What Photographers Really Need For Christmas

Christmas is just around the corner now that we have survived the apocalypse. Photographers everywhere will get all sorts of goodies on Christmas morning, or Christmas Eve, depending on the traditions in play. But most will not get what they really need for Christmas.

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What photographers really need for Christmas is time. Yes, time. Not more camera gear or software or filters or camera bags or whatever. Time.

To be a creative person requires space to thing, time to ponder and consider, and time to really examine the work we have already shot. We need time to browse through books and/or the Internet for inspiration. We need time in our own heads.

All creative bursts come out of a time of stillness. That might be stillness in our photography because we’ve been stuck for some time producing the same type of work. It could be stillness of meditation, or just time alone, wandering in nature. But in busy lives we need to make stillness.

So if you have a photographer that you want to give something to, offer to drive the kids to school so they can spend some time thinking. Or do the dishes, wash the house, send them out for the day with you handling all that they leave behind. Or whatever, but give them the gift they really need, time. And this is true of all other creatives too.

Merry Christmas to all our readers.

Be Courageous In Your Art, Photography, and Life

Be Courageous In Your Photography, and Life

Doing good photography is risky. Living a full life is risky. But can you really be happy doing anything less?

Being an individual is what it is all about

The Oxford dictionary defines courage as “the ability to do something that frightens one; bravery” and as “strength in the face of pain or grief”. If you think about it, both these definitions apply when it comes to making great images.

We have all had the realisation of a new direction we wanted to take, whether in life or photographically, and yet been scared to move in that direction. It is natural. The familiar feels safe and comforting, even when in reality it is far from it, whilst the new seems unsettled, risky and scary. Our fears may be one or many, tied up with whether we are good enough, whether we can pull it off, what others will think and a myriad more. In fact fear is a many-headed hydra – cut one head off and two grow back in its place.

As we have seen above, courage is feeling the fear and doing it anyway. That is really all courage is. It is not anything miraculous, nor supernatural. It is not something that some have and others can never have. It is simply a state of mind. It is simply being able to say to yourself ‘ok, I’m scared, but I’m going to fucking do it anyway’.

Some of our fears are internal and some are developed by people around us as ways to control us. In other places I have written on the importance of being very careful who you listen to. The reality is that there are people out there, in your lives, who will try to hold you back. Some will have the best of intentions, but be misguided. Others will do it with purpose and intent – their own lives are so weak that they can’t stand to see others actually doing something.

I started thinking about this yesterday when having a conversation with a second cousin by marriage. She is nearing the end of high school and is very close to my daughter. We were discussing what she wanted to do at university. My advice was to find a course she could be passionate about and to do that. Choosing a ‘safe’ or conservative course would destroy her, I advised. She has a very outward personality and certain career directions you can just see would suit her. Yet she found others telling her to be conservative, to play it safe. The world really is divided into two groups of people – the risk takers and the risk averse. She is what I would call a studied risk taker – one who needs to be on the edge but does her homework and weighs things before taking the risk. Doing something safe would strangle the passion in her.

Natural chronically risk averse people are unlikely to be reading this. Those who are reading this are far more likely to be suppressed risk takers or risk takers who are fairly comfortable with what we are. A suppressed risk taker is someone who either through upbringing or life experience has pushed their risk-taking nature down and tried to ignore it. Abusive parents or well meaning but fearful parents may have caused this. It can be caused by an inappropriate choice of life partner or friends. And it can be caused by being so beaten down by bad life experiences that one withdraws into a virtual foetal position.

For those of us severely traumatised, we may benefit from professional support. Counselling or group-based therapy can be extremely helpful in working through our blocks. Note that you can get great therapy by being the member of a supportive creative group – it doesn’t have to be a psychological one. My wife is a member of two such wonderful groups – one an artist group for mothers who are very supportive and nurturing of each other, and the other a tight knit artist run gallery that is similarly supportive of its members. The former was very supportive of my wife when she was going through grieving for her parents and brother. I’ve also seen the same thing with some of my class groups in creative disciplines, such as writing or photography. So there are lots of ways to find such support. You just have to be prepared to shop around and do not be afraid to leave a group that is not working for you.

It can also be very important who your life partner is, if you have one in your life at present. I am fortunate that my wife and I share a passion for creativity and growth, and we also share a strong commitment to compensate for each other’s weaknesses and to help each other forward. Sadly, I’ve seen many people where their life partner actively holds them back, often subconsciously out of fear that they will be outgrown. I’ve also seen partners who, rather than play to a person’s better traits, has instead developed a person’s worst traits, to very sad consequences.

For many of us the blocks will not be as major as those we’ve been discussing above. It is normal to have some fear of the unknown – it is a basic survival instinct after all. But being ruled by our fears can not only hurt us, but those we hold dear. So how do we work through some of these issues and move forward?

Here are some ways to overcome fear and try something new:

  • Break a big step down into a whole series of small steps that individually are not so scary, then start doing the little steps
  • Consider the worst possible real consequence of what we want to do. Think about how likely this is to happen and how you might deal with it if it did. You will usually find that when coldly analysed the worst possible outcome is not really so bad anyway and is very unlikely to happen
  • Brainstorm some alternative paths that might get you to the same point but don’t seem quite so risky. Now that you have choice your fears about your original idea may seem to have less power over you
  • Talk about your fears out loud with a trusted friend. Fears actually voiced often have less power
  • Decide to take the risk and do it anyway

Mistakes are, in fact, good

I am amazed at how we tie ourselves in knots over creative directions. A lot has to do with our programming about failure. Many have come out of childhood with a deep fear of making mistakes. This can be from parents and their reaction to red marks on our schoolwork, or be caused by teachers who do not understand the value of mistakes. The truth is that we have to make mistakes to grow and develop in any area of our lives. Mistakes are, in fact, good. They show that we are working outside of our comfort zone, pushing boundaries. The only problem with mistakes is that we can get so caught up in negative internal dialogue about ourselves that we forget to learn what we can from the mistake. If that happens we often end up repeating the same mistake over and over again. Better to stop the internal sabotage, learn what we can from the mistake and move on to make new and different ones.

One thing that we ‘creative types’ cannot ignore is the strong linkage between our creativity and our general wellbeing. We are often only really happy when being creative. I know I am. I am lucky because I can express my creativity in many ways: my teaching, my photography, writing, parenting and life with my partner. But all that has taken work. Being blocked creatively often means we are blocked in other aspects of our life. Unblocking one thing can create a cascade effect. It is easy to be fearful of this, fearing that our lives will unravel in a cascade of cause and effect. Such cascades can unveil blocked aspects we have been trying to ignore. But rather than be fearful of this we should see this as an opportunity to examine and finally deal with our blocks so that we can move on from them. I know, my first marriage ended in divorce because of this effect. But in reality I am far better off now than I was then, stuck and constipated creatively. Unhappy at a deep soul level, it was not really me.

Life moves on.

This is a key aspect too – life moves on whether we want it to or not. Sure, we can hold back the waters by sticking fingers in the dam. But eventually we run out of toes and fingers and the whole thing falls apart worst than if we had not resisted change in the first place.

So how do I know if I am blocked creatively? If I’m happily producing similar work for too long then I know it is time to shake something up. And that, my friends, is a topic for another essay.

Being prepared to stand out from the crowd is what living creatively is all about

 

New eBook Released Helps Parents Homeschool a Child with Dyslexia

It’s been awhile since we covered anything about dyslexia, a name for a whole spectrum of differences in thinking and learning that a higher proportion of people in the creative arts have. Dyslexia brings great benefits, but also issues to overcome. So we cover dyslexia topics whenever we can.

Writer and homeschooling mother Kerry Jones, in collaboration with Time4Learning.com, has released a new eBook aimed at parents who are homeschooling a child with dyslexia. “Successfully Homeschooling a Child with Dyslexia” comes from the 12 years of experience Jones had homeschooling her own son with dyslexia.

Ft. Lauderdale, FL (PRWEB) May 10, 2012

Writer and homeschooling mother Kerry Jones, in collaboration with Time4Learning.com, has released a new eBook aimed at parents who are homeschooling a child with dyslexia. “Successfully Homeschooling a Child with Dyslexia” comes from the 12 years of experience Jones had homeschooling her own son with dyslexia. Dyslexia, also called Developmental Reading Disorder (DRD), is a broad term covering many types of difficulties with information processing, leading to reading, writing, and spelling problems.

Parents who have chosen to educate their children at home can often feel overwhelmed when they discover that one or more of their children has a learning challenge. Jones alleviates parents concerns and encourages them by sharing her successes with her own son. She’s proof that homeschooling a child with dyslexia is not only possible, but can often be the very best choice for a child.

“Every child is different, but there is no better teacher student ratio than the one-to-one attention a child receives by learning at home,” attests Mrs. Jones. “And I’ve come to realize that you don’t have to have a degree in special education to help a child with dyslexia. You simply have to have knowledge of the resources available, knowledge of how your child best learns, and the desire to help.”

Jones lays out many of those available resources and other topics within the pages of the eBook, such as:

  •     Recognizing your child’s learning style
  •     Dealing with the emotions and feelings related to having (or parenting a child with) dyslexia
  •     Reading and writing intervention programs
  •     Assistive technology
  •     Reading therapists or dyslexia specialists
  •     Organizational tips

 

The dyslexia eBook deals with how a homeschooling parent can help a child in their own home, but also provides information on what outside help is available. “Successfully Homeschooling Your Child with Dyslexia” also includes an appendix linking to many of the most helpful resources, websites, and tools on the Web.

In addition, Jones shares her experiences using the Time4Learning online homeschool curriculum and how it was a wonderful fit for her son who is a visual learner. She appreciated the fact that Time4Learning was multimedia-based and interactive, and that it tracked progress for each child and provided assistive on-board tools to help children with learning disabilities.

Time4Learning.com is a subsidiary of VKidz, Inc., a family-owned educational software company dedicated to pioneering online education. Founded by John Edelson in 2003, Time4Learning offers an award-winning online curriculum for preschool to eighth grade. The mission of VKidz is to provide educational technology that is easier to use, more effective and less expensive than existing applications.

The Value of Boredom To Your Photography

Boredom plays an undervalued role in stimulating your creativity and improving your photography.

On Saturday my wife had an exhibition opening. We all went there early as she had to setup food, etc. There wasn’t anything for my daughter and I to do and no one had really showed up yet so, given that we were already tired, Lauren and I became bored. So we decided to go for a walk and then come back when people had started turning up.

Since I had my camera with me to photograph the exhibition I naturally started thinking what to shoot while my daughter and I walked. Since the light levels were falling (it seems to be into winter here early) Some possibilities dropped away. So I decided to play with blur. The important thing there is the word play. I had no expectations about result, was just filling time and using it to teach my daughter a part of photography she hadn’t played with yet. We sat down in a cafe and had a hot chocolate and I started shooting. My daughter shot some blur. I explained what was going on. Then we slowly wandered back to the gallery shooting blur on the way. Here are some of the images I took.

The important thing is that boredom led to no expectations and a willingness to just play with the camera. This is really important and we all need to do this more often.

What The Fuck Is Wrong With HP (and Everyone Else)

HP is a company I have always loved, whose products are well engineered and who have some of the brightest minds in Silicon Valley. So just what has got into HP and all the other computer makers, except Apple?

The recent news that HP has dropped the TouchPad a month after the US release and four days after the Australian one, the effective dropping of WebOS and the plans to follow IBM into a software and service future by offloading their PC business has amazed so many, me included.

If you believe the commentary going on, part of the blame is that companies like HP have very low profit margins on PC gear, whereas Apple does much better. And this might be the reason, but, if it is, no one has learned the proper lesson from this. I even read an article today saying that the right price for a tablet was US$300. And HP has sold well when dumping the TouchPad at very low prices. Now at this time the cheapest iPad 2 is US$499 and $579 here in Australia, and they seem to be selling all they can make. So something doesn’t add up here.

Historically Apple gear has always been more expensive than the competition. The iPod was more expensive than other MP3 players, the iPhone is more expensive than most other smartphones and the iPad is also more expensive than most tablets, including the HP one. The Macbook Air is likewise not overly cheap, and Macbook Pros, iMacs and PowerMacs are more expensive than superficially equivalent systems. Yet people buy them.

Apple has shown that people will pay more for superb design and excellent functionality. Apple has also shown a willingness to stick it out until products get accepted, as has happened with the Air. It was not always popular.

Yes, there is a very large part of the computer market that is extremely price sensitive, as shown by the run on TouchPads at $100 or so, but Apple’s experience has shown that there is a large segment that is not so price sensitive. Perhaps it would be better to say that there are customers for whom price is at or near the top of their priority list, and other customers for whom price is less critical and other factors count more.

Apple is not very reactive: it creates and makes other companies react to it. And any student of military history knows that you don’t win by giving your enemy the initiative. You must seize the initiative and make them react to you, and keep them doing so.

Oh what you could do with a company like HP and all that engineering experience. Rather than creating iPad wannabees, no matter how well they may be made, and undercutting on price, what about taking the opportunity to ‘Think Differently’ and do something unique, even if it takes several years for it to really catch on? Surely both shareholders and employees of HP should get the opportunity for some real benefit from the $1.2 billion spent all too recently on Palm?

We know that even an overpriced item will, due to Moore’s Law, come down in price as you get economies of scale and improvements in technology. So what about creating a truly drool-worthy tablet, laptop or some new category of device, even if the initial price will be US$1,000? Even if the production yields are quite low to start with it may not matter, as demand will be slow to start with. But as demand grows in line with better yields and lowering prices you have taken the initiative and others now have to react to you.

And beyond HP, what about all the other computer makers, phone makers and consumer electronics companies? All seem happy to innovate in little ways, a tweak here; a new feature there. Who is innovating anymore? Has the computer industry gone the way of Hollywood and will only rework old concepts or crank out more of the same in working franchises?

Apple has shown that you do not have to be the first in an area to win big. Apple didn’t release the first MP3 player or the first tablet. But they did release the best when they did. Let us be honest: the iPod is the best MP3 player, the iPhone is the best smartphone and the iPad is the best tablet, at present. Don’t let the annoyances that everyone feels with some of Apple’s policies and decisions get in the way of that realisation. Apple is the only real player in town and everyone else is following them.

How has Apple done what they have done? Two things. Stunning design for one. Secondly, they have taken all concepts to the extreme. The iPod eliminated almost all the buttons. The iPhone eliminated the keyboard and elevated the app to front and centre. The iPad also eliminated the keyboard completely, something many other tablet makers had tried to hang onto.

Apple has done some other things right too. Controlling both the hardware and software is a huge advantage. Though the gatekeeper role is annoying when apps that you really should be able to get are not approved, the controlled app environment for iPods, iPhones and iPads means that all the fear around malware is gone. And among less tech happy people fear is a BIG factor that holds them back from adopting new technology. I know many people who would never have bought another device, but have gone out and bought an iPhone or iPad and are buying and installing apps happily. Those same people would never have done that with Windows or Android.

It saddens me greatly to see an amazing company like HP walking away from an industry it helped found. Maybe the problem for HP is they have too many engineers and not enough dreamers. Because that is exactly what we need: dreamers in companies with the size and expertise to turn those dreams into reality.

 

Experimental Digital Photography Book Review

Experimental Digital Photography

By Rick Doble

Lark Photography Books, 2010

ISBN 978-1-60059-517-2


Rick Doble’s Experimental Digital Photography is a timely and excellent book for loosening people up and helping them to break out. The book focuses on the more expressive and creative forms of photography, from using slow shutter speeds and creating extreme blur to night and low light photography.

Organised into nine chapters, it covers:

  • Getting Started: the technical side of experimental photography
  • Shooting at slow shutter speeds
  • Movement
  • Light and white balance
  • Night and low light photography
  • Experiments with light
  • Building your imagery
  • Saving and editing your images
  • Judging images and finding your voice

Filled with stunning images, mostly Rick’s but also including profiled work by others, the book is a feast for the eyes and so can be both read as a book and flicked through for inspiration at other times when you are feeling creatively constipated. The first chapter shows you how to use the camera controls for the most flexibility, as used in the later chapters. The book then gets into blur and movement and really pushing your ideas of what an image is.

The book does an excellent job of covering the types of experimental photography that Rick obviously enjoys. He is passionate about it and this comes across in the book and is contagious, making you want to go out and try things.

The book is lacking in some areas from being an exhaustive coverage of the topic. The chapter on saving and editing your images on the computer is, I feel, the weakest of the book. It has a hesitancy that I think reflects Rick’s preference for working in camera as much as possible. Likewise because, I think, of Rick’s preferences, the illustrations have a preponderance of low light shots. This leads to an inadequate coverage of things like extreme neutral density filters, using crossed polarisers to get an extreme ND effect or using a pinhole rather than a lens so that you can get extreme movement effects in strong light. The book clearly misses on multiple exposure techniques, possibly because of the rarity of digital cameras that allow this and so in the digital domain it is usually something one must achieve in post processing, something Rick prefers not to do. Lastly, the book is lacking a real exploration of why you would want to use the techniques and an exploration of what abstraction is really about (since most of these techniques lead to abstraction in some way).

Those limitations stated, this is still an outstanding book and it does belong on every photographer’s bookshelf. I’d love to see Rick do a follow-up book, probably jointly with someone who is more comfortable with the areas that I’ve identified as a bit weak here, as that would be the definitive book on these topics from a practical perspective.

Go buy this book, from Amazon (Experimental Digital Photography (Lark Photography Book)) or good bookshops everywhere, then put it to use and see how these techniques resonate with you.

iPhone Photography: Reinvigorating Some Photographers

As I look around the web I see so many photographers, including serious, well-respected professional photographers, getting all excited about photography with their iPhones. What’s going on?

Well, in the spirit of scientific investigation I have downloaded a bunch of photography apps for my iPhone and will start shooting with them and see for myself.

What I think is going on is a combination of nostalgia for a simpler time in photography, a reappraisal of just how “perfect” an image needs to be effective and a wish to reconnect with personal photography in what are often busy professional shooting lives.

Nostalgia in photography with a widespread thing. We see that in the passion for old photographic processes whose look can frankly be recreated far more easily and often in a more environmentally friendly way by using a good inkjet printer and Photoshop. We’ve seen the popularity of plastic cameras, cheap plastic lenses, grungy photo filters and so on. Even the resurgence of interest in film fits into this.

We have all been spoiled by the perfection of the images we get from our cameras. Modern autofocus and auto-exposure systems are accurate and amazingly good at giving a workable image in one shot. We usually have resolution to spare and our images can be amazingly noise free. The problem with this is that we have removed much of what makes an image look real and not some plastic fabrication, and we have removed many opportunities for the “happy accident” that suddenly lifts an image to a new level.

With busy professional lives it is very easy to lose interest in our own photography and push it to the side. Also our modern gear may be heavy. A phone we have with us all the time, even when we whip down to the supermarket for some forgotten necessities. So if we start to engage with this device as a photographic tool for more than just documenting the kids we can have a more immediate, dare we say fun, relationship with our photography again. Sounds good doesn’t it?

So I am going to embark of an iPhone photography journey and see where it takes me. Stay tuned.

 

Phoozl on Facebook a Photo Challenge

Phoozl Launches Unique “Alphabetography Photo Challenge” on Facebook


Photo games site Phoozl.com has announced the launch of its new, seasonal “Alphabetography Photo Challenge: the Four Seasons” contest as a Facebook Application. The first “Winter” challenge or contest has just begun after the start of the Winter 2010/11 season (in the Northern Hemisphere), and it runs for approximately 45 days to its conclusion in early March.

A Unique Alphabet Photo Concept

During each season’s contest (using “Winter” as the example), photo enthusiasts submit photos that apply or relate to the current letter that’s in play. So during the “W Letter Period,” entrants upload photos whose subject contains a word that starts with the letter “W” (examples: White, Winter, Wonderful). When the game-play moves to the letter “I”, entrants submit “I” photos. And so on through the six letters of the word “Winter.” Entrants are allowed up to 5 submissions per letter maximum. Photos can be submitted via Facebook or photo-sharing sites, or uploaded from local computers or mobile devices. Participants can even join the contest late as there are six Letter Periods in this (“Winter”) Challenge, so they have six chances to enter.

Voting, Judging, Gallery, and Prizes

The Winter 2010/11 Alphabetography Photo Challenge costs nothing to enter but is offering 11 different Prizes sponsored by such companies as: Blurb, Datacolor, Frame Destination, and Course Technology PTR. There are galleries and public voting, and the Top 5 vote-getting photos for each letter move to the Judging Phase where a panel of three professional photographers will judge and score the 30 Finalist Photos based on published criteria. Add any Extra Points, and the top scores win.

Contest participants need only a Facebook account to enter, and they must be at least 18 years old. Photo submissions are acceptable from anywhere in the world, and there are no restrictions on when photos are taken or if they have been manipulated.

“We’re super excited about this new contest that challenges photo enthusiasts around the world to sync up their creativity with the earth’s seasons and get recognition for their work,” says Phoozl’s Harald Johnson and the creator of the Alphabetography Photo Challenge. “Sure, there are other alphabet photo games out there, but there is nothing like this!”

Start Alphabetographing!

To learn more about the Alphabetography Photo Challenge: the Four Seasons, or even better, to take the challenge and to participate, go to Phoozl’s Fan Page on Facebook and click the “Challenges” tab to enter the Application:

http://www.facebook.com/phoozl

OR… go directly to the Facebook Application:

http://apps.facebook.com/alphabetography

(you need to “Allow” the Request for Permission screen that appears)

About this Contest and the Four Seasons

Each temperate, astronomical season (Winter, Spring, Summer, Autumn) comprises its own complete Alphabetography Photo Challenge from photo submission to announcement of winners. A new contest will start with the next season in the calendar.

The four seasons are based on the traditional names used in the temperate and sub-polar regions on the globe. Taking Winter as the example, this is the season with the shortest days and lowest average temperatures, due to the tilt of the earth’s axis and the lower intensity of sunlight striking its surface during that time. In the Northern Hemisphere, Winter corresponds to the months of December, January and February. In the Southern Hemisphere it’s reversed: Winter is June, July and August. So even though the Winter game takes place December-February (actually, starting in January), a Southern Hemisphere resident could select photos from THEIR Winter, if they want to meet the “Wintery” judging criterion (there are four different criteria). However, photos from ALL seasons are eligible for submission regardless of the season or the player’s location.

About Phoozl

The Alphabetography Photo Challenge is run and administered by Phoozl.com. Phoozl is a website destination or portal that provides a safe place to have fun with photos and photography (and other visual arts). The core of Phoozl is the many online Flash or “videogames” organized in different categories. Games range from puzzles to quizzes to “click mysteries” to “first-person-shooters” and other unique categories. But Phoozl is more than just online photo games. There’s information and learning, too, in the form of Photo IQ quizzes, Photo Tips from experts, and educational games that even include “brain-training.” Plus there are contests, creative challenges, missions, hunts, and “secret events.” There is also a PhoozNews blog, and a Community section will be coming online soon. Phoozl’s tagline says it all: “photo games & more.”

Early Reviews for Phoozl:

“Loved the game [Photo IQ]… Finally a site dedicated to photo games!!!”

— Camillia

“Thanks for creating something totally different!”

— Nish