Saturday, December 7, 2019

I Need to Take a Break

TL;DR: I don't have time, and I'm a little burnt out.

In the last couple blog entries,
I've been laying the groundwork to say: I need to take at least a couple years off from photography. I expect I may shoot a performance or project here and there, but I'm effectively on hiatus / inactive.

Workflow and Efficiency

First I'll refer back to my previous entries on this subject:
My process for 2019 was largely the same but with some minor refinements to the 2014 workflow:

Stage 2014 time 2019 time
On-camera review and delete
half done at dance
5 hrs 3 - 3.5 hrs
Initial ranking 4 - 5 hrs done in previous stage
Initial ranking demotions 9-18 hrs 4.6 - 6 hrs
Initial ranking promotions 1 hr 1 hr
Re-evaluate 3's and 4's,
try to reduce set more
4 - 8 hrs skip, settle for larger set
Editing - crop, rotate, color,
exposure, gradients
137 hrs 50 - 100 hrs
Re-evaluate 4's after processing 13.7 hrs 1 hr (less picky)
Exporting and publishing 2 hrs 2 hrs
Tag Facebook albums 15 hrs 15 hrs
Process Tongues and "Best of" albums 6 hrs 6 hrs

Approximate Total approx 204 hrs approx 109 hrs

While it is great that I almost cut the hours in half, 109 is still a pretty big number. I think 2017 and 2018 took a little more time just because they had a few hundred more photos.

I felt like 2014 was absolutely not sustainable. I've been looking for ways to scale back the photography hours since then.
  • First, I scaled back the editing so I wasn't going to paint detailed brighten/darken mattes like I did for 2014. I do believe it improved the photos in that set, but I just don't have the time for that. So that right there would probably knock off around 70 hrs from the Camp Hollywood set.
  • In 2014, I would agonize for hours, trying to reduce the set, especially in the Facebook release. In the last few years, I've just gotten less picky. It's faster for me to edit a large set than to spend the time rejecting enough photos to be meaningful.
Both helped me reduce time, but resulted in a conscious loss of quality.

Attempting to Scale Back: Coverage / Subject Matter

I've been trying to figure out how to make more time to do other things.

First, I pretty much stopped shooting at the regular weekly venues. I realized that if I shoot on Saturday night, I'd burn all my productive time on Sunday editing and uploading. I couldn't continue this on a regular basis. I pretty much stopped shooting those and only a few shot big events. On top of that, this year (2019) I lost my flash, so I can't really shoot dark social dances anymore.

Three medium-to-big events usually meant spending 3-7 weeks after each event, processing the photos. Just three events ended up totaling about 3 months in a given year. I've been desperately trying to figure out how to reduce this.
  • I pretty much stopped shooting social dances and the random silliness in the hallways because I wanted to dance. Also, the camera setup is different (add a flash, preferably off-camera, and appropriate settings for that), so it's a minor hassle to switch back and forth.
  • Jam circles are especially tough to get ready for, and sometimes it gets awkward if I'm already dancing with someone when one breaks out.
  • Next to go was shooting daytime workshops/classes. While I think I've gotten a few really fun photos in class, it's distracting for everyone - the teachers, the other students, and even me, and I wind up not getting as much out of the class as I'd like.
  • In the last few years, I haven't gotten as many shots of the bands. This is mostly because I want to be dancing when the band is playing.
  • For a few years at Camp Hollywood, I covered the "Miss Camp Hollywood" contest. The challenge was that it was difficult to get a flattering photo mid-day, with the sun directly overhead, and just being daylight had a significantly different camera setup.
I miss a lot of this though - especially the random silliness in the hallway, and my coverage of the event feels incomplete. Now, when I shoot an event, I find myself having more and more caveats about what I plan to shoot and not shoot, and I don't like doing that.

Negative Attitude

These days, at an event, I find myself preoccupied thinking about the work ahead and how to reduce my workload. I know on average, every time I click the shutter is going to be a minute of work later. A minute may not sound like much, but I'm thinking on the scale of hundreds or thousands of photos. I find myself getting overwhelmed by the sheer number of competitors/routines.

I experience competitions through the viewfinder of the camera and I feel disconnected. As I wait for the moments to shoot, I'm constantly adjusting the lens and focus, trying to keep the dancers in frame, ideally in a good composition. I'm waiting for the dancers to face me, waiting for clean lines, and/or and interesting pose/silhouette. At the beginning of a song, I get stressed with doubt over whether I will be able to get a good shot at all. This is not a reflection of the dancers, but more:
  • Did I get a spot with a good angle? Even when something cool happens, am I in the right spot to get a good silhouette?
  • Am I wide enough to catch an air step? Am I close up enough to get a sharp image?
  • Is the camera in focus? Frequently, my cameras focus too far back, especially with the 24-70mm lens.
  • Did I click in time? If I could see the dancers at the optimal moment, it means my camera did not, usually because I was a hair too late.
And after the competition, I am haunted by the shots I missed. Maybe I lost focus and didn't realize someone was going down into splits. Maybe in prelims or a head-to-head, I was watching a couple for almost a whole phrase, waiting to get the shot, then the moment I turn away to another couple, the first couple pulls a trick. I get frustrated by formations that I just can't cover - even if the lens could go wide enough, it would mean everyone would be tiny in frame, with a lot of empty space on the top and bottom. I've never figured out how to capture cool rhythmic footwork variations in a still image.

Instead of the fun/excitement/joy of the dance, I get consumed focused on what works in a still from a certain angle and the selection/editing work ahead. I find myself stewing in a bad attitude, dwelling on the stress. And I'd rather be a more positive presence.

Where to Go From Here?

Now, I'm at a loss for how to scale back and make time for other projects.

Of course, ideally I would just get more disciplined about when to take a shot, get better at predicting when something is or isn't going to happen, and get faster/more efficient at reviewing/evaluating my photos. But looking at the last 5 years, it hasn't happened in any significant way.

For the last 5 years, I've thought about how to reduce my workload to free up time for other activities and I haven't been able to come up with a solution. The only thing I can do is to step back and take a break for a couple years.

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