The Year End Closeout

It's cold and blustery on this final day of 2014 as I spend a quiet evening reflecting back on the exiting year and thinking ahead to what I envision that 2015 might bring my way. The older I get, the faster the years seem to whip past me. 2014 was but a blur. I feel like it moved too quickly and I wished I'd stopped to smell more roses. Like it or not, a new year is upon me and I thought I'd share some of the thoughts rattling around my head on this contemplative day.

Something that has weighed heavy in my mind is how I spend my time. If there's one thing in particular that bothers me in that regard, it's how much time I spend staring at computer screens, tablets, and smart phones. Given my primary employment in the tech industry and my side pursuits as a photographer, it is inevitable that I need to spend a lot of time on a computer. It's a necessary evil. I've made some good strides in the past year to streamline my photographic workflow so that I can get away from the computer as quickly as possible. Shooting for the Texas Stars has certainly helped with that. I've learned to edit more efficiently and deliver hundreds of images in a very short time frame.

Speaking of the Texas Stars, I've been working with the team as one of their photographers for a couple of years now. I love covering their games and hockey presents a special challenge for me. It's arguably one of the most difficult sports to shoot. The 5th season for the Stars, which ended in June of 2014, culminated in their winning the AHL's highest prize - the Calder Cup. My only complaint is that they won it on the road and I wasn't there covering that game! Still, it was an amazing achievement and I'll always be proud that I was there throughout the season playing a small part for the team. I printed a photo book that chronicled the season and presented to the team as a gift.

Contrary to the trend of viewing images solely on a digital screen (a smart phone more often than not these days), I'm thinking of my personal images more in terms of print than digital as a final product these days. In 2014 I printed a good number of images and a couple of books. I hope to be even more focused on printing in 2015. When I produce an image that I particularly like, I'm trying to get into the habit of printing it. Nothing big, necessarily. I started keeping boxes of relatively inexpensive 8.5x11" matte paper around to do prints on the fly. I'm not sure what I'll do with these in the long run but for now I enjoy creating and looking back through them. I'd much rather look at an image in print than on a screen. Images that I show folks are all printed these days. No more iPad portfolios for me. Oh, and speaking of printed images, I started building a collection of photography books in 2014 (imagery, not technique) by photographers I admire. I love looking through photo books for inspiration. Again, print trumps the digital screen for me. There is something really special about viewing well printed images in a nicely bound book. I'll talk more about some of my favorite photo books in future posts.

Late in 2014 I started backing off from social media. Wise for a photographer in this day and age? Time will tell. I've noticed though that some of the photographers I admire most these days seem to have little social media presence. They are spending their time keeping their own sites fresh with new images and thoughtful blogs. I know it goes against the status quo mantra of continuous self promotion through social media but I have found time spent in the various online outlets to be mostly unfulfilling. In my experience, my Facebook page drove precious little traffic to my web site. People tend to "like" things as they quickly scroll through their feed without clicking through links or reading posts. Flickr, once a useful outlet for garnering feedback on images, has likewise reached a point where people scroll quickly through a large stream of photos and "fave" things without clicking through to see a full size image or read a detailed description. 

The reach of social media is wide but it is shallow. A barrage of information is diluted in a never ending stream, delivered to increasingly distracted people.  I'm not abandoning social media altogether - not that the thought hasn't occurred to me. I've just decided that for 2015 I'll spend my time with a focus on keeping up my blog and web site imagery. My photography dedicated Facebook page is gone. My personal account remains and I'll continue to share what I'm up to with my friends there. Time spent on Facebook will be minimal. I uninstalled the apps from my phone months ago and I don't miss them. A few minutes each morning while I drink my coffee is the extent of my time on Facebook daily. Most of my other social media connections have been severed. Instagram is gone. Tumblr is gone. Adios, 500px. I still have a Twitter account that I rarely use. Since it never has been much of a distraction for me, it remains for now. Flickr is still there for now. That's a tough one for me. Once in a while I get some commercial interest through there. Those inquiries are becoming more and more rare though. I may ditch that one too in a few months when my account comes up for renewal.

In the latter part of 2014 I started thinking of my photography more in terms of cohesive sets of images rather than individual stand-alone photos. There was always a tendency to pursue that one super duper over-the-top "hero" shot when I went out to shoot for myself. I've been trying to be more spontaneous and gather images that collectively convey an idea or tell a story. Most of my blog posts in recent times have featured images in this manner. I've also created and shared some photo essays on my site. Lately, I'm starting to look for the small, sometimes obscured details in things rather than just the blatantly obvious subjects that the average Joe will whip out his camera or phone to snap. It's something I'm working towards and hope to develop more fully in 2015. It's an important step toward producing more printed collections of images, which is the ultimate goal for me.

2014 brought some changes in the gear I use to capture my images. I don't talk about gear much on my blog these days. There are plenty of sites out there that provide extensive coverage of gear so I don't feel I need to add anything really. If there is one thing I've learned over the years, gear is the least important part of the equation. That said, it's nice to have capable gear that you enjoy using. I've found that I really like Fujifilm's cameras and lenses the best. They fit me like a good glove. I've owned a few different models the past few years. In 2014 I consolidated down to a Fujifilm X-T1. I gave up my beloved X-100 to get into the system, which wasn't easy to do. While I miss the cute and capable X-100, I do love my X-T1 based system. I have the Fujifilm 14mm, 23mm, 35mm, and 55-200mm lenses to go with it. I strongly prefer using the prime lenses on the X-T1 but the zoom is really nice for certain events and so much lighter than my DSLR rig.

About that DSLR rig...that changed fairly recently. I switched from Canon to Nikon. Contrary to a lot of photographers I know, I have no rabid brand loyalty. I'd been waiting for the Canon 7D Mark II to hit the stores, thinking it might be a good fit for my sports stuff. However, after reading some reviews and playing around with one in person, I realized it wouldn't work for me. A lot of my sports photography is shot at high ISO and Canon's crop sensors just aren't as clean as I'd like in that territory. During an expo at Precision Camera, I got to play with a Nikon D750 and was impressed. A combination of promotions and an attractive offer on my Canon gear convinced me to give the yellow and black team a try. On paper, it appeared that the dynamic range and autofocus capabilities of the Nikon D750 would be a better fit for my sports photography than the Canon 5D Mark III that I had. For the fast paced game of hockey I never felt like the Canon auto focused as well it should for a camera at its price point. Yeah, it wasn't Canon's flagship sports camera but I can't afford to drop over $6k on a body either. After shooting several games, I'm happy with my decision.  I have a 70-200mm f/2.8 lens for the D750, matching the only lens I had remaining for the 5D Mark III. The truth is that I love my Fujifilm gear so much that if wasn't for needing DSLR focusing speed for sports, I'd ditch DSLRs altogether.

Well, that's what I've been up to and what's on my mind as we say goodbye to 2014. I want to say a big thanks to those of you who do check in on my blog and site from time to time. There are a lot of things clamoring for our attention these days and I do feel great gratitude and encouragement when folks take the time to read my postings or view my images. I'm not looking to collect "likes", "faves", or any other token digital attaboys. If you really enjoy something I share (or not), comments are always welcome.

Happy New Year to all!  

BTW, the leading image is in no way related to my ramblings in this post. It's just a shot that I snapped on the way home from somewhere with the Fujifilm X-T1 one evening. This is a photography centric blog after all.