In January 2010, I proclaimed that my New Year’s resolution for that year would be to be “More Photographic”. I outlined 10 things in a scorecard that I would do throughout the year in order to achieve this. A “scorecard” sounds very formal and too structured, but my experience in the corporate world has taught me that breaking down one’s primary goal into easier-to-digest chunks makes it easier to measure one’s progress.
I actually wrote down these 10 things as a Facebook note back in February 2010, but it stayed in Draft status and never got unleashed to the unknowing public. I had to meant to post this in my blog, as well as my assessments in December 2010 but it got put on the back burner as I had to attend to other stuff. Things piled on top of one another, and it’s now the end of January 2011. Well at least I still have a few more days before the 2011 Lunar New Year, so by that calendar I’m still in the previous year.
So here they are, in no particular order:
1. Read more.
Books and internet sites on photography can be very inspiring. All those pretty pictures, and some books just leave you with your jaw on the floor. And there’s a lot of settings and techniques that one can try out. Internet articles and forum discussions are mostly free, and there’s a lot of good stuff out there (I have to admit that I got my basic fireworks shots settings from reading up on it back in 2007). The popularity of photography has resulted in local bookstores bringing in really nice books on photography. But books can be expensive brand new, so I also look for photography books in used book stores.
Assessment: I’ve read a quite a lot this year. In addition to being more active in the photography discussions I frequent, I’ve also followed a bunch of photography-related Twitter feeds, which means that everyday I read about something new. I also get magazines like Digital Photographer Philippines every month, and have scored a very good book on building portfolios, and an excellent one on photojournalism at a used book sale.
2. Attend photography courses.
I took Jo Avila’s Basic Photography class back in 2007, several months after getting a DSLR. Prior to that, I was his student at his film photography class elective back in 1997. I learned a lot in both cases, and found that having an instructor is different from learning to shoot by just reading books or watching videos. There will be nuances and techniques that simply have to be observed in person. Having a knowledgeable mentor who can critique one’s shots in a frank manner will help too.
Assessment: I attended one of Jo’s once-in-a-blue-moon 5-day Advanced Photography course, where we learned more about studio lighting, portrait and product photography. I also sat in the Color Management module of one of his Basic Photography course this year as a refresher. Canon Philippines offered two free Print-Like-A-Pro color management seminars with Jo Avila as main speaker in Metro Manila this year and I was able to attend those. I was also able to go to two Canon-sponsored photojournalism/sports photography seminars conducted by veteran news photographer Dennis Sabangan, and a few hours at Digital Photographer Philippines magazine’s DPP Unleashed events featuring speakers like ace photographers Paco Guerrero, Jay Alonzo, Jay Tablante and Xander Angeles. Averaging each session at 3 hours each, I’ve sat down for at least 33 hours of educational sessions in 2010.
3. Shoot more.
Practice makes perfect, they say. It builds familiarity with the camera, confidence in yourself, and hones composition and timing skills in a given photographic field. I’d like to shoot better landscapes, products, portraits and sports. Different techniques and perspective needed in each. There are also times that I still forget to do things, and these can be stupid mistakes… like not realizing ISO was left at 800 in bright daylight (why do I need to use f/22???) or shooting in the wrong camera mode. I think if I go shoot out more, checking these things before I click the trigger would be ingrained. More practice needed.
Assessment: I shot a lot this year. Based on my image folders for 2010 sorted by day, I have used a camera in 172 days out of the 365 in a year. I’m sure there are others who shoot more, but considering that photography isn’t my day job I think that’s still a pretty good number.
4. Get together with other photography nuts.
I used to go to photoshoots, EBs and photowalks before, but I’ve been pretty busy and don’t get to go out much anymore. I learned a lot by shooting with these people, learning new techniques, exchanging notes, trying out their gear (mmm… the Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8 VR is yummy, but it’s on the Dark Side hehe).
Assessment: I have gotten back into the local photography scene, posting more in the local photography forums, and meeting other photography buffs at events like Digital Photographer Philippines’ Unleashed and Pinoy Photography’s 5X events. There were also the various seminars and photoshoots where I met other like-minded people, and several photoshoots. In addition, I regularly attend Jo Avila’s Print Days and Prison Riots (former is a monthly event where his former students get-together to have fun and have photos printed for free on his high-end printer, the latter being photoshoots Mr. Avila organizes for his former students), and have joined a photography club in my area which means that I meet with other photographers on a frequent basis.
5. Maximize existing gear.
I have to admit that some of my gear gets used less, and ends up being left in my dry cabinet when I go shoot. Case in point would be the EF 24-70mm f/2.8L lens, which was supplanted as my walk-around and travel lens by the EF-S 10-22mm ultra-wide angle lens when I started to travel frequently last year. My telephoto lenses are not getting used much too, which is kinda ironic since they are the more expensive lenses I have. I’ll try to shoot more sports and events from a distance.
Assessment: Late last year I acquired my first full-frame camera, and on that body, the EF 24-70mm’s focal length makes it the ideal high-quality walk-around lens for me (I found it too long on my 1.6x crop 40D). It’s now the lens that is on my main camera most of the time. I also got to use my 70-200 zoom lens more, including a couple of weddings where it earned its keep. And the icing on the cake is that the 10-22 lens still got used a lot of times.
6. Get more gear.
Face it, new gear is always inspiring (my resolution to maximize existing gear above notwithstanding). I don’t have to say much about this. Getting a new lens will make me go out and shoot more. Or something. For 2010, I’d like to get a macro lens, maybe a Sigma, or a Canon. Or maybe an EF 16-35mm f/2.8L.
Assessment: 2010 turned out to be The Learning Lensman’s Year of the GAS (Gear Acquisition Syndrome). Much to my wallet’s dismay, I ended 2010 with the legendary EF 200mm f/1.8L lens (A.K.A “The Eye of Sauron”, fastest telephoto lens in the world, pretty rare and no longer in production ) and a used EOS 1Ds Mark II (a professional-grade full-frame DSLR body, Canon’s flagship camera until the Mark III version came along in 2008). But I have to admit that these two things were a joy to shoot with, if a bit heavy physically. The shots with these items actually made me go “wow!” when I first saw them. I also acquired one of Canon’s flagship inkjet printers, a Pixma Pro 9500 Mark I which has 10 individual colors and can do A3+ size prints. These items were acquired with easy-to-own and quite favorable payment terms, which is why I was able to acquire them.
7. Be more self-critical.
When I started out with a DSLR, I was enamored with the sheer number of pics I could take… a far cry from a film roll with 36 shots. I’d keep a lot of stuff from my CF card… stuff like multiple shots of the same subject from the same angle. I’d upload a hundred pics per batch to Multiply. I found it difficult to delete shots, even the bad ones. I have to admit that I’d still be keeping everything if it weren’t for the fact that I’m running out of space, and found that I’m too lazy to do archives and stuff. And as I started to shoot more and post-process in earnest, I was overwhelmed by the sheer number of “keepers” I thought I should keep. Being able to discard bad shots immediately would save me from time-consuming sorting and processing after the shoot.So I have to cut down on the pictures I keep.
Assessment: I now screen the pics during the shoot and discard bad ones before they get transferred to my PC; I found that immediately deleting pics after an initial look-see will prevent me from being attached to them and keep them. Multiple shots of the same thing/angle are immediately screened and I only keep the best one or two for further post-processing. In short, I have become more ruthless to the pictures I take.
8. Hone Lighting and Strobist Skills.
I love bouncing my flash indoors. Any large, reasonably flat and neutral-colored surface I see, I bounce. I bounce up, down, sideways, to the back, etc. However, bouncing with an on-board flash will only do so much, so I have to go off-camera flash the strobist way. I already have a wireless trigger and I bought one of those 5-in-1 reflectors, should I should be reasonably well-equipped to start guerrilla studio techniques. In 2010, I shall do more flash work.
Assessment: I have to say that I didn’t do so well here, I ended up shooting ambient light most of the time, and my flash was still used the same way, bounced against the ceiling or a wall. Maybe 2011 will be The Year of the Strobe for me.
9. Volunteer (as an Assistant).
Being a Volunteer Assistant, or a VA, is a good way to learn the ropes from an expert photographer. There are professional photographers out there who take in VAs into their shoots. Some of them really want to impart their skills, but there are also some who just want to take advantage of a VA as an unpaid assistant cameraman. I’ve previously VA’d with Jo Avila before, and a requirement of his was no shooting by VAs. How can you learn when you don’t shoot? By watching. I learned how to use a light meter, how to position reflectors, how Brazilian models sound like when making small talk in a shoot (wait, what?), and how to use a Mongol pencil to judge light quality. VA opportunities can get snapped up pretty fast upon announcement, so I’d have to be fast on the draw. And hope my sked is free on the day itself, hehe.
Assessment: I got to be Jo Avila’s VA twice this year, given the slots announced and my availability. Once on a product shoot, and another for a wedding. In both cases I learned quite a lot by assisting observing, and not shooting.
10. Print More.
Back in the film days, the only way you could see your picture was to develop it, or have it developed. Nowadays with all these digital technologies, we can shoot, upload, post process, and show it to the world online. I must admit that since 2005, I’ve only printed a very small percentage of my digital pictures. I was mostly content to see them onscreen, and share them by email, Flickr, Multiply and recently, Facebook. Besides, printing cost money and that’s a reason why I quit film photography before. Then I attended Jo’s Basic Photography course, and a hallmark of that course is that it teaches the whole workflow from shoot to print. If I got him right, it’s all about the print. I only got to appreciate it fully when he processed and printed out my assignment shot, A3 (almost poster-like) size, using Canon’s top printer and high quality paper. I was blown away. Then at one of his Print Days, where his former students meet up at his place and can have their stuff printed free, Jo printed one of my best shots. Again I was amazed at how much better I appreciated how detailed my pictures actually are when they’re tangible and on paper. This year, I plan to go back through my collection, and look for old pics which I can devote a little more attention to, and print.
Assessment: I’ve printed quite more in 2010. I was present at most of Jo Avila’s Print Days and always had something printed. The photography club I joined also had monthly contests which required entries to be printed. I also had prints done at my preferred photo lab, Fujifilm Digital Imaging, just because I wanted print outs of my better pictures. In addition, I acquired a used Canon Pixma Pro 9500 Mark I printer, with the aim of doing large prints, but I have to admit I don’t have a table big enough for it yet, so it’s still in its box.
How Did The Learning Lensman Do in 2010?
All-in-all, I think I nailed 9 out of the 10 objectives in my aim to be more photographic in 2010. Not a bad score, I believe. And there’s one more thing…
11. Even More Than Photographic.
Going beyond taking pictures and going into writing about photography wasn’t in my original list of 10 items back in February 2010. I actually didn’t see it coming, but one day in May 2010 I decided to pay for the domain name “thelearninglensman.com” and write original entries during my spare time about my experience with photography and the local photography scene. And so here we are, several original blog posts later. Not much compared to many other blogs out there, but I can say that thinking up and writing these took quite a significant chunk of my time, and so at this point I’d like to say thanks to all those who took their time to drop by and read the stuff written by The Learning Lensman.
Happy New Year, Lensmen and Lenswomen!
Have you made photography-related resolutions? How did you do with them? Share your experience with resolutions in the comments section below!