July: How Rob Got His Groove Back

What a difference a month makes. Compared to last month, this month I’m quite looking forward to writing this review. Last time out, I was mired in a deep creative fog, struggling through with shooting and posting despite not feeling the spark. Nothing seemed to be working, hits and engagement were down, and I felt out of ideas.

Now, as I write this bit (this exact bit, the rest will take a while), I’m killing a bit of time before I head out to another photography trip for the London Olympics, enjoying photographing and writing again, and, much more importantly, I’m actually pleased with the results I’m getting.

So what happened? What was it about July that helped me get back into the zone?

I think there were several things that worked together throughout the month to finally flush my creative pipes and remove the cloud from my head. New equipment, new subjects, and the ridding of some old problems all played a part. So let’s start at the beginning of the month and see how I got my groove back.

At the beginning of July I took delivery of two new toys which I hoped would put a bit of spark back into me. The first, a flashgun, has seen only a small amount of use, but it is great to know it’s there. Plus, this weekend I’m off to another family event what will be crawling with poorly lit people, so hopefully I’ll use it then. I’m also going on a full-day training course in October to learn how to use the thing properly.

The second item was what I’m typing this on now: an 11″ MacBook Air. Simply put, I felt I had to replace my now four-year-old MacBook Pro, mostly because it was constantly full with my over 200 GB photo library (which, no matter how many times I attempt to cut back, always grows every time I use my camera, even with a roughly 25% retention rate of new photos), but also partly because its size and heat and sluggish operation made for an uncomfortable and infuriating user experience. It’s no good to be out taking photos when you’re no longer looking forward to processing them when you get home. The Air is far more comfortable to use and so, so much quicker, making me far happier at editing photos. It can still be a bit sluggish at times, because I often still access the photo library on my old laptop from the new one, with the old machine’s slowness and network latency playing a part in slowing things down. And yet, for some reason it is still less frustrating.

I quickly put the new flashgun to work, spending some time at home photographing myself and other inanimate objects. It was good to be able to experiment with something new, especially something I’d been wanting to play about with for some time. It’s also good, of course, to try to figure out what you’re doing before involving anyone else. I might get a chance to use it at a party this weekend but I need to be a bit more consciously aware of not trying to avoid using the flash at all costs (which is my usual way to doing things).

Playing about with the flash, especially with portrait photography which is something I really love, was inspirational, and helped put a bit of life back into my photography. Ironically, I’ve barely used the flashgun since, but it’s there, and it’ll be good for next time I visit family.

After playing about with the flash, things were quiet for a while. But just under two weeks later, I headed out to Hyde Park in London for Hard Rock Calling.

Hard Rock was in many ways a warm up for how the month ended; I took quite a lot of pictures for which there was no long story, and with no real need for explanation. There was also a topical element to the post as the event had hit the news because the organisers pulled the plug on Bruce Springsteen, so I was very keen on getting the post out as quickly as possible. To that end, I used a slightly different format of post than I usually do; a hybrid of the two main post types I’ve used in the past. Instead of a short intro and then a gallery, or a long, detailed post with lots of in-line images, I wrote a short, lightly detailed post peppered with some of the best images, followed by a gallery of the rest. I really liked this format; it allows for a bit of the explanation and rambling I enjoy, but doesn’t delay things whilst it takes several days to write the post.

The other bonus is that using galleries often causes a spike in hits, compared to in-line posting. I’ll come back to that shortly.

With the Hard Rock post out of the way, I turned back to some images I’d shot almost six weeks previously on a trip to Greenwich. It’s been a weird time over the last month or so with not posting images that promptly; I symptom of the creative block I was suffering where although I was still going out and shooting, I didn’t feel all that strongly about the images, certainly not enough to get them published quickly. However, as the spark began to come back, I began working through them.

Firstly, I published Lights, a single image taken at the very end of my Greenwich trip but which didn’t fit at all with the other photographs. It was, however, a great little image I was proud of.

I then posted the Greenwich post proper. I was a bit disappointed with the amount of ‘likes’ it got (only three) but it had a handful of comments which is the bit that matters most. I was also quite pleased with some of the images there, especially the tunnel images and some of the HDR work.

After the Greenwich post, I got a little sidetracked into a little project my wife was working on. She asked me to illustrate one of the stories on her blog. Although admittedly I didn’t exactly jump at the chance, I was still quite keen, and managed to get the doodles made for her that she wanted, and reasonably well too. It was a fun, distracting project.  And, this being creative splurges, not long after her story was posted, I released a post of my own showing off the images.

It’s always nice to work on things that aren’t photography. Photography may be my main love, but drawing was my first, so it felt great to be able to do some again, especially some with a purpose or a design (and I used a real pencil!).

It was also around this time that I invested in a filter wrench to finally remove the polarising filter from my 18-135mm lens. That damned thing had been stuck for most of this year.

After posting the doodles, it was time to return to more topical stuff. Buoyed by the success of the Hard Rock Calling post, I went out to photograph the Olympic Torch Relay as it passed through my part of London. On top of that, I also set myself the challenge to get the post published as soon as possible. In my mind, I was envisioning a same-day post, but it wasn’t to be; however, I still managed to get it published within two days which is a decent turnaround for me these days.

I was very pleased – I’d possibly go as far to say ecstatic – about the quality of the images, helped by the lack of polarising filter which it is now apparent was having an adverse affect on my images.  Although I think the polarising filter played a part, I think it was just great to be shooting an event, rather than a scene. Shooting landscapes, architecture and the likes is fun, but to make it interesting you have to find the right aspect, or something to give it an appeal; something which, if you’re in a creative funk, can be very difficult. However, photographing something happening, like the torch relay, some of the ‘interesting’ is already inherent to the event. A man running past with a burning golden sceptre is interesting in most people’s books. Sure, there is still a talent involved in capturing the image successfully, and an even greater one in making the overall image more compelling than just a ‘memory’ photo taken by someone’s camera phone, but I find it easier to get a better image of something like this than still life, especially when in a funk. I guess it also helps that there isn’t time to overthink things when you’ve only got one chance at taking a photograph. I could spend the whole day at a building trying to take an interesting photo of it, and by constantly overthinking and failing to the shot I’d get increasingly demotivated and maybe even give up. By shooting a cyclist in the split second they are passing your position, there’s no time to think, let alone overthink, you just act, and your instincts kick in. Which means that maybe I actually have pretty decent photographic instincts, when my self-doubt isn’t getting in the way.

A few days later I took what I had learnt from the torch relay, combined it with what I had learnt eleven months earlier at the London-Surrey Cycle Classic Olympic test event, and went out to shoot the men’s road race determined to get it published the same day.

As you’d expect, I came back with quite a few photos, which took a bit of time to edit and process. I then wrote up the post, which turned out to be longer than expected. All told I got the post published at 2am that night, which I’m calling the same day even if the calendar disagrees. I’m really quite pleased with how the men’s race images came out, there was even less time to think about the shots than at the torch relay. It certainly helped having the opportunity last year at the test event to realise what I would be dealing with. I’m tempted to say that the images from the Olympic race were better than the ones from the London-Surrey Cycle Classic last year.

I’m certain the images from the men’s race are better than the ones from the women’s race. Having already shot the men’s race and the test event, I wanted to try something new and different with how I shot the women’s race, and ultimately these experiments didn’t work out all that well – although I’d like to think that the elements played a bit of a part in things as well.

Trying to use my macro lens to capture the cyclists’ faces as they came past right by the barrier I was standing at didn’t really work; the autofocus, although really fast, couldn’t keep up with the speed the cyclists were approaching at, and the 100mm focal length added to my woes because it was a bit too close to the participants. I managed to get a couple of interesting shots as they cycled past, but not as good as the equivalent shots from the men’s race. Fortunately I didn’t miss much; the women were still tightly packed at that point and passed by in a few seconds. It was good to use the macro to get some shots of the crowd, however – it really is a great lens for that, and I need to make sure I take it out for some unobtrusive street photography at some point.

On the Kingston leg, things weren’t all that much better. This time I think I’d gotten the choice of angle and lens right, but the weather was against me. As the thick clouds rolled in, I had underestimated how dark it would get and I didn’t have the ISO set high enough. I’m pleased with the shots overall, but a bit miffed at the splots of rain on the lens and the darkness of the riders in the images. Still, good to know my camera can withstand a bit of rain without too much trouble. Like the men’s race, I set myself the challenge of getting the post out on the same day using the hybrid post format, and this time I managed it with plenty of time to spare.

I closed out the month with a return to a more normal post type, this time posting a shorter collection of some of the images I took on the boat on my way to Greenwich. This was a bit weird as it was a post I completed shortly before the Olympic Torch relay, but because of dealing with those images, I never got round to publishing it. I don’t think it was as strong a post as the Greenwich set it was a prequel to, but it got a couple more likes – creative fog or no, I still have no idea how to predict how posts will be received, and the ones I often feel the proudest of are the ones no-one else seems to care for. 

All told, there were eleven posts in July, more than any month since January. Of those, four were the hybrid, get-written-quickly format, which contained hit boosting galleries. It is then perhaps no surprise that this month’s hit count has been pretty impressive.

Overall, Creative Splurges surpassed the 50,000 hits mark, long before I expected it to, and currently sits at 50,667 – if you’re keeping score, that’s 1,832 in the calendar month of July, more than double of any other non-Freshly Pressed month.

Creative Splurges Daily Photo looked like it might make it past the 5,000 mark, but sadly spluttered out at 4,968, so barring any sudden, unexpected failure of the internet it should pass that milestone in August.

I feel so very much better now compared to this time last month. It’s partly my new toys, it’s partly getting that blasted polarising filter removed, partly an improvement in in engagement (comments and likes have shot up quite a bit this month), partly an improvement in the weather (ahhh, vitamin D), but mostly, I think it was the Olympics. Not only have they given a lot of the country a mental lift (I refuse to say ‘spiritual lift’ after a chat with a bible-toting woman on the South Bank a couple of days ago), but the photo opportunities that have come along – mostly cycling, but also the torch relay – have been just the sort of photography I really enjoy. One shot, good luck, success! It’s a great feeling to get shots when the pressure is on and you know there’s no second chances – unlike a landscape shot, which isn’t likely to go away, at least not very quickly anyway.

Looking ahead to August, what’s coming up? Well, shortly I’ll be releasing my final London 2012 event photographs, which annoyingly I’ve failed to get out on the day it was shot, much to my despair. One that is out, I’ll be looking back to the images that I took around the time I was shooting the Olympics photos tat I haven’t had a chance to process yet. I have no major trips planned, but a few family visits on the horizon where I might be able to get some more portrait-type shots. On the subject of portraits, I still have a portraits post in the pipeline, but I’m struggling with how to format it, as the shortlist is getting pretty long, so it keeps getting bumped until I can concentrate on it a little more.

I’m back to enjoying what I’m doing again, and it couldn’t be that way without you guys supporting me. So thank you so very, very much for reading, commenting, and even just clicking that ‘like’ button. It all makes it worth it.


3 thoughts on “July: How Rob Got His Groove Back

  1. It’s good to see you back, haha, and the images have proven worthwhile! 🙂


    1. I’m glad to be back. I actually think some of my Olympics-themed shots are some of the best I’ve taken, so I picked a good time to get back into the swing of things.


      1. Definitely. They really work, Rob! 🙂 I’ll be posting some of mine from last week in the next few days, so you’ll have to check them out! 🙂


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