Five Lessons on the Craft of Collaboration from Photography

As a collaboration practitioner exploring a new path, the best thing I did this past year was to take up photography. That’s right, photography. I did it because I wanted to do something creative that had nothing to do with my professional life. Not only did it bring me tremendous joy, it unexpectedly made me better at my professional craft. When I left Groupaya one year ago, I felt like I was at the top of my game. I didn’t do any work this past year that resembled any of my work the previous ten. Yet somehow, my skills are significantly better now than they were a year ago.

Rest, reflection, and new directions clearly had something to do with that, but photography took my game to the next level. It reminded me of the importance of craft and what it feels like to be at the earliest stages of one’s learning journey. It got my creative juices flowing, which had ramifications in everything that I did.

Earlier this year, I shared eight lessons I learned about facilitation from photography. Now, I want to share five things I learned about the craft of collaboration from photography.

1. Framing is everything.

In March, I went on a photo walk with my friend, Eugene Chan. I marveled at how he saw and captured things that I completely missed, even though we were in the same place. It was all there in front of me. I was just looking at different things.

At the end of the day, photography is about drawing a tiny rectangle around something you see. Good photographers understand what elements make up good pictures (e.g. light, lines, textures, colors). They gravitate toward those elements, but there are still infinite possible ways to look at the same darn thing.

So much of the craft of collaboration is about getting people to understand each other’s frame, then finding a collective frame that works. It starts with honest-to-goodness listening, something that we so often pay lip service to, but rarely actually do, much less do well.

It continues by exploring the “right” questions together. So often, the “right” first questions are, “What are you trying to accomplish, and why?” It’s amazing how catalytic these questions can be, and yet how often people forget to ask them to each other or even themselves.

(It’s no coincidence that the practices of listening and asking generative questions are at the heart of Changemaker Bootcamp.)

2. Craft takes work.

Perhaps my biggest takeaway this year was how much work goes into getting a good shot. In April, I took my very first photography course from Lauren Crew, who is an absolute superstar. One of our assignments was to photograph fear.

If I could have taken a self-portrait upon hearing this assignment, my work would have been done. I was intimidated and stumped. However, rather than succumb to paralysis, I decided to just do the work, with great guidance from Lauren and lots of inspiration from my classmates. I journaled, and I riffed. I came up with silly concepts, and I went with them to see where they would lead me.

Every step that I took led to new insights and ideas. Even when I finally had concepts that I liked, the final product often ended up being very different from the original concept. The above photograph was probably my simplest and best from the class, but it was the product of several hours of playing, reflecting, and refining.

Craft is a process. So much of collaborating effectively seems improvisational, but people forget that you get good at improvising through practice. Practice is an exercise in frustration, little victories, and lots of patience.

Toward the end of my tenure as a collaboration consultant, I started forgetting this. I was expecting outcomes — both from myself and others — without being realistic about the process. Ironically, my reputation was built on helping clients avoid this exact trap. The world is rife with magical thinking about collaboration. “Add just the right amount of pixie dust, and voila, you have a high-performance team!” That’s not how it works. Collaborating effectively takes work, and it’s not always pretty in process. You have to expect and design for this if you want to be successful.

How do you do that? First, set goals that are realistic. With my photography, I’ve stopped expecting that, with “just one more month of practice,” I’ll be shooting like Gary Winogrand. Instead, I’m setting targets that I can actually achieve in timespans that are realistic.

Similarly, with my collaboration practices, I’ve always placed a huge emphasis on getting clear on goals. This past year, I’ve shifted the way I set goals to defining a spectrum, and I gut check these by exploring failure scenarios. These are all things I’ve done in the past, but I’ve systematized these practices so that they’ve become habits.

3. Seek feedback.

This past August, Lauren had a showing, and I took a few friends to go see it. At the show, I asked my friends, “Which pictures do you like? Why?” Neither of my friends are photography enthusiasts, but both of them shared great insights. We didn’t always agree, but it all helped me get clearer about what worked and why. Most of all, it was just fun. As we were leaving, one of my friends exclaimed, “I’ve never really talked about photography this way before. I like it!”

That conversation was like a mini-version of Lauren’s class, where we would spend three hours (often longer) giving each other feedback. Lauren’s class was simply a manifestation of what photographers all around the world do. Seeking feedback is the cultural norm, not the exception, and there are structures in place to support and reinforce that culture.

This is almost universally true with mature crafts. Writers have writers’ workshops. Musicians have master classes. Collaboration practitioners have… what?

It’s incredible to me how rare real, honest-to-goodness feedback is in business. It’s not part of our broader culture, and the only thing that resembles a structure that supports this is the annual review, which is primitive structure at best. If we truly value improvement, we need those structures so that we may start shifting our field’s culture. This was a huge part of my motivation in starting Changemaker Bootcamp.

4. Track your progress.

In team settings, I’ve always been good at establishing a culture of feedback. I’ve been less good at tracking progress. If you’re not doing both, then the cycle of feedback can feel like a hamster wheel or, worse, a wheel of negativity.

The beauty of being a beginner at something is that progress feels more tangible. I can point to a long list of things I do with my camera now that I wasn’t doing a year or even three months ago. The beauty of photography in particular is that your pictures serve as a way of tracking your progress. By simply reviewing my pictures over the past year, I can see the progress I’ve made in a very visceral way.

In order to capture the picture above, I used a telephoto lens rather than a wide angle in order to compress the background and get that beautiful layered effect. I increased my shutter speed in order to get more contrast and highlight the sun’s rays. Perhaps the most skillful decision I made was to focus on this particular tiny rectangle of a much larger, equally breathtaking view. I made all of these decisions in a matter of seconds. I would not have been able to do that a year ago.

There are two components to tracking your progress successfully. The first is simply taking the time for reflection. Most people skip this step to their detriment. The second is to come up with good indicators. This is really hard, especially when it comes to something as broad and as soft as collaboration, but it’s necessary if you truly want to improve.

I find that many high achievers are incredibly hard on themselves. I don’t mind this. High standards make for better work. The flip side of that is that you also have to be honest with yourself about acknowledging progress and success as well. I’m not talking about self-compassion here, although I believe in that also. I’m talking about self-honesty. Without tracking, it can feel like you’re never making any progress, when the truth might be the exact opposite.

5. Enjoy the ride!

I’ve been practicing all of these things in both my photography and my work. I recognize the importance of framing. I’ve acknowledged the work that’s required for my respective crafts, and I’ve established realistic expectations and goals. I constantly seek feedback, and I’m tracking my progress. I’m doing all of these things, and yet I still sometimes feel impatient or frustrated. If I’m not careful, I risk falling into a cycle of negativity.

Photography provides this wonderful safety net. The very act of capturing a moment is truly magical and delightful. Looking at my pictures from this past year always brings a smile to my face. I’m so fortunate to have experienced so much beauty and so many wonderful moments with people I care about, and the fact that I’m able to capture any aspect of that is truly a gift. Moreover, it’s a gift that I can share, which makes it even more gratifying.

In my own professional life, I’m seeking ways to have a bigger impact. Part of that is about getting better at my craft. Part of that is about being more strategic in when, where, and how I apply it. I’m happy to be doing this. It’s what I need to be doing.

But at the end of the day, when I’m in the moment of creation, when I’m watching my craft bring groups alive, regardless of who’s in the groups or what they’re doing, I feel a lot of joy. I love doing this work, and the fact that it is inherently social means that I get to share my experiences with others. Regardless of my larger goals, photography has reminded me that it’s a gift to get to do this kind of work. I’m grateful for that reminder.

Photography and Extroverted Introversion

I spent a few days in Vancouver last month for work. I had a chance to take some pictures, including a few at the beautiful Capilano Salmon Hatchery. Afterward, I took the train down to Seattle.

The train ride was beautiful, but also foggy. Because my view was limited, I decided to pull out my laptop and post-process some photos. I had some work photos that I wanted to turn around quickly, and when I got through them, I started going through some of my travel photos.

I was totally oblivious to the people around me, including an older woman sitting next to me. When I got to the above picture, she decided to interrupt me.

“Are you a photographer?” she asked.

“No, I just like taking pictures,” I responded.

“I really like that one,” she said.

“Thank you! What do you like about it?” I asked.

She started walking me through the composition and the different shades of green. She had a sophisticated eye, and I started asking her about her own photography background. Her name was Ingrid, and when she was in her 20s, she moved to Alaska and worked as an assistant to wildlife photographer, Sam Kimura. She was sort of this hippie grandmother who had lived all along the West Coast and who had done all of these fascinating things in her life.

One of the unexpected pleasures of photography as a hobby is how it’s opened up people’s lives to me. I’m not an outgoing person, but photography gives me an excuse to talk to strangers. Several months ago, I was in a coffee shop in Japantown, and I noticed this person sitting next to me drawing cartoons. I watched him out of the corner of my eye for a while, then finally asked if I could take a picture of his journal.

He was very friendly and said it was okay. His name was Evan, and this was the way he journaled about his life. We chatted for about 15 minutes, and he showed me lots of drawings, explaining the different life events they represented. If it hadn’t been for my camera, I never would have struck up a conversation with him.

 

Having a camera is also an excuse not to talk to others. I’ve been in social situations where, for whatever reason, I haven’t felt like talking to anybody. I simply start taking pictures, sometimes without even excusing myself. No one seems to mind, and I end up having a good time.

My friend, Eugene, describes this kind of behavior as extroverted introversion, which describes my personality quite nicely. They like people. They even like talking to people, even strangers, but in doses, not buckets. Photography is the perfect hobby for extroverted introverts.

Eight Lessons on Facilitation from Photography

I’ve always loved taking pictures, but I’ve been taking it more seriously the past few months. I got an Olympus OM-D E-M5, which I’m loving, and I’ve been talking shop with friends, reading lots of photography blogs, and taking lots of pictures.

I’ve been struck by how many lessons I’ve learned also apply to facilitation, and I wanted to share some of them here.

1. You are not invisible

This is my sister running a 12K. She’s just passed the five mile marker, so she has about three miles left to go.

What’s wrong with this picture?

(No, it’s not that I cut off her left foot. That was unfortunate too, but ignore that detail for now.)

It’s that she’s smiling.

Why is she smiling? It’s not physical euphoria from having run five miles, nor even the glorious view. It’s because I’m standing there, pointing a camera at her.

As a photographer, I want to blend in and take candid pictures. That has proven to be challenging, because people get hyperconscious when they see a camera pointed at them, and they often change their behavior as a result. Some people are so sensitive to this, they’ll notice you even when you’re using a telephoto lens from across the room.

I’ve realized that I need to give up this notion that I can be invisible (even with a small camera and a telephoto lens) and thoughtfully consider my presence and role beyond snapping the picture. I can make a huge impact on the subject and the shot by how I interact with it — how quickly I move my body, how I hold my camera, what I say to the subject (if anything). I learned a lot about photographer presence by watching my friend, Eugene Chan, on a photo walk. and I’ve been trying to glean lessons from street photographers as well.

A lot of facilitators mistakenly believe that they need to be “objective” or “invisible” to be effective. You’re kidding yourself if you think this is even possible. The goal of facilitation is to help a group achieve its goals. You don’t do that by being invisible. You do that by participating authentically. Sometimes, that entails stepping back and simply listening. Other times, it requires expressing an actual opinion. What matters is how you do it, not whether you do it.

2. It’s not about the tool…

About a year ago, I posted some thoughts about tools versus craft as applied to photography. Since then, I’ve gotten a lot more practice with a wide variety of cameras and lenses, and I finally upgraded my own equipment last month. Still, I can say with even more conviction that having a better camera does not make you a better photographer.

I see this viscerally whenever I check my Instagram feed, where my friends post wonderful pictures from their cell phone cameras. The above shot of the Transamerica Pyramid was taken on her iPhone by my friend, Christina Samala, who always wows me with her composition. The iPhone has a damn good camera, but it is not the tool of choice for low-light photography. It doesn’t matter here, because this picture is all about the interesting angle, with the two buildings framing the pyramid, and the filter, which highlights the contrast between the yellow and red and night blue. She’s even made the graininess part of the allure rather than an obstacle. This picture is all about the photographer, not the tool.

The importance of craft is even more apparent in DigitalRev’s wonderful YouTube series, “Pro Photographer, Cheap Camera,” where they give professional photographers toy cameras and follow them around while they take pictures.

There are lots of tools and methodologies for facilitation. Many of them are even useful. But the surest sign of an inexperienced or bad facilitator is one who thinks that being certified in these different tools makes them good facilitators. It doesn’t.

3. … except when it is

It’s not that tools don’t matter. They do. But what really matters is the tight interrelationship between tool and craft and how those two co-evolve.

Ultimately, the goal of any art form is to express what’s in your head onto the medium of your choice. Sometimes, your current tools aren’t capable of this. Other times, the tools help you realize new forms of expression.

This past weekend, I was at the zoo with my friend, Justin, and his daughter. I wanted a shot of her running, where she was relatively clear, but the background was a blur. That meant slowing down the shutter speed to capture the blur, but also closing the aperture so that the photo wouldn’t be overexposed. I also used my camera’s vertical image stabilizers (one of the cool features of the OM-D E-M5) to prevent vertical blur as I panned and tracked. I couldn’t have taken the above picture with my point-and-shoot, at least not intentionally.

I can handle most facilitation needs with just about any tool, but there are certain “last mile” challenges where the tool is particularly important. For example, while visual facilitation is valuable in almost any circumstance, it’s also a specialized and expensive skill, so I wouldn’t insist on it unless the circumstances required it. Those circumstances include trying to develop shared understanding about a wicked problem across a diverse set of stakeholders, such as the work we did on the Delta Dialogues.

4. Constraints are liberating

With interchangeable lens cameras, you have the choice between prime and zoom lenses. Prime lenses are fixed length, meaning you can’t zoom in or out. There are some practical reasons for getting a prime over a zoom (e.g. size and weight, quality, cost), but I think the most interesting reason to do so is the power of constraint.

In other words, the lack of flexibility is actually a boon, not a burden. Prime lenses are, by definition, constrained. They force you to make choices as to what to shoot and how.

When I got my new camera, I decided I wanted to try shooting only with prime lenses. I was originally going to get a wide angle prime, which lets you capture more of the scene. Last year, I played with a tighter prime (35mm on a Canon T2i, roughly 50mm full-frame equivalent), and I didn’t like it. Too constraining.

But to my surprise, when I started playing around with lenses on my new camera, I found myself drawn to the 25mm lens (50mm full-frame equivalent on my OM-D E-M5). I had started to see this tighter focal length as liberating, because it eliminated options. More importantly, the tighter focal length forced me to focus on what I wanted to capture by removing things from the field of view, rather than simply allowing me to capture everything. It’s forcing me to be more thoughtful about what I want to shoot, which is resulting in better pictures.

I love the pictures of my friends above, because it literally maps to what I experienced that evening. (It helps that a 50mm full-frame equivalent focal length is roughly the same focal length as the human eye. In other words, what you see in your viewfinder is roughly the same size as what your eye sees.)

One of the reasons I cut out a foot in the shot of my sister running above was that I was trying to do too much. I had actually framed the shot in advance, and had practiced it a few times with previous runners. I knew what I wanted, and I felt confident I could get it. Then I saw her coming, and I got greedy. I saw another shot that I wanted, so I tried to take it, then I tried to reframe the shot I had been setting up. I got a decent shot, but I missed her foot, and my other shots were no good. If I had simply focused on the shot that I wanted, I would have had a wonderful picture. Less is more.

Similarly, constraints can be hugely frustrating for facilitators. The worst feeling you get as a facilitator is breaking up an interesting conversation. You want to go deep, you want to continue that inquiry process, you want to see movement and insight and astonishment and delight, and it sometimes seems like constraints just get in the way of that.

But treated the right way, constraints are actually quite liberating. They enable you to focus on what’s really important, which also makes a facilitator’s job easier. Simply timeboxing a conversation can be far more productive than having a facilitator try to intermediate.

5. Practice, practice, practice

I took this picture of Eugene on our photo walk. It’s a simple picture that I could have easily taken with my point-and-shoot or even my cell phone. But I wouldn’t have even thought to have taken a picture like this a year ago. I might have been drawn to the color of the wall, but I wouldn’t necessarily have thought to compose a shot around it. It’s a very basic concept, but it doesn’t occur naturally without a lot of practice.

As I mentioned earlier, I’ve been reading more than I ever have before about photography, and I’ve been looking at lots of pictures. However, reading, while useful, is no substitute for doing. Practice is the only way to master any craft. I’m experiencing firsthand how difficult it is to integrate the many concepts that I’ve read about. I’m also learning things through my practice that aren’t written anywhere, things that I’m not sure can even be expressed in written form.

I am particularly a fan of practicing with others. It’s amazing what you pick up from watching other people, even those who are not much more experienced than you are. Everyone sees the world differently, and those different perspectives are tremendously educational.

I worry that facilitation is too professionalized, that there’s too much emphasis on training and too little on doing. Facilitation is a skill that you can practice anywhere with anyone. You can practice it with your colleagues, your friends, and your family. And you should. That’s ultimately how you get good. Besides, the world could use a little more facilitation.

6. Facilitation is a role, not a title

I took three pictures of Eugene against that orange wall. The first time, I asked him to stand there, I took my shot, then I got ready to move on. Eugene stopped me, took off his backpack, zipped up his hoodie, and waited for me to take another shot. Then he put on his glasses and waited again. Technically, Eugene was the model, not the photographer, but he played as much of a role as I did in setting up that shot.

Being facilitative is about helping a group achieve its goals. It’s a role that can — and ideally should — be shared. I have facilitated great meetings where I opened with a question, then stayed silent for the rest of the meeting, because the group didn’t need additional guidance.

7. Focus on one goal at a time

Photography is complicated, and when you’re a beginner like me, there are a thousand things to learn. The problem is, you can’t learn all those things at once. You have to take things step-by-step. When you’re too ambitious in your learning agenda, you compromise the quality of your learning.

There are a lot of areas in which I’d like to improve, but I’m focusing on… well, focusing. In particular, I want to make sure that the pictures I take are in-focus where I want them to be in focus. It’s not as easy as it sounds, even with today’s cameras. Witness the picture above of my friends’ kids, where the sister is slightly out-of-focus. (I needed to increase my aperture in order to get both brother and sister in focus. See, it’s complicated!) It was a nice moment, and I’m glad I captured it, but it would have been even nicer if the sister were in focus.

Facilitation is complicated too. It requires deep listening, self-awareness, an intuitive grasp of group dynamics, attention to the space, and clarity around objectives. Instead of trying to learn all of those things at once, it’s best to focus on one step at a time.

8. Enjoy the journey!

This is me over dinner after my photo walk with Eugene, looking at his pictures. If I look annoyed, it’s because I was. I was annoyed, because we were on the same walk, and he could somehow see things that I couldn’t.

I was annoyed, but I was mostly in awe, because I loved what he captured, and more importantly, I loved spending the day walking around and taking pictures with my friends. This is a more accurate reflection of how I felt about the day:

eekim-chinatown_photo_walk

I am very self-critical, because I want to get better. But I also love the journey. I love the picture of my sister running, even though I cut off her foot (and notice it every time I look at it), because it makes me think about how glorious that day was and about how proud I am of her. And I love going around taking pictures, because it makes me pay more attention to the world around me, and because it allows me to share what I see with others.

It’s really fun being a beginner, because the pace of learning is faster and because I love that feeling of being in constant awe. I love marveling at other people’s pictures in my Flickr and Instagram feeds. I love watching Eugene handle a camera and interact with his subjects. I loved discussing with Justin the shot of his daughter running, listening to his suggestions for making it work, laughing at his daughter’s euphoria, and enjoying the fruits of our labor afterward.

Similarly, I get a rush from watching an interaction that I helped design unfold. I love being surprised — even when it’s not a good surprise! And I love watching true masters at work, marveling at and learning from their skill. One of my favorite things in the world is to watch my Groupaya co-founder, Kristin Cobble, working her magic in front of the room, marveling at the energy she brings, the questions she asks at just the right time. I’ve been practicing facilitation for quite some time, but I learn something new from her every single time.

Try as you might, you will never be perfect at either facilitation or photography. But the true fun isn’t in being perfect. It’s in the learning, the sensation and joy you get from refining your craft.

DSLR vs Point-and-Shoot Cameras: Tools vs Craft, and the Nature of Obsession

Yesterday, I hiked the Dipsea Trail with my sister, Jessica. It was a beautiful, warm, Bay Area day, perfect for a long, ambling hike toward the coast. The Dipsea Trail, best known for hosting the second oldest foot race in the U.S., is a 7.5 mile trail that goes from Mill Valley to Stinson Beach. There are two steep hills along the trail, totaling about 4,000 feet of elevation gain, which is one of the reasons why the annual race is known as the “Race from Hell.” Hiking the trail, though, is not so bad if you take it slow.

I had a good reason to take it slow. Groupaya recently acquired a DSLR, the Canon Rebel T2i, and I wanted to take it for a spin.

Choosing a DSLR

I’ve had a Canon S95 point-and-shoot camera for a few years now, and I absolutely love it. It has a large sensor for a point-and-shoot, which means it takes pictures in rich colors, even in relatively low light. Its compact size has made it perfect for travel, for casual use, and for work.

However, despite its relatively large sensor, we were starting to run into problems when using the camera to record meetings, where lighting conditions are often less than optimal. It was particularly bad at capturing large artifacts, including the beautiful graphic recordings our designer, Amy Wu Wong, was creating in some of our meetings. Furthermore, it’s nice to have a camera with a big zoom lens and large depth-of-field for photographing individuals in conversation, which is something you just can’t do with a point-and-shoot.

We decided that it was worth investing in a DSLR for the company. Not only would this address our meeting capture requirements, it would also give us a high-quality video recorder as well. All we had to do was choose a camera.

To do this, I went to my go-to place for crowdsourcing recommendations — Twitter — and made sure some of my go-to photographer friends — Eugene Chan, Justin Lin, and Andy Wang — saw my post. Everybody came through with some really good advice, which allowed me to triangulate quickly and make a good decision.

Interestingly, Andy was the only person who took my original question literally, and we ended up going with his recommendation, the Canon Rebel T2i. The key word, in this case, was “starter,” and if I had had room to spare in my tweet, I might have clarified that this would be a company camera, not a personal one, and that others in the company would need to be comfortable using it.

The reason this would have been a useful distinction emerged from Eugene and Justin’s answers. Both of them suggested purchasing a great lens and not worrying as much about the body. Justin suggested getting a used Canon 20D, 30D, or 40D body, older (in the case of the 20D, almost 10 years) professional camera bodies. If I were getting a DSLR for myself, I probably would have went with this advice. But, I wanted to be sure that the camera we purchased would have great auto modes and good usability, so that anyone at Groupaya could easily take solid pictures with it without having to take a photography course. I essentially wanted a DSLR-equivalent of a point-and-shoot.

Choosing Obsessions Carefully

That said, the discussion — and Eugene and Justin’s assumptions in particular — made me wonder about my own skills and commitment as a photographer. I like taking pictures. I take a lot of them, as my large Flickr stream suggests. I also have a soft spot for tools and for craftsmanship. I’ve framed my career around treating collaboration (and the tools we use to collaborate) as craft, and I frame a lot of my personal interests (such as cooking and even sports) the same way.

However, I’m not obsessive about my obsessions, or I’m disciplined about them at least. I choose my obsessions carefully, simply because I know that I cannot possibly go deeply down all of the paths that interest me.

For example, several years ago, Justin and his wife, Cindy, turned me onto Santa Maria-style BBQ, which is tri-tip grilled slowly over red oak, a wood that’s native to the Santa Maria Valley. Of course, upon learning about it, we had to try recreating it, which meant that we needed red oak logs. At the time, I convinced some friends who were driving down to Santa Barbara to take a side trip to Santa Maria to find some red oak. That led to a bit of a wild goose chase, but we got our wood. Then, of course, we had to do a side-by-side comparison with a different kind of wood (in this case, mesquite) to see if the red oak version was better or even detectably different.

Some might call this behavior obsessive, but to me, this was only mildly so. If we were truly hardcore, we would have driven down to Santa Maria ourselves to get the wood, rather than depending on serendipity. Heck, if we were truly hardcore, we probably would have harvested the wood ourselves. We also would have done a better job of controlling our variables when cooking and comparing the different versions of tri-tip.

Which brings me back to photography. I love to take pictures, and I’d like to get a lot better at it. However, I’m not sure I want to go down the path of obsession with it, and so I’ve been careful to pace myself. I’ve felt ready to take another leap for a while now, but I never had the push until this professional need came up.

And so the question I found myself asking was, if I had decided to purchase a DSLR for myself, would I have taken Andy’s advice, or would I have taken Justin and Eugene’s?

Tools vs Craft

In a way, my adventures yesterday with the Rebel T2i would be a way for me to explore this question. Would I take better pictures with the new camera? Would I even know how to leverage the capabilities of the new camera? What would a better lens or a better body enable me to do?

At minimum, I knew that I should be able to take better low light pictures, but I didn’t expect to see that taking pictures outdoors during the day. My Canon S95 has a plethora of manual controls, but they would be easier to manipulate on the bigger body of the Rebel T2i. Similarly, the quicker trigger on the DSLR meant I would be less likely to miss a shot. The main difference I expected would be from the lens. It was a stock 18-55mm lens, nothing special from a DSLR point of view, but certainly better than the lens on my S95.

I’m happy about the pictures I took, but I’m not sure they were significantly better than what I would have taken with my S95. As expected, the main difference was from zoom and depth-of-field:

  

Last week, I went to Pop-Up Magazine, where I saw Aaron Huey preview his upcoming photo essay of Pine Ridge Indian Reservation for National Geographic. It was absolutely stunning, an amazing example of how a technical master can use his craft to tell a moving story.

I clearly have much more to learn about the craft of photography (especially lighting and composition), and so I’m not sure that investing in an expensive lens or a better DSLR body (used or otherwise) would have been worth it for me. I also don’t do any post-processing right now, which doesn’t require any equipment I don’t already have, so I know I’m missing out on a lot of possibilities there.

That said, I’m curious about what I could do with a better lens, and I might try renting one to play around. I loved Sohail Mamdani’s recent essay on this topic, “Gear Doesn’t Matter — Except When It Does.” I’m looking forward to more learning and playing… in a non-obsessive way, of course!

Words and Reputation

Over at the Blue Oxen blog, I wrote about how I’ve incorporated Contextual Authority Tagging (your reputation in context) into my work.    (N5Z)

In the piece, I started using myself as an example. I listed three words that I would use to describe myself in a work context. I then started to contrast this with words that my colleagues might use to describe me. Then I stopped, thinking, “Why make up words that others might use to describe me, when I can get actual words?”    (N60)

Enter Twitter (and by extension, Facebook):    (N61)

Please help with an ad hoc experiment. Reply with three words that describe me. Will blog an explanation and the results.    (N62)

In retrospect, it was an incredibly self-indulgent thing to do. When I do this exercise with groups, it’s anonymous, and all of the participants are doing it for everyone. Neither was true in this case. No one was going to voluntarily say something critical for me, especially without understanding the purpose. Furthermore, I’m usually doing the exercise in a specific context, which is a big part of the point. The beauty (and challenge) of Twitter and Facebook is that my networks there cross all sorts of boundaries.    (N63)

All that said, the exercise was still instructive in many ways:    (N64)

https://i0.wp.com/farm4.static.flickr.com/3340/3490759097_e700bbd3a2.jpg?w=700    (N65)

Most words were only used once. The larger words were repeated one other time. This distribution makes sense, given the multiple contexts of my friends and colleagues. One of my friends wrote, barbecue, something that most of my colleagues probably don’t know about me. A few of my colleagues wrote, wiki, which probably wouldn’t come up first for most of my personal friends.    (N66)

No one repeated any of my words, which surprised me. (Can you guess which three words were mine? See my other post for the answer.) The words that folks did choose certainly paint a fuller picture.    (N67)

I love how a few words can tell a rich story. Gabe Wachob contributed “Eugene Lee doppelganger,” is a reference to the parallel lives that Eugene Lee, the CEO of Socialtext, and I seem to lead. (I’m younger, but Eugene has more hair.) My friend, Elizabeth, wrote, “wicked scary smaht,” an oblique reference to our shared ties to the Boston area.    (N68)

Eugene Chan wrote, “curious, competitive, cunning,” a few days after I talked trash with his six year old son in a vicious game of Uno. The good folks at WikiHowl called me “myopic,” hopefully a reference to my eyesight and not my vision. (They are also my new favorites for calling me, “cute.”)    (N69)

Which brings me to my final point. There were a few cheeky comments (Cindy and Scott, that means you!), which made me laugh, and there were a lot of incredibly nice comments, which… well, which felt good. I’m a fairly well-balanced individual with a strong sense of self (“confident” was one of the words that was repeated), and I don’t need to hear this stuff to know that my friends and colleagues care about me. Still, it’s nice to hear. It made my day that much better. And that’s probably the greatest thing about the exercise. If at worst, all it does is elicit a few nice comments from your peers, well, that’s a great thing. We don’t do that often enough.    (N6A)

Many thanks to all of you!    (N6B)