January 2017

Mark VanDyke, Photographer

28 January 2017

January.  A month of gray skies and gusting winds here in the mid-Atlantic.  Forests stand dormant, leaves long since shed.  The ground frosts and heaves.  Critters are sparse.  Watercourses are swollen with runoff.  Needless to say, not my favorite month of the year :-).

Behind the Lens

All things equal, however, January 2017 has been a pretty warm month here in Northern Virginia.  Nothing exceptional in either extreme.  Some nice warm days and plenty of cool and windy days.  No major snowstorms or deep freezes to note.  Kind of blah overall.

Production was weak on my part.  I only went into the field once the entire month and that was on New Years day!  I actuated the shutter 52 times in January during a sunrise shoot around the Tidal Basin in West Potomac Park, Washington D.C.  Low production in January is pretty typical for me, however.  The month usually nets from 1-3% of my total shutter actuations over the course of any given year.  I have a feeling that January 2017 will be far less than 1%!

The Washington and Jefferson Monuments reflecting before sunrise.

Thomas Jefferson Monument.

The Washington & Jefferson Monuments reflecting into the Potomac River Tidal Basin Washington D.C.

Wall Calendar

So, what did I do with all of my time?  Computer work.  I know, pretty dull.  First, the finance and accounting work–balance sheets, income statements, cash flow.  I always get super depressed after doing year-end financials–I guess you can interpret that one however you want!

To get back into the creative frame of mind, however, I started into and finished my first wall calendar project!  I’m still in the process of finding an ideal printer and pinning down production costs, but I hope to have a finished product for sale by May/June of 2017.  The calendar will be for the year 2018 and feature 16 months of photography from my adventures in the Carolinas.  Check out some of the screenshots below to get an idea of what the finished calendar will look like.


And what would January be without a website redesign?  This has become an annual exercise for me over the past couple of years.  What’s new on the website?  Overall design should be cleaner and more straight-forward.  There is an expanded set of pages for individual and small group photo tours.  Per the feedback of some of my previous clients, I’ve included my availability for each area with a calendar graphic.  I wanted to make this graphic a live, booking calendar in function.  However, the plugins that accomplish this either pass the cost of the plugin onto the customer at the point of sale (not going to happen on my website) and/or charge a high monthly fee for me to use.  At this point, I can’t justify the fee.  However, should I find increasing success and demand with individual photo tours, perhaps a future upgrade will see the calendar become live!  As always, your feedback is much appreciated.

A new “about” page includes additional information about the website and about me, with a number of interview questions answered.  I hope to feature a number of testimonials on the website from those of you who have interacted with me out in the field or with my work online.  I’m currently collecting testimonials on my website HERE if you’re interested!  Your time and words would be much appreciated!

I’d would love to hear your feedback on the website as well!  For a non-coder, design has always been a great source of frustration for me.  A big thanks to the folks over at Elegant Themes for creating a page builder that continues to offer more and more control.  I utilize the Divi Theme Builder for my website.

I purchased an entry-level SSL certificate for my website to follow emerging best-practice (despite collecting no sensitive information).  However, as with most of my experiences involving Hostgator, I was charged for the SSL certificate but received no https:// standing for my website.  It would seem that the install was not successful.  The only problem:  getting in contact with the support department over at Hostgator is kind of like running an obstacle course.  Instead of a simple ticket system, you get to fill out a lengthy questionnaire that directs you to useless resources and finally sets you into the queue for “live chat” which is anything but “live.”  Why I can’t just fire my host an e-mail and await a reply from support is beyond me?  Doesn’t seem that hard.  Oh well.

I also switched my cloud-based back-ups over to Crash Plan Pro.  Travelling creates challenges when it comes to having your entire portfolio (and then some) at your fingertips to respond to licensing requests and the like.  Having a cloud-based plan that I can access easily and retrieve files is rather important.  I’m excited to give Crash Plan Pro a solid try this year.  I’ll let you know how things work out!

Continuing Education

I’m a big fan of books.  While I’m certainly not the sharpest axe in the barn, there’s something about picking up a book–you never know what might be inside; what insights, knowledge, etc.  Pound for pound, books are my favorite purchases.  I’m currently working through a number of titles related to photography, the business of photography and/or the places that I photograph:


  1. Light for Visual Artists by Richard Dot
  2. Content Rules by Ann Handley
  3. 3000 Miles in the Great Smokies by William A. Hart
  4. Close-up Photography in Nature by John & Barbara Gerlach

From the Universe

A collection of random things that caught my attention this month…

New book from David duChemin

Photographer and author David duChemin released a new E-Book regarding the art of storytelling with photography.  I’ve read a number of David’s previous books and really enjoy his perspectives.  As a proponent of storytelling with imagery I’m super interested in diving into this one.  However, I’ve personally tried e-books repeatedly in the past and I’ve come to understand, however irrational it may be, that I’m not going to get much from a PDF-formatted document.  Just about everything about a book that I love is missing when I open a PDF document on my computer screen.  I completely understand why e-books make financial sense for those who write; however, I am what I am.  I wish it were different.

If you can deal with reading long-form PDF documents on the computer screen, this one might be worth checking out!

New workshop from Guy Tal

Photographer and author Guy Tal is teaming up with Colleen Miniuk-Sperry to offer a really neat workshop combining creative photography with creative writing.  It’s all about communicating.  We’re drawn to taking and sharing photographs because we have something to say, be it visual or written.  I’ve spent a considerable amount of time this past year reading texts about the art of writing.  I find the parallels rich and enlightening.  This is the type of workshop I would love to attend.  And from the looks of things–already sold out–others are of similar mind.  Keep this one on the radar if this is your sort of thing!

Blog Post by Guy Tal

This one is a short read.  Guy Tal decided to judge a photography contest (if that doesn’t get your interest piqued then you probably are not familiar with Guy Tal!).  There are some interesting nuggets packed in the short blog space, including the passage below:

” I do not wish to reward new artists for striving to please seasoned artists, by creating replicas, repeating formulas, or pandering to some low common denominator in the name of popularity. There is no need, as far as I am concerned, to redo what’s already been done. Not only do I believe that creativity and complexity of personality yield tremendous personal rewards, but as a consumer of art I also don’t care to see more renditions of that same waterfall/arch/tree/whatever again. My living experience is better when I see novel and creative art—things I have not seen before; ideas I have not contemplated before; skills I do not possess myself or know many who do; new ways of seeing and interpreting and relating to the world.”

I’m predisposed to always question my own beliefs.  I couldn’t help but question my whole portfolio after reading that paragraph:  have I ever produced anything more than replicas, repeated formulas, or redux versions of familiar scenes.  I’m not sure really that I can step out of that question clean.  That bothered me quite a bit.  I’ve always argued, and will continue to argue, that photographing familiar scenes well is far harder than stumbling upon virgin territory. But, am I just another copy of twenty other guys who are doing the same thing, seeing the same scenes, taking the same photos?  Have I invested any real time in putting my unique self into images and blog posts?  Do viewers know who I really am?  Do they care to?  So much in question from so little; that’s a common result for me after reading blogs written by Guy Tal.

Blog Post by Jay Goodrich

Photographer Jay Goodrich kind of busts your bubble with this one!  I’ll let you guys read the details.  When I finished reading this article I couldn’t help but smile in remembrance of a conversation I had with my dissertation advisor at Clemson University before leaving to become a full-time photographer.  I had just gone through a long interview process with the University hoping to land a full-time position teaching within the department and learned that I couldn’t teach at my alma matter because I had all three degrees from them (that is considered academic incest apparently).  As a result, I would have to front the full costs of six to seven years of study and research.  I knew it was the death punch for that particular dream.  I had just spent three years living and working off the savings I had from my time in the construction industry.  My advisor, who was aware of my interest in Outdoor Photography and who had essentially owned his own construction firm, said, “why don’t you start your own photography business?”  However, and more importantly, he also said, “I don’t know how you are going to be both the artist and the business.  That will be the challenge.”

After reading Jay’s article I thought immediately that a good follow-up post would be titled something to the extent of “The Irrationality of Being an Artist!”  While the business demands tracking and cost-to-benefit ratios and plans and strategy, the artistic side demands the exact opposite, especially with outdoor freelance photography.  It is not rational to base your future business success on what essentially amounts to the weather, a quantity that cannot be controlled, organized, planned for, or otherwise manipulated.  An Outdoor Photographer has to simply keep showing up, no guarantees that his subject will do the same.  There are no steady clients–there are only places and the interaction of place and atmosphere at any given time.  It is not rational to stay past sunset at a location knowing that you have to walk several miles on a trail in the dark back to your car.  There is no cost-to-benefit ratio that will drive you into a heavily flowing stream gorge where the dangers are very real.  It makes no sense to continually be cold or hot or wet or any of a million conditions that are non-optimal.  Driving two-hundred miles for sunset because the radar is showing better activity somewhere else is not a good business decision.

Creativity is a bit different for everyone from my experience.  For me, it is driven by physical activity and relative isolation.  To be alone on a trail in a beautiful location will generally put me into a place where I can create.  The more challenging the obstacles to pass through the more vividly I experience the situation.  It is a process that by very definition defies the logic of business.

Being a full-time outdoor landscape photographer is to find some kind of cooperative balance between business and artist that cannot be either one or the other.  Everything Jay says about the business is absolutely correct.  However, there’s also another side that follows an entirely different set of rules.  Be prepared to work both.

Welcome, February.  See everyone next month!

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