Today is a particularly wonderful day for me. Not only did I get some amazing feedback from my friends on what to do to make my photography website more functional and more visually appealing, I also awoke this morning to find that my photos were completely transferred to my backup drive.
What’s so special about that, you might be asking? Well, after I finished editing my last images from the Vietnam album (taken in the spring of 2010) over the weekend, I checked and rechecked — and checked again — and realized that I was completely finished editing nearly 80,000 images that I have collected in the last nine years of traveling, and living and working abroad!
This has also been the driving force behind the recent rebuilding of my entire website, and also the push to publish my photo-books (which has already been set in motion with last week’s release of Slices of Life in North America).
It might not seem like a big deal to those of you out there who don’t do much photography. But editing photos is a pretty big deal. Think about the time it takes to make one, single image from snapshot to professional- or portfolio-worthy status:
You research possible shot opportunities. You go out and find the scene. You look at the scene through your creative eye — scanning for angles and composition. You frame up the shot. You snap a single image — or, in most recent cases, several images at different exposures to edit down into a High Dynamic Range image.
Then you take that image home to edit it. You spend anywhere from a few minutes to possibly a few hours working over all the intricate, minute details in order to make everything just right. And when you’re finally satisfied, you crop it, resize it, and even save it in several different formats in order to ensure that it prints well or looks right in different applications. And all of this effort is for one, single frame.
Now imagine the time it must take to do that to an entire card-full of images — 1,000 pictures, say.
That’s a long time. But this is still just the tip of the iceberg when you multiply this effort nearly 100 times over. At that point, one might begin to get a picture of just how hard bloggers, photographers, journalists and other media professionals endeavor to produce the work they love.
So when my friends wonder why every time they ask me what I am up to, I tell them I am editing, it will come as no shock that for the last two-and-a-half years I have been editing no less than 78,488 images across 663 folders and taking up more than 670 gigabytes of drive space.
All told, it took my computer more than 14 hours to back up these images from my master drive to my redundant drive. I set it running last night at around 8pm and it ran until just about an hour ago (10:30 this morning).
I have worked pretty tirelessly to create these images — from the excursions to collect them, to the countless hours poring over them. I am very proud of them. I know it sounds cheesy and dramatic, but they are ultimately my life’s work. They are my gift to the world. And hopefully someone thinks enough of just one of them to remember them as the embodiment of my efforts. Hopefully someone will take what I have done and seek to outdo it. Or perhaps something I’ve captured will move someone to educate themselves to the culture or tradition of a foreign place or populace.
I like to think that my brand of images has a unique feel. And while I have posted the entire lineage of my photographic pursuits online — from my photojournalism days working for the newspapers putting myself through college, to my global travels abound — I find comfort in the thought that there might be a few people out there who have been witness to the evolution of my photographic style, creativity and scope. Perhaps if they have watched it grow into something better, I can call myself a successful photographer.
I also enjoy the fact that I have paved my own way to creating my type of images, my way, on my schedule and without any outside influences. Just as a painting would be distorted by a pressured painter, my images would not be what they are today if I had been kept to a deadline, forced to shoot in undesirable locations or to support the agenda of specific content. I’d certainly hate to think that my hard work would simply wind up acting as a vehicle for some corporate sponsored advertisement.
What I have chosen to do with my photography, too, has been a point of pride. My images have been published in dailies from the Midwest U.S. and Costa Rica, to Bangkok and Taipei. My work has been seen in magazines in Asia and the Americas. My pursuits have won awards with prestigious organizations like the Society of Professional Journalists, the South Asian Journalists Association and the NPPA. They have earned repeat invitations to sit as judge to various imaging contests. They have been published in six books to date, with more than a dozen either on the way or in manuscript form. And I have use them in international exhibits and as I have worked as a lecturer in visual communications on two continents over the last five years.
These images have been the driving force that brought me back into the field of video production as well. Ever since my brother and I ran the cameras that put our local church service on the air every Sunday morning, he and I have had many years of experience in the photo and video business. We’ve remained in the field in one way or another throughout our lives. And the lessons and techniques that have been honed in my time behind the lens have lent themselves to a rewarding experience producing some pretty amazing films.
And as I look over my newly backed-up database of visual creations, these are the thoughts that cross my mind. So if I die tomorrow, I would do so knowing that I have finally completed one of my most deeply held aspirations — to capture and share a body of work representative of one man’s perspective in a visual journey through one decade of growing, learning and creating.
And my only hope for the future of this catalog of media is that I can inspire just one other person to embrace the diversity that I have aimed to capture within my images. We are all birds in the same forest. Whether we realize it or not is the difference among those of us who have chosen to look beyond the bars of our own birdcages.