I Know Why We Sometimes Hate Computers

I remember this poster from the 1990s that read something like this, "If you want a job screwed up, give it to a person. If you want it really screwed up, do it on a computer."

I think most of us can relate, even today. The fact of the matter is that computers haven't really made us happier. Yes, they're faster, sleeker, and more powerful. But friendly... not really.

I'm really good with technology. It's been part of my living for decades. And I have weeks where it feels like the silicon chips are conspiring against me. (Or is it something more sinister?)

Where it's particularly annoying is when something that was working just fine, suddenly decides to go haywire. I could see if I was tinkering with it then broke it. But more often than not, this isn't the case. 

Everything is so darn connected that a worker bee changes a setting on a server thousands of miles away, and suddenly you don't have access to your website anymore. A not nice person, someone you don't even know, decides to attack you. Or for some unknown reason, your Internet doesn't work anymore because of a system upgrade by your provider.

More often than not, the reason why we hate computers is because they're not reliable. They mess up our schedules, productivity, and frame of mind.

The problem is, people do too. In fact, they're often behind the technology problem. And there's where the expectation breaks down. We thought that computers might save us from human shortcomings.

And the reality is,

it's still people messing things up.


Greetings Earth from a Digital Photographer

I posted a story today on TDS about a free set of film profiles from VSCO. They allow Lightroom users to apply the look of TRI-X and Kodak Gold 100 emulsions to their digital images.

Just minutes after going live, a tweet came my way stating, "Why not just shoot the real thing if you want the look of film? Lots of us still do!"

OK, fair enough. But I actually have my reasons.

In my own twisted, making obscure connections way of thinking, I thought this was a perfect topic for Earth Day. Because one of my greatest concerns as a film shooter was dealing with those nasty chemicals that eventually found their way into our sewer systems, or even worse, our ground water.

Even as a teenager working on the school newspaper, I had concerns about those chemicals - which was interesting, because I rarely cared about much outside of my own sphere in those days. Of course I know there's proper handling guidelines for photographic chemicals. But I also realize that not everyone follows them.

Yes, I love film. But I like digital even more. It's faster, cleaner, and more versatile. My computer is a laptop that manages energy quite efficiently. And the gear that I'm not using, I sell to others so it doesn't go to waste - and that includes me buying used equipment too.

I know I'm not the greenest person on the planet - far from it. But I do try to conserve water, fuel, and electricity. And I don't like careless pollution. And even though I love the look of film, I make no apologies for using lines of code to produce my images instead of celluloid, D-76, and rapid fixer.

So, hello planet earth from this digital photographer. I'm thrilled you survived another year, despite our callous efforts. And I promise...

I'll try to do even better moving forward.


The New Lightroom Tempts Aperture Users

Adobe released Lightroom CC today with performance improvements and a few slick new tools. They have steadily refined their photo management app for enthusiasts and pros, and to be honest, it's still the best option for those looking to migrate away from Aperture.

The problem of course, is getting there. 

There's no magic button you can push, or single lever you can pull, to move your thousands of images from one application to the other. Adobe's migration tool is clunky at best, and 3rd party options aren't much better. It's not really their fault, however.

It's truly trying to change an apple into an orange. The two systems for handling your files are different, especially the image editing engines, and there's no real getting around it

I like Lightroom CC. It may even become my new go-to app for handling photography. But I'm not going to try to convert years of Aperture work into Adobe's system. I'm going to leave that exactly where it is: in Aperture.

If I decide to make the jump, then I will start using Lightroom fresh and go from there. It's not convenient by any means. But this is the hand we've been dealt. 

And if there is a silver lining, it's that Lightroom continues to get better with each release.


I Feel Like I Can Shoot Anywhere

After Saturday's wonderful adventure at Oracle Arena for Game 1 of the NBA playoffs, I'm more convinced than ever that nimble photography is the best approach for events - at least for me. It's just so darn painless.

I entered Oracle Arena the standard way through security. I was carrying my Walking Man Shoulder Bag that contained the Olympus E-M10 with a Panasonic 20mm pancake mounted and ready for action. The guard opened my messenger bag, looked at the petite camera, and waved me through... as he should have. It's well within Oracle regulations.

I also packed the Olympus 45mm f/1.8 prime, again legal for NBA action and shot with it during the game using the 2X digital zoom function (giving me an effective 180mm f/1.8 prime lens). That's all I had: one camera, two lenses.

As I explored Oracle before the game shooting candids of the fans, people were not bothered in the least by my photography. I kept the camera around chest level using the LCD screen for composition. So I wasn't pointing it directly in anyone's face, causing that uncomfortable feeling that results from someone lining you up in their sights.

I was just another fan (which I am) in a Warrior's T-Shirt taking photos before a big game. Just like everyone else shooting with their Samsungs and iPhones. The difference being, I had a quality sensor, great glass, and a much more artistic look to my images.

Afterwards, I was reminded again at just how fun nimble photography is. I travel light, capture great shots, and am not a nuisance to others. Does it get any better for a street shooter?

This coming weekend I'm leading the San Francisco Street Shooting Workshop. Not everyone there will embrace my extreme nimbleosity. But that's OK. Those who do, will enjoy a stimulating, picture-filled weekend without tired shoulders and aching back. They will feel great.

I've never enjoyed photography more than I do now. And for a seasoned veteran such as myself, that's saying something.


Why I Didn't Buy an Apple Watch Today

I wasn't online last night shopping for an Apple Watch. It's rare that I pass on a new tech product designed by Jony Ive.  But to be honest, I'm not really that interested in it. I like my existing chronograph with leather band.

The Apple I fell in love with focused on desktop publishing, photography, and filmmaking. I thought Think Different was brilliant, even though personally, I preferred Think Differently. 

The tools they designed helped me become a better artist and an entrepreneur. Actually, I'm not sure what I'd be doing  today if it weren't for Steve Jobs.

But the Apple Watch is a departure from all of that. A $500 timepiece for the wrist is a fashion item. In my world, that's an accessory.

On the other hand, the iPhone is a necessity. And based on what we might see with the new camera in the 6S, it may become even more important to my work than it is already.

So I won't be writing any articles about the latest product from Apple.

That is, until later this year.


Pimp My Ride

Some guys like cars, others like cameras. (OK, well I love cars too, but you get my point.) And during the last week, I've been souping-up my E-M5 Mark II.

I started with a few stock accessories. First, I added the HLD-8G External Grip that looks sharp and provides more stability. Plus I gain an headphone jack to monitor the audio.

Then I switched optics to my all-time favorite, the silver M.ZUIKO Digital 17mm f/1.8 lens with metal lens cap. It's the closest thing to a chrome bumper that you can get for a camera. And to protect that beautiful glass, I added the Hoya 46mm EVO Antistatic Protector Filter that has 16-layer super multi-coating.

For the finishing touch (and after much searching), I scored the Gariz Genuine Leather XS-WB1 Camera Hand Strap for Mirrorless that looks absolutely sharp and feels great. And just to be on the safe side, I added a 3" screen protector for the articulated LCD. Nobody wants an unforeseen scratch to mar the glossy sheen of their viewing screen.

If you want to see what this all looks like, I've posted a shot of the E-M5 Mark II on my Flickr page.

When it comes to obsessive, photographers can hold their own with anyone.

And that especially applies to me.


We Need Something New

Here's where things stand at the moment.

Lightroom 6 is just around the corner. I'm sure it will be fine. Just fine. And the official release of Photos for OS X is imminent also. Yay.

Both present decent business opportunities for me. But it's a loveless relationship. I'm not excited. We'll go about our work and get the job done. But that's about it. It's boring sex if you ask me.

Am I jaded? Hardly. I'm spinning cartwheels over my latest camera, the Olympus OM-D E-M5 Mark II. I can't get it in my hands often enough. I want to write about it all the time. I feel like a 17 year old with a new muscle car. 

So I know I'm alive. Really, it's not me. It's them.

With Apple selling out to iPhone snapshooters and focusing on Dick Tracy watches, and Adobe plodding along with their mandated release schedules, who's left to knock our socks off? C'mon guys, what happens after we take the picture can be exciting too.

When it comes to photography software, we need something new. Someone, somewhere has to step up to the laptop and give us code to cheer about.

Cloud storage is not the answer. Hell, not even Apple can keep their servers online. I watch what Olympus is doing with pixel shifting sensors, Fujifilm with killer film emulators, Sony with jewel like cameras that take big pictures, and wonder why they can cause tingles when supposedly the smartest companies on the planet settle for catering to the masses.

I wrote about a free app called Fotor recently. Have you seen this thing? It's terrific. Can you imagine if those creative minds attempted to do something big like Lightroom? You would be racing to your computer after a shoot to play with the images.

Here's the thing... I'm not ready for an iPhone-only, cloud storage, auto everything world. I love photography. I want applications that live up to the standards of my cameras.

Right now, I'm a bachelor when it comes to post production. I'm not tied to anyone.

So, someone please,

thrill me.


Now that Aperture Is Near the End

In a few weeks, Apple will remove Aperture from the Mac App Store, and it will no longer be available. This marks the end of one of the best runs of my career.

I first learned about this software for pro photographers in 2004, while having dinner at an Italian restaurant in San Rafael, CA. I was invited there because my name ranked high in a Google search for iPhoto experts. Think of this meeting as a one-on-one focus group. The name Aperture never came up that night. But we talked at great length about how to improve photo management for serious shooters.

A few months later in 2005, Aperture 1.0 was announced by Apple. Soon after, I recorded the first lynda.com training with Scott Bourne, and I was asked by IDG to teach the first Aperture workshop at Macworld Expo in San Francisco.

Over the next few years I enjoyed incredible access at Apple, created the Inside Aperture web site for O’Reilly Media, recorded podcasts on the Apple campus with project manager Joe Schorr, and started the Aperture Resource Center on The Digital Story.

And things did not slow down from there.  I recorded another six Aperture titles for lynda, was invited to speak on photo management at camera clubs and user groups, started my own workshop series teaching the application, and used it daily for my photography work. 

Then in June, 2014 I received a call from Apple PR. “We are ceasing development of Aperture.” Our growing concerns were finally realized. By April 2015, Aperture will no longer be for sale.

I’ve been asked many times what I’m going do next. Move to Lightroom, maybe? I honestly don’t know; we rarely know our next move after a loss.

As I reflect on the last 10 years, I’m grateful for my good fortune. Accepting an invitation to dine at an Italian restaurant in San Rafael was one of the best business decisions I’ve ever made.

A lot has changed since then. Apple is a much different. DSLRs no longer rule photography. My work at O’Reilly remains online, but I haven’t talked to them in years. I will never have the opportunity to teach Aperture again.

To be honest, I really wanted this to keep going. But it’s over. And soon something new will come along. 

And when it does, the adventure begins again.


How I Made Money with Filters

Let me back in to this conversation by saying that this all came about because I've been selling some of my photography gear.

As part of my transition from DSLRs to more compact mirrorless cameras, I've shed a few lenses that I'm not using anymore. A big part of my selling success is that the glass is in great condition. These optics have no marks or scratches, and I pack them in the original boxes with all of the accessories.

Customers like this because they can save money compared to purchasing a brand new lens, yet receive something that looks just as good. And this brings me to filters.

From day one, I put protection filters on my lenses. I've been through all of the discussions about how they may compromise sharpness or degrade contrast. (Of course they're telling this to a guy who regularly shoots through hotel and airplane windows. What do I know?)

But the fact of the matter is, you can buy a good multicoated filter with excellent light transmission, or you can cheap-out for a hunk of glass glued into a metal ring. There's a big difference.

For example, I just bought a Hoya 46mm EVO Antistatic UV Filter for my Olympus 17mm f/1.8 prime lens. It features: 

  • 16-Layer Super Multi-Coating 
  • EVO Antistatic Coating that Repels Dust, Water, Stain, and is Scratch-Resistant
  • Optical Glass Construction

This is a quality optic in its own right, and I don't think my pictures are going to suffer as a result. And since I have many lenses that take this filter size, I will receive years of service from my investment. (I may sell lenses, but I rarely sell filters.)

And this leads me to how I make money with filters. When I sell my lenses, I can list them as "Like New" or "Excellent" condition. This earns me $100-$200 more in revenue for each sale. The front optics are always perfect... they haven't even been cleaned because they don't need it.

I know nobody likes to buy filters (or car tires and things like that). But photographers who are on the go can better protect their gear by shielding that big hunk of glass at the end of their cameras from the elements of the world.

It's not so much an expense, as it is an investment.





The $449 Watchband

Now that I'm back from my latest travels, I had planned on writing about making movies and negotiating deals. But those topics will have to wait for another day.

Today's subject began innocently enough with my having to replace the leather band on my intelligent quartz sport watch. It's a handsome timepiece that I've received many compliments on, until I told the admirer that it was made by Timex.

I logged on to Amazon and found an expedition styled leather strap with polished bucket for $12.99. My current band has lost one of its loops and is over 2 years old. Time indeed for an replacement. 

Coincidently enough, Apple was streaming their presentation about the new Apple Watch. The entry level model costs $349. I figure that it's a small computer. Fair enough. But then there are the watchbands with their own pricing structure. I went online and read the sales copy for the Classic Leather Buckle:

From the renowned ECCO tannery in the Netherlands, the Dutch leather used for this band is milled to give the grain a subtle, distinctive texture. The simple closure is crafted from the same stainless steel as the case. It’s a beautiful take on a traditional band design.

Oh brother... Price: $149

It gets better. The Modern Buckle is $249, and the Link Bracelet is $449 (watch not included).

I had just sold an Olympus OM-D E-M5 in pristine condition with zoom lens, battery, and all of the accessories for $449. A camera that is a marvel of technology made from precious metals with precision craftsmanship sells for the same price as a top of the line watch bracelet made by Apple.

Now I know about fashion and how much designer handbags can cost. I grew up in Southern California. You can easily spend over a grand for a Louis Vuitton Damier Duomo bag. 

But Apple is the company that makes the tools I use to support myself. I think their computers, phones, and tablets are the model of form, function, and yes, value. I've always felt that I got what I paid for.

But there's something that bugs me about them selling a $449 watchband. I never really respected Coach and Gucci. And who knows, maybe I'm still upset about them not honoring their commitment to Aperture users. Hard to say.

What I do know is that I've seen friends wander off like this before. I usually don't go with them. Instead, I'll snuggly loop my new leather watchband around my wrist, fasten the buckle, then smile and wave to them from the distance.

Hoping inside, that it won't be too long before they find their way back home.


Why Personal Projects are Important

I do a lot of work for other people. And I enjoy it. But it's the personal projects that truly satisfy.

This web site is an example. If I didn't have The Nimble Photographer, I wouldn't keep up with my journal entries. Seeing it there daily as a tab in my web browser reminds me that I need to write something with an opinion - not news, not an article, but words from the heart.

Posting to Instagram is also a personal project. Seeing its icon on my iPhone Home screen reminds me how much I love photography. Instagram is my visual journal, a place where I can share something interesting that I saw that day. 

If I hadn't established these platforms for sharing, then I know that the days, weeks, and even months would go by without me creating something that wasn't an obligation.

I have friends who do the same thing. They set up a project and tell themselves that they are going to finish it by the end of the month. And in order to do so, they often have to set aside a few tasks that would otherwise occupy their time.

There will always be tasks, but not always time.

My personal opinion is that life should be more than a checklist of duties. I value my family, friendships, pets, and personal projects.

I don't know what was on my work ToDo list earlier this month. But I do remember writing From the Bad... and publishing a photo on Instagram of a man reading a newspaper in a Chinatown alley painted green. I'm smiling right now thinking about them both.

These are the endeavors that keep me going. Because at the end of the day, I'm more than a job.

And this is from a guy who is very lucky at work.


Starbucks Listened (I Hope)

I'm sitting in a Starbucks right now drinking a Tall Americano - I know, the irony of my drink choice doesn't escape me either. 

This is the very Starbucks that I criticized not long ago for its terrible WiFi and flippant response to my complaint about it. I'm writing this post on my iPad mini connected to a very fast Internet. That's right, the problem is fixed. 

I spent $6 for a coffee and breakfast sandwich, not expecting a thing more. But when I checked my iPhone while standing in line, the login screen for Starbucks WiFi appeared, and it's been nothing but love ever since. 

I don't know how this came about. Nobody contacted me. Starbucks just did the right thing and fixed the problem.  

So it's only fair that I now proclaim: The Starbucks in Coddington Mall, Santa Rosa CA, presents a clean hospitable atmosphere, serves good coffee and food, and has excellent WiFi.

You should stop by if you're ever in town. 



From the Bad...

I'm not even going to look at my todo list for today. Why should I? It's nearly dinner time, and I haven't been able to yet.

This has been a remarkable day. One in which problems lined up at my doorstep ready to cross the threshold without an invitation. There were technical difficulties, such as the most important podcast of the year not being served to my subscribers. And I could not figure out why.

On the personal front, my boy was so very sick with an exam scheduled that did not allow for makeups. He didn't know what to do. Then, I had a dear friend going through a tough time with what appeared to be no light at the end of the tunnel. And there was more.

It would have been an easy day to give up on people and withdraw. "There's nothing I can do about it."  But instead, in each instance, I stepped into the breach and was honest about the situation. And each time, people responded.

My The Digital Story audience rallied around technical alternatives and keep me posted on the progress of the repair. By mid-morning, we were able the fix the problem. The teacher who had a "no makeup test" rule came up with a solution that allowed my boy to stay home and get better, without failing the class. And my friend reached down inside and found the courage to overcome the challenge.

Most people would say that I had a terrible day. Yet, much like my visit to Cuba, my belief in human character has been affirmed once again.

I'm impressed that time and time again, from what appears to be the bad,

is really an opportunity for good to emerge.


The Movie Deal

When I say that I got a movie deal, it's a bit different than when Brad Pitt signs on the dotted line.

His contract is worth 7 figures. Mine is four. Brad's film will be screened from coast to coast in theaters, then available online. I jump directly to the online part. And of course Brad's debut will be accompanied by launch parties and TV appearances. I'll bring a couple six packs for the production crew once we complete filming.

Even though my world is much different than Brad Pitt's, I love making movies. And I just got the green light for "Travel Photography in Cuba" with lynda.com

This is a project that I began totally on spec. My friend Neil Bauman offered me a photographer gig on a People to People tour that he was putting together. He helped defray costs, but I had to come up with airfare to Miami, my own gear, spending money on the road, and hotel rooms in Florida. I scraped the money together.

There are some things you know you should do, and this trip was one of them.

Before departing for Havana, I wrote my content director at lynda, Jim Heid, and asked him if he were interested in a travel movie set in Cuba. He wrote back the same day. We decided that I'd go shoot, then we'd iron out the details upon my return.

The shoot went better than I could have ever hoped. And when I returned to California, we crafted the storyline for presentation to the lynda brass. Just a week later, I signed the contract.

I'm lucky that I can make a living doing things that I love, such as sharing stories and adventures from an island in the Caribbean. It's a risky business. I take my best shot, and hope for the best. There are no guarantees.

I guess that's one thing that Brad and I have in common.


One American Flag

We were all a bit weary upon our return to Havana from Santa Clara. Our eyes were full, but our stomachs were empty. And a glass of 3-year-old rum never sounded better.

We checked in at the Melia Cohiba Hotel, and agreed to meet back here, downstairs, at 7pm for dinner. I then pulled my suitcase over to the elevators and went up to the 12th floor. When I opened the door, I was greeted to my best room yet in Cuba, much bigger than during my previous stay. I had a view of the ocean to one side and surrounding hotels on the other. It was spectacular.

Somewhat reenergized by this good fortune, I treated myself to a Cristal that was chilled in the fridge alongside two Cuban colas and 3 bottles of water. Unlike American hotels where a beer would have cost me $6 or more, I only had to pay a couple pesos. I finished the beer, changed clothes, and closed the door behind me.

A few of us got to the lobby early and were comparing notes from the day. Someone asked, "Did you see the American flag out front?" 


"Yes, I was told that it's the first time ever here. They just put it on a pole out front."

The Melia Cohiba Hotel was built in the 1990s when the Cuban government opened its doors to specific types of foreign investment. Since it was a choice for many diplomats and other working visitors from all over the world, the hotel began a tradition of flying flags out front representing the various countries of its visitors that day.

That is, unless you were American.

"Derrick, you have to get a picture of this."

"I will. I want it in the morning light. Morning will be good for this shot."

At breakfast, I had two cups of Cuban coffee, two fried eggs on a pancake, and a banana. I then went out front and photographed the first American flag ever flown at the Melia Cohiba Hotel. I watched it flapping in the breeze for a few moments, then put away the camera and greeted my friends.

We boarded our bus for the meeting in Havana. Our driver, Pedro (whom we all had become quite fond of), pulled a small U.S. flag from his shirt pocket. It was attached to a wooden stick, looking like a table decoration from a Fourth of July picnic. I had no idea where he got it.

He attached it to the Rosary hanging from his rear view mirror. I was tickled seeing it hanging there in the front window. We then departed for downtown Havana to attend to the day's business ahead:

Fourteen North Americans, two Cubans, 

and one American flag.