I managed to break a bone in my foot last week, and now am looking forward to a few weeks of limited mobility. Thus, a lot of time on the couch, and plenty to wrap up my 2014 family photo album.
I grew up on family photo albums and Life magazine, and have been making pictures ever since forever. In 1981 I got my first camera, a Polaroid Button, and still have the first image out of it, of my dad in my grandparents’ back yard. Then I moved up to a Nikon FG (til I broke it), then 6006 (til stolen), then D100 (passed on to a school), then D7000 (still got it), and now basically everything I have is a camera of one kind or another. Not to mention all the ones on shelves spending their time just looking cool.
So, yes, a lot of cameras equals a lot of pictures. I’ve always been a printer of photos, and have boxes and boxes of terrible blurry dark prints spanning decades. There’s a nugget or two of value in there somewhere, at least enough to get a couple of degrees in photography, but the tossers still outweigh the keepers. And prints are real. I can hold them in my hand anytime I like.
Since going digital, my picture making has exploded. In 2014 I took over 16,000 photos. It’s great to lose the limits imposed by analog film, but how many pictures are too many? What’s the point of 16,000 pictures if I’m never going to see them again? Why take so many at all?
After my daughter was born I figured I needed to get organized or else in 20 years I’d just have a bunch of unreadable files that might or might not have been a visual record of our lives. DSC_00007.jpg? Oh, that’s her first steps. IMG786543297680.jpg? Visit with grandparents. Image009.jpg? Ehhh… first day of school? Or Christmas maybe.
Last week I listened to Steve Schapiro’s artist talk at Jackson Fine Art and recorded it for WABE, along with an interview with the artist. In his talk, he mentioned how much he likes to print, and asked what happens to digital files in 50 years. He’d discovered never before seen negatives of the 1965 Selma march and printed those up for the show. What if they were digital?
Shutterfly did work for the first few books. These are good enough quality and did have the Facebook import I hate the sparkles or “stickers” they put throughout their books, and haven’t found a way to get blank pages as a default, so I gave up. If I wanted sparkles in my photo book I’d put them there myself.
Last year I went to Blurb and was very happy. This year I struggled some though, because my workflow is pretty terrible. I think this is part of that whole “have an idea what you want to get out of a project in the end” comes in handy. Having a goal gives you a better idea how to set up in the beginning.
That and GoPro time lapse. I LOVE time lapse, but what to do with 4,000 nearly identical sunset photos? Just delete after the movie is made? I know it’s the right thing to do, but then what if a bird is in exactly the right place, and the sun’s going down, and moss is blowing in the breeze? Better have a look at them all before discarding. [impossible task, won’t happen]
Here’s how I’ve proceeded this year so far:
- Made a Lightroom filter for all photos created between Jan. 1 and Dec. 31, 2014.
- Looked at all of them (yep) and marked keepers with five stars.
- Made another filter to show five starred images. (425. Out of 16,000, that’s about a 2.5% keeper rate.)
- Output those to Flickr as a set.
- Use Flickr tools to create the book (can’t. too many pictures.)
- Went back to Blurb. Still too many pictures, but now I’m able to manipulate pages and tighten up the edit.
Now I’m editing, and getting closer to final version. The book will be somewhere in the $100 range, but that’s worth it to me as a treasured keepsake for the family. One nice framed print is easily $100, so whatever.
There’s got to be a better way though. And for 2015, I’m getting set up in advance.
First step, edit. This is the most valuable skill I got from graduate school. The ability to say no is extremely important (“Another drink?” is a great example). I like to say yes, but sometimes you’ve just got to make a cut. A newspaper editor I used to work with said something along the lines of if you question the value of something appearing in your story, it should not be in the story.
I came across George Orwell’s rules for writers last week. These apply as much to basically any creative endeavor as they do to writing:
- What am I trying to say?
- What words will express it?
- What image or idiom will make it clearer?
- Is this image fresh enough to have an effect?
And he will probably ask himself two more:
- Could I put it more shortly?
- Have I said anything that is avoidably ugly?
I’m going to try and start every project from here out with these questions in mind. It’s more or less what I do now, but as most everything is going these days, it’ll be more formal now. And maybe for the 2015 album I’ll have a real system in place.
Stay on top of edits at import stage. I’ve got to mark favorites immediately, and get rid of what I don’t want right then. It’ll save a LOT of time on the back end.
Organize. Create the select filter at the beginning, create a folder of keepers for the end result. Facebook will also deliver low-resolution photos to your book publisher, so keep the high-res printable versions handy and together.
Print more. I expect to use my select folder to make more prints through the year, so even if they end up not making the annual book cut, we’ll have a print somewhere.
So here I sit, in a pain med fog, with my plastic-booted foot up on a pillow on the table, browsing memories and preserving a few. It’s time consuming now, but when I’m old, and when (grand?)kids ask about our lives way back at the beginning of the century, Poppa will have a fascinating library to share. If I don’t remember, the pictures can remember for me.
[I think one of my writing goals has to be a piece where I don’t use the word “I”. Maybe next week.]