Afterexposure Photography

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Posts Tagged ‘productivity’

Fastest. Shoot. Evar.

I knew that we had worked quickly on the previous shoot (with Lexus Lee); but I didn’t realize how quickly. Here is the shot breakdown:

Setup #1: 2 minutes, 38 seconds. 48 proof images

Setup #2:3 minutes, 37 seconds, 65 proof images

Setup #3: 49 seconds, 15 proof images.

Shooting time: 7 minutes, 4 seconds; 130 images (two were in the car)

Total shoot time: 20 minutes from first shot to last shot; about 40 minutes total, as we drove around a bit at the end to get a better feeling for the location and what it offered.

Wow! Maybe I should plan all my shoots for bad weather…

So how cold is that stone on your butt, anyway?

Wizards and Charlatans

I like to have some ‘think’ time every day, and lately that’s been during my lunch hour. Today I was thinking about how I process, or more accurately, DON’T process my GTD lists as regularly as I should.

One thing that came to me today is that my internal mental future-vision lists don’t match my Real Life lists and don’t match my GTD lists. If GTD is supposed to reduce stress imagine what happens when the lists don’t match… TOTAL STRESS.

I’m fairly laid back, so stress isn’t always apparent. One of the places that my stress shows up is in procrastination. The more stressed I get, the more I don’t address what’s stressing me. I’ve noticed this is really cyclical, so it takes a while to build up and then it becomes this major Catch-.22 situation.

Today’s ‘think’ session was like that.

At first I thought I could tweak my processes; I have a good system for yearly/quarterly/monthly goal setting, but translating that to a repeating weekly habit of GTD and project work is hit-and-miss. So off I went to Google to see if there was something about GTD that I was missing.

This lead me to a post and video by Merlin Mann, over on 43folders. What’s spooky about this little side-trip is that his post was exactly about seeking guidance on the web, and how at some point it’s not really productive; it becomes a distraction in itself, and one that the purveyors of these sites would rather you be a repeat visitor, than graduate and no longer return. His other point was that maybe instead of seeking advice on ‘something’ you should just do ‘something’ and thus gain actual experience doing, instead of gathering all kinds of fluffy meta-crappus about ‘something’.

At this point I knew I should actually just look at my lists and see what was wrong; if there was a pattern to the mismatch between lists.

I looked first at the plethora of lists in my primary software app for GTD, called ‘Remember the Milk‘. I looked at the list titles. I looked at the kinds of thinks these titles suggested. And the pattern became apparent.

Most of my lists are either ‘Personal’ or ‘Professional’. In other words the lists are clearly one or the other. The ones that were neither were @someday lists that had become catch-alls for postponed creative ideas, projects, and dreams.

Looking again, I noticed another feature… ‘Personal’ really means ‘Family Obligations’ and ‘Professional’ really means ‘Work Obligations’. Huh. ‘Obligations’ was the topic of a discussion (well, rant I guess) that I had with my wife about lifestyle, career, and the ‘stuff’ of modern life.

So my lists had become a kind of crutch just as described by Merlin as a kind of procrastinating auto-pilot destination that we can go to when we have ‘fear of doing’ (or the other dozens of fears we might have), instead of ACTUALLY DOING what was important.

I knew then that what was wrong with my lists was that they were externally focused. They were oriented to satisfy others, to ensure I met my obligations like a good little drone. I gave inadequate weight to my own wants and needs, not giving myself permission to do what I must to be creative. To be different than I am. To allow my inner vision of what life could be manifest itself as ACTIONS.

Ok, so that was kinda deep. Well for me, anyway. Not that I’m shallow; I just tend to stay at the near end of the pool in most of my interpersonal interactions. Back to the story….

At this point I posted a question to twitter:

Fill in #3: Personal, Professional and ___ ? A: It depends on how you define #1 and #2. Hint: It’s a huge miss in pop culture.

And got back the PERFECT answer from a new follower, @mattjamestaylor:

@afterexposure passionate? That certainly is missing a lot today and it starts with ‘P’.

It’s a perfect fit, because what’s missing in my lists are my passions. Like photography. Not that I don’t have a zillion items in a dozen lists about photography, but they are all related to the launch of the business side of photography – not about ACTUALLY being creative.

And I think if you do some searches of your own you’ll find that ‘Personal and Professional’ are often the ONLY TWO categories ever discussed, offered, implemented, or expected to exist in the pop-psych-webs of self-help and productivity books, articles, software, and the rest of the meta-tweetin’-blogotubes.

So what happens if we have Passions, Personal, and Professional? That’s kinda tidy, right? Passions are for YOU, Personal items are for your non-workplace relationships and activities, and Professional is for that super-serious “Don’t laugh cuz’ this is bidness and it’s serious” (to mangle a quote from Tom Peters).

Except maybe more categories isn’t what I needed. What if I needed fewer? What if I only really need one?

What if your Profession is your Passion? What if those around you also feed, nurture, and support you, and your Personal life is less distinguished from your Professional life?

What if by being actually concerned how well you deliver service to your customers, and took delight in helping them by doing what you really like to do and are passionate about – wouldn’t that be a harmonious way to live? To do what you enjoy, with people that value you and your creativity? Wouldn’t that be a magical state above just competently managing to-do lists?

And what if that was your brand identity? What if you were bold enough to be your brand, because you were the best example of what your brand-ideal was?

What if that were me?

51 seconds to a visual vocabulary

The last week was interesting, productive, and frustrating, all at the same time.

I was in Toronto for SecTor, a conference that’s somewhere between Blackhat, DefCon, and something more mainstream like RSA, after which I was in Vancouver for a few days of R&R, shopping, and of course, some shooting.

Actually, I had planned on doing a lot more shooting than I did. My preparations were a bit rushed, and I wasn’t really able to put together a shot list for the trip. It seems that writing, at least beyond the style of this blog, and my more to-the-point stuff I do at work (usually email) isn’t my strong suit.  Ah well; both are beautiful cities and offer a lot photographically, so I wasn’t too worried.

I sat down today to go through some of the digital images and found this single image jumping out of the stack at me:

Vancouver

Vancouver at sunset, from the hotel. Pentax K20D, 50mm f/1.2 @ f/2.8, ISO 1600, 1/20 sec

The shot took a bit to develop; I’ve boosted the Vibrance in Lightroom to bring out the blue in the sky, as well as some light noise reduction with Wavelet Denoise … and to get the buildings to look straight(er) I did a keystone distortion adjustment in the GIMP as well.

After I was done editing the image a few things struck me.

First, I’ve always wanted to do this shot of Calgary, because I often see the city at dawn/dusk; although given the local topography it’s never quite this dramatic (downtown Calgary sits quite low compared to its surroundings).

Second, this is similar to a dawn shot I wanted of Toronto, but couldn’t get an early enough ferry.

And it reminded me of another of the shots I was planning on doing in Toronto, but didn’t due to poor weather;  one of those night cityscapes of the flow of traffic, like this one. The CN Tower would make the perfect vantage point!

My original plan was to add shot list notes into my iphone calendar so I could be at the right place at the right time for the shots I wanted. But I couldn’t describe the scenes. I had no way to say what I saw in my mind. I couldn’t say “high vantage point, city view, long exposure, with light trails”. I don’t know why. I can say those things when I see an image, but I couldn’t seem to turn an imagined image into words in the pre-trip rush.

So as the sun set I saw these images that were familiar to me; the fading sky reflected in skyscrapers that are often used in travel magazines, and I clicked away; here is a three image panorama that took a bit of work to stitch together… for some reason autostitch thought it should be a pyramid…

Tower

Tower. Pentax K20D, 50mm f/1.2 @ f/2.8, ISO 1600, 1/15 sec, 3 images

I had pictured images like this in my mind before the trip, but for some reason couldn’t write them down. What the heck is so hard about “skyscraper reflecting sunset” ?

The last image wasn’t one I had ever planned, and the color treatment, using the Split Toning tool to amp up the blue in the shadows, well it’s quite heavy-handed… but what the heck. One thing that shooting with the iPhone app “The Best Camera” has taught me is that vivid color and simple composition are often the best to communicate an image.

Sunset

Sunset. Pentax K20D, 50mm f/1.2 @ f/2.8, ISO 1600, 1/180 sec

But what is that? I’ve taken shots like this before; but never described them simply. Is this “Silhouette against twighlight” ? Or “Geometric man against fluid nature” ? Bah!

Either works, but I guess I need to start reading something other than technical standards and linux howto’s if I’m going to be able to better put what I imagine into words. Without words to help me I’m not going to communicate or remember to get all the shots I want!

Incidentally, all 5 of the images here (the first one, the 3 that make up the tall pano of the skyscraper, and this last one) were shot within 51 seconds of each other.

Do You Feel Lucky, Punk?

Well, do ya?*

(* or how not to fail at photography, project management, and life, and use GTD, PDCA, and your desk calendar in your quest for world domination.)

The title words (or something pretty darn close) were spoken by Clint Eastwood in the movie ‘Dirty Harry’, which was set in San Francisco, which is an excellent locale for todays (slightly stretched) metaphoric subtitle.

Fisherman’s Wharf

Every year we go to San Francisco, sometimes for the RSA convention (in real life I used to be a firewall guy, and still am an all-round IT type of guy). And every year I see vendors selling (and failing), and I see RSA attendees implementing (and failing), and I see speakers attempting to instruct (and generally failing – there are notable exceptions like Chris Hoff and Co. – his koolaid got kick) – but I digress.

So what’s with all the massive FAIL? How can vendors not sell, customers not do projects well, integrators totally blow it, and speakers fail to make a point (what WAS the Symantec keynote guy on, BTW? Anyone? Anyone?)

Little hint: None of them had a working strategy; no plan, no do, no check, and no act. Just buckets of repeating fail. It’s like there was an ACME truck parked out back, selling buckets of the stuff.

Which is all a shame, because San Francisco is a terrific place for photography. Everyone who goes there can get interesting shots like the one at the start of this post. But that’s a topic for another post…

A whole bunch of posts ago I posted about how to Get Things Done. And I promised an update on how well I’ve been doing at using these methods at kick-starting the business side of my photography square in the behind. With the beautiful city of San Francisco as our backdrop, and the now-immortal words of Dirty Harry gently suggesting that luck may not be enough to cut it, let’s delve in.

My strategy is still this:
1. Just Start. Beginning, middle or end – doesn’t matter, just start for Pete’s sake!
2. Use GTD to capture the maelstrom of ideas and things-to-do and bring order to chaos.
3. Use Success Calendars to ensure I keep balance to my life.
4. Apply a little “Plan-Do-Check-Act” to the whole thing – once I figured out where I’d actually started from.
Before all this I had a dozen items in a single GTD project. Now I had over two hundred! For you GTD geeks out there, implementation-wise I switched from a gmail based system to Remember the Milk (RTM) when I got my iPhone. It JUST ROCKS!
Lesson: A dozen disconnected items in a GTD/RTM list do not form a business plan.
I kinda knew this; in ‘Real Life’ I build business cases for projects all the time, often to the point where I understand the nuances of the business drivers better than the people I hand off the completed projects to. But I had no ‘seed material’, no templates, and I knew this information was out there.
Off to the library I went, and found a ton of books on photography as a business. Too many, actually. After skimming most, and reading a few, I decided that I had osmotically absorbed the pattern they were laying down. Why the library? Why not Google? Simply because the act of creating a book shows a pretty high degree of commitment to the subject material by the author. The internet … no so much.
And then, as often happens for me, I did ‘feel lucky’ and found ‘189 business building ideas for photographers‘. I chalked it up to ‘Chance favors a prepared mind’, or with a modern spin: ‘Chance favors the connected mind’ – since I’m pretty sure the list was delivered via Twitter.
The list seemed great; there were many items in that list that rung true; either I knew them already, they were common sense, or were new to me, but not far fetched. The only issue was how disjointed the list was. Enter my favorite slicer-dice, the spreadsheet!
After a few hours and a couple days of mental gestation, I realized the only way to cut to the meat of the list was to approach it with my strategy:
1. Just Start: I copied the list into a spreadsheet to easily apply organization to it.
2. GTD it: Treat the list as an entire GTD Inbox in need of processing. It turns out there are between 5 and 7 projects hidden in those 189 items.
3. Add to each item a ‘color’ from the Success Calendars:
  • Blue – as in ‘blue sky’ – to step back, take stock, and plan.
  • Red – as in ‘red tape’ – all the admin ‘crappus’ (that’s latin for ‘crap’)
  • Green – for ‘green machine’ – money making items
  • Yellow – ‘mellow yellow’ – downtime!
4. Sort the results as ‘Plan-Do-Check-Act’, and also do a P-D-C-A on the whole enchilada.
And that very last step – the PDCA – is what this post really is.
For starters there are some blue, a few yellow, one green, and a TON of red items in that list. I won’t detail it because it’s subjective, but it’s mostly administrivia.
Once the items were sliced into colors it was trivial to send lists of multiple items to RTM as an email. Just four emails later and I had imported the entire set of 189 items into my GTD system, already into their lists, bypassing the Inbox.
From there I knew I wanted to refine the blue planning entries because they also represent the ‘Plan’ of PDCA, and I knew I could start with those right away. So if it wasn’t a pure-blue item it was moved to another list.
It was also pretty plain that a LOT of items were ‘@online’ so I ended up with a ‘Photo – Online’ list and a ‘Photo – Web Sites’ list; one for online activities, and one for the web sites where I can control the content, like this blog.
I also started stuffing lots of items into the Someday list – there were a lot of items that might be good if you have 20 years of experience as a working photographer, but that’s not me…. but Someday… maybe.
The other lists are for Admin, Biz, Learn, Marketing, Networking, and the ‘Kit’ – the portfolio, business cards, and tear sheets we all need to keep together.
That whole process took less than an hour.
From there I took some initial stabs at further breaking down the items into Strategic, Tactical, and Operational goals, because some of them were direct suggestions of what to do, some were more quite ‘fluffy’, and some seemed to glue the two together.
This led – finally – to executing the first item on the blue list, which was item #91: Set 10 goals.
Ok, you can stop laughing now – it’s not nearly as infinite-loopy as it sounds. But it IS a enough for a post of it’s own.
And where does this leave me, in a day-to-day w
ay?
  • Every day has a color (from the success calendars), so I know which task lists I should be working on that day, and I’m not stuck in planning mode. I’ve already started to attack red-list items on red days.
  • All the Someday stuff is now safely out of the way, but not forgotten.
  • When it’s a yellow day I know I can walk away and enjoy doing something else without guilt or distraction, and if something pops into my head, I have my GTD inbox with me (RTM on the iPhone).
Now, about the lack of Green days where I actually make money at this …. that’s something for another post too….

Getting Things Done

I did a half dozen little jobs today to move forward with the business. And I know I have a half dozen more tomorrow. And I know that I’m doing the right things at the right time; more or less.

And I know that I didn’t forget anything. That’s important, because I can really only focus on the weekend; during the week I can get a few things taken care of; but if you recall the method of Wayne Cotton, it’s hard to switch gears and have both a Green Machine and a Red Administrivia day combined.
Last post I promised to connect this to David Allen; if you don’t know much about him or his methods called, loosely, ‘Get Things Done’ or GTD, zip over there and look around. His stuff works.
A long time ago I was working in what I thought was a high stress job, and the manager asked why I was so wound up. After describing feelings of being overwhelmed with a ton of trivial tasks, he suggested I write everything down, even though I cautioned him it might slow me down. He just smiled and pointed to my empty notepad.
That night I got a great sleep, because I wasn’t still trying to mentally juggle a thousand little details in my brain. I could actually let go, relax, and sleep.
For the last 20 years or so I’ve been ‘Writing Things Down’ – which has a slightly different sound to it than ‘Getting Things Done’, doesn’t it? One method just records what to do – the other sounds like it might help you actually do them. Turns out, it does!
I discovered GTD while browsing Google for a better way to track all the collected ‘fluff’ of some of the projects I was managing at the time. Fast forward to today, and all of the details of starting a business – now that’s a LOT of fluff to track.
I did notice something though, GTD was never intended to be a project management method. And it isn’t, but it’s a great compliment. It give the rigor to what one PM I’d worked with called ‘Daily Status’, which was his way of driving a lot of activities quickly without micro-managing. So be warned, GTD won’t run your project, but it will seal up a lot of those cracks that things seem to fall through.
I use the notions of the yearly and 90-day success calendars of Wayne Cotton, and I keep the Red, Green, and Blue days productive and the Mellow Yellow Days relaxed because I know that if I maintain GTD lists, I can let go when I need to and re-engage quite quickly.
And that is todays tip: Maintaining GTD lists with contexts that are ‘color coded’ like Cotton Systems Success Calendars. Simple, huh?
Of course I’m so dang busy all those Yellow days are turning quite Red with all the ‘fluff’ of starting a new business…. so remember to check how you are actually spending your days and how you planned on spending them, too!
The next posts I’ll focus more on the meat of what I’ve been doing with a few more examples of process-and-method – but a LOT more emphasis on the business side of my photography!