Thursday, 10 March 2016

Virtual vs Real Presence

Skeena River, British Columbia 1996
When I lived in Northern British Columbia, I was amazed at the mountain-scapes all around me. They were majestic and beautiful. The pictures I had seen were also majestic and beautiful, but somehow they didn't really capture something. In many ways the photos captured the mountain-scapes well, but they could never represent the awesomeness of their presence.

There is something vastly different about actually being there in the presence of those ominous, overwhelmingly massive monoliths of natural raw power. It is more than any photo could ever hope to capture.

My Great Grandmother, Grandmother
and Great Aunt in 1925
Of course, photos can take us places we have never been, or to times we never lived in. I have never been to China, but a quick google search and I can know what the forbidden city looks like. I have never met my great grandparents, but a rummage through some old boxes reveals their likeness. Yet somehow it is just not the same as having met them.

We forget this in today's media driven world. We are more interested in seeing things on the small screen than participating in the real life spectacle that is around us. Do we think it is better? Or somehow more exciting? And now that we all have quick and easy access to a camera on our cell phone that is always with us, it is too easy to look at that little screen rather than look around us and take it all in.

Virtual reality is becoming our reality. Take the Microsoft Hololens for example; an amazing piece of tech that allows us to see things in the room that aren't really there. And the things that are there seem to fade as they become backgrounds on which to build our virtual world.

Studies have proven we don't remember as well when we are taking pictures as we do when we are actually present in the moment. If you are constantly taking photos, it begs the question, did you really see it, or did you just watch it on a little TV?

And what are you going to do with all those pictures you take anyway? You will probably store them on a hard drive never to look at them and only to loose them when you buy your next computer, or the computer crashes. Even if you store them in the cloud in Facebook, or some other service, you rarely look back at them. Unlike the days of the photo album, when the number of images we took was limited and somehow seemed more meaningful and tangible; when we took them off the shelf once in a while to reminisce. Now we take thousands of photos and store them virtually only making them all of lesser value.

There is a place for photography, and even a need to take photos. But taking photos should not become the purpose of our presence at any place or event (unless you are being paid to do so). So the next time you are at a wedding, or your family is gathered for Christmas, or a birthday party; put the camera down. Talk to some people, look around you and appreciate where you are. Sure, take a few photos to remember the occasion - or leave that to the professional hired for the occasion - you don't want to be known as that person who always has their camera up standing in front blocking everyone else's view when you aren't even looking at reality anyway. Instead be known as the person who was enjoying themselves and participate in the experience.

Your life will be all the richer for it. Maybe you will even have a life.

But then that's just my view - from Gary's Lens.

Tuesday, 1 March 2016

Where to go to Store and Show your Photos.

Just about every Pro Photographer has their own gallery website - a place to showcase (and sell) their images. But you don't have to be a pro to want to show you photos, protect them, and control who can view them.

There are a lot of options out there: Flickr, Pixiset, ZenFolio and Smugmug just to name a few, but the one that I have chosen to use is SmugMug and there are some important reasons why.

Paid Service

Yep, you heard that right - I like it because it's a paid service. That means this independent company is not reliant on advertising to keep it going. Individuals are paying for the great service that is provided. Starting at only about $40 (US) per year, this is a great deal for those who want to share and protect their images.

And because you're paying them, the site is more likely to stick around - unlike other services that have come and gone at the whim of the corporation. That means you won't have to worry so much (though it's still possible) about getting all your images off the site and sending them somewhere else if they close.

Unlimited Storage

With SmugMug, there is no limit on the amount of photos you can upload to the site - they will take them all - so upload away with all your vacation shots knowing that you won't have to go back and remove some just so you have space again.

Great Presentation

The SmugMug system is very flexible and allows you a great deal of latitude to create pages just the way you want them. You can display your photos in many ways, arrange the pages the way you want to, select various themes, connect (link) to other sites and places you use.

This is the main reason why I decided against my second choice (Zenfolio). Although Zenfolio is easy to use and has many of the same features, it was a little lacking in flexibility.

My Clients can find their photos easily, they stay there FOREVER, and they can share them with their friends and family directly from the site.


And that brings me to access control. You can password protect galleries and folders so that only those with passwords, or only those you allow access to, can see the images. That's great if you are a pro photographer, but it is also fantastic if you just want to be able to share your kids photos with their grand-parents. Posting them to sites like Facebook is handy and quick, but certainly not as safe.

On Facebook, if someone you allow to see the photo shares that photo, the photo goes to a wider audience. With SmugMug, you have complete control over who sees it.


This is a great way to keep a backup copy of ALL your photos. Once you have them uploaded and organized, they are available for you to view and download again any time on any number of devices. Their service itself is backed up and protected so that your images are safer in the cloud than on your own hard drive. 


Yeah, I could probably list some other reasons too (printing directly, selling, etc), but you get the idea: I'm sold. I've shopped around and I still prefer SmugMug. If you agree, and want your own site, then let SmugMug know I sent you, and receive a 20% discount for signing up!

If you prefer other sites, be sure to comment below and let us all know what you would choose and why.