Archive for the ‘Thomas Hawk’ Category

Your First 100,000 Photos are Your Worst

Henri Cartier-Bresson once said that your first 10,000 photos are your worst. The point of that statement was that photography ought to be an art that is perfected with practice, hard work and repetition. It takes time before a photographer feels as one with their camera. Over time though you eventually learn your camera backwards and forwards, the two of you are old friends and you handle it with the skill of an expert. Likewise, after enough experience you begin to develop your own style. You find what works for you compositionally. Light and color take central stage as you do what you do best, naturally, borne out of habit and experience.

I would change Cartier-Bresson’s quote in the modern digital age to say that your first 100,000 photos are your worst. Maybe it really ought to be your first 1,000,000 photos are your worst.

America Coast to Coast Bicycle Trip, First Photos with an SLR, 1983

My love affair with photography began early when I was given my first camera, a Kodak Instamatic at the age of 7 or so. When I really became most interested in photography though was at the age of 15 when my parents bought me my first SLR. It was a Sigma camera with a zoom lens. The very first photos I took with that camera were the Summer between 9th and 10th grade when I rode my bicycle across America. I did the trip with a group called Wandering Wheels out of Taylor University. I rode my bicycle from Lincoln City, Oregon to Rehoboth Beach, Delaware over the course of about six weeks. It was one of the best things I did in my youth and seeing and photographing America in my youth has carried on with me as I continue documenting America now at the ripe old age of 48.

On my coast to coast trip in 1983 I shot Kodak slide film. I had the slides developed back in 1983 but I’ve never scanned or published any of these images. Today I finally got around to spending some time with Epson V700 and scanned in the 100 or so images I took on that trip. The slides are old, dirty and scratched, but here are some of my first 100,000 images.

America Coast to Coast Bicycle Trip, First Photos with an SLR, 1983

America Coast to Coast Bicycle Trip, First Photos with an SLR, 1983

America Coast to Coast Bicycle Trip, First Photos with an SLR, 1983

America Coast to Coast Bicycle Trip, First Photos with an SLR, 1983

America Coast to Coast Bicycle Trip, First Photos with an SLR, 1983

How I Will Publish One Million Photographs Before I Die

Waiting for the Mother Ship -- Death Valley, CA

My friend Chris Guillebeau sent me an email this morning about my uploads to Flickr. One of the things I love about Chris is that like me he is a big dreamer/achiever. For those of you who don’t know him, you should get to know him. He’s a huge motivation and someone who can help you achieve great things as well. Chris wrote up a really nice interview on my photography a few years back.

One of the things that Chris wanted to do was to visit every country in the world by April 7, 2013. For this goal he is using the United Nations list of 193 member states. You know what? He’s visited 192/193 so far. WOW! His Brief Guide to World Domination should be required reading for every person in the world. It should be taught to students especially.

I sincerely believe human beings are capable of so much more than they think they are. Unlocking our true potential and power comes from some very basic tools and techniques that can be learned. In 2005 I read a book that dramatically changed the way I think about my own life by Brian Tracy called Focal Point. I’d encourage you to buy this book and read it. It’s probably the most important book I’ve ever read. If you’ve got kids buy it for them and give it to them as well. It teaches you how to accomplish great things.

One of the things that I’ve decided that I want to do with my own life is to publish one million photographs before I die. When I talk about publishing a million photographs, I’m not talking about simple shutter actuations — I’ve already taken over a million frames. Anyone can push a shutter a million times. You could probably train a monkey to do this. Anyone can even publish a million meaningless photo clicks to the web — many in fact already have.

My quest is not simply quantity over quality. What I’m focused on is publishing one million *quality* photographs that I believe in and care about as personal art — photos that I can be proud of. Each photo I choose to publish is carefully selected amongst many different frames from a shoot. Each photo is individually worked with, processed, edited with software, keyworded, and frequently hand titled and geotagged (although not always, for those last two points). Occasionally I will create more than one version of a single frame, but each photo is unique and different.

Although I publish my photos to many different sites on the web, Flickr is where I’m presently maintaining my larger body of work. What a deal Flickr is — unlimited high res photos for $24.95/year. Nobody comes close to touching this. In addition to this great value, Flickr comes with great presentation tools, an awesome new iPhone app and a pretty terrific social network too.

At present I’ve published 79,783 photographs to Flickr. In addition to these published photos, I’ve got an archive of about 22,000 fully completed and finished photos in a folder ready to go to Flickr. Each day I publish about 30 more of these to the site, pretty much at random — or about 11,000/year.

Which brings me back to Chris’ email earlier this morning. Chris is working on a new book right now and for the book had asked me some questions last month about my photography. He was following up today to confirm that last year I published about 11,000 new photos to Flickr — which I’m going to confirm with him shortly after finishing this post — but in considering this, I realize that the 11,000 number for 2012 is problematic. It’s problematic because if you assume that I continue on at this pace, I will need to live 84 more years to realize my goal of 1,000,000 photos. At age 45 today, it is highly unlikely that I will live to be 129, and so at my present pace, this sets my goal up for failure if people take my publishing rate today at face value.

My goal is much more complex than simply 11,000 photos per year for the rest of my life though. I’ve thought about my lifetime goal for many, many hours and my plan to achieve it is more complicated than a simple number for 2012 might suggest.

I’ve actually worked out my lifetime achievement goal in rough form with a spreadsheet as I’ve developed my thinking. At present what I plan on doing is increasing my publishing rate of photos by 2% per year during the next 10 years. The reason why I’m publishing less photos today is primarily because I’m so focused on actually shooting the photos today. I want to spend the time in my life when I’m most physically fit shooting the most. I also think that time/age frequently add interestingness to many photos. So I’d rather capture photos here and now today than in the future.

If I increase my publishing 2% each year for the next 10 years (something I’m very confident I’d be able to do even with my current unpublished archive alone) I should have about 200,000 photos published 10 years from now.

10 years from now my last of four children, Kate, will (hopefully) be leaving us for college. With all four of my kids out of the house, I will likely spend less time on my children than I do today. So 10 years from now I will increase my publishing rate even more, about 5% per year — more time for shooting but more importantly, more time for processing. In 10 years I’ll have approximately 370,000 photos published.

20 years from now, not only will my kids (again, hopefully) be done with college, but I’ll also be able to retire from my day job at around age 65. This will then free me up 100% to focus my time and energy on photography. I plan to increase my publishing rate by 10% per year then.

After age 65 the proportional rate of time spent shooting vs. processing will likely flip flop from what I’m doing today as well. Instead of spending 80% of my time shooting and 20% of my time processing, like I do now, I’ll likely spend 20% of my time shooting and 80% of my time processing. When you’re an old man (not that 65 is old, but I’ll get older likely after that) it’s a lot easier to sit in front of a computer and process than it is to run around the country staying up 20 hours at a stretch and shooting.

If I follow this strategy, and the part between age 65 and 80 is super important, I will publish 1 million photos when I am 80. Government life expectancy tables today give me until age 83 to live, but I wanted a few years as a buffer in case I kicked the bucket early.

My biggest challenge in all of this is maintaining my unpublished archive. I want this archive to grow larger and larger and larger, even as my published work grows as well. By growing my unpublished archive larger, I ensure that greater and greater diversity will be represented in my daily publishing. This is a secondary goal of mine, to have as much diversity with what I publish as possible. 20 years from now I like the idea of a photo from 2010 being published alongside a photo from 2015 and one from 2020. I like the idea of my photos been diversified not just by time, but by location (I’ll shoot more and more locations over my lifetime), subject matter (I’ll shoot more and more different things), style (my style will evolve and change), etc.

As I pursue this lifetime goal I’m also cognizant of a powerful tailwind at my back — technology. Technology will make my goal easier and easier to achieve. Already in 2013 I’m blown away at how much faster I can process my work than two years ago. Going from hard drives to flash storage, going from USB to Thunderbolt, faster macs, better cameras, all contribute to ensuring that I will be able to keep pace in the future even as I grow my publishing rate. For the first time, this year, I’ve felt like the only thing holding me back with my processing is actually me. For the first time with the hardware and software advances, I feel like I’m working and editing my work in real time. The future is indeed bright for the future tools that will not only continue to make our images look better, but which will also help us do more faster.

One final note — this goal is intensely personal for me and me alone. I created it, I live it, I fuel it. Over the years I’ve had many who have been critical of my goal. Many don’t understand that quantity can also be quality. Many have expressed an opinion that taking so many photos somehow diminishes my work. Many people have a desire to produce less, not more. All of this is fine. Everyone can do whatever they want. This is just what *I’m* doing. I’m not saying that this is the right path for anyone other than me and me alone. I’m not making a larger statement about photography in general, or saying that people that don’t keep my path/pace are in any way less significant as artists or photographers.

While I’ve personally admired many of the most prolific artist/photographers in the world (Warhol, Eggleston, Winogrand, Friedlander, etc.), I also admire many photographers and artists who make great art in smaller but more intense doses too. Whatever YOU do is fine. Be true to yourself and follow the artist that is inside of you.

Thanks to Flickr for Featuring Me and My Photography on the Flickr Blog

Thanks so much to Yahoo and Flickr for featuring me and my photography today on the Flickr blog and the Weekly Flickr. I joined Flickr back the year that they started in 2004 and publish photos there every single day. It’s been a wonderful place to build my library and archive and publish my photography. I thought they did a really nice professional job with this video. Thanks!

An Interview With Thomas Hawk

An Interview With Thomas Hawk

Photographer Mathew Hanley has an ambitious goal to interview as many Google+ photographers whose work he likes as possible. I’m his fourth interview. I love seeing people pursue projects like this where they promote photographers on the web. In the interview I talk about my neon signs project, my 100 largest American cities project, and other ideas around photography and the web.

Check it out here, add him to your circles on Google+ here, and if he asks to interview you say yes.

What? An Interview with Thomas Hawk! Thanks PetaPixel!

Thanks to Michael Zhang and PetaPixel for featuring an interview with me today. I’ve been a huge fan of PetaPixel for a long time now. Michael is probably doing a better job blogging photography than anyone else on the web right now and publishes great stories pretty much every single day. In this interview with Michael I talk about my own background in photography and where I think online photo sharing is headed in the next five years amongst other things.

It’s truly an honor to be featured on such a great photography blog!

My Talk on My Photography from the @Google Series

I had a great time a few weeks ago giving a talk about my photography as part of the @Google talk series down at the Mountain View Campus. During the hour long conversation I talked about my own approach to photography, how I’ve integrated it into my life, how I’m able to produce the volume of photographs I do while having a day job and family, my project to publish 1,000,000 photos before I die and my project to photograph the 100 largest American cities.

I also comment on the photo sharing space, Flickr, Google+, etc. and answer questions at the end.

Thanks so much to +Brian Rose for having me down to Google.

An Interview I Did With ShutterSalt

ShutterSalt is a new site that is doing some nice interview/profile work with photographers. I had the pleasure of doing an interview with them recently that you can read here.

You can follow them on Twitter here.

Kerry Garrison Interviews Me for Camera Dojo

Last week I had a nice opportunity to do an interview for the second time with Kerry Garrison and his excellent Camera Dojo podcast. We talked about a lot of the projects that I’m working on at present. The importance of projects and goals in general. Some interesting Flickr tools out there and a bit about our new Samsung Android phones and the camera tools for those. A good conversation.

You can find the podcast here.

My Photography Workflow 2010

For the last two years I’ve written blog posts detailing my own personal photography workflow that I use. As the tools to process photos change and as I learn more about processing photos, so does my workflow.

I probably get more questions about my workflow (or what camera to buy) than any other sorts of questions. So since it’s been a year now, I thought I’d update my own personal photography workflow.

Self PortraitStep 1. Capture the Image: At present my daily set up includes a Canon EOS 5D Mark II camera (which I love but which has a *horrible* problem with dust), and five Canon lenses. The 14mm f/2.8, the 24mm f/1.4, the 50mm f/1.2 (with crappy autofocus), the 100mm f/2.8 macro and my favorite lens the 135 f/2.

Also with me everywhere I go is a 17 inch MacBook Pro, a Hoodman high speed firewire 800 card reader, my camera battery charger and an extra battery and 3CF cards (a 8GB, 16GB and 32GB, all by SanDisk). My 16GB card has recently been having problems and has been acting up so I’ll probably throw that out and buy another new 32GB card before my next big photography trip.

I recently replaced my camera backpack going from the Lowepro CompuDayPak to the Computrekker Plus AW backpack. The zipper on my CompuDayPak was shot and after three years or so of daily use the bag was falling apart. It supposedly has a lifetime guarantee, but when I looked at the guarantee more closely it looked like it didn’t cover every day wear and tear and especially issues with zippers.

The new backpack is substantially more sturdy. I like it a lot more. My gear feels much better protected and it’s got a ton more room. Unfortunately it does feel a bit bulky and sometimes I feel like it looks like I’ve got a suitcase strapped to my back and look like a dork. 🙂

I shoot almost every day out and about in the Bay Area, sometimes at night for special events, photowalks etc. and most significantly as part of my project to document the 100 largest cities in America. Lately I’ve been taking intensive five day trips to different large American cities where I’ll shoot over 10,000 frames. I shot Nashville and Memphis in January, Miami in March and I’m heading to Detroit next in early June.

The Hoodman RAW 400/800 FireWire Compact Flash Card Reader is Built For Speed2. Step 2. Transfer my images to my MacBook Pro. One of the best photography tools I’ve purchased in the last few years has been my highspeed FireWire 800 card reader (see link above). It can transfer a full 32 GB card in less than 15 minutes. When I’m out in the field I’ll use little breaks occasionally to offload images from my cards to my MacBook Pro with this card reader which is always with me. If you are still using camera cables or a USB card reader, you have no idea the speed you are missing.

I usually drag and drop the files directly from the card to a folder I create on my MacBook Pro with the date of the shoot. If I’m in the field this is the fastest way to get the images off the card and get me back shooting again. It takes over twice as long to have Lightroom copy and import the photos for me, so I only use Lightroom to do this task if I’m already in for the night, at home, etc. and don’t care about the time it takes to transfer files.

I bring two hard drives with me on trips. A 750GB external Seagate Hard Drive that serves as a Time Machine drive to backup my Mac. And an extra 1TB Seagate Free Agent drive (which I LOVE, is USB powered and not much larger than an iPhone or a pack of cards — this drive is the ultimate portable travel hard drive and a great value). The Free Agent drive is where I put extra images when I fill up my MacBook Pro 500GB internal hard drive.

When I get home I’ll frequently offload day shoots from my MacBook Pro to one of my 5 archive Drobos. Here my photos are backed up and replicated. I can then later copy the files back to my MBP when I’m ready to actually process them. At any given time I’ve got photos I’m processing on my MBP (backed up with Time Machine).

I’ve also now begun backing up my files in the cloud to Mozy as well. More on this later.

Synchronize3. Step 3. Synch my images to Lightroom. After I add a day’s shoot to process I’ll synch my MBP photos folder with Lightroom to import these images into Lightroom.

4. Step 4. Flag Images in Lightroom. Next I go through a days shoot using Lightroom to flag all of the photos that I want to process. Depending on the shoot I’ll usually process anywhere from 5% of my shots to 20% of my shots I’d estimate.

5. Step 5. Move all of my flagged images to a “flagged photos” subfolder in that date’s folder. I do this so that I can keep straight which images I’ve processed and which I haven’t. This way if I want to go through the photos that I passed on the first time around and revisit them to process latter I’ll be able to keep this straight in my records. I don’t always process 100% of what I flag, but pretty close.

My Photography Workflow 20106. Step 6. Develop my photos one by one. Here I go through Lightroom’s develop module to individually process every photo on a one by one basis. I rely heavily on presets as well. I’ve got probably 500 or so presets that I regularly use on my photos. Many of these I’ve gotten from other photographers. Many of these I’ve made myself. Sometimes I’ll process a photo without using a preset, but many times I’ll use a preset as my starting point to give the photo a certain look before tweaking it further from there. Rarely do I ever just use a preset and export. I almost always tweak the photo from my presets.

When I’m developing I will frequently adjust contrast, temperature, brightness, exposure, vignetting, sharpening and noise reduction. I’ve only recently been using noise reduction so much more with Adobe’s new beta version of Lightroom 3.

Adobe’s improved noise reduction tool in the new beta may be the single most significant advancement in digital photo processing that I’ve ever seen. It has blown me away and if you are not using it you really are missing out. Anyone can download the Lightroom beta for free right now here. Adobe’s new noise reduction technology allows for regular shooting at 6400 iso on my camera, which opens up a whole new realm of what is possible with night photography.

I was able to shoot some amazing night street portraits down in Miami Beach in March at very high isos and eliminate all of the noise in these high iso photos with this feature. Here’s an example of a street portrait that I shot at iso 4,000 in Miami. It’s amazing to me how easy it was for the new Lightroom beta to get the noise out of this high iso photograph.

Frequently I’ll also use the cloning tool in Lightroom to eliminate visible dust on my images. Canon’s so called anti-dust technology sucks big time (see above). Cloning out dust is the number one waste of time for me in processing my images. Recently I bought the Arctic Butterfly brush to give that a try to improve the situation. I was using sensor swabs and methanol but they weren’t really working. I’ll try and post an update on the Arctic Butterfly once I have time to test it out sufficiently.

6B. Step 6B. External Processing in Nik Silver Efex or Photoshop. Occasionally I’ll do additional developing work on an image using either Nik Silver Efex or Photoshop CS5. Photoshop CS5 kicks serious ass. I haven’t been using Silver Efex really since I’ve been on the Adobe Lightroom 3 Beta. For some reason it seems to warp my images when I send them to Nik as an external editor. My images also get warped if I send them to photoshop as an external editor as well, so usually when I do work in photoshop I’ll just open the exported file directly in Photoshop to do more work on them.

Nik Silver Efex Pro is one of the best black and white conversion packages I’ve ever used. I’m hoping that when the official non-beta LR release is out that it will make it possible for me to use Nik Silver Efex again. You can download and use Nik Silver Efex Pro free for a 15 day trial. If you haven’t checked this out yet, you should.

Mostly in Photoshop I’ll do little things like add a frame, or add a blending layer to manufacture artificial film like scratches on a photo, or little touches like this. I don’t do this alot because it’s time consuming. Lately I’ve also begun painting some of my photographs in Photoshop. You can read more about that in my review on the CS5 Photoshop Beta here. Look for Photoshop CS5 to be released shortly.

My Photography Workflow 2010, Plate 2
7. Step 7. Export my file as a full sized high quality JPEG image. Lightroom defaults to 240 DPI (not sure why) so I use this as my output DPI with the highest quality full sized JPG. These images are exported to a “finished photos” folder.

As I export each photo I will name it at that time. A lot of people ask me where the titles on my photos come from. They come from all over really. My titles are frequently very personal to me, obscure and abstract. They frequently have a story that only I know behind them. They are frequently inspired by music or are lyrics to a song that I relate to that image in my own mind.

Keywording8. Step 8. Keywording. Once I’ve finished processing a days shoot, I will synchronize my finished files folder in Lightroom and begin keywording. I’ll apply broad general keywords to all of the photos usually like the location (city, state, country) or batch keyword big groups of photos that cover the same subject (graffiti, neon, venue, subject, etc.). Then I’ll go through the photos one by one looking at each for any unique keywords possible.

If the photo is of a neon sign or of a specific location I’ll also frequently go get the address of the venue from Google and paste that into the keyword description.

This meta data is later automatically applied to my image when I upload it online.

9. Step 9. Geotagging. I use Google Earth and Geotagger next to geotag *some* of my images. In general I’ll geotag if it’s easy. For awhile the OCD in me was geotagging every single image I’d process. I’d painstakingly go through Google Earth and geotag them one by one by one. This was a ton of work, especially if the work needed to be done in a city that I’m not as familiar with. Now I’ll just geotag the images if it’s super easy and I can get there quickly in Google Earth or if a bunch of images are from same location and I can batch them.

Once the new version of iPhone’s OS can multitask, I’ll probably start trying out some of the geotagging geolocational apps for the iPhone. Or there’s a good chance that I’ll switch to an Android based phone in July when my iPhone contract is up and I’ll see what I can use for that there.

10. Step 10. Archiving. Once I’m done with this I’ll sort my images into what I consider A quality photos and B quality photos. These are then transferred to a Drobo, where I have an “A to be uploaded” folder and a “B to be uploaded” folder.

11. Step 11. Publishing. Twice a day (once in the morning, once at night) I’ll pull 5 photos from my A folder and 17 photos from my B folder at random and upload them to Flickr. This is a total of 44 photos a day that I upload.

I’ve got about 20,000 unpublished photos in my to be uploaded photos folders at present. I always upload what I feel are my five strongest images of any batch upload as the last five to Flickr. This way these are the five that will show up for my contacts when they see my photos in their contacts page. These 5 will also show up on the first page of my main Flickr page if someone goes there directly.

If a photo gets 25 faves or more on Flickr, I’ll generally blog that photo at thomashawk.com as well. You can see these photos on a version of thomashawk.com filtered only for the photoblog portion here.

Once these photos are published they go into a folder by month based on upload date. (Note, the original RAW files always stay in the folder of the date they were taken).

Anyways, that’s about it. This article is a bit longer than the past few years, but I’ve been doing a lot more with my processing as well. Feel free to ask any questions in the comments or offer up any suggetions you might have for improving my own workflow. Thanks!

My 30,000th Photograph on Flickr

My 30,000th Photograh on Flickr

The photo above represents my 30,000th photograph published to Flickr. It’s a milestone and part of my continuing goal to publish 1,000,000 photos to Flickr before I die. This photograph is from one of my favorite shoots. A shoot I did with my wife and children a ways back in this storm drain in Big Tujunga Canyon.