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Photography

Want to come for a walk? I’m here in North Sydney with time on hands before a meeting and I thought we could take a stroll towards the harbour. We might see the Sydney Harbour Bridge on the way.  Yeah, there it is. Let’s go down this way and take some photos.

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I’m not exactly sure where we are. I’m a southsider and this is the north side. I think we are heading towards Lavender Bay. This must be the entrance to artist Wendy Whitely’s Secret Garden. We won’t go in now, its getting dark.

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I wonder what would happen if we went down here. Yes, it is Lavender Bay. I hope this isn’t a dead end. It looks pretty, lets go through.

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There it is. The Sydney Harbour Bridge, and Luna Park too.

I don’t know how I am going with this low light photography. Its not my specialty. Well nothing is really. I just like to take photos to tell stories about a particular place or experience. Thats Milson’s Point on the left, you can see it has become very built up to take advantage of the harbour views. On the right is the Sydney Central Business District, known as “the city”. You can just see a tiny Centrepoint Tower.

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I’m pretty sure we can get around past Luna Park from here.

This is a great place for photos, but those joggers are a nuisance. They must be releasing them at 10 second intervals. Here I have done the right thing and set up the camera on a pylon to avoid camera shake. Then along comes a jogger on the wooden boardwalk. Boing, Boing, Boing. I bet Ansel Adams didn’t have this problem.

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Look in here, its North Sydney Pool. We can make out a train on the northern approach to the bridge at the top right of the picture. The smiling reflection of the Luna Park entrance looks sinister. Reminds me its nearly dinner time.

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OK, I can’t blame the joggers this time, as I am on dry, stable land again. Its just me. I don’t have a tripod and I’m getting hungry. Interesting perspective though.

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To hell with it. Lets blur the image on purpose. Sydney Harbour Bridge like you have never seen it before.

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I did manage to get some good shots along the way, but I thought it would be fun to tell a story through the out-takes. I will do a profile on Luna Park and the Sydney Harbour Bridge on the ImageChest Photography website when we get back from our virtual holiday down south on the Illawarra Coast.

Focus is a theme for me at the moment as some of my projects are not thriving and I need to consider where to put my efforts. The ImageChest Etsy Store is not going well and between you and me I am beginning to doubt whether someone in London England wants to buy a photographic greeting card featuring Paris France from someone in Sydney Australia. Given the cost of postage from Australia to the rest of the world, it would almost be cheaper for them to go there and take their own photos. Although I love travel photography, I wonder if it would be better to concentrate on telling my uniquely Australian story.

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Somehow since starting this blog last year I have managed to create a situation where I have three blogs/websites, four blog readers, two Facebook pages and one Facebook group, a Linked In account, two Pinterest accounts and online selling accounts  with eBay, Gumtree, and Etsy. No wonder I don’t have time for TV.

Some of this activity has been for the purpose of exploration. Learning how to write online, to sell online, and how to make good use of my photography. I don’t do everything everyday, however it does sometimes feel a bit too complicated.

Originally I was trying to keep these activities separate from each other, but that became impossible, and I was losing the benefits of being able to direct people from one site to another. However this makes it all the more important that what I write in once place does not undermine or contradict what I say in another. If someone who wants to hire with me as a professional organiser finds their way over here to May and September, I want them to feel comfortable with the person they find here. If someone interested in my photographs finds my professional organising board on Pinterest, I want them to get an accurate impression of who I am. The posts on each site might be emphasising different themes, or taking a different tone, but overall I hope that there is some coherence between them all.

This is the blog that is easiest to write and feel like the truest voice, the closest to how I really think and feel. I am comfortable with the photography blog. It has a lighter tone, being about images rather than words. Since I started the Etsy store it has been challenging working out how stay true to my original vision for that blog while linking it in with selling greeting cards. I am still working that through. I am not really comfortable with Facebook, Linked In or Pinterest at this point, and maybe I will need to rethink those.

The most difficult blog to write has been the blog page on my professional organising site. It has been a struggle to develop a consistent tone and rhythm of postings. Recently I have realised that I have been unconsciously trying to “sound like a professional organiser” and this has me to feel the need to write about how to sort and organise stuff. I now realise that I have got things backwards. I never dreamed of being a professional organiser, I just made a change in my own life and that led to me wanting to help people lead simpler lives. I wanted to make myself available to stand with them in the mess, literal and metaphorical, and help them work out what to do about it. “Professional Organiser” turned out to be the closest name I could find for that activity, but by choosing that term to define what I was doing, I took on the risk that the label would start to define me.

Lately I have written some blog posts on the professional organising site that reflect more of my personality and world view. The turning point was What I Learned from Bedbugs which was about learning the benefits of travelling light when I had to clean every item of clothing I possessed on an overseas trip. Soon after I wrote Showing Up in which draws and analogy between Natalie Goldbergs method of showing up for writing practice in the True Secret of Writing, with showing up for a session of simplifying and organising in your own home. And today, I have posted Ordinary Beauty about appreciating the simple everyday beauty available in our own homes. By writing these posts I am setting the tone for my own business and helping potential clients understand my values and perspective.

In May I will be doing an online writing course with Tammy Strobel from Rowdy Kittens. Tammy is a writer and photographer who blogs about tiny house living and how to be happy with less material posessions. I think she does a great job of presenting an authentic voice and vision across various mediums. I am looking forward to linking up with her and other writers in the hope of deepening and focussing my own writing.

I have been butting up against a dilemma in the past couple of weeks. It has been simmering in the background, but it keeps rising closer and closer to the surface. Pretty soon its going to break the surface and I am going to have to confront it head on.

This dilemma concerns the tension between the desire to create, and the desire to simplify. One involves producing, the other reducing. One involves making use of resources, the other involves conserving resources. On the one hand I want to be creative, and also value the creativity of others. On the other hand, I am conscious of the resources that are used up in this creative process, and also in packaging and shipping creative output if it is to be sold.

I have been exploring my desire to create through writing and photography. My writing is mostly online, and immediate, in blog form. I like not having to store up my words in books, boxes and folders. I just post it and let wordpress do the archiving. I have been doing some journal writing lately, with a pen and paper. I make sure not to write anything I would not be willing to have someone else read. I have a box of old journals in the “too hard” corner in the garage. I don’t want to add to it. I am going to try to make sure that anything of importance ends up in digital form so that I can shred the physical notebooks when the time comes. I think I am going to be doing more writing, and may need to come up with better solutions for storing and archiving my notes and finished work. I am grateful for the computer and the online resources available to do this.

Photography is really a hobby and a lot of the photos I have been using were taken on overseas trips, with no expectation of being reproduced or published in any public arena. I have enjoyed using my own work to illustrate my blog posts on this site, and I also enjoy having a photography based ImageChest Photography blog. The dilemma here is that I have been getting prints made of my photo’s and making greeting cards for sale. I have enjoyed this and explored different outlet for selling them, including shops, an online store, and markets. This is where the dilemma is, because I am conscious of the resources required to make and store physical photos. The cardboard is flown to Sydney from Tasmania. If I sell cards online, I need to post them around the world. Although this is small scale, it does consume resources.

The main dilemma with selling greeting cards is that thrusts me into the world of product marketing. When selling online there is the opportunity to get involved in teams and market each other’s products. While some of the items I have come across for sale online are beautiful artworks or valuable vintage items, a lot of the products are ephemeral expressions of our materialistic age. In other words, clutter in search of a home. I enjoy looking at other peoples online shops because I see the product images as just that, images. I don’t get hooked in by what they represent, and rarely feel the urge to buy anything. However I know that other people who look at these images are seeing something else. They are seeing products they can buy, and perhaps feeling excited about the prospect of a parcel in the mail. After all that is the point of the product promotion.

What I am learning is that in order to make and online shop work, you really need to engage in many forms of marketing, including social networks and blogs. And here is where it gets complicated. You see I don’t think my family and friends need me to be encouraging them to buy more stuff. I don’t think you need me encouraging you to buy more stuff. I have already put a few people onto online shopping sites and began to wonder if that was doing them a service. Much as I hate to say it, I feel like I am sending mixed messages by advocating simplicity while at the same time promoting online selling, even if it is handmade arts and crafts.

And here is the minimalist artists dilemma. How to be creative without over-using the earths resources. How to sell creative products without buying into our already materialistic culture. The digital arena offers one solution. I think I may be heading further toward digital writing and photography and away from physical products. Although even this is not without is problems, as we use up the earths scarce resources to build our electronic devices, and burn up energy to run them.

Another solution is an emphasis on quality over quantity. Once upon a time ladies did embroidery in the evenings by lamplight. Before there was TV. Before there was radio. Even before there was electric light. Ladies embroidered detailed pieces of work because that was a enjoyable way to fill time, and provided a way to introduce visual beauty into their lives. The investment of time and attention seems to warrant the object, to make it worthy of its existence. Crafting has been simplified, so that finished items can be produced quite quickly, in some cases creating a glut of creative output with is beyond what we really want or need.

So here I am, stating this dilemma. Now its not a secret and I have to deal with it. I have a lot of greeting cards stored in shoeboxes, but I don’t think I will be getting any more prints done for a while. I am going to make up the remaining stock I have, and see about selling it. Then I will work out whether this is really something I want to pursue.

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One of the new skills of the internet age is described as “curating”. Once the province of art gallery and museum staff, now everyone can be a curator with sites like Pinterest and Etsy which allow us to gather and display material from other sites and sources. Curating suits me, because I enjoy looking at pictures and putting them together so that the whole is more than the sum of the parts. If I am at all creative, my skill is in seeing, gathering and displaying, rather that starting an artwork from scratch.

I have been looking a lot of shops on Etsy in the past weeks, and flagging many favourites. These favourites can be chosen for a variety of reasons, such as being Australian, using keywords that I use, or themes that I am interested in, or, in rare cases, being examples of things that I might actually have the need to buy. Looking at other shops is a good way of connecting with other sellers, and learning about the kinds of products that are available, and how they are presented. Since I don’t have a lot of money for shopping, flagging items which appeal to me is one way that I can encourage and support other people, by acknowledging their work.

Today I felt inspired to put all this research to good use, and create a Treasury. This is a collection of 16 images taken from shops in Etsy, that adhere to a theme of your choice. A treasury is like a visual sonnet or haiku. The structure is 16 thumbnail images displayed in a 4 x 4 gallery format. Ideally the images are drawn from 16 different shops (excluding your own) and represent your theme. Oh yes, and preferably, it should be beautiful.

The theme of my first treasury is called Yorkshire Dreaming. Having enjoyed looking at objects related to Devon and Cornwall, where I have been, I decided to see what was available in a place I didn’t get to but dream of visiting one day. I searched “Yorkshire” and came up with some fantastic photography and  artwork of North Yorkshire and the Yorkshire Dales and a lot of very, very cute Yorkshire Terriers. There were also a few objects related to Wuthering Heights, set in Yorkshire.

I started to build a Treasury around the landscape and the animals that to me typified Yorkshire. Most of my impressions come from TV and movies, especially the TV series Heartbeat and All Creatures Great and Small. I don’t know whether Yorkshire is really swamped with cute little dogs. If you search Yorkshire Terrier in Etsy you might think so. Since it is my Dreaming, I included one but I did discipline myself to keep the cuteness factor under control, as I also wanted to convey the  moodiness of the moors, and the sparseness of the dales.

If you would like to see how it turned out, take a look here at Yorkshire Dreaming.

I have been a bit quieter on May and September lately because I have been absorbed in setting up an Etsy Store to sell my greeting cards online. There has been a lot to learn and a lot to decide, but the store is now up and running and I can take a breath and relax.

One of the challenges in selling photographic greeting cards online is conveying the image to advantage. The Etsy store has a variety of views of the primary image most of which are a landscape view, or square tiles. Since many of my cards are in portrait layout (tall rather than wide) I needed to make sure that the images worked in a variety of modes. I came to the conclusion that the majority of images needed to be in landscape layout, but with the main part of the picture in the central square. This meant working out what to do on the sides, which may or may not be cut off. It took me a couple of photoshoots to get this right. Fortunately the subjects didn’t get restless, although I did.

The other visual challenge was how to show a photo of a photo to advantage. One of the biggest selling points of the cards is their colour and tactile quality.  How do I convey the appeal of a colourful glossy photo on a glossy white card in a shiny packet? I tried taking photos of cards on a white background but they didn’t look very interesting. Then I stumbled across the origami paper.  I did some sample shots using a brightly coloured background and was happier with the results. You can really see the card and envelope, and the coloured paper adds interest.

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The Etsy webite is exclusively for handmade and vintage items, and the dominant visual aesthetic favours subtle and subdued backgrounds. Most items are pictured on white or faun, with the occasional pastel pattern. My cards certainly stand out amongst the other images! Always the rebel. I just can’t help it. I hope they look bright and appealing, rather that over the top and garish. We’ll see how it goes.

The other tricky aspect of setting up and Etsy store is working out pricing and postage. I spent a few days hype-focussing over the different options. With greeting cards there could potentially be a wide variation in the number purchased – one, six or twenty. I needed to accommodate that variation in the prices. Postage costs start on a low plateau, but leap to a new level when the quantity changes from a letter to a parcel at around 8 cards. Postage rates vary widely within Australia and between different destinations around the world.

I was explaining all this to a friend and realised I sounded just like I did when was working as business process analyst on student fees, my head spinning with the complexity of it all. I was making the options too complicated for myself to understand, let alone anyone else. I decided to drop some variables and tolerate some inconsistencies and fluctuations. Happily as I am the boss, I didn’t need to prepare a submission to a committee in order to do this.

The variable I dropped was trying to sell sets as well as single cards. Single cards have the option “free secondary postage” which means you only pay postage on the first card you buy. Effectively the more you buy, the more the card price subsidises the postage costs. I was also working on 6 packs and 8 packs with discounted prices for bulk and realistic postage. This was doing my head in as it was too complicated to work out the relative costs and profits for the different combinations of pack sizes and postage rates.  Selling only singles makes the maths easier and gives the customer full control of which images they want to choose and how many they want to buy.

Well thats possibly more than you need to know about selling greeting cards! These “behind the scenes” issues are what has been absorbing most of my thoughts this week and perhaps some of you can relate to these dilemmas. I have started regular posts on my ImageChest Photography website which give background on the pictures on the cards, plus other photographic adventures. That website also has nice clear pictures of the full range of images on the cards which can be accessed from the Greeting Cards Page. The cards can be purchased from the ImageChest Etsy Store. I am looking forward to getting some views that aren’t me!

We regret any difficulties you may have had Starting Up

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The site was down for maintenance.

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These pictures are from a park in Sydney which looks like the Windows Start Up page, or Teletubby land. It makes me want to log on, or giggle stupidly. Sydneysiders may recognise it. Here is another clue.

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Its Sydney Park at St Peters, near the old Brick Pits.

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I think it has the bluest sky in Sydney.

I have mentioned in earlier posts that I would like to learn Spanish. Every so often I set myself up with the iPod to listen to a lesson, but I typically find that I just don’t have the concentration to really enjoy it. My mind is going in so many new directions already, learning a language seems to be one goal too many. Last night I went through the process again, and started listening to ways to explain my level Spanish speaking ability. It wasn’t inspiring me, and I found myself thinking “I can’t learn Spanish now; I need to learn Photoshop”.

That seemed like an odd combination of ideas, but when I thought about it, learning a new computer application, particularly Photoshop, is very similar to learning a language. One of the things Photography Shop owners tell me “professional photographers” do is use Photoshop CS6. As a consequence I decided to download the free month trial and see how I go. I have been watching the video tutorials and doing some practice and I am blown away by what it can do, but also how much there is to learn.

Photography is a means of communication, and being able to manipulate a photograph to say exactly what I want to say is becoming increasingly important. I have a few fantastic photos that have problems that are beyond the capacity if iPhoto to rectify adequately. One common issue is the need to lighten the shadows without blowing out the sky. The other is the need to disappear annoying little people and objects who I didn’t see when I took the shot.

Like mastering a new language, learning Photoshop is a great test of frustration tolerance and persistence. I watched the video on Dodge and Burn and thought I had those annoying dark shadows all worked out, until I realised I was doing permanent changes to the background (ie changing the base image), rather than removing the shadows in a separate process that could be reversed. So there I am clicking about, trying to work out how to dodge those shadows without doing a destructive edit  on the image. (Thats special photography talk). It was like standing in the Paris metro trying to dredge up enough vocabulary to ask the way to the Eiffel Tower. “I thought I knew this, why can’t I do it.” Using a program for real, to do a particular task, is much harder that it looks, just like speaking a new language for real is very different to an in-class exercise. So at the moment is No Hablo Photoshop (I don’t speak Photoshop). But I hope to learn.

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Reasons to learn Photoshop: People and garbage bags.