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Are We Born Into What We’re Good At?

April 17, 2010 4 comments

I was reading this post on Pixel Photography (@PixPh), and I think it’s something that everyone should read. I feel that it applies to much more than just photography. It applies to almost everything to a point, from arts to academics, or to a lesser degree, athletics. But for the sake of ease discussion, let’s talk about photography.

When I walk around with my D90 on photowalks, or shooting at events, I often get into conversations with people about photography. The conversation usually, 9 times out of 10, goes into how I must get some great shots because I have a nice camera and that they’ll never be able to get shots as good with a point-and-shoot. False. I have actually seen a lot of amazing shots taken with point-and-shoot cameras, some of which are better than anything I could shoot right now. Even with my fancy schmancy equipment.

The one thing that I’ve read on almost every photography site that I frequent that I can’t stress enough is that it’s not the camera, it’s what’s behind the camera. I even need to remind myself about this at times, especially when I’m around other photographers (regardless of skill level) who have nicer equipment than me. The nicer gear, in my opinion, merely makes it easier to get those better shots. It’s really the “eye” and ability of the photographer to frame the shot and set it up well (and partially to be in the right spot at the right time.) Now is this an ability that you’re born with? I don’t think so. It’s something that anyone and everyone can develop with practice and time (if you’ve read Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers, you know what I mean.) People may have advantages with their equipment and background (eg: a painter will have a head start.), but with practice, combined with constructive feedback from others, anyone can develop that “eye” for photography. You can develop the ability to see what will make a good shot, and learn how to frame it for maximum effect.

Take me for example, I’m not naturally talented in visual arts. Just take a look at my early photos and my drawings. So really there can only be one way that I’m able to get the shots that I do, practice and experience. I’ve only been shooting for about three and a half months now, and I feel like I’m getting some good shots here and there. However, in those three and half months, I’ve taken a basic photography class, been out shooting an average of 2-3 days a week (I took pictures nearly every day during the Olympics and have been out shooting at least a little bit nearly every day this month), and taken thousands of photos (even if you count the series of shots taken of the same scene to try to get one that turns out well as a single photo). I have tried to never leave my camera at home so I never miss an opportunity to shoot. I’ve looked for events to shoot at and taken advantage of the weather to go for spontaneous photowalks. When I walk around I consciously look at things and think about how to make a good shot out of them. As a result, I’ve had a lot of practice and a lot of opportunity to get more experience. I try new things, new angles, new ways of looking at things to try to get better shots. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t, and I learn from it. Then I take what I’ve learned and practice it in order to add it to my repertoire and skill set. I actually learn more from the bad shot that I take than from the good ones. I’ll look at them and figure out what I could have done to get a better shot.

So what do you think? Do you think that what I’ve said is true and that people can develop the ability to become a good photographer (artist, musician, etc.)? Or do you think that people are born with innate talent and we’re pretty much destined to be good a something from the moment we’re born? And then there’s what this whole topic really boils down to: nature or nurture? Leave a comment on your thoughts and vote in the poll!

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Social Media: Interesting Thoughts from Malcolm Gladwell

April 5, 2010 Leave a comment

Image from The Globe & Mail article online. Photo credit unknown.

I came across this interview that The Globe & Mail did with Malcolm Gladwell, who will be speaking at the F5 Expo here in Vancouver on Wednesday. Bestselling author of BlinkThe Tipping Point, and recently published What The Dog Saw, Malcolm Gladwell briefly provided his insights to the world of social media and its use in today’s world. He brings up an interesting point of how the ease of how easy it is to organize people or to try to rally people to a cause (at least online), has essentially eliminated the need to form a strong foundation of whatever you’re trying to publicize and to create a strong message that will draw people to your cause. It’s something we all see daily on Facebook, with people creating groups and events and proceeding to send out mass invites to every one of their Facebook friends. It’s all just too easy to create something quickly online and try to start the movement with a few keystrokes and clicks of the mouse. When I see those things, I don’t even bother to RSVP or join the group unless it’s something that I truly support, and usually that support comes from me actually having a direct connection to the cause itself. It’s something I’ve been guilty of too, with my fundraising blitz for the Ride to Conquer Cancer on Facebook. What have I noticed out of it? Nearly all of those people who I invited who I have only met once or twice and haven’t really talked to say they’re not attending, or simply don’t even RSVP to it. It’s those people who I know personally and who I have built that personal connection with who have donated to me and are supporting me. So in the end, to really try to get this going, I’ve had to actually go out and talk to people, building that personalized message that’s more than just a call for donations, and showing through my actions that this isn’t something that I’ve just slapped together and am doing for the hell of it. Ultimately, Facebook as simply served as an easier way for me to provide people with information on how to support me, rather than trying to get them to support me.

He also talks about how having hundreds of thousands of followers on Facebook and Twitter is useful for somethings, such as organizing flash mobs or for publicity. However, for anything truly important (starting a political movement to overthrow a political regime is his example), it’s not quite as useful. Why not? It all goes back to his first point of how little effort and thought most people put into their online rallies. There just simply isn’t that connection. As he simply puts it, “If you follow me on Twitter, I do not own your heart. I may own your pocketbook momentarily. And I may own your attention for five seconds, but that’s it.”

The Globe & Mail also asked Malcolm Gladwell if he felt that social media accelerates the spread of ideas, as he discussed in his book The Tipping Point. Gladwell makes a very true statement that social media isn’t really a vehicle for ideas, as it is a vehicle for observations. Most of us use Twitter and Facebook to share cool things or interesting articles we’ve seen, but rarely do we use it to share our ideas with each other. So is social media useful really? Or is it is simple an online billboard of interesting things? Gladwell puts it this way, “If social media or online communication is the means to the creation of a personal connection, it’s a fabulous thing. But if it’s an excuse to not make a connection, it’s ultimately a trivial thing.”

I’m excited to hear more as to what he has to say at the F5 Expo on Wednesday at the Vancouver Convention Centre. Be sure to check back here later this week to check out my coverage of the expo and what he and other speakers had to say there.

Categories: Response

Who’s On Your Side?

March 30, 2010 Leave a comment

Great post by Scott Bourne (@ScottBourne). Definitely worth a read. Not just applicable to photography, but really any hobby, especially ones you get serious with. Not necessarily going professional, but just something that becomes important, or even integral, to your life. There will always be those who will have something negative to say about whatever you do. Whether its telling you that you’re never going to make it, or telling you that you’re no good at what you do and that you suck, or even that you’ll never amount to anything of worth (in that area), they’ll always be there. But really, what they have to say should never dampen your spirits because as soon as it starts getting you down, that’s when you subconsciously believe it. From that point, it’s an uphill battle to get back to that point where things were fun for you and made your days that much brighter. Instead of brooding on these people and what they have to say, it’s all about finding those people and that community that is there to give you support, whether it be through constructive criticism, words of inspiration, or just joining you in the things that you do. Just remember, as Scott puts it so simply, “For every person who doesn’t support you – I bet you can find one who does.”

Categories: Response

Hope, Sometimes It’s All We Got

March 17, 2010 Leave a comment

In this month’s issue of Business Week, there’s an article titled “Lessons of a $618,616 Death” written my Amanda Bennett (The article can be read online here) about the costs of fighting her husband’s kidney cancer that had metastasized to his lungs. As I read the article, I initially thought that it would be an article solely discussing the health insurance system in the US and the healthcare system itself. I thought it would be focusing on the numbers revolving around treating cancer, from the costs of treatment, the thick medical records patients accumulate, and the statistics revolving around survival rates and drug effectiveness. A quantitative analysis, an objective look at treating a cancer patient. However, as I read on, these numbers began to take a backseat to the rest of the story. The story of a family and their battle with cancer. A story that I, and countless others, are all too familiar with. A story of hope and fighting against all odds. Her story is one of strength and emotion.

It is a solemn reminder of what we face in today’s healthcare system, regardless of whether it is private or public. We’re all caught up on the numbers. The cost of things, the chances of survival, anything with some value attached to it. We all forget the strength of hope and one person’s will to live. We forget about all those things that you can’t attach a price tag to. Some comments on the Business Week website claim that the “socially responsible” thing to do (in this case and others) would be to decline treatment  for “the greater social good and society’s cost savings.” Some accused the article of not discussing how to “[fix] medical cost or how to fix health care.” Others talk about how we shouldn’t hope as much as we do, as it becomes a failure to accept reality. These “pragmatic” solutions are easy to offer and propose as an outsider, but once you’re in that seat everything changes. I feel like I can say this on the behalf of most people, but when you or your loved ones are sick or injured, you’ll do anything to help them get better. I know it’s cliche, but it really isn’t over until it’s over. Even if there is only a 1% chance of survival, or only a slim chance that a treatment will help, we’ll take it if it’s the only thing left to try. And regardless of what it is, we’ll always hope. We’re lost and powerless without hope. Without hope, where would we be? Have we forgotten those heroes who have shown us what true willpower is? Have we forgotten about Terry Fox and his marathon of hope? Have we forgotten of all those who have beaten the odds and recovered from what doctors and their statistics said was impossible? Have we become cold-hearted and fallen victim to pragmatism? Have we tried to put a price on a human life? Have we tried to put a price on love? The moment we forget about hope and put that price tag onto life, we lose our greatest strength, we lose our humanity. We merely become all parts of a machine.

However, amongst the hundreds of comments, there were also many from readers who can relate to Amanda, written by either those currently battling cancer or other diseases/disorders and their supporters. They’ve shared their stories and provided their support to everyone else. It doesn’t matter whether’s it cancer, MS, diabetes. They’ve all come together sharing a common cause. The most powerful comment was simple. All it said was “Thank you Amanda.” I couldn’t have put it better myself. Thank you for sharing your story with us.

Categories: Response

Critics Never Rest

March 3, 2010 Leave a comment

I recently came across an article in the Star Telegram (in the top stories category) titled “In these Olympics, Canadians only paid attention to Canada” where the atmosphere and feeling of the Vancouver 2010 Winter Games was compared to the 1936 Berlin Olympics. We Canadians were accused of belittling the death of Georgian luger Nodar Kumaritashvili and essentially ignoring the accomplishments of non-Canadian athletes. We were accused of not truly welcoming the world, as we were “too busy being (their word) ‘patriotic.’ ” We were accused of partying and celebrating too much (which is apparently fueled by the Canadian reputation of  drinking too much beer and loose marijuana laws). The electric atmosphere and exciting we saw downtown was labeled as “[having] little to do with the Olympics.” Perhaps this one question sums up Gil Leberton’s whole argument: “Had the classic Canadian inferiority complex finally decided to bite back?”

Gil, let’s start with your big point: that we Canadians ignored the triumphs, accomplishments, and tragedies of other athletes. You accuse us of only giving a “token nod” to Nodar Kumaritashvili. Maybe you didn’t see the standing ovation that was given by the people outside of BC Place when the Georgian athletes entered the stadium at the opening ceremonies. Maybe you didn’t actually watch the news and listen to what people on the streets had to say for days after the incident. Maybe you didn’t realize that even when the Georgian athletes competed, we welcomed and cheered them on for their immense strength in continuing on after such a shocking tragedy. You go on and list a several accomplishment and successes of other athletes, but these are mainly American athletes may I note. Have you forgotten the triumph of Petra Majdic, the Slovenian cross-country skier, who won a bronze medal with 5 broken ribs and a punctured lung? Have you forgotten the triumphs and dominance of the South Korean speed skaters? Have you forgotten the incident regarding miscommunication between Dutch speed skater Sven Kramer and his coach being disqualified when he was on track to set a new world record and win another Gold medal? It seems hypocritical to accuse us Canadians of only recognizing our own, when you go and listen a slew of American performances, with a couple of European athletes thrown in there to mix it up. Kim Yu-Na’s performance? It was not overshadowed by Joannie Rochette. Did you hear the cheering for Kim Yu-Na at Pacific Coliseum? Or at Heineken House (which was where I watched her final skate) which filled with Canadians? We all cheered and celebrated as loudly as we did for Joannie. We all recognize the grace and beauty that Kim Yu-Na had in both her skates, and how dominant her performances were.

Perhaps one of the most ironic things I find with this article is the title.  You accuse Canadians of only paying attention to Canada, but in talking with many of my American friends, they were completely unaware of any of the triumphs of athletes other than the Americans. And even then, there was a large number who were not even following the Olympics. I know this isn’t only an incident confined to the Olympics. I could go on and on with incidents that I observed during my time in the USA. For example for the first Canada vs USA hockey game, merely in looking at twitter and Facebook, of the people I was following, only a handful of Americans were following the game. The rest? Some were providing real-time tweet coverage of the congressional hearing for Toyota. Some were completely unaware of the game, or of any of the other Olympics events during those 17 days for that matter (they were aware of the games, but were not following any coverage other than what I had posted or told them about).

With regards to that key question “Had the classic Canadian inferiority complex finally decided to bite back?” There is no inferiority complex here. Just humility and quiet pride. A quiet pride that had a reason to stand up and yell in these past two week. Isn’t it ironic that you accuse us of being too patriotic when in the US, this sense of patriotism is prevalent all the time?

I could go on, but I think people get my point. Gil, you sir need to get your facts straight and get out there to see what’s actually going on. You can’t just leave those blinders on and see only what you want to see.

As a closing, I’d just like to say on behalf of Canadians everywhere, that I take great offense that you compare our nation, which is perhaps one of the most open and welcoming in the world, to the Fascist regime of Nazi Germany.

Edit:
Responses to the article from:
The Province
Deadspin

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