Personal Projects

Everyone in the industry states, you have to do personal projects to advance your career. I happen to work full time, forty hours plus per week, fifty-two weeks out of the year, in a career that requires me to produce. Yes, I’m a professional photographer for the Federal Government, and I work hard at my job. Sometimes, it’s in video, graphic design, and even in photography. One day, I can do a portrait, another document a site with spherical images, another with just still images. My career is active, but my life feels empty if I’m not doing my own photography/artistic projects. For a long time, I thought I wasn’t doing projects, but looking back, I realized I was doing projects.

This year, I’m thinking about landscape photography and a video project that will take three days of filming, and I don’t know how long to edit the footage. The landscape will be around my state of Virginia, not sure yet of the subject matter. Something to get me out of the area with my dog Duke. Just to get away during the weekend.

The video project is coming up soon, I have the equipment and I’m practicing with the new gadgets. The subject is the upcoming Persian Spring Festive in Northern Virginia. My friends company puts in on each year. In the past, I produced a book of still images that they could use to show future clients, but now I’m moving into video. This will give them some marketing media and also show off my skills in video and editing. This is important, for when I make the transition to retirement photography, with the start of my own business.

The Color of Vermont Workshop by David Middleton and his crew.

Like most of the photography workshops that you attend, can be a mix bag of attendees with their level of expertise. You have to accept that when you go into your workshop. This one is no different, but the level of instruction given can make or break your enjoyment of your workshop. I will tell you up front that I liked this workshop. Granted this workshop was about landscape photography, and very different from what I normally take in a workshop, and completely different from my day job. David and his fellow workshop instructors, Jeff and Lisa, made this trip enjoyable for me. Just the right amount of joking, just the right amount of instruction, and their insight about my work was very useful.

The fellow students where not your typical group of want-a-be hobbyist, but a group of strong talent individuals, each with their own distinctive eye.

I wish I had the drive like some of them, photographing everything they see, but after all these years, I’m more selective in my choice of subject matter. Maybe it’s the subject matter, because when I’m working events and weddings, I can easily have a larger selection of images to choice from. Granted I get more enjoyment out of photographing people and I call my self more of a people photographer then an object photographer.

I will tell you again at this point, I had a good time, I learn a few new tricks and the critique about my work, helped me with my composition.


This is a iPhone shot for one location from the workshop. 

You can always learn a new trick from others.

My day job, just put on a photography conference for our photographer’s that work in our field program. It was three days of technique reviews, learning new methods in Photoshop, and meeting old friends.

One of my unit’s job is to over see the field photography program, and in it, are some younger talented photographers. I’m one of the last old timers, based out of what is called HQ. The shift in job responsibilities, started long time ago, with photography assignments going to our field photographers’ more and more, with the HQ grew, becoming as administrators. Sure, we have our photographic responsibilities, but they some times feel like side duties.

But, this conference is a way for us HQ people to connect with our field people. Was it a success, I think so. We provided photographic training, insight into the budget, and introduce more administrative information from departments that can use our services. Plus the food was fantastic at the local restaurants that we gather at.

Overall I had a great time and learn several different techniques and approaches from my co-workers and even fixed several of their Mac computers. I have been burned out visually these last few years, and one way to revitalize my vision is to take classes and try new stuff.

Soon, I’m taking a working vacation and photographing landscape up in Vermont. It’s a place that I never been and should be fantastic. I’m taking a workshop sponsored by the Santa Fe Photographic Workshop and is rightfully called, “Fall Colors of Vermont.” Let’s see if I can revitalize my love for photography and get me out of this rut.

Planning on a retirement while still at your full time job.

When your in the Federal Government and you reach that point in your career, when you can retire at full benefits, it’s a wonderful experience. Some might call it a life goal, some will call it a sweet and sour moment, others just won’t care. If you leave before your planned calculated retirement date, the government will punish you by taking away a percentage of your retirement, based on the amount of time you have left.

Under the current federal government retirement plan called FURS, they calculate the number of years in service against the total earned at the end of your service. So far I have thirty three plus years in service, and that equals thirty three plus percentage for my top three salary years averaged out. If I was making 100,000 dollars average out over those last three years, my retirement amount, would equal 33,000 a year. That is, 33 years at 1 percent a year, equals 33,000. For an early retirement, say four years early, you can easily have four percent taken away from your final number.

Now some will say, that doesn’t sound like a great retirement plan, but that’s what congress has decided our loyal Federal Employees deserve. There’s not much we can do about changing our retirement plan, we’re at the whim of Congress and the White House. So, let’s not get into comparing our retirement with Congress’s retirement. That will make everyone mad. That’s only one third of the triad that makes up the FURS plan. The other two is social security benefits, plus what you saved in your 401k plan commonly called, TSP.

So, when you reach that point and the Office of Public Management can’t take away from your retirement, it should be a party.

It’s sweet that they can’t take away a percentage of your retirement, and sour, because now you have to decided what to do with your life.

If your like me, I’ve spent the last thirty three years, getting up in the morning and coming to work, not knowing what I will be doing for the most part. I could have been sent to a far away place to take photographs for an investigation or spent the time at my desk doing paperwork. Now, this period in my life is more of a reflection, not just on what I have accomplish, but what I plan on accomplishing.

Creativity and Understanding

I really have a tech job with the government, I work in law enforcement; not as a sworn officer, or a scientist, but a pure and simple technical photographer.

Most of my co-workers will say, when asked, they are simply, a forensic photographer. But, most people think being a forensic photographer, is you, photographing dead people all the time. Well, I've done my share back in the nineties, but that duty did not covered the scope of my employment . Now, there are people that think Forensic Photography is only about photographing fingerprints, and to be honest, in my whole career, I can count on my right hand how many fingerprints or palm prints that I have done. If you go with my official job title of, "Scientific and Technical Photographer," most people won't realize that I've was also required to photograph portraits. Anyway you slice it, or view my career with the Federal Government, I have worked in many different photographic disciplines.

Working in law enforcement as a photographer is slightly different from say, a photojournalist. In such that we both photograph objectively, and try not to put our subjective opinion on our subjects. Ok, photojournalist do tell stories, and they do put their personal spin on that story, but they do not alter the image, using Photoshop, and other digital techniques. It's a big no, no, to say, add or remove certain items from those images, like move a person closer together for a tighter design.

Most photography jobs, the main reason you go with one photographer over another, is how they approach the process, the design elements, he final image. That's why some photographers get the big bucks. With being a scientific and technical photographer, that personal opinion doesn't come into play, except maybe the technique used to capture that image. That's the creative side of forensic photography, choosing the technique to enhance or just basically record what you are seeing. I guess you can say, that's what is common, across the photography industry, the creativity of the work. Be it: in choosing the type of background, the lighting used, he photographic technique used to capture the object or event. It's the creativity nature of the business.

I've just finished a great book about recharging your creative thinking, called the "Accidental Creative," by Todd Henry. The tag line for the book states, "How to be brilliant at a moment's notice." The book covers the problems with, why you might get stuck with an answer, and ways to continue to recharge the source material used by you to think creatively. Some people seem to be able to pull ideas out of nothing, but in reality, that answer came from preparation over a life time of research.