Behind the Camera: 2018, Year in Review

· Reading Time: 24 minutes

Welcome back for another installment of my Behind the Camera feature.  Each month I pick a topic to talk about relating to my photography, and this month, I decided to look back at my previous year.  I have to say this has been a very interesting year for my with my photography.  Building on some personal development in 2017, I have now had a lot more professional development through 2018.  Honestly, my head is still spinning from the changes and emotions that have happened over the past twelve months.  I wish I could say that it was all positive, but sadly that wasn’t the case, but I think that we are ending the year on a high note.  Let’s take a look at 2018 and some of the high points of the year.

If you will remember, I had started to really get into contests through much of 2017, and decided to start this year off with another type of contest.  I have always had a lot of luck with actual gallery showings when it came to contests, much better than online ones which I had been having a rough time with.  When I heard about the Falling River’s Gallery event with the theme of “Old Carolina,” I decided to give it a go.  I didn’t have long to get something prepared for the showing, so I happened to use an image that I was getting framed for another client.  Colfax Moonshine seemed to fit the bill for the theme of the show and captured a barn with an American Flag, an old Ford, with a reference to North Carolina’s moonshine days, and of course, the town of Colfax referenced.  I thought I had a shoe-in for a strong showing at the gallery so I submitted my entry and took the finished print down for display for a couple of weeks.

Colfax Moonshine (Framed Print)

When I dropped the picture off I was looking at some of the other entries and was still feeling really good at my chances.  I forget how many winners would be selected, but it was nearly ten awards to be given out.  When the day came for the reveal of the judging, I was there and very excited to see how I did.  The announcements were made and my entry wasn’t even mentioned in the final results.  I learned a little something from this experience.  It seemed that the winners were all part of the same photography club that is based out of the gallery, and the ones framed at the sponsor’s frame shop seemed to do pretty well also.  I’m not saying that there was anything fishy with the judging, but I wasn’t able to see the logic in many of the ones that were selected to be awarded.  There were many entries I saw that deserved the recognition over those that received it.  It was still a very positive experience, and I always love getting the chance to show off my work when I can.  Fortunately, my ego has gotten a little more resilient over the years with my photography and I’ve started looking at contests in a little bit of a different light.  I was happy that from what I heard among the audience at the unveiling that my photograph was enjoyed, and it got a good amount of attention which was my goal.

It might have been a slow start to the year, but in March, I was contacted by the internet marketing department with Singh-Ray Filters who wanted to do a little something different with their marketing approach.  They were wanting to spotlight photographers who used their filters and feature them for a week at a time.  They had barely asked if I would mind participating before I was already saying “YES!!!!”  Out of the blue, one of the best filter manufactures out there had reached out to me and saw enough merit in my work that they wanted to feature it to show off their filter lines.  Talk about a humbling experience!  I might not being doing well with photo contests, but my work was standing out to an international company which was so much better.  The feature went off without a hitch and I got some great internet exposure, and was quite honored with the kind words that were bestowed on my work by Singh-Ray.  I did stay in touch with them after that feature and really learned that Singh-Ray was a very personable company and had some great employees.  I really feel that they are not about numbers, but actually people, and they treat their photographers like family.

Wing and a Prayer

It was around this time that I was doing a little growing in my online gallery.  I was really getting into my rusty subjects and other abstracts, so I felt that I needed a room that would house these types of detail shots of both automotive as well as landscape shots.  I started the room out with a mix of water abstracts and abstract isolations of old cars.  It was an odd mix, but I thought that it worked out well.  In short order though, my automotive isolations were taking center stage and pushing out everything else.  It became obvious that the nature isolations, and even some of the structure isolations were looking out of place in this room.  I let it all go to my automotive subjects and left a few of the water abstracts in with the white water room.  I would have loved to have done another room, but my gallery was full and I didn’t quite know how to add another room and keep the navigation manageable which was very important to me.  This was going to have to be a problem for later on, as I was very happy with how the Details Room was developing.

By this point in the year, Spring was getting wound up.  This is when I start getting a good bit busier as a photographer.  Looking back, I should have spent a little more time in looking into this next decision I made.  I remember sitting down and reading through an “Outdoor Photographer” magazine and saw in the back that there was a contest opened up to photographers of all levels.  I looked into a bit and saw that it was through an established Photography Publication called the “Photographer’s Forum” which gave credence to the validity of the contest.  Entry costs were minimal and they had categories that included lots of what I shot.  Without any further looking, I went ahead and entered ten of my images into the contest.  The results were not going to be made public until July which was a long time from when I made the entries.  This is part of the game with online contests, they take a long time to get the results.  I filed in the back of my mind knowing that the images that I selected were some of my best and I could do nothing more at this point.

Outer Banks Reflections

As is starting to be the case, whenever I enter a contest, I get great unrelated news that completely takes my mind off of the contest.  I got an email from Hampton House Art and Framing in Winston Salem asking if I ever did work with galleries.  I answered that I did, even though I wasn’t quite sure if my experience with galleries was quite what they were looking for.  By this point in the year, I was looking at everything as a possibility and I didn’t want to miss out on an opportunity by asking stupid questions.  The follow up email was better than I had hoped.  Mark Hampton had a commercial client that was interested in a couple of my images and was wondering if I would be willing to sell them.  Uh…like that’s a question…YES!!!!!

He put in an order of two of my beach scenes in a 20×30″ size and we worked out the logistics of printing which turned into a great arrangement for both of us.  I prepared the images and dropped them off at their gallery and in short order I was paid when the job was complete.  I had just sold two of my prints through an art gallery…an established art gallery at that.  The customer was a commercial client of theirs but I didn’t know who it was, and that didn’t matter at all.  I was on cloud nine with this sale, and I was hoping that it would turn into other sales down the road so I made sure that I kept things as smooth as possible for Hampton House.

It was around this time when I started doing the feature that has become Behind the Camera, which you are reading now.  This was kind of a throwback feature to something that I did years ago through my website.  The difference was this time, I was not talking about a specific image as I had done, I was talking about whatever had come up that month relating to my photography.  It was kept very open-ended so that I could answer any type of question that I wanted to in that feature.  It was a way of getting to know the guy who pushes the button on the camera.  It was a fun change of pace from the other posts during the month that were all about where I went and what I shot.  I now had the opportunity to talk more about the “why” and the “how” rather than the “what.”  I see this being a very flexible feature that will see all sorts of uses through the year.

As Summer started to wind up, I had some more good new from the fine folks at Singh-Ray.  This time they wanted more than just a week-long feature of my work though.  I started to talk to Nicholas with their marketing department fairly regularly at this point and we were talking about me becoming part of their web presence by being an Ambassador for their product line.  That was an easy one to consider, I mean I was already talking about their filters regularly, so I could just continue that with a purpose.  Another part of that was that they were doing webinars with different photographers who used their products and my name had come up as a participant.  All of this was really great, and I was really looking forward to it.  Another part of the Ambassador program was that I would do occasional videos when I used the Singh-Ray filters.  This was the part that I had the most difficulty with.  I have never been a videographer and my video equipment consisted of my cell phone and the length of my arm.  Regardless, I did start doing some videos for them and several of them got reshared by Singh-Ray.

In July, I finally had my opportunity to do a full webinar with Singh-Ray which went very well.  I was given full reign on what topic to discuss and I had to do some thinking about that since I cover so many different types of photography.  In the end, it was the Decay Photography that I chose to focus on.  The main reason behind this was that Singh-Ray had initially contacted me based on my old iron photography techniques when they saw my profile on Instagram.  Nicholas had told me many times that I was doing this in a style that wasn’t being done by many so I figured I would share a little about how I do that part of my photography.  It was interesting talking to my computer screen and going through a Powerpoint Presentation that I had spent the previous week creating.  I was very thankful for a few questions to pop up so that I could feel like I was in a discussion group more than a lecture.  I definitely enjoyed the experience and hope to have the opportunity to do it again with maybe a little looser format to really speak to the audience’s wants.

Tiled Cadillac Grouping

While I was working very hard with Singh-Ray, I had a meeting with the fine folks at Wake Forest Baptist Hospital in the Anesthesiology Education Department who were wanting some of my pictures.  When I arrived for my meeting with them, I noticed two very familiar photographs which turned out to have been installed by Hampton House from my dealings earlier in the year with them.  This was their commercial client…and they were wanting me back for more!  We sat down and discussed a few new rooms that were being done, one of which was the room that we were meeting in.  We went through my catalog and found several pictures that they liked for the rooms.  My favorite was this grouping that was selected for the room that we were in.  I had just shot this Cadillac recently and they liked the isolations of it as well as the dominating image of the front of the car.  Looking at the wall we decided that this cluster worked very well and that was what they ended up doing.  There were other spaces that we found suitable artwork for as well.  I think that by the end of the meeting we had settled on nine new images to complement the two that they already had of mine.  For the sake of uniformity, they wanted to go through Hampton House once again which I was happy to do.

Shadowed Ridge as an 80″ panorama

It took a little while to get the sizes for the new pictures but once that happened, the turnaround was very fast for the installation of the new prints.  I didn’t get to see them until the Fall when I came back for another visit for some more pictures that they were wanting for yet another room that was being redone.  It feels really strange saying this, but a hospital is my biggest client at this point and it looks like they will have more than 20 prints installed in different areas of the hospital.

Speaking of Hampton House, I have been contacted for several jobs that they are doing for commercial clients in the area.  Of course, for the most part, I never know where the prints are ending up, but I do know that there have been quite a few jobs that they have done.  This has turned into my most low stress arrangement when it comes to the business end of my photography.  I’m working on getting a more formal arrangement with them in the future that might include having some of my prints on display in their art gallery.  Due to scheduling on both parts we haven’t been able to get everyone together to discuss this, but as things slow down for them, I am sure we will be looking into a future together which is very exciting for me.  In the meantime, they are doing an excellent job at recommending my work to their clients.

Ole Caddi at Home

As if I didn’t have enough going on in the summer, while I was on a family beach trip, I was contacted by Dean Cornelius with Outlawed Restorations about a job that he thought I would be perfect for.  One of the cars that he built was coming up for sale and the owner was looking for a photographer to shoot the pictures for the Ebay ads.  He had already hired this job out and the pictures just didn’t quite fit his needs and ideas.  Of course, I jumped at the opportunity and scheduled the shoot for when we got back into town.  I spent about an hour or so shooting this rat rod Cadillac Limousine and got the images processed and sent off to the broker.  This was my first time doing something like this, and it went very well, and the photos were well received by the owner, the broker, and the builder of the car.  I’m really happy that it went off as well as it did because I was having some really bad struggles with my computer during this time.

I was finding that my computer was locking up at random times.  I had sent it in to the shop for this problem and they said that it was fixed, but while working on pictures from the beach trip it started acting up again.  I was getting very frustrated and was about to have to get a new computer ordered so that I could keep up with the demand on my photos (not a bad problem to have actually).  I found myself talking with Nicholas…you remember him, from Singh-Ray…and we got to talking about my issues with the computer.  Since he was into IT type stuff he started to help me troubleshoot the problems.  He ended up leading me to diagnosing the problem as being one my memory banks going bad.  I ordered replacement memory and by the end of the week, I was back on track.  It’s nice to have connections!

As Summer was in full swing, the results of the “Photographer’s Forum” photo contest were starting to come in.  I received a communication by mail that one of the ten images that I had sent in had been selected as a finalist.  I hadn’t really given this contest much thought over the past months, so I was initially pretty excited to see that I had made the finals.  I knew that the winners would be selected from this group of finalists.  I read through the information where they asked if all of my entry form was correct so that they could property credit me in the book that they were publishing with the finalists and winners included.  There was also a thumbnail of the image that was selected as being a finalist.

Brake Time

Now, I obviously liked this image because I submitted it for the contest.  It just struck me as strange that they bypassed many of the others before selecting this one as a finalist.  It was the last one that I had submitted based on seeing something similar selected as a winner in a previous year.  I started to look a bit closer at the letter that was sent.  They were wanting me to purchase a book from them of all of the finalists and winners, and do so before the final judging was to take place.  Hmmm, this was sounding kind of familiar to me.  I’ve been bit by this type of contest before and their goal is to sell the books to photographers who are dreaming about being published.  A quick Google search lead me to the realization that was exactly what this contest was all about.  I had no intention of buying a book, and felt that I would have no chance at winning without purchasing, so I wrote this contest off.  I really didn’t want to win, and was wishing that my image wasn’t included in their book at this point.  I was relived to find out by the next month that my image had gone no further in the contest.  I count this as a lesson learned and will continue to be weary of online contests.

Towards the end of the Summer, I was talking to Nicholas once again.  He was pointing out how archaic my website was, and how much better he could make it look.  Well, he made it sound a little nicer than that, but this was what he was meaning.  I can’t say that he was wrong either.  Ever since I had added the Details Room to the gallery I had realized that I had reached the end of what my website could support.  One thing lead to another and I ended up with a new website, which you are reading from now (link is in case you missed it last month).  It wasn’t quite as easy a process as he had led me to believe, but it was much easier than when I had built one years ago.  I’m really enjoying the new platform and see all kinds of potential with the website.

Rusty Streak Framed

For those who have been with me over the years, you know that one contest that I do participate in regularly is the Dixie Classic Fair.  It isn’t an online one and actually uses a physical print of an image which I much prefer.  As I normally would do, I entered two images, one in the color and one in the black and white category.  I am very happy with both of my prints which were entered, and I had really high hopes for A Timeless View which was my black and white entry.  Personally, I thought that was my strongest entry into the competition.  Oddly enough, it didn’t place in the final standings with the judges.  On the other hand, they seemed to like Rusty Streak which was my color entry.  It brought home a first place blue ribbon.  It was another successful year with this contest and I’m already looking forward to my next run at this contest and see if I can repeat my double blue ribbon year from 2016.

As you can see, things were really starting to pick up for me.  I had a new website in the making, I was winning awards for my photography, and I was filling commercial client orders on a regular basis.  What could go wrong?  Well, life has a way of keeping a balance in all things.  I learned that lesson the hard way with a gut punch when my Mother passed away in October.  Not only did the grief that I felt impact my desire to do anything with my photography, I quite frankly had too much on my plate to really worry with any of it.  I suspended all operations with the exception of getting out orders that I had taken prior to the death.  For about three weeks, I did nothing at all with my photography and didn’t miss it at all.  It was November 4th before I could bring myself to go back out once again with the camera.  It was a difficult trek for me, but it was kind of like getting back on the horse again.  I needed the therapy, and I found my joy once again with the camera.  I slowly started to piece my world back together and try to resume life as it was now.  Here we are at the end of the year and I’m just now starting to really get back in the swing of my photography once again.  This was one of my hobbies that my Mother really loved to hear about and see the results of.  That is now part of the motivation for continuing on with it.  Her dream was for me to start doing this full time and leave my job at the Police Department which is starting to look like a reality for me.  I will know more on that end next year, but it might be very big news when I make the announcement.

Teal Wash

By November, I was able to get the new website live and functioning.  Most of the bugs have been worked out of it which I’m happy about.  Nicholas did an awesome job designing the site and he made it to where I can actually muddle around with it and make additions easy enough.  In fact, I went in an added that room that I had been after all year with the water abstracts.  I finally had the room in the gallery to add this group of pictures which freed up a lot of room in the waterfall room.  In fact, with the new design, I was less limited in space and formatting in all areas.  I added in a number of images that I had taken down due to space constraints as I added new images.  I’m not sure where I’m going to cap these rooms now, as I don’t want to overwhelm those looking, but I do want to make sure that access to my images is easy.

During this period Nicholas was talking with me about different affiliate programs and we started working on the Amazon one.  I was approved to be an affiliate, but something apparently didn’t meet their requirements and a few weeks after gearing my website to link to Amazon, I was given the notice that my account had been terminated.  I’m not sure exactly what happened, but I am not lamenting that loss too much.  I have been starting to view my website and web presence as a bit of a commercial venture for other products.  While it is nice to make a little money from recommendations, I really want my photography to be pure, and for the sake of beauty, not for advertisement.  It is a fine balance for me, and I am sure that I will tweak that relationship over the coming months until I find something that I am comfortable with.  I am dedicated to being a photographer first and foremost and letting my images speak for me, and my visions.  I just hope that others continue to relate to them and enjoy them.  I also am very honored and humbled when somebody selects one of my images to help brighten their spaces.

Something that I am trying out a little bit currently is an education outlet for my techniques with photography.  Nicholas has been suggesting that I do workshops for quite some time and I finally gave in and gave it a try.  My first ever workshop happened on December 1st at Hanging Rock State Park.  I spent the day with four photographers as we shot four different waterfalls in the park.  The weather was absolutely perfect and we had a great time.  This was one of my two free workshops designed to figure out how the nuts and bolts of a workshop would go.  There is a lot to consider and it took a good deal of planning and executing on my part.  Unfortunately, my mind was still a little off from the passing of Mom, and I’m sure I lacked in workshop lead role.  I did learn a lot from my own observations and plan on putting those lessons to use in my next workshop in the Spring.  This one will also be free and will lead up to my first paid workshop in the late Spring on the Blue Ridge Parkway.  This is part of the plan for me being able to leave my day job in favor of being a full time photographer.  I’m really hoping that this works out and I love the idea of helping other photographers learn the craft.  That is one area where I am going to have to really adjust my own thinking.  I have a very hard time making suggestions to other photographers as I think that everything is a creative choice and my visions might not be true to their visions.  However, when things ramp up to me getting paid for the workshops, I have to assume that those who are participating are wanting to learn from me, and that I have information that they want.  For those considering workshops (mine or otherwise), I would strongly suggest that you bring a lot of questions for the host.  This is your opportunity to learn how they get certain effects, or how they look at compositions.  We all want to share this information, but it is never easy assuming that you like a certain aspect of the photographer’s style or want to learn about it.

On the topic of education, I have also sent out a few feelers about me doing an introductory photography class in a classroom setting.  This would be a lecture type of event and restricted to a single day, but a full day of learning everything from composition and exposure to post processing and critiques.  It is a lot of information, but something that will hopefully show what is possible with a camera.  I’m not sure if this will materialize or not because there are a lot of moving parts to be considered.  There is also the matter of putting together a lesson plan for 8 hours of classroom work which will take a lot of time to say the least.  My goal is to make it very much an introductory level class with a limited amount of complex ideas or technical speak.

The Lump

There are a lot of big things looming on the horizon of 2019 for me.  I’ve touched on some of the big ones here already.  If I do make the switch to full time photographer next year that will probably be the biggest news of the year, and I hope that I get to share that announcement by the fall.  I’m always thinking about what I’m planning on doing, and I rarely get into what I’m not going to do.  I will say that my participation in contests will be much reduced in 2019.  It has nothing to do with whether I have won or not, it really has to do with the amount of time and energy that I spend on selecting images and submitting them.  I get very little out of this effort whether I win or not.  I would much rather focus that time on either creating new work, or focusing on things that matter more to me.  I do plan on sticking with the Dixie Classic Fair as that has become a tradition for me and I do love using it as an excuse to make prints and have them framed.  I’ll file that in my guilty pleasure box and keep it moving.

I would like to take this opportunity to thank a few folks that have made 2018 the year that it was.  First and foremost, I have to thank my lovely wife and photo wench, Toni.  Her love and support never waivers regardless of what crazy thing I am doing.  She has always known me as a photographer and with that, comes a lot of time alone waiting on me to get back from a trek, or while I’m sitting back in the darkroom (office) processing images.  If I didn’t have her support, there is no way that I would be able to enjoy photography on this level.  I love you, and I appreciate all that you do for me!

I would also like to thank Nicholas Harvey for pushing me to be the best that I can be as a photographer and giving me the tools (sometimes throwing them at me) to make it happen.  He has been the driving force behind my new relationship with Singh-Ray Filters, the creation of my new website, and is the driving force behind the workshops and any other educational experience offered by me.  He has been a good friend, and I’m very thankful to have him in my world.

Another thank you that I really feel is deserved is to Mark Hampton at Hampton House.  He has changed the way my photography is getting into clients hands.  He is doing all of the heavy lifting when it comes to sales and final product delivery leaving me to concentrate on capturing the images.  I am very thankful that our paths crossed, and I see great things developing from this in the future.  As a side note, I believe that this one has my Mom written all over it in an indirect way.  The connection with Hampton House really got rolling through a contact that I made while riding in the Tour to Tanglewood which benefits the Multiple Sclerosis Society.  I was riding in that because Mom had MS, and I met one of the most amazing people through this ride who has taken a liking to my work.  She brought myself and Mark together for several projects as Baptist Hospital.

Thank you also to all of you reading this entry.  Whether this is your first time visiting, or you’ve been with me since the AOL Hometown days back in 2005 when I got started with photography.  Your support means the world to me.  I read every one of your comments on social media, and pay attention to each and every like or reaction.  I am constantly floored at the number of people who think enough of my work to continue to come back time and time again.  While I don’t base my photography on my audience, I do love the fact that my visions connect so well with others.  It really does fuel my fire for this passion of mine.  For that I am deeply thankful!

Have a Happy New Year and let’s see where life takes us!