Don't be a square!

Who would do this for fun?  We all have jobs that we enjoy (or don't) to varying degrees, but why would we do what I just did, and why the hell would we call it fun?

I'm a photographer.  I have been a full time professional photographer since August of last year.  At first I felt like a fake when people asked me what I did and I said photographer, but right now the only money I make comes from photography, so let's face it, this is my full time job.  Now, imagine at your full time job, paying an entry fee to do your job under strict timelines and to have all of your peers sit with you while people judged your work and told you what was bad about it.  I did just this, and it was an amazing experience.

Portland Squared is an annual event put on by the American Society of Media Photographers, where 70 different photographers are randomly assigned a 4 block by 4 block location within the heart of Portland and given 24 hours to create 5 images to be judged competitively.  I had assisted photographer Rob Werlinger in his square last year, but this year I decided to compete.

A little secret between us... I'm incredibly insecure.  That had a lot to do with not feeling confident enough to call myself a photographer for a long time.  But, like any good Marine, my face and outward demeanor will never even hint this insecurity to you, and my fake it till you make it can come off as pure cockyness.  In this tradition I proclaimed to my peers that I had two goals this year... 1. To crush my enemies, see them driven before me, and to hear the lamentations of their women.  2.  Have fun.

The event started Friday at 5pm.  At 4:45 I joined the back of the growing line of photographers checking in at Studio 3 in southeast Portland.  I gave my name, and reached into a tin of crumpled up paper pulling out D4 as my assigned grid square.  Awesome!  D4 was downtown on the waterfront.  It was the area bordered by NW Everett, NW 5th, and the Willamette River.  With a sweet piece of real estate like that, advantage goes to Nathan!

After checking in with my assigned editing pod leader, George Olson, I visited the fine folks at the Nikon table to arrange a test drive of the new Df, a 24mm f/1.4 prime lens, and an SB910 flash, a little over $5,200 worth of gear that those fools let me have for the day!

From there it was off to my square to see what magic I could create.  I assumed that I would be out in my area well into the night, but strangely it got really quiet as the evening wore on. My turf was just outside of the vibrant nightlife of downtown, and even the homeless people were bedding down well before sunset.  At about 10:30 I decided to call it an early night and to hit it again in the morning.

An early morning start had me calling out to everyone to come down to the waterfront to pose for a portrait for me.  My friend Andie was the first to answer the call so she and I wandered my square for a bit making different portraits.

By 1:00pm it was time to grab a quick bite and head in to start editing.  I culled my 550+ photos down to about 15 and called George over to help.  George is not just an accomplished photographer, he is an excellent photo editor with decades of experience.  I leaned heavily on his judgement in picking my final 5 photos for submission.  I enjoyed test driving the Nikon Df, but had a few growing pains ranging from having to adjust to a new control setup to my laptop not being able to open the raw files.  Lucky for me I was able to borrow the use of Grant Mott's Macintosh supercomputer with giant monitor and updated version of Lightroom (which my old laptop doesn't support) to edit the 5 raw files.

At 5:00pm the editing was done if you were ready or not, and the wine and beer began to flow.  After a very nice catered meal, it was time to see all the photos and let the judging begin.  The judging was brutal, and that's a good thing.  I'm used to hearing nothing but compliments about my photography, but I tend to look at my own work with a very critical eye looking for something I can do better next time.  It was great to have the seven judges look at my photos even more critically than I do with their more experienced eyes.  Many of my shots were either almost good enough or just barely good enough to make the second round, and I got great feedback on what was right or wrong with my work.

This brutal critique should have delivered a crushing blow to my fragile ego, but it didn't.  The quality of work that the photographers submitted was absolutely top tier, and I was honoured to even be in the same room with these guys.  I may have been into photography since 1998 (or sooner), but as much as my craftsmanship has improved in my less than 1 year in this business, I still believe I have a long way to go.  My first goal for Portland Squared was not necessarily unrealistic, but in order to achieve it I will probably need a little more time.