Sitting here in front of the computer having just come off an 8-day assignment, I’m struggling to come up with an opening to this post. Beginnings are often the hardest part of any venture and this seems to be no exception. I have a pretty good idea of what the substance of this post will be, just not how to begin it. Glancing over some previous guest blogs, there seems to be two different approaches to the opening – either dive right into the main topic or start off slowly with a thank you. The second option sounds like it’s as good a way as any, so let me firstly thank Scott, Brad and the team here for the opportunity to contribute a guest blog. It is indeed an honor to be here amongst so many talented, creative photographers.
Introductions are probably in order about now, so I should mention that I’m not the funny guy on TV. We share a name but that’s as far as the similarities go. What I am is an Asia (Taiwan to be specific) based travel, cultural and environmental photographer. I actually come from Australia but it’s been close to a decade since I’ve called it home.
In late 2009, I started giving some thought to a long term project that would promise to be a test of patience and discipline. Initially I was thinking along the lines of a 365 photo a day type project but it didn’t really gel in my mind. My aim was to start something on January 1st 2010 and have it run for a year. A 365 fits perfectly but I felt that the idea of such wasn’t right. I needed something more and so hit on the idea of putting together a daily phototip series. A bit of Googling suggested that no one had started and finished something so strictly defined although plenty of people have certainly posted more than 365 tutorials over time. It excited me from the outset, and promised to be a bit more of a challenge than just creating a daily photograph. I promised myself that I’d try to offer more substance than a simple one or two sentence tip. It would be quite easy to simply write something like “obey the rule of thirds” or “when shooting portraits, shoot wide open to create a nice bokeh” and pass that off as a phototip. More of a challenge would be to explain why it’s useful to do these things, and expand on those basics. And so it began. The first week of 2010 saw tips concerning creative white balance, metadata presets in Lightroom, off-center portrait composition, sunsets, vintage filter effects, access and leading lines.
The aim was to mix things up. I wanted the phototip series to appeal to photographers of all levels and abilities. For every entry-level tip such as sunny 16 and basic workflow, I tried to balance it with advice that’d be of use to working photographers with things such as copyright, business resources and shooting for your book.
For the first few months, coming up with a daily tip was fairly easy. In the weeks prior to starting the project, I made a list of as many areas to cover as I could think of, and then slowly worked my way through them. Ideas were jotted down in notebooks while riding in taxis, or recorded in Evernote on my phone and synced back to my computer. Others came up almost spontaneously as I sat down to write. Some stemmed from workshops I gave and classes I taught while others came from workshops I attended (thank you Joe McNally) and books or blogs I read.
That was the first few months. Then it got harder and a lot more time consuming. By the end of the year, it got to the point where I was spending 2-3 hours a day trying to think up and write a tip. Trying not to repeat myself, and also to keep it interesting for readers became a real challenge. I was determined however not to give up. My progress was marked in 50’s. I’d only look that far ahead which allowed myself to think “only 30 (20, 10 etc) to go. Once I reached a 50, I’d start again. It made it seem a lot more achievable than if I’d thought “250 to go”. The final month though ended up being perhaps the easiest of the lot. I had leftover ideas that had been jotted down earlier in the year that needed covering, as well as ideas that were fitting for end of year tips with topics like fireworks photography and best-of roundups. I actually managed to draft the final 15 phototips in a flurry of activity in mid-December which meant that all I had to do during those last two weeks was upload a photo and post the tip.
When embarking on a project of this nature, it was encouraging to see the level of support I got from the photographic community. The wonderful team at Black Rapid sent me a couple of R-Straps to use as giveaways in a competition, I was invited to become a beta-tester for IGVP (International Guild of Visual Peacemakers), the guys at Phottix sent me prototype flash triggers to test and review, and photographers everywhere shared, linked, Tweeted and Liked the phototip posts.
In carrying out the phototip project, I had to learn a lot myself. At some point, I wanted to cover video and although I’d bought a 5D Mark II soon after its release, other than learning which buttons to press for video, I hadn’t used it for anything other than stills. To teach is to learn, and learn I did, throwing together a behind the scenes video shot during a group photoshoot. Whether it’s any good or not is probably not something I can tell you but feel free to watch it yourself and see.
Ultimately this ended up becoming an immensely rewarding project. I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend other photographers who want to try something similar and in fact, if you do, let me know and I’ll check it out. Thank you.