The Canon G1X. The "Nice Guy" camera.

Edit: Attention new visitors from DP Review.  Let it go.  It's not God's gift to the camera world.

Not every camera has a compelling value proposition.  I am still searching for the irrefutable, single driving reason why someone would want or need the new Canon G1X.  The only thing I can think of is something mentioned by my photographer friend, Paul.  He mentioned that it's a good camera for someone who doesn't want to get sucked into the endless lens buying, and then body buying, that seems to plague the owners of system cameras...  So, not buying more gear is the compelling reason to buy this camera?  Does that make sense?

I'm not going to talk about image quality in this non-review.  Coming to grips with new cameras and their relationship with existing raw converters and the eccentricities of their menus takes time and practice and I'm not willing to expend the time and practice on every new camera that comes down the pike.  If you came here expecting an exhaustive and breathless review that dissects every menu item on this camera, and its performance under mindless duress,  then you have come to the wrong place and you should cut your loses and run away.  I am going to talk about wacky design choices and convoluted implementations by camera companies....

The G1X has a bigger chip than the earlier G series cameras.  And Canon reworked their basic G series body by giving it steroids and making it larger. I am okay with that because it's very comfortable to hold and the buttons and dials are big enough to please just about anyone. But the camera just doesn't work for me.  I am not a "hater" of the G series and have owned the G2, the G9, G10 and G11.  The things I could tolerate on sub $500 cameras (G12 is currently around $400 on Amazon) seem like a crazy oversight on a camera that costs nearly twice as much.

First off, while the chip may be noise free to a zillion ISO the camera is crippled with a lens that runs out of f-stop as it gets longer.  I may be spoiled by wonderful fast lenses like the 45mm 1.8 on a Panasonic or an Olympus Pen camera but giving me f5.6 on the long end is a non-starter.  I don't care about getting more photons into the system nearly as much as I care about taking advantage of the 6x increase in chip size over the G12 in order to render more stuff in the background out of focus.  Wouldn't it be nice if the lens was a 35mm to 70mm (full frame equivalence) f2.8 all the way through?  Wouldn't it be nice to sell the lens based on insanely good image quality rather than making it a slow jack-of-all-focal-length-trades?

Another facet of their Oxymoronic design is the inclusion of one of the worst optical finders ever created (and I'm thinking all the way back to cameras from the 1950's...) on a camera in 2012.  How much more would it have cost them to ditch the tunnel vision, K-mart special finder assembly and add a decent EVF?  I hate to bring the Panasonic G3 up again after this week's furor but in the G3 we have a camera with a nice EVF, a sensor with more resolution that's almost as big (geometrically) as the sensor in the GX1 and can be had with a decent lens for around $600.  $200 less than the G1X.  Much more usable finder.  Amazingly better.  

And while we're on the subject of that miserable OVF let's talk about the visual discomfort you'll live with because of the two function lights just to the right of the eyepiece.  Actually, on the eyepiece. As you compose you'll be blasted with focus confirmation LED's millimeters from your eye.  Tragic design.  Why couldn't those lights be included inside the finder?  Because it's the same finder they've pressed into service since the G2 of 2001.... Cost savings at its most gruesome.

The pop-up flash is there for all the people who think differently from me. And they must be legion.  But it also seems Oxymoronic sitting there next to a fully functional hot shoe.... 

note the two lights next to the eye hole.

Two nice things about the camera are the distribution of controls and the ample space for fingers and thumbs.  As my friend and I sat down and played with the camera I took a few shots of him.  I will not include them because they were not good.  The camera had a tendency to overexpose.  Yes, I could dial in minus 1.3 stops of exposure compensation but when I picked up my camera and shot it in aperture preferred auto the exposure, without compensation, was right on the money.

If you've read this far I'll remind you again that I haven't played with any of the raw files.  The images may be insanely good.  The camera, in spite of egregiously obvious cost cutting, may be destined to become a cult camera as the G cameras have always been. But I'll take a pass on this one.

Let me do that con/pro thing I see everywhere on the web.


*Aperture small exactly at the focal length where I want large.
*OVF is an unmitigated disaster.
*Vestigial pop-up flash.
*Initial questions about exposure accuracy.


*Husky, heavy construction (except around viewfinder).
*Big, comfortable and logical external controls.
*Big sensor.  (just slightly bigger than m4:3rds.  Nowhere as big as a standard APS-C).

Note to pocket photographers:  This camera will make an unsightly bulge in your Casual Dockers(tm).

My recommendation? I don't have one.  But if you only want to own one camera at least you won't be tempted to buy more lenses for this one...... 

Finally,  I'd feel guilty putting a link to Amazon for this one. Sadly, ethics are sabotaging my plan for extreme wealth building....

Added: 3/16/2012:  Think I'm being to negative about this camera?  See what Michael Reichman has to say on his website:  http://www.luminous-landscape.com/reviews/cameras/canon_g1x_field_report.shtml


The Care and Feeding of Clients.

It's fun to pretend that creative businesses are totally dependent on the quality of the creativity offered.  It's fun to pretend that all there is to being a "professional" photographer is the credit card prowess to buy the latest gear and to learn to use it at the highest level.  If that was all there is to being a (financially) successful professional photographer then pretty much the rest of the economy would shut down because everyone would be a professional photographer.  

But the reality of the business is that....it's a business.  A business can make a wonderful and innovative product but if they don't bring it out into the market, educate customers about its features and benefits and tell them how to buy it, the product won't sell, the money won't come rolling in and the business will falter.  You can be the finest creative photographer in existence but if you don't put the work in front of the people who are in the market to buy the work you won't make money.

I was reminded of this recently.  I'd spent a lot of time and attention on my role as a writer of photo books.  The launch of a new book requires that the writers have a firm hand in marketing their books if they want the book to succeed.  I want the LED book to succeed so I organized reviewers, sent out press releases, called friends who write for newspapers and magazines and wrote about the book on my blog.  The book is doing well enough but the reality is that I took my eye off the only ball in the game that really matters to my bottom line.  My core business:  Making and selling photographs.

And the business started to suffer.  Bookings fell off.  Income dropped.  

As silly as it sounds I had made all the rookie mistakes that I counseled against in my book about the business of Commercial Photography.  I had stopped doing coherent and regular marketing.  I was coasting on my good looks and that will probably get me as far as driving on four flat tires.  

Then I looked at my new, iPad portfolio and realized that I really had two problems.  One was the lack of marketing but the other problem (maybe more serious) was the fact that I'd been doing all sorts of different photographs to illustrate a (seemingly) endless line of books and now my portfolio looked like a disconnected hodge-podge of images.  I had compensated by tossing in quantity.  The kitchen sink syndrome of portfolio engorgment.  Disconnected.  Chaotic. 

Even if my marketing revved up quickly and worked well I'd be shooting myself in the foot by tossing a confetti bomb of discordant images into an art buyer's lap. I wouldn't be pigeon-holed, just tossed in the waste can of failed suitors.

I knew how to fix the first problem:  Hard Work.  Get the mailing list in shape.  Prioritize. Tune up the message and send advertising.  I used the image above, shot for an Annual Report project, as my first postcard mailer of the year.  It sums up what I like to do.  I like to go on location with my big Elinchrom Ranger flash and make images of real people. It's technically more challenging than available light photography and requires good lighting skills.  That's a niche.  But a big enough one to be profitable.

I know my limitations so I didn't even attempt to do the design work on the post card.  I left that to award winning graphic designer, Belinda Yarritu.  She applied her skills to a 5.5 by 8 inch postcard and sent it out for printing.  I worked on my "Top 100" list of people (locally) that I'd like to work with and, when I finished with that I started on the next list.  The top 250.

But that still left the "defective" product presentation to deal with.  I was lucky.  In the right place at the right time, having coffee with the right person;  Lane Orsak, advertising agency owner and creative consultant.  I showed him my iPad portfolio over coffee and he actually groaned.  Over and over again.  I asked.  He replied,  "You know I like your work but you have way too much in here. It's not sequenced well.  It doesn't work together.  I hate the names you've given to the galleries.  This is a train wreck!!!"  Then he added, "I hope you're not showing this to potential clients....."

I must have looked totally dejected and hopeless because Lane took pity on me and grabbed my iPad out of my hands.  "Teach me how to use this portfolio program and give me a few days...."
He catches on fast so after 20 minutes of working with the app and taking a few notes he stood up, with my small computing machine in his hands, and walked out of the coffee shop.  He looked back over his shoulder and said, "Don't call me.  I'll call you when I've got it fixed..."

I spent the next few days sorting, labeling, (hand addressing a few) and stamping postcards.  I kept a list and made sure I had follow up telephone numbers and e-mail addresses.  And then I got the call.  Lane was bringing my rehabilitated portfolio back to me.

Lane had thrown away well over 50% of the stuff crowding my portfolio and it wasn't a butterfly that emerged from that little high tech coccoon, instead it was a bird of paradise.  Now the presentation flows and, more importantly, it leaves the prospect hungry for more.  We're back in the marketing groove once more and the first tentative phone calls and e-mails, asking for bids, are trickling in.  We've got another card in the works and a small, e-mail ad in reserve.

If you get cocky and start drinking your own Kool-Aid, or, if you take your eyes off your core business, the universe will slap you in the wallet.  While I'd love it if the sole determiner of my business was my photographic skill I've been reminded that there are a lot of "channels" out there for clients to choose from and you have to work to earn and keep your market share.  

Oh drat.  This creative enterprise is really a small business.  And the physics of small business are always in play.  Gravity never takes a vacation.


Mix and Match Cameras.

Cameras are fun.  Which image came from the "professional" camera?

Answer:  The top image was taken with a Canon 1DS mk2 + Zeiss 85mm 1.4 ZE lens.
The bottom image was taken with an EP2 and an old 40mm 1.4 Pen lens (circa 1972).


A Post Re-Worked without the words....

G3. Leica 25mm Summilux. All handheld.

"Kirk Tuck Swung and Missed This TIme."

After I wrote the piece last Saturday about the Panasonic G3 being a pretty nice camera I felt that I'd pulled off a neat and inoffensive task.  I'd written about a camera that seemed to have passed under many people's radars, offered it as a lower cost alternative tool for people who are craving the new (and on the face of it, very good camera) Olympus OM-D5 and had done so without writing anything that might cause umbrage in any quarter.  Several hours later the wise and infallible ones from a (redacted web site)  forum descended upon it like community-college-technical-school-graduate-soccer-hooligans and tore it to shreds.  Most misread the article.  But their basic objections centered around the idea that whatever aspects of the new, Olympus camera I found to be unimportant for myself were (obvious to all) the very things that the universe at large was waiting for with bated breath.  Never before had a camera been as weatherproof as they thought the OMD might be.  Never before had a camera focused as quickly, stabilized images as nimbly, etc. etc.  To compare it to the lowly Panasonic G3 was surely an act as heinous as comparing Scarlett Johansson to Roseanne Barr. (At the time of my review no one outside Olympus had handled or shot with a finished OMD product....).

Another expert quickly weighed in to tell the crowd that the G3 was my first micro four thirds camera.  That I had just discovered the system and my depth of knowledge about the systems was pathetic.  On par with a vegan's knowledge about grilling Ribeye steaks.  That led another intellectual knuckle-dragger to disparage my review as a bald attempt to garner attention to my wildly profitable blog site. (My words, not his.)  Presumably, though I hadn't posted any links at (redacto site), I had somehow contrived to insert directional information to my misguided review of the G3 which, not doubt, immediately drove thousands of people to click through the link that wasn't on my blog in order to snap up the unending and limitless inventory of G3's and enrich me like a retiring congressman.  And I must admit that I'm dictating all of this to my hot, supermodel assistant who is writing it down on a gold plated iPad while we are driven about, sneering at the Nikon and Canon users, in my new Bentley.  The Bentley I acquired at the expense of tens of thousands of duped  new Panasonic G3 buyers.  

The thought of all those legions of snookered buyers sitting in their quiet living rooms, drowning  in their tears after having spent the last of their children's college funds on what can only be considered a train wreck of a camera (the G3)  while I laugh it all off and wipe small spots of caviar off the corners of my mouth with a napkin made from supermodel lingerie is almost too much to bear.  I've taken several hundred thousand dollars from my Panasonic link proceeds from recommending the G3 to unprotected buyers, to start a reading comprehension program for forum "experts".  More details about that to come....

Had I been wrong?  Was the G3 donkey spit compared to the resplendent proficiency of the new master of all cameras, the princely Olympus OMD?  Had my greed for links blinded me to my moral and ethical responsibility to participate more aggressively in the group worship of the new?  Were my admittedly flawed powers of camera observation falling apart faster than a counterfeit Rolex wristwatch?  I decided to spend a day with the woefully incompetent G3 and better understand my own short comings as a writer, a reviewer......dare I say it?  Even as a photographer.  So I slapped one lens on the front (a non-image stabilized lens!!!!!! God protect me from myself !!!!) and slinked out the door to further damage my reputation.  

I looked for subject matter that would effectively resonate for the denizens/hoodlums of the m4:3 forum at (redacto site) but I don't own a cat so the "homage to whiskers" was not fulfilled.  I was using a normal focal length lens so the whole idea of "birding" was a non-starter.  No "charming" toddlers at hand, either.  With sad resignation and with full cognizance of my remuneration for writing this firmly in mind I just went for my usual walk downtown.  Nothing special and certainly not the kind of exhaustive testing I should have done to reveal all the things real photographers desperately need to see in order to evaluate a new (or insanely old ) camera:  ISO performance at 25,000, Low ISO banding,  High ISO banding, white "disks", red "dots", and, of course, noise, noise, noise at 300 percent.  I'm sorry I wasn't able to accomplish any of these critical tests.

After reading about a successful transplant operation in Turkey I was, for a  moment, tempted to have my normal hands transplanted with monster fat American hands so I could report accurately on just how horrible the haptics of the hapless camera are for more amply configured but the doctors, curiously, told me that such operations were done on a "need only" basis.  Did I tell them how badly people needed to know about the possible shortcomings of a $600 camera?  Apparently not in a convincing enough tone.....  Apparently if you are the average seven foot tall, 500 pound American you will have trouble using the buttons on the camera or even holding it comfortably.  In fact, in areas where my column of last saturday had the deepest penetration the hospitals are filling up with critical "hand cramping" cases from use of these obviously "too small" cameras.  

In the self portrait above you can clearly see that I dwarf the camera and that it is un-holdable.  Pity the people that I mislead into this kind of agony.... They were unable to get any other information anywhere else.  In the shoulder bag, the strap of which you can see in the image above, I have a series of magnifying glasses with which to actually operate the camera.  They are used in conjunction with miniaturized tools to poke the buttons.  According the the experts in those previously named forums the camera shatters the laws of physics by being, at the same time, too large and too small.....  It will fit in really tight jeans pockets for some but not even in the back of a Cadillac Escalade for others.  Such is the nature of our elastic camera universe...

As I put the camer(G3) through its stumbling paces I found that the colors were way off.  Yes, white was white, etc. but not the white the camera cognoscenti crave.  The G3 yielded a white that was YYYxYYYxYYY with none of the hue-ish insouciance of the more gifted cameras.  And certainly I was not seeing the famous Olympus Jpeg colors anywhere in my Panasonic raw files.  I stopped to drink the hot chocolate given to me by a reviewers outreach program.  I am still amazed at one thing.... You know how people say even a clock is right twice a day (they are obviously not on 24 hour digital time....)???? Well, miraculously the G3 was able to focus right on the chocolate swirl.  A lucky accident at best...

While admittedly the camera (G3) is not weatherproof like it's Olympus Overlord I wondered if it was coffeeproof.  It is not.  But that's a whole other story.  My take away?  Never accept a challenge to dunk your camera and lens into a pot of boiling coffee.  Even if the camera fits.  Even if you might win a $5 bet.

After sustaining my resolve with coffee and hot chocolate and raspberry jelly filled donuts I continued the testing quest and immediately found that the G3 color controls were incapable of rendering this sunset in strictly neutral fashion, with a bald sky and perfectly white balanced building.  It was ONLY capable of capturing the scene exactly as I saw it.  What a sad commentary.

During the course of the day I also went to see my son run the 3200 meter event at an invitational track meet.  Of course, I'd read all the "feedback" on (Redacto Site) by this time so I only tried a few shots of the kid running.  By just a lucky accident the camera was able to lock on and follow focus Ben as he ran by but I chalk it up to divine intervention rather than any innate capabilities of the camera.  Pray more and perhaps your shots with inferior cameras will turn out better as well....

After his run I was ready to tackle another testing task with the forlorn and frustrating camera and prove, once and for all that this misguided sensor technology coupled with a lack of in body IS would make any image that crawled out of this camera so unsharp and unusable that it would kill the operator/owner from sheer embarrassment.  So I had a few more cups of coffee and went into an interior location to carelessly handhold the camera and see for myself just how horrifying the results would be... (Here it might be important to explain that NO images done before the year 1992, with the introduction of IS technology, had ever been rendered sharply.  It was only with IS coupled with IT users that cameras were finally able to rightfully claim even rudimentary sharpness.....).  Sadly, my fears were confirmed.  I'm not even sure you could tell the image above was of a human eye without massive captioning.

And, as a side issue, you can see that nothing in the background can ever be rendered out of focus with this whole pathetic genre of "cameras."  But of course the G3 is most egregious in this regard.

As dusk fell the camera would become most exposed for the poseur it really is.  Low light would render it unusable.  Dead weight.  Nothing but a noise generator, like the white noise generators sold to help people sleep.  The camera is, of course, not handholdable so there is no detail in the red fabric of the chair which is lit by a single MR-16 ceiling spot over head.  (But you knew that because you read that the dynamic range was so limited...).

Incapable of shooting a scene in a coffee shop.

The Primitive Focus incapable of sorting out the focus on the bubbles in the cappuccino.
And of course look at the color.  It's all over the map.  Damn tungsten lighting....

This guy had it right.  Why had I thrown away a king's ransom on the G3 when I could have gathered in as much happiness as I could handle with an iPhone camera?

Saddened by my realization of the limitations of the G3 I stumbled outside and contemplated giving back the huge bribe Panasonic had not offered me to tout their "defective offerings" I wiped a tear from my eye and shot this post dusk image of the Frost Tower.  But by this point of the day I was already inured to the utter failings of this camera and could, like Ansel Adams, pre-visualize my image's failure...

I realize my folly now.  I got anxious.  I jumped the gun.  I should have waited.  I shouldn't have had the hubris to think that my eye, my experience and my technical knowledge would be mitigating factor in the photographic capability of a camera.  All inferior cameras seem like boat anchors lashed to your ankles, pulling you down, down, down away from the critical oxygen of creative prowess.  Only a mighty, new and weatherproof camera can produce true art.  With or without the willing complicity of its owner.

What was I thinking?  That G3 is already nearly one year old.  Far past the "creative capability" use by date.   


Here's my favorite mini-workshop for people who want to improve their photography.

Lou.  Simple Light.  Simple shot.

I'm guessing you've been taking photographs for more than five years, you have some discretionary income,  you feel vaguely underwhelmed by what you've accomplished so far with your photography, and you've bought lots of different cameras, straps, lenses and software programs in an attempt to make your photography better, more exciting, and more fun.  And now you're deciding that you'll take a workshop from a "famous" photographer to goose your creative process.  Add some nitro to your mental mix....  At least that's the profile of people I see who are signing up for most workshops.  

There are two kinds of workshops.  There's the basic, "here's how to set the flash.  Here's how to take the flash off the camera.  Here's how to balance ambient light with flash. Here's how to pose your model."  Then there's the more advanced, "How to shoot hot babes the way Chuck Morgenstern does it!!!!!"  We've never seen Chuck's work outside of the workshop world but his photos look really cool, the chicks look very hot and everyone is talking about Chuck's work on the forums (Good Social Marketing, Chuck.)

You can substitute "How to use Lightroom."  "How to use your cellphone as a mediocre camera."  And, "How to use manual exposure." to the basic examples.  You can substitute, "The Existential Landscape." "Nature in all its glory." "The secret of sacred tonality."  and, "The nude revealed workshop" to the more advanced workshop category.  All promise to get you "out of your creative rut and into the creative groove...." (Which sounds remarkably alike...).

But deep down inside you probably know that the angst you feel when you look at your own images has nothing to do with needing to learn  deep secrets from one of the gurus of the industry.  It has more to do with stepping up and pointing your camera at the kinds of things you'd really like to shoot.  Face it, you and I have read just about every technical thing ever written on the web and in magazines about the "art" of making photographs.  We've read equipment reviews about stuff we're not even interested in using.  We read the fatuous and pretentious words of the "old guard" who are manning the gates of the immortal, large format, black and white landscape (preserved in amber from decades ago/largely un-impacted by digital) as they talk about laboring for hours to move their camera one inch to the right and two milimeters to the left before everything magically coalesced into perfect harmony.  We've read the words of the masters who talk about the mystery of the process.  Or the sacred printer profiling ceremonies.  And you have to admit that at some level your bullshit meter started ringing louder and louder.

We cringe at the art history-esque pronouncements of the guys doing the nude workshops because we kinda get that they're pandering to the y chromosome a bit more than the magnetic pull of some fine art longing deep in our psyches. 

But like a lot of other people you've probably plunked down the credit card and taken the plunge.  If you really need to be spoon fed Lightroom instead of reading a book or wading through the ocean of tutorials available everywhere on YouTube (or just experimenting with every control and every menu....) you are probably spending money somewhat wisely.  If you have technical questions and you learn better by watching and then doing instead of reading for most mechanical subjects then a workshop might be just what the photo doctor ordered.  But the rest of you are kicking the can of disappointment and dissonance a little further down the road while leaving an empty space in your financial statement.  

The bottom line is that you hope to learn how to become a better photographer but like Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz  you've always had the power to go there all by yourself.  When you push open the curtains of the workshop gurus you often find a guy just like you whose only super power is that he's spent decades learning and practicing this stuff while you've been racking up a pension and some equity.  

And the ultimate secret is that good photography is always the intersection of two things:  (1). Spending hands on time practicing your craft.  (Read it, watch it, shoot it, iterate, try again).  And, the most important thing: (2). Put the subject matter you want to see in front of your camera.  

If you are a portrait lover (not a portrait "shooter") your images will get better and better as you take more chances and put more and more interesting people in front of your lights and your camera.  The more you photograph with people the more the technical stuff disappears and the rapport opens up.  The more you shoot the more comfortable you are in asking for what your ART needs.  But it takes balls to ask strangers to pose.  No workshop I know teaches you how to get good subjects they only teach you what to do when you've got them in the studio----and that's the easiest part.  Plus it's all subjective.

 If you love landscapes and landscape photography then your work gets better when you find a place that moves you and then you INVEST THE TIME to go back again and again, in all kinds of weather, to bore down and discover what it is about that place that interests you.  Then you shoot it.  Again and again until it's perfectly what you wanted to see on the print.  And then you find the next location of wonder and resonance.  You don't need someone holding your hand and showing you the way THEY make art.  It doesn't matter.  You know what you need to know.  You need to commit to spending the time to make it work.

I'd love to learn how to play the guitar.  But I can tell you right now that sitting down with Eric Clapton for a long weekend (which would be a hell of a lot of fun) and watching him play the guitar isn't going to improve my guitar work one iota.  The only thing that will is practice, practice, practice.

And I'd love to learn to swim as fast as Michael Phelps but I can guarantee you that I could spend the next two weekends with Michael Phelps and while I might have a blast being around a superstar swimmer I need to work with what I have in the pool.  To get better I know I need to swim lots and lots of yards.  (What brand of goggles should I buy????)

If you've got the scratch (money) to burn you should take all the workshops you want.  It will probably be fun.  But don't expect it to move the creative needle unless you're equally willing to spend the time and risk putting the right subjects in front of your own camera and taking the time to work and work and work.

Which camera should you use?  It really doesn't matter...


The target never moves in just one direction.

Chasing megapixels, speed, performance, ergonomics, focusing speed, dynamic range.......none of it matters.

Sad to think of a man sitting at a table covered with cameras and lenses and special flashes and super fast memory cards, but with no one to photograph.  The subject matter will always trump the gear.  The gear is the little sprinkle of caviar on the top of the smoked salmon, on top of the cracker.  It's mostly there for show.  A little extra flavor.  Some texture.  The gear is not the main course.

But what do I know?  I'm sitting here putting addresses on promotional postcards.  How 20th century....

A few ways to increase your connection to your photography.

I wrote a piece yesterday about the ill effects of the web.  But what I was really writing about is the way that the faux feeling of being part of an on-line "community" gathered around photography is counterproductive to the practice of satisfying photography.  Watching and trying to emulate a few superstars who continually trot out their greatest hits; jobs done for huge clients with monster budgets, is probably the quickest way to impair your own sense of photographic self esteem.

The homogenizing influence of millions upon millions of hobbyists embracing the same "guidelines" and rules and styles means that so much creativity gets distilled out of the world of imaging.  And when the riptide of a style strikes it's hard to get away from the undertow and swim back to shore.  To do what you like in your work, separate from the buzz.

But I have a few suggestions beyond just the knee jerk reaction of telling you to turn off the web.  These are suggestions akin to telling squeamish meat eaters to butcher their own meat.  But they work.

First,  I would tell you to slow down.  You don't need to try every new style, new effect and new technique that comes sliding down the grease covered chute of popular photography.  It's always better to work diligently inside a style and subject matter that really resonates with you.  If you slow down and concentrate on the kinds of images that bring you real joy you'll find a tighter bond with your own work.

Stop looking at all the sharing sites.  Humans get all hive motivated at the drop of a hat.  When one style becomes popular the hive celebrates that style.  It's just like our fascination with celebrities.  After you've been exposed to a new fad a couple dozen times you start to believe that you NEED to do that style to stay relevant.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  And the styles shift all the time.  To keep up you'd need to constantly try new stuff.  It would be like changing clothes ten times a day.  You'll never get anything else done and you won't find YOUR style.  Most of the stuff on the sharing sites looks okay small.  But would you want 99% of it in your own home?  Big? On the walls?  When you turn off the outside influences and sit quietly with your own thoughts about art and photography you begin to understand the way you like to see and share art.  That's valuable.  Everything else is unconscious imitation.

Do a project.  Consistency of vision and subject are worthwhile goals for all artists.  Set yourself to the task of creating a body of consistent work.  Choose a subject that you love and explore it in depth.  Ignore everything else.  I spent a year once just doing black and white portraits with a square format camera.  I learned so much and by the end of the year I had created a portfolio I really liked.

When you choose to do a project have a a goal.  I find having a show of my work is both frightening and exhilarating.  My current goal is to do 20 really wonderful portraits of athletes who are between 50 and 70 years old.  Part of the goal is to do a show of the work.  I need to find a venue.  I'd like to do it at one of the local medical centers.  I'm working on a style that will unify the show.  I've given myself a year to select the people, make the portraits, do a small video interview to go with the show, make all the prints and frame and mat them.  Wouldn't it be great to have those on the wall of a center devoted to preventative medicine?  Wouldn't it be great if it changed some lives?  But no matter where it ends up I will have met interesting people who've taken charge of their own lives and excelled.  What fun role models.  And the art will be my souvenir of my time spent with them.  The prints will be part of the sharing.

I did a show a few years back about coffee.  I photographed people with their favorite coffee cups or pastries, or both.  The show hung in my favorite bakery for years.  Part of the show was recently in one of my favorite coffee houses.  It was a fun way to bring together some friends and celebrate my love of coffee and photography.

Start thinking beyond the screen.  A lot of the images I show on this blog are scans from prints I've done.  We get lazy when we aim small and aim for the screen.  The reduced size covers many compromises in technique and presentation.  When you slow down and do your art try to go through the whole process of bringing an image to life before you rush out the door to fill up more memory cards and hard drives.

Really explore the images in front of you.  Edit them down.  Make them perfect and then print them large.  Not necessarily 20 by 30 but at least on a sheet of 11x14 inch paper.  Print them till you love them.  And learn from the process of presentation.  Learn what you like to see, big.  The art becomes both portable and present when you pull it off the screen and onto paper.  Be sure to go through the whole process so you understand in your gut what you've really created.  It will slow you down and bring your attention away from the process of getting banal "Great Capture!!!!!" comments and focus it on doing work that makes you smile.  You are the first audience.  You are not doing stand up comedy here, the purpose of your work is not to entertain a rowdy crowd.  If I gauge my readers correctly your goals include creating something of value that will stand the test of time.

Finally, forget the online critiques.  Find people in your own town, city, region whose work you admire and approach them about forming a sharing circle.  Just like a writer's group.  Or group therapy.  You want to establish a tough group of like-minded artists who are there to help each other grow the work.  You should expect real critiques, not adulation.  And you should respect the group you create by only showing your best work and showing it well presented.

My over riding goal is to make great portraits.  Portraits I like first.  Then portraits my peers respect.  Then portraits my sitters like.  The micro-second, transient adoration of the web is far down on the feedback loop.  Anonymous people have no skin in the game and expect nothing.  They have no vested interest in pulling you up.  No matter what the web philosophizers say.

Having a project will move you to take chances.  If you shoot portraits you'll need to meet new people. Engage them and collaborate with them.  You'll need to up your printing techniques.  You'll need to discipline yourself to do the work instead of "researching" on the web.  And you'll need to learn how to finish.

Having a goal for your work gives it extra meaning.

Sharing the work with live people standing in front of you builds real confidence in the work.  Having real critiques is painful but helps engender real growth.  Helping real, human, non-virtual friends succeed with their own art is part of a rewarding virtuous circle.  Embrace it.

Dammit.  Another blog where I forgot to flog a product.  Next time...


Mass Mind Control and the homogenizing nature of the web.

A thousand shrill voices screaming the same pseudo-fact doesn't make it so.

I've been pondering what I think is an interesting question lately:  "What comes after the web?"

Imagine a time in the not too distant future when everyone is on the web all the time.  All the messages become diluted to the point that the content will come to resemble distilled water.  I read in Ad Age Online yesterday that big companies like the Gap and Nordstroms and many, many more national retailers rushed to establish pages on Facebook in the last year and a half only to pull the plug on their pages in short order.

The big retailers found that the audiences were enthralled with the narcissism of talking about themselves but there was very little attention bandwidth to actually listen to messages from anyone else. The clicking of the "like" button was little more than a grudging quid pro quo designed to cement a listening (reading) audience with the promise of, "you read my crap about little Johnny and his soccer game and I'll pretend to read and be interested in your stuff as well."

Might work in the dynamic of personal relationships where there's no hard currency at stake but it's hardly the foundation of success for a mass marketer.  And the numbers bore this out.  Hence the wholesale exodus of retailers from facebook.  (The big guys, with a constant eye on the metrics, went first, it will take a little longer for the smaller businesses to "get it" and move along...).

In my estimation the web is now functioning in bifurcated manner.  On one hand it is a portal for companies with products and services to sell.  They see the web as a target for online press releases (and isn't that exactly what the launch of a new camera or car is?).  They see their websites as a virtual rack upon which they've arrayed their product sheets, their spec sheets.  And they do it because it's as cheap as free.  But car dealers and car makers learned something important when they tried to herd us all to the web for more information.  They learned that when people come into their showrooms to shop for cars they are intent on leaving with a printed, color brochure of the product of interest.  They're not asking for an iPad download or a link to a 360 VR walk through.  They want/demand a paper and ink souvenir of their visit and the brochure will have an efficient effect on their ultimate buying decision.

On the other hand the web is performing a function as free entertainment for people who are addicted to meaningless information.

I have an analogy for the landscape of the web in which mature product segments exist. (And sites about photography exist, in the final accounting, in order to sell product.  The endless discussions and reviews are part of the marketing that drives the endless sale cycle.)  The analogy is of a very, very large room with very acoustically  bright walls, a hard ceiling and a concrete floor.  The room started out nearly empty in the old days.  A few people congregated to talk about gear and art.  But soon the room filled up and continues to fill up.  The volume of the discourse is so loud (everyone talks at once) and so intense that no one can really hear anymore.  It's become noise.  The signal's been lost.  It only takes a few conversational bullies to drown out an area of the room.

But here's the logical disconnect:  There are hundreds and hundreds of products in every category.  In cameras the catalog ranges from little plastic cameras that still take film and off no controls to massive, medium format cameras which cost more that nice cars.  And every camera purchased generates a little electron of loyalty that orbits around the nucleus of that product's atom.  If the atom is stable and attractive it continues to generate new atoms and eventually the products become a molecular construct.

And to combat post cognitive dissonance every atom finds a rationale for undying loyalty.  To the point where they are able to believe that the unique assemblage of features, benefits, swtiches and sensors is the perfect formula for photography as they know it.  Once the logic chain is locked anything else becomes, to their minds, indefensible.  The inertia is breathtaking.  How else to explain the Nikon Pro's loyalty during the dreaded D2x years when they could look across the atomic chart and see all the Canon atoms revolving around a full frame nucleus?  How else to explain the rabid defense of the new Olympus OM-D which has been annoited "god-like" among small format cameras even though its launch is more than two months away?  Allegiances form around myth.  Myth drives wedges into discussions.  Religions form.  And pretty soon the value of discourse dwindles away.

I've come to believe that the web is a wire rack, filled with pretty product brochures.  We wanted the paper ones but the manufactures like the idea that they don't have to print and ship the pretty, paper products, or pay for them.  I've come to believe that the web is like cable TV from the 1990's.  Thousands upon thousands (millions upon millions) of "channels" but nothing worth watching.  I've come to believe that reality changes as the sheer quantity of people confront a reality they don't want to believe and select an alternate reality that may not be as "mathematically" rigorous but which is more comfortable.  And finally,  the web is the paradigm of public access TV writ large.  Lots of people in sweat pants with lots of crazy opinions.

The question is not, "What to look at on the web?" The real question is, "Should we be wasting our time on the web at all?"

What does the next model look like?  Look to the things that haven't changed.  Galleries still exist because people want to see what art really looks like, not just a simulacrum of the art.  Photowalks exist because people long for real groups to belong to.  Books still exist because the joy of reading them hasn't been extinguished by "opinion content" on the web.  People still go to the movies, I think, largely because movie critique, Pauline Kael, was correct;  there's something scary and fun about sitting in a large room, in the dark with a bunch of strangers,  sharing an experience.  Stores still exist because people want to touch products and weigh their actual appeal.  They want to experience, first hand, what the electron affinity is for them.  People still kiss other real people because there's nothing at all like that experience on the web.  And people still go out to eat because it's performance art in which they can actively participate.  An art that wouldn't exist without a non-virtual audience.

This blog is sometimes a substitute for coming to grips with what you really should be doing.  It's fun to read what I say about products or inspiration or even love.  But like everything else on the web it's just one string of constructed reality wedged into a ball of string that's parsecs wide.  People come here to nod in agreement, smug in the feeling that we're part of a special atom.  Others come here prepared to hoist the flag of their own allegiance and to try and capture ours.

But the signal to noise is growing to the point where the web will become nothing more than the SEAR'S catalog of your generation.  And the cool people will move on to what's next.  And what's next is all the stuff that's tried and true.  All the stuff that we've been doing for decades, both before and during the ascendency of the web.  Follow the things that do not change.  That's where reality exists.

Content trumps everything.  Technique trumps technology.  Technology makes things easier and sometimes quicker but not necessarily better.  Resources are limited.  You give up hard won experience every time you abandon one tool for a newer one.  And in the end the only thing that matters is how the work of art works.

Not every professional photographer needs a waterproof camera.  Not every photographer needs LED lights just because someone wrote a book about them.  Not every photographer needs a new camera.  And I'd say that the vast majority of photographers would be better off walking away from the constant, and ulitimately destructive, feedback loop of the web and re-engaging with non-virtual life.

I'm going out into real life today and listening and watching and smiling and looking.  It's different than looking at Tumblr or 500px.  It's real.

Come to grips with what life would be like without the web.  Start today.