Some of you will be disappointed to learn that this post does not involve any megapixel numbers. At the end of 2012 – precisely one year ago, in fact, I published a similar post for 2013. It got a surprising amount of attention, so I’d like to both turn it into an annual tradition, as well as examine whether I was able to keep any of the promises – now that the year is over…
Let’s start with my promises for 2013:
1. Shoot less. Sort of.
If anything, I think I shot more in total; but that also takes into account commercial/ professional work. Personally, I shot less quantity, but thought more about what I was doing for an overall higher hit rate. Part of that was undoubtedly due to shooting film for most of my personal work during the year.
2. Use what you’ve got. Epic fail.
2012 was probably the most expensive year for me in terms of equipment acquisitions; mainly because I had to rebuild a full, reliable professional kit (including backups and redundancies). I bought few cameras this year – the Ricoh GR, a pair of Olympus E-M1s, a waterproof Sony compact, and a Canon IXUS 520HS – but a lot of accessories, lighting gear, and lenses. I completed my Hasselblad kit with an additional five lenses, a digital back, five film backs, and pretty much every other accessory; I added another three SB900s, stands, diffusers, etc; two tripod heads – the Arca-Swiss P0 and Cube. I’m sure there were some lenses in there somewhere, too – a Leica 50/1.4 ASPH, the Zeiss Otus 1.4/55 Distagon, Olympus 75/1.8 and 12-40/2.8s. But I’m pleased to say that I’ve gotten solid use out of pretty much everything, and from a financial return perspective – I am running a business after all – it’s paid for itself, many times over.
3. Try a new format. Check.
No question about this one – 6×6 has been my poison of choice for most of this year; certainly given half a chance, I’ve carried one of my 501s for personal work; I’ve also squeezed it into my commercial work where possible – perhaps against my previous better judgement, given that I’d wanted to keep commercial and personal work separate for reasons of creative development. I’d go so far as to argue that it’s taken me a step further in terms of my personal work; even if certain individuals might disagree. 645 is going to be my focus for next year; I’ve got to master the digital back and the slightly odd FOVs that it renders after chopping up the 6×6 frame. Sadly, there are no 6×6 full frame digital backs.
4. Reverse your lighting. Sort of.
A big part of commercial work has been about consistency of look and feel; this means using controlled lighting to create a natural feel. So I suppose in a way, reversal of lighting happened: I’m using speedlights where I previously wouldn’t have, and for some things – long exposures, for instance – I’m not; instead I’m shooting multiple exposures and combining afterwards in post. I think perhaps I should have had a clearer objective here to begin with.
5. Travel more. Check
2013 saw me in San Francisco, Mountain View, New York, Fukuoka, Tokyo, Amsterdam, Prague, Kota Kinabalu, Manila, Jakarta, Penang, Melaka, Singapore, Taipei, Basel and Yangon. Of those places, I’d only been to four previously as a photographer. On average, I was on the road twice a month. In hindsight: perhaps a little too much travel; first time I’d ever had a broken suitcase. On the list for next year – so far – are Melbourne, Sydney, Havana, Bali and London; that’s just the first half. Oh, and to combat the suitcase problem – I got a Pelican.
6. Share your knowledge. Check
I’ve somehow managed to sustain the pace of articles and content for the site; in return, it’s been rewarded by participation beyond my wildest imagination. Popular posts get over four hundred comments; that’s stratospheric. A big thank you is due to the contributions of the readers below the line; this is a live site, made so by the readers – all 150,000 of you regulars. In addition, this year we launched the teaching video series in a big way – it’s been so well received that we will definitely be continuing next year; I’ve got another 14 titles in planning, and two currently in post-production. Thank you again!
7. Experiment with video. Check
I served as creative director on a couple of corporate videos this year, of course in addition to my own teaching videos; I have to say I enjoyed the experience immensely. And it’s something I’ll be trying to do more of next year.
8. Develop my own film. Check
If one is going to shoot film, you really have to develop it yourself in order to retain full creative control. (I know the DSLR film scanning rig has taken a lot longer than I would have liked, but for something this niche – it has to be right first time out of the gate.) Part of the process has been shooting enough of a particular film under many different conditions to understand how it responds; part of it has been experimenting with the rest of the process to find something that works for your artistic intention. Through a lucky accident – I believe I’ve found that combination with Fuji Acros 100 and Ilford DDX. With the exception of my experiments with E6 slide film, all of the film images you see on the site were developed and processed 100% by me. And the best thing is – once you get a feel for the development process, the digitization is nothing more than capture, run action to invert and apply tonal map, and in rare cases, some spot dodge and burn. The proof is in the prints.
9. Conquer 35 and/or 50mm (or equivalents). Sort of.
I admit to not really having had a chance to give 35mm another go – part of the issue is that I don’t actually have a 35mm equivalent lens for any system (what a surprise, since I don’t like the FL anyway) except the 50mm on the Hasselblad + digital back due to the slight crop factor; this is not exactly a casual use combination. Perhaps I should just accept that I see in 28mm as opposed to 35mm; then again, the stubborn part of me likes the challenge. As for 50mm (or equivalents) – I count this one as a yes, because 90% of the images I shot with the Hasselblad on film were with the 80mm – which is a normal 50mm-equivalent. I consider 80mm + 6×6 film perhaps one of the most natural combinations ever; certainly one that’s very intuitive to me. I’m going to try to bring this to a smaller format next year; otherwise all of those 50mm-equivalent lenses I’ve got will go to waste. Especially the Noct-Nikkor and the Otus.
10. Streamline my workflow even more. Check
There’s a dirty little secret I’ve got. A lot of the more recent images posted on the site never went through PS at all other than for the resizing+border action; I made the changes I wanted in ACR, then saved directly. Granted, most of these were for situations under which lighting was controlled, so dodging and burning weren’t necessary, but still. Maybe that LR workflow video might just happen after all.
I’d say 7.5/10 isn’t bad going at all. So, what’s on the cards for 2014?
1. Commercial rationalisation.
Realistically, the commercial photography market isn’t getting any easier. I had a couple of big jobs with big clients in 2013 (the reason for the lack of On Assignment posts has to do with embargoes), which will hopefully pave the way to bigger things for next year. But these big things are lumpy, which means that I must find a way to smooth out the revenue spikes. As usual, this lies in diversification…
2. A shift towards the fine art market.
I’d already started this in 2013 with the two reasonably popular print runs; ultimately I think this will require me to further evolve the way I shoot, too. I recognize that this is perhaps an even more difficult market to break into than commercial; simply because it’s entirely irrational and dependent on you getting a lucky break or two somewhere along the line. Nevertheless, if one doesn’t try, one will never know. Hopefully, in the long term, this will result in two things: firstly, the ability for me to shoot only things I want to shoot, in the way I want to shoot them, and secondly, a stratification of income sources to allow a bit more financial predictability. Ultimately, I think I need to make the jump from creative stage 3b to stage 4…
On a related note: there are still a few prints left in the last limited edition run of the year, and another day to order. I’ll close once it’s no longer 2013 in any time zone.
3. My teaching activities will change.
I’ve now taught about 12 of the ‘Making Outstanding Images’ workshops; 2014 will be the last year I do this. Partially because I’m getting bored of it, partially because I feel that I need to further differentiate myself from everybody else out there doing workshops, and partially because I’ve had numerous requests from existing students for something more. In addition, the basic set of Making Outstanding Images workshop videos are complete. So far, Kuala Lumpur and Havana will be the first two; I may do another one later in the year in North America. On top of this, the Email School has become a bit of a runaway train; I’ve got over 130 students, and this is significantly impacting my ability to take more. I will relaunch this in a different format, to be tied in conjunction with the video workshops.
4. Experiment more: force myself to shoot differently, without backup choices.
Like it or not, different gear forces you to shoot differently. And that usually yields interesting results: limitation forces either creativity (or disaster). I’ve personally experienced both, often in the same shoot. I of course won’t be doing this on commercial jobs, but look out for some surprises in future photoessays.
5. Rationalize the gear.
It’s time for another garage sale, and soon. I’ve got far too much stuff sitting around as backup or ‘just in case’, or used one time for one job and collecting dust since. There’s no point in keeping things you don’t use. And on top of that, I feel like if I’m going to shift towards a certain output, then my equipment should also be reflective of that. I also can’t help shake the feeling that some point soon, I’m going to drop either FF35 or M4/3…
6. Direct and run a couple of my own exhibitions.
I had two exhibitions in 2013, but as they were sponsored, the content wasn’t fully under my control. That will change for 2014, as I’ve now got access to a dedicated (and excellent) gallery space in Kuala Lumpur. Look out for the first exhibition for January, and another one in the second half of the year; the latter will be geared more towards fine art, and with an eye towards sales.
7. Continue to build my profile.
Something I’ve continuously seen is that he who shouts the loudest is the most popular – regardless of whether he has anything worth listening to or not. Ideally, one must therefore be both loud and meaningful; I definitely don’t have the kind of recognition that would make doors open at will, but at least it’s nice to not be a complete unknown. Success in this business is all about image: both your output, and your own perceived value.
Interestingly, most of the changes are business ones rather than creative ones; I need to consider long-term sustainability of the commercial side of things, too. Without a viable business, I can kiss the creative side goodbye; there’s simply no means of supporting it. By creative, I mean anything that isn’t revenue generating – personal photography, articles on this site, product reviews, etc. It’s a tricky balance to maintain, as one cannot survive without the other. I think this is very much reflective of my current state in photography; people at different stages will of course have different objectives. The important thing is of course to have these objectives in the first place – irrespective of what they might be – in order to have something to work towards. Without a goal, improvement is going to be unpredictable at best.
As 2013 draws to a close – I honestly felt this year just zipped by – all that remains for me is to say a big thank you for your support, and wish you all a happy, healthy and prosperous 2014! MT
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