New year’s resolutions: 2015

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2014 ending, 2015 beginning, or both, depending on your point of view?

Setting personal photographic and creative goals for the forthcoming year has become a bit of a tradition for this site – so far, I think I’ve done reasonably well in hitting my targets. Perhaps it’s a holdover from my corporate days when you had to set targets for the projects or divisions under your purview for planning, or worse, so you could later be judged against them. When it comes to running your own business and that overlaps with where you personally want to go with your own creative development, a little more careful thought is required.

Let’s see how I did for my 2014 promises:

1. Commercial rationalisation. Sort of. Still lumpy, but bigger and more lumps.
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. Definitely attempted, again, sort of. More would be better.
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

3. My teaching activities will change. Check.
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. Check. I wasn’t doing landscape last year, or T/S stitching, for starters.
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. Epic, epic fail. I end 2014 with more gear than I started it with, and that’s despite selling a mammoth eight lenses and two bodies in October.
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. Sort of. Pushed to 2015 due to availability of galleries and timing. It’s still on the cards – I had one exhibition at the start of the year, though.
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. Sort of. I suppose my reluctance to shout and review gear is hampering this somewhat, but there are so many people doing it that adding to the noise seems rather pointless.
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.

That gets me a about a  4-4.5 out of 7. Nowhere near as successful as 2013, but then again, I’m also not sure that these are goals that can be accomplished in a year. Time to move on, regardless. I’d like to think of 2015 as “develop the arts”.

1. More exhibitions and fine art print sales
I use that as a very broad catch-all phrase for everything that isn’t commercial commissioned work and at the same time not exactly personal work with no applicability or potential commercial value to another audience. You can shoot for a client and make art, but rarely. You can shoot for yourself and make art that you personally might understand and like, but nobody will buy it. And you can shoot for an idea and create something which sustains itself. This is where I’m trying to go, of course. I would put gallery exhibitions with possibility for print sales into this category, which of course means both finding the right gallery partners and developing the body of work to the point that a coherent show can be put together; it also means thinking a lot more about the concept and final execution/ output before shooting. Planning often feels like the antithesis of serendipity, but more often than not I’ve found that a small amount of planning gets you into the ballpark – intuition does the rest. But I’ll need to get those exhibitions first; my recent work simply doesn’t do very well at web sizes or resolutions. Print is something else entirely; when you get to the point a layperson can see the enormous difference, you know you’re just about there. I’ve got a couple of shows planned for the second half of 2015 in Chicago and Hong Kong, with a couple more under discussion.

2. Shift to video direction and cinematography
Beyond that, I’m looking at more focus on video; both the corporate/ commercial client stuff as well as content for mass consumption. I’m now involved with two production houses, and have a number of much larger scale projects that might possibly hit the road, any one of which will land up making me very busy indeed.

3. More workshop videos, Masterclasses continue
On the teaching front, Masterclasses will continue; we had Havana, San Francisco and Venice in 2014, and Prague and Lucerne are on for the first quarter of 2015, with possibly also Tokyo, Hanoi, Chicago and something landscape-focused in California. It is almost certain there will be no more Outstanding Images now the video series is complete. We also have a new workshop video series in the planning stages; I can’t say what it is just yet, but I’m almost certain it’ll be popular. 🙂

4. More landscape
Last year, I shot landscape seriously for the first time, and honestly enjoyed it immensely. A combination of the locations, the tranquility, the stunning scenery snd the feeling of being somewhere different and inspiring really resonated with me. I want to do more of this, even if it means hauling a tripod everywhere. And it doesn’t hurt that the Ultraprints – and larger stitches I’m now doing – are the perfect immersive and transparent presentation medium for that.

5. Evolving printing – more, better
We’ve solved the transparency and resolution challenge; now it’s time to turn up the immersiveness scale and get to the point where we’re back to printing large again. This has enormous technical demands and simply isn’t possible for some things that require single captures (i.e. anything involving motion). I’ll start simple and we’ll go from there. Forest III and Nob Hill showed me what is possible – and until seeing it with my own eyes, I had no idea because it’s simply impossible to visualize or imagine that much information in a static scene (not the same as the real world, which we interpret dynamically). It’s time to take that to another level.

6. Consolidate
During the course of all of this experimentation, I’ve acquired a huge amount of hardware. Some of it has already been superseded by better technique and rationalized out to happy new owners, but there’s still more to come. I think at some point I will want to make a permanent choice between medium format and full frame; the mental anguish I go through when deciding which to carry when weight limited is incredibly frustrating. I have no idea which way this is going to go at the moment, but the promised new technologies that pack more resolution into 35mm may hold a clue – but it’s also worth remembering that anything that can be done at a pixel architecture level to a small sensor can be done to a large one, too; and more is definitely better as Sony’s sensor division proved last year. It’s time for another garage sale again soon – tools should reflect one’s focus, and too much choice can actually be a bad (and expensive) thing.

I also need to continue diversifying my business interests outside photography. Is this a long term sustainable industry? Honestly, I’m having trouble seeing it; the crystal ball is cloudy beyond a couple more years. Commercial day rates continue to erode, the education market is getting crowded (quality aside, price still counts the most it seems) and fine art is a tough nut to crack. It never hurts to have many irons in the fire, anyway.

That’s it for me. Where will 2015 take you photographically?

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Take your photography to the next level: 2015 Masterclasses now open for booking in Prague (9-14 Mar 2015) and Lucerne (17-22 Mar 2015)

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Limited edition Ultraprints of these images and others are available from mingthein.gallery

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Comments

  1. I am glad to see other people’s New Year’s resolutions.As an amateur, I have a NYR/ “to do” list:
    1. learn to use Speedlites unobtrusively in outdoor nature photography (correllary: buy another cheap manual flash, another small stand or clamp, some cheap radio triggers, make and/or buy compact modifiers)
    2. experiment with light painting
    3. Organize better with Lightroom (throw out the trash and apply keywords and flags in a timely fashion)
    4. make a serious start on working with Photoshop layers
    5. try moving beyond Lr-native B and W presets
    and then there are the inevitable “general” resolutions, the pertinent ones being:
    6. Exercise more – so that I can
    7. Keep on scouting locations at state parks and national forests nearby – without bitching about kit weight 😉

  2. Happy New Year!

    My resolutions are:
    – Only buy a new camera body if it replaces a current camera body. Only buy a lens if I can point to shots that I failed to get with my existing lenses, and explain why they would be possible with the new lens.
    – Spend more time actually taking photos
    – Streamline pp workflow to free up time to take photos
    – If I am online, spend less time reading gear sites and more time reading sites that actually focus on taking photos (such as yours)
    – Select and post my best shots online (on my own site, and either flickr or 500px. I prefer 500px, but it seems like every man and his dog is on flickr…)

    Good luck to you with 2015 and I’m looking forward to more video workshops. I am gradually working through your current offering, but I think attending a workshop in Europe or the USA would be too much in terms of time and money, although if you are arranging something in Asia in 2016 I may be able to manage it!

  3. Hello Ming,

    I wish you the best in your video/film work!

    And from your comments, you might like this one 🙂

    One question please: I tested the Panasonic GH4 and found that quite often the main subject seems to be detached from the background as if it had been cut out from one photo and pasted to another one. A recent reading of one of Zack Arias’s posts makes me wonder if it has to do with the smaller size of the sensor. Indeed he explains that medium format and above stands out in the way the in focus and out of focus areas merge together in a larger gradient sort of. So consequently, a smaller format might do the contrary and give this feeling of copy-pasted objects. What do you think?

    Thank you!

    • That doesnt really make sense. If anything the DOF transition on longer focal lengths is more abrupt…

      • He actually relates the in focus to out of focus gradient (quote) to the size of the sensor, and the different effect you get at same field of view on different sensor sizes.

        • That doesn’t make sense again. For a fixed FOV, a larger sensor requires a longer real FL. DOF (and the transition) is driven by a few things: subject distance, aperture and real FL. A longer FL at the same distance and aperture will always have less DOF…

          • Gotcha. So what about objects that seem to be copied/pasted on the background that I noticed more on m4/3 than APS-C. I first tought it was the brutal juxtaposition of highlights of background, and darker shades of subject. But not only. May be too much sharpening? I’d be happy to link to a sample photo so it makes more sense. 🙂

            • You’d need an A-B comparison shot with a larger format under the same conditions for it to be meaningful. Also, there’s no way to rule out lens design – for instance, not all 50mms on the same format render equally, either…some separate more distinctly from the background because of apochromaticness etc.

              • Hum… right. That makes sense… Thank for all your answers. I’ll need to get to one of your videos soon to better understand raw file conversion, especially sharpening.

  4. Honestly I think you did quite well with the resolutions, though missing #5 was something that surprised me a bit. I do think you now know more of which direction you want with gear, considering the high technical demands you place upon creating large prints.

    I always have personal and professional goals, though rarely do they begin as New Year’s resolutions. 2014 was a particularly difficult year for me, dealing with a severe shoulder injury. One thing that changed for me was a partial move towards smaller and lighter gear, though obviously not all work can be accomplished with less. Towards the end of the year, I began to carry a camera nearly every day, and that is something I want to continue. I’ve also set a goal to photograph more people, and develop my own style more in that direction. Lastly, I want to get back to bicycling and motorcycling more, and involve photography in that, because personal passions can lead to some of the best possible results.

    Just keep doing what you are doing Ming. It has been my pleasure to watch you evolve as a photographer, which quite often had me smiling, remembering, or nodding in agreement. Happy New Year!

    • Thanks Gordon. Unfortunately one most experiment to determine which direction to go in…hopefully business lasts long enough to find out what than endpoint actually is.

  5. Ming, I haven’t bought any gear in over a year, but I might break down and get the new Nikkor 20 f/1.8. The fine art market probably is irrational, considering some of the stuff that sells. One gallery owner said she wants to see 20 prints and they have to look like they were all done by the same photographer. I guess that means a very distinctive style applied consistently. Another gallery seems to like only nudes, but they have to be offbeat, and yes the distinctive style applied consistently applies.

    • Versatility or experimentation doesn’t really seem to be encouraged, which is strange. They don’t seem tonrealize that you only make advances in a focused area when you can apply knowledge from other disciplnes or subjects…

  6. Thanks for your wonderful Photo Essays!

    Your essays hit the sweet spot for me: Great writing, original thinking paired with wonderful matching photos.

    In any event, a colossal thanks for your contribution to the photography community!

    Happy new year!

  7. Odd that you’re addressing a forum on the web and leave out any resolutions for it. Including financial. There’s a reason why your forum is appreciated by so many of us and . . . I assume . . . still growing (I see your name mentioned more and more on other sites, for example.) IMO, your site always has the best photographs for illustrating points. The parallel would be looking at US $50 photo books in a real book store and noticing how many experts on various types of photography illustrate their books with such low quality photos (could be print quality or the photos themselves). Place it back on the shelf: where’s the credibility even if the expert has some good advice. Even without your interesting points of view, your photos would bring many of us back on a regular bases.

    So, what’s the scale of a web site (for now without advertisements, please)? What would Renoir–who often had to sell paintings cheap just to eat regularly–say if we told him he could make nearly perfect 3-D replications of his favorite photos, printed on canvas, automated on an assembly line with money collected in advance via the web . . . and then claim that he could sell 2000 of each for US $500. $1,000,000 from just one painting. But wait. High quality paper, same size as the painting, but now $100 by 50,000 copies:
    $ 5,000,000. Would he say, “But ah, that’s no longer art”? or would he say, “Now I’m free to paint whatever I want to!” No more portraits of rich ladies just to buy paint and canvas again. And these are all small numbers. There are, after all, billions of web users now. Or perhaps, Salvador Dali: marry some rich lady and play whatever art you feel like doing any time you want. [I’m reading a fun novel about Renoir’s effort to paint his masterpiece: Luncheon of the Boating Party, by Susan Vreeland, e-book.]

    Seriously, what more could you do with this blog in the future that would keep us happy and bring in a substantial enough revenue to free you up for your own personal photography goals, as you’ve stated above? Perhaps you’re already doing what needs to be done. I just haven’t seen the high resolution print of the landscape I want to buy. Maybe you need two-level pricing: high resolution (and size) and smaller jet ink 12×18 inch prints. Signed with different sized runs to match the demand.

    Whatever, but keep up the high quality of this forum and your current level of attention and responsiveness.

    • I must be missing something here. My resolutions were in the second half?

      I have offered large and high resolution prints in the past, Larry. I’m also limited to subjects that don’t move because there’s no single capture with enough resolution and stitching is required.

      I’m not selling 50,000 copies. Or even 500. Or even 50, for that matter. 5 is a good run. So if you do the math, you’ll still see that it’s minimum wage labor – in fact negative if you subtract the cost of printing R&D, QC and production time, let alone the cameras. And at some point, if I can’t figure out how to change that, then I won’t be in photography, there won’t be a site, and I’m sure the trolls will be happy.

      • Gotta scale up. Have you thought about placing a half page add (with photo examples) in say Black and White Magazine that claims to reach over 40 countries? It would cost you $500 and you’d have to put just the right examples into the add to attract the right buyers. I have never seen any adds for the kind of high resolution prints you are developing. (http://www.bandwmag.com/about/advertise) There may be other outlets like this one, but B&W focuses on art photography, and publishes both professionals and amateurs competitively. It would also attract new viewers to your blog and web site as well. As they say here these days, “Just saying.” Quality deserves recognition.

  8. Maybe you should slow down a little bit and take long vacation…

  9. John weeks says:

    Happy New Year Ming!
    I would like to thank you for all you have brought to me this past year and look forward to 2015. Your gifts of photography you continually share and the technical and professional prowness in which you proceed continue to inspire me, teach and guide, and bring the world of photography into my heart and soul. For this I cannot thank you enough. This site means more to me than I can express. It truly lifts me up continuously as I am sure it touches so many others. Goals…masterclass in US at some point in time.

  10. There is something almost warm and fuzzy about how photographers at any level think a lot about the same things! Thank you for continuing with this site and with your passion for the captured image! My goal is growth!

  11. Sergey Landesman says:

    Happy New Year to you and your family! All the best in 2015!

  12. Guy Incognito says:

    I would be interested to see how resolution 2 (shift to video) affects your photography – particularly the development of your enjoyable cinematic style.

    I am also interested in seeing how resolution 4 (more landscape) pans out. You’re obviously amenable to panoramas. I very much enjoy the process of capturing panoramas. I find there is a thrill in the mystery of not knowing what the final image looks like until it has been ‘developed’. When the final stitched image matches the pre-visualisation, there is a joy that is complemented by the extremely detailed and flexible files. Screw up and you are left with hundreds of megabytes of useless files. For me, frustration keeps the game interesting. I would love to hear your thoughts on the artistic judgment required to create compelling panoramas – particularly given you can create arbitrary aspects and resolutions (and emulate impossible lenses).

    I can see detailed panoramas aiding the development of resolution 5 (evolving printing) and informing resolution 6 (consolidate). If 35mm serves your single shot needs, particularly with increasing sensor tech, why keep the format with a smaller ecosystem (e.g. no tilt-shifts or Otuses)?

    May 2015 be a productive one!

    • #2 – a compositional shift (finding more stuff to fill the gaps for horizontal images, since video is never vertical) as well as a causal one – you can use a sequence instead of a single image.

      #4 – I’m not sure I agree with not knowing what the final image looks like – I wouldn’t shoot it if I didn’t. More frustrating is when the wind kicks up half way and you have to start again because you can’t stitch something moving. You can theoretically crop the same FOV out of a single shot from a sufficiently wide lens, but it won’t leave you much to print with most of the time. And the usual compositional rules of foreground/ background and effective FOV apply, too. I’m doing it for the printing more than anything (#5). Once you see a 500-700MP image printed, it’s very hard to go back.

      #6 – changes are afoot. 🙂

      • Guy Incognito says:

        True! I poorly articulated my thoughts. It is not so much that you don’t know what the final image looks like. Rather the inability to chimp makes it difficult to ensure you ‘nailed it’. For instance, parallax can ruin an otherwise well composed/pre-visualised panorama. Particularly if you (foolishly?) try to capture some interesting close subject matter by hand. A nodal rig can eliminate those headaches!

        I look forward to seeing how far you can push the boundaries!

  13. Kristian Wannebo says:

    Ming,
    And don’t forget rest and recreation …

    Happy New Year!

    – – –

    Moomintroll’s song by Tove Jansson.

    The song starts with everything he wants to do and understand…and then :

    “… Men jag lägger mej i gräset och vilar mina ben
    och slutar att fundera i solens gula sken;
    nån annan kan fundera, nån klokare än jag,
    en sån här varm och vänlig och sömnig sommardag,
    när allt är blått och luktar gott
    och man är fri till trolleri
    till vad man vill – men låter bli
    och ligger still …”

    Approx. translation:
    “… But I lie down in the grass and rest my legs
    and stop thinking in the yellow sunlight;
    someone else may think, someone cleverer than I,
    on such a warm and friendly and sleepy summer day,
    when all is blue and smells so nice
    and you are free for anything
    for what you like – but let alone
    and lie still …”

    • No rest for the wicked and the self-employed…

      • Kristian Wannebo says:

        Yes, private enterprise is a 24/7 occupation,
        but don’t forget that real rest at the right time is a time saver in the end – so you do get paid for it! 😉

        And re-creation also has its literal meaning.
        If you can manage having more ideas than you already have … 🙂

        ( A stolen half hour nap can get more done in the rest of the working hours, decreased working time can increase production; there are documented examples.)

        • Guilty of stealing plenty of naps! One benefit of being the only one in the office, I guess. The downside is I also have to clean the toilets 😦

          • Kristian Wannebo says:

            But you avoid the discussions of who is next.

            🙂
            … there used to be a detergent with the advertising slogan “Cleans while you sleep”…

          • Oddly enough, that reminds me of how I sometimes answer questions about “what are you doing?” This happens usually with friends of mine, who do not understand that nearly any time of the day, and any day of the week, can involve work. So when they ask what I am doing, sometimes I reply “I’m cleaning my toilet.” 😉

  14. This is a tough one. I’ve had massive amounts of vacation in 2014 and spent all of it travelling, which is good for shooting. However I’ve also been lazy and uninspired to shoot back at home. Things will change in 2015 since I will move to another country and won’t have much vacation during the first year or so. That means I will have to find inspiration in the new neighbourhood and perhaps some domestic travel on the weekends. So… let my resolution be that I will dedicate some time just for photography instead of trying to fit it in with everything else.

    • Carry a camera when you go out at lunch, and when you commute. Walk a bit. I did plenty of that and always came back with at least one or two images. Harder if you’ve shot the same city to death, I agree; even harder still if you have to drive because there’s no public transport, and nigh on impossible when you’ve used that city to review hundreds of bits of gear…

  15. I wanna focus on landscape and macro…and some portraitures as well but i’m too shy no zack arias, russell james, michael bay, steven mccurry, mario sorrenti…

    I gonna rationalize my gear as well…..wanna have as less and as light as possible for travelling and carrying but it should be still very capable…so the best compromise for me 28,50,85 1.8 are stil here as well as the 60 and 105 2.8 macro + sb 910….would love to dump one or two lenses additionally but cannot decide which one so far….dont want to comprise too much feature wise no af no vr sadly the zeiss 50 zf2 planar is only 1:2 magnification as it is with the 100 2 macro planar…..would love to have a normal FL with large aperture (f2 at least) and macro 1:1 which also could been used superbly for portraitures too blur the background….but such a lens doesnt exist….the “click-clack” of the nikon 105 is horrible by the way but it seems it is normal..;)

    But the most important things are: Shooting, Shooting, Shooting –> own Experiences and esp. Education, Education, Education Ming would agree for sure!! 😉

    All the best for you and your goals…..

  16. Happy New Year Ming!

  17. Happy New Year to you and yours, Sifu. For someone like yourself who in my.opinion is a sifu and authority in the profession, and yet not having a confident outlook for the business in the near/long term, I am wondering how other professionals/aspiring professionals can make it in the business. As for my new year resolution, I would like to define my photographic voice/style and focus as I seem to be interested in shooting anything and everything that comes my way at present; having said that, I like landscape and nature a lot, not just for the photography, but being there and enjoy the wonder of nature’s way and incredible beauty.
    Ken

    • Happy new year. The reality is this ‘decay’ has been going on for ages. Perhaps it’s less of a decay and more of a stretching out – not much in the middle, lots at the bottom and a protected pocket at the top. Tough to survive at the bottom, impossible to get to the top. But, we keep doing it anyway…

  18. Happy New Year. That’s a bit of a sobering write up. I do a very similar write up for my goals every January 1st and a review on December 31st. It’s a great way to make sure you stay ground and work toward your goals or shift them accordingly.

  19. Happy 2015 with M4/3 so I can continue to read your reviews of Olympus, a real pleasure to read.
    I find the cost, weight and optical system Olympus to be the most interesting for an amateur photographer.
    A tiny bag with two bodies and two lenses is possible with the Olympus OM-D-M5.
    Please sell FF35 and continue with M4/3 .
    Greetings

    http://www.romeocolombo.com/Sony7andOlympus5

  20. Happy New Years Ming! Best Wishes to you and yours! Wonderful goals!

  21. Happy new year, MING, and keep on with your excellent work! You’re really an good man and excellent photographer!

  22. Thank you Ming for sharing your thoughts.

    My…. Well… Frugal goals. Learn to use the 28mm focal length on my coolpix A in different ways and express perspective.

    Tresspass onto one of my most longing locations I’ve been wishing to get into. And get shots that I’m proud of.

    Get some other Ming videos. My wife got me the black and white masterclass for Christmas.

    Be satisfied with the gear I have and use it better.

  23. For 2015, I will master my gear and develop a style. I will “focus” on landscape. I hope to see you in California if you make it back this way for another Masterclass. Happy New Year!!

  24. Neal Elward says:

    I have resolved to not buy any photography gear in 2015. I made some last minute swaps and now have a simple but sufficient kit. I’m looking forward to working with this new restriction, as it leaves only travel and education as spending options for photography.

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