has been a few years since I went on an actual holiday; I notice how much I was longing for it as soon as it was there. No work for me the coming three weeks. Still, who would I be if I did not bring my camera to document the trip though.
Before we left, I set up a new thing on my camera where the colors of the JPEG look exactly how I would’ve edited the RAW files. Sort of. Thanks Fujifilm1, I might finally appreciate you like I should after this trip.
The first few days are about nothing more than beaches. We spend our first full day in the outskirts of Mambo Beach, where it’s less busy and more relaxed. Just what I needed. The food here is great as well, though not as authentic. A little pricey as well; I’m on an a holiday though so I shouldn’t complain. This is what I’ve been working for.
Life of pigs in Porto Marie
Our second full day takes us to Playa Porto Marie, where wild pigs roam the beach. We do see the pigs but they are just being lazy near the parking lot. I snap a photo but I can’t be bothered that much. The pig agrees. Maybe next time we will intersect paths again but then with the prospected idyllic backdrop of a white sandy beach. Who knows.
Day 4: Adventures
Day number 4 takes us to Shete Boka National Park. If you are unfamiliar, it’s mostly known for the rugged cliffs and waves crashing into them with some moderate enthusiasm. The sight is cool and the water is blue and beautiful. I have seen more spectacular sights but I like it. Regardless, it’s a nice trip that does not require much effort. The photos I got out of it are pretty nice though. I really like how the blues pop with my color profiles set up. I shoot a few short bursts to capture the crashing of the waves at their peak for added drama. I also whip out the iPhone 11 Pro to make use of its Ultra Wide lens.
After Shete Boka, our journey continues to Sabana Westpunt. The only proper village at the north of the island. Lunch is at a place called Jaanchie, named after the owner (I assume) who’s called Jan Christian, and provides a very local experience. The food is whatever they have that day and includes an assortment of prawns and fish for us. Iguana is also an option but I opted out for now. Who knows when I might feel more adventurous some other time.
The vibe of the restaurant is relaxed an Jaanchie is a great host. While one of the USPs of the restaurant is that it’s surrounded by ‘Suikerdiefjes’2, it is Mr Christian that made the experience a good one for me. I have long hair so at first he thinks I am a woman but let’s just forget about that for now. I shoot a few frames inside and around the building but am too hungry to be bothered that much.
Blue water white sand, beach
My focus is mostly on what is on the agenda after lunch though: a beach called Grote Knip, or Playa Kenepa. The water is supposed to be crystal clear and the beach pearly white. Upon arrival we realize that not a word was lied about that. Before I get into the water, I pull out my camera and have some fun with the colorful beach beds and the harsh sunlight of the afternoon sun.
Side note: Now that I am writing this, I remember thinking to myself how I wouldn’t have been able to shoot a photo in such an environment a few years ago. Heavily inspired by Joe Greer in the last few months, I tried to shoot with how I think he views the world around him as much as I could. Like a photographical exercise. Without going in depth about the specifics of that, you be the judge if I somehow succeeded.
Day 5 – 10: Otrabanda
The next day is moving day as we relocate from the beachside apartment on Mambo to an Airbnb3 in Otrabanda, Willemstad. We specifically chose this Airbnb for its central location. The little French Bulldogs they have might have had played a part as well.
As soon as we are set up we hit the streets and immediately notice a lack of tourists. It also makes me realize that my efforts of looking like a photographer actually turned me into a ‘how to look like a tourist’ starter kit. If anybody has tips on how to blend in more, please comment below.
Our walk takes us through the center of Willemstad, with lunch as our final destination.
The following days are spend with the mornings photographing the street art, the afternoons at the beach. We also include a visit to a little bounty island off the coast of Curacao called Klein Curacao (not a very imaginative name but very accurate nonetheless).
This also marks the day I decided to ditch my RAW files and stick to JPEGs with the film simulation recipes applied. I played around with some photos in Lightroom Mobile and realized that they look exactly how I would’ve edited them anyway.
Sure, I might be able to save a highlight here and there if I stick to the RAWs. I don’t want to spend my time doing that though. As a side effect, this also significantly reduces my workload and storage requirements for my mobile photography workflow.
Day 11 – 14: Bringing Mambo back
Day 11 marks another moving day for us. Mambo Beach was calling us again and we are happy to indulge. After a few days in the city, being back on the white sandy beach feel like a welcome change.
Being back in a place we have been before is not so good for my photography though. I do not shoot more than a few frames in the days following. I do not mind at all though. I listen to some podcasts and get inspired by the (para)phrase ‘downtime is part of the discipline’.
As I sit a little with that thought I realize, pushing yourself to high performance requires some periods of doing little to nothing as well. You might not be productive in the common sense of the word but that’s okay. If you grant your mind some room to meander, new insights will present themselves in a timely manner.
With that, my mind is at ease and I can leave my camera down for a while.
Day 15 – 21: Local life
Our final move is taking us to our second Airbnb that’s located a little more local. The area is called Steenrijk but houses mostly the regular (That means middleclass, middleclass is regular for me) local people.
Soon as we arrive we have a little walk around and do some shopping to fill our fridge. We still have Mambo Beach located close by and use that to our advantage to visit the restaurants and bars to get a cocktail. Playa Marie Pampoen is within walking distance as well and, though far less developed as Mambo, proved to be an adequate place to enjoy some sunshine.
Our final days at the Island are spend intertwining between these places as we aim for total unwinding. Mission accomplished.
Being away from everything for a while was a blessing. Frankly, it was inspiring in some way as well. I did not even pick up my camera on some days and I am glad I didn’t. I am really happy I went the Fujifilm JPEG route as it allowed me to not be stuck behind my computer editing all my shots.
It’s also funny that in my last story from Ghent I mention struggling to commit to the wide angle of the 18mm lens but I hardly used anything else on this trip at all! I only brought out the 35mm for our day to Klein Curacao as I thought the narrower field of view could be beneficial on such an empty island. In hindsight, I could’ve done with the 18mm as well. The iPhone did come out a few times, sometimes for the Ultra Wide angle, sometimes because I couldn’t be bothered to bring the Fuji. I’m sure you can tell a few times but I doubt you’d be able to identify all the iPhone shots in this series.
Concluding, I wrote about my mobile photography workflow recently and posted my thoughts on the Qord Amsterdam blog during this trip. If you are curious to read how I was able to edit all my photos before even coming home, you can read about that as well.
Thanks for reading and I’ll be back once I have something else to share.
Small birds that get their name from being cute little sugar thieves. ↩︎
If you sign up through this link you can get up to 39 USD off on your first purchases. I might get something out of it as well but I am not sure at the moment. Anyway, it’s here if you need it. We stayed at this Airbnb specifically by the way! ↩︎
Note: this article is written when iOS 13 was released and therefore is tailored to that version of iOS. Any of the steps mentioned also apply to iOS 14 though and might even be smoother as Apple improves the robustness of the Files app.
As you might know by now, I like keeping things simple. This is especially true when it comes to my photography gear and my whole process of making photos. My goal is be as involved in taking photos as I possibly can, and also take as much as I want to, without this resulting in me having to spend days behind my computer to make selects and edit them. As much as I enjoy a good edit, I don’t really want to spare hours on one photo. When I take a photo, I want that photo to already be very close to the end result. All I want to do is apply my edits and move on to the next one . This is especially true when I am away from home. When you are traveling, you want to be present and not look at a screen for a big part of your day.
The rule of ones
Therefore, I came up with a method to keep my whole photography workflow to one camera, preferably one lens, and an iPhone with at least iOS 13. I have been working for some time with this method and I have been able to simplify it to the point where I no longer have to jump through several hoops to make it work. The process is basically just as easy as it is on my laptop. Let me talk you through it, starting with:
Setting up my workflow
The moment Apple decided to upgrade the Files app to allow for external storage, including SD cards, a thought popped into my mind: would I now be able to basically mimic my laptop workflow on my phone? To answer this question, I first have to tell you a little about my workflow on my laptop computer which I treat as my base station.
My base station
The setup I use to center my complete photography business around is: a MacBook Pro, with an external SD card reader and a LaCie 5TB HDD eternal harddrive. I keep a file structure on my LaCie HDD where I have a folder for my RAW photography, ordered by date, and I have a folder for my exports, also ordered by date. I import my RAW images from the SD card into its designated folder, I import these files into Lightroom Classic CC from the RAW folder and then export my edits to its own place in my exports folder. There are other, perhaps even better, ways to do this but this has worked for me for some years now so I’ll probably stick with it for a while still.
An iPhone, iOS 13 and up, the Files app
As I mentioned, Apple added external storage support in iOS 13 so I asked myself, would I be able to easily copy this exact workflow to my iPhone now? That means, without having to use multiple third-party apps and without having to go through the camera roll first to import the photos. The answer to this question is: yes, it’s surprisingly easy to maintain the exact same workflow on whichever computer1 I had use. For this to work, you need a few things
An iPhone that has at least iOS 13 installed (Any iPhone from the 6s and up qualifies but I found it works smoother on newer phones)
A camera that can hold regular sized SD cards (or a micro SD in an adapter)
The Apple SD card to Lighting connector adapter
What I have then done inside the Apple Files app, is make a copy of the file structure I have on my MacBook. I recreated the exact same folder names and I use the same naming conventions to keep it organised. This isn’t truly necessary for this workflow to actually function, but I find it’s way easier to keep track of everything if you just stick to one system as much as you can.
I also keep iCloud Drive syncing enabled to allow for the files to be backed up immediately after the import as well. This makes it easier to catalog my work in a further stage but more about that later. For now, all the setting up is done and I can enjoy shooting my photos.
My photography workflow away from base
Once I completed shooting my photos for the day2, I am ready to start my editing process. For this process to work you will need:
The Files app, with access to sufficient storage. This can be local storage or you can use iCloud. Do make sure you have sufficient space for the file import as it might take a while for the files to be uploaded to iCloud. Also, you will need to have files offline for editing.
Your preferred mobile editing app. I use Adobe Lightroom CC, as the app has greatly improved over the past few years and I it helps me to stay as close to my base station workflow as possible. You can use any other app that has access to the Files app for file management.
Storing and backing up the RAW files
To get started, I pop out my SD card from my camera, plug it into the Apple SD card to Lightning adapter, which I then plug into the Lightning port of my iPhone. I open up the Files app and create a designated folder first. The reason I do this first is that I don’t like having a full SD card worth of photography on my clipboard while I am still fiddling with my folder creation. The moment I go into the SD card to select the images for copying to Files, I want to go through copy-pasting in as little steps as possible. I don’t want anything to unexpectedly crash on me when I am handeling my, at this point, only copy of the image files. This might be overly cautious, but I am rather safe than sorry and my caution is warranted as I did have some crashes happen at this exact moment3. I just don’t want have all these images ready to be moved and when the app crashes have it decide it should take down the original files as well. Luckily this never resulted in any lost files, yet.
When the folder is created, I copy all the images I want from the SD card and paste them inside the folder I just created. If you have a lot of photos, this might take a while and there is no real way for you to tell how far along the transfer is. I hope Apple include some sort of progress bar as they have on the Mac4. For now, just know that the Lightning port on iPhones is USB 2.0 still, which transfers files with a speed of around 25 MB/s to 35 MB/s. This is fast enough for me, as it takes just a few minutes to import a day’s worth5of photos but I knowing this can be done in seconds on a faster connector hurts a little.
Also, when the app encounters files already in place with the same name, it won’t ask you to overwrite, merge or save duplicates. It just saves duplicates and that’s what you’ll have to deal with. This is especially inconvenient when you import your photos during lunch, use the SD card for the rest of the day, and then import the new files from the afternoon as well. You will end up with your original imports from the morning saved twice, accompanied by your freshly imported files from your afternoon. Of course you can combat this by simply selecting your files from the afternoon only, but I don’t feel like scrolling through a few hundred photos just to see what I did and what I didn’t import already. Anyway, moving on.
Editing the photos on the go
As soon as I have my RAW images stored safely inside the Files app, I unplug the SD card reader again as we won’t be using that anymore for now. As I mentioned, I use Lightroom CC on my iPhone to make my edits but you can use any editing app of your preference. I will focus my attention specifically on my personal workflow though.
For a while now6, it has been possible to import your images from the Files app to Lightroom CC. I import the files from the folder I just copied them to and add them to an album under the same name7. How I edit my photos is something I will write about in the future so I won’t get into depth about that for now. All we care about now is how the workflow as a whole is structured. I do want to point out that I also sync my own presets that I’ve created in Lightroom Classic on my computer to Lightroom CC. This way I can still easily edit the photos with consistency in the style that I like. On a basic edit, all I have to do is apply the preset I like to get the preferred colours and adjust the exposure accordingly.
After I have made my selects and edited those photos, I select all of them and prepare them for export. To do this, you press the ‘share’ button and select ‘Save to Files’. Once I have chosen how I wish to export the photos, the images will render and you will be asked where the files should be saved. As you might’ve guessed by now, I navigate to the ‘Exports’ folder I created earlier and create a new folder for this particular set of photos. This is where I then save the files. After I’ve done this, I am done with all the work I have to do when I am away from home and I can get back to enjoying wherever I am at that moment.
Finishing up the file management
So I enjoyed my travels, documented everything with my camera and even managed to complete my editing work on the drive/flight/boat back home, awesome! Now I don’t have to return from a trip, only to sit at my computer for a few days straight to go through all my photos and start editing them. This also evades the situation that I’ve already lost some of the connection I had with my travel destination when I was still there. There is one final thing I can do to perfect my file management though.
As I described above, my base station is a MacBook with a 5 TB LaCie HDD plugged in. This external drive is then backed up constantly to Backblaze8. At this point, we still only have our files in the Files app and iCloud. We wish to change that as iCloud storage isn’t that cheap but mostly isn’t nearly sufficiently spacious enough to keep many years of photography in it. Therefore, an external HDD that’s backing up to Backblaze is the perfect solution for me. External storage is relatively cheap and the fact that I can back up the complete drive (or several, Backblaze backup space is unlimited) to Backblaze, gives me peace of mind.
To easily transfer my files from my iPhone to my external HDD I have made sure to enable iCloud Drive on my MacBook as well. The moment I return to my home, there is a good chance the files are already waiting for me on my MacBook. The only thing that’s left to do for me is to go into my iCloud Drive on my MacBook, locate the folders I have stored the RAW files and the JPEG exports and move each of those in their corresponding folders on my LaCie drive. The fact that they are named the same makes this the easiest this task can be. After the files are stored on the drive and backed up to Backblaze, you can safely remove the files from your iCloud Drive again to free up space for your next adventure!
Now that I’ve taught you my complete mobile photography workflow, you might still wonder: why? Why would you go through all this trouble to try and make your workflow fit a mobile device when you can simply bring your MacBook with you and just stick to one method that has proven itself to you? The reason is real simple, I don’t want to bring my MacBook traveling. Just as I don’t want to be distracted by my camera and usually only keep one lens on it, I don’t want to be distracted with doing computer work when I should be experiencing the surroundings of wherever I might be.
Moving my entire workflow to a mobile device, removes the work from the equation and instead, makes it a lot more fun to edit my photos on the go. I can produce final images on moments where I might not have much on my hands for example when I am on a bus for a few hours9.
All this allows me to be present in the moment whenever I need to be, while also providing me with the knowledge that I am being productive and won’t have a pile of work waiting on me when I get back home. To me, that provides me with a lot of peace of mind and I think that if there is any state you should strive for, it’s exactly that.
It’s a sunny day but my head feels cloudy. As I sit in my apartment, my eyes glide through the room and stop at my favorite coffee table book. It’s a simple softcover collection of my favorite photos from when I did a 365 project, way back in 2015. I haven’t opened the book for over a year now but this time, I decide to have a look.
I am not sure what I am looking for and frankly, I have been feeling quite uninspired lately. Perhaps I hope that this book will remind me about the time when I first started doing photography. Maybe it will spark something inside me that also sparked when all this was still new to me. I am not sure. As I browse through the pages of my little book I can’t help but feel a sense of accomplishment.
It’s a feeling that almost became unfamiliar to me. “Why is that?”, I ask myself, as my eyes now move to the life outside my window. I used to wander around my city for hours, looking for new photo opportunities. These days I just sit at my computer, working on whatever, and only pick up my camera when I have job to do. “Well of course”, I think, “back then everything was still new. There is nothing there for me any more”.
The get up
It’s an unsettling thought, though when I’m being completely honest with myself, is just an excuse to don’t have to go outside. I pause my thinking but now move my gaze to the camera on my shelf. There must be something I can do to get my inspiration back.
A couple of weeks went by, maybe even months, but nothing really changed. Until one day, I had enough of it. I also realized that, though I might have been to every place I know in my surroundings before, some things are bound to change. Relying on these things to provide some new inspiration, I grabbed my camera and headed out.
Just head out
As I walked out my door I went straight ahead, as opposed to turning left like I always do, and prepared myself mentally to search for something new. In my hand was my trusty FujiFilm camera with the 35mm f2 screwed on securely. I always enjoyed shooting with a prime lens when I went out like this, as I found the limitations liberating. I also found various success with this lens before, so I had my fingers crossed again.
What I encountered
As I mentioned, the sun was particularly bright this day and somehow I decided to go out when the sun was at it’s highest point. Normally this isn’t such a good idea as my eyes are more drawn to the softer light at the end of the day. This time I decided to just roll with it as I was glad enough I went out already.
The bright sun and my urban environment provided me with a lot of shadows in the city and soon enough, my eyes started to be drawn to them. I always focused on photographing the city itself but at this moment, an alternate universe unfolded before my eyes. One that could only be seen when the circumstances where just right. I pointed my 35mm lens (it’s a 50mm equivalent, if you didn’t know that) at a window that’s encapsulated by a harsh shadow and took the shot. The window also casted it’s own reflection inside that shadow, which allowed for multiple dimensions to be displayed in this one shot.
How did that feel?
At that moment alone, I felt a sense of accomplishment already and provided me with good hope for the rest of my little photo walk.
I walked around for about an hour before I returned. I didn’t shoot all my photos on my FujiFilm as I intertwined between the 26mm lens on my iPhone to get the wider shots. When I got back home and waited for the photos to import into Lightroom, I had some time to reflect. What was it I learned from this experience? How could I use this to not feel uninspired in the future? It turned out that a lot of the liberation I was seeking was hiding in imposing limitations on myself. In this particular case, I could identify 3 major limitations. Any of those, or a combination of them, might help you as well.
Revisit the same places
The first realization I had was that revisiting the same place after a while again, isn’t a constraint but actually just another challenge. Perhaps even an advantage. As you are already familiar with a certain place, you are in a position to look past the initial characteristics of a scene and rather focus on the other things that aren’t that apparent at first sight. Every newbie will say “oh it’s a house!” whereas you will say “look at that amazing shadow play around that window”.
At the same time, we can’t just assume every location will stay the same forever. I took a drive around the rural area around my town, an area I never visited again after visiting a few years ago. I always assumed there was nothing there for me to photograph anymore but what do you know, the people there built a few new things there and suddenly an interesting composition emerged!
Lastly, never have the arrogance to believe a place isn’t worthy of your time again if you disregarded it before. Your photography vision is constantly changing, hopefully, so where you might’ve not seen any subjects of interest before there might be something there for you this time around. I believe you should always try to educate yourself a little more. You might not learn things of much significance after a while anymore, but the congregation of this little things will make you a better photographer in the long run, trust me.
My photography style has changed quite a bit compared to when I first started out so even when my surroundings remained the same, my view of them has definitely changed.
Use a different focal length
The second realization I had recently is that a different focal length can change the way you view things a lot too. I purchased a vintage 80-200mm lens at the thrift store and mounted that to my Fuji X-T1 with an adaptor. The APSC-sensor on the FujiFilm camera’s allowed me to have a zoom range up to a 350mm equivalent field of view, something I never shot with before. Even in my most uninspired time, when I took that thing out to shoot for the first time, a whole new world opened itself to me. I drastically had to recalibrate how I look at the world when I’m making photos and the challenge was just a whole lot of fun.
Tricks for giving yourself a new perspective
The same it also true for any other focal length you might not use regularly. Your brain starts to see compositions once you get used to a certain focal length and sometimes, you just run out of ideas for compositions within that FoV (that means Field of View, just to be sure). Mounting a lens to your camera that has a drastically different FoV forces you to rethink everything you thought you new and teach yourself a new way to look at the world around you. That means that if you are a wide angle guy, use that tele-lens for once and then see what you can come up with still. I think you’ll surprise yourself!
Go out with a specific goal
The final thing that opened my eyes on my walk is one that’s more of a mental exercise. You can force yourself to view your world differently quite easily when you use a different focal length. Inherently trying to change your perspective is something that’s a little harder to do though. When I first noticed that harsh shadow around the window in my story, I got inspired to focus my attention on solely capturing shadows like that some time.
A little preparation can go a long way
Setting a specific goal for yourself even before you go out to shoot, can liberate you from being trapped in the same thinking pattern. Instead, it forces you to look for other things you normally wouldn’t look for. Focusing on shooting shadows only, for example, is a great way to train your brain to see multiple options for a photo within a scene. You can come up with countless versions of this to force yourself to think outside of the box.
Do you always shoot in landscape orientation? Shoot in portrait orientation only! Do you like to shoot in black & white? Try to focus on the colors of the world! There are no rules but try to challenge yourself a little. I guarantee you will figure out how to produce something that’s worth it to keep.
If you have trouble coming up with a goal, just hit me up! I’m sure I can help you the right direction.