How I Spent My Pandemic
I think it would be nice to write a number of posts describing my photographic journey. To share how I learned what I learned and, for that matter, what I didn’t yet learn. I’ve never studied photography and neither have I ever worked as a photographer. For me this has just been a hobby that blossomed into a passion. It is something that I enjoy. A lot. It is my creative outlet, so I do it when I am in the mood for it which, in the past years, seems to be quite often. Since I have no paying clients to please I only need to please myself. Consequently, when I take and edit photos I don’t do everything (anything?) by the book. I just do what I find works from experience and from what I learned by watching oodles of online tutorials.
This won’t be a chronology of all my life experiences with a decent camera in my hand, as that could be rather boring. Instead, I will start off by focusing here on what I did during the pandemic.
In the years prior to the pandemic, starting from 2009 when I participated in my first salsa festival, the number of festivals I managed to attend each year steadily increased. In 2019 I reached my peak of something like twenty events. And with almost two events per month my breaking point had been reached. It takes a plane trip to travel to just about every festival. On top of that are the costs of accommodations, festival pass (usually), food, drink and even more drink. I write “usually” regarding the festival pass because a few event organizers grant me a guest pass as a token of thanks for the dance photos I might be taking or have taken in the past. Bless them, it is well appreciated! Anyway, with twenty events in one year I found myself burned out from all the travel, spending way too much money, using up all available vacation time from work, and going nuts between events trying to edit and post as many photos as possible from the most recent event. I needed to cut down, and this became my New Year’s resolution for 2020.
And then came the pandemic.
Suddenly I had nowhere to go. Travel became difficult and then became impossible. Festivals booked became festivals cancelled one by one. New events no longer were scheduled. My wish to be able to reduce my event travel came true, but to a far greater extent than anticipated. I guess the saying is true: careful what you wish for!
Unexpectedly I found myself with a great deal of time on my hands. During the initial pandemic months I photographed the flowers in my yard as they blossomed and bloomed. I baked lots of breads, cakes and weird muffins made with garden grown berries and bizarre combinations of alternative flours. I played a lot of computer games and I searched Netflix for something, anything, that interested me (I wasn’t very successful). It then occurred to me I could make good use of my time watching photography tutorial videos on YouTube. I already had my favorite Photoshop instructors from before, PHLEARN and PixImperfect, and I began again to watch their videos. I also discovered countless other tutorials of interest covering a large variety of photography areas totally new to me.
I remained with the freely available YouTube tutorials for several months, watching whatever photography related subject happened to be capturing my attention at the moment. When I found an instructor I liked I would stay with them for a while, exploring their channel for other tutorials of interest. Eventually I would move on to another topic or another instructor or both.
As long as one is careful to select the video authors who are knowledgeable and have good teaching skills, which I was, one can learn a lot from these free tutorials, which I did. I hopped shamelessly from landscape to portrait photography, from natural to studio lighting, from compositing to retouching. I found out how to do this and do that in more ways than I can remember. Most of these free tutorials are short, however, and therefore limited in context and details. Although I was learning a lot, I wanted more. I wanted more depth and more content per video. Then, towards the end of 2021, the idea came to me to subscribe to a site offering tutorials of a more professional quality. After all, I wasn’t spending anything on travel during all this time so I could afford the subscriber fees. I did a search, found several sites, and then needed to make a choice of which one to join and for how long. Since I had loads of time and wasn’t expecting a quick end to the continual postponement of all my favorite festivals, I wound up joining two sites simultaneously for a 12 month period.
PHLEARN (phlearn.com) is one of the sites I subscribed to. The tutorials here are mainly on how to do just about anything with Photoshop for photography. The sole creator and presenter, Aaron Nace, is very knowledgeable, experienced and, most importantly, very easy and clear to listen to. The pro tutorials introduced me to the many tools and utilities of Photoshop and showed me how to use them. I learned how to unwrinkle clothing, tuck in tummies, lengthen necks, straighten teeth, enhance eyes, unblemish faces and many other retouching tricks. I also learned about compositing, object removal and how to adjust colors in more ways than I have toes on my feet. Currently I am on my second year with this site and most likely I will remain for a third.
The other site I joined is CreativeLive (creativelive.com). I chose this site because it covers a large array of photographic topics. For the most part this site offers both live and prerecorded classes presented before a small studio (and internet) audience. The classes can be long. Very long. Like up to 15 hours or more long. Perfect if you have a pandemic to get through. The long duration of the classes didn’t bother me. I would set the video playback speed to 1.25 (1.5 for the more tedious passages), get myself comfy on the sofa and spend two to five hours watching each evening. The multi day classroom format and the numerous questions posed by the live audience ensured that the topic covered was covered extremely well.
In the course of a year I managed to get through a great number of CreativeLive classes. I watched many dealing with lighting as this is a topic of curiosity I knew nothing about beforehand. I sat through classes on natural lighting, on using speedlights both on and off camera, and on strobe lighting both in studio and on location. I especially enjoyed the fine art photography classes by accomplished artists such as Brook Shaden and Renée Robyn, learning how photos of this genre are conceived and produced from start to finish. I watched classes on posing, classes on portrait, beauty and boudoir photography, and even a class by Lindsey Adler on fine art nude photography (for a well rounded education, mind). I even followed two classes on photographing flowers, and then I had to go out and re-shoot my garden flowers afterwards. I learned a lot.
Despite having the two year long subscriptions to the pro sites, I still found time to watch various videos on YouTube. And the one that has had the most profound influence on my photography is “Secrets of color-grading in photography” by Joanna Kustra. This is an hour long recorded webinar on color theory applied to photography. It is amazing. I watched it several times. This video’s effect on my photo editing was immediate. I started to apply what I learned about color harmonies to social dance photos I was in the midst of editing. I now had a new dimension to play with to set the mood of my photos: colors. And this is a topic in itself for a future post.
So this is basically how I spent my pandemic. I baked weird muffins, minded my cat and tended my yard, and then of course there was the full time day job. But I spent quite a bit of time each day educating myself on many aspects of photography, from capture to print and all that good stuff in between.