Is Boosting a Post on Instagram Worth It?

This article is a follow-up to my Instagram is Dying — For Photographers article that I published last month. It won’t apply to everyone reading this. If you have an Instagram “professional account” or have considered changing to one, this post is for you. Specifically, I wanted to look at what happens when you tap “Boost post”—an option only available for pro accounts—and find out if it’s worthwhile to do. What’s the process? How much does it cost? What do you get in return? Is it worth it?

To start with, I don’t recommend switching to a professional account on Instagram unless you really “need” to. The moment I switched to a pro account, my engagement dropped in half. You do get tools, such as analytics, and various other features in the “Professional Dashboard” to help you build your brand, but, unless you feel those things are necessary, I’d steer clear of switching. Meta basically says that the pro account will help you, but then they handicap you and want you to pay them money to solve it. I have had no interest in giving them my money—I simply want Instagram to show my posts to my followers, but that’s obviously not happening. After publishing that other article and reading all the feedback, I thought it would be worth exploring “Boost post” because there are probably many others who feel similarly, and are wondering if it’s worthwhile to try or just another scammy thing that Meta is doing.

Before I get into this, I think it’s worth going over some of the statistics. I’ve discovered that over the last year my Instagram posts tend to fall into one of four categories. About 50% of my posts get minimal engagement (likes, comments, etc.) and are seen by 15%-25% of my followers. About 30% of of my posts get moderate engagement and are seen by 40%-50% of my followers. About 15% of my posts get strong engagement and are seen by 60%-75% of my followers. About 5% of my posts get exceptional engagement and are seen by 85%-100% of my audience. If Instagram simply showed my posts to more of my followers, they’d get more engagement. Some of you might only see 5% of my posts. Half of you might only see one-in-three posts. I think only about 15% of my followers see all of my posts, which is crazy. You might notice similar statistics with your posts and your followers.

Under each of my posts, Instagram has a “Boost post” icon that taunts me. It’s intended to do that. “If you just press me, all your followers will see this post,” it says. But is that true? I didn’t know. I assumed, but I was ignorant, and I didn’t want to be ignorant. So I tapped it.

When you tap “Boost post” you are presented with three options: more profile visits, more website visits, and more messages. Under your boosted post, which is actually a sponsored ad, is a call-to-action button that will do one of three things, depending on the “goal” you select. I get about 50 messages a day on Instagram already, so I took that option off the table immediately. I ended up running two sponsored ads, and selected “more profile visits” for one and “more website visits” for the other. More profile visits is a call-to-action to visit your Instagram profile. Once there, I have no idea what people do, but they’re apparently taking a look at you. More website visits is a call-to-action to click a link to whatever website you want people to go to (I chose RitchieCam.com). More messages is a call-to-action to get direct messages on Instagram, I assume.

After that, you’ll be asked to “define your audience” so that Instagram knows who to show your ad to. You can select Automatic (“people like your followers”), or Create your own. I chose the latter for both posts. With that, you have to select the interest of those you want to target. Fujifilm is an option and photography is an option, but straight-out-of-camera, JPEG, and film simulation recipes are not—in other words, it’s more broad, and popular brands and common interests are what you have to choose from. Then, you have to select where those people live. I tried United States, but that was too large of a group apparently, so I had to narrow it down by state—you can select about 10-15, depending on the populations of those states. I’m sure smaller countries could have been chosen. You could select specific cities, too. I don’t like how Instagram set this up, but maybe it would work well for you, I guess depending on your situation. For most people, I imagine that Automatic is likely the best option.

Lastly, you have to select your budget ($5, $7, $20, and custom) and duration (1 to 30 days, or indefinitely until paused). For the first post I chose $5 each day for 5 days ($25 total), with an estimated reach of 4,000 to 10,000. The second post I selected $7 each day for 6 days ($42 total), with an estimated reach of 6,300 to 16,000. Tap “Next” to review, and your ad goes live. You can pay with a credit card or PayPal, which you setup the first time through.

So, how did my boosted posts (a.k.a. sponsored ads) go?

The first one, which had the goal of profile visits, was one of those 5% posts with tons of engagement. Unfortunately, when you boost a post, Instagram doesn’t tell you if the accounts reached were followers or non-followers (like they do otherwise), which was disappointing to learn. My suspicion is that they showed it to more followers plus more non-followers—a combination. This post reached over 37,000 people (I have 26K+ followers), so my assumption is that Instagram showed pretty close to 100% of my followers this post, plus 11K non-followers. That’s excellent! I wish all of my posts got this attention. However, Instagram claims that only 5% (less than 2K) saw this post as a result of the ad (less than half the reach that Instagram estimated). And, only 64 people viewed my profile as a result of the call-to-action, which is a small number (I think) for $25. I have no idea if any of those 64 learned of Film Simulation Recipes or followed me or anything else. Was this a rare “exceptional engagement” post because of the ad or in spite of it? I have no idea—I really didn’t get any answers.

The second one, which had a goal of website visits, was one of those 30% posts with moderate engagement. This post reached 15,000 people, and (just guessing) 10K-11K might have been followers. Instagram claims that 26% (less than 4K) saw this post as a result of the ad (significantly less than Instagram estimated). There were (supposedly) 52 people who visited my website as a result of the call-to-action, which isn’t a lot for the $42 spent. I have no way to know if that led to anything further.

I would have to boost a lot more posts to gain any real data to draw any conclusions. The odds are that one of these two posts “should have been” in the common 50% category that receive minimal engagement and views, but neither were. There were three other posts—one before the first ad, one in-between, and one after the second ad—two of which had minimal engagement (seen by less than 25% of my followers), and one had moderate engagement (seen by about 50% of my followers). It makes me think that Instagram does show your boosted posts to more of your followers, but I cannot say that with certainty, or give any kind of guess on how many it might be. It would be great if Instagram had that as an option: show post to all followers. Maybe charge $5 for that. But, that’s not an option. I do find it interesting that one ad was a top-30% post and the other was a top-5% post, so I do believe that boosting a post does just that—boosts a post. Imagine that. But I really don’t feel that the $67 I paid did much of anything other than that.

I think it was good to try, but I don’t think I’ll do it again. I paid about 40¢ per profile visit for the fist ad, and I paid about 80¢ per website visit for the second ad. That’s probably a decent price (cost-per-click) for digital advertisements, but definitely not something that I want to pay—maybe if I was selling something expensive it would be worthwhile. I just want Instagram to show my posts to my followers, and I do think boosting a post does that to a degree, but it’s an expensive way to do it, and not really “worth it” in my opinion.

By the way, be sure to follow me on Instagram if you don’t already.

Is Fujifilm Losing Its Soul?

After the announcement of the Fujifilm X-H2S, which has a PASM dial instead of the traditional dials of the X-H1, many people asked, “Is Fujifilm losing its soul?” I’ve had a number of Fujifilm photographers tell me that they believe so, and some have inquired if I believe so, too. What’s my opinion? Is Fujifilm indeed losing its soul?

Fujifilm has already lost its soul. It’s done gone. Elvis left the building awhile ago. The design decisions during development of the X-H2S are simply the manifestation of that lost soul.

What was this “soul” that Fujifilm lost? How can a company even have a soul?

A whole book could be written on this topic, but to summarize in a short sentence, Fujifilm’s philosophy for their X-series cameras was analog-inspired innovations with a focus on the photographer’s experience (both while using the camera for photography, and as customers of the brand). This was their soul. That philosophy, which seemed to be clearly understood, is what drove the camera department of the company (remember, Fujifilm’s main business is not photography nowadays). From the design decisions to the Kaizen firmware updates and everything in-between, this philosophy oozed out—it was both obvious and attractive, and is why Fujifilm was suddenly successful, quickly overtaking other brands, including iconic Nikon.

Fujifilm didn’t need to have a photography department at all, but they decided that, even if it was a bust, they’d still fund it and keep it going, because photography had been such an important part of their company’s heritage, and had been an important aspect of Japanese culture. They were merely the caretakers of this thing that was bigger than themselves. That’s how they looked at it, anyway, and it was noticeable and refreshing.

Somewhere along the line, however, Fujifilm began to view this differently. The photography division needed to be built bigger. It must grow. It must become more profitable. It must gain more marketshare. It must become as big as—or bigger than—Canon and Sony. I think there are actually two competing sides within Fujifilm (and maybe this battle has been taking place for awhile now): one is profit-first driven, and the other is nurture-first driven. The side I would like to see win is the latter, but the side that seems to be winning is the former.

Where this lost-soul has most obviously manifested itself is Kaizen, or the lack of it. This is a word that I hadn’t heard of until I owned a Fujifilm camera. It’s something that attracted a lot of people to the brand. It means continuous improvement—making something better over time, even though it was already purchased. Why? Part of it is duty (what you are supposed to do), and another part of it is that it creates loyalty, because it shows the customer that you care about them, and not just their money. That care will cause the customer to overlook shortcomings, because the caring is more important to them in the whole scheme of things. And long-term loyalty is more valuable to the company than short-term gains. I don’t know the exact timeline of when Fujifilm stopped caring (or, more accurately, began caring less about their customers in favor of caring more about profits), but it seems to be during the development of X-Trans IV. That’s when the profit-first people seemed to first get an upper hand on the nurture-first people. I don’t know for sure, though. What I am confident in is that, as X-Trans V rolls out, the profit-first philosophy is the current mantra of Fujifilm’s photography division—it’s Fujifilm’s current soul, unfortunately.

Am I overreacting? After all, the X-H2S is just one camera, right? There are two points that I’d like to make. First, Fujifilm removed the traditional dials on the X-H line in favor of PASM. For Fujifilm, PASM cameras are intended to attract new customers who are not interested in or are otherwise intimated by the traditional controls of their other X models. They don’t put PASM on cameras that they intend to market to their current customer base. The X-H2S is their top-of-the-line “flagship” model, the first X-Trans V… and it’s not for you. It was never intended for you. Screw you! It’s for them. Those guys with their Sonys and Canons, that’s who it’s for. We give our best to them. Our current customers who have been so loyal over the years will have to be happy with the crumbs that fall from the table. Second, X-Trans V is rolling out, while the X-T3 (their all-time top-selling model) and X-T30 are still on an island, and the X-Pro3 and X100V (premium models) don’t have as good of JPEG features as the X-S10, X-E4, and X-T30 II (mid or lower tier models). That’s shameful, in my opinion. Take care of your current customers first before working so hard to bring in new customers. Fujifilm is making their customer base less loyal, which will only hurt them in the long run. Nurture first.

If you build it, they will come. Fujifilm built it and they came; however, not enough for the profit-first people. They want more, but they’re barking up the wrong tree. Instead of becoming Sony in order to attract current Sony users who are unhappy with their gear (how does this makes sense to anyone?), Fujifilm should double-down on what makes them unique. What’s special about Fujifilm? Analog-inspired innovation and the photographer’s experience—that’s what’s special, or at least it used to be. There’s one other thing that’s unique, and that’s community. Fujifilm didn’t build it—instead it was built around them; however, they have not done nearly enough to embrace it and engage it. In fact, at times they’ve been standoffish to it. That needs to end, because community is Fujifilm’s greatest asset, yet they seem unsure of how to engage it, so they do so halfheartedly and from a “safe” distance.

I didn’t mean to write a negative article. When I sat down at the computer, I had no intention of typing out this post; however, it’s something that has been circling inside my mind for a few weeks now, so I suppose that it was inevitable. I really hope that it doesn’t make you feel angry towards Fujifilm. This article’s aim is to, on the off chance that this is actually read by Fujifilm, inspire reflection and perhaps even change, and secondarily put into words something that maybe you have felt but weren’t sure how to express. Perhaps this is somehow therapeutic. For me it feels good to say, even though it is negative, and I hope that getting it out in the open will somehow produce something positive.

What Future Camera Technology Might Be Like

Barn by the Tetons – Grand Teton NP, WY – Fujifilm X-E1 – Nik Silver Efex edit

What will future cameras be like? More specifically, what do I think they’ll be like? This is an odd topic that has come up a few times recently in various places. I don’t have any inside information. I’ve never laid eyes on any top-secret still-in-development cameras. I only have my own ideas and opinions, which are probably inaccurate. I’ve certainly been wrong before, and I’m probably wrong now. Still, it’s fun to speculate.

I think, in the not-too-distant future, perhaps beginning in roughly five years, we’ll see camera manufacturers team up with software companies to offer more (and better) in-camera filters. We’re going to see more software built into cameras, and with that, I think we’ll start to see VSCO, RNI, Alien Skin, Nik Collection, and others, partner with camera manufacturers to include their popular presets integrated into gear. This will also allow RAW files to match straight-out-of-camera JPEGs (and TIFFs) simply by applying the same preset in-software as in-camera.

Mirrored Mountain – Mirror Lake, UT – Fujifilm X-E1 – Alien Skin Exposure edit

The Zeiss ZX1 camera has Lightroom Mobile built-in. The Pixii camera can be programmed with LUT profiles. It’s not even close to mainstream yet, but you can see the very beginning of this shift start to build. I think it is only a matter of time before you will be able to capture in-camera with (for example) the RNI Kodak Gold v.3 preset. I don’t think Canon, Sony, Nikon, or Fujifilm will be the first company to do this. Maybe Leica. Perhaps a future Panasonic S-series model. I’m not exactly sure, but it will definitely be a marketing strategy for whoever does it first.

I believe that in the beginning it will be collaborations between specific manufactures and software companies. For example, Sony might partner with VSCO, and perhaps Nikon partners with RNI. I personally hope Fujifilm partners with RNI or Alien Skin, but my guess is that Fujifilm will hold onto their film simulations, which, let’s be honest, is a similar concept. Film simulations are kind of like presets, especially since they can be customized with film simulation recipes; however, in its current state film simulations don’t go as far as what I believe is coming. I do think Fujifilm can accomplish in-house their own presets, since they do seem to have a nice head start, but I don’t know if they have the foresight to take it far enough or the R&D resources to keep up once it takes off. We’ll have to wait and see how it all plays out. Currently, Fujifilm’s Film Simulations, with the help of custom JPEG recipes, are the closest thing right now to what I believe is coming.

Eventually I see it morphing into more of an app model, where you can buy any company’s presets and use them on your camera, no matter the brand. Buy a Canon and download the RNI app if you want their presets, or VSCO if you want theirs. If you have a Fujifilm camera, you can use the exact same presets on that camera as you can on your Sony. This might be 10 or more years down the road, but it seems like it is inevitable that it will happen someday.

Whitefish Lake Infrared – Whitefish, MT – Fujifilm X100V – RNI Aero edit

Why do I think all this is the future of photography technology? What I believe is going to happen is a stronger movement towards straight-out-of-camera. Not for bragging rights, but for three reasons: 1) it saves so much time, 2) it can be more fun, and 3) it opens up photography more to those who don’t have the desire, skills, or time to post-process their pictures. Technology will make getting post-processed-like-looks more accessible without the need to actually do it. It’s going to be easier and more automatic. You, the photographer, will have to select which look you want, and the camera will do the work for you and will deliver to you out-of-camera that look without any need for Lightroom, etc., to achieve it. Upload the picture to whatever social media or cloud storage you want right from the camera. No need for a computer, as it’s all handled by the camera. You won’t even need your phone, unless camera companies figure out that they can harness the phone’s computing power to do the work for them, and the phone becomes (wirelessly) integrated into the camera.

I could be completely wrong about all of this. I’ve certainly been wrong many times before. Nobody knows the future. I do see things moving in this direction, and in a very small way, because of my film simulation recipes, I’ve had a hand in moving it.

Sentinel & Merced – Yosemite NP, CA – Fujifilm X100V – SOOC “Vintage Color” unedited

5 Tips To Become A Better Photographer in 2020

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It’s almost the new year! 2020 is at the doorstep. This year is nearly over. You might be wondering how to improve your photography in 2020. Perhaps you feel that your pictures aren’t “good enough” and you wish you could make pictures like what you see others creating. Maybe you are in a rut and don’t know how to move forward. Or it could be that you always keep your camera in auto because you are intimidated by all of the different settings and you don’t really understand all of the technical stuff. Perhaps you just received your first “real” camera for Christmas and don’t know where to start. Whatever the reason, you want to become a better photographer in 2020. Well, this article is for you!

If you are not moving forward, you are moving backwards. No matter what your skill level is, you should always be striving to improve. You should be pushing yourself to be more technically proficient or to learn a new technique or to be more creative or to have a stronger vision. Throughout your life, and not just in 2020, you should be trying to become a better photographer. Keep working towards improvement. Don’t stand still, because you can’t.

Really, I’m in the same boat as you. I’m trying to become a better photographer in 2020. I’m pushing myself to improve my camera skills. My advice is aimed at myself just as much as you. We’re all in this together. I hope that you find the five tips below helpful in your quest to become a better photographer in 2020!

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UP 4014 & UP 844 Racing West – Richardson Draw, WY – Fujifilm X-T20

Tip #1 – Know Your Gear, Part 1: Read The Manual

This might sound silly and obvious, but it’s important to know your camera and other photography gear inside and out. You need to know what all of the different settings do. You need to know how to make adjustments. You need to know how it all works. Most people thumb through the manual when they first get a new camera or other gear, and never look at it again. It’s a very good idea to take a careful look at it during unboxing, but it’s also a good idea to revisit the manual every so often. Pull the booklet back out after owning the camera for three months, and again at the one-year mark. You’ll be surprised at what you’ll find! If you are like me, you’ll learn new things each time that you do this. Knowing your gear is the necessary foundation for improving your photography.

Tip #2 – Know Your Gear, Part 2: Understand How It Works

Knowing how to change the aperture is one thing, but knowing how it will affect the picture is another. Those who have been doing photography for awhile likely have a good grasp on what all of the different settings do to a picture, but those who are inexperienced might have no idea. Even if you have a good grasp, it’s always beneficial to investigate more deeply, understand more precisely, and try new techniques. There are tons of people who don’t understand even the basics, and things like the exposure triangle are completely foreign to them. If you rely on the camera to guess what the right settings should be, you are basically crossing your fingers and wishing on a star that your picture will turn out well. If you intimately understand how your camera works and how different settings affect the image, you can ensure that your pictures turn out just as you want them to.

There are tons of great resources for learning different aspects of camera settings. Nowadays, with the internet, everything is right at your fingertips. Oftentimes the best way to learn is by doing, which means that you take your camera out of auto and play around with it. Spend some time experimenting with different apertures, different shutter speeds, different ISOs, etc.,etc., and compare the results. This is a learning process, so don’t worry that your pictures aren’t good yet. It takes a lot of time, but the time investment is well worth it. Whatever you are trying to learn, read up on it, then go out and do it, not being afraid to fail, but trying again and again until it’s second nature.

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Onaqui Wild Horses – Dugway, UT – Fujifilm X-T30

Tip #3 – Invest In Experiences

Camera companies want you to think that you need the latest and greatest gear to become a better photographer. If only you had more resolution, better auto-focus, a larger sensor, a faster lens, etc., your pictures would look amazing, and they don’t because you didn’t buy it. My advice is to use what you already have to the best of your ability, and spend the money on experiences instead of new gear. Travel! Go someplace amazing. It doesn’t have to be far. Even if you were only going to spend $500, that money could get you somewhere. Take your camera with you and use it. Take lots of pictures! It’s better to keep the gear that you own and really use it, than to buy new gear and not use it as much. Eventually it will make sense to “upgrade” to something new, and you’ll know when that time is, but for now spend your money on experiences and not gear.

Tip #4 – Find The Light

Photography requires light, so it should come as no surprise that great photography requires great light. “Great light” is a little difficult to define, and it varies greatly depending on the subject, but oftentimes you know it when you see it. You can find great light anytime of the day or night if you look hard enough, and most of the time you have to seek it to find it. You can sometimes even create your own great light if it does not naturally exist. The most obvious great light is found near sunrise and sunset, and that’s a great starting point for those searching for it. With practice and experience, you’ll more easily spot great light, recognizing how to best utilize it for stronger pictures. The key is to always actively look for great light, but it takes a lot of clicks of the shutter to be proficient at finding it.

Tip #5 – Be The Man Who Came Back

There was an article in the September 1955 issue of Arizona Highways magazine by photographer Chuck Abbott entitled You Have To Go Back To Get The Good Ones. In the article he addresses the very question of this blog post: how does one become a better photographer? His answer: be the man who came back. Return again and again to the same subject. Try the picture at a different time of day, in a different season, under different light, from a different angle, etc. Keep coming back to it over and over, and don’t stop, even if you are satisfied with the results. Press yourself to make a more interesting picture of something that you’ve photographed before. Be a better storyteller than the last time. Make a stronger composition than your previous attempts. This is the best piece of advice that I can give you: if you want to become a better photographer in 2020, be the person who came back.

New: Fuji X Weekly Development Page

Fujifilm Blog

I created a new Fuji X Weekly page called Development. You can find it by clicking on the top-left “hamburger” menu and then selecting Development. This new page has absolutely nothing to do with developing pictures, but instead has posts relating to personal development as a photographer. This is where you’ll find things like how-to articles and photography advice. So far it’s not a huge list of articles, but I hope to expand it greatly in the coming months. It’s small now, but it will be much larger soon enough. I’m hoping that it will be a wonderful resource for some of you. I encourage you to check it out, and to revisit it regularly to see what’s new.

Times Have Changed

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Airport Lobby – McKinney, TX – I captured this picture about 20 years ago.

I was thinking about how things have changed significantly in photography over the last 20 years. I have been doing this picture-taking thing for 20 years, beginning when I enrolled in Photography 101 in college. I remember that it started because, in the summer of 1998, I took a trip to New England, and brought along my dad’s Sears 35mm SLR and a bunch of film. I didn’t really know how to use the camera, but how hard could it be? When I returned and had the film developed, the pictures were extraordinarily awful! There were only a few frames that were correctly exposed, and the ones that were exposed alright had other issues, such as improper focus or were poorly composed. My desire to learn photography came out of the frustration of not understanding how to capture a descent picture. That fall I enrolled in college and signed up for a photography class, and soon fell in love with the art of creating pictures.

While it’s easy to say that the biggest change in photography over the last 20 years is technology, I don’t know if that’s completely true. Gear has changed a whole lot. When I started, it was all about film and darkrooms. Now it’s about sensors and software. However, there’s some carryover between the two methods. Technology has made things easier for the most part. I think it’s possible nowadays to throw a camera into auto and get good results, and one-click software has made editing much simpler. The prerequisite knowledge of how stuff works and why is no longer required, although it can still be very useful. I guess what I’m trying to say is that the learning curve for digital isn’t necessarily less–it’s definitely different–but there are technologies that will allow you to appear to know what you’re doing even when you don’t. Because the camera and software will take care of many things for you, you don’t have to know what you’re doing to capture a decent picture. Today’s cellphone cameras are more capable than many DSLRs were 15 years ago, and are one-click wonders. Advancements in photography technology has opened up photographic possibilities that weren’t conceivable before. It’s incredible what the modern camera can do! Another aspect of all this gear change is that cameras have become throw-away. People often “upgrade” their gear every year or two, and many don’t keep a camera more than five years. A ten year old camera is ancient. It used to be, in the old film days, that people kept their gear much, much longer, and typically only replaced their camera if it broke.

Another big change is the number of photos being created. Over a trillion pictures are captured worldwide each year now. When I started out the number was around 85 billion, so that’s a pretty big increase–about 12 times, in fact! Not only are there a ton more pictures being captured, but the ability to share those pictures with an audience worldwide is much, much easier (that’s a gross understatement). Everyday, each of us are bombarded with pictures. It’s become overwhelming! It’s to the point that it is difficult to get noticed among all the noise. You have to be extraordinarily great, do something especially unusual, have great marketing skills, or have amazingly good luck to get noticed. Or cheat. A lot of people buy their way to success nowadays, using questionable or downright unethical methods. Despite the fact that it’s more difficult to get noticed or create an iconic image, the number of great pictures being captured now is significantly higher than it used to be. Since there’s a heck-of-a-lot of quality pictures available, it’s a great time to be a photography consumer.

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Clearing Rainstorm – South Weber, UT – Fujifilm X-T30 – I captured this yesterday.

While way more photographs are being captured now than ever before, the number of pictures being printed is way down. Most photographs are only seen digitally via a computer monitor or cellphone or tablet. The physical print is significantly less common than 20 years ago. While the number of digital pictures is high, the number of physical pictures is low. However, with print-on-demand services, it’s very easy to obtain a print of almost any subject, if you should ever need a photographic print of something.

I bring this up because, in my opinion, the biggest change in photography over the last twenty years is the photographic market. It’s much harder to make good money as a photographer now than it used to be. Everybody with a camera–and everyone has a camera–is a photographer. It’s incredibly easy to start a photography business nowadays. Buy a camera, which will take decent pictures in full-auto mode, take a few snaps of family and friends, create a (free) website to look professional, then post a portrait or wedding photography business ad on Facebook Marketplace. I have seen a lot of people do this. And they make money, but not a lot. The photographers who are actually talented, which is a minority group, can do well for themselves, but many earn much less than they should for their efforts. The stock photo business is pretty much dead, replaced by micro-stock, which sells images for cheap and gives photographers peanuts at best for their work. They get away with this because a huge number of “photographers” willingly participate, trying to earn something from their pictures. The photojournalist has been replaced by onlookers with cellphones. The travel photographer has been replaced by the “influencer” who probably cheated his or her way to success. A lot of photography jobs that were good jobs have been replaced by things that don’t pay much, if anything at all.

I’m not saying this because I’m bitter. I’m just pointing out how the photographic industry in many genres has changed a whole bunch, which has made it more difficult for the photographer to make a decent living. There are still plenty of people who are making good money at photography. There are new opportunities that didn’t exist before. If you really want to become a successful photographer, I believe that if you keep trying really hard and are determined to do so, you’ll likely see your dream fulfilled. It won’t be easy and won’t likely happen overnight, but it can certainly happen. If you are doing photography for the love of the art and have no interest in the financial side of picture making, you’re doing it at an extraordinarily great time.

It’s an interesting era in photography. Gear has changed, becoming more impressive with each year. People across the globe are capturing pictures at an unprecedented rate. If you like viewing photographs or creating photographs, there’s never been a better time. If you want to earn money from making pictures, competition is extremely fierce, and you might find it as tough as it’s ever been to be successful. There are opportunities, so it’s far from impossible, but making good money from photography is not an easy task. It never was easy, but it’s more true today. You have to discover your niche and market the heck out of it. Those who don’t need to earn money from photography, but can create simply because they love to, are the lucky ones. They have it good. In fact, they’ve never had it better.

Why Bokeh Is Overrated

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Kitchen Flowers – Pawhuska, OK – Fujifilm X-Pro2 & 60mm

Within photography circles, bokeh is an often discussed aspect of an image, and this is especially true over the last ten or fifteen years. If you aren’t sure exactly what bokeh is, don’t worry, you are not alone, as a lot of people misunderstand it. I will do my best to explain it to you and also explain why it’s not as important as many people think.

Bokeh is defined as the quality of the out-of-focus area of an image. It’s how well a lens renders blur, the aesthetics of it. It’s often described in terms like good, creamy, smooth, bad, harsh, distracting, swirly, soap bubble, and so forth. It’s very subjective, and you can use any adjective you want to help describe it. What might be characterized as good bokeh by you might be described differently by another person.

I don’t remember hearing the word bokeh spoken even once when I studied photography in college 20 years ago. It’s not that it didn’t exist, because obviously bokeh did exist, but it didn’t really matter. You either liked how a certain lens rendered blur or you didn’t, and few were trying to quantify it or rate it. Nowadays people spend a lot of time and energy searching for lenses that produce the best bokeh, analyzing reviews and charts that attempt to rate it.

You will hear terms like “bokeh monster” when describing a lens and “bokeh master” when describing a person. People will say that a certain lens produces a lot of bokeh, which doesn’t make any sense, because bokeh is defined by character and is not a measurement. It’s a misunderstanding of what bokeh is. You can’t have more bokeh or less. You can only have nice or ugly bokeh, or some other description of the quality of the aesthetics.

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Holiday Decor – South Weber, UT – Fujifilm X-T20 & 90mm

People confuse bokeh with depth-of-field, but they are two entirely different things. Depth-of-field is the amount of an image that is in focus, determined by the aperture, subject distance and non-subject distance, focal length of the lens, as well as the physical size of the sensor or film. A lot of people mean depth-of-field when they say bokeh. It’s a misunderstanding of terms! Depth-of-field is a mathematical calculation, while bokeh is subjective. Depth-of-field is objective and can only be described by measurement terms. A shallow depth-of-field creates a blur in a photograph, while bokeh is the description of the quality of that blur.

To achieve an out-of-focus area within an image, one needs to use a large aperture or focus really close to the end of the lens or both, which will create a shallow depth-of-field. A lot of people think that you need a large aperture, such as f/2, to achieve blur, but it depends on how close the subject is to the end of the lens. For example, in macro photography, you might have a shallow depth-of-field with an aperture of f/16 because the subject is so close to the lens. It is a math equation, and people have created calculators to help more easily understand what settings are needed to attain certain results. Generally speaking, you will have a smaller depth-of-field, which will render more blur, when using a larger aperture.

Rating bokeh is overrated. It’s something photographers on message boards talk about much too much. It doesn’t matter anywhere close to what some people would have you believe. The vast majority of people who view your pictures have no opinion whatsoever on the quality of the blur that they’re looking at. For anyone to even notice, there has to be something about it that stands out, such as swirly bokeh or really bad bokeh. Most modern lenses are precision engineered, so the flaws that make bokeh stand out don’t exist. Almost all newer lenses produce bokeh that’s at least mediocre, and most people, particularly non-photographers, cannot distinguish mediocre bokeh from great bokeh.

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Tricycle In The Woods – South Weber, UT – Fujifilm X-E1 & Helios 44-2

Bokeh doesn’t matter because it’s subjective. What looks mediocre to you might look fantastic to someone else. People have different opinions. As long as it’s not bad bokeh, which I would define as being distracting to the image, then I’m perfectly fine with the quality of the blur, however the lens renders it. It’s actually difficult to find a lens that produces bad bokeh. Perhaps some cheap zoom lenses are prone to it. Most lenses render blur decently enough that viewers don’t notice the quality of it and, perhaps more importantly, they don’t care.

Ansel Adams said, “There’s nothing worse than a sharp image of a fuzzy concept.” A fuzzy image of a fuzzy concept might be worse. Either way, the point is that the concept is what’s most important, and the other aspects, such as sharpness and bokeh, are not particularly critical. You can have a great image with poor bokeh and a poor image with great bokeh. The quality of the bokeh has little to do with the outcome of a photograph. It’s better to spend time and energy on image concepts than technical qualities.

Bokeh is the quality of the blur in an image. I’ve already said that, but it’s a good reminder of just how insignificant it really is. Think about it, we’re talking about the background blur. There are so many other more important things that we could be discussing! Bokeh is a popular topic, and a lot of people want to know more about it and are searching the internet for opinions. It’s good to know what it is, but it’s not something to get wrapped up in. You either like how a lens renders blur or you don’t, and either way it’s not a big deal.

The Certainty of Change

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Gate To Indifference – SLC, UT – Fujifilm X-E1

If there is one thing that is certain it’s that things change. Nothing stays the same forever. Changes can be big, and they sometimes happen overnight. Sometimes they’re quite small and are hardly noticeable, occurring over years and years. But you can rest assured that change will happen, whether big or small or fast or slow.

The photographs you see in this article of the abandoned homes are an example of slow change. It took years for these structures to transform from nice living spaces to derelict dumps. After a place is no longer maintained, the change seems to accelerate as vandals and nature take over. For these abandoned buildings that’s not where the change ends. There would soon be rapid developments that made the property essentually unrecognizable.

I captured these photographs in April of last year. I’d pass by the buildings often and wanted to stop and make some exposures. I used to do a lot of urban exploration type photography. I don’t venture into that genre much anymore, but I still get excited when I see an abandoned place, and I still have the desire to capture it. After a year of seeing these abandoned houses on a large property in Salt Lake City, Utah, I decided to stop and photograph them.

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Losing History – SLC, UT – Fujifilm X-E1

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Little House In The Valley – SLC, UT – Fujifilm X-E1

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Abandoned House – SLC, UT – Fujifilm X-E1

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Still, I Love You – SLC, UT – Fujifilm X-E1

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The Place Had An Air of Neglect – SLC, UT – Fujifilm X-E1

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Tree of Broken Glass – SLC, UT – Fujifilm X-E1

It wasn’t but two weeks after I captured the photographs above that the buildings were demolished. Big machines came in and knocked them down. The rubble was removed. Then more big machines came in and removed the trees and leveled the ground. Soon enough there was nothing left but a huge patch of flat dirt.

I watched as things changed rapidly. In a matter of weeks the property was unrecognizable. It looked absolutely nothing like it had before. As time passed concrete began to pour and after that walls went up. Something big was being constructed on the site where the abandoned homes once stood.

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Sitting Large – SLC, UT – Fujifilm X100F

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Diversity – SLC, UT – Fujifilm X100F

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Caterpillar – SLC, UT – Fujifilm X100F

From start to finish, the project took about 16 months to go from a neglected property with derelict buildings to a finished distribution center. Now huge structures sit on the land, complete with sidewalks and nice landscaping and such. The transformation is almost unbelievable!

The moral of this story is that you should get out and capture the things that interest you, because things will change, and your opportunity might disappear. Don’t wait. Don’t procrastinate. The time is now! Grab your camera and capture that thing you’ve been eyeing before it’s too late, because eventually it will be too late.

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Distribution – SLC, UT – Fujifilm X100F

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Industrial Mirror – SLC, UT – Fujifilm X100F

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Distributing Abstract – SLC, UT – Fujifilm X100F

Less Angry & More Caring

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Ain’t No Love On The Streets – SLC, UT – Fujifilm X-E1

I’m going to get on my soapbox for a minute, I hope that you don’t mind. There’s something that’s been bothered me for the last few days and I feel the need to say something about it.

Last week I published an article about distressing a Fujifilm X-E1 to make it look old and worn. I knew that there would be strong mixed reactions to it. I was actually surprised that, of all the comments and emails I received, about 60% were positive and 40% were negative. I thought the reaction would be more negative than positive, but it turned out to be the other way around. More people seem to like it than not.

What bothers me, though, is that every single negative reaction that I received, either as a comment or email, had a personal insult attached to it. Each and every time, the person who had something negative to say also said something mean, intentionally being hurtful. In one case, the person was clearly bigoted, and their words were laced with intolerance.

I was expecting negative words. I don’t have a problem receiving constructive criticism. In fact, in photography, constructive criticism is essential for improvement. I learned this decades ago in Photography 101, when we would have “peer review” in class. I’m very open to criticism, as long as the person means well and has the experience to back up what he or she is saying.

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Broken Souls – Newberry Springs, CA – Sigma DP2 Merrill

What I received was not constructive criticism, but destructive criticism. The words written to me were deliberately intended to tear me down. These people didn’t like what I did, so they decided to verbally destroy me. It wasn’t enough to simply say, “I don’t like it.” Or, “It’s ugly.” Or, “I find it to be dishonest.” No, what was said was more akin to, “I don’t like it, and you’re a pathetic excuse for a cotton headed ninny muggins and your breath stinks.” Or something along those lines, but with stronger words.

It seems like more and more that it’s not enough to simply disagree with someone. If you don’t like or understand what someone did or said, the first response seems to be to discredit the person by verbally thrashing them. It seems that, instead of trying to see things from that person’s perspective to understand it, what happens instead is people tend to become abusive with their words. It’s like they cannot handle an opinion or thought or action that is different than their own.

If you gave 10 photographers the same subject to capture, they’d each come up with a different picture. Each one has different ideas and experiences that effect the outcome of the image. Each person is unique, so their process is going to be unique. Their perspective on the subject is going to be different. Each person sees the world through their own lens.

Can you imagine if each person verbally assaulted the others for having a perspective that’s different? Can you imagine if they were calling each other nasty names for not capturing the image in the same way? It’s absurd, but that’s essentially what’s going on. Everyone has a different perspective on things based on their own experiences. It would be better, instead of shutting down someone for having a different perspective, to attempt to see things through the other person’s lens, to try to understand that person’s opinion, thought or action. Walk a mile in their shoes first before coming down all judgmental-like.

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Because Everyone Is Unique – Ogden, UT – Fujifilm X-E1

I’m having a difficult time understanding why someone’s first reaction to something that they don’t like or understand would be anger and wrath. This isn’t anything new, though. When I had my old photography blog, I wrote a camera review and someone didn’t like what I said, and they wrote, “If I see you on the street I’ll punch you in the face!” Now I don’t think the person was entirely serious, but what would make someone have that kind of reaction to something that, in the big scheme of things, doesn’t matter whatsoever? Why so quick to anger?

What I do with my camera is my prerogative, just as what you do with yours is your prerogative. And what I do with Fuji X Weekly is my prerogative, because it’s my blog. That’s why you don’t see those negative, hurtful comments. I deleted them, because I can. Don’t like it? Go make your own blog, and handle those kind of things in the manner that you wish. If you have some constructive criticism, by all means offer it. If you have destructive criticism, you are wasting your time, because I will not put up with it. Take your anger and mean spirit elsewhere.

We should all be more kind to each other. We are all humans. Nobody is perfect. We’re all broken and awkward in some way. We’re all on this road of life together. Let’s be kind. Let’s be helpful. Let’s build each other up instead of tearing down. There’s no need to be mean. There’s no need to be bigoted. Nobody is better than the next guy. Everybody makes mistakes. Everyone has their own reasons for things. This world needs more love and less hate. More understanding and less prejudice. More civility and less rudeness. More forgiveness and less resentment. More helping hands and fewer middle fingers. We can accomplish this together, if each one does his or her part.

Okay, I’m off the soapbox. Now back to your regularly scheduled program….

Digital Is Disposable

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Fujifilm X-E1 & Meike 35mm

Digital cameras are disposable.

Camera manufacturers introduce the replacement models, the next generation, about every two years on average. This isn’t always true–the X100T came out just one year after the X100S while the X-Pro2 came out four years after the X-Pro1–but, generally speaking, it’s true. Your new camera will be “last year’s model” soon enough.

It’s no surprise that photographers, on average, upgrade roughly every two years, as well. When that new model comes out, it’s very tempting to buy it. The new model is better in this way and that way–faster, more resolution, etc.–you know the song and dance. You might still keep your current camera as a “backup body” once the new one arrives in the mail, and it will mostly collect dust.

There are plenty of photographers who don’t buy new. They’ll wait awhile until they can get a good deal on a gently used camera. But it’s still the same story of “upgrading” every other year or so. They’re just a model behind what’s current.

There are some who keep their cameras for many years. There are plenty of photographers who happily use their five-year-old camera. A much smaller number happily use their ten-year-old camera. Almost nobody happily uses their fifteen-year-old camera, because the cheapest interchangeable-lens cameras today are more advanced and capable of better image quality than the best “pro” cameras of 2003. Digital technology changes quickly, and advancements have come at breakneck speed.

We’ve reached a point of diminishing returns. Digital technology is still advancing quickly and the cameras released in 2017 are better in every way to their counterparts released in 2012. But how much better do they need to be? If a camera already has more resolution than what most need, what does even more resolution do? If a camera is already quick enough for most photographers, how does a faster camera help? If a camera already has amazing high-ISO performance, do you really need a stop more? Yes, there are people who need more, but that’s a small percentage. Most photographers already had everything that they needed in cameras from years past, and all the advancements since then have just been overkill. Cameras are becoming better all the time, but they were already more than good enough before.

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Barn By The Tetons – Grand Teton NP, WY – Fujifilm X-E1

I’m not suggesting that camera manufacturers should stop pushing forward. What I am suggesting is that this habit of upgrading to the latest camera model every couple of years is unnecessary. If you want to buy a new camera, go ahead and do it, I’m not trying to stop you. But I do want to make aware to the photographic community that many very good and highly capable cameras are being disposed simply because they’re several years old. I’m telling myself this just as much as I’m telling others, because I’ve been caught up in this routine just as much as the next guy.

My first “real” camera, a Canon AE-1, was over 20-years-old when I bought it. I used it for several years, and even at 25 it was still going strong. I sold it, and that’s one of my photographic regrets, because, even though it is around 40-years-old now, I’m sure someone out there is still capturing wonderful pictures with it. I have several film cameras on my shelf that I occasionally dust off, a couple of which are over 50-years-old, that still function properly and are still capable of capturing excellent pictures.

The idea of someone using a 50-year-old digital camera for anything remotely serious is laughable, and not just because a 50-year-old digital camera doesn’t exist, but because of the poor image quality and usability of the early models. Someday, though, the cameras manufactured today will be 50-years-old, and I can see some of them, if they’re still working, being used by photographers who want that “retro digital” feel. I don’t think too many cameras made before 2010 will ever be used at age 50 or even when they’re 20-year-old. A few of the higher-end models, perhaps, but by-and-large the technology just wasn’t there yet. However, the ones being made today, and even five to eight years ago, have advanced enough that they could still be used to capture quality photographs well into the future.

The Fujifilm X-E1 is not as good as the X-E3, but it is more than good enough for creating wonderful photographs. It is five-years-old, almost six, but it is still an excellent camera. You can find them for under $300 pretty easily because people have moved on. The X-E2 replaced it, and then the X-E2S came out a couple years later, and now the X-E3 is approaching the one year mark and there’s already talk about an X-E4. In the realm of digital cameras it might as well be 50-years-old because it is three and soon-to-be four models old. It’s archaic. It’s a has-been. It’s disposable.

I recently picked up an old X-E1 because they’re so cheap. I liked the one that I used to own, and I wish that I had kept it. I sold it to help fund the purchase of my X100F, which is another camera that I love. The X-E1, or “Sexy One” as it was nicknamed back in 2012, is still an excellent little camera, and for the price that it currently goes for, why wouldn’t you want one? It’s great for travel because of its size and weight, and if it gets stolen or damaged it’s not a huge deal because it didn’t cost much. It’s not as good as the cameras made in 2018, but it’s more than good enough to capture great pictures for years to come.

Digital cameras are disposable, or, perhaps they used to be. We’re at the point now, and have been for several years, where we can hold onto our cameras longer because they’re more than capable photographic tools. The latest and greatest cameras are wonderful, but, really, the advancements are mostly overkill stacked on top of overkill. Maybe it’s time to be content with what we have, myself included. Maybe it’s time to rediscover these wonderful “vintage” digital cameras, such as the original X100, the X-Pro1 and the X-E1. There was a time not very long ago when people raved over these models and stores had a hard time keeping them in stock. Now they go for a few hundred bucks on eBay.