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 computer[note]what’s a computer?[/note] 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 day[note]I like to make an import every day, just for safety reasons. That way, when something bad happens with my camera on the next day, I still have all my photos from the previous day stored in a separate place.[/note], 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 moment[note]To be completely fair, this did happen during the Beta stages of iOS 13 and the rough patches in the software have been smoothed out in the meantime.[/note]. 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 Mac[note]Basically any computer tells you how far along your file transport is.[/note]. 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 worth[note]On a typical travel day, this ranges somewhere between 100 to 200 photos. Sometimes less. I don’t recommend trying to import more files than that at once. If you do have more, try doing it in batches of 100 photos at a time so when the interface glitches out, you can easily identify where there might be any missed imports or duplicates.[/note]of 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 now[note]I don’t exactly know how many whiles[/note], 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 name[note]Do you see how the naming conventions make it easy to keep track of what you are working on?[/note]. 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 Backblaze[note]While this is a referral link, I am in no way affiliated with Backblaze. When you sign up through this link, you (and I) will get a free month of usage though![/note]. 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 hours[note]I do realise I can simply pull out my MacBook on the bus as well but really, who wants to be that guy? Also, have you tried doing actual work with your laptop in your lap? It’s way easier to handle a phone than some clunky device that was cleary made to be put down on a flat surface[/note].
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.
If you truly plan on being great then go out and chase after that. You can’t just sit around making plans, you must stay moving and see what life brings you. Plans usually don’t work out the way you pictured them in your head anyway. In your search for greatness it’s important to keep motivating yourself, too. That means you should grant yourself the joy of small successes over time on your ever-enduring journey. These are the first few points that lay at the heart of striving to prosper.
Why does this all matter and what does this have to do with photography, you might think? It matters because if there is one way to help you accomplish all the above mentioned, it’s by doing a 365 days project. Although photography will be the focus of this article, the concepts I elaborate on can be applied to any creative field you are interested in.
The picture above is the first picture I’ve taken for the 365 days project I did in 2015. I only recently got into photography and did everything with my iPhone. I had no clue how I could be able to take a picture every single day of the year to come. The thing is, that fear was exactly the reason I started the project. As I just discovered that photography was something I enjoyed doing I was anxious to see what I could accomplish with a camera, even with one as simple as an iPhone.
Learn to keep it moving
The project wouldn’t allow me to sit around making big plans that eventually get shelved anyway. By making it known to my Facebook [note]I no longer actively use Facebook anymore but back in 2015 I wasn’t quite there yet[/note] and Instagram friends that I would be doing the project, I locked myself into my promise to capture, edit and share an image every day. These 365 days of producing something daily, forced me to stop thinking about any long-term consequences, difficulties and stopped me from over-planning everything. The project forced me to keep it moving.
Don’t be scared to fail
Did this mean that every photo I would take that year had to be a timeless classic? Obviously, no. I told my following they might see some terrible photos during the year but that I hoped to capture a few gems here and there too. It didn’t really matter if the photos I was taking where any good anyway. The point of the project is to learn as much as you can and to learn something every day. If I was taking perfect photos only, I wouldn’t be learning much. After all, you learn from your mistakes, don’t you?
That’s why the picture you see here is so terrible, I hate it. This photo might be the worst photo I ever shared. If it wasn’t for the project, I wouldn’t have taken the photo and definitely would never have posted it online. I had no choice though; being busy all day my chances of taking a solid shot for the day had diminished significantly. Next to that, the sun had set long ago. When I finally went out and took a few terrible photos, of which this one, I eventually picked this one as the best [note]Can you imagine how terrible the other ones where?[/note].
Lessons are hidden everywhere
Why did I pick this above mentioned photo you ask? Well, despite it being an overall bad photo, I did manage to achieve some kind of symmetry and minimalism. It helped me in applying a few of the concepts I was exploring during my project. Exemplifying my daily learning process, it taught me about looking critically at my work and identifying the qualities and inferiorities of it. Not to forget, it taught me the importance of planning when you are shooting. These are all very valuable skills and, during this project, transcend the goal of just taking a pretty photograph.
The key to persistence
If you look at your learning process as a goal in itself, then the daily success in posting your image is your reward. It’s pretty difficult to consistently come up with something for a year straight. Therefore your fulfillment in doing it should not only come from accomplishing this at the end.
As a learning process is usually something that is only rewarding in the long term, it’s hard to stay motivated in the moment. That’s why the thing that kept me going, is being able to pat myself on the back when I accomplished my daily mission. The wonderful feedback I received from everybody helped a lot too. I tried to maximize this effect by trying to post around the same time every day when I knew that a lot of my friends would be able to see how I got around creating my image. I would write a little caption to let people see my process and ask them to share their opinion, even when it wasn’t a positive one.
A little joy a little progress
The point is to really experience the process but grant yourself the joy of these daily successes to keep you going. Your journey has no end and if your only satisfaction comes from completing it, then that’s exactly what you will never get. Find satisfaction in the small things until bigger things start happening for you. This is your key to persistence.
Even when you do end up accomplishing bigger things, it’s important to keep cherishing the things that now seem insignificant. As you can see in the above written, I started from the bottom but ended up taking a few of my favorite photos I’ve ever taken during this year. Until this day, I believe that this first year of photography has been super valuable to me and brought me to do things I never imagined possible.
Mirroring your project to a calendar year gives you a little more momentum that you can use as an extra motivational push. If that’s too soon (or too late!) for you, that’s fine. You can start a project like this whenever you like; you make your own rules. If that doesn’t work, you pick another date that’s significant to you, or a random one that just feels right, it’s whatever. Just don’t forget to enjoy the small successes, see your failures as opportunities and employ that growth mindset that will make you complete your project. You will kickstart your photography career. You will be great.
This is a bit of a weird one. The moment I decided to go to Ghent for a weekend I automatically assumed I would be shooting a lot of photos there. After all, I had never been there[note]Always good for tickling your creativity[/note] and Ghent is known to be a pretty city. What could go wrong right?
Well, I wouldn’t say things went wrong but they also didn’t really go as I planned it in my head[note]Photography-wise I mean of course, we had a wonderful time there. Spoiler alert?[/note]. I’m going to yap on a little about what’s going through my mind lately. Here it comes.
Hyperboles for days
It all started when, in the week leading up to the trip, I was in dubio what lens I should bring.Typical photographer stuff. Should I bring my trusty XF 35mm F2.0 or rather give my newly acquired XF 18mm F2.0 a chance to be my inseparable partner? Normal people would just bring both, or a standard zoom lens, to cover their preferred focal lengths. Not me though. I have been on an, almost pathological, quest to simplify my photography gear to the point that it’s practically not even there anymore. A hyperbole (or is it?), but you get my point.
When I started taking photos using just my iPhone, I was a big fan of not having to think about bringing anything with me. I could simply use what I already carried every day.
My roots as a minimalist
I would just have to make it work with any of the limitations that imposed. At the same time, those limitations allowed me to be a better creative as it didn’t allow me to ponder about what I ‘could have done’. Rather, I could just do my best and call it a day.
Lately, I really missed that mentality I had. While I do realise I was having doubts on a very small setup regardless, this doubt to me was the embodiment of how I became misguided in technicalities and lost sight of my ultimate goal: documenting my travels.
Sticking to my tricking
This resulted in that, when the time came to actually leave for Ghent, I didn’t really feel like taking photos at all. I just got an iPhone 11 Pro Max a few weeks ago [note]Go big or go home?[/note] so going back to my roots of iPhone photography crossed my mind more than once. Eventually, I caved and brought my Fujifilm X-E3 and both lenses. I was a bit disappointed I didn’t have the confidence to keep it more simple but I also was curious to see how I could document as much as possible without setting out with that specific goal. Concurrently, at least I was still trying to minimise my entire workflow to a single camera and an iPhone to do my post-processing. That might sound crazy, and perhaps unnecessary, but when I said I was on an almost pathological quest for minimalism, I wasn’t lying. I will write about how I do that in a separate blog post some time soon.
Challenges for fun
Anyway, once in Ghent the weather turned out to be, let’s say, sub-par as it was raining a lot of the time. The dreariness did alternate with some sunshine though, which was pleasant but also lead to this weird mix of moods in my photos. I would shoot a super moody photo of some wet street corner, while the next moment I was working with harsh shadows and finding interesting compositions with those.
All in all, this resulted in an eclectic collection of photographs with a mix of X-E3 photos interchanging two different focal lengths and some iPhone photos. I edited the whole series on my new iPhone in Lightroom CC on the way home. It didn’t even matter that much if I was working on an iPhone photo or a shot from the APSC-sensor camera the Fuji X-E3 is. I even managed to squeeze in a few handheld long exposures using the Live Photo function on the iPhone. Fun stuff!
That’s all I have to say for now. You are only getting started though, as you now have to take a peek below.
If you asked me what I wanted to do with my photography a few years ago, I wouldn’t have been able to tell you. At this point I would probably tell you: travel, document, enjoy it. It doesn’t really matter to me how I accomplish this, but doing documentary style product/commercial/portrait photography (how would you even classify this stuff?), like I’ve done for Calgari Watches [note]Calgari make luxury watches with a Mediterranean twist for style conscious men, if you didn’t get that from the name[/note] this time, is definitely a dream come true.
Up until this point, I’ve done quite a few jobs for Calgari and I really enjoy doing that type of work. The Milan trip has been my highlight so far though (duh). 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.
Matter only doesn’t matter
Once, I was a slave to the race against time as well and made sure I had a consistent, high volume output. These days, I forget about that completely. I leave my Instagram untouched for weeks at a time and have been more productive than ever. A quick Instagram post is made easily but telling a story is something that takes some more time. I mean, everybody can speak but what are you actually trying to say?
I’m not sure what I am truly trying to say but at least I’m trying now. You can find a selection of my documentation of my trip with Calgari Watches below. The photos are in chronological order, which doesn’t really matter but I felt the need to include the information. I’ll figure out why eventually, I guess.
You may, or may not, have noticed but there is another part to this story. That one’s more focussed on my thought process behind doing these photo sets (and East Berlin). This time, I want to focus a little more on how I approach taking photos when I do projects like this.
You see, for the last few years, my photography has evolved from being strictly personal to mainly commercial. I talked about that at length in my previous post. So what did I do differently this time around then? There are a few things.
When I’m shooting commercial work, I always focus on an image with great care. Not only do I have to work with specific requests I have to adhere to, I also want to provide the client with technically flawless results. When I’m out shooting the streets to document them, that dynamic changes. I have nothing to take into account except my own idea of what I am trying to accomplish. That means that I have no clue what my end result will be and that the conditions I encounter will determine my output.
While roaming around Berlin, this meant that every corner we walked around was a new opportunity and required me to readjust my perspective. Life happens no matter what you do so when you set out to document that, you better have your camera ready. You can immediately see this in the spontaneity of a lot of these shots.
Finding unity and not
I believe that a photoset should always have some unifying element (Evan Ranft has some interesting ideas about this in this video). Of course, I could use the city of Berlin as my unifier but that turned out to be too marginal for me. This is the main reason I chose to split up my Berlin work in an East and West part. I found that the two were distinctly different, yet somehow the same. Setting out to find this coherence, while highlighting their inherent differences, ended up being my main goal. I tried to establish just this, by utilizing the same kind of shots but highlighting different subjects.
While Berlin-East was mainly focussed on, the bohemian, the beauty in the gritty, the undefined, Berlin-West asked for more focus on the architecture and the modernity of the city. Still, all these photos have some character of randomness to them that really ties them together. East and West Berlin obviously belong to the same city, yet have very different characters. You can feel all this in the tones of the surroundings, the subjects in those surroundings and the scenes that creates.
Lastly, as I pointed out before, I hadn’t crossed a border for a few years, despite my wanderlust. As I set out on this journey to remind myself why I started taking photos, the real thing I wanted to accomplish was to create some memories. I have a strong tendency to live with my head in the future (I am trying to be more present but I developed myself differently) and forget to enjoy what I am currently going through, let alone cherish my past. I recently realised that my photography can be of great aid to rewire myself being more aware of the present continuous.
So far I can say I have succeeded for a first try. I don’t pretend to be cured of my future-focussed tendencies but I can say my mind was present when I took these photos.
A while ago, I made a decision for myself that I needed to focus on shooting more photos for myself again. The whole reason I started doing photography in the first place, was because it was an excellent way of expressing myself. I loved being out and creating stuff through things that only I could see at that particular moment.
I received a lot of love for my compositions in my early days and I have always made it a point to use that in my commercial work. Still, despite continuing to push the bar on what I can do with photography, somewhere I lost the will to create for myself. That needed to change.
To abroad or not to abroad
I had always considered myself to be a fan of traveling and seeing new places. It had never been difficult for me to wonder about the marvels of everyday life and being in foreign places has always helped with that even more. Despite that, it had been a few years since I actually left the country.
I didn’t really pay it any mind at first, as I was too busy engulfing myself with work and seeking progression but something inside me was starting to grow more restless everyday. Finally then, my girlfriend Charlotte and I decided it was time and a trip to Berlin was soon planned.
Marrying your passions
It didn’t really hit me at first but I soon realised that this trip would be the first one abroad where I actually focussed on and made an extended effort to document it with my camera. I had been on a handful of trips before, where I shot some of my favourite photos, but I never really made it a point to do such a thing while visiting a new place abroad. This is when I realised that my love for travel and my love for photography had never properly been introduced to each other. These few days in Berlin where to change everything though.
Boy did everything change. It may not seem obvious, not even to me, but I completely rediscovered my passion for photography and was relieved to notice I haven’t lost my ability to see, shall I say something, in ordinary scenes. While I realise that may sound vague or unguided, it means that I try to find little moments of everyday life in mundane scenes. Being in an unknown place helps a great deal as the ordinary suddenly stands out, to you. The things locals walk by everyday, you are seeing for the first time. That turned out to be exactly the amount of stimulation I needed to create without a clear goal again.
I did not have a clear goal for my photos when I started shooting and only distilled some patterns and commonalities when I returned home. I liked it that way and frankly, it is exactly how I think photography like this should be approached. It turns out that this photo set that I created in Berlin will consist of two parts. I shot a bunch of photos in the Eastern part of the city, which is where we spent most of our time. So, part one will consist mostly of photos taken in Eastern Berlin, from early in the morning, to when the sun shines brightest, until finally nothing but artificial lights illuminate the streets.
Part two will be uploaded at a later timecan be found here and, while containing fewer photos as we haven’t spent much time there, will mainly be photos taken in Western Berlin. I did not plan on making this distinction beforehand but each of the photosets gave me a different vibe and I wanted to highlight that. For now, let me know what you think below.