PetaPixel: Can you tell us about yourself and your background?
Brian Auer: 28 years old, one wife, two kids, and no super powers that I know of. Grew up in southern California, moved to north Idaho around age 12 and finished growing up. Went to college and grad school at the University of Idaho, took my first job in New Jersey, switched jobs, and now I’m in San Diego. All in all, my background is relatively unexciting. Now I have the office day job and all of my free time is spent with my family and/or working on my photography hobby.
BA: I’m a mechanical engineer at a place that does a lot of aerospace and military contract work. So I sit in front of a computer and design or analyze planes, satellites, telescopes, space ships, etc. I also make a little bit of side cash with my blogs and my photos, but not enough to quit the day job anytime soon.
PP: How did you first get into photography?
BA: Like many others, my first child got me into photography. Shortly after he was born (2003), I picked up a P&S digital camera to capture those memories. From there, photography took off as a hobby and a passion that demanded every bit of my free time.
PP: What was your first camera?
BA: I guess I have a couple of “first” cameras. The first digital camera I bought was an Olympus D560 — $300 for 3.2MP. My first dSLR was the Konica Minolta Maxxum 7D, and that’s when my hobby turned to passion. More recently, my first film camera was a Minolta SRT-Super that my Dad had packed away somewhere (which unfortunately needs repair at the moment).
PP: What equipment do you use these days?
BA: Right now, my “go to” camera is the Minolta Hi-Matic 7sII (a black one, at that). I enjoy street photography and informal/candid family shots, so this camera has just been great. I also use my Minolta Autocord quite a bit when I want to get serious shoot medium format. I have about 10 or 15 other film cameras that get used from time to time, but those two are my most used. And when I need to shoot digital, I use my Sony a700 with a 50/1.4 or 105/2.8 attached.
PP: How did Epic Edits get started?
BA: Before I started the blog, I had an idea for a side business doing basic photo editing for other people (hence the name). I researched ways to get traffic and I landed on the option of blogging. So I started off with links out to other articles on the web and a small amount of commentary just to see what blogging was all about. After a few months, people started suggesting that I write my own articles and tutorials, so I did. The blog took off at a steady pace and the idea of the photo editing business fell off my plate before it even got started.
PP: How much time do you spend blogging per day?
BA: I probably average 4 hours per day. I’ll spend about 30 minutes clearing out emails, 15-30 minutes working on the Fine Art Photoblog, 2 hours working on either Epic Edits or Feeling Negative, and another hour of slush time that goes to an array of tasks. Some days I’ll spend more time writing several articles at once, and some days I’ll turn off the computer and relax. No two days are really the same for me when it comes to blogging.
PP: How do you come up with content for your blogs?
BA: It comes from all over the place — my own experiences, reader emails, comments on the blogs, sub-topics from other blog articles, expansion on previous posts, discussions with other photographers, etc. Heck, I had a few article ideas just in the course of this interview… one or two might make it to being published some day soon. Regardless of where the ideas come from, I try to keep a diverse set of topics on my blogs — how to’s, inspirational, polls, projects, reviews, community interaction, news, and so on.
PP: What advice do you have for someone who wants to start blogging?
BA: Start blogging! It’s so easy to get started, and you never know where it will lead. As I mentioned, I didn’t intend to start a blog as my main point of focus, but things change and now here I am with two blogs, one photoblog, and one podcast (though I’m just a co-host on the podcast). I’ve gravitated toward educational style blogging, but that’s certainly not the only type of blog out there. You could start a blog to promote your own work, have a conversation, share things that interest you, or to teach others what you’ve learned. It doesn’t really matter why you start blogging, because that reason will likely change several times before you settle in.
One other piece of advice would be to keep your chin up during the first 6 to 12 months. It can be very de-motivating when you have little traffic and you feel like you’re talking to nobody (though I still feel that way sometimes). Most blogs don’t gain much traction in visitors during those first 6 to 12 months. I’m re-experiencing this phenomenon with my recently launched film photography blog, but I know things will pick up eventually!
PP: What’s the best and worst thing about running a blog?
BA: The best part of blogging for me has been the education I’ve gained from it. When you teach something to others, you really have to learn it yourself. I wouldn’t know half of what I do now if it weren’t for blogging. I’m also a big fan of all the friends and other connections I’ve made over the years — the online photography community is a great bunch of people.
The worst part of blogging is the time requirement that has turned from hobby to responsibility. I feel like I can’t just stop blogging for any length of time. Blogs are like any other living thing… if you don’t feed them, they’ll get sick and die. And that time requirement that I’ve created for myself cuts into my actual photography time — I spend far more hours each week writing about photography than I do on photography itself.
PP: How much email do you get per day from readers?
BA: This can vary quite a bit… sometimes zero, and sometimes 10 or 20. Probably 1/4-1/2 of what comes in is junk — spammers, somebody looking for an unrelated handout link, unsolicited press releases, and other things like that. The rest is a mix of specific questions related to a certain article, camera buying advice, collaboration or book review inquiries, and random notes from other photography bloggers. I do my best to respond quickly, but I’ve been known to let a few slip away.
PP: What’s the most common question you receive from readers?
BA: Definitely the “what camera should I buy?” question. Usually it comes from the folks who are moving up to a dSLR and they just don’t know where to start. My answers are usually short and to the point, but I’ve never made a specific camera suggestion to anyone (mostly because I don’t keep up with the details of every new camera from every manufacturer). Our conversation usually ends with me telling them to set a maximum budget, pricing out some models from each of the brands, and going to a local shop to put the cameras in their hands.
PP: How often do you shoot?
BA: I’m a weekend warrior and I’m not ashamed of it. I don’t have time to shoot during the week, so I try to get out at least once or twice on the weekend and burn a few rolls of film. That seems to keep me busy enough… I’m still scanning and processing shots from the beginning of this year. I also try to get in the darkroom once a week or once every other week to catch up on some printing or film developing.
PP: Do you have your own darkroom?
BA: I do! After I got into film photography, my Dad found his old Beseler 67CS black and white enlarger and sent it to me. I bought some better lenses, bigger easels, and all the other stuff that goes along with printing. I’ve officially taken over the kids’ bathroom, but they use the darkroom too so it’s cool. I also picked up a color head for the enlarger recently, but I have yet to hook it up and try it out.
PP: What’s the top item on your photo gear wish list?
BA: A large format camera. Haven’t decided on a specific brand or format, but I’m starting to lean toward 8×10. At the moment, I’m working on building my own series of 8×10 cameras starting with a paper negative pinhole (which is already complete and being improved). Eventually, I’d like to work up to building a “real” large format camera of my own design based on the things I learn from previous builds.
PP: What’s the most valuable thing you’ve learned about post-processing?
BA: Post processing is an interesting topic. Most of us go through several stages as we learn how to do it: too little, too much, HDR, black and white, high contrast, high saturation, goofy filters, film emulations, and so on. My own technique has landed on a mostly natural style with the occasional flare of “artistic” experimentation (with film, I don’t do a whole lot of post processing aside from the basics). The most valuable thing I’ve learned through all of this is that experimenting and going through those stages is important for finding your own style and learning a few tricks.
PP: How would you describe your personal photography?
BA: I don’t know that I can. Not sure if it’s because I’m too close to it, or if it’s because I don’t have a particular style or genre that I specialize in. I shoot the things that interest me. Street photography and candid encounters are something that I gravitate toward, but I wouldn’t call myself a street photographer. In general, I like to dabble… something like a “jack of all trades, master of none”. But I have a good time doing it!
PP: What’s a common mistake you see photography enthusiasts making these days?
BA: The biggest mistake is probably the unwillingness to make mistakes. It’s easy for beginners to get hung up on the technical stuff or the “rules” of photography because we see a lot of that stuff discussed on blogs, forums, and magazines. At that point, photography is more about staying within a set of boundaries than capturing a moment. Trying new things and making mistakes is a great way to learn, so avoiding mistakes can actually inhibit growth of skill.
PP: Is there anything you would do differently if you could go back to when you started in photography?
BA: I would’ve gotten involved with film photography sooner. I learned so much when I started shooting it about 2.5 years ago, and I’ve been totally consumed ever since. Film forces you to look at photography in a different way, and it has many lessons to teach. And while I’ve taken my film photography hobby further than most, I still have a long way to go and a whole lot to learn.
PP: Regarding post-processing tricks, do you remember having any breakthrough, “AH HAH!” moments?
BA: I don’t know when the light bulb first went off, but I’ve been an advocate of non-destructive edits for quite some time. I can’t stress enough how important it is to preserve that trail of post-processing steps. It saves time during post-processing when you screw up a step or you decide that a previous adjustment wasn’t exactly what you wanted. It also saves a lot of heartache when you look at the photo a week later and decide that you want to change something again.
PP: What are some of your favorite photography-related websites?
BA: Oh man… this is a “death trap” question. I follow so many photography blogs that I couldn’t possibly mention all of the important ones without forgetting somebody and stepping on feelings. So here are just a few (VERY few) in no particular order: DIYPhotography.net for having cool DIY stuff and being film friendly, Joe McNally’s Blog for the humor and sage advice, Zoriah.net for some amazing photojournalism, The Photo Argus for the massive roundups of information and inspiration, Holga Blog for some lo-fi goodness, and File Magazine for out-of-the-norm (but great) photos. I apologize to the hundreds of people I’ve offended by not mentioning their blog/site… I really do follow a lot of blogs.
PP: Who is one person you would like to see interviewed on PetaPixel?
BA: I would like to see Zoriah interviewed. He’s a really interesting guy, great to chat with, and he does some amazing work in both photojournalism and fine art. I’ll let you dig into the details with him, just let him know I said hi!
PP: Anything else you’d like to say to PetaPixel readers?
BA: First and foremost, photography is awesome and truly amazing. Be passionate and don’t forget to have fun with it.
On the side of self-promo, be sure to at least check out EpicEdits, FeelingNegative, FineArtPhotoblog, and PhotoNetCast. They’re all very open communities and everybody is welcome to join in the conversation.
I would like to further point out that FeelingNegative is a new kid on the block in the blogging community and worth checking out for all things film photography. Tom (my co-author) and I have been busting our chops to get it going and we have a ton of great stuff coming out on a daily basis.
I’ve also opened up the Fine Art Photoblog to guest contributors and I would encourage any artists out there to consider submitting a photo or two. We actually encourage you to promote your photography site, Flickr stream, and print sales (and it costs you nothing).