Photographers Not Working as Photographers

I don’t like fall. To me, it means shorter days and colder temps, both of which I hate. But it’s diminishing daylight that really gets to me. As sunset creeps toward 5 PM, it’s like the whole world is coming to an end.

The season has one redeeming feature: changing leaves. In the mid-Atlantic, the green slowly fades into yellows, oranges and reds over the course of more than a month. The trees have just begun to change colors in downtown Silver Spring:

Changing seasons

I took this photo on my lunch hour, with my iPhone 5. But I thought the picture was too busy and didn’t like the trash can on the left. The branch extending across the top of the photograph was what interested me most. I thought it would make a good Instagram shot.

I cropped it in Instagram, then used the enhance button and applied the Walden filter to give it a desaturated look – like a faded photo found in an attic. I liked the creamy blankness of the sky. Lastly, I turned down the shadows to bring in a little more color in the leaves and to increase the contrast between the branch and the leaves. Here’s the final result:

Looking a little like fall in downtown Silver Spring #igdc #dtss

All this took about five minutes, back in my cubicle at work. I added it to a few Flickr groups and a couple days later I saw my photo on Capital Weather Gang, used to illustrate the arrival of fall in DC. And it was the second photo of mine that they used this week.

I work for a government agency but don’t shoot for them – they don’t have staff photographers, a photo library, a photo budget or photo editors despite the fact that we need photos all the time for web pages, brochures and social media. Instead, as a contractor, I write, edit, go to meetings and toil away in bureaucratic obscurity for the agency.

I’m far from alone in this situation. If you check out local blogs or art gallery shows, you will find the work of talented photographers, nearly all of whom have jobs with the federal government or corporate organizations. They’re photographers not employed as photographers. Instead, they’re system admins or technical editors or even senior management.

We live in a visual age but organizations large and small devote few resources to photography. Think what a company could do if it engaged, organized and compensated their own unofficial staff photographers. After all, who could tell the story of your business better than the people who work there?

Like the legions of photographers in other jobs, I’m going to continue to take photos, because I enjoy it. Photography gets me through the seasons, like the dying fall, and it might just deliver me to a future in which photography is recognized for its storytelling potential.

Friday Photo: Finally, Spring

Cherry blossoms blooming on the Tidal Basin.
Cherry blossoms blooming on the Tidal Basin.

This was the winter without end, days and weeks worth of single-digit temperatures that made me want to curl up with a bottle of bourbon and stay inside forever. I’ve never had to wear so many layers. It was a real winter, the kind I thought that DC never got with its mild Mid-Atlantic climate.

And it literally just ended  – we had snow a couple weekends ago, as if we lived in Westeros and spring and summer snows were a common occurrence. I am not convinced winter is over.

The cherry blossoms arrived late but, finally, we’ve been treated to a stretch of glorious mild days. I rode my bike down to the Tidal Basin to get the above picture. It’s an iPhone shot and edited in the Flickr app, using the Denim filter.

Someone must like it – the photo has received 75,000 views in two days. 75,000 views from “unknown source” according to Flickr’s stats. I think the pic might have been in Explore.

My advice for visiting the cherry blossoms is simple: go early. Do not attempt to drive. Hop on a bike or the Metro and get there before 8 AM. The light is better and you won’t have to deal with the crowds. Enjoy spring before the snows return!

Friday Photo: Flickr Embed Edition

The ability to easily embed photos on a web site is one of those things you just kinda expect these days. You expect to be provided a bit of code to copy and paste into a site. Yet, until recently, Flickr didn’t provide an easy embed tool.

Not that using Flickr photos on a WordPress site was difficult before – you selected a size, copied the code, added a caption, linked to the photo and voila! It was a multi-step process, but not a difficult one.

Flickr has made this easier with Flickr Web Embeds. It’s slightly easier than the old method but I don’t entirely like it – since it’s an embed, you can’t put a caption under it. And when I created this post yesterday, the photo had a white Flickr label on it, which has since disappeared.

Hopefully, this is just the start and Flickr will offer the ability to tweak and customize embeds.

And above that’s 10th St NW, near the new City Center development. Formerly home to the Washington Convention Center and then a parking lot, it’s the first time this street has been open in decades. I liked the bike lane. It’s an iPhone photo, edited in the Flickr mobile app.

WABA Ambassador Pete Beers Gently Educates Drivers

WABA ambassadors in action! Educating drivers in 15th St bike lane.
WABA Ambassador Pete Beers politely informs a driver that they’re driving in the bike lane.

You never know what you’ll see walking around on the streets of DC.

On October 11, I was on my way to get coffee when I happened to catch this little drama. It was a rainy and miserable morning but there were still plenty of cyclists in the 15th Street Cycletrack. More than just a bike lane, this is a strip of road reserved for cyclists, with bollards and parked cars protecting them from the madness of DC traffic. Bikers can go in both directions and the Cycletrack is packed every morning with commuters – an inspiring sight.

Except at 15th and M, where the bollards have gone missing. I ride through here all the time and was about to get a picture of the danger when this Audi pulled into the Cycletrack. Then the light changed and cyclists started coming the other way.

And it was Pete Beers! He’s a Washington Area Bicyclist Association (WABA) Ambassador, charged with educating the public on the benefits of biking. As part of his outreach duties, he was riding around DC hauling the WABA “Every Lane is a Bike Lane” trailer

Pete nearly ended up on the hood of the luxury sedan. Despite this, he was polite, informing the driver that they were driving in a bike lane. It was a very civilized exchange that ended positively.

In contrast, when a cabbie made a u-turn in the Cycletrack last week, I peppered him with obscenities. “You’re a fucking idiot!” where my words, to be precise.

Maybe I should try Pete’s more Buddhist approach. Read Pete’s side of things, and his gentle approach to driver education on his blog, I Love My Commute. He also has a great Flickr feed where he obsessively documents DC-area trails, as well as his adventures in carrying large objects on bikes.

I tweeted this photo at the DC Department of Transportation. They say they will fix the problem. I hope so – it’s literally an accident waiting to happen.


Friday Photo: Elizabeth Taylor Edition

Enjoying #shutdown with an early beer at Dacha Beer Garden
Dacha Beer Garden. Taken with an iPhone 5 and edited in Flickr.

Outdoor drinking in Shaw used to mean sitting on a curb with a 40. Now it’s Dacha Beer Garden, a lovely open-air spot on the corner of 7th and Q NW. Dacha features some great Oktoberfest beers, as well as the opportunity to drink out of a glass boot. Plus, they even offer free little beers to government workers impacted by the shutdown (like me). Dacha is a great place to relax with a beer and a book.

But what really makes this place unique is the iconic mural of Elizabeth Taylor. It’s eye-catching.


I’ve had two photos recently in Flickr Explore, which selects the most interesting photos from around this photosharing site. Both are mobile pics, taken with my iPhone 5, and edited with the Flickr app.

The first appeared in Explore on April 8 and is a shot of the cherry blossoms by the Tidal Basin in Washington, DC. I went after work and the soft late-afternoon light was gorgeous. I used the Mammoth filter in the Flickr app to give it a distinct look.

cherry blossoms at sunsetMy second Explored photo came a week later. Coming up the escalator at the Ft. Totten Metro, I saw this:

Bradley Fighting Vehicle at Ft. Totten MetroIt was surreal to see a train full of Bradleys next to the Metro tracks. I framed this photo with the Metro station sign because I thought it was so bizarre. In addition to Explore, this photo appeared in the local blogs DCist, Greater Greater Washington and PoPville. Plus, another photo I took of the train was published in the Express, the free paper by the Washington Post. That was nice – I read that paper every day on the Metro.

DC is filled with the beautiful and the bizarre, if you will keep your eyes open.

Friday Photo: Cycletrack Edition

L St Bike Lane

This is the new L St bike lane – also called a cycletrack, according to WABA. I took the photo with an iPhone 4, right around sunset, before editing it in the great new Flickr mobile app. I’ve come to love the Narwhal filter – it creates such an interesting, distressed kind of look, as if this print was just discovered in some antique chest of drawers.

Friday Photo: Under Construction Edition

14th st construction14th St is rapidly becoming lined with condos and apartments. Where once stood a KFC and other low-rent retail establishments, another new building rises.

Shot with an iPhone 4 and edited in the Flickr mobile app. The photo also appeared in PoP in a post on, appropriately enough, hating DC.

Friday Photo: Santas Edition

Santas on the MallThis is from Santarchy last weekend on the National Mall. Could it be my last Instagram picture ever? The controversy over their terms of service made me rethink my attachment to this photosharing service. I like the Instagram community but they’re owned by semi-evil Facebook. And they shrink photos down to 612×612 pixels.

Around the same time, Flickr debuted its great new mobile app. It has filters, doesn’t shrink my pics down and there’s a great Flickr community that I’ve been part of for years. 2013 will see more Flickr pics and fewer Instagram snaps for this mobile shooter.