My ideas….

I get asked a lot where my data comes from.  I get asked “how do you know?”

That happens because I have some pretty radical ways of looking at things, but I back those up with statistics and evidence and reason.  It can be kind of interesting to look at where all of my conclusions come from, and that would be this complicated work environment on my computer.

I always have Paint Shop Pro 7 open…..the ancient and venerable PSP 7.  I use it because the workspace is super clean, all the palettes can be moved around, the browser  is always floating, and I tend to have a dozen or more open images….that’s one important way I remember things I’m working on, I leave open images as reminders.  They’re visual cues for me to keep returning to:

Because one thing I pretty much never do, is take a new idea and push it through all at once.  I write it down, or make sketches or notes or take test pictures and leave those ideas open in one of several places so I can wait for the idea to take final form naturally.  That’s why, on just about any day, I’ll have as many as 20 open text documents….they’re quotes or the foundation of an essay, or a chapter from a book or just something I want to proofread.  In some cases I’ve edited and re-edited a document over and over for more than a decade.

In almost all cases, an idea has existed for MONTHS before anyone sees it in any form.

And all of my documents are organized by topic and date, in folders I keep front and center, going all the way back to 2002.  Some days I just pick a folder and open every document in it, delete some, correct some, combine them, shuffle them.  It’s a fluid process:

But having ideas is easy.  Having an opinion is even easier… so I have a set of rules for my ideas, and the most important one is that I don’t put any idea “out there” until I’ve tested it.  Usually I’ve both tested and researched it, but the testing is more important, and I do this in four ways.

I do side by sides.  Whenever I compare ISOs or focal lengths or apertures, or composition styles…whatever it is, I create what I call a “VS”

A “versus” image:

Right now my “VS” folder has more than 2000 files in it.

The other way I test is by taking it into the field.  I teach photography, One on One, which gives me an endless laboratory environment to test out theories.  If I want to know if it’s possible to learn to “focus-recompose” and use it with extreme shallow depth of field, I don’t use myself as an example.  I carefully watch 20 or 30 learning photographers as they go through the process and take NOTES.

If I want to know what focal lengths are most popular, I don’t guess, I let photographers use a variety of lenses over a long period of time, and keep statistics on which images most people preferred.

Teaching One on One gives me an opportunity to PROVE that some of the traditional ways we do things, don’t actually make sense…and I prove that by taking a large sampling of shooters using a traditional method, and teaching them a better method, keeping track of how things get easier or faster or more effective.

Another thing I do, is obsessively watch other photographers in the wild.  This is how I came to the conclusion, a long time ago, that our present two systems for learning:

Formal education
Crowd-sourced on the internet

…are both actually pretty ineffective.  Most photographers, even most full-time working professionals, do some very obvious things incorrectly.

(if you want to know how I know they’re doing it incorrectly…that’s simple….go back up to One on One Classes above)

And the last thing I do, to test ideas and support theories, is I SURVEY large numbers of photographers.

Twice every year I survey 1000+ serious or professional photographers to establish trends and preferences and behaviors.  I started in 2013 and since 2014 I’ve been paid to collect this data.  It allows me to find out broad patterns, to understand photography and photographers as a WHOLE.  I get to skip past individual biases and look at AVERAGES and common factors.

I also do a lot of smaller surveys:

Beyond testing, I reinforce ideas with lists, flowcharts, notes and diagrams. Probably my most powerful tool is graphically diagramming composition.  I create about a thousand of these a year:

I think one of the things missing in photography, is the complete tear-down and re-build phase.  Our knowledge about photography and how to learn photography is a patchwork tacked on to old school photography.  There are a few problems with that, and one of the biggest is that the technology side of photography dramatically changed in the last 20 years.

Another problem, is we’ve learned more about light and composition and style in the last 20 years than we had in the previous 100….but we nostalgically give more weight to the older ideas.  Photography needs a house cleaning, and a redecorating.

That’s what I do.  I’ve been tearing down photography for 16 years, and putting it back together in a way that not only makes more sense….it’s much easier to LEARN.



The book “The Mountain and the Pebble” on Amazon