Staying on the bleeding edge: an economic strategy

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All photographers like gear; there’s no question that to some extent we’re all equipment hoarders and collectors. But it gets expensive quickly, even if we are lucky enough to be able to write off purchases as business expenses. This post will explain my strategy to minimize expense but still keep yourself happily distracted.

In reality, I think there are three options that work, but you must stick to them religiously – otherwise the costs start to spiral when you ‘jump grades’. Here’s the rundown; in each case, the aim is to take as little of a depreciation hit as possible, and of course keep yourself entertained…

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Film Diaries: Examining the costs of shooting film vs digital

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Looking for an answer? I can’t give you a clear cut one, but this article might certainly help to clarify your thoughts.

There are many reasons to shoot digital. There are many reasons to shoot film, too – beyond the simple ‘I want to’. Though I find that for color work, digital is significantly better than film due to the level of control and accuracy it produces, film remains my medium of choice for monochrome work. The reason has to do with nonlinearity of tonal response, especially in the highlights – film never quite seems to clip under almost all circumstances, and this jives with the way our eyes see the world very nicely indeed. But there are typically two things that stop people from trying film: workflow, and perceived cost.

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Decisions for the site going forward

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A rebirth of sorts; an excuse to post a cliche if there ever was one. (Actually: sunrise over Nanga Parbat, the Himalayas)

First of all, I want to say an enormous thank you to everybody who wrote in or left a comment after the last article on commercial realities – I’ve been overwhelmed by the time people have taken to chip in their thoughts, often very sensible advice. I’m also touched by the number of people who value what I do here. The community of readers who’ve turned into friends is something that I do value very much now; I do feel I have a duty – I don’t want to use the onerous term ‘obligation’ – to keeping that ecosystem healthy and alive. It’s one of the reasons I don’t simply shut down and go back to commercial work, and that I’m seeking the opinions of the people who are the reason why I do this.

Let me share some observations with you. The overwhelming majority are okay with ads, though are concerned that the revenue might be too low – probably, but it’s the least intrusive and costly method for now. A surprising proportion are okay with subscriptions, though there has to be some sort of hybrid model; this may be an option in the longer term if the interim measures still prove unsustainable. I’d still like to keep the community open and the content free, though.

There’s been a surprising interest in print sales and patronage. This is odd, because there was little response to the first couple of print offers I did – we’ll try again soon and see what happens. I’m quite happy doing this as it also lets me feel that you’re getting something extra in return for your support.

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The commercial reality of reviews, writing and blogging

It would be an understatement to say that the site has taken on a life of its own far beyond what I would have envisioned a year ago. (At that point, I’d have been happy not to see a zero traffic count when I checked at the end of the day.) We have pretty much a complete ecosystem – Facebook page with 4600+ fans, a very active Flickr pool with 4,700 accepted images, 800-odd contributors, and on average, two hundred images for me to moderate daily; there’s of course the iPad app, and various local communities of readers and fans brought together by various events and workshops.

I post at least every two days, and sometimes more frequently than that. The posts average 2,000 words in length – those of you who haven’t been out of college that long will remember essays of that length took some time and effort to complete – plus the correct images and illustrations required to support the text. Some of these are even longer – camera reviews run in the 4,000-5,000 word range, and require even more extensive testing under controlled circumstances, plus shooting images specifically for the site. Let’s not even talk about how much time is taken up by double checking anomalies that could be potentially caused by sample variation or file handling. Magnum opuses – like the Camerapedia and dictionary (exclusive to the iPad app) – have upwards of 30,000 words and take cumulative weeks of work.

Then there’s the correspondence: direct emails, comments, Facebook messages and posts, Flickr messages and posts, group threads. I have no idea how many individual messages this comes to, but I do know that on an average day, I get 200-300 emails. Long ago – perhaps foolishly – I made a promise that I’d do my best to reply to and interact with all of the readers who cared to do so. I’m sticking by that, because I think it’s one of the things that differentiates this site from others – especially the larger ones where the proprietors sit in the clouds and pontificate, then largely ignore their readers.

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