My photographic “Elevator Speech”

by Sep 16, 2019

When this gets posted, I will be in final preparation so I can drive north to Lake Quinalt in the Olympic National Forest and my photo workshop with Art Wolfe. Part of me is really looking forward to unplugging from the entire world for a few days and only thinking about cameras and images. The other part of me keeps thinking “My photos are going to be judged by Art Freaking Wolfe”, but that’s kinda the point.

In prepping for this trip I’ve been doing a number of things making sure I have what I need out of my photos and so I have access to the raw images on the road if I need them.

One challenge I’ve long had is that it’s hard to show off my photos if I’m not at the computer. I can bring up my Smugmug site. I’ve tried different ways to show them off on the iPad, and never quite been happy with them and I’ve always worried about keeping those images in sync with the masters.

In starting to research this again so I could carry things with me on the trip, I realized (a) the engineer in my was overthinking it again and (b) the solution was laughing at me behind my back the entire time: the Photos app. Yeah, in retrospect, duh. So I’ve exported the images for all of the collections I have on Smugmug and created albums in Photos with them in it. Just proof that you can easily over-complicate your needed solution so much you don’t even look for the easy answer.

There was, however, a collection that I decided I wanted on Smugmug that didn’t exist. I’ve found it, well, complicated, to explain what my photography is all about in words, because I don’t do one kind of photography easily described by a keyword or two. So I decided what I needed was an elevator speech, those images that define who I am as a photographer (today; this will change over time, of course).

The results of that thought are below. I did an initial pick of about 70 images and started editing with a goal of 25. When I hit 35 images, the choices were painful enough I decided it was time to stop, and this is now my Best of Chuq collection.

It is what I can point to when someone asks “What do you photograph?” — now I can say “This.

What do the images say?

Having selected these, I was curious what they might say about my preferences. Not surprisingly, the list is heavily weighted towards newer images: 13 in the last 3 years, and only 3 from 2010 or before. Simply put, I’m both a much better photographer than I was then, and I’m a different photographer where what I really thought mattered in an image has changed as well.

There is a big shift between 2013 and 2014: 9 images from 2007-2013 and 26 from 2008 to today. I don’t think there’s a specific change in gear that marks this shift, although 2013 was when I first started experimenting with the Fuji cameras that started my shift to mirrorless. I think instead my attitudes and expectations about myself were changing and that drove my shift to Fuji, not the other way around.

That said, I was surprised to find that the images split evenly: 17 taken by Canon cameras and 17 on Fuji, plus the solar eclipse composite where the source images were Fuji. Part of the reason for that is that Fuji’s super-telephoto is a recent addition to the platform so until then if I was shooting at 400mm+ I was using Canon gear.

I was really curious about the focal lengths I used. Here’s what I found:

500mm-600mm: 6
400mm-499mm: 12
300mm-399mm: 1
200mm-299mm: 3
100mm-199mm: 1
60mm-99mm: 2
35mm-59mm: 6
1-34mm: 3

These are all on an APS-C crop factor sensor, so if you want 35mm equivalences, 32mm APS-C is about 50mm on a 35mm camera. The 400mm-600mm range in 35mm equivalence is about 600-960mm, which shouldn’t surprise anyone given my bird photography work, and answers the question why I shoot an APS-C sensor and not full frame, although honestly, I leave that argument to others to nerd out about and merely enjoy looking at the images I take instead.

So, not too surprised at the results. It should also not be a surprise that my 70-200 equivalent lens is the one I always think I should be using more, and don’t seem to haul out. I also don’t shoot much super wide, in part because I prefer to shoot panorama instead and stitch together something shot around 50-70mm vertical instead of trying to do something at 15mm in a single image. Surprisingly to me, only of my panoramas made this list, and it was shot at 18mm vertical, which is a lot wider than I typically shoot panoramas. I have to ponder this to see if my expectations and my technique are out of sync. A useful pondering thought for this workshop, actually.

I think this kind of evaluation can be useful: it gives me hints on lens selection when I go on a trip. It also gives me suggestions on things I ought to be working on to strengthen my photography; yes, I’m talking about that 70-200 lens again, and that’s actually something I hope to put effort into on this trip I’m taking.

I’m also looking at this selection of images and thinking about the first changes. I love that coyote shot — it’s also the oldest, from 2007, but on a purely technical basis, I can do better. So maybe something from this trip will bump it off, or I’ll check in in a month and realize it was more an emotional pick than a proper one. We’ll see.

But that’s okay. Literally, this collection will never be “finished” until (cough) I am. And if I’m not adding new images to it over time, it means I’ve stopped trying to improve myself, and that would be sign to me to shake it up again. Like I am this week…