Contemplations, Ramblings, and Rants

Thoughts on photography, books, music, and other things that bring value to my life.

We sure have it good these days with digital photography, don’t we? Back in the film days there were physical and economic limits on how many photos you could make. Comparatively, digital photography allows for virtually limitless capture of images. You are really only limited by the storage capacity of your memory cards and hard drives, both of which are relatively inexpensive these days. That’s great, right? Or is it?

The past several months I’ve been spending a lot of my free moments painstakingly going through old photos and purging those that have no business taking up space on my drive. In fact, I’ve deleted more photos than I’ve snapped lately. Several of my photographer friends seem quite puzzled by my doing this. “I don’t delete anything.” “Why not just get a larger drive?” “Storage is so cheap, just buy more!” They’re right on one point. Storage is cheap. However, the angst caused by the clutter of files in my library is quite expensive. Too much is too much and that only brings about stress.

For a little over a year now I’ve been working toward a minimalist lifestyle. This touches every part of my life and my photography is not excluded. I’m down to one digital camera (well, two counting my iPhone). I’ve shed lots of possessions, including photography gear, that amounted to dead weight in my life. Moving to a new home provided a great opportunity to really scale things back. As I packed boxes, I was amazed and appalled at some of the clutter I’d been holding on to for years. I’m now finding out that those physical things were easier to deal with than the cluttered mess I’ve been hoarding on my hard drive.

Like many photographers these days, I’ve tended to overshoot and ended up with lots of data. I’ll be honest here — most of it is crap. By that I mean nothing of substance artistically, technically, or emotionally — just digital junk and lots of it. After 10 years of digital hoarding I now have a new perspective and clarity of mind about what brings me value. I’m left with the digital spring cleaning from hell. Now that I’m trying to go back and curate my old work, oh how I wish I’d done a better job of culling back when I originally took all these photos. I’ve spent countless hours purging digital clutter. It’s a tedious process, but it feels so good as I make my way through each archived month. It’s nice to be able to scroll back through old work to see only the good stuff and not wince at the not so good. That’s not to say that every photo is some amazing work of art. It’s just that remains are images in which I find value.

I’ve learned my lesson and culling is now job one in my post-production photography workflow. The sooner I can separate the wheat from the chaff, the better. After I get home from a photography outing, I pop my memory card into my system and open Photo Mechanic. This is a wonderfully fast application for whipping through photos to make selections and apply keywords. I started using it back when I was doing sports photography and now I use it for everything. In Photo Mechanic, I quickly go through the images directly on my memory card. I look at the large preview of each photo and tag my selections. This is done very quickly. I won’t look at a photo more than 2–3 seconds. I try to avoid the urge to zoom in to 100% during this process. This isn’t a technical assessment really. I’m trying to answer one question — do I like this or not? No maybes — this is either a workable image or not. While I’m doing this initial pass, I’m not thinking in terms of quantity. If I shot 100 images and only tag 10, so be it. 10 strong images alone is way better than another 90 mediocre or downright crappy images.

Once the tagging pass is done, the picks are ingested onto my hard drive. From there, I import into Lightroom CC. In Lightroom, the second culling pass starts. I go through each image again at full screen. Depending on the nature of the image, I may zoom in at 100% to check details. I will delete images that have technical issues on closer scrutiny, if something like sharp focus is needed for the image. If I imported similar images, I will choose the best one and delete the rest. “Best” is not necessarily technically best, as in sharpness, exposure, etc. A shot that captures a powerful emotion is going to win over a humdrum image with better technical traits.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned about myself, it’s that I’m most at peace when my choices are few. After two passes of culling, I’m left with a much smaller set of images to post process. Now, I make my post processing pass. The first pass is relatively quick — maybe a preset, tone curve adjustment, highlight/shadow adjustment, etc. This is to get the overall look I have in mind for the photos. After that is done, I do one more pass at full screen and make any final cuts. If an image is a “meh” rather than a “hell yeah” after initial post processing — delete. Once I’m happy that what remains are keepers, I’m make another editing pass for fine tuning. Note that by this point the photos I didn’t pick no longer exist on my drive. After I have confirmed that Lightroom CC has synced to the cloud, I’ll perform my backups. One to a backup hard drive, and one to my Backblaze cloud account. At that point, the memory card is formatted. There is no going back.

While talking about my culling process with a photographer buddy, he said culling is his least favorite part and basically avoids it. He has a flock of hard drives to prove it. No thanks — I’m perfectly happy with the single hard drive whirring away on my desk. Now, everybody is different and maybe some people find value in holding on to high numbers of photos. Professional photographers may have no choice. I just know that’s not for me. Are you stressed out by having to deal with an unmanageable hoard of digital files? Consider culling up front to prevent compounding the problem. Yeah, hard drives might be cheap. Peace of mind from a clean, curated body of work — priceless.

I’ve been learning to meditate for about 6 months now. When I first started, I simply sat sloppily cross-legged in a soft, oversized chair in my office. While it certainly didn’t promote good posture, it was fairly comfortable for the early days of trying to meditate for 5 or 10 minutes while pondering how I really suck at meditation. I was having enough trouble trying to wrangle my stormy mind; Sitting “correctly” was the least of my worries.

Eventually I decided to try some guided meditation classes. I started off using a regular chair in class until one of my teachers asked one evening if I’d like to learn how to sit in traditional pose. I wasn’t sure at first since I’m not in the greatest shape and my hip flexibility is rather limited. It would have been easy to say no thanks, since most people at the place I go to sit in Back Jack style floor seats with lots of carefully positioned pillows and blankets. Some people lay down for meditation. Sometimes I hear them snoring.

After talking to my teacher and considering the benefits of having a more grounded seat that correctly aligns the spine, I decided to give it a go. I found that a Burmese style of sitting with the ankles approximately in line with each other (not stacked) was the most feasible position. Yeah, you’re not going to see this guy twisted into a Lotus position any time soon. I’m going to go with never.

Initially, I started by using either a Yoga bolster or blankets as my seat. My legs would start to go to sleep after maybe 15 minutes. After some research online, I ended up ordering a crescent shaped meditation cushion, which supposedly would add a little support under the thighs and help keep my legs from falling asleep. That was better, giving me 20–25 minutes of time before my legs were killing me and I had to readjust. That was OK for my shorter meditation times at home. It could be brutal in longer 30–45 minute classes. Yet, I persisted.

I could have given in at any time and started building comfy cloud seats or beds like most of the folks in class. In fact, I was encouraged to do so by some teachers. Comfort is greatly emphasized by most teachers and I get that. People generally don’t want to experience discomfort and you don’t want to run them off by directing newcomers into something that they probably aren’t going to enjoy. So why was I putting up with discomfort? Well, I didn’t want to be uncomfortable. I’m not looking for a daily period of suffering in silence after all.

Here’s the deal. When we set an intention for our meditation in class, mine is always the same. Peace. I practice meditation as a way to find peace of mind. I’m looking to calm my anxiety ridden mind and find peace. Wouldn’t it be a more peaceful experience if I were to be completely comfortable during my practice? Maybe. Probably. The thing is though, I’m not just looking for a short 30–45 minute respite. What I really want is to practice something that helps me find peace in any situation, not just when I’m in a safe and comfortable place.

When you suffer from anxiety and depression like I do, learning to find peace in discomfort and pain — whether physical or mental — is a valuable skill. I have found that if I can objectively and unemotionally acknowledge the fact that a part of my body is upset with me and move past that feeling to find my breath and be peaceful in that bit of discomfort, I can also do the same when I start to feel that twinge of anxiety trying to get a foot-hold in my mind.

That doesn’t mean that I will purposefully seek to be uncomfortable or persist in doing something that will cause harm to my body. I’ve been practicing Yoga and that is helping with flexibility. I’m becoming less uncomfortable in longer seated meditations over time. Still, I have concerns when the numbness in my legs becomes overwhelming and disrupts my meditation practice. Sure, I can readjust my posture and take the discomfort down a few notches, if not relieve it completely for a while. That really disrupts the whole stillness thing though and could potentially be a distraction to others in a group meditation setting. So, I’m experimenting with different solutions to better suit my current physical state of being.

For shorter meditations, up to 15–20 minutes, I can handle a cross-legged pose just fine. Any discomfort will be minimal and as easily acknowledged and forgotten as a stray thought. For longer meditations, I’m currently trying out a kneeling Seiza style pose with the help of a meditation bench that supports my body weight. This encourages proper upper body posture and I’m able to sit longer without the discomfort reaching my limits. There is still some discomfort as my feet can get a little numb after about 30 minutes. Even so, it is quite an improvement over the cross-legged pose. It’s more of a slight annoyance compared with the intense sensation of my whole legs going numb and tingly. This may be just the ticket until my flexibility improves enough for extended cross-legged seating, if it ever does, through my Yoga practice.

In addition to the mental benefits, I’m finding that my focus on correct posture in my meditation practice is spilling over into my daily life. I’m more aware of my posture when sitting at my desk now and I’m making an effort to avoid slouching or bending my neck into my screen. As my spine becomes stronger through Yoga and correct alignment in seated meditation, better posture becomes easier in general. That can only be a good thing for those of us who stare at screens all day.

I share this experience not to knock anyone who prefers to have a comfortable back supported or laying down position on plush pillows. If you are finding value in your meditation experience that way, more power to you. Not everyone is even physically capable of assuming a traditional pose. No worries. If you are able though, it may be worth pursuing one of the traditional cross-legged or kneeling poses. It will almost certainly not be comfortable over extended periods but if you are able to find mental peace in spite of minor discomfort, you’ll be developing a skill that stays with you when you’re not seated on your cushion.

I consider myself mostly a minimalist these days. It was something I was kind of heading toward, at least in some areas of my life, when I stumbled across the The Minimalists’ documentary on Netflix some time back. The whole idea of minimalism had already been seeded for me with a realization that I had way too much photography gear and that I actually felt more creative and comfortable when I worked with a minimal set of equipment. After shedding a bunch of photography related stuff, I started looking at the other things in my life. After a lot of introspection, I realized that in general I’m most at ease when my choices are limited. Things, or at least the excess of, truly brings stress to my mind. Thus began a slow and deliberate purge of the excess.

Really though, I don’t think “minimalism” is an accurate word to describe my evolving belief system and lifestyle changes. In my experience, a lot of what is labeled minimalism these days might be more accurately described as intentionalism. I’m more intentional in what things I choose to bring into my life and in what I retain in my home. Minimalism as a term often seems to bring about an idea of deprivation and that’s not what it’s about at all. It’s not a competition to see how few things you can own. Well, at least not for me. Rather, it’s about keeping a perspective that things are just objects that can help bring value to my life or not.

I got to thinking about the Marie Kondo craze that has captured a lot of attention these days. Her method seems to be mostly geared toward organizing and decluttering from what I can tell. I haven’t read her book, although I did try watching her show. It took 10 minutes to decide it wasn’t for me. Mainly, I can’t seem to relate to the whole “does this thing bring you joy” idea. It’s an evaluation of things based on emotion and that doesn’t work for me. Value — that’s a better word than joy for describing how to evaluate things, in my opinion. Does this thing bring any value to my life? That’s the question I ask myself about everything I own.

Experiences and relationships are what truly bring joy, not things. While I am a photographer, my camera doesn’t bring me joy as an object. There’s nothing emotional or magical about holding it in my hands. It’s what I do with it that creates joy. That thing is valuable to me for that reason. It’s an important distinction — the camera has value as a tool and I do things with it that result in joy. I’m not emotionally attached to the object as a source of joy.

As I look around my home periodically, I ask myself if things truly bring me any value. Or do they cause me stress? Are they in the way? Are they there “just in case”…except that a case for owning them hasn’t surfaced in the past decade? Does the clutter they contribute to a disruption of my clarity of mind? Am I storing things that I no longer get value from that maybe somebody else would get value from now? A feeling of joy over an inanimate object doesn’t come into play for me in my evaluation of my belongings.

If something is deemed to have no current value or any value in the foreseeable future for me, it gets removed from my life. Only you can decide what things are truly valuable in your life. The Minimalists, Marie Kondo, or any other guru of better living can’t figure that out for you. If owning something is causing grief in your life then the answer is obvious. And really, it’s not just about getting rid of all your shit purely for the sake of being tidy. Everyone is different and some people do thrive among a surplus of possessions. I have friends, for example, who have collections of guitars to the point where it would appear that sanity and reason have fallen by the wayside. But they play these instruments and they obviously enjoy the unique experience of playing each one. They make amazing music with them.

Some people may find a collection of things — be it guitars, cameras, whatever, to be fuel for creativity. Know thyself. It wasn’t until around age 50 that I understood my own mind to the point that I know I am at my best mentally when my choices are minimal and my environment is free of excess stuff. Too many things and choices to make regarding those things is mentally crippling. I’m much happier grabbing my one camera bag with my one camera in it rather than standing in front of a shelf of camera bodies and lenses while over-analyzing what to take with me that day.

Getting rid of the stuff that I truly found no value in has been liberating and my careful, objective scrutiny of the things in my life has contributed the development of a more mindful way of thinking that brings better focus and clarity to my personal and professional life. Figure out what adds value to your life and, in turn, helps you to create your joy. Then get rid of the shit that doesn’t do that.

A consistent practice of mindfulness through meditation and Yoga has done a great deal to improve my life as a sufferer of anxiety and depression. Most days are good, although the struggle still exists to a much lesser extent. It’s a tough battle to fight even though I feel like I’m better equipped than I’ve ever been in my life.

The fight against anxiety has been a little easier. Once I learned that breath is the enemy of anxiety, I’ve been able to use techniques I’ve developed in my meditation and Yoga classes to breath my way clear of attacks when I feel them coming on. Depression, on the other hand, has been tougher to defend against. I faced that battle on my way to my Yoga class this morning as the feeling of sadness and despair washed over me like a thick fog. I found tears starting to well up in my eyes as I sat in my car, having arrived a little early to class.

While mindfulness meditation has taught me to treat my thoughts with objectivity and a non-judgmental attitude, my first reaction to the wave of negative emotion was anger. “Oh hell no”, I thought. “I’m here to practice something that brings me peace, so fuck you, depression. Get out of my head now!” Well, let me tell you that doesn’t really work. So, I pulled out my phone and started up a short mediation in the 10% Happier app. I closed my eyes and tried to lock in with my breathing.

It was so tough to focus. As fast as I could acknowledge the thoughts whirling around the tornado of my mind, new ones replaced them. It was the same story I’ve heard before. “Why bother with anything? You’re not worth it. You’re broken. What the fuck is wrong with you? You have nothing to be happy about. No matter how hard you try you’ll never get ahead. You should just go home and sit in a dark room. Blah, blah, blah…” Yeah, that voice of depression is real asshole.

I was able to breath my way to some level of calmness but I was still rattled when I went in to my class. I was quivering a little and actually wondered if I might pass out on my mat. Then we started our pre-Yoga meditation. I managed to find my breath under the gentle voice of our instructor. Thoughts were still buzzing like flies in my head as I tried to bat them away. Then my instructor said something that shined a bright light through the mental fog. While talking about acknowledging thoughts without dwelling on them, she said, “Don’t follow the story.” Wow. That’s when it hit me. All the individual thoughts I was trying to wave off were part of the same story.

When depression starts to set in, the truth of the matter is that the asshole voice in my head is my own. That first wave of unreasonable despair and sadness pitches me a plot that my mind latches onto and fills in the story. I start ruminating and pursuing negative thoughts to irrational conclusions. Really bad fiction. That’s exactly what I was doing while sitting on my mat. “Don’t follow the story.” It was like a switch got flipped on in my head. I recognized that all my negative thoughts were part of the same story and I was the one writing it!

That storm of thoughts whirling around in my noggin was due to my allowing myself to explore the story prompt that depression initiated. I was in the storm and I needed to move away to a safe observation point. Somehow my acknowledgement that all those individual thoughts were part of the same narrative made it easier to move away from that line of thinking. It was like I now faced only a single foe rather than an army. I labeled the sum of my mental state “depression” and the instance my mind tried to head down the path of that story, I thought “don’t follow” and returned to my breath. The focus on my breath became locked down and I was able to start checking in with the rest of the body. I was starting to win. It ended up being a peaceful Yoga session.

2018 was a year of positive change overall in my life. That said, it was a tough year and at times it felt like I was walking over hot coals while trying to make my way through it. I made great strides in my physical health by losing quite a bit of weight and getting some exercise in. Mentally, I wasn’t doing as well.

The dastardly duo of depression and anxiety hit me hard amongst the pressures of an intense few months at work, along with a couple of tough semesters in a degree program that I’ve been working on. I worked hard but failed to take care of myself completely. I allowed myself to go the whole year with virtually no time off and by December it was catching up with me in a big way. With the holiday season and end of the year swiftly approaching, I scheduled a few weeks off. No trips were planned. I just had a mission — deal with the stress and anxiety that was creating an unrelenting storm in my head.

It was several months back, late summer I think, when I started dabbling in mindfulness meditation. I’d first learned about it through an interview with Dan Harris on a podcast. Intrigued, I ended up reading his two books on meditation and subscribed to the 10% Happier app. For a few months, I did my best to integrate a mindfulness meditation practice into my life. I had some success and was starting to see some positive results. Still, I wasn’t consistent enough and I had lots of questions and doubts as to whether I was doing it right. I decided I needed to find a teacher or mentor to help me get locked into a practice that would do the most good.

Some Googling led me to a few places in the Austin area that teach meditation classes. I ended up contacting a place called The Meditation Bar (a meditation center with bar in the name sounded like my kind of place.) After a talk over the phone with the owner, Josh, I was enrolled in my first class. I took a mindfulness meditation class with a wonderful instructor who welcomed me as a newbie and walked me through my longest meditation to date. She helped me with my seated position, posture, and breathing. My skeptical questions were cheerfully answered.

After my first experience at The Meditation Bar, I realized what I was going to do with my vacation time. I signed up for an introductory one month membership with unlimited classes. It was an amazing deal and I committed myself to making the last three weeks of December a kind of mini retreat where I’d attend a bunch of different classes with different instructors to see what clicked.

Fast forward to the end of my month of mindfulness. I attended a variety of classes including meditation, yoga, Qi Gong, and Tai Chi. It was just over 20 classes that I ended up attending. It probably would have been more if not for closures due to the holidays, along with my holiday obligations as well. Nevertheless, I felt like I covered a wide gamut. I worked with a number of male and female instructors. Following are my impressions of the experience.


I focused the majority of my first couple of weeks on sitting meditation classes. This is the area that I was most excited about since I was already working on my own practice. The instructors helped me to learn the best way to sit, which is a huge help for my home practice. While a couple of instructors offered easier seated positions in chairs or back supported floor cushions, I was insistent about learning to sit “correctly”, if there is such a thing. Personally, I found that a stable, grounded position in a sort of cross legged Burmese styled leg arrangement while sitting on a Zafu cushion worked the best.

The seating position in meditation looks calm and comfortable but the reality is that it takes a good deal of effort and there are discomforts to confront. The body will complain eventually after sitting for a good length of time and dealing with that is part of the process. Just like the mind is directed back to breathing as it tries to flit about in racing thoughts, so the body can be directed back to a focal point other than dwelling on minor discomforts or itches.

The guided meditations mostly focused on breath. Some sessions focused on an examination of the body, mentally checking in with each part while seated. There are different ways of bringing a mindful focus. For me, breath seemed to be the best thing for the centering focus in meditation.

Some of the instructors enhanced the meditation experience with sound, either as soothing background music or instruments such as singing bowls, chimes, or percussive instruments. Some even sang or chanted. The bowls played by some instructors made for an interesting experience. Initially, I was kind of jarred by the surprisingly loud droning tones. I’ve got a lot of hearing loss from my days as a heavy metal drummer, who foolishly neglected to use ear plugs. As a result, I have tinnitus, a ringing in my ears that never goes away. One neat thing about some of the bowls is that they seem to hit frequencies that masked the high pitch that is always present in my head. I wasn’t sure about them at first but I’m beginning to accept the use of the bowls as a way to help keep my focus in meditation.


While I’ve been interested in yoga for quite some time, I was always unsure about trying it. I had these visions of being the only guy in a sea of yoga pants clad women, contorting my body into seemingly unnatural positions while trying not to fart or rip a groin muscle. As luck would have it (thanks to the weird holiday schedules), my very first yoga class had me as the only student in a class taught by a guy. I got some personalized instruction that helped to allay my fears and give me some confidence that I could actually do this stuff.

A lot of the classes melded meditation and yoga together and the more I experienced this, the more I realized that some yoga would be a great complementary practice with my mindfulness meditation. I got to try a number of different styles and paces of yoga. What was resonating with me was a relatively slow pace with longer holds of the poses.

I learned that pushing a little into discomfort (without so much as to cause injury, of course) is a very useful skill that not only helps in mastering yoga poses, it also helps with sitting meditations over longer periods. I’ve seen increased flexibility already and my muscles are starting to allow me to get into a better cross-legged seated position with my knees lower to the ground.

Yoga emphasizes breath control, which absolutely helps in meditation where focus on the breath is key. The biggest benefit for me perhaps is that I’ve found the power in using breath to thwart anxiety attacks. Anxiety causes shallow breathing that deprives the body of oxygen and throws you into a fight or flight mode that can spiral out of control. Breath, as it turns out, is the enemy of anxiety.

The breathing techniques I have been learning through yoga and meditation have enabled me to completely prevent the onset of a couple of anxiety attacks from taking hold on me. I was amazed the first time this happened. “Holy crap!”, I thought. “I’m winning the fight!”

Qi Gong / Tai Chi

I’ve had exposure to Qi Gong and Tai Chi before, having taken classes at a community college a few years back. Qi Gong offers breath work that, again, enhances meditation and helps combat anxiety. The 24 movement Tai Chi form taught at The Meditation Bar is the same form that I previously learned, so that came more naturally to me. I originally learned it more from a martial arts perspective, so there were subtle nuances in the interpretation of the form.

I always found it difficult to practice Tai Chi on my own, preferring to participate in a group practice. It was refreshing to return to it after years of absence. I think there is great value in the concentration and mindfulness needed to execute the choreographed Tai Chi forms. While in the big picture I think meditation and yoga are more suited to my personal practice at home, I plan to re-acquaint myself with the Tai Chi 24 movement short form and see if I can work it into my personal practice.

So, where am I at after a month of trying out various mindful practices? Thanks to The Meditation Bar, I had the opportunity to work with a number of teachers. It was a hugely positive experience. While a few classes were a little woo-woo for me (not that I’m knocking the teachers or students who are into crystals, incense, and the like — it’s just not my thing), I never felt uncomfortable. I went in looking for a more down to earth secular version of mindfulness practice and I found a few teachers that I connected with in my experiences. This place really did seem to have something for everyone. Long term, I plan to attend at least one meditation class a week and, as time allows, a yoga class. This is, of course, in addition to my personal time at home, which I want to be daily-ish. I will try to meditate daily without being super critical with myself if I have to miss a day.

A mindfulness practice of meditation, along with yoga or Tai Chi over the past month taught me several lessons:

  • Breath — Breathing is life. Focused breathing nourishes the body and mind, brings calmness, and destroys anxiety. Discomfort — We all must weather discomfort, pain, and loss. It’s a part of life. The notion that we can be perpetually happy and pain-free is bullshit. Through mindfulness practices, weathering those storms when they inevitably come is a lot easier.

  • Gratitude — A practice common to the instructors that I worked with is an attitude of gratitude towards one’s self for making the effort to do something that has real lasting benefits. We always closed our time with an attitude of thanks to ourselves for making the time for ourselves. It may sound silly but this is a powerful idea. When you struggle with depression and anxiety, there is a lot of self loathing. An attitude of gratefulness to yourself is a huge defense against that false line of thinking.

  • Self-worth — This goes hand in hand with gratitude. When you struggle with depression and anxiety, there can be this voice inside you that says terrible things. “You don’t matter. Nobody cares about you. You suck.” That voice is a real asshole. It’s also a total liar. Those things aren’t true at all. You don’t deserve that kind of crap and mindfulness meditation really helps to address it. “Oh yeah, you’re that voice. Whatever…I’m too busy breathing to listen to you. No brain cycles for self-loathing or rumination.”

  • Openness — I tried a lot of classes and while some didn’t click for me as much as others did, I was open to try. Approaching mindfulness practices with an open, non-judgmental mind really helped to produce an enriching experience whether my beliefs were aligned with a particular instructor or not.

  • Peace — In most of the classes I attended, we were asked to set an intention for the class, i.e. what we desired to get out of it. I always chose peace. That made the most sense to me. I can’t ask for a life free of discomfort, pain, or even occasional suffering. If I can find peace though, I can get through it.

Anxiety and depression are a battle fought in the mind. While there are a lot of physical and mental factors that influence these conditions, mindfulness practices, in my experience, offer a powerful toolset to help win that war. As of tomorrow morning, my mini-retreat/vacation is over. Back to the working world. I know I am in a better place now and I’ve picked up new habits and skills to help me be the best I can be.

“Let me take my thoughts away, to think about another day, remembering the times I pray, to help me deal with me.” Dogman, King’s X

I’m sure I’m somewhat of an oddity among photographers. While I enjoy making photographs, i.e. using my camera to capture images, I don’t like post processing. I spend way too much time in front of computers at work and the last thing I want to do is to spend hours more at home staring at the glowing screen while pushing pixels around. There has to be an easier way. I’ve been looking for that way for some time and have been testing the waters with a new workflow. Actually, it’s more than a workflow. It’s a commitment to ecosystems.Before venturing into something new, I put a lot of thought into what I wanted in a photography workflow. I came up with a set of wants and desires.

  • Mobile capability — I don’t want to have to be seated at my office desk to work on photos. Maybe I want to sit on a couch or a in a comfortable chair. Maybe I want to pop into a coffee shop or pub and work on some photos while enjoying a beverage.

  • Simplicity — I’ve scaled my post processing work down the past couple of years to where I do minimal work on my images. I don’t need powerful bloated editing applications any longer. Dodge, burn, tone curve — I could live with only those capabilities.

  • Cloud based storage — I use a few cloud services for my images, which up until recently were only for hosting and backup. I wanted to be able to edit cloud hosted images as well. Sure, I’ll maintain a local backup but I don’t want to have to be plugged into a local piece of storage to get to my stuff.

  • Lower hardware requirements — Given my minimal editing, I don’t need a powerhouse machine any longer. I was looking at getting a new system and I didn’t want to have to spec out an expensive machine since I’m not going to be doing things like editing with dense layers in Photoshop.

After much deliberation and experimentation, I settled on Adobe Lightroom CC with their cloud service as my main image storage and editing platform. The scaled down desktop app provides everything I need for my editing. Over the course of a week or so, I uploaded all of my images into the Adobe cloud. Prior to beaming everything up, I did a good bit of Spring cleaning, ruthlessly deleting a lot of old work. As of this writing, I have 32,000 images in the Adobe cloud. My subscription is for both Lightroom Classic CC and the CC cloud only app. When it comes time for renewal, I expect to move to CC cloud exclusively. That will cost me a mere $10 a month for the cloud storage I need.

I mentioned my decision to a good friend of mine. “You’re committing to an ecosystem”, he said in a scoffing tone. I was greatly amused by his comment, as he works for Apple — the epitome of a tightly closed ecosystem. Apple is in fact the other ecosystem to which I have aligned myself in my grand experiment. My 27” iMac was gifted to my wife whose aging iMac was dying a slow death. I found a 13” MacBook Pro on sale at a decent discount and that is now my primary system.

The first few weeks with the MacBook weren’t as rosy of an experience as the software. I quickly discovered that the keyboard is really annoying. I’m forced to use the Bluetooth keyboard that went with my old iMac. The thermal performance of the MacBook leaves a lot to be desired as well. The fans kick on loudly if I do much more than use a web browser. It’s louder than my iMac by a considerable amount. The only time my iMac every made any noise was during video rendering. The keyboard gets quite warm but since I’m using the external keyboard that isn’t much of an issue. Don’t get me started on the fact that Apple has gone to only USB-C ports and that my model only has two. Not one fucking USB-A port? Ah well, I knew that going in. Dongles it is.

I had another hardware issue in that my old Wacom tablet was getting flakey. As I considered the cost to replace it, I decided to instead put my money toward a basic iPad. It was actually my original thought to get an iPad Pro instead of a MacBook but when I looked into that possibility I concluded that would be too much of a limitation, at least today. Local storage is the biggest factor. While I’m embracing cloud storage, for now I still want a local backup. Maybe in a few years I’ll change my mind. It will take a while to gain the confidence to let go of that level of control and possession.

In any event, I’ve grown to love editing with Lightroom CC on my iPad. I use a simple stylus and I can do everything I need for editing my images. To my surprise, working with raw files is actually faster on my iPad than on my MacBook Pro! The desktop CC app seems to do more rendering work during editing while the iPad works off the Smart Preview it generates. While the cooling fans of my MacBook scream like a banshee if I dare open a Fujifilm raw file, the iPad whips right through them. I had gotten away from raw editing almost entirely over the years since I started shooting Fujifilm cameras and now the iPad with Lightroom CC makes it quick and fun again. I love that whether I pick up my MacBook, iPad, or iPhone that all my images are available (assuming I have a WiFi connection, of course.) I’ve actually used my iPhone a few times now to show images to people and even do a few edits.

My workflow is a bit broken up at the moment. I haven’t gotten a card reader for the iPad yet and I’m using my old workflow for ingesting images on the MacBook. I use Photo Mechanic to cull images before pulling them into Lightroom CC. Once the images are in the cloud, I switch to the iPad for editing. While editing is quick, exporting is way too slow and cumbersome. I’m thinking there must be an easier way to do this on the iPad but I haven’t had to time to pursue it. For now, once the edits are done I just do the batch export on my MacBook and upload the images to my web gallery.

My images are in 3 places in the cloud: Adobe, SmugMug, and Backblaze. The original unedited files are on an external drive attached to the MacBook. Adobe keeps that in sync for me when it is connected. On import all of my files are beamed up to Adobe and when the drive is connected they are replicated locally. Backblaze copies that external drive to its cloud. I anticipate using this system through this year before I reevaluate. This gives me 2 cloud copies of original files and edits (Adobe stores the originals along with metadata, SmugMug is edits only, and Backblaze is both.)

To get my wish list, I’ve aligned myself with 2 ecosystems — Apple and Adobe — for better or worse. We’ll see how this goes. I’m excited about the mobile editing on the iPad more than anything. That thing has become a regular companion, not only for photography, but for education and reading as well. I watch a lot of education videos on that thing and it’s easier to tote around than the MacBook. Apple seems to be devoting a lot of their efforts to improving the mobile side of their business and by the look of things on my MacBook, perhaps that area is being a bit neglected. If the iPad experience continues to improve, I won’t shed a tear over walking away from desktop computers for good.

It seems to be a really exciting time for photo enthusiasts lately as far as gear is concerned. My inbox and photography oriented social media feeds are pumping a steady stream of new product announcements. Photography podcasts are devoting lengthy segments to discussion of new gear. The industry pundits and gear heads are all atwitter over the supposedly earth shattering, life changing, uberamazing new cameras from the likes of Nikon, Canon, and my preferred brand, Fujifilm. Mirrorless, megapixels, megafast autofocus…oh my. For the first time in my 10ish years as a serious photography enthusiast, I don’t give a rat’s ass.

A while back I purged all my digital camera gear, save for my Fujifilm X100F along with its two conversion lenses and, of course, my iPhone. It took a long time and a lot of money to figure out that I didn’t need all the other stuff for the kind of photography I truly enjoy doing. I was already feeling great about my decision when just a few weeks later the announcement of the successor to my recently sold Fujifilm X-T2, the (yeah, you guessed it) X-T3 came out. When the new models come out, the old models tend to plummet in price pretty quickly. I sold at a good time.

While I’m sure the new Fujifilm offering will bring nice improvements, I’m not spending any time looking at specs or reviews. Nope, I’m not tempted even a little. It’s a great feeling. I already have what is sufficient for me. The camera manufacturers will always have something new with another bell or whistle. We’re living in a time though when for the most part there are no bad choices in cameras. Rather than be swayed by the allure of the latest photon capturing box, just pick one and practice. It’s not the gear that holds you back.

Will I ever consider another camera again? Well, yeah, I’m sure the day will come. There would have to be a truly compelling reason to justify the cost and my attention to the matter — an absolute requirement for something that my current gear is unable to handle. Or maybe a truly revolutionary and exponential advancement in capability in an area that is important to me (more reliable low light autofocus comes to mind for my concert photography.)

I’m all for the advancement of technology. However, I will not allow myself to be a lemming chasing after the newest product offerings for no good reason. Nor will I allow myself to accumulate any debt to pursue a new bit of gear for the sake of owning the latest greatest new thing. I’m content with my camera and I’m choosing to be a better photographer with the gear I have, within the limitations I have self imposed.

Back in the summer of 2014 I had the opportunity to attend Photoshop World in Las Vegas. Now, I’m normally not one to get too psyched about an event like this. We’re talking about packed days of brief one hour or so sessions. Depending on the instructor, a lot of the sessions in events like this can feel like drinking from a firehose because too much material is being crammed into such a short timeframe. Other times I’ve come away from similar events feeling like a lot was lacking for the sake of brevity. Too deep or too shallow — it’s hard to find a happy medium when the instructor only has about an hour slot. Still, I knew I was going to be able to attend some sessions of a few people I really respect and I’d get to hang out with some good friends. Of course, being in Vegas I knew there would be plenty to do in the after hours. I was mentally prepped for 3 days of little sleep, fellowship with some good people, and learning a thing or two about Adobe software.

While I was prepared to soak up various photography and post processing techniques from some of the industry’s best photographers and educators, I found that for me new technique was the least of what I brought back. This wasn’t because there wasn’t great stuff being taught — quite the contrary. It was just that there was way more important stuff that I heard. Things I needed to hear about purpose and philosophy — that deep stuff that is so much more crucial than any technique or gear. I also saw things that I needed to see. Images that rose above the techniques used to create them and moved me personally. I went to the conference expecting to simply learn about Photoshop and other Adobe apps. Maybe pick up some lighting or posing techniques. Yeah, I got a little of that. More importantly though I was hit with thoughts, stories, and images that shook the hell out of me and made me think long and hard about the art of image making.


If I could sum up what image making is about in one word based on what I saw and heard at Photoshop World, passion is the one. The folks whose images bowled me over the most exuded an infectious passion for their work. They’re not snapping photos willy nilly. They know what subjects move them and they seek them out. They’re connected with their subjects — in the mix, getting dirty, for better or worse, long hours — tirelessly. You don’t just see their images, you feel them. There is a story behind them.

Dave Black really drove this home for me. I dabble in sports photography and Dave is one of the best in that area. His images are special; I’ve thought that since I first saw his work years ago. After hearing his stories and talking with him personally, I know why now. It’s the passion. He loves what he does. He goes the extra mile and then some to get the shot. He captures the passion of the athletes he photographs. Sure, he catches the action. His images are much deeper than that though. They tell stories. With passion. He got close to a lot of these people.

The emotional series of images from his years of following Michelle Kwan still linger in my mind. Through her successes and failures, he was there capturing her passion, sharing in it with her. “She was my favorite”, his voice quivered with restrained emotion at the end of his panel presentation. I admit a tear rolled down my face. Passion.


I attended a couple of Joel Grimes’ sessions. He is one of my favorite photographers and I was really excited to see him in person and meet him. I love his work and I find his talks extremely motivational. Joel has great mind for business as well as art. He tells things like they are, communicating the realities of the photography business in an inspiring manner without pulling any punches. This is a hard business to be in and it’s not getting better. Now more than ever it takes persistence. I’ll admit I don’t take rejection well — who does?

Joel is very successful as a commercial photographer and he’ll be the first to say that it doesn’t come easy. Expect rejection. Expect a lot of “no.” Expect to get knocked on your ass. Over and over. Get up, dust yourself off. Keep going. Keep knocking on those doors. Keep picking up the phone. Get a “no” the first time? Call again. And again. And again. Favorite quote from Joel’s session: “It is a 100% guarantee that if you step out into the real world you be rejected. It is a 100% guarantee that if you don’t learn to overcome rejection you will never achieve your dreams and aspirations.” Persistence.


I believe the most powerful images come from what is deeply personal to ourselves. A lot of wonderful images were shared by the instructors at PSW. I saw some fantastic, mind blowing art. While I took in all this imagery I realized that catching someone’s attention, reaching the eyes, is the least difficult thing to accomplish. If you can engage someone’s brain and reach the mind, you have made an even more difficult step. If you can touch someone personally, reach in and grab hold of his or her heart, you have truly made a powerful image and successfully shared a bit of your self. Maybe that image creates a connection with the viewer. It occurred to me that an image can be both a window to another soul and a mirror of one’s self.

Creating and sharing of personal work was stressed by many of the photographers at a panel presentation. I found the work that photographers created for themselves to be the most expressive and by far the most moving. In particular I was captivated by the images shared by Julieanne Kost.

I’d previously known her as an extraordinary teacher. I give her full credit for helping me get my head wrapped around Adobe Lightroom. She is also an amazing photographer and artist. Her image presentation floored me — not because of the skill and technique that I knew went into their making. It was because they felt intimate, like a baring of one’s soul without uttering a word — reaching eyes, mind, and heart. Personal.

We photographers can be a curious bunch. We fret over hardware and software. Gadgets and gizmos. Tips and tricks. Plug-ins and Actions. Tools and technique are important to be sure. However, they are not the most important things in image making. I’m not even sure they make the top ten. I need to be reminded of that from time to time. I think we all do. I never would have guessed that would be the message I’d bring back from a Photoshop conference and expo.

“What do you shoot?” It’s a common question that I get asked as a photographer. A simple, perhaps logical first question to ask a photographer, right? Not necessarily. It depends on who’s asking. “Well”, I’m inclined to say, “My first love is urban landscapes. I also shoot live music, sports and portraits.” The average Joe will usually smile, say that sounds interesting, like to see your work, etc. If it is a photographer asking, more often than not these days the response is something along the lines of, “Oh. Yeah, that’s cool but I meant what do you shoot with. Nikon? Canon?” It has happened so often that when asked what I shoot by someone I know is a photographer, my first response lately is to return a question, “Subject or gear?”. Might as well cut to the chase.

The focus on the gear among photographers is troublesome. Sure, cameras and lenses are important (kind of need them to take a photo, right?) and gear is getting better and better at an amazing pace. The gear is far from the most important thing about the craft of photography though. If I’ve learned anything in my years of serious photography, it’s the mind of the photographer — his or her vision, passion, and creative desires that matter most. You can look at a photo and tell when it comes from a skilled and passionate photographer. I’ve seen folks share images that I can feel in my soul, taken with everything from pinhole film cameras, to cell phones, to the latest greatest bazillion pixel cameras on the market.

The manufacturers are pumping new cameras and lenses into sales channels in steady waves. Yeah, this gear is good and it’s getting better all the time. That model XYZ you’ve been shooting with is so last year! You need the model YYZ (Rush fans will get that). Or do you? Is that new model really what is holding back your progress as a photographer? Will whipping out that credit card for the latest camera body really result in more amazing images? Gear lust can be crippling when it detracts from what is really important in image making. It’s hard to talk with other photographers these days with conversation ending up on the subject of gear — comparing this piece of hardware to that one ad nauseam. Instead of portfolios we pull the latest gear acquisition out of our bags and proudly offer them up for other photographers to ooh, ah, and fondle over. The latest whiz bang camera or lens. Various kit, contraptions, and widgets. More megapixels, lower noise, thinner wallet.

Blogs by lot of photographers I respect and follow have become very gear heavy these days. It’s no surprise really. Amidst a flurry of comments on one gear focused post on a popular blog I follow, someone mentioned that it was interesting how a gear post really gets people talking. It’s true. Posts on my own site where I talked about the gear I use are by far the most popular. Posts about the art of photography or even a good collection of images seem to pale in comparison to gear posts when it comes to generating attention and stimulating conversation. Blogging photographers have caught on to that and shifted their content accordingly. Can you blame them? I can’t say I haven’t been tempted as well. Gear is indeed a powerful traffic driver. At the same time, I have to ask what is wrong with this picture (no pun intended).

Am I saying that gear doesn’t matter at all and that we should all shun that expensive digital gear in favor of cheap film cameras of yesteryear or dinky point and shoot cameras or cell phones? No, not all all. Gear needs to be capable of serving your particular needs. There are lots of cases where particular minimal gear is required: sports, low light, architecture, panoramas, etc. Depending on what you’re trying to photograph, you’ll need certain gear. Having that gear doesn’t mean you’ll be a better photographer for it. No gear is going to be that magical panacea that vaults your photos onto the covers of magazines. Believe me, I’ve been there — countless hours reading reviews and memorizing camera specs thinking that I just need to find that next bit of kit to take my photography to the next level. That’s bullshit. Funny how we look for hardware solutions to software problems. Gear can be bought; skill and mastery of a craft can not.

I’m saying that pursuit of gear should be secondary at best to the pursuit of finding your vision and mastering your art. Don’t let gear lust cloud your mind. Shoot what you have with passion. When you starting hitting walls that hinder your creativity due to gear restrictions then you’ll have good rational for considering a purchase of the next big thing instead of constantly fretting over whether what you have is good enough. Chances are what you have is just fine and your time will be better spent shooting the hell out of it than agonizing over the specs of the endless supply of new gear that floods the market continuously. It will all still be there when it becomes obvious that you really need an upgrade.