The reason I’ve done these surveys of the submissions of the best of year lists is not to annoy people who find their opinions don’t match up to mine, although to some I got the impression they think so.

It’s because I am trying to understand how my photography stacks up to everyone else’s — where it holds up well, where it falls down and embarrasses itself, and to look for inspiration and ideas to integrate into my work to improve what I do.

Another reason I do this to understand trends and find interesting topics and techniques that draw my attention that might lead me in new directions or to new locations down the road.

This year, since I’m starting to redesign my entire online presence, it was also a useful opportunity to get a sense of what people are doing to display and share their images online, both as a chance to identify things I want to do and find things that get in the way of people finding or enjoying the images.

What I got out of this was some observations and opinions, which I shared. I’ve gotten a lot of positive feedback on that, but (as I expected), it also annoyed a few people where I clearly poked at a something in a way they didn’t appreciate.

My opinion on my opinions is simple: If they make you think then I’ve succeeded. Whether you agree or disagree is irrelevant, and if you don’t agree with something I say, that’s great. I don’t have veto power, and I don’t want it. One person today (who did not agree with my opinions rather strongly) seemed intent to invalidate my opinions because they didn’t mesh up with his — to the point he suggested I should start a project that collected opinions from lots of people and reports the combined results.

Which completely misses the point of what I’m trying to do. I don’t want a bureaucracy that builds a consensus opinion that’s a watered down general view of safe things (which is what that kind of structure would create). I suggested instead that lots of people should undertake this kind of survey, and each one should post their own opinions and suggestions.

Lots of opinions would be awesome. We could all learn from each other, both in the common places where we agree,a nd in the edges where we clearly disagree. That’s part of the fun. but take all of those opinions and stuff them in a blender and then issue what comes back out as the results; that loses most of the interesting information about this kind of process. What matters is everyone’s individual opinions, and what really matters is what you think after having considered what other people think.

I’m not trying to change your mind on anything. if I do? that’s great. But my goal here is simply to raise issues and have you think about them.If I’ve done that, then I’ve succeeded. What you do with it — or choose not to — is up to you, and I’m happy either way.

About my own stuff

Having looked at what everyone else is doing, how do I rank my own stuff? I think overall I’d grade my 2014 work about a C. Maybe if I squint a bit, C+. A few really good pieces but not as consistently good as I’d like. I took three trips I’d been trying to plan for years (Morro Bay Bird Festival, Yellowstone and the Eastern Sierra) and those three trips contributed over 80% of my top images for the entire year.

The reality is that my photography outside of those planned trips was sporadic at best, and my regional bird photography was almost nonexistent. I need to refocus and get back into my normal shooting patterns — 2014 was a year of transition and distraction with a lot of work keeping me at home a lot. I’m not currently scheduling any major trips, at least until later this year, but I’m trying to get better at setting up times when I can get out and shoot more often.

I have some ideas about what I want to accomplish, but right now, what I need to do is start getting out and birding and shooting again. I feel my technique’s gotten rusty and a bit stale, and there’s too much tendency to go through the motions and not push myself towards the great photo. That definitely has to change.

Starting, I hope, this weekend.

I do have permission to go on a weekend trip to visit Colusa NWR (Falcated duck!), Sacramento and Grey Lodge NWRs, which I hope to do the weekend after we wind up Cisco Live in Milan (which I’m supporting from the home office — not going to be on site). We’ll see how the weather goes, but as of right now, we’re back in a hard dry spell, which isn’t good for the drought. That early wet start has faded into more dry days, and that’s not good for California’s water supply.

I think I’m generally on the right track, but I have to get out and I have to focus on quality, and not just taking shots. I’ve been doing too much of the “fishing without bait” thing with the camera, but honestly, I’ve needed the time to relax and unwind without swapping out one set of stresses for another.

I do think that once we get past Cisco Live Milan it’ll be a bit less crazy at work, at least for a while, although it’s time to start serious planning for San Diego in a few months (and I do plan on being at that show, and maybe explore San Diego a bit after it.. We’ll see)

Time to go clean off the gear and get the batteries charged. I need to make 2015 a more consistent and better  year than I did in 2014 with the camera.