Get People Upset by CJ Chilvers

Merlin Mann (in the latest episode of Roderick on the Line [Episode 116, at the 25:25 mark]):

“It’s very difficult to efficiently say anything interesting and new and honest without a lot of people getting upset.

People read that as arrogant.

What do you do to not get that reaction from people? You say something uninteresting. You say something that’s not new. And you say something that’s dishonest. You say something that everybody can agree with because they already think that.

Why bother? That’s just asking for compliments. That’s not making anything.”

The word most people would skip over is "efficiently." Brevity takes courage. It's better for the reader, but that makes it better for trolls as well.



The Demise of Aperture by CJ Chilvers

The Loop reported today that Apple has decided to kill off Aperture and funnel all its efforts into their new Photos app.

This is the best possible move for Apple and perhaps photographers in general who use Macs. Apple has always played to what makes computing easier and more pleasurable to the majority of its users. Aperture did not fit that bill.

Most photographers (the 99% who don't have clients) are better served by photo software that allows them to protect, edit and organize their photos in the fastest, easiest way possible, so they can go out and make more photos.

Aperture and Lightroom have traditionally done the opposite. They've become "everything buckets" for your photography. They've both stolen an insane amount of creative hours from photographers. Aperture is dead. I hope Lightroom follows.

The solution for those who morn the loss is to get apps that specialize. Get the best app for organizing and storage, get the best app for editing and get the best app for output. If you examine your needs, those very well be separate (and more enjoyable) apps.

Update: I don't know if the new Photos app is just another everything bucket. I'm hoping Apple is smart enough to figure out what the majority of photographers need (which is probably 10% of what Lightroom CAN do), and concentrate on making that feature set fast, lightweight and fun. That may get me to switch from using separate apps for everything.

New Book by CJ Chilvers

I wrote a new book. Sort of. Actually, it’s a book that condenses every post I ever made at the A Lesser Photographer blog into a few dozen easy-to-read chapters. I completed writing on it yesterday and now it’s on to editing, design and publishing (the fun part).

Some chapters were lightly edited from the source material and some were completely re-written. The idea is to put a bow on the blog, wrapping it all up in one package you (or I) can refer to when we need a hit of honesty about photography.

In case you're interested in the process behind such a project, here's how it went:

I started months ago by clipping every article (around 400) from the A Lesser Photographer blog into Evernote. Evernote allowed me to retain the images, text and metadata behind each post. This served two purposes: I could read posts offline and on my phone, and it backed up the entire blog in case anything catastrophic happened to the blog during the rest of the process.

After all the posts were safely in Evernote, I moved the blog to my personal site and forwarded all the URLs to the new URLs. Now, everything is under one roof and there's no mistaking what you're signing up for with my newsletter.

From Evernote, I re-read every post, usually during episodes of True Detective. If the material in the post was good enough for the book, I tagged the post with "alpbook." I could have done that part within the blog's CMS, but that would have updated the RSS feed as well, which is not what anyone wants.

I copy and pasted every post tagged with "alpbook" into Scrivener as plain text. I could've done an easier import, but ebook publishing is hard and starting a manuscript with plain text solves multiple problems before they even appear.

Different types of posts got different icons (quote bubbles for quotes, for example). I stacked posts with similar topics together under the best post on the topic (often, this was a chapter from the original A Lesser Photographer manifesto).

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The hardest part of the process was condensing all those stacks into small chapters. Some stacks took days to comb through and combine. Others were a matter of finding the best sentence to express a thought and deleting 90% of what was left. Sometimes, entirely new chapters had to be written to fill gaps I perceived while editing.

I changed the color of the icons in Scrivener to indicate whether each chapter was a first draft (red), revised draft (yellow) or final draft (green).

When the process was completed (as of yesterday), what was left was just over 12,000 words that summarized the past 4 years of blogging.

What's left to do?

Editing. I will print out each chapter, mark it all up with a red pen. This catches a lot more than working on screen. It just does. I'll also seek out an outside editor, after I'm done implementing my own edits.

Photos. I haven't decided for sure yet, but I think I'll take the same philosophy as the blog did. I want the reader thinking about their own photos, not mine, so at least the first release the ebook will be all text with a single photo on the cover. In the future, and especially if it goes to print, I may change my mind, but only if I can add more value to the book with my photos.

Design. Designing a mostly text Kindle, iBooks or ePub ebook is much easier these days, thanks to apps like Scrivener and Vellum. PDFs are still hard.

Distribution. I'm thinking Gumroad right now, but I'll do a solid weekend's worth of research between now and then to be sure. I do love the idea of treating the book like software, updating it from time to time with new and revised content.

Why am I telling you this? A lot of writers like hiding their work until it's fully completed. But, the artists I like wouldn't dream of that. And, Austin Kleon makes some really great points about being open with your process in Show Your Work!, so I'm giving it a go.

If you want to stay up-to-date on the book and ensure you'll hear about it when it's released, sign up for the newsletter.

Be a Publisher by CJ Chilvers

Whether you currently label yourself a photographer, a blogger, a podcaster, a writer or even an occasional Twitterer, we’re all publishers now.

I believe “publisher” is a much healthier lens to adopt for looking at our work. It forces us to focus on the end product (the image, the book, the tweet) instead of the trappings of our of niche communities.

It forces us to focus on the part of the process that tends to be the scariest. Finishing and releasing the product of the work can make even the most prolific artist break out in a cold sweat.

It forces us to immediately deal with the decisions about how you want to present that work to the world. Does a third party control your distribution? Or, is it important to you to control the experience?

What do people who like your work value in your in final product and its presentation?

These are the interesting questions now. The world is full of artists. The world is not full of artists who effectively execute and present their ideas to the world.

Embracing Shadows by CJ Chilvers

It’s become very fashionable in the last decade or so to reveal what lurks in the shadows, now that cameras have the ability to do so.

What could be more boring?

The best storytelling leaves your mind open to fill in blanks with your deepest hopes and greatest fears.

It's why the original Halloween, with it's lack of backstory and senseless nature, was the most successful independent movie for a quarter century. It's why the movie's remake, filled with backstory and explanation, was a comparative flop.

Halloween was an homage to Hitchcock. Hitchcock had similar issues. His mastery of suspense left the viewer's mind wandering for the length of the story and wanting more. When he filled in blanks (see the end of Psycho), he left his audience wanting less.

The same is true of photography. Shadows can be a tool for good storytelling, when used sparingly. It's yet another reason to reconsider your HDR setting.

The Best Photo Management Tool by CJ Chilvers

Everyone hates photo management apps and services. Just as one appears to solve all our problems, it's limitations become apparent and we try to escape.

Dave Caolo, an editor at TUAW, recently tried to take his legacy Everpix hosted photos and move them over to Flickr. The results were less than impressive:

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Relying on any one photo management app or service has historically proven to be heartbreaking. Here's the issues you may encounter:

  • Stripped metadata. This is the most common issue. Most apps and services do not take great care with the data that says where, when or how your photo was created. Or, if they do, they like to keep it to themselves. Export your photos and you may lose all the important background information behind it.
  • Compression. A lot of (mostly free) services will compress your photos to save to space. It's like taking your 8x10 prints and shrinking them all to wallet-size prints, only it's hard to notice until it's too late.
  • Database betrayal. Although many photo geeks have learned to steer clear of the above two issues, they're usually far too trusting of a database. Aperture, Lightroom, iPhoto and their online counterparts rely on the integrity of their databases to keep all the versions and all the information behind all the versions of your photos straight. Again, historically, this has proven problematic. You could go a very long time backing your Aperture or Lightroom database, before you realize you accidentally deleted a favorite photo months ago. It may be gone forever, even with a good backup strategy.
  • Obscurity. If you set up the kind of workflow and backup strategy that takes the above into account, chances are, you're the only person with access to it all. If you died tomorrow, your photos may be no more accessible than you.

The Best Photo Manager I've Yet to Find

It may not please the geeks, but the best solution I've found for all this is the humble book. Making a collection of photos into a book (even if it's just a year book of miscellaneous shots) solves several problems:

  • It's archival. Nothing digital is archival. Even some photographic prints are not archival. But a well-made book will last for as long as anyone could possibly care about your photos and then some.
  • It's accessible. You can die anytime you feel like it and your family and friends won't need to look beyond your bookshelves for your legacy,
  • It tells a better story. Instead of relying on fleeting metadata, in a book, you can actually write about what's going on in the picture. I have a box of my grandparents' photos and I wish they'd taken the time to tell me who's in the photos and what's going on. Books make this easy.
  • It's relatively inexpensive. You could order one for flipping through and another for safe keeping.
  • There's always a digital file too, just in case. Make PDFs as well. They're easier than databases.
  • Beauty. Books are beautiful. Templates have come a long way too, so you don't need to put a lot of time into the design...unless you want to.
  • Format and resolution agnosticism. A book doesn't care if you took your photos with a phone or a DSLR. The resolution of the photo need only be enough for the size you'd like it printed in the book. Chase Jarvis's groundbreaking photo book The Best Camera Is the One That's With You is just cover-to-cover low resolution, 2 megapixel iPhone photos (3G I believe). They look fantastic when presented in a book.
  • Fun. It's more fun holding a book of your own art, than opening a database. That should be enough reason alone.

This is how I'm approaching the problem: my computer is a digital shoe box. There are many ways to store my photos within it, but my computer is just one stop on their journey. I don't rely on any single app or service. I prefer what saves me time. With that time, I can make a beautiful book, hang a print and take more photos.

Whatever I use within the computer, I must be resigned the notion that it will ultimately fail, because it always has.

Cons by CJ Chilvers


My son, who just turned 2, took his first photo. He grabbed my phone, pointed it at his Cons, tapped the Hueless app and snapped away. Now, I'm sharing it without his permission. Welcome to photography, little buddy.

Should You Have a Portfolio? by CJ Chilvers

"Where's your portfolio?"

I hear this question a lot, particularly from those who'd like to find a flaw with what I've written about photography. They've just laid down $3000 on a lens and they're hoping I'm wrong and they're on the verge of a creative breakthrough.

The problem is, I don't have one. I don't want one. It serves no purpose I can justify.

I realize why people want it. It's so easy to create an online portfolio today, it's become the gold standard for judging a photographer's worth. Everybody can have one, so everybody should.

But what are you trying to accomplish by assembling a portfolio (online or off)?

Is it attention? If so, that's probably the worst strategy. As Hugh MacLeod puts it, "just another couple of snowflakes in the big art establishment blizzard." If you have great stories to tell, there's far better venues for getting attention than a portfolio.

Is it credibility? That's always a losing battle. The closer you get to your goal, the less you innovate. Trends become your friends.

Is it clients? You're trying to be a pro, which is fine, but then we're talking about commerce, not necessarily art. There's a different set of rules to apply.

If you dare speak out about your views on art, like I do, your credibility is really what critics are after. They'll seek to pick apart your portfolio to compensate for their lack of judgment. I don't see a reason to play by their rules.