Chris Livingston

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Change is good

Recently I sold off two pieces of equipment that had been with me for a very long time. My decision was due to the change in the market. No not the stock market but photography. If it's one thing that I've read over and over on being a successful business it's to recognize shifts in the market and adapt to those changes. Well I've recognized the change for a while but didn't want to change until now. My mentor Gary has been telling me for years to get away from shooting sports and other things that didn't generate the same level of revenue as the other aspects of my business (namely weddings and portraits). I would answer back, "yeah, yeah I know."

So in the last few weeks I've been really feeling the effects of the Great Recession and looked at where I needed to take my business. This is a necessity with any business and especially in these times.

Then a few weeks ago I made the decision to sell my 400mm lens. Yes the one that I use for most of my sports assignments. There are a couple of reason why I decided to sell it. For one it's so old that even Canon Pro Services won't touch it. I had to have a new lens mount put on it a couple of years ago and it cost me an arm and a leg to have a third party repair shop fix it because finding the right part is hard to do.

Secondly, I just don't shoot enough sports assignments that pay me a day rate. That is a client that will pay me to go and cover a college or NFL football game. That's where the industry is heading. More and more "weekend warriors" who have good paying day jobs are buying into shooting sports by buying pro gear and letting the camera do the rest. And they'll do it for free because what the really want is to be the guy on the sideline. Autofocus has ruined sports photography.

Lastly, with the cameras that have come out in the last 18 months you don't need the fast aperture of f/2.8 anymore. I would rather carry around a lens that weighs 2.5 lbs. instead of one weighing 15 lbs. for three plus hours. The newer Nikons and Canons make some great looking pictures at ISOs that were unthinkable just 3 years ago thereby allowing the photographer the option of shooting at f/4 instead of f/2.8.

So I sold the lens I bought 11 years ago and made some great images with in order to move on with my photography.

The other thing I did was to sell my Canon EOS-1D Mark II. This was my main sports camera and it was 5 1/2 years old. Now for some that's not a big deal but the odometer read 261,000 images had been snapped with this camera. That's a lot of picture taking.

My rationale for this move was that Canon was about to announce (and as of this morning they did announce) the new flagship pro camera the EOS-1D Mark IV. Yeah I missed a couple of updates to mine but it was a sound camera and made great images. I just needed to sell it and recoup as much of my investment as I could before it depreciated any more with the release of the Mark IV.

So with the sale of both pieces of gear I was ready to set out on a different direction. I redesigned the wedding website, had business cards printed for my wedding business and now I'm in the process of meeting with wedding coordinators and bridal shops in the hopes of attracting new clients.

My old editorial business is still there it's just that I want my business to grow and I can do that better by focusing more of my resources towards weddings and portraits than shooting on spec at a game.

There are some interesting things happening in the world of photography. Almost every digital SLR being manufactured today has the ability to shoot HD video. Combine this with the breakthroughs in low light photography and it seems to be one of those points where you can either change with it or be left behind. I for one want to be on the front side of this wave.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Sometimes Bigger Isn't Always Better

I don't know if it was me or just the section we were sitting in but I felt a little unfulfilled as we left Raymond James Stadium following last night's U2 concert in Tampa. Don't get me wrong. I'm totally biased as a fan and still loved the concert but I didn't grab the same vibe that I did from the previous two arena tours.

For the lesser U2 fan, the U2 360° Tour's main draw after the band is the stage which has been called "The Claw" and was inspired by LAX. The reason for The Claw was that the band wanted to play in the round at football stadiums but needed a way to rig sound and lighting. Hence The Claw.

I gotta tell you I've read the reviews and the most talk about how The Claw doesn't take away from the band and that it almost blends in to the darkness at times during the show. Well let me tell you when you're in the top deck of a stadium it's all you CAN look at. The band was so freaking small I felt like The Claw was performing the songs.

(As a side note to future concert reviewers. Try sitting in the third deck for part of the show. It'll give you another perspective to include.)

I've seen the boys play concerts at stadiums before. In fact I've seen 5 of my 9 U2 concerts at stadiums but this made them seem too small. That could also be because we were closer to the stage than the 737s landing over at Tampa International at the other stadium shows.

As for the setlist, they seemed to stay with more of their songs from this century than older material. Not bad but come on I've heard those songs before. Dig in to your catalogue and pull out some more gems. I did like that they played Unforgettable Fire which was the first time I'd heard it live. I just would've also like to have heard songs from the Boy or War albums that maybe they haven't played recently. In the end like Cathy said after the show, "They've got so many hits it's hard to choose which ones to play for a 2 1/2 show."

Now let me get down to the heart of what bothered me. Section 342 was filled with casual fans. I was the only idiot who didn't sit the entire concert. Usually at U2 shows everyone around us stands and sings every song. But then I'm usually closer to the stage where I'm surrounded by other U2 freaks such as myself.

Around us were lots of families who brought their tweens or 8-year-olds with them. The row in front of me must've been sponsored by Geritol. And the jerk behind me was just there for the beer apparently as he slurred his threats for me to sit down.

I do have to brag for a second. Because I had done my research on the concert I knew that the song Moment of Surrender would be the conclusion to the concert. And when the closing cords played I grabbed Cathy and said, "let's go."

We made our way to the exit tunnel, hit the john before the long car ride home, and made our way to the secret exit. It was a side stairwell away from the pedestrian ramps that everyone else was heading.

A lone security lady started yelling at us to go the ramp. I just continued down the stairs while Cathy paused. I looked up and yelled, "Come on. What's she going to do throw us out?"

We got out of the stadium and down Woodlawn Avenue where we had paid a private lot to let us nose our car facing out. My iPhone's Maps helped me navigate the small residential roads leading away from Ray Jay and get me out ahead of the traffic. In fact, as we turned onto MLK Boulevard I could see the traffic behind us. We made it home in an hour and 25 minutes which is the normal time when there aren't 72,000 people (btw it broke the stadium record for the most people to attend an event at Ray Jay which was set at this past January's Superbowl) clogging up the roads.

It was great to see the band again and hear the songs but I think next time I'll try and get general admission tickets and stand on the floor with the rest of the U2 crazies.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Back in the Burgh

EDITOR'S NOTE: This entry was supposed to be written earlier this week but with Cathy out of town my time was limited.

Last week Benjamin and I joined Cathy on the road as she taught a group of bankers in Pittsburgh. It gave us a chance to see the city we loved and lived in as well as reconnect with old friends.

It was hard for us to believe that it's been almost a decade since we resided in the City of Bridges. As we exited the Fort Pitt tunnels we saw downtown and were reminded why we will always have a fondness for this town. It's neighborhoods give it a small town appeal but still feels like a big city.

Our first stop was lunch in Oakland at one of our old spots Fuel & Fuddle. Located one block from the law school we grabbed a bite before the students piled in for lunch and walked around Pitt. Benjamin really loved the lawn and hills around Pitt's Cathedral of Learning. He ran up and down them for a while.

While Cathy taught her seminars Benjamin and I took excursions to various places around Western PA. The first morning of Cathy's classes I took Benjamin up to Rochester, PA to visit the graves of his great grandfather and great, great grandparents on both my mother's sides.

It was a cold, wet morning at the Sylvania Hills Cemetary but Benjamin didn't seem to mind he just wanted to run around like the boy he is. The cutest thing was whenever we would leave one of my relatives' grave sites Benjamin would turn around and say, "Bye bye."

On our second adventure I took the Mino to the Carnegie Museum of Natural History to look at dinosaurs. He was pretty impressed by their size. We looked at some of the museums other exhibits like their mineral and gems collection and the plasters of old cathedral doors but the highlight took place in the basement of the Carnegie.

The museum has a discovery room where children can touch and learn about many things on natural history. This one particular exhibit allowed children to pick up and touch furs, skulls and petrified woods. It was the plaster replica of a small dinosaur skull that caused us problems. Benjamin grabbed it and slammed it on the floor. Now I think it was broken beforehand and the fact that it was a replica and not an actual artifact didn't give me concern. We just quietly put it back on the shelf and walked away.

The last night of our trip we had dinner with the Pritchards. We haven't seen Matt and Korey since we left and they now have two beautiful boys who could pass as Benjamin's older cousins.

The whole week Cathy and I talked about how much we missed Pittsburgh and the city's character. I got tingles as we drove past the old apartment building and saw our coffee shop. The city has changed a lot since we moved away but still felt like it was ours. As much as we would love to live there it's hard for us to be that far away from our family.

So to all of our friends still in the Burgh we'll be back again to see yinz.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Achieving my Goal

It's now official. In the last 28 months I have lost 60 pounds and now weigh in at a svelte 165 lbs. I went from a 38-inch waist to 31-32" (depending on which brand). I don't think I ever thought I would get to that goal weight but I have and am proud of it. I look very different and feel very different.

When I first made the decision to take control of my health we were expecting our first child. Since that time a lot has happened and yet I was able to "stay on target." (Star Wars reference for the geeks in the crowd.) I remember during the first few weeks talking with Cathy and both of us thinking that 185 lbs. would be a good goal weight for me. "Anything less and I would look unhealthy," I can remember justifying. Plus that would've been 40 lbs. of weight loss. That would be good, right? Wrong!

At this point I kind of forget when I hit various stages. I believe I was at 185 around Christmas of last year. Not bad but Cathy would say to me, "Honey I think you could lose another ten pounds and look better. Then at 175 she said, "Maybe another 7 pounds would be your ideal weight?"

Well I decided that if I was going to go from 175 lbs. to 168 lbs. I might as well just hit the 60 pounds of weight loss mark. And I have.

In the beginning I did research and found that a man of my height would be considered overweight if he were 168 lbs. or more. Cathy and I both laughed this off as extreme and out of date. Now looking at it I guess it wasn't too out of line.

I know in the past I've rattled on about my progress and how good I feel but I honestly do. Being able to go out and think nothing of running 9 miles or biking 37 miles gives me great confidence that I can complete a difficult task no matter what. Also the fact that I've lost 60 lbs. shows me that the mind is an amazing thing when you harness it.

Alright now where are the Dunkin' Donuts? I'm starving!!

Monday, September 14, 2009

It's Becoming an Addiction

It felt better the second time. My hobby of triathlons is becoming an addiction I think and Saturday's race in downtown Orlando solidified it for me. The race itself was slightly longer than my first one back in June and my training for it was even longer.

The OUC Downtown Orlando Triathlon consisted of a .25-mile swim in Lake Underhill, then 11.5-mile bike ride and finished with a 3.7-mile run from the Lake Underhill to Wall Street plaza in the heart of downtown. I smashed my goal time by five minutes to 1:15:22.

The swim segment is still my strongest of the three disciplines (shocking I know) but this swim was much different than the first race. The main reason was that it was an open water start as opposed to a sprint from the beach. I kept getting kicked and hit for the first half of the swim but when I got away from the pack I really kicked it into high gear. I was the 8th person in my grouping to get out of the water which I thought was really good.

The best way to cut your time in a triathlon is to tighten up your transitions which I did very well. I cut my transition times by 2 1/2 minutes this time around. The biggest reason for my time improvement from the first race was knowing iPods are prohibited. I din't have to waste time putting it on and then taking it off.

The bike course was more tactical compared to Clermont's scenic ride around the lake. This was city biking with 90-degree turns along the way. I did have to yell at one participant as she didn't know the meaning of pass on the left. She just kept peddling her little beach comber while I screamed, "LEFT!!!!"

It was during the run that I started to feel the temperature. The wind that was in my face during the bike was absent as I turned on to Robinson Street for the long run to downtown.

Looking back, the only thing I would've changed would have been to increase the pace of my run earlier. During the home stretch I had way too much left in the tank. I had a kick that felt like I was at the NFL Combine timing my 40.

In the end I placed 11th out of 42 for my age division and 121 out of 505 overall. I felt great after the race and now want to find another to enter. I am making a goal to enter and finish a half Ironman next year. I already have done the swim and run distances of 1.25 & 13.1 miles respectively. All I need to do now is see how I would do with those and a 56-mile bike thrown in. Who's with me?

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Back to School

As you may remember I joined up with Panasonic a few years ago to be one of their instructors for a program they called Digital Photo Academy. I taught a class in Tampa and really liked the whole experience.

Since then we've tried to find a similar venue here in Orlando for me to teach. Then this past summer we came up with the idea of holding the classes in the community room of my subdivision's clubhouse.

So now, once a month, I will be teaching Beginner, Intermediate and Understanding Composition classes. Panasonic has other classes through the DPA program but I prefer these three as I can teach all of them in one day.

This past Saturday I had a group of three attend the Intermediate class. The course description says that the class is four hours long but the last few times I've taught it I only needed three. The class is not too technical but it helped explain to students how to use their cameras to capture the picture they wanted by using the aperture, shutter speed as well as other features found on most of today's digital slr cameras.

It was nice to be back in a classroom environment and showing others how photography can be an outlet for them. If you're interested in finding a DPA class near you click on to sign up.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Circle of Life

It's official. Summer is now over and my weekly schedule has returned to somewhat normal. This morning I dropped off Benjamin at his new school and headed back to an empty house. How nice.

So I have to tell you about another one of those moments of parental realization for me that happen last week.

I took Benjamin to school to meet his new teachers and talk with them about how he is as an active boy. For the most part it went well. He seemed like he would do fine when school started and he gave his teachers a warning shot of his active nature.

While Benjamin was busy playing with the new toys he found in his classroom the teacher asked me to fill out the emergency contact info and other last minute forms. I didn't think much about it and took the forms to one of the tables in the classroom and squatted into one of the miniature chairs to fill out the information. Then it hit me. Wait a minute. The teacher got me into a midget chair.

At this point my mother is laughing loudly while reading this entry. There is a story that she likes to tell about how I got her into a midget chair when I was in second grade.
Back in the day, I was known as the class clown. I know shocker. Well apparently I considered music class my chance to dazzle my classmates with my stand-up routines instead of learning my do, re, fa, so la, ti do.

So when it came time for parent/teacher conference day all of my teachers lined up for an inquisition of my mother. To this day she still talks about how when she walked into the room there were three big chairs and one midget chair. That's when she was hit with a barrage of attacks on how I wasn't taking the lessons seriously. She said she felt so belittled just by the simple fact that she had to sit in a midget and take the attack I caused.

Fast forward 27 years. As I was writing down my cell phone number a wave of memories hit me. And the feeling of being a parent settled in. I was now sitting in a midget chair in my son's classroom. Thankfully he hadn't been there long enough for me to endure what my mother endured with Mrs. Boone, Mrs. Gonzales and Mr. Campbell.