I sold my first fine art photo print and I realized something

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!

My mailing list has a name, and elevator pitch

I’m keeping today’s Monologue short on purpose to temper the expectations a little. I wrote a few hundred words each day now and, though allowed, that was never the point.

I did write this new elevator pitch for my mailing list though. I also decided on a name for it. I’m calling it:

Dialogue.

I’ll get into more depth about why I chose this name but you should be able to digest it from this short version too:

Dialogue is a no fuss mailing list about photography, its philosophies and an open invitation to have a conversation about those.

You get direct replies and one-click unsubscribe.

It’s a first iteration but, as everything, it’s a work in progress.

Prints are better than Instagram, change my mind

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.

Notes to self

It’s day number 3 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.

It’s all a process. It’s all progress.

Thinking out loud

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.

Let’s try again tomorrow.

How impatience is prohibiting your creativity

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.

A new 365 project: daily writing all 2021

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.

UPDATE: You can now subscribe through RSS!

UDPATE 2: You can now join the Monologue Telegram Channel!

It’s almost 2021 and I’m starting a mailing list

Mitchel Lensink De Lens Mailing List

TL;DR
Why a mailing list? Because I like to talk to you directly. We don’t need social media for that. Here’s what I promise:

  • I create beautiful, easy to digest, straight to the point, emails.
  • I put everything I have to say in the body of the email. No need to click anything to view the whole story.
  • I only send an email when I have news. Otherwise I say nothing.
  • I keep it concise, just one or two points per email.
  • I’m honest about my intentions. Do I want something from you? I just ask for it.
  • You can directly reply to my emails with any thoughts you might have. Feel free to forget about standard email conventions as well and just speak your mind.

Overview

A fictional case study in email marketing

“I need a thing, let’s search for it online.

Ah, this company sells that thing. Great!

Oeh, I can get a 10% discount when I subscribe to the newsletter. Awesome.

PING!

YOU ARE NEARLY THERE!

Okay I did it, now where is my discount?

Oh, I just need to confirm my email address.

PING!

THANK YOU FOR JOINING OUR FAMILY!

Okay nice, let’s buy that thing now.

PING!

Wait, another email?

YOU MIGHT ALSO LIKE THESE ITEMS

But I just bought an item, leave me alone.

PING!

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.

Almost.

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.

Final thoughts

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.

So, will you please subscribe to my mailing list?

How a telephoto lens can improve your photography

Mitchel Lensink De Lens Telephoto

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.

Overview

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.

Mitchel Lensink De Lens Telephoto

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.

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.

Mitchel Lensink De Lens Telephoto
Photo by Dave Hoefler

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.

A photography study will make you a better photographer, sort of.

Mitchel Lensink De Lens Prague Calgari

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:

did you study to become a photographer?”.

Overview

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.

Mitchel Lensink De Lens 365 project
This is the first photo I took for my 365 project in 2015 and you can see how I am leaning on symmetry and leading lines a lot. Something I only recently learned to do.

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.