It’s probably no secret to my readers here that I’ve gone through a — not sure what to call it — reinvention of my photography. I’ve had funks before, but not one this extended. It’s taken me some time to understand the roots of my dissatisfaction and figure out what I needed to change to get me back on track.
The good news is that at as far as the bird/wildlife part of things, I seem to be back in a groove and turning out work I rather like again. My landscape work continues to be a “work in progress” (aka a hot mess) and I’ve been spending more time trying to get my head around it and figure out how to move forward.
As part of all of this, I came to realize that the social/online photo resources I was following weren’t really doing anything interesting for me, and in some cases, I felt they were actively getting in the way of my photography. I decided to drop following Petapixel because I felt it had become the National Enquirer of photography sites: lots of attempts at funny/memeworthy stuff, but very little substance I found at all interesting. I dropped a bunch of other sites as well. (For the record, since I think it’s useful to follow a site that watches and relinks to stuff happening on a topic I’m interested in, I replaced Petapixel with Fstoppers, which is, well, not what I really want but closer; I still haven’t found a site that covers the kind of content I’m looking for well; stay tuned for more talk on that some other time…)
This isn’t necessarily a criticism of those sites; they all serve a purpose and have interested audiences. I’m just not one of them any more. Since I’m someone who finds I do my best work while ingesting material that helps push me forward and teach me things, I went off in search of different sites, and since I’ve become such a fan of podcasts as a source of sucking in stuff for the brain to chew on, I dug into photography podcasts as well.
And came up empty. I haven’t really found a photography podcast I’ve loved since they cancelled the one that came out of Leo Laporte’s stable.
The thing is, I’ve been consistently dissatisfied with the podcasts done about photography. I don’t find the interview podcasts all that interesting unless it’s a photographer I’m already paying attention to, and the panel discussion podcasts are at best a mixed bag. One I listened to for a while had such bad preparation
That’s what got me started thinking about doing my own. So far, I’ve been unable to convince myself to not do it, so I’ve been off researching what would make sense, what kind of content I should be creating on it, and how others are doing this and what I can learn from them.
One thing I’ve come to realize is that the reason it’s been hard to find good audio podcasts about photography is because most of the best content on photography has shifted to video and can be found on Youtube. Photography discussion and instruction has gone to the Vloggers.
Video killed the blogging star
I never thought I’d say this, but I don’t think it makes sense to try to start up a photography blog as an individual today, unless you are specifically wanting to build a site to support your photography business. Anyone who thinks they can break out blogging as an influencer in the market is, I think, making a big mistake.
I can already hear people firing up to yell at me for claiming the blogging is dead. That’s not what I’m saying at all. What I’m saying is that blogging overall is a mature format and now primarily dominated by the bigger players when it comes to someone’s attention. As an individual, there’s little way to to get a lot of visibility short of getting the support of some of the larger players; if I were trying to do that I’d try to get on board writing for a site like Digital photography school or Improve Photography. It’s really tough to build a solo presence around photography writing today.
When I started digging into photography podcasts, I quickly came to a realization: the audio-only podcast is a horrible format for discussing photography because it’s an inherently visual form. You can’t discuss a photo without looking at it, and I’ve seen some podcasts attempt to use links to images to minimize this, but so many podcast listeners (including me) tend to listen in situations (like driving) where this is at best frustrating and more typically impossible that I don’t see that as a viable option.
And so that led me, old fart that I am, to go see what’s going on in the photography world on Youtube. As an official old fart, I’ve never really spent a lot of time there other than following links to specific videos. Until now.
And so I fell down this rabbit hole. And I’m just now crawling out, and my mind is blown.
It’s taken me a a solid month to wrap my head around this. At first glance searching on photography on Youtube brings up a lot of random crazy stuff, but with some exploration you can start finding the good stuff. I was helped when one video I watched pointed me at a blog post which published the list of the top 100 Youtube channels for photography in 2016, and searching that helped me find and focus in on the kind of content I was looking for, and other good stuff that I didn’t know I wanted to find until I did.
As a rough way to define the kind of content I’ve found, I find myself breaking most of these channels down into three groups. They are:
- Photography using video to teach and promote your photography, these are effectively recordings of lectures and speaking events. Examples of channels creating this kind of content include:
- Youtube channels where the primary topic of discussion is photography, but which are primarily a single person conversing with the audience or doing instruction. Occasionally they include a couple of people but most of the best channels I found are solo works. Good examples of this kind of channel are:
- Youtube channels that are person who has created a personal brand and which is about that person vlogging about a range of topics that includes photography to a greater or lesser degree. These channels are about a person creating entertainment by creating content and wrapping it around how they present themselves on the vlog. Some of them are both informative and entertaining. Some aren’t. One of the best channels for this kind of vlog is the one run by Peter McKinnon. Another good channel to follow is that of Chase Jarvis.
One thing I found is that many of the vlogs that have a photographic slant aren’t really about photography, but could be better described as travel vlogs with a host carrying a camera. There are some where the photography aspect of travel is the focus, but most of these are photographers talking about the travel and the photography is secondary or mostly missing. I found some of them rather good, but it’s not the type of vlog I’m really trying to research right now, so I’ve excluded them from this discussion.
The dark side of all of this…
There’s a dark side to all of this. I found Youtube littered with stuff that mostly caused me to think “god, I can do better than this”, which I guess at least helps me feel good about the attempt. The number of videos that got returned as the best picks to the search “vlog equipment” that turned out to be someone with 20 followers talking to me in bad lighting with almost unlistenable audio in an echo-y room almost made me feel that Google was playing a joke in their search results.
So the first thing I learned was that good video is important, but like in podcasting, good audio is critical (Peter McKinnon has a Youtube about this that covers it well; he seems to have a video about pretty much everything, and they’re all quite good). And that’s led me to dig into exactly what I’m going to have to to technically match up to the quality of the vlogs that I want to be considered a peer of. And that’s been an interesting exploration that’s ongoing, and I’m starting to do some technique testing.
Figuring out my podcast
When trying to figure out if I should push this project forward, I had to answer a couple of questions to my own satisfaction.
- How can I contribute to the making of photographs by others.
- Is that contribution useful? Am I adding anything new or interesting?
Most projects I start to explore die at this point. This one hasn’t. One thing I’ve noticed is that most of the channels I have found that I really like focus on the fieldwork and business aspects and spend very little time in the digital darkroom. The one exception in my A-list is Thomas Heaton.
And that happens to be what I’m interested in talking about. Back in high school in my first photography life I loved my time in the darkroom at school where I did work for the paper and yearbook. When I graduated and lost access to the dark room, my interest in photography faded for a while.
When I fell back into photography I quickly fell in love with playing in the digital darkroom, and as Lightroom has matured I’ve found myself doing more and more of my work in it, and today I’m easily 99% Lightroom only. Because of the kind of work I’ve been doing and the other things that go on in my life I’m a lot more likely to have 25-40 shooting days in the field than I am 200, but I spend a lot of my non-shooting days hacking on images, printing and generally exploring how to improve what I’ve shot. It’s that exploring and experimenting that I loved in the wet darkroom, and I’ve rediscovered it in the digital one as well.
I’ve written about Lightroom in the past — my piece on Lightroom keywords is still the 2nd most viewed page on my site month to month, but I’ve frankly found it a challenge to write up technique blog pieces on Lightroom that are both coherent and not deadly boring.
So now that I’ve really spent some time figuring out what can be done on Youtube and seeing how others are using it, I’m realizing in hindsight that the kind of thing I want to do is best suited for video work, and I think I can create something that will be of interest to a more intermediate talent photographer that isn’t really duplicating what’s already being done out there.
And so that idea passes muster with my initial questions. Once I know what I want to do, the next question to answer is “can I do this?” and I’ve already answered that with a yes (or I wouldn’t be writing this…). I still need to answer a few more questions as I work my way towards launching this puppy (or of course, killing it is still an option):
- What is it?
- Should I do it?
- Do I want to commit the time and resources to doing it? (And will it entail not doing other things to make sure it has resources?)
To get to the point where I can answer this I have to dig into the details of the beast I’m building. Here’s what I think I know about it so far.
Some Youtube for you to explore
In my researching into photography bloggers and trying to figure out what the hell that means and whether what I’m trying to do might make sense, I’ve found a few Youtube channels that resonate with me.
First is Peter McKinnon, a Canadian vlogger. His channel has seen explosive growth in the last year or two and for good reason: he’s really good at it. At first viewing he comes across as a high energy guy who’s all over the place, but I quickly noticed a really strong layer of good content underneath. He’s a good photographer who dives deep into interesting topics that include serious photographic tutorials and good business discussions about the realities of making money vlogging — and he wraps that with a strong personal branding of personality and energy. It works and works very well.
There is no way I could simulate that energy and not come across as extremely false (and that’s vlog death) but the way he’s built his channel and the content he produces is a great model for someone looking to build a Youtube presence.
The second person is Thomas Heaton, a UK-based Photographer and vlogger. His channel is clearly in my second bucket where there’s a strong vlog component but the focus is a lot more on photography and the creation of images. It’s become one of my favorite channels both for the amount of good photography content on it and how it’s being presented to us.
The third is Ben Horne. I have to admit it took me a while to really grow interested in his Youtube channel; He’s a film photographer who shoots an 8×10 and it took me a while to understand why I kept seeing other photographers recommending his channel. It turns out while he is an old-school film guy and he does talk about film gear and technique, much of his content is really about landscape composition, technique and processing and as I started getting a feel for how he presents stuff, I really found it fascinating, interesting and teaching me things.
The final channel that’s resonated with me is Ted Forbes’ The Art of Photography. The topic material is very strongly aimed at photography discussion; it’s very much a vlog talking about photography but he’s widened his topics to include creating photo challenges and doing image reviews and presentations and a bunch of other things. In some ways this is very much a channel aimed at sharing knowledge at the intermediate photographer, and he does it in a very personably and accessible way.
Defining the framework of the video channel
So here’s what I’m thinking right now (subject to change at any time). I view photography as a exercise in making — as Adam Savage notes, if you make things you’re a maker. So I want to approach my photography videos as tutorials to makers of photographs. My inspiration is how the Tested team does this, especially in their build videos, for instance Adam Savage’s foam sword build or frank Ippolito’s work on his Lego Cosplay Mask. As Adam says, if you make things it’s making and photography is another form of making. The video and audio work by their Cinematographer Joey Famelli is amazing and to me is the standard to strive to meet.
Another Youtube channel I really like for how they present their material and the production values of their episodes is Diy perks. If you have any making or DIY tendencies, I think this is a great channel to watch.
A strong influence to me is David duChemin and his Vision is Better video podcast. It was really what got me started down the path of exploring Youtube more seriously. duChemin’s topic focus is the esthetics of photography, especially composition and the understanding of the essential moment. He is specifically speaking to the photographer who wants more than rule of thirds and to start designing their images and interested in learning the art of composition and the science of vision as it ties to someone viewing an image.
For me, the videos I am looking to create would be more about the technical aspect of processing rather than the compositional ones, for which I refer you to duChemin. But the videos as I see them would dovetail together well; duChemin’s videos focus on the what of composition and story, and I expect my videos to focus more on the how and techniques you need to implement the processing that brings out the image you see and want to show others.
I expect much of the material, at least initially, is going to be screencast and oriented towards discussing how I use Lightroom, but I’m trying to figure out how to also push out into the field on some of my shoots and start looking at behind the scenes discussions and location discussions and tying that back into finished images and the processing I gave them to get there.
I think the basic format is one of showing the image out of the camera, talk about why I took that image and chose it for processing, and then show how I process the image and create the final look for both online and print. It’ll be a good opportunity to talk about both the technical aspects of using Lightroom and show specific processing techniques as part of that.
When I’ve tutored people on Lightroom and on the rare occasion I’ve taught it in a class setting, I’ve regularly had it suggested I write a book; that’s something I really haven’t wanted to do, but I’ve never really knew what first would let me do this teaching in a way that would make it easy for people to learn and adopt what I’m teaching. I think this is it.
There is one other aspect of this project I’m just starting to try to figure out. I’ve long wanted to bring the places I visit to people, especially the wildlife refuges. Video seems to be a good form to work with for that, and so I’m considering how to do special videos based in the field. One problem is when I’ve experiments with behind the scene work or regular video while on these shoots I’ve found it really distracting and impeding my actual photography, so I have to work at this to better understand how to mix all of this together into a successful trip.
It’s all so wonderfully complicated… But isn’t that what makes it worth doing?
In any event, a lot of work ahead to move this project forward. I’m probably going to end up doing one or two “pilot” videos to start working on how I want it to look and sound and understand the technical aspects of the creation. I need to figure out the field aspects of all of this and what skills I need to learn to pull that off. I keep moving this one forward, and I’m really excited and the opportunities I’m starting to see with it.
I’m curious what you think. Do you see this idea as being interesting? Would you be interested in watching it if I do it? Yes or no? And why (or why not?). If you have thoughts on what I’ve outlined, drop me an email and let’s chat a bit. I’d love to get feedback on this to help me shape it as I work to bring this project to life.