Web Presence Reflection: Content, Form, and Structure

I really enjoyed creating this web presence!

It presented an intriguing mix of challenges, and forced me to weigh a lot of different options for each theme, page, layout, style, and design choice I made.

The single hardest part of the entire process was picking the starting point from which to build. Finding the theme was actually somewhat grueling, as I would find one I thought would work great, try it out, plop some content into it, make a couple style adjustments, and then hit a snag. Sometimes it was with how the content laid out, sometimes it was a missing feature or customization, or a number of different factors. This happened so many times before I finally found the theme I did. Relia, the theme I ended up with seemed to strike a good balance between being pleasing to the eye, being functional (content-wise) in the ways I needed it to be, and being customizable enough for me to change the things I wanted to.

For each blog post and project page, I focused on revising them to be much more reader-friendly. I reduced the length and complexity of many sentences, and broke up large blocks of text into much more manageable, bite-size chunks. In my tiny portfolio pages, even though I had the option to display them using a gallery plugin, I still decided to keep the Flickr slideshow embedded. Firstly, I do like the way it looks, and secondly, it maintains the fact that people can’t download the images quite as easily.

The about page, contact page, and resume page I made the executive decision to combine all into one. It just made much more sense to have them all contained within one place. The about page stood fine on its own, but the contact page would only have had a few lines of text, and I really only wanted to say “Resume available upon request’ instead of actually posting a file for any visitor to peruse. It felt like, to a viewer, it would be much more navigationally concise and intuitive to have all the information in one spot instead of having to navigate between two or three different pages, each with only a small amount of content on them.

As a whole, this project really made me look back at my work from this semester and challenged me to figure out how it could be displayed in a single, more central place!

The Right Tool and The Power of Ritual

The small metal clip sticking out of the corner of my front right pants pocket is a familiar sight to anyone who knows me. Over the years, that clip has changed form – morphed from one shape to another, varied in length, and changed in thickness. But what it’s attached to has always stayed the same.

I’ve carried a pocketknife with me since about the age of about eleven or twelve. Of course, I couldn’t bring it with me to school throughout my teen years, so the “every day” of my memory really only meant on the weekends and on evening excursions. I had owned and used small knives for a couple years by that point, but my first summer at camp changed all that. I carried my Leatherman knife proudly in its case on my hip, complete with its  flat and serrated blade, interchangeable screwdrivers, and it’s carabiner clip that also doubled as a bottle opener – fancy, right? I’d find uses for it in whatever I was doing, and was always the first one to offer to help with something that might require its use.

Even though many years have passed since then, not a whole lot has changed. My knife still  holds a permanent place in my pocket. Back then, it was a Leatherman. Today, it’s a CRKT Pazoda – a single blade, thin enough to fit in my pocket and keep a low profile, and affordable enough to replace if it ever gets lost or taken. One day I’ll probably shell out for a Spyderco blade or something similar, but that time hasn’t come yet.

The day I started college, the realization that I could walk into class – knife in pocket – and no one would send me to the principal’s office, care about it, or even really notice was an an oddly exciting one. For a while though, every time I would slide it out from my pocket and flick it open to perform some simple task, I’d get a chorus of “Yooooooo!” and “Dude, you carry a knife with you?!”

Yes, I carry a knife. No, it’s not because I’m secretly a gang lord who walks the shadowy streets of Chicago at night looking for trouble. No, it’s not even for protection at all. Look, people. I don’t know how to fight with a knife. If (heaven forbid, knock wood, cross your fingers, cross your toes) I ever were to get jumped, I’m not pulling it out. Realistically, there’s probably a better chance of me ending up on the receiving end of it than anything else. Not a situation I’d like to increase the likelihood of, if possible.

The reason I carry it is that it’s a tool – an incredibly useful one at that. The question that usually follows the initial reaction is “how often do you actually use that?” Answer? All the damn time. You don’t realize how often it comes in handy until you have it accessible to you. Conversely, you don’t realize how often you actually use it until you’re used to having it and one day don’t have it with you. From opening food packages, to bottles, to trimming tiny  annoyingly hanging threads off of a pant leg, it’s in constant use.

By this point, all my friends know I always have it on me. Not only have they stopped making a point of exclaiming every time I pull it out to open a bag or box……they’ve actually started asking to borrow it. I know, right? Not such a weird idea after all, it seems.

It’s stopped being a “thing” that I carry a knife, and is now just a part of my persona – “the guy who has the knife” ends up equating to “the guy who can fix that problem of yours, and probably a lot of other ones too.” Carrying a knife every day is not only a ritual to serve my own purposes, but has become a ritual to serve the purposes of others as well.

Every morning, I put on my pants. The pocket check is always the same:

Phone, wallet, keys……….knife.

FOMO: Trouble or Tool?

FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out) is something I’ve experienced my whole life. From hanging out with friends, to going on adventures, to seeing pictures of beautiful places posted on Instagram by one of the multitudes of adventure photographers I follow, it’s everywhere. I’m constantly bombarded with things I’d love to be doing – the challenge, then, is actually trying to do them all while at the same time balancing school and work.

While FOMO seems like it can be a hectic, stress-inducing part of life (which, who am I kidding, it totally can), it can be wildly helpful too. I’ve formed some of the strongest friendships I have simply because I’ve––admittedly––prioritized them over other things I probably should have been doing at times. When one learns how to harness and control FOMO, it can also be an incredibly useful tool in the arsenal of an outdoors/adventure photographer. All those photos I see that make me say “Ooh, I want to go there!” or “Ooh, I want to do that!” were created by someone––someone who, through the photographic medium, understands how to make people say exactly those words.

I found an article on Adventure Journal interviewing photographer Brad Foley. In “The Guy Who Turns FOMO into Great Photos“, Foley details a lot of his backstory and his process – some of which, I can relate very well to. He grew up in California, hiked in the Sierra Nevadas as a kid, and picked up his first real camera as a sophomore in high school. Sound kinda familiar?

Photography – and specifically commercial photography – is ALL about constructing an image that tugs at a viewer. The true intention is usually to get the viewer to buy a certain product, but it’s done through manipulation of the viewer’s eye and emotions. If I can photograph a mountain biker, for example, in a way that makes the bike itself look super cool, that’s great.  It’s only one part of the goal, however. If I can photograph them in a way that makes the viewer want to go mountain biking, then it gives the viewer a reason to buy that bike.

FOMO isn’t just a lifelong nuisance to be dealt with; in fact, it’s an indispensable piece of knowledge about the workings of the human mind that, when used properly, can be instrumental in triggering a feeling within a viewer. Once that is understood and mastered, anything is possible.

I’ll give you JPEGs, but I’m keeping my RAWs (Week 7 post)

“It’s ok, just give me the raw files from the shoot! I can edit them myself!”

No. No you can’t.

Well, yes, you technically can go through the steps and probably turn out a halfway decent result. But you’re not going to edit them exactly the way that I would, that’s for sure. And they’re my photos – my eye. That’s what you’re paying me for (if you’re paying me, that is…).

An article called In Defense of Post Processing by Mitch Green I recently found on PetaPixel does a great job of detailing the importance of post-processing, while also touching on a few of the ethical aspects of editing as well.

The big mistake that people make when talking about the process of photography is the automatic separation of the shooting aspect and the editing aspect. For most photographers I know, it’s all one long process. No image is finished until both steps have been completed. Except for specific situations in which a photographer is hired only to shoot (i.e. “work for hire” – the photographer doesn’t actually own the images they shoot), or decides to outsource their post-processing, a photographer’s personal style and preference plays into the editing as well as the shooting.

When I’m shooting, the images I see in my head aren’t the flat, boring raw files I’m actually getting. They’re the final result, with all the glow and pop I know they’ll ultimately end up with. Yes, how I shoot them is incredibly important, but how I edit them is equally important. From one raw file, I can get an almost infinite number of different looks. The direction I decide to take each image is reflective of my individual eye. Even something as simple as the decision to process an image in color or black and white can drastically change how the image is received, which details pop, and where attention is drawn, and is just as much a part of the production final result as what happens before the shutter.

Editing isn’t simply an afterthought – it’s essential, and just as individual as every other part of the process.

Freelancing Favors the Prepared

Freelancing. It can be interesting, scary, and liberating all at the same time.

As more and more publications, companies, and industries continue to lay off their full time staff in favor of project-by-project hiring, the saturation of the freelance market has spiked. Even besides the current decline in traditional, 9-5 work days for more flexible schedules, freelancing is on the rise. It has been for quite some time now and, while the freedom of choice, freedom of schedule, and variety of available work are all things that attract people, freelancing also comes with its own slew of challenges and risks. The most obvious of these, of course, is job security and guaranteed income. When one works for a company part or full-time, a paycheck is guaranteed. With freelancing, there are inherent ups and downs. One week you might be neck deep in well-paying work, and the next you may not get a single call or email from a client and find yourself wondering how the hell you’re going to eat, much less pay your rent. Of course, it may not quite come to that extreme a point, but still. Fluctuations, however small or large, are a natural part of the lifestyle choice.

Another big challenge that many freelancers (sadly) will most likely have to deal with at some point throughout their careers are, to put it simply, shitty clients. Sure, you’ll meet amazing people, work on incredible projects, and develop invaluable connections. But every once in a while, something just won’t go your way. A client will back out at the last minute, change their expectations, flat out refuse to pay you, or simply disappear off the face of the earth before handing you a check. Whatever the particular scenario, it’s almost inevitable that, at some point, somebody’s going to try to screw you over.

It’s your job to do everything in your power to have safety measures in place to prevent it from happening in the first place, be prepared for when it happens, and know how to deal with those situations when they arise.

An article posted on PetaPixel written by Alexey Adamitsky entitled “Why Retouchers Don’t Get Paid (and What They Can Do About It)” – which you can read here – highlights some of these methods to prevent and counteract getting ripped off by a bad client. While it’s framed within the context of retouchers, the information contained within really applies to a freelancer of any sort. As someone who, at the moment, most likely plans to do quite a bit of freelance work throughout my career (if not almost all my work), it’s absolutely essential knowledge to hold onto and act upon.

It’s not the gear, it’s how you…..carry it?

So. Much. Time. is spent discussing photography gear. Why one camera body is better than another, low light performance, autofocus speed, wi-fi, card slots, which lenses are the sharpest, filters, tripods, flashes, and a seemingly endless, practically mind-numbing list of things to compare. Every day I seem to see another “What’s inside my bag” photo or article, with some famous photographer plugging whatever combination of (still pretty generic) gear they use to get their shots.

However, I almost never see a “What IS my bag” article…

What doesn’t get talked about nearly as much is, once you’ve acquired all that carefully researched, debated, and selected gear, how you’re actually going to carry it all from place to place. There are a ton of great camera bags out there, each with their own slew of features and things that set them apart from one another. From different padding systems, to side zippers for quicker access, to built-lens cloths, there’s just as much variety in bags as there is with the gear you put inside them. Sometimes, however, camera-specific bags just aren’t the best at the job you actually need them for. Earlier this week, I came across an article on PetaPixel (which you can read here), that did a great job of describing the challenges associated with actually using camera-specific packs in an outdoors context. The  overarching problem, as Caleb Kerr pointed out in the article, is that “it always feels like nobody stopped to consider that [the bag] was going to be filled with 20-30 pounds of metal and glass and carried on human shoulders for extended periods of time.”

The solution? Just use a pack meant for the outdoors.

Outdoors-specific packs have been in constant development, well, pretty much since people started exploring the outdoors (which, for anyone who doesn’t know, is way longer than our precious, protection-craving cameras have been around). Doesn’t it seem like, in that time, designers might have learned what actually makes a pack good for the outdoors? Why not cater to that knowledge, and stop wasting our time on the side of trail fiddling with a practically useless waist belt, stuffing an extra jacket underneath our unpadded shoulder straps, or figuring out how to wedge a sandwich somewhere in our bag where it won’t get an imprint of a DSRL body in it? Just use what’s already available, and is explicitly meant to alleviate those exact problems. If you’re worried about the lack of built-in dividers that most camera packs offer, the article addresses that as well, giving alternative standalone dividers, such as this one.

All of this isn’t to say that camera-specific bags aren’t a good way to go. There are absolutely companies that make some incredible bags that are great for everyday use (Peak Design or Chrome Industries), simply transporting gear from place to place (ThinkTank, LowePro, or Pelican), or staying fashionable by incorporating your camera bag into your style  – although sometimes at a slightly higher price point (ONA Bags, among others).

However, if exploring the great outdoors on foot is your domain, then it makes the most sense to find a bag that caters to that market over the others.

Overall, there are so many more ways to modify a pack originally designed for the outdoors to work for carrying camera gear than vice versa. So get out there and get to it!

Burritos: The Food of the Gods

Yes, this post is going to be about burritos.

Yes, I’m also from California.

Yes, these two things may have a definite connection. I know, I know, I’m a cliche. I grew up next to the beach, wear sunglasses on my head all the time, love avocados, and think that burritos aren’t the greatest invention since sliced bread, because tortillas are obviously better. I mean who’s ever tried to make a burrito with sliced bread? Before you get all “If you love burritos so much, why don’t you marry one” on me, just hear me out.

This past week, I was scrolling through Verticulture, a blog written by people at Outdoor Research, and came across an article written by Jaeger Shaw titled “Why Outdoorsy People Love Burritos.” At first, I  simply thought to myself, “Well, duh. Of course we do.” But then, as I read through the article, I started to think about why that is, and how those same reasonings show up in other places in life. In the article, Jaeger goes through a variety of (all completely valid) points as to why burritos are the ultimate end-of-the-day or end-of-the-trip food choice for those of us who take part in exploring and enjoying the outdoors world. From amount of food (grande or super burritos), to accessibility (you can find at least a halfway decent Mexican restaurant almost anywhere), to the simple euphoria that comes from biting into a “tightly wrapped bundle of love, doused in sauce, brimming with rice and beans, oozing with cheese and loaded with all of your favorite meats or veggies,” he pretty much covers it all.

However, it’s even more than that. Within the culture, getting a burrito isn’t just a routine; it’s a deep-rooted, almost subconscious tradition that’s an integral part of the community of similar-minded people that we all strive to be a part of. So many outdoor recreation activities didn’t start out as the highly-commercialized, money-making machines they are now. Climbing is the perfect example. Until the mid-1970s with the influx of the Stonemasters (a group of Southern California-based climbers mostly climbing in Yosemite Valley, who had a huge impact in mainstreaming the sport), climbing was somewhat of a counterculture activity, giving rise to the term “dirtbag climber.” Climbers have always had their own way of living, their long-standing traditions, and their cultural identifiers. Today’s burrito tradition is not only an enjoyable and practical ritual, but is a subconscious nod to those responsible for the culture and lifestyle we all enjoy.

For those of you who don’t just want to wait until the end of your trips to have a burrito and want to bring one with you, make sure to check out the Burrito Buddy – a pretty genius invention for those of us with above average burrito infatuation!

Fighting Back: The Anti-Commercialization of Nature

Art is, without a doubt, the most prevalent thing in a human society. Whether it’s the buildings we exist among, the cars passing by, the clothes we’re wearing, or the carefully curated works in the overpriced gallery down the street, most everything man-made around us has elements of art and design within it. The second most prevalent thing, however, is advertising. It seems as though almost every surface in today’s world has been turned into a canvas for companies to bombard the passerby with promises of fame, wealth, popularity, and more luscious hair. Everywhere you look, someone’s trying to sell you something, whether it be a product, service, idea, or lifestyle. For a long time, nature has been the one respite from this never-ending barrage. Now, even in many of the remaining wild spaces, it’s  still difficult to escape the madness. You can be driving down the highway, dozens of miles from any civilization, and all of a sudden a billboard pops up on the side of the road, with some dude named Anthony trying to sell you insurance for the boat you don’t even have.

As part of a larger exhibition in California’s Coachella Valley called Desert X, one artist is fighting back against this overwhelming wave of commercialism. Jennifer Bolande created a project entitled Visible Distance / Second Sight to draw attention to the taking-over of natural spaces by advertising by focusing the attention that would normally be placed on those advertisements back on the natural space itself. She created a set of billboards along the Gene Autry Trail between Vista Chino and the 10 Freeway. Primarily meant to be viewed from a moving car, each billboard is simply a photo of the landscape located behind it, which the presence of the billboard itself obscures. When viewed from a very specific point on the road, the scale and perspective of the photograph lines up perfectly with the actual landscape behind it, completing the scene. In this way, Boland “chooses to advertise the very thing so often overlooked.”

Projects like these are not only amazing to experience, but break the norm and cause us to focus on the larger problems we sadly accept as normal. It’s up to us as artists to be the ones to draw attention to them and force people to acknowledge them as issues to be discussed. Hopefully, we continue to see many more projects like these in the future!

Columbia Doesn’t Suck, You Do

Here’s the thing. Columbia is a great school. A LOT of schools are great schools. A lot of incredible, talented, motivated, passionate students go to those great schools. Every year, each one of those schools puts forth a new class of educated young adults, ready to take the world by storm and make a difference in whatever way they are most inclined to.

However, that’s not to say that there aren’t going to be setbacks along the way, and times when it feels like you’re going nowhere fast. Of course every school has its individual dynamic, challenges, and things that need to be improved, but the vast majority of the time there are still good opportunities and resources available. The most important thing for a student to do is find those resources and take advantage of them. They exist solely to help students, and you lose nothing by simply exploring them.

From my experience, there exists in some circles at Columbia somewhat of a negative culture towards the school itself. The number of times I have heard some iteration of the phrase “I could be doing more on my own. School is just holding me back.” is forever increasing, and is sadly supported by our lower numbers of continuing students as well.

This past weekend I went to a house show, at which most of the performers were either current or recently former Columbia students. Throughout the evening, that same mindset seemed to be prevalent throughout many of the people there, causing me to reflect once again on the causes and impacts of this mindset within the student body, as well as the fact that I don’t necessarily agree with it.

The tendency to blame one’s non-productivity on the larger system is a dangerous one. Simply giving up on the college in its entirety may feel like the only option in the moment, but in reality it unnecessarily removes you from any possibilities or opportunities that may be offered to you in the future through the school. Not to say that an artist can’t make it on their own without schooling, but it’s also important to consider the future. If something goes wrong, or your plan A doesn’t end up working out, you’re then left with no degree, severely limiting any other options that could be open to you. Other than technical trades, art is one of the only fields in which it’s possible to be successful with no degree at all. If the option to get a degree is open to you, just take it. Don’t skip out on the entire thing simply because it doesn’t feel like it’s benefiting you in a certain way in a certain moment. Always, always, always look at the bigger picture, and take everything into account when making your decisions.

Another person I talked to while at the show was taking a year off of school to work and explore their field on their own, with the definite plan of coming back after that year was up. That I could agree with and respect. If time on your own is what you need to move forwards, that’s fine. As long as you actually have a plan. Simply shutting down opportunities with no alternatives gets you nowhere, but making a conscious decision with a plan for the future is absolutely the way to go, whatever direction it may take you.

Digital Story – v1

The hesitation of my pen above the pink sheet of paper may only have lasted a couple seconds, but it felt like an eternity. My hand still unsure about whether to follow the directions my brain was giving it, the slight quiver in my wrist betraying the difficulty of decision I was about to confirm. I looked up at my mom, who gave me a reassuring nod of support from across the dining room table, took a deep breath, quietly said “okay,” and wrote down one word: Yearbook.

It wasn’t so much the decision to take yearbook my senior year of high school that was the challenging part. Rather, it was the decision not to do any music, as I had for the past three years. The class periods overlapped, as did the schedules of events and responsibilities. As much as I wanted to figure out a way to do both, it just wouldn’t be able to happen. The process of getting to that point had been grueling, with me seeming to constantly lean in one direction or another and then change my mind over and over again. The music department was my home, and had been for much of my school career up until then. Letting it go just felt wrong. For a long time, music had been a leading factor in my artistic and my social life. It was (and still is) something I knew I absolutely loved and devoted much of my time to, but when I compared myself to many of my other friends in the department, there was a mismatch. They all put much more time and dedication into their practicing at home, while I was much more casual about it. They were unquestionably set on studying music in college, while I wasn’t really sure. Although I loved it, I slowly began to realize that it just didn’t quite felt like the direction I necessarily wanted to pursue professionally. In the preliminary college searches we had already been doing, I hadn’t even been looking for schools with strong music programs. Even before that point I was already looking for schools with photography programs, as well as schools with stage lighting design programs – another passion I explored throughout high school (and still do crew work in during my summers). Without realizing it, I already knew the direction I was – dare I say – destined to go.

Even before I was officially a photo editor for the yearbook, being a photographer was already one of my biggest identifiers around campus and in my social circles. I took headshots for school plays and musicals, and I set up a photo booth at many of the school dances. Later on, people I had never interacted with before around our 2,900-something-student campus would recognize me, giving me a wave or even a high five as we passed by each other. With band I was a contributing member of a group working towards a larger goal. With photography and yearbook, that basic principle didn’t change. However, I had a much clearer sense of what my contribution actually was. It was so much more recognizable – more tactile. I could see the images on the screen. The reactions of the people I showed them to were an instant form of gratification and acknowledgement that my individual contribution was a valuable one. This recognition spurred me forwards. Photography quickly became something I could see myself growing in in the future. The future value and experience I would gain from pursing it was much more easily identifiable than with music.

What started out as a simple conversation about schedule earlier that sunny spring weekend would turn out to gradually morph into what ended up being an incredibly drawn out, somewhat subconscious, values-clarification exercise. The decision to write that single word  on my schedule represented so much more than just a 100 minute block of time a couple days a week. Rather, it was the beginning of a shift in the focus of my artistic pursuits from not just the present, but to the future and what it might hold as well.