Getting There

Illustrating its the journey

We all have ambitions, goals, dreams. We seem to spend our life “getting there”. Have you ever gotten there and not found it was what you hoped?

Where is “there”?

When we talk about getting there, we have to ask, where is “there”? Seems obvious, but I find that a lot of people don’t spend much time establishing those targets. That is a shame. The place you are trying to get to determines a lot of your life’s journey. You better be sure you know where you are going or sure you trust your instincts to follow a constantly unfolding path to an unknown destination.

Seriously, a lot of people assume they know where they should go because it has been told to them by someone, probably parents or advisors or counselors. So they commit their life to reaching a goal they may not have considered carefully.

It is a tragedy to get to your life’s goal only to discover you did not care about it. This applies to all aspects of life, but I will try to focus us on art.

Who sets your goals?

Who actually sets your goals? Do you investigate and analyze and try out things to select your goal? Or do you accept what is expected of you?

Let me give a personal, non-art example. As a young Engineer, I assumed the goal was to “progress” up the management chain. It was projected (by managers) as the normal growth path. Well, I worked hard and was given the opportunity to step onto that ladder. I fairly quickly discovered I hated it. It did not fit my talents and interests at all. My love was Engineering. Luckily, my company was very good about wanting people to be in the most effective role. I went back to being “just” an Engineer and loved it. When I moved up, it was on the Engineering track.

It was kind of traumatic, but I clarified my goals. I felt like a failure as a manager, but a success as an Engineer. That was when I began to understand that I am responsible for my own goals.

What is the cost?

Working toward a goal always involves some costs. Make sure you understand them and are willing to pay what is required.

It is fairly easy to quantify the direct costs. As a photographer I need rather expensive cameras and lenses. There is also the high powered computer, lots of fast disk storage and backup, memory cards, etc. Add in travel, workshops, training and other education. If you listed it all it would be pretty intimidating. But this is just the direct cost.

There are indirect costs and opportunity costs. I am a fine art photographer. Basically this means I do what I do for the love and the creativity and the personal reward, not to make a lot of money. I better have an independent means of supporting myself and my family. Right now I am OK with that. It could change in the future.

Don’t forget the opportunity costs. Any time you pursue a goal you exclude other things. Did you trade off becoming an artist rather than being a doctor? It is a safe bet to assume you would make a lot more money as a doctor. But if you hated it, would the money be worth it? Maybe our choices are not so clear cut, but we always make tradeoffs.

Be honest with yourself about the costs you are willing to pay for the destination you want to get to.

The journey is the destination

People often tell youthe journey is the destination“. They are usually right, but make sure you understand what they are saying.

Here is the reality I have discovered. Yours may be different. Starting from where we are now, we usually do not know what the destination will actually be. We may have a vague idea or a wish, but the reality will usually be different than what we imagined.

So we cannot really plot a path to the destination. It is a moving target and we cannot anticipate the twists and roadblocks along the way. What we can do is take a step that seems to take us in the direction we want to go. Just a step. Then evaluate where we are now and decide what direction to take the next step. And so on. When we get to that destination, it is probably the one we have determined we actually want, not necessarily what we set out to do.

Along the way we experience life. This is what it is about. That is what the phrase means. Live your life today, not in the future. Appreciate everything you find. Be grateful for the day and its experiences. To really appreciate the journey you have to be mindful and living in the moment. When we live this way, we get to the end having lived a full and joyful life. Regardless of what state we arrived at.

Will you sacrifice your life for a goal you may not even want or will you live your life every day as a mindful, joy filled experience? I hope you clarify and find your own rewards. And make your own art.

So Big!

An image with some minor processing in Photoshop. It is well over 1GByte.

Our modern cameras have lots of pixels. This is a great benefit for us, especially if we want to make large prints. But sometimes the files we are editing can get so big we have trouble dealing with them. Why is that?


I have made the point before that our modern sensors are amazing. The camera I shoot captures 47 MPixels for each shot. That’s 47 million pixels. There are sensors that go up to 150 MPixels in some medium format camera bodies. I haven’t seen the need to move to that yet.

Why do we need so many pixels? Some will state that we don’t. That it is just pixel envy that keeps us seeking more. There is a good argument that about 20 MPixels is enough for the vast majority of applications.

That is for you to decide for your own needs and preferences. I can state that I believe the quality of our images has moved far beyond film days. Digital images produce the sharpest, most detailed, most colorful, most editable results that have ever been possible, except in some very niche applications. There is no going back.

Raw files

Raw files hold the information that comes directly off the camera sensor. There is minimal processing done. I have discussed Bayer filters and how we get color images. The Raw file is not really an image we can look at yet.

But there are some great features of raw files we need to be aware of. First, this is the closest we can get to the exact data that was captured by the sensor. Little processing has been done. All the processing and interpretation of the resulting image is ours. Among other reasons, this is a reason to always shoot raw instead of jpg files.

Second, the nature of the raw file is that it cannot be edited. The original data is always preserved. Yes, of course, I can go into Lightroom Classic (I will always call it just Lightroom from here on) and do amazing things to the image. All of the changes are saved as what are termed “processing instructions“. The original data is never altered. It cannot be altered.

One of the things this means is that years from now when I have new tools or change my mind about how I want the image to look, I can go back and re-edit it. I can even reset to the original captured bits and start over. No data is ever lost. This is a great things.

And thirdly, the raw file is relatively compact. My camera captures 47 million 14 bit resolution sensor values, each either a red or green or blue data. It is not yet “demosaiced” to expand the Bayer sensor data to full color data for each pixel. In addition certain meta data values are stored in the raw data. Things like the camera and lens information, capture time, my copyright information, etc.

Raw file size

My camera is set to do a lossless compression of the data before saving it. So no data is ever lost in the process. Looking at a randomly selected file I just shot, its file size is 58.08 MBytes on my file system. The size of my raw images varies because of the amount of lossless compression that can be done on each image.

But think about this a minute. I captured 47 million 14 bit images. This should have been 94 MBytes of data, not counting the extra meta data. I am assuming they store the 14 bits in 2 8 bit bytes. I don’t know if that is true. This means the saved raw file is even smaller than the data that came off the sensor. As I edit it and add processing instructions, the file gets somewhat larger, but seldom huge.

Photoshop bloat

Now I sent this raw file to Photoshop and immediately saved it. No editing. The file size is 229.16 MBytes! It is about 4 times larger! And I didn’t even do anything to the image! Why is this?

Well, Photoshop edits pixels, each a triple of (red, green, blue) values for each pixel. Photoshop expands the Bayer data to the flat grid Photoshop needs, This is what Photoshop works with and what is saved. That automatically makes the file at least 3 times its original size. The raw file was compressed, that probably accounts for the difference.

Now to illustrate more of what Photoshop does, I added a blank layer and used the spot healing brush to correct a couple of blemishes, very little. Saving the file again grows the file size to 548.08 MBytes! It doubled!

To continue the demonstration, I added a curves adjustment layer and saved the file again. Now the size is 632.72 MBytes.

The difference

It is clear that LIghtroom and Photoshop show very different behavior when editing images. This is because of their nature and design.

Lightroom is called a parametric editor. It does not modify the image data, Rather, it keeps a list of processing instructions to tell how to change the look of the image when it is viewed.

Photoshop is a pixel editor. It can add/delete/modify pixels at the most detailed level. You have to be careful that you do not lose the original data. It does not care. It will do any amount of change you request. And it has the power of layers to build of levels of modification. This can lead to huge file sizes.

Did you know that there are maximum file sizes for Photoshop files? Standard Photoshop psd files can only be up to 2 GBytes in size. Tiff files can only be 4 GBytes. I exceed these limits a lot. The only choice then is to switch to Photoshop’s “big” file type, the psb. It can grow much larger. Actually, it can handle us up to 4.2 Billion GBytes. That will work for a while. 🙂 Unfortunately it is not a choice to automatically use it.

Any solution?

Well, there is the “if it hurts don’t do that” solution. Stay in Lightroom for most of your image processing. Only go to Photoshop for situations that Lightroom cannot handle. This is a good strategy and I use it.

But if you have to do that detailed pixel grooming and you have to use many layers to process your image to your taste, accept it. The cost is much more powerful computers and larger and faster hard drives. I have both. It is a cost of doing business the way I want.

Editing large files in Photoshop will lead to very large files on your disk. I have a lot of multi GByte files. That is, some of my files have grown to about 100 times the original captured file size! Ouch. I can’t do this routinely. It has to be for special images that are worth the time and file size to do this.

When you have to call out the big power tool, Photoshop can do almost anything. But the cost can be high.

Don’t Rush

Unsuccessful Panorama. I decided on reflection that I do not like it.

It seems most people rush to share results of any photo outing on social media immediately. But why? Does that make sense? Wouldn’t it be better to wait until you have a few great images ready? Let your work and vision mature.

Don’t be a slave to social media

I am freely admitting my prejudice here. I am not a fan of social media and I don’t participate in much of it.

A lot of people I see feel compelled to post some of everything they do to social media as soon as they are within cell phone range. They put themselves under a lot of pressure. If you are dependent on the “likes” and upvotes you get online, you serve a very capricious master. And what if several people don’t like your work? What do you do? Change? Abandon what you are doing? Who is deciding your style and artistic interests?

It’s not collaboration

Is your art a group process or are you, the artist, solely responsible for your creations? “Collaboration” is one of those powerful sounding words thrown around in corporations these days. I’ve been there. I know there is a place for it in corporations where they’re trying to achieve at least an average result and wanting to make several special interest groups feel included. But I claim it is not appropriate for our art.

Our art should be a highly personal expression. To a degree, it should not matter if it is not universally popular. Maybe we should not try to be universally popular. If it appeals to the masses and looks like “everybody else’s” art, is it a creative expression? My work is going to be my own total responsibiity.

Ask why you are sharing

If you are sharing on social media, I think it is important to ask why you are doing it. Likes feel good, but do these people actually buy your art? Sorry to be crude and talk about money, but isn’t that the grease that lets things run?

If your social media strategy is well tuned and you have a good mailing list of people who are real customers and eager to buy your work, good for you. That is a reason to publish on social media.

But, how fast should you do it? Conventional wisdom on social media is that you should show work in progress. This is where I tend to disagree. I believe we should never show our work until it is ready.

Curating takes time

A lot of my art has to mature. I may have an idea of something I want to pursue, but my first attempts are usually not representative of where I will end up. It is typical for me to have to work with an idea or a subject for a while to refine my view, to understand my underlying feelings about it. The ideas have to age, to mature some. This can take from days to years.

So if I’m shooting a project, the first images I shoot may be scatter shots all around the idea I haven’t really “discovered” yet. After dong work on the project a while I begin to understand what I really want to say and what will make the best visual presentation. It could be that one or more of those original images actually work for the final project, but that is almost an accident. It usually means I shot an image instinctively even though I did not consciously understand where I wanted to go. But projects can last from weeks to years, so my vision likely evolves over that time.

In a similar way, it is sometimes the case that I shoot an image, I like it, but something tells me it is not complete yet. Maybe it needs to be worked as a low key black & white image. Maybe I need to do some serious cropping to isolate the part that really interests me. Perhaps I need to composite it with some texture or other elements to complete the look. Or maybe it just isn’t as good as I originally thought.

Be patient

If you’re like a lot of photographers, you shoot a lot of images when working a scene. Sometimes it is not immediately clear to me which is the pick of the group. I often have to live with them a while to understand what I was really drawn to. It may take days or weeks before I can look at the set and say “this one” is the one that captures what I was feeling at the time.

If I am under pressure to get a quick look out to social media, I would find that what I am publishing is not really representative of what I end up with. Maybe that is OK for you. But I do not want anyone to see what I would consider inferior work. A secret of most photographers is that they seem very good because you only see about 1% or less of what they shoot. They throw away or rework what doesn’t work before it ever gets out of their studio. What you do see is good.

A line from a famous old Paul Mason ad said “We will sell no wine before its time.” I don’t know if this is still true or if it ever was, but the idea has merit. Don’t be in such a rush to get things out. Wait for them to mature. A few great images is more impactful than a bunch of mediocre ones.

Today’s image

This is a pano I shot earlier this year. At first it was a pick of the day. I really like the clouds and mountain shapes. After living with it for a while, though, I realized I do not like the foreground or the middle ground (the lower forests are too dark). And there is more visual clutter to remove than I wanted to do. So this went into the “eliminated” pile. There was another one that I liked much better.

Overcome Boredom

I have written before that we should be able to find interest wherever we are, even if it is familiar territory. I still agree with this, but sometimes it helps to do something different. It is easy to get stagnant without a refresher. So what can we do to overcome boredom?

Love the familiar

There is a comfort and special knowledge that comes from working with well known subjects or locations. We get to know all of the moods, the look in different lighting and conditions, the “best” times. When we have a familiar subject we can work when we want, we are not dependent on the luck of what we find the day we are there. We can keep coming back whenever we want to explore how we best like to see it.

This has always been true. Claude Monet was drawn to his water lilies. Some artists only do portraits, because they are energized by the personal interactions. Guy Tal mostly does images of the Colorado Plateau in Utah. That is what he loves and it is where he lives.

Probably most of us have a favorite place or subject we are more drawn to and spend a lot of time working with. It is natural. Familiarity tends to build strong ties and a deep appreciation.


But if we are not careful, we can get stagnant. We get into a rut. If we keep doing the same familiar thing over and over without injecting new thought or new creative approaches, we will cripple our art.

Are we able to see something new in the familiar territory? Can we look at the same thing and visualize it differently? This is a skill. Like any skill, it must be developed by thoughtful practice.

I mentioned Claude Monet. How much can you do with a small pond with water lilies? Well, I recently visited l’Orangerie in Paris. This museum has a special wing built to host an incredible set of paintings he did of his garden. It hosts 8 images, each 2 meters high and 91 meters long. Yes, each painting is 299 feet long! It is quite an experience. This, to me, is an example of creating a fresh approach to a familiar subject.

Seeing new approaches to the familiar is a great creativity exercise. Sometimes, though, the subject doesn’t support the depth of vision required. We burn out on certain subjects. That is OK. Take what we have learned and fall in love with a new subject. This is one of the advantages of doing projects. A project gives us a subject or a theme to pursue for a while until we feel it is exhausted. Some may run out in a few weeks. Some last our whole career.

Shake yourself up

However we do it, we have to shake our self up. Shake off the rust and barnacles. To pull out of the rut and make our work fresh again. What works for you is intensely personal. I am not one to try to tell you what you should do. I don’t like it when someone presumes to know what I need without even knowing me.

Some things commonly recommended are projects, travel, workshops, classes, and tools. I have tried all of these and all have varying degrees of impact on me.

I mentioned projects already. This has been very useful for me. Having a project as a focal point for your creativity is stimulating. Taking a subject or a concept you have never seriously considered and trying to make a coherent and excellent portfolio around it is a great creativity exercise. It might give you a fresh viewpoint on other things, too.

As a personal example, I just returned from an international trip. Rather than going with the idea that I would shoot “everything” that is interesting, I had 4 projects in mind for the trip. Yes, I shot lots of pictures just because they were interesting, but I found myself drawn to my project ideas in a deeper way. They gave me a focus for my creativity.

Travel is almost universally recommended. Getting out of your comfort zone and into a new environment tends to change our perspective. I believe almost any travel is useful, but that idea of getting yourself out of your comfort zone is important. What I mean is, if you live in Philadelphia, traveling to Cincinnati would be interesting, but going to Utah or France would have a lot more impact. Those are a major change of comfort zone.

Other tools

Workshops and classes have good results for a lot of people. I find myself not drawn to workshops for a variety of reasons, many related to my personality and learning style. I do, though, take a lot of classes. Mostly online. There is a wealth of instruction available now. I get many of my classes from CreativeLive or Kelby One. And I get no consideration for referring them.

Sometimes new tools or technology can spur us on to new levels. New camera bodies with great built in features might cause us to try new things. New software tools might give us incentive to apply new techniques to our work. To think in different ways.

Whatever works for you, find a way to do it.

Feed your head

Like Jefferson Airplane said way back, we have to feed our head (but hopefully not the way they did). Our creativity comes from within. We must protect it and grow it. If we let ourselves get stuck in a creative rut, all our work starts to look alike and we are just repeating the same things over and over.

Sometimes this is the result of boredom from focusing on the same subjects and the same locations too long. Get out of your comfort zone. Get scared when you cannot find new things to do in your work. Don’t repeat yourself.

I don’t want to do that. I hope you don’t, either. And have fun while you are doing it. After all, this is your art.