News/Views

News and commentary about the Nikon DSLR world and photography in general. This page automatically updates with links for each new news/views story and is a good place to bookmark if you want to see the traditional bythom "front page" type of story. 

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Photography in Isolation, Part 3: Workflow

From all the comments and suggestions, the number one thing you want me to write about tackling while you're in Stay at Home mode is workflow.

First things first: I've had quite a long article on workflow—ironically labeled Workflow 101—on the site for some time, and late last week I worked on bringing most of it up to date with my latest thoughts and recommendations. If you haven't checked that article out, please do so. It's rich with information. I'm sure it will raise questions in your mind (again, I'll answer all the questions I get via email).

But that article won't answer the question of what your workflow should be. The article only deals with the things I do, and why. So let's tackle the subject from another angle.

Technically, workflow starts before we leave the house/office with our gear and extends all the way to the point where others see our image(s). This is one of the reasons why workflow is such a commonly requested topic, and why you'll see such a variety of ways of discussing it. 

  1. Workflow is a huge topic.
  2. There's not one "right" way to do it.

So let's break the topic down into more manageable pieces. Here are the pieces:

  • Gear Preparation (complete, see below)
  • Shooting (coming soon)
  • Ingesting (coming soon)
  • Processing (coming soon)
  • Presenting (coming soon)

Today I'll tackle the first, and every other day—I'm trying to also get through some tough sections of my upcoming D780 book this week—I'll tackle the next. 

Gear Preparation
You probably didn't expect this topic in a discussion of workflow, did you? There are also two sub-topics that come up, as well: Gear Transportation and Gear Storage (the latter happens after the shooting, obviously). 

I've long had short sections in my camera guides that step through the do-once, do-before-shoot, do-after types of situations that come up, but it's probably a good idea to work through that with a different slant here.

You have an upcoming shoot. Maybe it's just taking photos on a business trip, maybe it's a full out vacation—boy will we be happy when those return—maybe it's a shoot for a client's event, maybe it's a photo workshop, or (please say you do this) maybe it's just one of your periodic "practice" sessions, where you try to keep and improve your photographic skill sets.

Does it matter what type of shoot it is from a workflow standpoint? Yes and no. Most of you treat the more casual stuff, e.g. the vacation and pleasure shooting, well, casually. The minute your reputation (or money) is on the line, you'd better be approaching it more than casually, though. But I'd also say that when you approach things casually, you're going to get out into the field shooting and discover that you left something behind, so maybe casual isn't such a good idea. 

Consider the following checklist.

bythom checklist

This is a very simplified checklist, but reasonably sufficient for most of my shoots. 

As I plan for a shoot or a trip, I start filling in the checklist. As I pack, I go through each item, verify that it's in the gear I'm actually taking, and check it off (check boxes at the left). Sometimes at this point I realize that I left something off my planning checklist, and add it in.

Why the serial numbers? Basically for police reports, should I ever have to file one due to theft, fire, or some other unexpected catastrophe. Take your list with you on your trip (but not in your photo backpack!), and you'll know what was lost and be able to report it specifically. 

So your first workflow-related task to do while in self-isolation is this: build out a gear checklist. Not all the gear that you own (though that might be useful, too), but rather a checklist you'll reference every time you go out on a shoot to make sure you don't forget anything. If you're anal like me, that would include things like allen wrenches and hot shoe covers and much more. 

If one of you reading this want to tackle the do-all, be-all checklist (Excel form, please), by all means send me a copy and permission to post it on the site so others can see other examples and maybe use them.

There's more to just ticking off boxes on a checklist when you're getting ready for a shoot, though.

Here's a short list of other things you need to consider at the Gear Preparation stage:

  1. Is the image sensor clean? Inspect and clean it if necessary. This brings up another related topic: how did you store your camera? Best practice is face down. Second best practice is upright. Worse practice is on its back. Why? Because dust is dust. It will fall onto the image sensor if you store your camera on its back. It might attach via surface adhesion if the camera is stored upright. It probably won't attach to the sensor if the sensor is pointed down (camera face down). 
  2. Are your batteries charged? Nikon DSLRs are notorious for powering the viewfinder overlay while turned off. While this is a very slow drain, it means that in 30 days of storage, you likely have a dead battery. Most lithium batteries don't lose charge very fast or easily when not in a device, but I've still been surprised a few times when a battery I thought should have held charge didn't. So before you head out, make sure all batteries are topped off.
  3. Are your cards empty and properly formatted? If they're not empty, did you actually ingest all the images from them, or did you forget (because your post shooting workflow wasn't good)? The proper formatting is done in camera, not on your computer (it's a rare instance when you'd need to do low-level card formatting on your computer). And don't be swapping cards between cameras if you can help it. At a minimum, this proliferates folders in the DCIM folder. At worst, some camera makers deal with exFAT or FAT differently. 
  4. Is my camera bag clean? What?!?! Yes, this one is important. I drag my gear all over the planet, and my camera bags pick up a lot of dust, dirt, mud, pollen, you name it. If I don't start with a clean bag heading out, all I'm doing is making my camera gear dirty from day one, and I'll be fighting that each and every day on the trip, too. Basically, the cleaner you start, the easier it is to keep things clean. Remember, dust has this nasty way of finding ways into your gear. So a dusty, dirty bag is just asking for that to happen.
  5. Does my gear even work? Don't laugh, bad things happen, and they turn out to be really bad things when you brought something far from home only to find out it no longer works as expected. I try to give everything I'm taking on a trip/shoot a quick basic check to see that it's working as expected. This also sometimes leads me to discover that I left something set (like Exposure Delay) that I shouldn't have ;~). (Lest you think that gear doesn't "just die," consider this: water exposure sometimes doesn't seem to be an issue. Your gear got a little wet, you cleaned it off quickly. But if water got into the camera and got to the electronics, it will corrode and damage electronics eventually. But this is a whole 'nother topic for 'nother day.)
  6. Do I really know what gear I'll need? The paranoid among you deal with this by packing everything, and backups to everything, and even alternatives should things really come to a head. You should be a little paranoid, but you should channel that energy correctly at this stage of the workflow: think carefully through what you might encounter and what you might want to shoot. Consider what gear that would entail and see that it's on your checklist. If not, add it. (Yet another article for the future is a better planning article. Galen Rowell used to research the heck out of any location he was traveling to—and this was before the Internet made that easy—to the point of driving everyone crazy. I'd find him on a trip with a stack of copies of images that others had taken, and he wanted to try to find those and see what that photographer had to work with and whether he would have done something different. Plus he had the topo map for the area, too. He and I spent an entire day once trying to find all the places where images had been shot before a mudslide buried a town. I'm pretty anal, too. Those who've been on my workshops know that I've been providing very organized Lightroom keyword files for pretty much anyplace they'd step and anything they'd see. Well, other than plants. I don't do plants. Probably because they make me sneeze and I'm doing what I can to get back at them ;~) 
  7. Is there new firmware? Then update it. Not everyone agrees with this item. I'll make one exception: if you use a Nikon body and use third party lenses. That's it. Nikon has a way of tripping up the companies doing reverse engineering of the mount when firmware updates roll out. But for everyone else, I can't really think of a reason you wouldn't update your firmware to the current version. That's because there tends to be small fixes/changes that aren't documented in Nikon's camera firmware updates. And I personally want a product that has "all the fixes." 

Okay. You should be doing your Gear Prep workflow assignment now. Take your time. Do a complete job. Test your checklist against past trips. In a couple of days, we'll move to the next stage of workflow, so don't fall behind.


What Gear Should I Take on My Cancelled Trip?

With the Covid-19 virus still running rampant, it's pertinent today to answer the following question:

My upcoming trip to Africa has been cancelled? Which gear should I pack?

The important thing to note is that a trip cancellation gives you much more flexibility in packing. If you wish to not carry a 7kg weight-limited carry-on, you can now do so. If you don't want to drag 10-pound lenses through multiple airports, you don't have to.

My basic recommendation for a cancelled trip is the following:

  • You can leave your laptop at home with no penalty to your field work.
  • You can cut down on extra cards or external storage, indeed, all the way down to zero. Forgot to bring your card reader? Not an issue.
  • Really thin and un-protective carrying cases can now be considered.
  • If you were struggling between whether to take your f/5.6 or f/6.3 lens, relax, even f/8 is fine now. I'd even consider a 3x teleconverter, since it won't impact image quality at all.
  • Since nothing will be failing in the bush, you can leave your backup gear at home, too.

In short, you have much more flexibility in packing for a cancelled trip than you do one that actually happens.

What Level Are You?

If you'd never ever used a camera before and I handed you one, you'd say you're a beginner, right? Unfortunately, pretty much all of you reading this have used cameras, some for decades. Thus, you don't think you're a beginner.

But exactly what level do you think you're at? 

Unfortunately, you were probably wrong when you answered that question. The vast majority of folk I work with on a one-to-one basis suffer from one of two issues: (1) lack of self-confidence and self esteem; or (2) excess of confidence and esteem, and sometimes arrogance. 

Group #1 is better than they think. Group #2 is worse than they think. There's almost no Group #3 (and no, I'm not in Group #3). 

Worse still, which group you're in varies depending upon what skills we're assessing. I've seen people who have excellent and instinctive compositional and timing skills, but their post processing sucks to high heaven. I've seen others who produce brilliant final pixels of images that, well, I wonder what the picture is of and why they're showing it to me. And this is just at a gross level. As we drill down into the hundreds of skills you need to be a great photographer, we're going to find that some you do well at, some you don't.

For instance, compositionally, you may be really good. Only you're stuck on a single perspective, or a single way of interpreting a scene. As great a photographer as David Muench is, there is also a bit of stuck-on-near-middle-far in much of his work. To some degree, that's good, because it establishes a style. To another degree it's not good, as it lowers the delight in discovering new work from him.

First assignment: Are you Stuck on Something? Browse all your images. Do they start to look and feel the same. Is what you do is take the same photo, just in different places? What are you going to do about that? Or maybe your photos are all over the place, there's no consistency to them at all, certainly no style that's yours. What are you going to do about that?

But let's get back to the headline question for a moment. How many levels are there? 

I make a bit of a joke at times about how I know what level a photographer is on by identifying who they think their "go to" Web site is (or was). It's almost as if you sign up for Photography 101, Photography 201, Photography 301, Composition 101, Composition 201, Gear 101, Gear 201, and so on as you get hooked into a certain Web site. 

Be careful. Those 101 classes/sites are the same as in college: they're trying to hook you into a major! They don't necessarily impart a lot of useful information that will take you to greatness, they cater to getting you excited about the subject (and creating customers for the product). 

So how many levels are there?

In my talks I go all Buddhist on this, and point out that you're on one of the following steps for almost any subject I might bring up:

  1. You're unaware that you're unaware.
  2. You're aware that you're unaware.
  3. You're unaware that you're aware.
  4. You're aware that you're aware.

#1 is naiveté. It defines beginner. #2 is when you become a student and start trying to learn. #3 happens when you begin achieving things but you still don't quite realize that or how you did so. And #4 is where we all want to be. 

I typically assume that most of you reading my material or coming to me for advice are #2. It might surprise you to know that I keep trying to put myself at step #2, as well. Why? Because that's where you learn, and I believe in constant, life-long learning. I can always be better. You can, too. Every time I think I'm at #4, I take the time to challenge that assumption. Indeed, that's one of the reasons why I started writing books at a very early age: I figured out that if I could collect all my knowledge and thoughts in an organized fashion and present that to others, then I had tentatively climbed up to #4 on whatever that subject was.

Often something happened that knocked me back off #4 and I had to start over at #2. My best teachers and my mentors were really good at that ;~). Heck, when it came to writing, my copy editor ex-wife was really good at that. 

Second assignment: Since "awareness" is a prerequisite to managing this assignment, where do you think you're at #2 and where do you think you're at #4 in your photography skills? Some of you might say, for instance, that you've "mastered" exposure. Have you? How did you verify that? Would I agree with you? ;~) The critical part of this assignment is to break down all of photography (planning, gear, while shooting, travel, ingesting, post processing, retrieval, presentation, etc.) into as many sub-components as you can and do an honest assessment of each. And when you have that list, share it with someone else at or above your level and see if they agree. 

You're probably starting to realize that you haven't been diligent and disciplined enough to be able to say with absolute confidence what level you're at. It's a rare person that can, and most of the rest of us get pleasure in knocking those that think they can down off their pedestal, so you don't want to get too cocky or arrogant here. What you want and seek should be confidence that if you need to do X, you know how to do X. 

I don't want you to be not confident, nor do I want you to be over confident. My goal as your instructor is to help you find the things that you aren't doing, that you need to work on and improve, and to verify that you're comfortable and confident at doing the rest. 

Some of confidence comes from practice. 

So the next thing on the agenda is to make sure that you're practicing the things that will lead you to confidence, and to continue practicing the things for which you already have confidence. 

I'll be honest with you: even before COVID-19 hit, I was starting to realize that I'm not shooting enough. To maintain the level I'm at and to reach a higher level, I need to shoot more. You have to practice to keep skills. I actually had plans in place to make this a very travel-rich (because most of my photography categories require this), and thus photography-rich year. Unfortunately: (1) the sports shooting shut down completely; (2) my wildlife shoots are shut down completely; and (3) I can't even travel to other landscape/nature locations I was planning for.  

Thus, I'm in sort of the same situation as you from a behind-the-camera standpoint, though I do have some local options for landscape/nature still available that I'm going to explore. 

The good news is that the self-isolation we're all currently practicing will eventually lift. That means that while we can't set specific dates and locations to practice our photography, we can sit down and imagine what that will be.

So your final assignment for today: When you're able to travel freely again and the things you shoot normally are all available, what are you going to do about that? Do you have a list of things you want to go out and do, and is that list prioritized? Do you have the gear necessary to do that? If you're going to do something elaborate, like time-lapse, or astrophotography stacking, or focus stacking, are you practicing the mechanics and steps of that now?

For the pros: are you still talking to clients and making sure they know that when things lift you're ready to get right back to work? Are you talking about doing more/better/faster for them? Have you let them know there are things you can do that they haven't taken advantage of in the past? Have you reached out to potential new clients and let them know you exist and are interested? Have you figured out what you did well for your clients in the past and what you didn't? I shouldn't have to tell you this, but I'll remind you that the actually "taking of pictures" part of a photography pro's job is not the biggest chunk of their work time. Client relations probably is. You can often keep working on that at a distance. 

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This article has also been posted in Technique/Improving the Photographer, which is what you should link to if you're posting links.

Photography in Isolation: Size of Pieces

My last installment provoked some folk to find they had a fairly large blob of stuff scattered to the wind, and that dealing with that might turn into a huge project. 

It's not uncommon among you to have high five figure or low six figure numbers of images (that would be something in the range of 75,000 to 250,000). A few have more, and a longer tail has less based upon what I've seen so far. But many, if not most, of you seem to be in that 75-250k range. 

When you're dealing with that much information that needs a complete overhaul, don't make the plan "you wake and organize your image files." You won't get it done in a day. 

Goals can (and should) have sub-components, call them Milestones (or whatever else you desire), but when you find that you have a BIG problem, you have to break it into manageable components. Otherwise you'll find that the project overwhelms and you avoid doing it. 

So:

GOAL: Organize my image data
    MILESTONE 1: Find every image, note where it is
    MILESTONE 2: Make sure every image is backed up
    MILESTONE 3: Eradicate images you don't want/need
    MILESTONE 4: Build a new folder structure
    MILESTONE 5: Move images into new folder structure
    MILESTONE 6: Conform filenames
    MILESTONE 7: Point Lightroom at new folder structure and wait... ;~)
    MILESTONE 8: RAID Backup of #5 and LR Catalog
    MILESTONE 9: Offsite backup (cloud or physical drive stored offsite)

Now that's simplistic (and as you'll see, not quite right), but I think it gets my point across. Create manageable tasks and tackle them one at a time. And some of those Milestones generate future sub-tasks, too. For instance, if you do #9 with physical drives, how does that physical drive get updated regularly?

I use Photo Mechanic for a lot of heavy lifting. In the above scenario, I'd use it a lot. Here's how I'd tackle each Milestone:

  1. This is just browsing. The macOS Finder or a good Finder replacement is all I need here. I'm going to "walk" my entire directory tree looking for orphan folders and files, and make note of them when I do. Photo Mechanic can do this, too, but it uses a lot of resources in the process. I tend to stick with the Finder with this sort of problem.
  2. An argument can be made that #4 should happen before #2. That way you could just copy everything you find in #1 to your new structure. Sometimes when you lay a plan out like this with sub-tasks, you find little shortcuts like that that cause you to alter your plan. 
  3. If it's just one file, deleting in the Finder is fine. If I'm looking at a bunch of files, I'll just point Photo Mechanic at that folder and use its marking/selection/deletion/renaming tools, as that's fast and offers options once you know how to do it efficiently.
  4. Folders don't need to have anything in them at this point. You just need to create the structure. (Note that I've already decided that this might be Step #1 or #2 in my revised plan. If it's Step #1, I'll find that I need to modify/add to the structure from time to time as I go on, though.)
  5. Again, Photo Mechanic is pretty good at this. Grab my notes from #1 on where the files are, then use PM's (slightly awkward and geeky, but very versatile) file moving capability on them. Bonus: if this is all going into LR later, you can use PM's rating capabilities as you review and move your images. The ratings will show up later in LR.
  6. The nice thing about Photo Mechanic, is that I can usually do this step in #5, too. I said the tool was geeky and versatile. This is one of the places where learning to be the geek is useful. 
  7. Note the bonus in Step #5. But also note that you don't have to do this step all at once. You could get things into LR's catalog a folder (or group of folders) at a time and maybe take advantage of Collections or Keywords while doing so. In other words, your vacation photos get added to a Vacation Collection and keyworded with vacation. 
  8. On a Mac, Carbon Copy Cloner is the best way I know of to build out the backups and have them automatically updated. And their support is excellent, by the way.
  9. You're on your own here for the moment. Maybe when I get some time I'll offer more suggestions on this step.

Your task list isn't going to look anything like the nine Milestones I listed above. Indeed, after thinking about it, I'd certainly re-arrange the above Milestones and add a couple more if I were doing this on my files. So maybe Milestone 1 really should be: "Plan and logically walk through the rest of the Milestones, and revise as needed before proceeding."

As you can probably tell, I'm analytical and disciplined. What you've got above is a casual, first pass analysis. I'm not going to go further than that because every one of you is facing a slightly different situation, and your second through final pass on building out your plan will differ because of that. 

The folk that have already responded to me via email have each raised very different issues that I've tried to help them with. For instance, one person was making Lightroom Catalogs for each year. Obviously, they had problems finding images across multiple years. In their case, they really need a single LR catalog, and then create a Collection for each year (so that they could still easily browse things by year when they wanted/needed to; there are other ways to do this, including using filter options, but given their need, I think a Collection approach is probably the best). The next email had a different problem. 

The plans for every person who's been corresponding with me on this have been different. So don't get anal and use my exact steps above. Work through what you need/want to do, and establish the smaller pieces and the order in which to do them. That's today's lesson: make smaller chunks you can accomplish quickly, and make sure those small chunks help you solve the bigger problem. 

Smaller pieces mean that you'll get the satisfaction of completing things as you work through the bigger problem. Smaller pieces mean that you can pause and take a break each time you complete one. Smaller pieces are just easier to do and don't have you tearing your hair out—should you still have any—because of the enormity of the problem you're dealing with. 

Note that what I just wrote applies to any and all things you might do during your isolation time at home. Some of you might have decided to "learn Photoshop better." Use smaller pieces! What's the thing you struggle with in Photoshop the most? Blending. Then "learn Blending options" is your first small piece. I've been pointing to other sources for learning and will continue to. You could just randomly suck those in, or you could use the "small piece" approach to target things that will boost you faster.



Photography in Isolation, Part 2: Organization

You were probably expecting a photography assignment, right? Such as "get out your macro lens and photograph small things around the house and yard." 

There will probably be time for that, and if so I'll get around to it. Moreover, I've seen plenty of photo sites pop up with that kind of article. It's an easy article to write, after all. 

Thing is, there are things you haven't been doing that you should have been doing. Only a few of those actually involve taking photos. You've now got time on your hands that you didn't think you had, so one of my own goals in this series is to try to point you at those things you haven't been doing, or been meaning to do but haven't gotten around to. 

Today, I'm going to concentrate on the photos you've already taken. 

So first, a question: how many photos have you taken? Do you even know? If you don't, you have your first goal: figure out how many photos you've taken. 

This is probably going to lead you to a discovery or two (or three or more!). Your photos are scattered. This is even a bit true for me, and I'm a pretty organized person. As I write this, I've got a few photos still on my iPhone that need to be brought over into my regular photo storage, I've got a couple of cards in cameras that are in the middle of testing that I haven't transferred into my storage, and on close examination, I found that I had some leakage of image files I hadn't noted before: there's a media folder in my Web folders that has some images that aren't in my usual repository. 

Entropy is persistent and can cause serious issues down the line. 

You may have come across one important issue if you answered my first question: where are you photos? I find this one comes up all the time with people who only use Lightroom. They think that their photos are "in Lightroom." Well, no. Lightroom is just a database that describes what information photos contain (including ratings and metadata you might have added), and how it is to be processed for final use. Your actual images are stored outside of Lightroom. (If you've been negligent here and let Lightroom use it's defaults, your photos are probably in your Pictures folder on macOS.)

Indeed, if you shoot raw, your raw files are stored untouched outside of Lightroom. 

But wait, you ingested your camera's card via Lightroom, thus Lightroom must have the photo, right? Nope. And Lightroom's Ingest function is one of the poorest UX's I've seen. The distinction between Copy and Add is important but downplayed, and many people don't understand the difference. (In case you hadn't noticed, you may be finding that you're going to need to start sub-goals to my overall goals. If you don't know how Lightroom's Ingest function works and what the difference is between Copy and Add, you need to learn that, stat.)

In case you haven't figured it out, today's full topic is simple: organize your photos. 

Oh were it so simple ;~).

First, let me point you to an article that I did quite some time ago and have updated from time to time: File Hierarchy

In a perfect world, you would have known how many photos you had and where they were because you would have just done a Get Info on the topmost folder of your photo library and it would have told you how many files were there were (though that number might also contain XMP or additional work files). And you could have answered where they were, because they all lived in a logical, hierarchical structure within that one folder. 

So, next question: are your files named consistently? That was one of the things I wrote about in that article I just referenced. Funny thing is, I can't claim that mine are. When I started working with clients again I realized I needed to separate my image names from those of others that they might be working with, so I added a bythom_ to the start of my filenames. But not all my files have that, as I didn't go back and change names of images I had already shot. Moreover, as I looked at the image files in my database, I noticed I had made a couple of other small file naming and folder organizational changes over the years that didn't apply to everything. When I noticed that, I started a project to fix that.

So here we go, here's you plan:

  1. How many photos have you taken? (This will come up again later, by the way)
  2. Where are they?
  3. How are they organized (folders)? Is that the right organization?
  4. If you're using Lightroom (or another cataloging program), are all your images known to Lightroom?
  5. How are your images named? Is that consistent? Is that the right file naming convention for you?

Of course, once you have the answers to those questions, you're probably going to start a project (or two) to "fix" things, just like I did ;~). 

For instance, as I worked on this problem recently to get ready to switch to new computers (and drives), I remembered that I always shoot raw+JPEG when I get a new camera (if it supports that). The reason for that is that I'm trying to assess what the camera itself can do versus what I can do with underlying data. Long term, though, I really don't need to keep all those extra JPEG files around. Maybe I save a few examples of something I found for the Web site, but I don't need thousands of JPEG files named identically to my raw files cluttering up my system. 

I also sometimes shoot raw+JPEG when I'm shooting sports for a college. That's because they want a JPEG as soon as I can get it to them, preferably during the event itself.  I'll often use a smaller JPEG file for that (e.g. JPEG Medium or JPEG Small) because they don't need lots of pixels, they just want an "instant" image. I don't need to save those JPEGs, because anything I'd send to them later would have come from my usual raw workflow.

So I started a JPEG eradication program. JPEGs now only stay around when they are unique photos or useful. That produced a significant reduction in my storage needs, by the way. 

Today's bonus step is this: when you did those five simple steps I listed above, did you notice something else you should/could have been doing? I'm pretty sure you did ;~). Write that down and put it on your future plan list.

Finally, if you haven't already guessed it, the reason why I'm tackling things to do while in isolation a bit differently from what you might see on other sites is that I see these days at home you weren't expecting as an opportunity. Indeed, my whole career has built me into an opportunity seeker. Disruption of any kind is always an opportunity. 

The opportunity here is to take charge of and fix things that might have been headed towards potential longer term disaster. For example, if you don't know where all your photos are, how do you know that you've properly backed them up? Oh my. (Yes, backing things up is an upcoming topic.)

While those five questions seem simplistic, I'll bet that every one of you will find that you can't just answer them instantly and be ready to move on to my next step.

Photography in Isolation — Part 1: Goals

Let's start this series with a basic idea that will help you keep your sanity.

I should point out that since I left my job at a large publisher back in 2001, I've been, in essence, in self-isolation. That's been by choice. I've had a few opportunities to get back into the big business game and have people reporting to and working with me. I choose instead to work on my own just to give me some temporary distance from the corporate world I had been a part of. 

Sure, I shoot events and have clients I meet with from time to time. I teach workshops. But those are a smaller part of my time than the rest of what I do, which is to run my Web sites, write articles, test gear, write books, and so on. Those are done in my office by myself, with nobody down a hall I can talk to and no one I can delegate to.

Tack on the fact that I don't have a wife or even girlfriend, and no children, and both my office and my home are essentially self-isolating ;~).

So I've been doing this self-isolation thing for almost two decades. I'm the only one in the office right now (I do sometimes hire a couple of people for part time help when needed). Just like yesterday. Just like before the COVID-19 virus came along and changed things for many (if not most) of you reading this. 

Here's a key piece of advice based both upon my freelance experience and that of observing others: One thing I learned early on is that you need to wake up each morning with a plan. (If you want, substitute the word "goal" for "plan," but note what I write down below about achievement.)

It actually doesn't make a difference whether or not you will achieve or finish your plan that day. It's the process of starting each day knowing what you want to try to achieve next that's important. What is it you'll start working on after you get done with your morning ablutions and down your breakfast?

No, you can't wait until you're eating breakfast to figure that out. Your sense of purpose needs to start upon waking.

It's a mental sanity thing. When you rise in the morning with a clear idea of what you'll be doing, you're going to stay mentally healthy. You're invested in something. You have a goal. You have a reason for waking up in the first place. You spend your breakfast time thinking about the details of what you need to do, not floundering around wondering what you should do next.

Thing is, what you're going to do doesn't have to be something big. It could be as simple as "getting my desk clear of accumulated stuff." It could be "cleaning my gear and storing it properly." It could be "figuring out if I've got Photoshop/Lightroom set up properly." As we get deeper into this series, I'm going to present a number of things you might consider as a bigger goal, but you can get started with just small things you've put off.

Failure to have even a simple goal for each new day is just one way I've seen others who work in isolation start to slip towards depression. They don't have purpose, and it starts a slippery slope of negativity. You don't want to be on that slope. 

Thus, right up front I'd encourage you to start the list of things you haven't been doing, have put off, or want to do next. That list might get really long, which could be depressing to some, but it's the point from which you need to start. 

Notice that I wrote that you don't have to achieve your goal. This is the corollary to waking up with a plan each day. What you don't want to do is write out a list of things to do Monday, another set for Tuesday, another set for Wednesday, and so on. Because on Friday you'll find that, for one reason or another, you didn't achieve all those things and you get depressed a different way: you're underachieving. 

Nope, that's not the way I work. Sure, I set a goal of working on the D780 book—actually a particular section of it—for today. I may finish that section, I may not. The important thing is that I knew what I was going to set out to do, and then set out to do it. Other things can come up, or I might find that section is tougher and requires more work than I thought. It very well may turn out that tomorrow's goal will be the same as today's, because I just chewed off a multi-day goal, not one that can be done in a couple of hours. I learned a long time ago not to judge myself too harshly on how much I got done, but rather whether I knew what it was I should be working on, and starting working on that.

I mention this last part because some of the projects I'm going to suggest later in this series are not things you can do in a day. You might not even finish them before your government says "okay, go back to your regular work." That's okay. 

Apply yourself each day to a meaningful task. Take on that task as best you can. Evaluate at the end of the day whether you completed the task or need to devote more time to. Do that every day and you'll get through the self-isolation just fine.

Moreover, it's okay to fail. Failure allows you to identify weaknesses, things you didn't think about, how difficult the project really is, and more. Sometimes my plan is this: analyze why the thing I tried to do failed. Figure out what I can do to make sure a similar problem doesn't happen in the future. The scientists among you probably recognize this as just part of the scientific process: hypothesize, test, analyze, repeat. It's through applied repetition that the big discoveries are made and verified

Most of us have troubles self-analyzing. I've had 68 years of doing that as a nerdy only child with limited social skills, so I've gotten reasonably good at it, but it still helps to have "peer review" from time to time. It's why I read all emails and try to take them to heart, for instance. So if in analyzing why you didn't achieve your plan, if the reason isn't obvious to you, enlist trusted others to help you figure it out.

One final thought: for many of you, going from a daily work schedule and constant interactions with others to one where you're on your own and not doing much interacting—and then hopefully only via email or phone—requires you to adjust your "clock" but not adjust your clock, which seems like an impossibility.

Let's deal with that last part first: don't adjust your clock. When working in isolation you still need to eat breakfast, work, eat lunch, work, end the day and eat dinner. You still need to take breaks during your work stretches. There's a temptation to change things up: eat at your desk, work late into the evening because you can, and so on. Don't succumb to that. Stick to your basic schedule. Don't underwork, don't overwork, don't do non-work things where you're working. 

On the flip side, you're no longer spending time commuting, you're no longer being constantly interrupted by colleagues—though you might be by family, more on that in a moment—, you're not having to scurry off to meetings and then trying to catch up on what you should have been doing. Your basic rhythmic clock will seem "wrong." That's because you're used to cramming things into the time you have, and juggling a lot at once. 

Things will seem "slower" working in self isolation at first. Just adjust to that. Don't constantly jump to answer an email that comes in if you can avoid it. Just let things slow down to the pace they want to run at. As you run through some of the tasks I come up with or you decide are your goals during this period, take the time to think about them as you work on them. You're not in a hurry. No one's going to assess you on whether you completed your work at the end of the day. It's okay for what you thought was a one-day goal to turn into a two-day one. It's better that you get the work done right and completely, so just do that at a comfortable pace.

I mentioned family as a distraction. This is a tough one. They're going through the same thing as you, and you're all together, so the natural inclination is to just engage each other whenever you feel like it, which can be a distraction to your getting your planned goal accomplished. So part of your plan also has to be to incorporate your family into your time each day, too. Absolutely make more time for them, but try to block out "you" time for you to work on your goals (and encourage them to use that time to achieve theirs', too). I thought Mike Johnston had a great idea with his 45/15 plan. It doesn't have to be exactly that ratio, you could use 90/30 if that works for everyone. You can use anything that works for everyone and that they can agree to. When I'm at my mom's home, I tend to work in the morning, then be with her in the afternoon. The real important thing is to get everyone basically on board with whatever you plan is. 

Oh, and make time each day to reach out to others via phone, messaging, or email. Humans are social animals. You need to continue to network with others to stay sane, too, even when you're self isolated. If you get tired of talking to the same person over and over, reach out to an old friend and see how they're doing. 

As always, I'm still answering my emails every day. If you have a question that needs answering, I'll do my best, and may even immortalize it on this site.

FOMO versus FOMS

I know my average site visitor is probably scratching their head over the headline. FOMO is millennial speak for "fear of missing out." Medicare recipients may substitute "keeping up with the Joneses" if they wish ;~).

As bad as the camera marketing departments are, most of their sales pitches are basically FOMO-based. "Oh, you're only shooting with 45mp? Don't you need 61mp?" FOMO. "Oh, you can't hold the camera steady? Why didn't you buy one with sensor-based IS?" FOMO. 

Indeed, almost any new feature list that comes with an updated product tends to be just a FOMO promotion these days. 

But not always. The D800 to D810 to D850 progression was very revealing to me and others: from just a feature list standpoint—despite the eventual upgrade from 36 to 45mp—these cameras seemed to be basically the same. Why would I upgrade from a D800 to a D810? Or a D810 to a D850?

As it turns out, the sum of the parts exceeded the sum of the parts on each of those upgrades. It was really a long list of small changes and improvements—and yes, some modest addition of features and performance—that made the newer version better for overall shooting than the previous one. Little rough edges were sanded down and made smooth (not literally; Nikon doesn't do hard edges). 

Nikon's done it again with the D780 update (versus the D750). There's not a lot of quality difference at the sensor for stills shooting, certainly not enough to prompt people to pay US$2300 for it. You also don't get any extra pixels ;~(. 

Yet, in practice, I like the D780 so much more than the D750 that I'd be really tempted to upgrade if the D750 were my main camera. Why? It's the little things again that make the camera more compelling. And that's despite the fact that it lost a built-in flash and a vertical grip option. There's a little more finger-tip control while shooting, and thats finally all in the right places, for instance. 

Which brings me to the acronym that you should be always concerned with instead of FOMO: what I call FOMS. 

That would be "fear of missing shots." 

Again, let's take that D750/D780 comparison. Shooting a lacrosse game recently, I wanted to raise my camera over my head to get an angle down into a player huddle. With the D750, this was always hit-or-miss. Indeed, I tended to only do it with the widest angle focal length, smaller aperture, and a guess at manual focus. The D780? Live View has improved so much that it is now second nature to just tilt the Rear LCD and fire, letting the camera do the heavy lifting. Heck, if there's a place I want the camera to focus, even if it's way off center, I just tap it on the display. 

So, with the D750 I had FOMS in situations like that huddle. With the D780 I don't. 

To some degree, the initial reaction to the Z cameras was a FOMS nightmare for Nikon: YouTubers started proclaiming that the Z7—the Z6 wasn't available yet at those early events—just couldn't autofocus like the Sony A7R Mark III did. That caused a rush of folk to stop thinking about the Z7 and consider an A7Rm3 instead. FOMS. Worse still, FOMS instigated by someone handling a camera at a launch event for the first time and in a very limited manner.

One problem with rushing from one brand to another is that suddenly everything is a cognitive dissonance. Terminology used in the manuals, menus, and controls changes. Positions of controls changes. Interactions between controls changes. Performance of sub-systems changes. By rushing to another brand because of FOMS instigated by a YouTube video, you just forced yourself to learn everything all over again before you start to stop missing shots. Yes, that's right, your FOMS-driven switch will likely cause actual MS (missing shots). 

If you've been paying attention, you'll have noted that I've gotten great wildlife and sports shots with a broad range of cameras from cheap consumer to top end pro, and across brands. That's because I take the time to learn the product, practice with it, and find the abilities in it that allow me to "get the shot." I don't lean on all-automatic features to make decisions for me, though I sometimes will use them when they do a good enough job that it allows me to focus my concentration on another aspect of the shot.

My greatest fear as a photographer is missing a shot. Yet it's rare that the camera is the reason that happens. It's really my understanding of the camera that causes me to ever miss a shot.  

Don't let FOMO drive your decisions. And don't let FOMS from people who haven't actually studied a camera in depth and optimized their shooting with it drive you, either. If you're missing shots with your current camera, do you know why? Are you sure it's the camera? 

How Do You Launch a Product?

The Covid-19 virus has provoked a number of cancellations, particularly of large events where people gather, like trade shows. Nikon recently announced that they wouldn't participate in NABShow 2020 in order to mitigate risk, for instance. We'll see a lot more of that happening soon, I think.

But this brings up a topic I've been thinking about for awhile: how do you successfully launch a product in the virtual age?

Here's the issue: companies like trade shows because it's a one-to-many situation. You can have a small number of people and a finite number of product—maybe even only one prototype—and introduce your new product to lots of people at a trade show. Moreover, the folk that come to trade shows tend to be "influencers" of some sort. Press, dealers, distributors, key accounts, and more. You can even have an event prior to the trade show where you cherry pick the people you want to get talking about your product.

Back when I was at Connectix we planned our product introductions around the twice-a-year Macworld Expo. I launched RAM Doubler, Speed Doubler, Virtual PC, Quickcam, and much more that way. Besides the influencers I just mentioned, the Mac Faithful descended on that show en masse, and if you could get your products in the hands of them, word of mouth happened very rapidly, even though the Internet wasn't really a thing then. Because we were known to launch and sell product at the Expo, you could watch large groups of people head directly to our booth when the doors opened, just to see what it was we were announcing and selling.

But we used a slightly different tactic than I described earlier: we brought considerable quantity of new product to Macworld Expo for our new product launches. More often than not, we had to run our production facilities at night during the show to keep up with demand.

I mention that story for a reason. The key to a good product launch is how effectively you can get the news out to the folk that might be interested in it that you have a new product, and that those people can get a truly viable notion of whether it might be for them or not.

As we've seen, the current YouTube and Instagram Influencers that the camera makers have been targeting can be a mixed bag. First, there's only a handful that have enough true influence to successfully catapult a message to the target customer. Second, those influencers definitely have preferences already (ask any what camera they use regularly ;~). Third, if you don't handhold them well enough, they go off on tangents or proclaim something simply "great" or "really bad" and you have little ability to get a word in edgewise. Fourth—and probably the biggest issue—is that the influencers have discovered the power of the Headline. The Z7 was lambasted by some—"Doesn't focus well" was the headline—while the reality was probably more that Nikon didn't take the time to train them on how the focus was different (and why!). Because it worked different than what they were used to they didn't get the results they were used to. Focus Bad! Ugh!

This is one reason why I believe a proper product launch gets finished product and complete information into the hands of as many folk who influence buying as possible. That doesn't happen much any more, unfortunately. The common situation is that production is so low that any reasonably popular product will sell through the dealer immediately, leaving the dealer no demo. Worse, leaving the dealer's employees no time to play with and understand the product they're selling. Who else has more influence than a camera dealer?

It doesn't help that the Japanese try to micromanage every detail. Tokyo trains a few subsidiary folk with very specific messages. Those messages are then codified at the subsidiary, and then carefully distributed to staff and sales reps. A lot of folk don't remember this:

bythom 1124

 

The entire 17-page, 103 question and answer official Nikon document in question was "black text" (this was from the D5 launch; I have others from other launches). 

You don't want one-to-one transmission of information. You want one-to-many. 

A lot of reasons to avoid one-to-one transmission exist. But one big one is known as the "pass-along effect." Joe tells Jill something. Jill tells Jane what Joe told her. Jane tells Jim what Jill told her. And so on. By the time the information has made a few "transfers," it is incomplete, distorted, or wrong.

Companies get all out of whack when their "secret" new product is disclosed before the supposed "bang" event they have for launch (which curiously these days, is often just a press release ;~). So they go all out on withholding information. Moreover, the product doesn't actually lock until the last minute, either, so the information that is released is created and delivered in a hurry, and incomplete. 

Lately, Nikon has had a hard time getting their brochure for a new camera ready so that it's available the minute the Web sites go live with a new product. That's the moment when you most need that brochure, as it's a one-to-many information provider, and in Nikon's case, tends to contain not only the complete specifications but also a reasonable demonstration of the product highlights in action. 

I've said before that Nikon doesn't use their Ambassadors particularly efficiently. NikonUSA has 35 Ambassadors. Europe has 20. Heck, Australia has 11. So ask yourself this: on the day that a new Nikon camera is announced, do you see 66 Ambassadors who've shot with the camera for a week or more doing any deep blogging or vlogging about it? I hate to pick on one, but here's NikonUSA Ambassador Moose Petersen's entire output on the D6 on launch day. At least he had something.

While I'm picking on Nikon here, I'm not seeing any other company doing much better. Indeed, GM just yesterday "announced" 10 new electric vehicles. Oh, wait. They only invited a few of what they thought key press, they didn't provide a lot of information, they wouldn't allow photos (I'm not even sure they showed complete vehicles), and because the paucity of information was so low, GM's message will get distorted randomly as it journeys through the Internet. (What I got from one auto press report was this: it'll be 2022 before we see a new Bolt and another vehicle in this EV "lineup." And 2025 before all 10 have been officially revealed. So, basically a FUD event—fear, uncertainty, and doubt marketing—aimed at trying to nip Tesla and some others before they steal GM's customers.)

More than ever, companies need to up their game on product launches. They need to use as many one-to-many alternatives to trade shows as they can. They need to get better about complete and transparent information about the new products. They need to launch when they can deliver in volume (because that amplifies the one-to-many thing if people start handling and buying it, and then word of mouth happens). 

I've mentioned before that I very much like what Sony has been doing with Kando (Kando 4 is this fall in Sun Valley, Idaho). Unfortunately, it, too, is the type of event that can be disrupted by something like the Covid-19 virus. So Sony needs to come up with a way to "virtualize" Kando for those times when they can't do it with people coming to one location. Heck, it's just a good idea to virtualize it in some way, anyhow, as done right it would promote the same things as the real Kando does.

I've also mentioned before that I think that most of the Japanese camera companies are pretty poor at marketing. That's at the old-school type of marketing that's now getting disrupted by Covid-19. They haven't even begun to get the 21st Century marketing right. It's time they did. It won't be easy. It's not being done well by many, so there aren't many examples to look at for help in understanding what you need to do. Which means that you have to experiment, you have to take risks, you have to try new things. 

Nikon 2020 News

In these folders you’ll find the several hundred news and commentary articles about Nikon and DSLR cameras that appeared on this site in 2020:


Nikon 2019 News

In these folders you’ll find the several hundred news and commentary articles about Nikon and DSLR cameras that appeared on this site in 2019:



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