Has anyone stopped to think for a minute that “retro themed” cameras are actually not so retro at all? Outside of an obvious strength as a marketing tool. When you think of camera design there are a few obvious concessions that need to be made. You need to be able to see the image you are taking in order to properly frame it and, if you are even a modest hobbyist you are going to want some creative control over the exposure of the image. This means control over aperture, shutter speed, ISO and focus. For years manufacturers have buried these controls deeper and deeper into on screen menus in an effort to simplify the use of the camera.

Yet, as any creative photographer knows, these few simple controls are the bare minimum for any photographer to capture photographs in a controlled or unique way. If you at least have these basics at hand, the rest will fall into place and this is exactly what we are starting to see in many popular new cameras. A renaissance of easily accessible manual controls which also just happens to be the antithesis of the casual point and shoot nature of mobile phone cameras that have all but dominated the general public’s mind when it comes to photography in general.

It’s only natural for manufacturers to look back to the roots of the craft as a means to pull in photographers who crave more than what their mobile phone can offer them in regards to in camera creative control. That said, when you imagine a camera in your mind with full exposure control you imagine a box with knobs that allows you to adjust these key values quickly. In this regard, these supposed retro themed cameras are not retro, they are obvious. No touch screen or series of buttons will give you the same quick uncompromising access to control that simple task specific knobs do.

The first camera I remember offering what could be considered a “retro” body with a digital sensor was Epson’s R-D1 which was, from what I remember at least, not created as a marketing gimmick, but as an honest rangefinder with a digital sensor. To this day I would still love to see Cosina step back into the market and release a Voigtlander branded digital rangefinder with lens/viewfinder focus coupling that could simply use M-Mount lenses.

Once the RD-1 failed to pick up any traction in the market due to the stampede of DSLR bodies at the time we didn’t see anyone else pick up where they left off until Olympus showed up with their updated Pen series. The pen cameras are a hybrid of sorts, borrowing the form factor, size, and interchangeable lenses of older Olympus Pen bodies but moving previous manual control to menus and multi purpose knobs. It wasn’t until Fuji’s X series and to some extent, the Olympus Om-D that we started to see manufacturers realize the potential for more manual control on camera bodies again rather than less.

Manufacturers are banking on the essence of what made older cameras (many of the memorable ones at least) intuitive and usable for photographers to begin with. Hoping to catch the eye of those who are pursuing the art deeper than what the point, click, enhance emotion later habits of mobile phone photography by offering simple offerings with a more broad range of possibility. Just look at Nikons marketing strategy with the new Df. Their leading subtext pulls you into the advantages of using classic camera body design and how you can “Rediscover the joy of photography” with the simple manual control the body offers. Sure, may be marketing rhetoric but they certainly have a point.

A cynical mind may jump to the conclusion that it’s all a gimmick but the evolution of the modern camera will continue to putter along either way. I can only hope that simplicity will win in the end, both for the brilliant little point and shoots in our phones and for feature forward prosumer bodies and this hope is why I decided to stand up in support of this trend.

Speaking of which, have you seen the leaked photos of the upcoming new Fuji X body? Gorgeous. It’s why I decided to move to the Fuji X system, I feel as though they are the most connected to the essence of what makes photography great, not only by keeping up with the latest technology but offering bodies that focus on the essentials. Should be interesting to see how things continue to develop as the market navigates the smartphone camera onslaught.

Oh, Hello

Of Cameras

“Hello photographer, the report of my death was an exaggeration.


The latest ad from Apple about the usefulness of their iPads got me thinking, for whatever reason, about cameras, photography, and articles that pop up from time to time to declare ambitious statements about photography.

Another has popped up recently as I’m sure many of you reading have already come across, where another journalist decided to declare the end of the camera as we know it. However, until I see a mobile camera share the same level of technical precision with which one is able to capture the same emotional depth and clarity of their more sophisticated brothers, I am not buying into these baitish articles about how traditional photography is dead. Traditional meaning, in this case, using a device designed only to make photographs, not share them.

Is photography evolving? Sure. Is it becoming more accessible to anyone? In a way, of course, software is able to gloss over most any cameras shortcomings these days to some degree. But to declare it’s figurehead, the stand-alone camera, dead or even starting to die is a gross over-exaggeration. To me, these sentiments always come across as oversimplified, wishful attempts at making a statement about the field in general. It’s like stories I read last year about still photography becoming irrelevant in the face of such capable video camera stills, really?

In the early days of commercially available cameras there was not a lot to distinguish those created for the general public versus the professional. A camera was a camera, and advancements were made as a whole so big steps such as the introduction of 35mm film and smaller, easier to carry cameras were obviously created to spread the technology to a wider audience by making the process more convenient.

As time went on a dividing line started to appear between cameras made for consumers versus those designed for professionals. Cameras such as the first Olympus Pen series cameras in the 60s or later the Minox 35 EL in the mid 70’s paved the way for the modern consumer friendly point and shoot which slowly but surely became more and more capable until the boom of digital swept us all off our feet.

The race for the smallest or most capable and/or convenient camera is nothing new, it’s history repeating itself and all the hyperbole about how no one will need or want any cameras other than their mobile phones? It’s nonsense.

In many ways, the landscape today is no different than it was in 1975, only the technology has changed. There will always be the simple, snapshot cameras that anyone can pick up and use and there will always be surprisingly great photos that come out of those simplified little cameras. Nothing has changed here, it’s just that the act of sharing the photos has changed and of course that is no small matter.

It’s not the personal satisfaction of making photographs and sharing them with others that is changing, it’s the expectation of the end viewer that is constantly shifting as the act of sharing grows exponentially. The easier it becomes, the more people we find interacting with the medium, and with mass adoption we see a lower point of entry in general and thus connoisseurs of the craft are born of a different mindset and existing hobbyists attempt to fold into a new way of approaching their favorite hobby or profession in fear of being left behind.

Photography will continue to be a popular and increasingly simple way to communicate and tiny digital cameras attached to our smartphones will surely continue to grow as the dominant source of output but I have this funny feeling that I’m not the only one out there who isn’t ready to toss their cameras into a shoebox in the back of their closet.

There is nothing uncomfortable or strange about getting back from a vacation and realizing your iPhone photos are looking good enough for your needs. You’re still taking the same photos, just with a smaller camera and in the process realizing your style and photographic voice doesn’t require any gear beyond a point and shoot. There is nothing wrong with that, obviously. But it is no reason to get on a soap box and claim the camera is dying. The truth is far from this claim. It is simply evolving, as it always has, and the ebb and flow of those who want creative control in camera vs those who get enough creative inspiration from adding software filters will continue to fluctuate in time.

Personally speaking, using a camera is not simply a means to reach an end for me. Just because it would be easier for me to shoot using my iPhone’s camera doesn’t mean that I should. Photography is a force larger than one style and one lens can be held responsible for and all the software tricks in the world could not mimic the emotional fulfillment and gratitude I have for photography in a traditional sense. The future may lay with a digital dominance and that is perfectly fine, but the tools used to capture light in a creative way by passionate photographers can not all boil down into one automated click of the button.

That said, this is by no means a dismissal of mobile photography or the direction it is continuing to take photography in general. I myself love shooting around with my iPhone as much as the next guy and support the technology that it propagates.  The future of photography is great, I’m positive of that and no matter what you choose to believe I can’t in good conscience stand by and let a fellow wandering photographer looking to plant flags in modern trends try to sell you snake oil. Not when it’s a subject I am so passionate about. Even with a passionate mind one can still manage to lose sight of the sun.

Hello camera, you’re looking good for your age! Still as capable and challenging as you ever were. Let’s go see what light we can find today.




Tell me, how much is a photo worth to you. How often do you feel so connected to a photograph that you come across online, on instagram, flickr, Tumblr, anywhere really, that you come back to it a second time. In the age of being bathed in images day in and day out you can’t help but get a little numb to what you see scroll by in front of you. Mass photo sharing sites are the worst for this epidemic. Instagram? Sure you may scroll along endlessly and double tap photos till your hearts content but what does this process mean to you personally? What images speak to you on an emotional level?

Some say portraits are more engaging, for others it’s street photography or photojournalism. No mater what type of photography really tugs at your interest I am really honestly curious when the last time you went back to look at a photograph a second time after coming across one you enjoyed and more importantly, why did you come back to it? When you tap a like or favorite button do you do it because you want to see the photo again or perhaps is it more a means to let the photographer know you exist and appreciate their work? Most of us have never stopped to ask ourselves these seemingly basic questions.

Personally, as I have mentioned in the past, I am typically quite stingy when it comes to the use of the favorite buttons on various social photo sharing sites. I don’t know about you but I put a real value on the photos that I choose to call favorites online. I didn’t always do this but over the past year or two I have grown increasingly picky. This is because I decided to become much more aware of my own taste and made a conscious decision to be more constructive with my online viewing habits.

To be honest, and I don’t think that I am alone here, during any given day I am likely to come across around a dozen or so photos that I stop for more than a single second to appreciate. I have seen so many photos at this point that I can quickly read into them and it is rare that I find a photograph that holds my attention for long. Many photos that seem delightful on the surface are only that, a surface, with a pretty filter applied to it to gloss it up a bit, images that only exist to further a trend, to collect their due and fade into the noise. Even beautiful, majestic scenes seemingly pulled from a fairy tale are ripe to fade into obscurity if they don’t hold anything that truly sets them apart.

Recently the thing that stops me from scrolling right on by is when I see a photograph that makes me wonder what is just outside of the frame. I find my favorite photographs to be ones that do not simply hold a moment in time, tidy, obvious, poetic, and ready to be easily digested, but ones which leave me wondering why I am so drawn to them. Photos are inherently obvious yet the photographer has the power to capture the things he sees in a way that invokes curiosity. Even family photos can hold this quality. I think the best word to describe this characteristic is a photograph is its level of honesty, something I have talked about before among these pages.

Sure, some photographs try so very hard to tell us a story within a fraction of a second, and so many writings glorify this ideal of the decisive moment but fact of the matter is that the story behind a photograph is but a simple ruse, an illusion. A photograph is not telling you a story, it’s your imagination that is telling it to you. The story is an assumption and we all have slightly different perspectives when it comes to these assumptions based on so many variables. Our emotional connection to the subject matter, our education and background, our expertise in taking photographs ourselves, it all folds up into a neat and tidy thought within a fraction of a second and judgement is made based on these personal assumptions. The most successful photographs are able to find common ground across a wider scope of possible assumptions.

Many of us view photographs with an absent, distracted mind as we play into social networking games and click through like buttons as though it’s advancing us through levels of camaraderie and mutual respect for others out there shooting. Photography to many is digested simply as a means to climb the ladder and that’s a real shame but there is no way to avoid it outside of, as a viewer, knowingly distancing yourself from these habits.

Therefore, as photographers, the only way to stand out is to break away from the zobification of our shooting habits in the same way. The best process for discovering your true voice behind a camera is to ignore the noise and create photos from outside of your network bubble. Following trends is all fine and good until they shift and you’re stuck constantly trying to keep up with whats next. Thats no way to be noticed because your photos will always lack honesty.

In shooting outside of what comforts us, beyond what we feel others expect us to produce online we can free ourselves from the assumption that we must produce photographs that get in line with the others we so mindlessly flip through day in and day out. It is perfectly normal to feel inspired by other’s beautiful work but it’s vital to ask yourself WHY you enjoyed it as much as you did and rather than duplicate your favorite photos and styles, try instead to find ways to share your unique viewpoint on the life you see around you in a way that represents the honesty of the moments you capture. Of course it is impossible to completely ignore other photographers who inspire us, it’s a natural evolution, but we can at least do our best to fight through what we think people would expect of us and create images that radiate with life and mystery like only we can see it.

As viewers, the next time you choose to give a nod of approval, take an extra few seconds to sort out exactly why it is that you like the photo so much. It only takes a moment and getting into the habit will lead you to become more self aware both as a viewer and as a photographer.

50ft X

50ft X

Last year I went through a phase where I didn’t really care for shooting digitally at all. I carried my 5D around with me but only ever really wanted to shoot with my film cameras because they brought me such joy to use. The feel and experience taken on when winding through a roll of film was unmistakably great and I failed to get the same kind of connection with my digital cameras. This left me somewhat disinterested in the results I got with my 5D at the time. I used it more as a means to reach an end rather than as a tool to capture my favorite work behind a camera.

Earlier this year as you all know by now, I started up a project where I could share images every single day of my life. A digital journal of sorts that pushes me to keep shooting no matter how boring or dull my day may be visually. This brought my 5D out of hiding. While it has been as wonderful as it has ever been shooting with my trusted Canon digital, I started feeling that same drag again. My enthusiasm wained as the large camera body started to get in the way while navigating my busy summer months in live audio. My poor 35mm f/1.4L looks like it’s been through a war after being bumped and dropped among so many surfaces as I drug it everywhere with me.

I decided it was time for a change. I long thought that my next digital camera would be the Canon 5D Mark III. It is a beautiful full frame camera with more capability than I could ever imagine honestly needing for my style of shooting. For the longest time I thought for sure I simply had to have a full frame camera to get the kind of depth in my shots you all know and love but as I started reading and researching more this perspective slowly started to change for a couple of different reasons.

My wife YoungDoo shoots with a 5D Mark II and we have a wonderful kit building within this universe, a well rounded selection of lenses, a nice hard shell pelican case to organize and travel with, as well as a few studio lighting basics. I look at this collection and realized that maybe I did not need to continue down this path, especially with my most common style of lifestyle/documentary shooting. I have my trusted Hasselblad for portraits and a handful of fun 35mm film cameras for travel, but it was my day to day shooting that I felt could use a fresh start. Therefore my 5D days would not be behind me, just more parallel to my daily shooting needs.

As you know, I have been a happy 5D owner for years now. Funny thing about my story as a photographer though is that while digital camera technology excelled to new heights in the past five or so years, I seemed to head in the opposite direction and started shooting film more and more. I figure I should enjoy it, and get the most of it while it was easy to get ahold of and enjoy. But, as you know, things change, arts evolve as people evolve and technology is driven forward as we crave convenience and forward thinking.

This brings me to Fujifilm, their X series of cameras, and the body I have chosen to be my new day to day digital shooter, the X-Pro1. They have clearly been designed with film shooters in mind. Fuji’s engineers have a firm commitment to helping bring the joys of their old emulsions to life with the technology they have created to eventually replace it. It’s interesting to me because as a film company they have quietly been killing off more and more of their classic films, yet be it marketing strategy or a honest attempt at making users of their past film products happy, they seem determined to make this inevitable transition without loosing sight of their heritage.

The success of the Fuji X series cameras has been a slow burning one. Despite the runaway success of the X-100 thanks to its word of mouth popularity among a few key photographers over the past couple of years, the popularity of the X-Pro1 seems to have been a slow climb as they fought with focusing issues which lead to a lot of mixed reviews early on.

Of all the camera manufacturers currently leading the market, fuji seems to be the unsung hero of the slowly growing unrest among old school photographers missing the simplicity of older film cameras (I wrote about this over a year ago here as well). While many will claim Leica digital cameras, with their even more simplified yet lusciously priced cameras, best Fujis attempts, you can not deny that they are in their own realm price wise and hardly deserve a mention in the same way you don’t hear people comparing medium format digital sensors to Canon’s mid range 5D series. Price is a clear dividing line here in my opinion, there are those able to spend $9,000+ on a camera system, and there are those who can not.

What Fuji has done is stepped into a quickly changing and infamously finicky market space and laid into place the intention to keep alive the long standing essence of photography while still managing to maintain a clear strategy in keeping various levels of more casual shooters fulfilled as they work their way backwards from the flagship X-Pro1, a camera released over a year ago yet rather than haphazardly releasing a predecessor, has chosen to refine and improve on its existing tech through firmware updates and trying out ideas on the other cameras in the line as well as through a continuously expanding native lens selection. A strategy that shows confidence and an understanding of its core audience who does not want to buy into a system only to feel quickly left behind in the wake of newer bodies. If you build something right the first time, why rush to replace it?

I bought this X-Pro1 from a friend shortly after Fuji released a firmware update to the camera that once again was said to improve focusing. In my time spent with it I have not had any trouble at all once I got used to the approach of using the body in general.It’s quite simple really. You have your optical viewfinder (OVF) with a simple overlay on which you choose what info is to be displayed, an electronic viewfinder (EVF) that slides into place in front of the OVF, and the obvious LCD on the back of the camera body. I have had great success jumping between all three depending on the circumstances. In general the OVF with its automatically adjusting frame lines which compensate for parallax error  has been perfect for shooting quickly while out and about. The EVF is effortlessly pulled into place when I need to get in close to my subject so I get my framing just right, and the LCD is there for any awkward angled shots I may want to snap without contorting my body into weird positions. Let me validate this for those of you in doubt of that last one, there is nothing at all wrong with framing a shot using the LCD.

Many of you reading already know the tech specs and details of how this camera works so I don’t feel the need to go too much farther than that into its technical performance. I will say that the sensor and its clever color pixel pattern makes beautiful, smooth images. I am not a low light, high ISO junkie like many photographers seem to obsess over for whatever reason but I have found this sensor performs admirably in low light. I prefer a camera’s digital sensor be able to shoot at wide apertures in bright sunlight, give me a sensor that starts at ISO 50 and well talk. That said, the fact that the fuji, like many other small sensor shooters out there today, starts at an ISO of 200 had me pretty worried based on my own shooting habits but after pushing it a bit I am more than happy with the results. Even if I push an exposure to the irresponsible point where my highlights are pure white and no longer hold information to edit, results have been smooth and easy enough to balance out a bit in post. While I will obviously avoid shooting this way all the time its nice to know I can fudge the proper thought process here and there and still get nice enough results.

Another thing worth mentioning on the technical side of the fence, which really surprised me to be honest, is the outstanding JPG images this camera renders. For years now I have been a firm devotee of the RAW format because of its extended editing capability yet I find myself gravitating toward the JPG’s from the X-Pro1. Their film emulsion emulations are really quite nice and should not be ignored. They are subtle and appear to offer some basic correction for barrel distortion, vignetting, etc.

The button layout took a little getting used to, especially considering the years of using film rangefinders with only three things to adjust. I do miss the little joystick on my 5D but Im getting used to the more common, directional buttons with enter in the center style. The Q menu is brilliant, simple, quick and gets you to all of your important options straightaway.

I have a great appreciation for the fact that there is no wheel on top with silly circumstantial auto modes. Just pure simplicity, choose your Shutter Speed or Aperture for manual control or switch either to A to let the camera help you out on either end. Only what you need, nothing more, unless you want more, in which case it is there waiting for you. I have all instant preview settings turned off and have paired the camera down to its essentials so none of the technology gets in my way. It feels fantastic to shoot this way.

As many have been saying since this cameras release, it is so very easy to fall in love with it. Even down to the little details like avoiding any branding on the front of the camera shows what audience they were targeting. I can’t count how many times I have seen a photographer tape over logos with gaff tape.

In comparison to the latest from Olympus it is clear that Fuji and Olympus are after two different markets, at least in my eyes. Fuji, more the film loving shooters wanting simplicity and quick access to the fundamentals of shooting, and Olympus is clearly playing the spec sheet game adding a multitude of controls, weather sealing, and a more bells and whistles approach to attract users. After coming really close to going with an Olympus body I opted for Fuji simply because of their understated approach.

50ft X v2

Image Neutrality

There is one other thing I wanted to discuss here along with this review which I think is even more interesting than the fact that I am shooting with a new digital camera for the first time in years. I have long been pushing myself and other photographers to use as little post work as possible to complete their photographic visions but my opinion on this seems to be changing since I have started to shoot with a modern camera body and lenses.

Most of the newest camera systems on the market today have little to no character that define the photos they produce. All camera manufacturers seem to be after the same thing, optical perfection. Manufacturers are so bent on pleasing the pixel peeping tech sheet obsessed “this is how it should be” photo elite that the images most new cameras produce are starting to loose the characteristics that once made different systems so unique from one another and that is their personality.

The closer I looked the more I realized that new cameras and lenses take increasingly neutral photographs. Beautiful, sharp, pristine photos, but lacking in any personality that you could define them with. I look at some of my favorite cameras and lenses and they all have very distinct personalities. I used to be able to explore the pages of flickr and study the unique abilities of different cameras and lenses but the more I look at galleries from newer cameras I discover that the photos I am seeing and enjoying could almost have come from any of the newer camera systems available today. Camera performance across the board is becoming a bit ambiguous which leaves your choice of a system based on its physical performance and style as much as the quality of photos it can take because there are so many amazing systems out there.

As I have discussed in the past, I have a number of film cameras and films that I use in very specific ways because of the way they behave and the types of images they produce. I know the shortcomings and strengths of my favorite cameras and lenses and I put this knowledge to use to create something distinct and in line with what best suits the tools I have chosen to use.

Now I start to see the increasing popularity of preset packs such as that from VSCO and services such as what the talented Rebecca Lilly offers where you are conjuring up a personality virtually because of the neutrality of modern cameras. Without being able to choose your film you are left to rely on your lens choice to add any character to your shooting but even in this space, most new lenses are also becoming to efficient for their own good. I feel things have come to this point due to the fact that post film photographers have eclipsed those with classic experience in photography and have no problem looking to digital post work to make up for this lack of personality. Seems pretty obvious to me now. Presets are the new film.

While it’s strange to me and slightly depressing in some ways, I am starting to accept the direction things are going. Remember, there is plenty of room for film and digital shooting to co-exist. A heavier reliance on post work is just a different approach and it’s new to me and my usual mindset when it comes to photography in general. The photos I am getting with the X-Pro1 are beautiful as they are, but to make them unique and to add some personality to them I look to post work to add that final touch to complete my vision. Even with a perfectly lit moment I look at the resulting image and think, “oh, so close, but not quite what I have in my head for this image.”

I have used my Yesterday Was Only project to push the limits of post work and see what I can get away with. It’s been fun to see what works and what doesn’t and in a way it’s reminded me that once again, there is plenty still to explore and thats exactly what I intend to do.


Required Reading

In another new, hope to be moderately consistent, series of posts I will suggest photography centric books/zines or articles online to read or experience. Sometimes I will do the pull quote thing and use them as a base of discussion, other times I will simply post as a recommended read. This will be as often as I have time to dig and look for things that catch my eye.

I remember first discovering photographer Zack Arias through his OneLight video on using simple flash lighting. While I never kept very close tabs on his other work online, I recently realized I had seen him referenced a number of times recently by other photographers, mainly while researching FujiFilms recent digital camera offerings. I discovered he had been running a pretty fantastic and candid Q&A tumblr and released a curated book of entries within that blog.

The book, Photography Q&A: Real Questions, Real Answers, is what I am recommending today, it’s a surprisingly well rounded book about many of the little, more specific details of working as a photographer. In it he discusses things often overlooked by many classes, books, and workshops. In many of the questions he used the book as an excuse to expand on his original answers to give even more insight based on years of experience and trial and error. There is also quite a bit of additional content added in between sections. He discusses everything from advice for specific shooting scenarios to help with handling different kinds of clients.

His approach to answering questions are often quite blunt and straightforward which I admire. He speaks from his honest opinion unlike many photo books most of which read like a camera manual. Not that either approach is more or less valid for different needs but I do appreciate the level of honesty and humility he offers in his writing. The writing style is akin to sitting down across from him with a drink and having a conversation about photography where there is no need to be polite or hold back.

Here is an excerpt I am in total agreement with from a question about recourses for models to learn how to model, originally posted here and expanded up on in the book. He is speaking here about a camera as a lifeless object, a mere tool of which we forge and capture pieces of time and of the irrelevance of how easy modern cameras make it to take nice looking photos:

“They will never take a picture. Buy all the cameras in the world. They will never see… Nikon doesn’t give you vision. Canon doesn’t give you vision. That new flash you want won’t make you see. It won’t direct your subjects. It won’t do shit for you. You point it where it needs to be pointed. You control what sort of light enters it and how much light enters it. You direct your subject in that light you have decided to work in. You are in charge. You, and you alone. If you think for one second that the camera is doing something for you, then you have your brain turned off and you’re being stupid. Stop it. Take control. Do it all. No matter what crazy-ass thing they make these cameras do next, they will never, ever, ever see the world. That is your job” -Zack Arias

There is a printed version of the book as well as a Kindle version which I read on my iPad to see his example images in color. Of all the photo books I have read through over the years this is easily one of the more refreshing reads I have come across within the genera and I can easily recommend any photographer who feels they still have something to learn within this industry pick this up and digest a question and answer or two each day. You can read more about it and order it over on Zack’s site here.

Five D

Five D Mark

I am happy to share some news with everyone today, I bought myself a new camera! Well, a few years ago actually… seven to be exact, and I thought you guys may be interested in a review. I get the usual “what gear do you use?” questions on a regular basis, reason being that we all enjoy finding out the tricks of other photographers hard earned trade. Its only natural once you get into any craft in which you start to unintentionally become a connoisseur. I feel like I have answered this a number of times in different posts here on 50ft such as this post about my gear in general, but there is one camera that has transformed me as a photographer and rarely gets as much credit as I feel its due. That camera, of course, is the Canon 5D.

First, an abridged history lesson. The 5D was the camera that convinced professional photographers that digital photography was here to stay. The 5D Mark II was the camera that convinced thousands of amateurs and lost young minds with creative aspirations that they too could shoot like a pro. Then Nikon started to finally catch up, followed soon thereafter by Olympus inventing a new breed of smaller yet fully functioning mirror-less digital bodies with interchangeable lenses. Fuji took the idea a step further following Leicas lead and made a few digital cameras aimed at the film lovers. Then of course we have our current top of the heap mid-range DSLR’s such as the 5D Mark III which I will admit is a beautiful camera that is worth every penny should you need such capabilities as it offers.

At any rate, this much is known to most of you. My personal history with cameras played out a bit differently though and it’s something I have touched on before. After happily shooting with my 20D for a while I was lured to the 5D early in its life because of its big beautiful “full frame”sensor. One shot and I was hooked, there was no turning back. This combined with my foray into shooting and editing RAW files and an investment in one great lens locked me in.

When the 5D II came along I had a moment of, ooohhhh… but it was short lived as I started to realize there was nothing I needed from the upgrade, I was not a videographer by any means and the results from the 5D II’s sensor never impressed me all that much. So I stuck with my original 5D and happily went along shooting, buying up older film cameras instead of needlessly upgrading my digital kit. In todays marketplace I feel the original 5D is one of the most overlooked options out there for photographers just starting out or ones shooting on cropped sensor bodies that want to give full frame a go. I regularly see these available today for an average price of $600USD in camera shops and on ebay. Nice ones even.

Here is my short review, they are built like tanks, take beautifully vivid images, and utilize a lens mount with plenty of great options that shows no sign of reaching the end of its life. Now, lets break that down.

During the course of my years spent with this camera I have put it through an almost unfair amount of torture. While I do have camera bags to transport my gear it is almost always outside of the bag on my shoulder, ready to use. Because of this it has collided with its fare share of doorways, cement floors, mud puddles, you name it. There is a chunk of metal missing from the grip near the battery door from a particularly bad fall which had me worried at first but it just kept on shooting. Outside of a few much needed sensor cleanings it takes the same great photos that it always has.

The photos from this camera have always ben distinct and highly natural to me. Part of my love for the sensor in this camera is the fact that the images don’t have that unusual overly pristine digital look to them. Don’t read into that the wrong way, I get nice crisp images, they just hold true to an aesthetic that I love. One that closer mimics the feelings I get while shooting film than most digital cameras give me. Even the noise has grown on me over the years. The full frame sensor gives my lens room to breathe and reach its full potential.

There are technical limits to the sensor of course, such as a moderate 12.8MP image size but 12.8MP is plenty for just about anyone these days unless you rely on unusually large prints on a regular basis. The prints I have produced from these files have been wonderful. There was a time I printed a few images on a large format fabric printer at roughly 4’x5′ (1.2×1.5 meter) and while they were not flawless you would be surprised at how presentable they were.

My only gripe would be, as with most digital cameras still to this day, highlights can easily accidentally get blown out leaving you checking your histograms regularly while out shooting. Walking that line just before this occurs and getting well controlled exposures can get a little tiresome at times. In my experience getting an exposure that works sometimes involves exposing a little lower than I may want to in order to avoid this yet if this involves a higher ISO I am left with a bit more noise than I care for in my shadows as I bring up my levels in post work. While the dynamic range is not as strong some of what technology has brought us recently I have never had too much trouble working with images unless they are dark shots or shooting higher than 800ISO (which is my personal limit with this camera).

“But John, there is no video capability”, at which point you simply need to imagine the a blank stare I am giving you until you come to your senses. This is a still photo camera. There is no shame in that, just be honest with your needs.

Ah, and the lenses. While L glass certainly has its luster and an investment in a good lens will easily outlast the value of your camera, there are plenty of great options out there such as their great 40mm f/2.8 pancake or the underrated 85mm f/1.8 that has always had to live in the shadow of its f/1.2 brother. Then there is the option of buying a cheap lens adaptor and shooting with some vintage glass, something I discussed a while back here on 50ft.

So don’t be so quick to judge this still highly relevant gem of a camera just because it has two older brothers all doped up with marketing and street cred sheen. The original 5D is well worth a look if your in the market for a modest full frame DSLR. I realize most of those reading this now are so locked into one way of thinking that buying an eight year old digital camera seems crazy and to you guys, just keep on keeping on.

Another point I wanted to get across in writing this must be fairly obvious. Gear lust is imaginary, irrelevant, and can lead you down a path of misunderstanding and misplaced reasoning as you develop as a photographer. Lets turn it into a dying trend. I have shot happily and successfully with one camera and a select few lenses all these years only keeping my lust for anything new contained with a few old film cameras along the way. It is vital to understand the difference between wanting a new piece of gear and needing it.

I say this out of experience. I get the bug just like anyone else. There is something to be said about the refreshing feeling of shooting with a new camera but in the end one solid piece of gear will take you a lot further if you allow yourself to fully adapt to it. Just be sure to pick something that complements your ambition and needs and you will be set. It’s also important to realize when enough is enough and having the latest and greatest hanging around your neck will only bring that emotional satisfaction for a short while before the next great new thing rolls into view.

That said, looking ahead, whats that on my horizon? Something new to me, yes, but more on that when the time comes.

(the photo above was shot with my hasselblad a long while back, couldn’t find a nice high res copy is all, see the un-cropped image here on flickr)


The Curse Of Expectation

If a tree falls in the woods and no one is there to hear it fall, does it still make a sound? If the tree is a photo posted to Flickr, apparently the answer is a resounding no, not at all. At least on some accounts.

In my long history with Flickr, even in its heyday of rich, thoughtful activity, reactions to photos I posted on the service have always been hit or miss. Some of my personal favorites from my early days of sharing photography proudly online were all but ignored.

“But how could this be?”, I would think to myself, “this photo is my favorite!”. It’s a commonly misplaced emotion among photographers and has been for ages. Many who post images on photo sharing services fall into this trap which has recently been compounded by the cursory double taps and brief comments that we are used to seeing on Instagram. In my experience and belief, the feedback I expect on a photo posted to Instagram versus an image I post to Flickr is entirely different.

Instagram is built for casual, mass consumption and sharing mostly lifestyle photos. The reactions to these shots of day to day life and “look what I’m doing now” moments are decidedly more quick, friendly, ah ha! sorts of moments. Those using it to share more serious work simply have to come to terms that its a mixed bag of educated reactions within the service (same goes for using Tumblr as a means to share photographic work).

Flickr and other similar services, on the other hand, were built for and perused by a community of fellow photographers, both pro and amateur, and is not as much of a hangout for casual users. While there is still some of the same casual favoriting that happens on Instagram, you can expect your audience to be at least a bit more critical of what they are seeing simply because they are also photographers and in some subtle way, your competition.

If the end goal of posting an image online is to get a pat on the back then I’m not sure how long photography as it stands today can survive before the novelty wears thin and those wishing to get more serious about the craft get frustrated and quit before they have a chance find their voice. Well, outside of copycats that piggyback on passing trends.

I have always seen lack of interest in a photograph as a telling indication that there is perhaps something I had overlooked in my assumption that all of my fans would fall head over heels for this or that image. I have lived through my fair share of disappointment after getting little to no fan fare for an image I really loved. Figuring out what kinds of images drew the most attention did not come without seemingly endless frustration and second guessing. Letting the reaction of the general public define your journey as a photographer is a long and arduous path to take as a hopeful explorer.

If you do choose to start making informed reactions or decisions based on feedback left through social media sites there are three dynamics you have to gauge the reaction of image with, on Flickr or otherwise; The amount of views the image gets, which can be distorted if you post a blind link from twitter or another service you are well established on, the amount of favorites or likes an image gets, and last and usually most sensitively read into, the amount of comments an image receives.

When checking how many views an image receives you can see how much general interest there is for your photo based on the people that you have given access to see it. If you post an image on Flickr without posting it to any community groups or linking to the photo through other social services then you are gauging these views based purely on those that follow you as a contact on Flickr or those who may have your feed plugged into their RSS reader. If you get a lot of views based on this metric alone then you have the right to assume that the image was at least good enough to peak someones curiosity and take the time to click through to see it in higher detail.

If you share a link to your photo on another service such as Twitter then this metric gets distorted because you have to take into account the amount of fans/followers that are clicking a link simply to see what is hiding behind it which then brings us to favorites. It’s one of the most tricky things to gauge because of the expectations we all hold for images we personally are very fond of. Don’t let yourself fall victim to the hollow victory of a high number of favorites.

If someone sees your image on Instagram they most likely saw it from within the App, are already a member, and can easily praise you with a quick double tap. With Flickr there is maybe less of a chance that those who found you through a social media link are also members of the service and if you are not a member then you have no favorite button to press (though 500px does have a clever “starter” account and the additional metric of “vote”).

Never underestimate the power of a personal fan of yours liking an image just because you’re the one that took it or, alternatively, users like myself who reserve favorite buttons for images that left an honest impact on them. Sometimes I wonder if I am too stingy with a like button but all is fair in a world where a ‘like’ is sometimes worth about as much as gum stuck to the bottom of your shoe.

Last but obviously not least we have comments which are a slippery slope. There are the single word commenters, the personal story commenters, the brown nosing commenters, the modest commenters… While it’s easy to fall into feeling disappointed in not getting comments on a photo or post I feel it’s the least important gauge to judging how much people enjoyed an image. Most willing to take time to comment are those with something to gain by doing so. Seems a depressing way to look at it but it’s true in many cases. It’s all too easy to feel burdened by a page capable of receiving comments that remains empty. Another symptom of being conditioned to a world of instant satisfaction.

Is this overanalyzing the subject? Maybe to some of you. Most of these observations came about over years of using various social communities as well as personal sites to learn what readers react the most too and why. Not only based on my own work but in seeing what works for others as well.

Digging deeper

From that knowledge I have also noticed other details about what kind of photos are better received than others. Most notably, it’s absolutely vital to understand who your target audience is. Images of family are not as often enjoyed by a wide audience, especially a younger one. Only those who feel close to your point of view or have families of their own tend to react to this type of imagery.

There are micro communities of photographers among any sharing service and having an understanding of your personal style and knowing where it fits within these communities is key to finding an audience that is more likely to enjoy the work you produce. Finding a few active groups on Flickr and participating within them can go a long way to sharing your work with an audience interested in a more specific idea or approach. Also worth considering, which is the trickiest one to say out loud I think, is the fact that amateur photography is highly competitive to be a part of these days. When I first started to take my photography more seriously I stumbled through years worth of trial and error.

Unlike many photographers online, I have chosen to leave nearly all of my old work up for anyone to see. Looking back at early Flickr posts or browsing through my original twistedsun site you can see a clear evolution within my style. In the early days before the weight of social media I felt a lot more at ease experimenting in public. It took seemingly forever to get to the point where I could gauge reactions without taking silence so negatively and eventually know what images would be appreciated even before posting them.

I can not stress how important it is not to let the pressure of posting a photo only to have no one pay it any attention stop you from enjoying what you do. You can jump from service to service all you want but the only thing that will change the reactions you get is your own personal development and reputation as a photographer which, like anything, takes time and patience. Heres a little secret, the grass is more or less the same shade of green no matter where you go.

If it’s honest critiques you are looking for, posting to social sharing sites is the last place you should expect much of any fulfilling feedback. I have seen some groups or blogs online attempt public critiques asking for open, honest criticism of submitted photos but I find this to be an anxious filled path to walk. In my opinion, it is important to get critiques from people you are familiar with and trust, not anonymous users of the internet that may or may nor be just as lost as you are. Many well established photographers online may be too busy to field many emails asking for advice but I think you would be surprised how many will take the time to help out someone with real questions beyond, “do you like this photo? Why doesn’t anyone like it but me?”.

This write up, for those of you who may not be savvy to his writing, was written as a response to a post written by Shawn Blanc about his feelings on sharing photos online, specifically his waining faith in posting his favorite photos to Flickr versus his images posted to Instagram. His story is similar to many I have heard from photographers trying to find a satisfying outlet for their growing ambitions. Positive feedback is important and of course it’s natural to want to find a place where you can soak up as much as possible but on the other side of the coin we discover that a community will only give as much as you put into it.

I admire his feeling toward using printed photos and books as a means to look back on images and feel a sense of accomplishment or pride even if only with friends and family. I love having monthly printed books full of my Yesterday Was Only photographs, it’s like having a magazine of my own life delivered to my door. There is nothing wrong with taking great photos of family, friends, and life simply to have and to cherish on your own terms.

The only real disagreement I have with Shawn’s article, is the closing statement: “At the end of the day, Flickr is the only place I’ve got to put my best photographic work. But it doesn’t feel like the right place. As much as I love the service, it’s just not cutting it. And I suspect I’m not alone.”

I feel the last line is especially misleading, not only for some of his followers who would read into this as a reasonable argument to jump ship, but for the fact that after a write up about his dissatisfaction with Flickr because his personal expectations he disses the service as a whole by tossing his arm around anyone else with similar disappointments and more or less says, “what do ya’ say guys, lets go to another club, this place doesn’t get me”, as if the cool kid others will follow out simply because of the reputation that precedes him. I fully realize this was not his intent in writing this but it certainly felt that way.

As I mentioned a few miles back where I started off today, even when Flickr was the poster boy of photo sharing online there were countless accounts, including my own at times, that felt like ghost towns. It’s the nature of expectation and the process of breaking into a new scene. Those jumping around from service to service or posting their DSLR shots to Instagram in a last ditch effort should stop to consider the amount of time it takes to develop a reputation among the now tens of thousands of other photographers also vying for the same clicks and remember that our own tunnel vision and personal connection with our own work greatly effects our overall expectations when posting online.

I mean zero disrespect to shawn here, keeping in mind Shawn’s deep curiosity for many connoisseur centric activities. I think the way he feels is completely normal considering the time, energy, and excitement he has put into his latest hobby and as he stated in his write up, I’m sure he is in fact very much not alone. He is the most straightforward and humble voice in the tech community today and his entrance into the world of photography has been a joy to follow along with, especially because of his open book approach.

So the next time you wonder why there is not a pile of new notifications waiting for you like Christmas morning after sharing a few new photographs online, don’t fret, press on and keep shooting! One of the biggest steps in growing as a photographer is learning how to take criticism. Only those with the patience to fight through times of self doubt or frustration will discover their voice behind the lens of a camera, it’s as simple as that.



With todays Instagram+video announcement I thought I would take a minute to share what I have been thinking about the new generation of photo sharing services on mobile devices. My feelings on Instagram in general have been heavily mixed for quite some time now, I have written about mobile photography in the past and so I don’t feel the need to get into that aspect of it right now. What I am interested in though is the direction Instagram is going. After their acquisition by Facebook everyone cried out in worry that things would change but any sudden shift in the network would have shaken way more people off of the instalove tree. Continuing along a slowly evolving path makes much more sense in the long run.

As far as this new race to become “the instagram of video” is concerned, I think that its roots were bit messy to begin with. As gifs suddenly became the trendy new thing a few apps tried to come up with instant gif sharing but none of them ever stuck because the charm of gifs people were sharing were the cultural references and viral trendiness of the video snippets, not home made photos turned into moving ones.

Vine came along and tried something different mixing up the idea of a repeating video snippet and the familiarity of a square frame but it has failed to catch on widely because like any new social network, we need a compelling reason to bother joining another service. Browsing through Vine it seems as though the only thing it is good for is amateur comedy. Trying to cram creativity into these snippets is a stretch and I feel will be a quickly passing fad.

The way I see it, Video apps were created only to claim victory over a market that doesn’t really fix any problems or have a willing audience to begin with. It’s like trying to bring back the Twinkie, snack cake bakeries thought that the public wanted it because there was so much talk about how much people would miss them but when they start to come back onto he market, no one really cares. So many have tried to make compelling video apps for mobile devices yet no one seems to have realized that the simplicity of a single photo, (or once frame), is so much more charming, quick, and fun to make than a full video. Remember the moving photos in Harry Potter? Not quite that easy in reality I’m afraid.

Perhaps most interesting to me at least is that Flickr, long thought to be accidental losers in the race to mobile photo sharing dominance for not jumping on the train soon enough, was in fact the first to offer a short video clip functionality among photo sharing. It was intended to be for those random videos most people accidentally shot on their digital point and shoot cameras but thats just the thing, no one really cared about those accidents enough to make Flickr video anything special. Photographers reacted in the exact same way those using instagram heavily are reacting to the change now, with a skeptical, almost angry mindset. Today, Flickr video is all but dead for most users.

Instagram has some obvious advantages in its mobility and the fact that its name is now more or less a verb that may as well be in the dictionary (aka. crazy popularity). But in this shift away from its original charming, simplistic self, the service is shaking the tree again and while many of its purist “iPhone only 4life” users will simply ignore it, I think that a number of people will eventually tire of its new split personality timeline.

This is where VSCO has such an amazing opportunity with its upcoming Grid service. While it is all well and good that they are acting modest in saying they are not trying to compete with Instagram, its fairly obvious that  they are. Of course they have to say that, Instagram is what willed their existence into life to begin with. You don’t bite the hand that feeds you. That said, they are perfectly aligned to become highly popular among serious mobile photographers if they play their cards right. In making a simple, elegant service that avoids playing into typical social network traps it could find a lot of love waiting for it when they finally open their doors.

So while I still find making photos with my iPhone more of a hobby and sometimes a distraction I still enjoy following along and having fun with it and am interested in seeing where we go from here. I’m sure you will see a number of videos pop up on my Instagram feed when I feel a video could be fun to add and I fear my already mostly neglected Vine feed will start to look more and more barren as time passes. Let the 1:1 video wars begin.


The Professional Amateur Hobbyist

One of the most commonly abused words in photography is the word professional. I’m not so sure anyone knows what it means anymore as the lines between professional and amateur have grown increasingly tangled. Some photographers who have been shooting long enough to be technically proficient seem to be afraid of calling themselves amateurs or hobbyists out of fear that they won’t be taken seriously. I remember reading a long while back that a good way to look at the the term is simply to only consider yourself a professional photographer if you are currently making a sustainable living from your camera alone which is no small task.

This way of viewing the concept of being a professional leaves out the amount of skill one possesses, which of course leads to the source of the confusion. Someone such as myself, for example, has lived with a camera in front of my face for somewhere around 15 years but I don’t make a sustainable income only from the images I shoot. I certainly know my way around a camera and consider myself to be a very experienced photographer at this point but do I call myself a professional? No.

What do I call myself? I call myself a photographer. Simple as that. I realize this doesn’t count for much these days but I feel honest in saying it. Aside from instilling trust into a potential client I simply don’t see the need nor the boost in ego associated with the word. Many of us seem to start making up titles for ourselves to try to describe what sort of skill level we possess. My recent favorite was Marco Arment recently calling himself a Pro-Hobbyist, I can only assume as a means to say he has been shooting long enough to be confused by what he should call himself like the rest of us, or more likely, just trying to establish that his musings on a Leica M9 were from the standpoint of someone who know his way around a camera but its just a nonsense made up term all the same.

No matter the choice we make when we share with someone that we are photographers, there is always an awkward dance after being asked or telling someone because is often greeted with the followup question of “what kind of photos do you shoot”. I have witnessed first hand many times a photographer awkwardly stumble through the answer to this question. “Oh? me? I shoot life, love, the moment, portraits maybe? I don’t know, I do weddings too sometimes though”, and so on and so forth.

I can tell you this much about myself, over the years I have been paid many times for shooting photos and just as many times for selling rights to some I had already created. While I have never made the jump to try to live off of photography alone, I have made my own slow moving timeline revolving around 50ft as a means to monazite my shooting habits in the future rather than take on the full time profession of being a commercial photographer. Of course that’s just me.

Is calling yourself a professional a right you earn after getting paid for a few sessions? Or is it something you earn by having an extensive skill set and a fully certified education on the subject? If so then at what point is it okay to add the term to your business card? Where is the line drawn and who decides when good enough is good enough? Has amateur, in fact, become the new professional? The word has become so diluted by many simply proclaiming themselves Pros that there is no longer a level of distinction to be make.

I’m reminded of something comedian Louis CK touched on for a bit in his stand up special, Hilarious. He discussed the way people use words such as ‘amazing’ or ‘genius’ as a means to describe something usually seen as average in most circumstances leaving no better word to use when you do need to describe something truly amazing. Casual use has diluted the meaning of some words into something far less substantial. The word professional in conjunction with photographer has entered this slippery slope. (You can see it here, start at 1:30 and be aware, he has a foul mouth at times)

While considering the implications of calling yourself a professional I can’t help but also bring up the gear we use and the apparent divide between those who are professionals and those who are simply hobbyists. The way I see it, there are a lot of professionals using what many would see as a hobbyists set up and there are also a lot of hobbyists who have way too much gear for their own good.

I understand being competitive and wanting the latest gear to show that you are a hip, modern photographer but when it comes to the heart of the matter, your camera and gear does not define you as a professional. Some photo sessions do require a more elaborate setup. It’s just that I think some photographers may feel that the comforts of the newest technology are a needed commodity. While this does often come down to client needs, many have come to rely on the creature comforts of an auto focus system that thinks for you or enough pixels to crop a usable photo out of 40% of an image. It’s important to remember that these bells and whistles and others like them were developed not only to make photography easier and more robust, but also to sell new cameras. Progress for the sake of progress. The biggest problem here are those who are using new technology as a shortcut to a decent photograph which is not a trait I see honest professionals use. A fun video series released by DigitalRev on Youtube highlight this in a series where they give established professionals cheap or toy cameras to capture the best images they can manage to get from them.

When I think of the word professional I think of those who have established themselves as masters of their chosen gear, no matter how simple or complex, and are able to capture photos to exacting standards using either a full studio set up, a fully natural light scenario, or a combination of the two. They are able to walk into any scene or situation and come out with something usable. Being creative is all well and good but means nothing if you are not proficient with your gear.

We have all seen event photographers running around with slings and two big 1D’s with different lenses dangling by their side and most people see this and think, woah, he must be a pro. Only I know from experience that this is not always the case. On multiple occasions in my life as an audio engineer and the A/V industry, I see companies buy fancy set ups for employees that may or may not actually be all that proficient with them. I have seen the results of these little photo sessions with amazing gear that look like they were snapshots from camera phones. Just because you see what you assume is a pro running around an event, doesn’t mean they are one. Then again, on the flip side of this, perhaps they do make their living from it, no matter their skill set or ability to capture what most of us would call a “good” photograph. Does this make them a Pro, or just a lucky so and so that was given a camera and told to run with it.

Most of you know by now that personally I have a decidedly minimal approach to gear and post processing. Any time I start to look at new cameras I often come to the conclusion that I am perfectly happy with what I have.

At the moment I don’t need faster AF or more pixels and I often wonder how many photographers really need any of the features newer bodies offer over older ones. Something new to this argument is video, the feature they tossed on a DSLR just because they could. No one knew they wanted it till it was there and now many think they need it.

I love video too, but I don’t need a swiss army knife camera that tries to please both videographers and still photographers. The only reason they became popular among film makers were because of their size and lower cost but now we have these cameras with split personalities and every review of a new camera takes away points if it won’t shoot video well.

I want a camera that can make great photographs without getting in my way. I have said it before and I’ll say it again, any camera can be capable of making great photos if you have enough of an understanding of its strengths and weaknesses and being clever enough to work around them creatively. A cameras age or modern trendiness is irrelevant in the face of the end result. I shoot portrait sessions with a 15 year old Hasselblad which uses a lens built in 1977. Now, at the risk of contradicting what I just said, I do have plans to upgrade my camera body for a few reasons,  details of which can wait for another day. I wanted to mention it because I am not against upgrading cameras, I am simply using myself as an example to illustrate that it is important to consider our needs when choosing gear.

There is one more factor I wanted to pull into the conversation today and that is one I don’t often hear debated because I am not so sure many modern, younger photographers really know much about it and that is the difference between fine art photography and commercial photography. My brother and I are always waxing poetic about the differences in approach. I see a lot of less experienced digital shooters sort of stuck in limbo between wanting to call their work art and wanting to make money from it but without an understanding or education in the history of the medium as an art form.

I remember years ago when I discovered this for the first time. I am among those who never had a full four (or more) years of study in university about photography, only three years of darkroom and studio lessons in a high school commercial photography course. My style grew from this point based on an approach born from learning photography from a commercial perspective.

A turning point occurred when I took my portfolio to a fine art photography conference in Nashville years ago and had it reviewed by a fine art photographer. I remember sitting there anxiously while he glanced through the book of photos. The first question he asked me was blunt and stuck with me through the years, “what are you doing here? You know this conference focuses on fine art right?”. The conversation drifted toward us talking about the difference between fine art and commercial photography, and how my photos were wonderful for what they were but had no place among the fine art world.

My initial reaction was typical and ego fueled, what is he talking about? My photos aren’t just advertising goods, right? But as the conference went on and I listened to talks from many different fine art photographers and the creative approach and deeper meaning and stories behind their photos I was struck with a realization that I still had a lot to learn.

At the time I wanted to think I was well on my way to calling myself a professional but I had not yet considered the two distinct paths one could take as a photographer and the amount of skill and years of work it took to honestly get to that point of comfort.

This ultimately lead to me splitting my photographic output into two different worlds and still to this day I shoot this way. On one hand I have my more commercial work, shots which contain ample negative space and well considered compositions, as though part of the process of shooting was designing an image that would work well as a desktop or advertisement. These images are typically shot digitally and come very quickly and naturally to me at this point. Then I also capture images wanting to tell more of a story and often contains less focus on usable negative space but is composed in a way that could help speak to a story into the image. I usually use film cameras for these shots because I feel the aesthetic adds to the sentiment I am making with them. I have also heard these kind of shots being called “storytelling compositions”.

Now, to tie this back into the subject at hand, even if my time becomes fully devoted to photography and it is my primary source of income in the future I still would not feel comfortable calling myself a professional anything. The way my photographic life has evolved I feel more comfortable paving my own way through. At the moment the only thing I have against me to reach my goals is time. So what can my life as a photographer show us about the widely misrepresented concept? I still firmly believe after exploring the idea more, that I don’t really care for the professional designation. It doesn’t feel like me, it doesn’t feel honest. I don’t have it in me to put any undue expectations into my abilities based on my title.

It is clearly up to you what you want to call yourself but I believe being honest is the best approach. There is no official certification to call yourself a professional photographer, but there is a level of trust that goes along with calling yourself one. A certain trace of dignity lines this space and it is important to represent the professional community with pride.

My point in writing today is simply this, if you plan to start pushing yourself as a professional be ready to stand behind that statement. Don’t understate or even more importantly, don’t overstate your abilities. As for the value of your work, you must seriously consider the prices you choose to charge for your services. When deciding this please consider the impact your choice has on the photography market as a whole and on your future work. A big part of growing your client base is networking through previous clients, therefore, if you get a reputation for being cheap, that very well may stick with you over time. It is my belief that the best way to become qualified to charge professional rates it’s through years of training and hard work. Use your friends and family as much as possible in this time, not as clients but as subject matter. Build a strong portfolio first and give yourself time to discover your voice behind the lens. You will often read that photography is about patience and this trait also comes into play when giving yourself time to grow.

Confidence grows with time and practice, you wouldn’t try to cut down a tree with a butter knife so why would you try to shoot professionally before maturing as a photographer? I only say this from my own experience. Early on I tripped on my ego and found myself broke and lost for years because of it. The misstep taught me a humbling lesson and is why I mention this now. I don’t mean to sound as preachy as I do here. This is not the only blueprint to success in the photography buisness. I write these sorts of things only to evoke conversation and spark thoughts.

Prior to the digital photography revolution and the era of seemingly unlimited attempts at capturing the photo you are trying to take, photographers used to learn from apprenticeships and shadowing professionals before taking on their own solo paid work. These days the way many seem to think you do it is to start by charging less because your not worth as much. I don’t mind admitting to being guilty of this a few times myself. The only problem with this is that it lowers overall industry standards, at least in some specialties. Speaking of which, I realized that I also have more trust in a photographer who knows his or her specialty and introduces themselves as such. Rather than the blanket “Pro Photographer” phrase if I hear someone call themselves a commercial photographer, architectural  photographer, portrait photographer, fine art photographer, etc. It shows me that they have confidence in their specialty and in turn their level of professionalism. Nine times out of ten when a company feels the need to add the word “professional” to their product name, it is far from it, just something to keep in mind. Do you buy the hammer with the words “professional hammer” stamped onto the side, or do you buy the one made by a company you know and trust from their years of making hammers and having a good reputation for building great tools?

This whole conversation is potentially endless with the amount of variables and circumstance to consider. I’m not sure why I bring up such endless topics to discuss here on 50ft.

At any rate, if you are among those who simply love to shoot for the sake of shooting and do it for the love of exploring the world through a few sculpted pieces of glass without the need to justify that simple joy then by all means carry on. I respect this viewpoint because it takes confidence and humbleness.

It’s good to remember that we are more than a title. We are curators of life, the moment savers. We make time capsules and hold in our hands the responsibility to represent life at its best and its worst for those who wish to remember. Fleeting, hollow victories of a web page full of likes come and go unceremoniously but timeless images do not. They live on. So despite your viewpoint on whether or not you deserve to call yourself a Pro anything, keep in mind that sometimes the love of the art is more than enough.

To whom it may concern,



• Enjoy the images! It’s a labor of love, thanks for your support!
• Share with friends.
• Send me a quick mail if you are interested in using an image for commercial or personal use other than wallpaper.


• Post desktops elsewhere online.
• Share links directly to images.
• Pass them around in mass.
• Make prints.
• Use images for web banners or graphics. (send a quick email to ask, I’m pretty easy going about this with permission.)
• Use them in commercial work.

If you help me out with these I will be able to keep doing what I love to do. Thanks again, really, for your support and understanding. -J


By downloading any content from you agree to the following terms:

All of the images contained within this website,, are property of, John Carey unless otherwise posted. The images are distributed as freeware but they are available for personal use only on your personal computer, tablet, or smartphone as your wallpaper image. Any use of these images for any purpose other than this is a violation of these terms and anyone found using said images will be asked to either compensate the creator for doing so or be asked to stop using them immediately.

I ask that you refrain from using any images found on to create physically printed material of any kind. This includes posters, photographic prints, fliers, etc. Under no circumstances may you make a physical reproduction without written permission.

These rules also apply for any artwork or imagery submitted and shown within this site which was created by an artist aside from myself. Any images submitted and shared as wallpapers are the property of the artist who created them and in the same manner as my images, you are asked to receive permission before using them in any way aside from their intended use. Any use of these images outside of for your own personal use as a desktop wallpaper image is prohibited without permission from the author of the image. Commercial licensing is available upon request. Please write with any inquiries.

When sharing images via your personal blogs I kindly ask that you link back directly to either the post the image was taken from or the base of the website at and give a credit to Do not re-post full resolution desktop images anywhere without permission. If you would like to use an image for your blog background or something of the sort simply write to ask first. Support the artwork you admire! Also, it is greatly appreciated if you do NOT link directly to the zip files. This is more or less the same as re-posting them as it circumvents the tiny bit of support I ask of you which is to simply link back to the original post for others to enjoy the site.

It’s not fair to artists if you do not credit their work and link back to the original content creator. It is theft plain and simple and blogs that attempt to somehow be mysterious by not giving credit to the creators are simply hurting the artistic community as a whole. If you love it so much then please, support it! The artistic community on the Internet is based on trust. Without trust then what do we have? are you going to be one of the responsible users out there or will you be among the bottom feeders, stealing content and passing it off as your own to make a quick buck in ad sales.

Use your best judgement and we will get along just fine.

Thank you for your understanding and support!

John Carey (curator, owner)