April, Considered

row of lightbulbs above market stalls

April turned into May so suddenly this year I didn’t even notice at first. I suppose it didn’t help that I woke up on May 1st with a cold, which doesn’t exactly make you think ‘Ah! It’s now a month in late spring!’

The sudden onset of May is not, however, the reason for the comparatively late posting of April’s monthly review. I had been working full steam over the last month heading towards Creative Splurges‘ 100th post, an arbitrary milestone I wanted to celebrate even if no-one else did (I’m never really sure on that front; I’d feel a bit guilty letting it slip by unmarked, but a bit silly if I put effort into highlighting it and then nobody cared). I intended to reach that target during April, the same month The Daily Photo hit 100 posts, in order to make it a bit of a ‘hit’ month for the blogs. Unfortunately, by the time April ticked over into May, Creative Splurges was sitting at 98 posts. I had decided that the final run-in to the 100 post wouldn’t contain any ‘post-fillers’ such as monthly reviews, ‘Quickies‘ or even Instagram collections, so I held off the monthly review until the 100th post was published. Which was a few days ago.

Beyond that, there were also the problems I had writing this post itself.

After spending a few days writing this post, on both laptop and iPad, I began to worry. It was getting a bit long, quite a bit wordy and there was little structure to it. It had become, essentially, a play-by-play account of the month, with minimal input into the process behind running this blog – something these monthly reviews are supposed to provide. So, today I threw out the majority of the 1,600 words I had already written and decided to start again, retaining the few key bits of insight and trashing the waffle. I’m not sure it worked, because the end product is over twice as long as the abandoned first draft.

April has been quite a successful month (April, in the context of this post, runs from March’s monthly review to this post). Both Creative Splurges and The Daily Photo surpassed 100 posts (The Daily Photo is up to 132 posts, in fact), although I should be quick to stress that this is a measure of quantity, not quality. For blogs such as this, the only measures of quality I have are likes, comments, and sharing (all of which are helpfully tallied by WordPress), and it is by these metrics that I can comfortably say it’s been a good month (plus, my own pride also has a say in these things and thinks it wasn’t bad either).

collision of rugby players

Like most months before it, April started out with a post shot the previous month, although on this occasion I feel completely justified as the images were all taken on the very last day in March. I have no excuse, however, for it taking a week to get the post out, and it might have taken longer had Catherine from CJ Trigg Photography, who was on the trip with me, not gotten her post out before mine (it was this same competitiveness that ended up getting Borough Market published at what turned out to be just the right time). Saracens v Harlequins was a return to a subject that I had touched on previously a month earlier – rugby; this time, club level men’s rugby rather than the women’s game at the international level. The two were pretty different affairs, at least for the different lighting conditions and entirely different seating positions. Still, I’m pretty pleased with some of the results, it’s a fun challenge trying to shoot action like this, especially when you’re with a peer who is seeing everything with a slightly different eye (there’s that word different again. Where’s my thesaurus?).

One thing I may need to come to terms with, however, it that I don’t think my readership likes rugby all that much. There have been two rugby-related posts in the last two months, and neither have them have scored pretty well in engagement, in terms of hits, likes and comments. I guess opening the last one with a heavy jibe against American football didn’t help much either, even though I was pretty sure it was compulsory when talking about rugby or football where there might be an American audience. I guess not.

This month I dug out my first From the Vaults post for the Doodles category, with the posting of Harry Comic #1. If that had made me rich like I decided it should have when I was eight that comic would be worth a lot of money now. As it stands, it just holds immense sentimental value, so it is good to know that a copy is sitting somewhere on a remote server should my flat slip into one of the lesser-known dimensions and cease to be. I still have a pile of old drawings, comics and doodles which I intend to digitise and post, but I think I need to wait until I have some time off to begin that project in earnest. The posting of Harry Gets Drunk coincided, for reasons I’m not able to fully fathom, with a daily hit record for the month.

black and white shot of a dilapidated building by a railway track

There were a couple of ‘Quickie’ posts published in April, A Quick Sunset and The Shack by the Track. The latter was actually taken on the way home from the trip that begat A Taste of India at the South Bank, which wasn’t posted until over two weeks later, which should give some indication of the non-chronological ordering of some of the posts here as of late. There is a good reason for this. Way back in March, in the midst of the madness of being Freshly Pressed, I went out for the day with some family and friends to the South Bank to visit the London Eye and Aquarium. Due to the various things done on the day, I decided it would be better to put the images into several separate but more focused posts rather than one long rambling one (I have enough problems with long rambling posts at the best of times – this being one of them). This meant, however, that from the middle of the month onwards, every post in March was from this one trip. That wasn’t the intention, but longer posts tend to take as much as a week to write when I’m still distracted by the day job (this is something I’m attempting to break by getting into the habit of writing more on my iPad).

Because I was still going out with my camera from time to time whilst writing the posts, a bit of a backlog began to build up, and in order to try to keep things moving from time to time I would ‘bump’ certain posts in favour of others – more often than not, I would postpone working on longer posts in favour of completing the shorter ones, which is why The Shack by the Track was released before the trip it was taken at the end of, and why A Quick Sunset was published only a day or so after it was shot, rather than waiting for the rest of the posts in the queue to be released first. With the publishing of A Taste of India, however, most of the backlog is now cleared.

The Shack by the Track was post #95 on Creative Splurges. As I mentioned in the opening preamble to this post, I wanted the final run to the 100th post to contain ‘quality’ posts, which to me meant the longer, image- and text-heavy format of post. Fortunately, I had a few in reserve.

a black and white image of a wooden bridge

Richmond Park in Spring was a return to familiar hunting grounds. I’ve lost count of the amount of times I’ve been to Richmond Park since it formed the first real post on this blog in January 2011. Despite that, each trip has produced decent results, and I’ve now visited Richmond Park in winter (twice), spring, and autumn. Only summer to go, although I suspect that might be the blandest of the seasons in which to visit. I’m very pleased, however, with the quality of the images I got on this particular trip. I’m beginning to pre-visualise some of my images; I knew from the start which of the photos would be monochrome.

As of late, I’m really starting to connect with black and white photography. I think there’s been at least one monochrome image in pretty much every longer post on this blog this month. I’m getting to understand why I use black and white, and what bonuses it has (primarily, from my perspective, it brings out a lot of the finer textures of the image and highlights different areas compared to a polychrome image), instead of my old way, which was ‘this image looks boring, will it look interesting in monochrome or should I delete it?’.

London in Twilight was the last of the posts from the fruitful trip in March to London. It should give some indication as to the optimism I had in my post writing rate that I actually postponed writing it in favour of Richmond Park in Spring to ensure the latter post made it out of the gates in the season in which it was set. I really love some of the images that came out of the post; it had never really occurred to me to shoot at dusk before, I always had waited until it was darker for ‘night’ photography. I definitely need to return to London at that time of day again, although that is now not likely to happen before the autumn when dusk starts getting a little earlier (we began discussing a trip for CSR Photography on the subject – although I’m beginning to suspect that that blog is a front for me and Catherine to get posts for our own blogs). Twilight was well received, with 18 likes and the second best hit rate of the month (behind only the Richmond Park post). In fact, in terms of likes, it’s the most liked post since Borough Market (at some point I need to stop using that post as a benchmark, it will only get depressing after a while). That suggests to me  that a lot of my audience are interested in London proper, not the silly little bits I usually end up in. Time will tell, I suppose (that and reader feedback, which is always, always welcome), but anecdotally, the most liked posts here are all heavily London-centric.

I’d like to give a special mention to In the Church Grounds because of how different it is from most of my usual fare. This is partly because it contains mainly monochrome and macro shots (and macro shots I’ve not often taken), but also because the opening shots were ones I had seen and logged months earlier when I didn’t have my camera with me, but still remembered when I had the chance to come back to it.

macaroons at a market

The final post before I hit the magic 100 was A Taste of India. I’d actually put off posting it for a few days after it was mostly complete to allow me time to prepare the elements of post #100. Inevitable parallels will be drawn between it and that post from Borough Market that I’m not supposed to be mentioning any more, but I’m pleased with a lot of the results, especially the lightbulb shot at the top of this post, the macaroons at right or the black and white wall shots. The latter I’m pleased with, because one thing noted in the comments of the church grounds post was my not pushing the contrast as far as I could have, and that definitely wasn’t a problem this time.

Up until shortly before the posting of A Taste of India, I was still debating as to whether I should make post #100 a self-referential celebration of itself, or let a ‘normal’ post be the 100th post and then make a post highlighting that fact. Eventually I decided that the 100th post would be a celebration, and then the work began.

Based on a suggestion from Catherine, I had chosen to run a poll to find the most popular photo from Creative Splurges  history. I was a little tentative about the idea, however; the last time I ran a poll, only one person voted. Still, I figured, I have more readers now, so hopefully the turnout will be a little better. And it was, at the time of writing six people have voted. Which, mathematically speaking, is a 600% increase. That’s the sort of number I’d like to see attached to a pay rise.

Having set out the criteria for shortlisting and prepared the poll, I decided it wasn’t quite enough. There was a song stuck in my head, Nurvole Bianche, which was just demanding I set a video montage of my photographs to it. Thus, the idea for 100 Posts, 100 Photos was born.

Unfortunately, I’m not the sort of person who can just set a few photographs to music and call it a day. I have to show off a little – especially since I’m technically qualified in motion graphics software. I began working on something to display my photos with a little more flair. This quickly turned into a far bigger project than I first envisioned. I had originally conceived a few photos flying about on screen. As I sat down to build the video in Apple’s Motion software this developed in short order to having a single image tessellate into a wall of ninety-nine photos, with sweeping camera views and zooms.

This was problematic for two reasons; one, this required manually positioning each element, and animating it using keyframes. Time consuming to say the least. In fact, here’s a shot of the work in progress:

screenshot of Apple Motion 4

The second issue was having ninety-nine individual elements on screen at any given time, complete with motion blur and simulated depth-of-field, meant that rendering the final product took hours. Literally hours and hours.

shot of Motion 4 render status window

That’s damned near sixteen hours to render out two-and-a-half minutes of high-def video. This is part of the reason why the 100th post wasn’t published until Monday – my laptop spend all of Sunday processing the footage.

After creating the animations and camera swoops in Motion, I imported the rendered full-resolution video into Final Cut Pro to complete the final edit (for anyone familiar with the Final Cut Studio suite, I didn’t just drop the Motion file into the timeline, which I know you can do, because this doesn’t render motion blur, which is essential for creating realism with these graphics). I had created the footage in Motion to be like source material – pans, swoops and movements were completed one after the other without real pattern with the intention they’d be edited into a coherent video at the end of it all in a separate program.

The video complete, I uploaded it to YouTube to embed it into the post. This is where I hit another major problem: I had used copyrighted music, and this upset the YouTube gods. I was banned from embedding the video or allowing it to be played back on mobile devices. What made matters worse is that this restriction wasn’t applied to me, so whenever I checked it out it worked fine. I’ve no idea how many people tried and failed to actually view the video attached to the post, but I do know only five people were successful.

I’ve written a little on this area before. I really do not agree with overly restrictive copyright when Creative Commons licensing is a far fairer way of doing things. To me, it all seems a bit counter-productive. Had they allowed me to display my video – which I obviously make no money from – wherever I wanted, then people might have decided to go out and buy the track. But by restricting to playback only on YouTube.com so they can put an advert for the track next to the video, they’ve then lost any number of viewers and potential sales.

In order to at least display the video to people without difficulty, I’ve created a new version set to one of the stock tracks in YouTube’s library. The end result is awfully clunky, but at least (in theory) you should be able to see the effort I put into the video:

If you are able to view YouTube videos in Flash (not in HTML5 or on mobile devices including the iPad), then the original video can be seen here.

For me, one of the best things about the video is that all of the photos are interchangeable. I can swap any of the photos out for another with minimal effort, save for the epic sixteen-hour render. It means I can keep it up-to-date or, should it be desired, create something similar for any other photographer who wants a portfolio video.

The final part of the 100th post puzzle was buying CreativeSplurges.com. I’d been planning on doing that for several months, and post #100 seemed the ideal point to do it. Doing this allowed me to create some more appealing graphical elements, including something that almost passes for a logo:

That said, I prefer it with white text, although that doesn’t really fit all that well on a blog with a white background – not that the drop shadow doesn’t create an interesting effect:

creative splurges.com logo

Unfortunately, there isn’t all that many places to use this logo, save for video intros, unless I decide to pay to crack open the coding of this blog to use it at the header somewhere. This, however, also means I’d have to figure out CSS, which is for the most part Greek to me.

Along with the new URL, I’ve done a bit of spring cleaning on the site. Primarily, I’ve removed the “Favourite Images” rolling graphic from the sidebar as it was pretty large and I’m sure was slowing the loading of this site. I’ve replaced that with a new ‘Top Posts’ widget that shows the most popular posts at the time you are visiting. The only downside to this is it sometimes digs up individual images if for some reason lots of people are interested in it, which can sometime look untidy as the title is usually the cheesy alternative text joke I used when the photo was first posted (case in point, earlier today one of the ‘top posts’ was called “I really don’t have that many jokes about the London Eye“).

I’ve also added a short quote that I love about photography by writer Chris Rawson, simply because I love it and it’s something good to not forget. I’ve also decided to make the place look a bit neater by using drop caps at the start of posts (you can see the point when I decided that, it was the fifth paragraph of this post).

I’m enjoying having ‘creativesplurges.com’ in the address bar rather than the longer and less tidy ‘.wordpress’ version. I’m contemplating moving The Daily Photo to a subdomain of this new URL. Before I do such a thing, however, I think it needs a bit of work. The Daily Photo is plodding along nicely, it’s now surpassed 4,000 hits all-time and has 37 subscribers and has decent engagement levels with people (all but six of its 132 posts have been liked at least once) but it isn’t really fulfilling its original remit: to help drive more people to Creative Splurges by posting daily and therefore keeping interest up. I want to come up with some ways of bringing the two blogs together and giving them more of a symbiosis, so that the two are more inseparable in peoples’ minds. I’m not sure how to do that beyond a common web address, so I’m open to any suggestions, should anyone have actually read this far.

Finally, I’ve begun to experiment with writing more on my iPad. I was very much put off from this by the official WordPress iPad app, which is, in a word, terrible. However in April I found and bought an app called Blogsy which works so much better than the official app I can’t even begin to describe it. Some sections of this post, and a few paragraphs of Richmond Park in Spring, were written on the app. It doesn’t quite mesh with the way I post photos in my longer posts – yet – but unlike the official app I can see myself writing and publishing a post containing images and formatting straight from Blogsy without opening my laptop to format and fine-tune first. I’m planning on publishing a post written entirely with the app, untouched by a PC at all, in May (since that post contains images shot and processed on my iPhone I think it seems apt).

What else for May? Well, I have almost 250 images of people sitting on my camera that I need to process, so I’m planning another portraits post in the near future (maybe more than one depending on how many of those 250 are any good). There are also a couple of shorter posts from last month that never quite made it out in the rush to post #100.

Photographically, for once I have a few shots in mind I’d like to take. Not trips, but actual shots, which is a first for me. You’ll find out what those are when I publish them. I’m getting very fascinated by the idea of railway photography; a lot of the angles from my train window in the morning are speaking to me (although I’d prefer to be stationary when I take them). I’m still formulating that one though, so you might not see anything on that front in May.

I’m beginning to look further forward as well. The Olympics are coming up, as is this year’s Bournemouth Air Festival, and my wife and I are also planning our summer getaway which, inevitably, is being sold to me on its photogenic qualities.

I’m also planning to make May’s monthly review a little shorter.

Thanks for reading.

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