Three Dot Lounge for Photography for February 13, 2015

Three dot lounge is a recurring collection of things that deserve more than a retweet. Stay tuned for fascinating opinions and pithy commentary. Also keep an eye on my Twitter feed for more interesting stuff.

Commodity Failure: A Rant

Commodity Failure: A Rant

Most of us conduct our business in a free-market economy. People offer things for sale, and people buy those things. The price is determined by the value you offer. And yes, if someone offers something for free, it can sting. And it can make you want to complain. And lash out. Because that’s easier than getting creative about finding a solution, and it’s sure as hell easier than recognizing that if someone is hiring a Craigslist photographer for $1.50 instead of you, they clearly don’t see (this is going to hurt) enough value in what you offer to pay for it. In short, you think it’s more valuable than they do, and that’s a problem.

This is something I’ve argued for a while; complaining about photographers giving away images or discounting them won’t stop it, and it ignores the real problem: If you can’t sell images against these other people, then your images are overpriced or simply don’t stand out compared to all of these other images. The answer isn’t to try to force everyone else to make your business wishes easier to accomplish, it’s to fix your own work. Make it better. Make it unique. Market yourself better. Sitting back and complaining is easy and gives you an excuse to justify your failure — but it won’t lead you to find a way to succeed.

The online world isn’t going away. The sharing universe that sprouted online isn’t, either. If that’s messed up your business models, you have to either adapt or your business will fail. And you can complain about how it’s all these other people’s fault in the coffee shop, since you won’t be spending your time selling your work any more. Or you can shut up, get off your butt, and find a way to be better than all these other people that you’re complaining about (and who happen to be kicking your butt in the market).

You Cannot Please….

You Cannot Please….

There’s one of the conundrums of blogging in the proverbial nutshell. As you can see from the above, “You can please some of the people all of the time, you can please all of the people some of the time, but you can’t please all of the people all of the time.”

Trying to please everyone forces you to be so bland that you end up pleasing nobody. Trying to create content because you think others will be interested in it generally creates really stilted and uninteresting content.

I think for sites like this what matters is creating content because it interests you and you have something to say, and writing things that please you as the writer and site owner — and then letting that content find the audience that appreciates it. When you try to outsmart the audience you’ll usually come across as commercial or pandering, and that rarely works for long…



It’s not 2005 anymore—the bar for website design is set very high and is increasingly difficult to surpass. A fast, gorgeous, mobile-ready website, designed specifically for photographers can be yours for less than $20/month. Why on earth would you try to do this yourself?

Given I just did this myself, you might think I’d disagree with this, but I think for most photographers, you’re better off spending your time with the camera and not building out the geeky details of your website.

Why did I do it? I enjoy doing it, both as a hobby and part of what I do for a living.

I keep thinking some day I might hang out a shingle and start doing this for others — become the “IT guy” to other photographers — because I’m both good at it and I have the background. And frankly, it would be hard to market myself if my own site didn’t show those skills off.

And I use these design sessions to explore things I’m curious about or want to try and experiment on, like my repeated For Your Consideration experiments.

But most photographers? A good site on a place like Photoshelter or hosted on WordPress with a good theme and some simple customizations is more than enough. And for the ones that need more than that, a budget to hire someone to do the work and maintain it later frees you up to create more images and content, and you should think long and hard about what your time is worth, because I’ve found most people discount the value of their own time. There’s a time for sweat equity, and there’s a time to outsource and focus your hours on your core skills and the income generating tasks of your business — just like at some point you send off your taxes to a pro, you should do the same with your web presence.



500px is having a strong influence on the landscape photography community and in the views of some, including me, this is not a positive development. I am weighing in and discussing some of the arguments that others have made on this topic because I find 500px’s influence to be damaging to the direction of landscape photography overall and harmful for individual photographers who feel the strong pull to conform because of the site’s dominance.

I got into a bit of a discussion with Sarah on this on Twitter and wanted to amplify my thoughts a bit. My note to her was that 500px didn’t start this and that the problem is bigger than 500px.

500px is carrying on a tradition that started with Flickr and their “interestingness” algorithm and explore pages. When Flickr was trendy, getting on explore was something people put a lot of energy into trying to hack the algorithm to make happen (if you ever see those “post one vote three” groups on flickr, that’s one aspect of this attempt to outsmart the algorithm, one that almost never worked).

More generally, I think the big problem is that online, the first interaction with an image is via a thumbnail, and that thumbnail has to convince you to click through to a larger image. That you’re looking at a thumbnail inherently biases the kind of images that are seen as interesting — it encourages large and vibrant colors and large structural elements, and it really hinders the appreciation of subtle colors and textures. It’s the visual equivalent of trying to evaluate music coming out of a loudspeaker locked in a closet.

Things are getting better: thumbnails are larger today and this is one reason my redesign minimizes using thumbnails in the first place and uses larger (250px) miniatures when I choose to use them. This is also one reason why I’ve said before and I continue to say that serious photographers should own a decent printer and make a habit of printing stuff out and living with it on your wall — because images are completely different at 8×10 or larger than they are in any form online, and you’ll see subtle beauty in them that’s lost in an online version (as well as all the flaws that get lost in tiny images — but learning to fix those flaws make your images better at all sizes, so it’s worth the work).

We could even, I think, trace this back to the kind of imagery we shot in Velvia, which for a while in the “just before digital got hot” transition was used a lot in the kind of photography that was printed in the magazines we read, back when we had magazines. Perhaps that conditioned us to aim for that kind of image when we did migrate to digital in some ways.

All of this has created a generation of image viewers that are conditioned to these really colorful, vibrant colors, and sites like 500px are both reacting to this and reinforcing it. I also feel (hope?) this is a phase and that at some point we’ll move on to appreciating images that are less about beating us over the head until we applaud and more towards a more nuanced type of image.

Until that happens, I’ll have to settle for not being terribly popular with the types of folks who love 500px, and instead focus on creating the kind of image I think ought to be more popular, and then trying to convince people to pay attention to them. Maybe if more of us did that, it’d help speed the end of this particular photographic fad (phase? style?). After all, in painting, cubism was a thing at one point, too…

New Gear Frenzy: Thoughts on the Canon 5Ds, 5Ds R and Canon 5D IV

I’ve been getting a lot of questions about my thoughts on the recent Canon 5Ds and 5Ds R DSLR announcement including…

  • Are you getting one?
  • Which one?
  • What’s the difference?
  • Is this the Canon 5D IV
  • Is it worth sticking it out with Canon vs jumping to Nikon or Sony?
  • I’ve also seen a lot of random rash statements online such as….

I’ve seen similar questions out of the bird photography community. My initial thoughts on the 7D Mk II are here. In it I kind of bitchslapped Canon a bit, but I thought I’d go into a bit more detail.

Canon’s product efforts have really shown a focus on their high margin lines — their Cine cameras (1Dx) and to a lesser degree their high end bodies. We’re finally seeing some nice new lenses come out, such as the replacement for the old stalwart 100-400 or the new 400mm F/4. These new lenses can be summed up in one of two ways: boring or expensive.

Lost in all of this are the low end, mid-range and the prosumer type cameras. The Canon 7D Mk II was an update we waited over five years for, and to be blunt about it, the only thing that really stands out from other parts of the Canon line like the 70D is the autofocus (which is great) — but the camera is almost twice the cost of a 70D. To me, the 7D Mk II has a very specific audience: 7D owners who want to upgrade because their bodies are old and beaten up and don’t want to ‘downgrade’ to a 70D even though for most of us it’d serve the purpose quite well.

Most of Canon’s “affordable” lines are like that: the T5i line, the 70D series of bodies — all show fairly basic incremental improvements from generation to generation, but not a lot to generate excitement. Nothing in the line — starting with the 7D Mk II and down into the entry level bodies, are doing anything that makes me feel enthusiastic about recommending Canon to new users. I haven’t studied the Nikon line too closely, but in talking to my Nikon friends, they seem to be doing things that Canon isn’t.

So right now, to me, the primary reason for buying a new Canon body, at least until you get into the $2000 and up range for a body, is because you’ve already invested in Canon lenses and your old body is falling apart.

That seems like a lousy reason to be loyal Canon customer. But that’s all I’ve got right now.