Little Tree in The South Window, Arches National Park, Utah
I may very well have posted this image back in 2013, which is when it was captured. *This* image, however, is a reworked version and looks much better than the original. That’s not to say it looks different from what I actually saw when I took the photograph. It’s simply to say that this image produces *more* of what I saw and how I saw it. It’s true, the camera captures all of the data, but one may not necessarily see it from the outset, depending upon the original camera settings.
This, in turn, leads me to some thoughts regarding photography, the end of the year, and life, in general.
As each year draws to a close and people start looking toward the new year, it’s a tradition (or maybe just an assumption), that we will all review the old year, attempt to draw some conclusions from our experiences over that year, and make room for improvements during the new year.
In my case, I’ve got a number of conclusions and planned improvements. For those of you non-photographers who read this, simply substitute “photography” for whatever it is you love doing (dancing, drawing, painting, writing, making jewelry, cooking, etc.)
1. I have improved my photo editing talents over this past year. Thankfully. This is because I continue to try and learn from others, either through reading, experimentation, or purchasing and downloading how-to videos. Example: I probably would have never learned how to use (or at least, correctly use) Photoshop’s Layers had I not started reviewing a set of videos from photographer Chip Phillips. I’d been reading about layers, but it all sounded so damned difficult. Chip is, without a doubt, one of my favorite photographers (ok, I really like Kevin McNeal, too), and his videos were a priceless learning tool for me. I also do alot of looking on Flickr for motivation as well as different ways to capture an image. I’ve been doing quite a bit of looking regarding panoramas, because I don’t have much experience capturing shots and creating panoramas from those shots, and I want to be able to do that. The message I want *you* photographers out there to get from this, is that you must continue to learn and experiment with your work. When I do my own browsing of other photographer’s Facebook pages or Flickr accounts, I see many with great potential, but they seem to be stuck in a rut. I look at their images and see potential that is there, but not unearthed because they didn’t try working with shadows, highlights, saturation, and all the other neat tools Photoshop or their preferred photo editor offers, that would bring a little special “oomph” or “wow” factor to their image. Sometimes, you just need to experiment for yucks and giggles and then see what comes of it.
2. I still don’t know a lot of things about photography or the business side of photography. And I *know* I don’t know this. So I need to make it my business to know what I don’t know. It’s the only way I am ever going to evolve from a semi-pro to a pro, in terms of business savvy as well as making a little more money with my shots. I recently was asked for an estimate (aka quote) on one of my images to be used on a product that will be mass-produced in a relatively small quantity. Now, I could have just sent a quick email with what I *think* would be a fair price, but that would have no way helped me at all. So, I’ve been sitting down and learning the business side of photography, including how to negotiate, how to set up a business (do I want to be an LLC, an S-Corporation, etc), the different licenses a client can purchase from me, and what kind of price is a fair price (there’s a great software program out there called fotoQuote that I and the authors of some books I’ve been reading highly recommend). These are just a few items. There is so much to learn, and it’s not all fun, believe me. But, for my future as a more serious photographer trying to pay my bills with my work, this is necessary and quite interesting, actually.
3. Life is going to get a little more interesting/challenging for me in 2018. I could say it will get “scarier” for me, but that would be the wrong mindset. So, I intend to be positive about it, as it will jump start me in a new direction. You see, the day job I have is planning layoffs in about 3 weeks. I’m not sure whether I’ll be kept or let go, but I have to make my contingency plans. I’m too young to collect social security and I really need to work a few more years before I feel I can retire within relative comfort (I’m gonna miss the company health insurance, since I’m too young for Medicare, and, under the present administration, may never be able to collect Medicare). So, my contingency plans include such things as updating my LinkedIn profile and re-writing my resume … something I haven’t done in 20 years! Oh, I also need to get better at selling myself at my age. Even though older people have experience, they sometimes are set in their ways and not quite as adaptable as the current generation; this is evidenced in the out-of-work coal miners who will probably never get their jobs back, but either are afraid to or simply don’t want to try and learn something new and adapt to today’s environment. 2018 will, in all eventuality, see me moving back out West, from where I originally came. Suits me. I never liked where I live but was here for my aging parents (now gone) and the job (possibly to be gone sooner rather than later). And I live farther away than desired from what is left of my family. Losing my current job will simply be a kick in the butt to jump start my new future. It’s going to be stressful, especially since I’m 20 years older than when I first moved to Texas. Making a big move from one part of the country to another is considered a life event. There is so much to plan for (packing, moving, looking for a new place to live, finding a job – and not necessarily in that order). That’s not going to stop me from achieving a life goal, though. Ever since my family moved from the mountains of Montana down to the southern part of the U.S., I made it a dream/desire/goal to move back to the mountains. And I *will* do it.
3. Family is more important than you might realize. I know, there are families out there that are horrible, and their children are better off distancing themselves from toxic situations. But for those with loving family relationships, here’s some advice: As your parents get older, they are going to need your help and your company. Living a great distance away from them may be ok when you are in your 20s and your parents are still in good health, but you are going to need to be prepared to make some difficult and necessary life choices as your parents age and their health diminishes. They may need someone to run errands for them, or cook for them or just keep them company when they are lonely. Don’t be the one to feel guilty after they are dead, wishing woulda-coulda-shoulda. Visit them as often as you can. When you can’t visit, call them. Doesn’t matter if you don’t have much to say. Your parents will be thrilled you called and they will generally fill up the silence with their own stuff. Trust me on this one.
4. Keep reading and keep learning. And not just about photography. I’m lucky in that I had a great education and a supportive network which originally instilled in me the desire to learn and continue learning. It begins early, folks: start reading to your kids. Now. Even if they are toddlers. Hell, even if they are babies. Read to them and instill in them the love of books and knowledge. I know a person who has younger relatives and those kids hate school and hate reading. They were never read to when they were little – probably because their own parents and relatives never liked reading because nobody ever read to them. So, the fires of curiosity and learning were never stoked. It’s a vicious circle. I have a great-niece who is reading at 4 grades above her current level, and a great-nephew who is reading at about the same speed as his sister. They both love books. My great-nephew, in particular,enjoys books about science and interesting facts about animals, space, food, you name it. My youngest great-niece also loves being read to. She will often ask her parents (or Grammy) to read the same book over and over to her several times before she goes to sleep. Their parents read to them and have always taken the time to answer their questions or help them find the answers to their questions. Be that parent.
4. Put down your damned smartphone. Talk to the people you are with. If traveling, look around you and stop thinking you need to send every little photograph to Facebook/Instagram/Twitter right at that moment. Take time to really *look*. Savor the view, the experiences, the fresh air, the smells of the environment, the interesting people, and the adventure of it all. And for fun, if you see someone walking along with their nose in their smartphone, stand still and see if they even know there is someone in front of them. Oh, and DON’T TEXT AND DRIVE. Beyond stupid.
5. Plan NOW. For whatever: a future trip, your college education, your 401(k). Half the fun (and half the learning) is in the planning. It’s also prudent to start planning for something like your kid’s college education sooner rather than later.
6. Summon your courage to travel solo at least once in 2018. It’s a wonderful, freeing, sometimes scary, but always educational experience. Put away old mindsets, old worries, old prejudices. That doesn’t mean you should throw caution to the wind. Safety is always of paramount importance. But step out of that cocoon for just a little bit and experience a whole wide world (not a flat world, but a round world governed by the law of gravity).
7. It’s ok if you like living alone. It’s ok if you don’t like to be around people that much. It’s ok if you like animals better than humans. It’s ok if you would rather read than go shopping or go to a party. It’s ok if you don’t ever want to marry. It’s ok if you don’t ever want kids. Don’t let anybody else’s expectations infringe upon what you want to do with your own life. Don’t let anybody bully you or force you to do something with your life that you feel is wrong. Remember, it’s your life. I stopped watching “Say Yes To The Dress” because it used to drive me nuts that the bride (and it’s HER wedding) would get so upset that her parents/relatives/friends hated her wedding dress pick so they would try and choose HER dress for her. Be brave and do your own choosing for yourself. Don’t let others do it for you.
I guess that’s it. I’m sure I’ll think of other things, but since I thought of these first, then they are probably the most important.