Twenty Years of Photo Tips at Earthbound Light
Last month was the twentieth anniversary of my weekly series of PhotoTip articles here at Earthbound Light. A lot has changed over that time, but my core focus on informing and inspiring photographers has remained the same. Please join me in a look back and celebration of 20 years.
When I started writing back in 2001, I wasn't sure how things would turn out. I had been actively involved in various online discussion groups on photography and co-moderated more than one. Over time, I had noticed that I was occasionally typing answers to questions I had done before some months back. It was only natural that people sometimes had the same questions, but the nature of discussion software made each occurrence seem new. I would only need to reply with an appropriate link by posting helpful tips and articles on my personal site. But I had a secondary motive as well. Search engines only indexed the text of the web pages they trawled, so sites based around images rarely ranked very well. By adding more text to the site, I gave them something to read, too.
I certainly wasn't the first photographer to start what became known as a blog. But there weren't anywhere near as many such websites as there are today. The first version was still a few years off when I started posting here, so it left me to work out the technical details on my own. Having a computer background, I set to work building a MySQL database and writing Perl script, so I didn't have to create all the HTML by hand. Much of that code still runs, with some modifications. I've launched a few projects over the years to migrate my homegrown system to something more modern, but with 20 years of accumulated writing, the work needed to do so is not insignificant. Meanwhile, technology continues to evolve, and I keep finding myself rethinking choices regarding platform and layout. It will happen at some point, I promise.
My writing was often short and hesitant in the beginning. I'd like to think I've improved with practice. I'm certainly more comfortable now. I also feel I'm a better photographer because of it. I suppose they say if you want to become good at something, teach it to others. It isn't always easy to thread the needle, but I strive to write in a relatable but technically accurate manner. For the first decade or so, I wrote mainly about the nuts and bolts of the craft. There was a dearth of good explanations on the internet and far too many offering questionable advice. Not much has changed in that regard, I suppose. There's just more of both these days. Thankfully, search engines have improved enough to help locate the good.
Some topics have proven near and dear to my heart, but perhaps none more than color management. There's just no way you can expect to know what your images look like unless you view them on a display monitor that renders them accurately. Otherwise, you'll find yourself compensating for it by changing the color in your images and then wondering why you have so much difficulty printing them. Newer software and better hardware have mitigated the problem to a degree, but it remains paramount that you start with a properly adjusted monitor.
I had a running thing of posting an April Fools article at the appropriate time each year for a while. With a new post only weekly, I had to approximate the date somewhat, but changing the posting schedule to hit the First of the month would have tipped my hand that something was up. With a model named for the first day of the fourth month, I made quite the stir with my fake announcement of the forthcoming Nikon D4.1 camera in 2009. Instead of competing to raise the megapixel count ever higher, the new body had only one pixel but made up for it by moving the lens around in front of it "very, very quickly" while the shutter was open. It was written seriously but contained many "tells." I even quoted myself that "a person would have to be a fool not to want one." Despite how outlandish it all was, the article sparked postings all over the web. Many who fell for it marveled at how cool the new design sounded. Some were upset that they probably wouldn't be able to afford one. And yes, a few thought the whole thing sounded a tad fishy, even more since they hadn't heard about it from other sources. Eventually, the political winds began to shift, and I soured on the idea of posting fake news items, even when only once a year.
Over time, I've found my interests gravitating more toward the artistic or even philosophical aspects of photography. Once you make it over the hurdles created by operating a camera and a computer, the real work of being a photographer begins. It becomes increasingly important where you point that camera and how to use both camera and computer creatively. It becomes about accepting that every photograph captures both subject and the point of view of the photographer. The art of taking good pictures lies far more within you than within your camera.
The archives have built up week by week such that there are now over a thousand articles online. Even having written them all, I find the list remarkable. Not all have aged as gracefully as others, but collectively they represent twenty years, both of my growth and that of the entire industry. If I had to choose a favorite, I might single out The Fine Art of Carrying a Tripod, a humorous take on coping with the photographers' ball and chain. Or perhaps Your Feet are not a Zoom Lens about the difference between zooming in and shooting from closer. It's all about perspective, don't you know. Or maybe my contribution to The Great "Protective Filters" Debate. But it's admittedly hard for me to choose. If you have a favorite or a suggestion for a future article topic, please add it to the comments on Facebook.
A lot has changed over twenty years. Thankfully, photography is as fun and rewarding as ever. I hope you've enjoyed your involvement as well. My thanks to the many loyal readers who have shared some portion of this journey with me. Your support is appreciated.