Journal

LIFE ON THEME

I've read a fair bit of cynicism, recently, espousing the contrived nature of "new-ness" at the New Year. The majority of these critics take issue with some perceived falsehood present in the practice of making resolutions. The most well intentioned of them employ a line of logic that typically goes like this:

Everyday you have an opportunity start fresh. Don't let the arbitrariness of a calendar define your story.

But, I take issue with this line of thinking.

Life is Story

 
Story is metaphor for life and life is lived in time.
— Robert McKee
 
Don't let cynicism keep you from the change you desire. (photo by Trey Hill)

Don't let cynicism keep you from the change you desire. (photo by Trey Hill)

Much has been written by more accomplished men & women than me about the subject of life as story. I believe this line of thinking to have great value & will proceed from this point assuming you agree. We are living lives that (we hope) will be worthy tales, inspiring adventure and noblity and come to a happy end. The best of them will echo in eternity, to quote Gladiator's Maximus. 

Stories have a few key ingredients — character, conflict & theme among them. So if stories have these things & we are living stories, then life should have these things as well. 

You are the character in your story, therefore you must want something & will have to overcome much in pursuit of that desire. It's this desire that compels us at each new year to resolve in our hearts to be, do or change something. 

Where we are is not where we wish to remain.

A Caution Against Cliché

 
A story only matters, I suspect, to the extent that the people in the story change.
— Neil Gaiman, The Ocean at the End of the Lane
 

I think the cynicism against New Years resolutions comes from how quickly we abandon them. If Marty McFly gives up on getting home & fades into oblivion in 1955, we have no story. If Frodo says "to hell with it" and chucks the ring, we have no story. If I resolve to quit smoking and can't make it to the end of January without opening a new pack, I cut the legs out from under the narrative I want to live. 

When you resolve to lose weight or write more or quit smoking, you are making two mistakes. First, you're telling (yourself) a boring story. Second, you're telling that boring story in a completely unoriginal way. 

Find your unique vantage point on life; p erspective is everything. (photo by Trey Hill)

Find your unique vantage point on life; perspective is everything. (photo by Trey Hill)

Don't be cliché. Abandoning resolutions is cliché & stories rooted in cliché are well deserving of every eyeroll they receive.  

Honestly, you are wonderfully unique. You see and experience the world unlike anyone else. Why would you waste time & energy on some homogenized version of a story that you can't stay interested in living for more than a couple of weeks?

The answer, I believe, lies at the root of the desired thing. Going back to my smoking analogy, why do I want to quit? Health reasons? Social? Financial? Spiritual? The why behind a particular resolution is the key.

Start With Theme

 
When we want mood experiences, we go to concerts or museums. When we want meaningful emotional experience, we go to the storyteller.
— Robert McKee
 
If stories are trains, theme is the track. (photo by Trey Hill)

If stories are trains, theme is the track. (photo by Trey Hill)

As I said, a story is simply a character who wants something & overcomes conflict to get it. The sum of the waves of conflict one must endure during the course of a story, in the end, means something; this something we call theme. It's the emotionally satisfying nougat core in the candy bar of a well told story. 

To say it another way, theme is the guiding idea that strings together all the choices — success & failure — a character makes and gives them singular, overarching purpose. 

For three years now, when the story title changes — that epic story of endurance called Two Thousand Fourteen ends with fireworks & a kiss; a new story, titled Twenty Fifteen, opens on a cold, quiet morning — I change the theme instead of making a resolution.

marquee.jpg

2013 was The Year of Collaboration.

2014 was The Year of Patience.

And 2015 will be The Year of Creation.  

By starting with a theme, I'm able to determine the trajectory of my year's story. The personal & professional choices I am faced with are weighed against their value to the idea of the story I want to live in a given year. A new year is the perfect occasion for such a reset because it offers a timeline (did you read the McKee quote?), beginning and end, complete with a new title. 

So many incredible things have come about because of living on theme. In 2013, I was able to pull together a collaboration between myself, my friends at Ditore Mayo Entertainment, I Am Second & KoRn guitarist Brian "Head" Welch; the resulting feature length documentary should release later this year. 2014 was an incredibly difficult year, but I believe I was ultimately able to weather her storms because I had built the story of the year on a foundation of patience. 

And now, I can't wait for this time next year when I will be able to see tangible things I made with my hands & mind. More than anything, I'm excited because it gives my free time new purpose.  

Conflict Will Come

 
The world has come undone
Like to change it everyday
Change don’t come at once
It’s a wave building before it breaks.
— Pearl Jam, Undone
 
Like the ocean, a new year serves up wave after wave, set after set of possibility. (photo by Trey Hill)

Like the ocean, a new year serves up wave after wave, set after set of possibility. (photo by Trey Hill)

Living life in the context of a story doesn't mean trouble goes away. If anything, bending your conscious mind toward the story you are intentionally living brings a hyper-awareness to the conflicts that stand in your way. And their significance to the story is rarely lost.

I didn't realize just how much patience my Year of Patience would require when I decided to make that the theme one year ago. In fact, I think I failed more than I succeeded in the story of 2014. I lost my patience many, many times. And the stakes seemed to keep raising on me, demanding more patience than I was able to muster. But, for all the failures of 2014, I am better for having suffered her story. 

As Coldplay so eloquently sings, "just because I'm losing doesn't mean I'm lost." You can't fail at thematic living because even failure leads to change.

If you reach deeper than a declaration of changing behavior & instead choose to let a singular idea shape your year, you will find that the behavior changes come along with a holistic growth that you didn't anticipate. 

Ask yourself what you want & then explore themes that will put you on the path to that goal. Do you want to lose weight? Choose to make 2015 The Year of Fit Living, which will impact not just the frequency with which you exercise but how often you take stairs over elevators, bike instead of drive, the food you eat, the people you invite into your life & a host of things that are completely unique to you.

There is nothing more revolutionary for a story than the author writing the first line. Make a new years revolution by picking an idea you want at the center of your story this year. After all, you have to make this trip around the sun so you might as well be in control of what it means.

RELATED CONTENT


One by One

Not long ago, I did a series on mobile photography because I believe that photography has always been a social medium, a thing to be shared. Over the last few years, I've really embraced this reality. And I'm not alone. In the wake of the advent of new venues, like Instagram, that play host to millions upon millions of shares, whole communities have sprung up and relationships have leaped off of devices into real life.

This is post is about one of those things. And I couldn't be happier to have a very small part in it, for my city.

Last year, InstaDFW founder, Jeyson Paez, reached out to me with a simple, but intriguing idea. Let's put on a group photography show that features the mobile photography work of the DFW community. I was intrigued. Then he asked me to curate the show which opened at WELD, the co-working space I call home, on September 27, 2013.

It was an incredibly fun evening.

Well, here we are, less than a year later and One by One 2014 is upon us.

The One by One 2014 poster was hand-drawn by Kyle Steed.

The One by One 2014 poster was hand-drawn by Kyle Steed.

This year the show has grown a bit, reaching beyond the bounds of the DFW community to feature twenty of the top Instagrammers from across the United States alongside DFW's vibrant community. Not only that, but the month-long show will be accompanied by artists talks, and a Dallas Block Party on June 20th.

I'm am thankful for the opportunity to have, again, curated the show. The work this year is stellar & the challenge brought out some unique connections between the work of the individual artists as well as their relationship to one another. I'm particularly proud of what will be on display beginning Monday, May 19th.

All the details about the show are available are available here. I genuinely hope you're able to stop by and enjoy the show.


Related Content

Kyle Steed

When I started this series on mobile photography, I knew I wanted to feature the work and thoughts of some of my favorite mobile photographers and I knew, without question, that one of those people would be my friend Kyle Steed. 

Tyler Sharp  Kung Fu's with Kyle

Tyler Sharp Kung Fu's with Kyle

We met a couple of years ago at the Echo Conference. I remember sitting next to him (and his trademark hat) during a Barton Damer breakout & thinking, "this guy's notes look so much better than mine."

I took this photo with my phone to commemorate that moment:

Kyle-Steed-by-Trey-Hill
Kyle-Steed-by-Trey-Hill

Kyle doesn't call himself a photographer, though he has a crazy following on Instagram that believes he and a camera do okay together. By trade, Kyle is an illustrator and has a distinct artistic voice.

I know Kyle's work anytime I see it, even when I'm not expecting it, like in a Walgreens spot (that's his hand-drawn typeface at the beginning). You might be familiar with some of Kyle's work, too. He's the creator of the super popular Instaxagram, the man behind WhatIsDallas.com, and Folly. Attempting to list all the wonderful projects he's had his hands in would be superfluous, at this point, so let me just attempt to wrap up by saying this: Kyle is one of those people whose talent and artistic vision is overshadowed only by the love he shows his fellow man.

"you find them when you're not looking." - Kyle Steed

"you find them when you're not looking." - Kyle Steed

I think that comes though in his work, his photography and I think you'll hear a bit of that in his answers to the three questions I asked him.

Trey: What is your guiding philosophy as an artist & how does IG fit into that?

Kyle:The world is a complex and often frustrating place to be, so I always seek a way to find and hold on to the simple things I find. Sometimes it requires a lot of searching and digging to get there, other times it’s just right in front of my face, but when I find it I hold on to it. There exist a certain peace in simplicity. But I also believe there is a way to have peace in the midst of the chaos of our life. I guess this is the fire my eye for photography has been forged in.

My hope is to always continue to refine and sharpen my eye. Nothing here on earth is ever finished.

Kyle-Steed-Church

Trey: How has mobile photography altered your way of moving through the world?

Kyle:If I’m being honest there have been times when I’ve been totally caught up in the whirlwind of social media (Instagram) and feeling like I have to share my entire life. But that kind of thinking really stresses me out. The stress of feeling like every shot has to be perfect, or worse... has to get thousands of likes, is just silly. I don’t regret that time of my life, just learn from it and move on. Now I feel like I exercise greater control over how and when I share my photos. I don’t spend all day trying to think up my next shot, instead I just let the shot come to me. Some days I don’t post anything, other days I may have a handful of photos to share. But that’s the beauty of it, having this mobile device in my pocket makes it so accessible. It comes along with me on my journey.

Kyle-Steed-Dont-Play-Safe

Trey:Who is your favorite follow on IG & why?

Kyle: There are so many great photographers on instagram. It’s still such a new medium for photography that I don’t think we’ve seen the best of the best. I can say that @colerise has to have one of the best consistent feeds that I follow. That man knows his way around an iPhone camera, that’s for sure. But I’m afraid to give this question a definitive answer, because it’s not about numbers but about the feeling and stories a person chooses to tell with their photos.

this is Cole, you can follow him on  Instagram .

this is Cole, you can follow him on Instagram.

Kyle has something pretty exciting coming up for anyone interested in mobile photography. He's teaming up with Austin Mann to teach a mobile photography workshop, part of the recently announced WELD creative labs. If you're interested in taking part, you can learn more here: labs.weld.co.

Part I: The Original Social Media

Part II: Mobile Photography Apps

Part III: #panogramtastic

Part IV: Kyle Steed

Mobile Photography Apps

On Monday, I started a 4 part series on mobile photography. I believe that photography is, on the whole, the original social media & agree with the assertion of photo critic David Campbell that it's time to move beyond the "illegitimate vs. legitimate" photography arguments. Mobile photography simply represents yet another shift in how people seek to explore, contextualize and share their world and, at this point, the shift is pretty much solidified and the "new" tools aren't that new anymore. With that in mind, I decided to share the apps I love most, as well as how & why I use them.

The iPhone Camera

Since upgrading to the iPhone 5, I rarely use another camera app. There was a time when I wouldn't touch the native camera app because there were better options. I still wish I could control exposure independent of focus area, but that's a small complaint considering the positives.

My top 3 favorite functions:

1.Lock Screen access - The iPhone camera comes with this build in advantage over other cameras. Having the option to skip the steps of unlocking the phone & navigating to the app I'm looking for helps me get shots I'd otherwise miss. Combine this with firing the shutter with the volume button & you can get super quick (and incredibly covert) with the photographs you take.

2.AE/AF Lock -  I may be slow on the uptake, but I just discovered this one. Instead of just tapping where you want your focus & exposure to be measured, you can hold your finger in that spot & the focus square will flash several times, then an 'AF/AE Lock' message will appear in the bottom of the screen. Now, both your exposure & focus are locked. This comes in super handy when you're trying to pan across a frame in video or while shooting panoramic images.

A  E/AF Lock means exposure & focus won't change when you adjust your frame.

AE/AF Lock means exposure & focus won't change when you adjust your frame.

3.Panorama - Speaking of panoramic images, this has to be my favorite new feature in iOS 6. It does in seconds what still takes me a half hour (or more) to do using Lightroom & Photoshop.  I've found that this works best when you figure out where your center of frame will be, grab focus and exposure information from that point, lock it in, then sweep across the scene from left to right, making sure your center of frame lands where you meant for it to. It can take a few tries to get one just right, but when you do, my word. The results are incredible.

A recent panorama of an empty American Airlines Center

A recent panorama of an empty American Airlines Center

Next week, I'll dig into how I've been using Panorama on Instagram, an app I love, but that locks you into a square format.

Snapseed

This is the first app I ever paid for ($4.99) and it was worth every penny… but, as of this past December, it's now free in the App store. It's also available on Android, but I don't know much about that version.

The great thing about Snapseed is it let's your replicate Lightroom-style editing using a touch interface. Snapseed was created by the fine people at Nik Software, which was recently acquired by Google.

Nik offers afantastic series of plug-ins (for Lightroom, Photoshop & Aperture) that I use often. One of the crossover benefits that Nik brings to Snapseed is a scaled down version of their U-point technology, an incredibly intuitive masking tool, is built into the app. Basically, it allows you to precisely control where the enhancements are being made. Granted, you're not getting the full power of U-point in Snapseed, but to have anything remotely close to this on a mobile device is very exciting.

In Snapseed's Selective Adjustment, red marks the area where adjustments will be applied.

In Snapseed's Selective Adjustment, red marks the area where adjustments will be applied.

I love Snapseed because it offers a ton of flexibility but isn't complex to use.

VSCO

VSCO, which stands for Visual Supply Company, bills themselves as "the gold standard for digital film emulation'. They make presets for all your popular photo editing tools, which I've never used. However, when the iPhone app launched last year, I jumped on it for one reason: the simplicity of the interface.

VSCO-iPhone-app

Editing photos in VSCO is dead easy and the results are always beautiful. I typically use this app as a final stop before sharing. Also, the grid view of the library is fantastic for dialing in my Panogramtastic Portraits prior to posting them on Instagram.

Hopefully you found this information helpful. But remember, the key to great mobile photos, just like in all forms of photography, isn't in the tools you use. The best investment you can make as a photographer will always be the time and energy you spend shooting. And that's probably the single greatest contribution mobile photography has made to the craft. You're never without your camera and the tools are easy to operate, so the chance you'll experiment has never been greater. Now, go shoot!

Honorable Mentions:

Instagram - I hesitate to even mention the billion dollar Facebook acquisition, despite it being my primary point of sharing. Ultimately, it didn't make the top 3 because I only use it to share photos. Most of the creativity and editing happens before the images ever get to Instagram.

Camera + - having the ability to manipulate exposure and focus separately makes this a must have app, even if you don't use it for every photo.

PhotoForge2 - this app has almost too many options. But, if you need levels & curves, or any of your more Photoshop like adjustments, it's a great app. The Pop! Cam (in app purchase) is also pretty cool.

Rays - every once in a while, you just need to dial up the drama on an image. Rays allows you to add some atmosphere and play with the existing light in interesting ways. Use sparingly.

Flickr - I'd be remiss if I didn't mention the new Flickr app. It's long overdue & I'd avoid using any of their presets to fix-up your photos, but I'm a huge fan of the horizontal scroll for perusing your friends latest posts. I hope more apps move this direction in the future.

So there you have it. My three favorite mobile photo apps and a little about each. Please feel free to use the comments to recommend your own favorite mobile photo apps or ask any questions you have about anything you've read here.

Part I: The Original Social Media

Part II: Mobile Photography Apps

Part III: #panogramtastic

Part IV: Kyle Steed

the original social media

 
The primary question has to be what stories can you tell with what tools... Let’s move the conversation forward to that point, and dispense with the angst and anxiety.
— photo critic David Campbell on the "legitimate vs illegitimate" photography debate
 

I first laid my hands on an iPhone in August of 2007; it was a graduation gift from my mom. When I started college 11 years earlier (that's a whole other story), cell phones weren't ubiquitous, email was a novelty, Google was still two years from making it's debut and I carried a Pentax K1000 everywhere I went. A lot about the world has changed in the last 17 years, but nothing has been more seismic for me personally than that day in 2007 when I first held the iPhone.

early iPhone photos from Sudan, 2009, processed w/ Best Camera

early iPhone photos from Sudan, 2009, processed w/ Best Camera

Photography grabbed me at a very early age and the fascination was never about the technical, but the social aspects of the art. Photography, in my opinion, is the first social media. It was born from our desire as humans to contextualize and record the world around us and to share our perspective. The share has evolved over the years - from those first images etched onto glass plates, to slideshows on living room walls to Instagram - but the point has always been to share.

So, in that spirit, I want to share thoughts, ideas and some of what I'm trying in mobile photography. I want to share because I love sharing things I am passionate about and, if mobile photography has done nothing else in the last five and half years, it's elevated my passion for imaging making.

palm trees outside a taxi window, Havana, Cuba, 2013

palm trees outside a taxi window, Havana, Cuba, 2013

Over the next couple of weeks, I'm going to share the apps I use most & why I love them, share how you can make your own #panogramtastic images in Instagram & let some of my favorite mobile photographers share their thoughts on mobile photography. In the meantime, feel free to follow me on Instagram and Flickr, which is where I share the majority of my mobile photography.

Part II is coming on Thursday, so stay tuned.

Soho, NYC // Chicago on Lake Michigan (my 2 most 'liked' Instagrams of 2012)

Soho, NYC // Chicago on Lake Michigan (my 2 most 'liked' Instagrams of 2012)