The Great Content Reorganization

I’ve made some major moves (again) with both of my blogs. Part of the reason for the changes is how I write content and how I was impeding myself.

While I absolutely love Hugo, it was not as WYSWIG friendly and it impeded my writing flow. I got close to streamlining my writing life when I started hosting my own Ghost instance and I love Ghost but it’s not as mature as WordPress, and frankly, I didn’t have the energy to always be hacking my site for uptime.

So I took a hard look at myself and started experimenting with WordPress again. I started moving my Hugo-based blog to WordPress as a test a few weeks ago and realized that I like it a lot.

Why? WordPress works really well with my preferred writing tool, iAWriter. I find iAWriter with its simple interface, markdown forward, and ease of integration with 3rd party services a dream.

I hate to say it but I got tired of writing content with iAWriter, copying and pasting the content into a markdown file, adding the YAML headers, then spell checking and running it through Grammarly, committing the updates in my GitHub repo, then merging pull requests, and keeping it all running on AWS Amplify.

Now I just write, click publish, select what blog I want to publish to and it handles all the image uploads, the titles, and puts things in DRAFT. Sure I have to do a bit of tweaking but doing this workflow saves me a ton of time!

So I went to, reactivated my and sites, and paid for hosting. Yes, I put my money where my mouth was with respect to supporting open-source and great products.

I paid for iAWriter and I now pay for WordPress. The best part of sitting on now is that I can build premium content and build a paid newsletter.

Now onto the hard part. I need to stop myself from sabotaging myself in the future. My Neural Market Trends blog is littered with all the back and forth switches between Blot, WordPress, Expression Engine, TextPattern, Hugo, and Ghost.

My goal now is to build this site and rebuild Neural Market Trends. I enjoy writing and I want to do just that. I want to share my thoughts and ideas with the world and keep building my brand – whatever that is – with you all.

What’s going to happen? Not a whole lot on the surface but there will be some content reorganization happening between my two blogs.

I will probably move my finance and passive income-related posts over to and keep Neural Market Trends purely focused on Startups, Machine Learning, and Data Science (all left-brain stuff) like it was before.

My site here, Thomas Ott dot IO will be everything else. It will be my hyperactive hamster in a spinning wheel. Topics all over the place from money, sex, relationships (the biggies) to my photography work (all right brain stuff).

I just have to remember to not sabotage myself, again.

Biden the Negotiator Confronts the Cold Reality of Capitol Hill Gridlock – The New York Times

“If I made a mistake, I’m used to negotiating to get things done, and I’ve been, in the past, relatively successful at it in the United States Senate, even as vice president,” Mr. Biden said in a news conference on Wednesday. “But I think that role as president — is a different role.” “The public doesn’t want me to be the ‘president-senator,’” Mr. Biden said. “They want me to be the president and let senators be senators.”

Biden the Negotiator Confronts the Cold Reality of Capitol Hill Gridlock – The New York Times

Methinks that if President Biden were to forgive student loan debt he’d become very popular, spur the economy, and help Democrats win the mid-terms.

100+ ultra-rich people warn fellow elites in open letter: “It’s taxes or pitchforks”

In an open letter published amid the corporate-dominated virtual Davos summit, 102 rich individuals—including such prominent figures as Disney heiress Abigail Disney and venture capitalist Nick Hanauer—warned that “history paints a pretty bleak picture of what the endgame of extremely unequal societies looks like.” “For all our well-being—rich and poor alike—it’s time to confront inequality and choose to tax the rich,” the letter reads. “Show the people of the world that you deserve their trust.”

100+ ultra-rich people warn fellow elites in open letter: “It’s taxes or pitchforks”

The change will come fast once the switch is flipped. The social contract needs to be brought into balance again.

Test Shoot with Expired Portra 160 Film

A fun experiment with an expired portrait film

I recently did a test shoot of expired Portra 160 film using my Mamiya RZ and the TTL (through the lens) metering prism. I did this mainly to see how much the color shifts on the film and try the spot vs average metering capabilities of the prism. I usually shoot with a handheld incident meter and the waist level finder but I noticed that my metering is sometimes off. Usually in the hardest light situations.

So I loaded up an expired roll of Portra 160 and headed out some closed stores/buildings along the highway where I live. Some closed before Covid19 and others during the pandemic. It’s all a really sad thing to see but I’ve been attracted to the neglected, abandoned, or empty spaces for many years. Here are the resulting photos and my notes on the TTL metering and whether or not I overexposed them or not.

I shot all ten frames at F/16 since it was a nice sunny day but I overexposed some frames by +1 (stop). The reason is that Portra is fantastic to overexpose by +1 because it really brings out detail in the shadows as you’ll see in the images below. They’re also not color corrected from scanning, a straight scan, and unmodified. I’ve uploaded the high-resolution scans of the images in the body of this article, just right-click on them to open up another browser window and zoom in.

Expired Portra Film Test

Image #1 – Closed NYSC, f/16 using TTL spot meter.

Expired Portra Film Test

 Image #2 – Closed NYSC, f/16 using TTL spot meter, +1 Stop

These are the first two images from the roll. Right off the bat expired Portra 160 looks to shift to more of a reddish cast when it starts breaking down. The roll that I had wasn’t stored in a refrigerator and I suspect that the colors would be different if I did store it in a cold place.

Fixing the color cast in post-production is a handy fix. Also, the color tones appear to be muted and washed out. I also notice quite a bit of grain which isn’t too bad but the most important thing I was interested in was the slight differences between the first and second image. If you look in the dark areas of the right window, you get better detail of the reflected signposts in the overexposed image (#2). That’s what I was aiming for.

Expired Portra Film Test

Image #3 – Closed NYSC, f/16 using TTL average meter

Expired Portra Film Test

Image #4 – Closed NYSC, f/16 using TTL average meter, +1 Stop

For these two images of the same subject, I used the average metering setting of TTL prism. The same differences between the normally exposed and +1 exposed frame is the same (i.e. the detail in the right window) but the overall exposure barely different. That’s because the entire scene was lit in 3 PM sunlight but if you open the high res versions of the images you’ll see that the frame’s exposure is more across the entire frame than the spot version. My preference is spot but in situations like this, especially when something is pretty uniformly lit, I would go with the average setting and a +1 overexposure.

Expired Portra Film Test

Image #5 – Abandoned car dealer, f/16 using TTL spot meter, +1 Stop

Expired Portra Film Test

Image #6 – Abandoned car dealer, f/16 using TTL spot meter

For these two images, I left the +1 stop exposure setting on and shot with that setting first. The same things apply as the image #1 and #2 above. The spot metering made a very slight difference in the image but bringing down the ‘hot areas’ of the image. The top of the building has a better visual definition than the average metered ones next.

Expired Portra Film Test

Image #7 – Abandoned car dealer, f/16 using TTL average meter

Expired Portra Film Test

Image #8 – Abandoned car dealer, f/16 using TTL average meter, +1 Stop

Once again images #7 and #8 were average metered and did ok here, my preference still leans to the spot meter with +1 overexposure for shadow details.

Expired Portra Film Test

Image #9 – Abandoned car dealer, f/16 using TTL spot meter

Expired Portra Film Test

Image #10 – Abandoned car dealer, f/16 using TTL spot meter, +1 Stop

The final images above (#9 and #10) close out the experiment. Shooting with expired Potra 160 film isn’t too bad provided you can deal with the color cast, grain, and washed-out tones. The washed-out tones are the one worry for me considering that Portra was always meant to be used for skin tones, but I’m thinking like a Portra purist.

You can shoot anything YOU want with this film because now you know how expired Portra works. Good luck and leave me a comment!

Shoot for Yourself

I upload my photography to 500px, Flickr, Instagram, and occasionally to Twitter. I find that I have to upload to all those social media sites because each one behaves differently!

They don’t behave differently in the sense they’re clunky and hard to use — no that’s not it at all — it’s the audience that behaves quite differently!

I consider myself a hobbyist photographer. I was a semi-professional at one time but I have a full-time gig that pays well and I don’t need the hassle of dealing with people as customers.

I like to shoot models, make fun photos with other creative people, and photograph fungi (mushrooms) when I hike. Once I make those photos I usually process them in Luminar and then upload them to 500px, Flickr, and Instagram.

Would you be surprised that your photo will resonate differently on each platform?

On 500px you have a “pulse” measure to see how quickly and well your photograph is doing. On Flickr, you have your followers comment or “fav” it. Instagram you have little hearts or other emojis. Each platform lets followers and viewers give kudos to a well-made photograph

I’ve written about how insidious sometimes this instant feedback is but it’s also a measure of how well your image resonates with your audience.

Would you be surprised that your photo will resonate differently on each platform? Do you think it’s by a lot or a little?

The answer is by a lot!

This photo of Lucy shot to the top of the 500px pile of popular photos the fasted ever for me.

Art Model Lucy Magdalene as a Witch by Thomas Ott on
Art Model Lucy Magdalene, © Thomas Ott

She clocked in at a measure 88.8 (which puts her into the popular category) just shy of the magic 90 measure. This happened in under 3 hours.

The reality is that we’re dealing with social media silos.

Whereas this image of my mushroom clocked in at 52 over the past 24 hours.

Turkey Tail mushrooms - Trametes Versicolor. by Thomas Ott on
Turkey Tail mushrooms, © Thomas Ott

It never made out of the “Fresh” category, so by 500px standards, it’s just noise.

Conversely, when I upload my fungi/mushroom photos to my Instagram, people comment, like, and go wild!

The images of Lucy? They’re received well but the excitement isn’t there as it is 500px.

Siloed social media

The reality is that we’re dealing with social media silos. The silos attract different types of people than different social media silos.

You should always work to achieve whatever vision makes you happy, whatever resonates as your authentic truth…

For example, the discussions I have and share on Twitter are vastly different than the ones I have on Facebook.

The same applies to your photography and your work. You have to upload the work you create to multiple social media sites so you can market yourself and sell your artwork.

While that sounds exhausting, it’s always been this way! Ask any writer that has piles of rejection slips from pitching their novel or work. Ask any artist how many galleries have rejected them before they landed the first one.

The thing is your true audience is out there but they’re not going to make it easy for you to find. Yes, social media helps you cast the net faster and further, but you should always be casting your net.

You should always work to achieve whatever vision makes you happy, whatever resonates as your authentic truth, and then take your voice and make yourself heard.

You need to shoot for yourself first because that’s who you are. The saying “be yourself because everyone else is taken” is 100% correct.

I like mushrooms and fungi, so I’m going to be the best mushroom photographer I can be!

I like making art with models, so I’m going to be the best art model photographer I can be!

Don’t be discouraged if Flickr gives your photos the cold shoulder. Find that Instagram or Twitter that will make your work go viral. That’s the tribe that will welcome you and your message, and that’s a wonderful thing.

Storytelling a Life From an Old Dungeon Master

The piece of paper below is over 35 years old. I drew it on a grid paper when I was a teenager, probably 14 or 15 years old. This was a map of a Dungeons and Dragons world that I created and used to make up games to play with my friends. A world, created in my mind, where I would daydream adventures in.

I found this old map when my mother asked me to go through an old box I left behind when I moved. I opened it up and found so many memories from my youth. I found my electronic design kits, my comic books, and my Dungeons and Dragons stuff.

Opening that box was a superhighway trip down memory lane. In an instant I was back in my parent’s basement on Friday and Saturday evenings, rolling dice, killing monsters, and finding treasure. My friends were there too as we poured soda and ate Doritos. We laughed, argued, and lived glorious adventures.

There were 5 of us over the years, with some dropping out because they thought it wasn’t cool anymore. Then high school got serious and we started to have part-time jobs. Somewhere along the way we ‘grew up’ and just stopped playing. These maps, the books, and dice I had all were put in a box until I opened it up 35 years later.

I felt like I had found a treasure chest when I opened that box. It wasn’t gold or riches, but something far more valuable. It was my youth.

Hidden among those comic books, dice, and other stuff was the essence of a 14-year-old boy. A box of my life was packed away in some dusty corner of the basement waiting to be discovered again.

Or did those memories come with me and shape my life for years to come?

When our kids got older we started to set aside a few Fridays a month for game night. At first, the games were pretty simple, matching games, Connect 4, and easy card games. As they got older the games got more complex and fun.

Three years ago I introduced them to Settlers of Catan and found they really liked the game. I could see them formulating their strategies to win against Mom and Dad. Of course, once they figured out how to win they got bored quickly and didn’t want to play it anymore.

They lamented that they wanted to play a new game, this one was too boring. They didn’t want to play card games and much preferred their online games. What to do? I had no answer, until a fateful trip to Target one day

I was with my family at Target one evening, shopping for something that I can’t remember when we decided to browse the board game section. At the end of the shelf was the answer to the problem. I spied a black box with the letters Dungeons and Dragons Starter Kit on it.

I picked up the box and looked at it, a smile escaped across my face and my daughter asks me “What’s that?”

“A game I played for years that was so much fun,” I say.

“Let’s get it then!”

“Hmm,” I pause and flip it over. It was on sale for $19.99. and I thought why the hell not?

Later that evening my daughter rolled up an assassin character named Damian, my son a fighter, and my partner a cleric. I played the part of the Dungeon Master as I wove a tale of adventure for that night.

Everyone quickly realized that this game was very free form, there were no hard and fast rules, except for survival. I remember one exchange between my partner and a barkeep non-player character that left her flabbergasted. She didn’t expect someone to talk back to her in such a flippant manner!

After a few hours of laughs and slaying undead monsters, it was time for bed. We tucked in the kids and retired to our room. As we lay in bed and talked about the fun we had my partner blurts out, “you’re a good storyteller, that was fun.”

Somewhere between that 14-year-old boy and this 51-year-old man, I found my storytelling voice. I found my passion the moment I gave my first Toastmaster speech. I found my drive when I was a keynote speaker at a machine learning conference in Germany, and I found the depth of my soul at my father’s memorial.

I had become a storyteller of my life and my adventures over time. From all the good and bad adventures that I lived over the years, like those Dungeons and Dragons characters. I had lived cross-country travels where all we had to eat was canned soup and no can opener.

I remember the time when I froze in absolute terror, clinging to a cliff wall after losing my footing, waiting for my friend to help me up.

I remember feeling my heart swell when I saw the laughter in an old lover’s eye.

I cherish those memories and those old scribbles in those books. It wasn’t that I locked my youth or a part of myself away! No! That always came with me, that box of stuff was just a reminder that everything in life is a circle. Old becomes new, and new becomes old, and along the way, we live life.

I believe that the only way we can derive meaning from this wacky thing we call life is to speak our stories. Tell our stories to all that would listen. Speak of your grand adventures. Speak of the love that is lost, and perhaps gained again. Speak of the births, of the deaths, and of the wisdom, you gathered.

The circle remains unbroken and begins anew, so pull up a chair, pour yourself an ale, and weave a tale for all of us to enjoy.

The Joys of Tidying Up

I bought Marie Kondo’s book, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing at the end of 2018. Since then, I’ve been reading it on and off and find it to be quite good. I’ve taken some of her techniques and put them to use in my house, not because it’s overly cluttered but to help bring more harmony to my house.

Our house is not overly cluttered but it does have some pockets of disorganization and clutter. This is mostly in our office. Both my wife and I work from home 90% of the time and the office tends to be the magnet for papers, letters, books, laptops, chargers, cameras, etc.

Another spot of clutter is the coffee table in the living room. It becomes a magnet for magazines and books. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see that ‘books’ and paper products appear to be the big things in our house.

The next big thing is laundry. We have two kids and it seems that every time I look around, there’s another load to wash and fold. Usually, we do 4 loads at a time and then have 4 loads of laundry to fold. This turns into a large pile of terror to look at and we tend to leave folding for the last minute. Everyone in our house folds completely differently and clothes get jammed into weird places in our respective dressers and closets.

Joys of Tidying Up

After watching some Kondo videos and reading her book, I decided to take charge of the laundry problem while I think about the book and paper problem. I cleared the tops of the washing machine and dryer and now the laundry right as soon as it comes out. I do it using her ‘stand up method’ and folding it in thirds. Then I put it away, wait for the next load to finish washing, then dry it, and repeat.

I even got my wife to do this and we’ve found that the dread of folding a mountain of clothes has completely gone away. The kids help too and we’ve reduced our stress completely, so score a point for Marie.

Book Clutter

Worse than the paper clutter (and I start recycling them), is my book clutter. We have 100’s of books that haven’t been read and are just jammed into our bookshelves, coffee tables, and nightstands. I love books and love reading but I came to a realization that 85% of these books are never read, 10% is used (recipe books, reference, etc), and 5% are books I’ve read several times over the years.

What was it about 5% of the books I’ve re-read over the years? It’s because I love them and I always learn something new from them. So I completely get Marie’s point on touching the book and if I get an emotional reaction to it, then I keep it.

What are those books? They’re my books on Haiku and History. Some are on Self Improvement and Personal Growth. Others are Hiking, Adventure, and Cooking. The rest of them I feel zero emotion to them and realize I can probably donate over 50% of them to the local library book sale.

I will be commencing with a book decluttering shortly after I talk my better half into decluttering her books too.

The Joy of the Library

The book decluttering process has taught me, or shall I say reinforced another lesson. Learn to Love Thy Local Library. Instead of buying books from Amazon, I can borrow the books I want to read and then return them. I can return them if I don’t like them or if I loved them. I can re-read the ones I loved and never read again the ones I don’t. I can return them and never have them clutter up my house for years.

Yes, that’s the power of your local library. Get books for free, read them for free, and return them. It’s a super win-win. You save money, support your local library, and have a clean house. Why didn’t think of this before? Score another point for decluttering books Marie, and get a bonus point for reminding me how awesome libraries are.

Sparking Joy

One of the big themes in Marie’s book is the concept of Sparking Joy. We all have a short life to live and it’ll be filled with problems and stress. Yet, we are meant to live our lives in happiness and joy, so we try to surround ourselves with loved ones, a good job, friends, and things that make us happy.

Marie’s point is that your space, your house, your ‘castle’ is a primary point for creating (sparking) joy. If your home is not in balance and you’re not feeling happy, then there’s something wrong and your entire life can get out of whack.

I completely get this as all these things are ultimately in your control. You can pick good friends, you can find people to love, you can search for a job you love, and you can create your living space in a joyful environment.

Thanks, Marie. I’m going to doing to do a load of laundry right now.

Make a Big Impact in Your Life

I owe all my success in life to effective communication. This includes my professional life, my love life, and my social life.

In this article, I’d like to share two tips for effective communication in your professional life.

It’s just three small tips with huge payoffs! Read on…

In my professional life, I work as a sales engineer, data scientist, and master of duct tape. I stick things together to make them work in a high technology field. It’s one of the most affirming and exciting things I’ve ever done in my life and I look forward to going to work every day.

How did I go from “zero” to “hero?”

I didn’t go to school for computer science or data science, I have a degree in Civil Engineering. I worked as a Professional Engineer for over 20 years. So how did I get here?

I got into this field by luck, curiosity, hard work, and communication. I had started a blog on data mining that turned into a full-blown career in the startup world and data science, and I couldn’t have done it without communicating complex ideas simply and effectively.

It appears that recruiters are searching for those communication skills as well:

However, the difference between a good Data Scientist and a GREAT Data Scientist is often not found in their technical ability or their amazing mathematical genius. Data Science exists to provide a service to business and business is run by people. If Data Scientists cannot comfortably communicate with their non-expert colleagues and bosses, then their effectiveness is greatly reduced. They need to communicate easily with people, to understand, to interpret, to translate.

How did I go from “zero” to “hero?” By learning public speaking, writing with style, and making pretty pictures.

Take a Toastmaster’s class

One of the best things I ever did for my career was to take public speaking classes. Before those classes, I used to only speak to other engineers. When I typically started a conversation with them I would say, “I used a c value of 0.95 for that section of impervious cover.

They’d nod their heads and understand what I said perfectly. A non-technical person would be scratching their heads wondering if I was speaking in a strange language.

…I seem to make people cry a lot…

Over time I learned that it’s the non-technical person that was in charge of budgets and/or making business decisions. If they have no idea what you’re doing or you can’t persuade them that your project is critical, they’ll allocate time and resources elsewhere.

You must communicate effectively to non-technical people to persuade them for that important win, budget, monies, or decision.

So what’s the solution here? Is it making pretty images or large displays? Is it writing at a level for non-technical readers, or is it being able to speak clearly? The answer is all three.

Achieving proficiency in all three is completely feasible but it does require some time on your part.

How do you do it? How do you start? You enroll in Toastmasters.

Yes, you get your ass up in front of people and work toward becoming a certified Toastmaster. To achieve that status you need to give 10 speeches, each one with a specific focus.

The first one is the hardest, it’s the icebreaker. You have to get up in front of people and introduce yourself for 3 to 5 minutes.

Then you progress into speeches to inform, to persuade, or to evoke an emotional response (I seem to make people cry a lot).

My current career relies heavily on the skills I learned being a Toastmaster, as does my partner’s career too.

The best part about joining Toastmasters is that it doesn’t break the bank. Yes, there’s a membership fee but it’s nominal and you have clubs in churches, libraries, and schools. Just visit Find A Club link and enter your zip code. Done!

Joining Toastmasters all those years ago was the best thing I ever did, it yielded the highest professional return in my life for the smallest investment of time.

Elements of style

I met Robert in graduate school. He was a Canadian man in his late 60’s, retired, and living in the States with his wife. He woke up one morning and enrolled in business school where I was.

“Tom, this book made a big difference in my writing and I hope it does the same for you.”

We hit it off and worked on many class projects together. Over the semesters he started to share his life with me. I was impressed and inspired by the life he had led up till then.

As a son of Chinese immigrants, he settled in Canada, worked in a dry cleaner, then owned a pizza parlor, started and sold a newspaper, and became a writer.

He was the most interesting man I’ve ever known up till that point and he remains a good friend to this day.

As our graduate life came to an end, we went down to the local pub for a celebratory drink. We had spent a good 3 years together, writing, learning, and presenting. We reminisced about all the good times and commiserated on the bad times.

You’ll never remember all the Macbook versions out there but you will remember the Apple logo.

After the second drink, he reached into this bag and handed me a small sliver-looking book.

He looked squarely in my eyes and said, “Tom, this book made a big difference in my writing and I hope it does the same for you.”

Robert handed me a book titled “Elements of Style” by William Strunk, Jr. and E.B. White.

It’s a tiny book that packed — and I mean packed — elements of writing compositions, style, and grammar.

Over the years that gift has made a big impact on my writing and I refer to it when I need to edit a lengthy text or just need some inspiration.

Thank you, Robert, you have no idea how your thoughtfulness has impacted my life.

Visuals, it’s about the visuals

The last item that made a big impact on my life is understanding that the majority of people in this world are visual learners. That means they learn best from pictures and visualizations.

A single photograph can inspire a call to action or change the narrative of war.

I took up photography many years ago as a way to express my creative outlet and have spent countless hours reviewing and analyzing photos.

In that time I’ve learned a few things about images and visualizations.

The most effective and powerful images are the simple ones. I’m not talking simple flowcharts, but the ones that are stripped down to their bare essentials and focus on my key thing, whatever that thing may be.

Every commercial and every advertisement we see seeks to focus your eye on one thing.

You’ll never remember all the Macbook versions out there but you will remember the Apple logo.

How many Nike shoes did you have? You’ll remember the swoosh first.

When you create visuals and images, you have helped the viewer train their eye to the most important part of that image. That’s how you make an impact.

To see a non-commercially inspired set of images, I suggest you visit an art museum. Walk around the halls in the different periods, see what images resonate with you.

I’m partial to the abstractive art and Wabi Sabi types of Art. I like minimalistic art because it makes a powerful statement that leads viewers to read into any way they see fit.

You will need to figure this out for yourself and see what works best in your career!


Sign up for Toastmasters. Learn to write better. Make pretty pictures.

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33 Tips to Find Inspiration for Your Photography

There are times when we don’t feel like taking any photos. You see a great scene and go ‘meh, I’ll pass.’ I know that feeling because I’ve suffered from it over the years. Finding inspiration for your photography work can be hard at times. I don’t believe in forcing creativity at all but what I believe in is creating a situation where inspiration finds you!

Here are 33 tips on how to find inspiration for your photography. I’ve organized them based on their categories and I hope to add to this list over time when I find more to share. If you find this post useful, please share it on social media.

Physical Activity

The first set of inspiration generators that I wanted to share is something that you wouldn’t normally associate with finding inspiration, it’s exercise. Getting the blood pumping helps focus the mind and it helps me be more creative afterward.

Tip #1 — Exercise

Any type of exercise helps get my creative mind going. I just returned from a swim to finish this article. Whenever I regularly exercise my creative juices flow and inspiration seem to hit. Sometimes it takes a few days of regular exercise to focus the mind but when it does, you’ll generate a lot of great ideas and photos!

Tip #2 — Go for a Walk

A simple low-impact exercise is walking. I like walking around a lot because you are slower than a car and more attentive to what you see around you. Walk around your neighborhood, visit your parents and walk around their neighborhood. Just walk around but make sure to take your camera. It doesn’t have to be a big DSLR, it could be your mobile phone. Just walking around outside can help inspire you to take a photo.

Tip #3 — Go for a Bike Ride

Another great low-impact exercise is biking. The best part about biking is that you could a lot further than walking and ride to some interesting places. Make sure to take your camera with you, preferably a light one. I took this shot with my phone while on a bike ride in Cape Cod.

© Thomas Ott

I would’ve never taken this shot if it wasn’t for me riding my bike around there and being inspired by what I saw.


The next category is traveling. You don’t need to travel far, you can walk to it, bike to it, drive to it, or even fly to a new location. No matter how you do it, you have to leave your house and go somewhere else. Just a change of scenery can inspire you to shoot more.

  1. Go to the next town over

One of my favorite things to do is just go over to the next town. There are different shops and buildings to look at it and possibly shoot. I’m a big fan of closed or abandoned buildings, I’m pretty sure every town has some. The way the town and buildings are laid out might give you opportunities to catch interesting light. The best part? Your neighboring town isn’t that far away, hop on your bike and head over.

  1. Visit the nearest city

One of my favorite things to do is get a group of people together and go on a photo walk in the nearest city. My nearest city happens to be New York City but I’ve visited smaller cities like Minot or Williston North Dakota. There’s a ton of things to see and shoot if you just head over to their nearest city.

  1. Visit the countryside

If the city isn’t your thing, then maybe the countryside is. I live in New Jersey so there’s a strong farmland component to several parts of the State. I come across old barns, rolling fields, and abandoned grain silos. There are a lot of things to be inspired in the countryside, just grab your camera and head out there.

  1. Go camping

Want to get away from all the crowds and get closer to nature? Try camping. Some of my favorite personal shots were when I was camping out in the desert, woods, wherever. Sleeping under the stars, being a bit uncomfortable, and waking up in a new place can be inspiring. If you’re going camping that’s accessible by car you can bring more camera gear or you can go light by bringing a point and shoot with an extra battery.

  1. Go backpacking

Another extreme to the camping theme is going backpacking into the backcountry. You can visit places that only people dream of and you might see things that no one has ever seen. That, right there, is inspiring to me. Just make sure to carry only the camera equipment you need because backpacking 10 miles with a lot of gear, your tent, food, etc can get heavy!

  1. Visit a new country

A more expensive way to get inspiration is to go visit a new country. It doesn’t matter where you go just that you go and see new things. Visiting Rome with unadulterated eyes can give you a shot of inspiration over the everyday Roman person living there. Just make sure to take extra batteries and ensure your equipment, thieves strike everywhere!

Reykjavik Iceland Viking Boat Sculpture

  1. Go Vagabonding

Vagabonding is the method of traveling around countries and places for an extended time. Usually, when we visit a foreign country it’s because we’re on a holiday or vacation. We’re there for 5 days or 10 days and we don’t see all the non-tourist stuff. I find that the good stuff is usually where the everyday people live and work.

Just visiting the backways or off the beaten paths of a place – if you have a month to spend there – makes for great inspiration. I highly recommend reading Ralf Pott’s Vagabonding book (affiliate link) to learn how to travel the world on a shoestring budget.


  1. Take your camera everywhere

Take your camera everywhere, you never know when a great shot appears in front of your eyes. Ricky Powell has something to say about that around the 3-minute mark of the video. The more you take your camera with you, the more you’ll find inspiration AND get the shot.

  1. Rent or buy a new camera

Shooting with a different camera can be inspiring in itself. There are new settings, different technology, etc. I like shooting with different film cameras in different formats. I love a clunky old medium format film camera that can give me a 6×7 image.

  1. Rent or buy a new lens

The same applies to renting a new lens. Maybe you live near a park and want to try a 500mm lens to photograph the birds in the trees. Or you could try a lens that gives you great bokeh for portraits. Sometimes the lens (and camera) will drive your inspiration to try something new.

  1. Try film (analog) photography

I learned on film and I still love this medium. Nowadays digital photography is the norm and so are post-processing images after you capture a RAW file. With film, you have to do a lot of upfront thinking and minimal post-processing afterward. This could be liberating for some but also inspiring because of the different film looks you can get automatically! Try analog once or twice, it might get your creative juices flowing!

Burlesque Dancer Ivory Fox

OPA – Other People’s Art

  1. View Other people’s Work (Instagram/Flickr)

I’m a big fan of looking at other people’s art (OPA) or photography work to get inspired. Sometimes to can make derivatives of their work, for instance, this image inspired me to make this image.

There are tons of great photographers sharing work on Instagram, Facebook, and Flickr. Spend some time on those sites and you’ll be sure to find something that’ll inspire you.

  1. Borrow or buy photography books by the Masters

I’m a fan of buying books by well-known and not-so-well-known photographers. I’ve bought PDF books from street photographers, a treatise on the Road to Seeing (affiliate link), and much more. The best part is that you are supporting the local photographer if you buy directly from them.

  1. Copy the photographs from the Masters

Similar to what I did with this image, I copied someone I admired to learn how and what they were feeling when making it. I then personalized to how I was feeling back then. If you’re a fan of Bresson, try to copy some of his photos but with your twist to it. You’ll not only find a ready source of inspiration but might make a great photo too.

  1. Read Photo Blogs

Part of keeping your creative juices flowing is to feed your head. Read photo blogs (like this one), read books, do whatever you can to feed that brain of yours so it can start making neural connections to inspiration!

  1. Change your perspective

Instead of shooting portrait or landscape style with perfect focus, try blur and shake. Tilt the photograph, forget perfect focus, just take the photo! Get on your knees and get low, try climbing a tree and getting above it all (safely). Changing the perspective on how you see things and scenes can inspire you.

Mix different Arts together

Everyone has that song that puts them in a good mood, makes them crank up the volume, and sing. Some people feel deeply connected to written words, poems, sonnets, or even stories. Other people look at paints and feel moved. Whatever other art moves you, look to it to inspire you.

  1. Complimentary Work

Often when I work or go out to take pictures I listen to my favorite artists. Sometimes I like to take a song lyric that has a meaning to me and make a photo of that. Someone else’s inspiration rubbed off on me and that’s a great thing to feel!

  1. Write poetry, haiku, gogyoka

I like to write poetry, especially Haiku, Haibun, and Gogyoka. When I pen a new piece I think about an accompanying image that I could create to compliment the written word. Other times, an image I take inspires me to write a poem!

  1. Listen to music

I wrote about it above but listening to music is my number one way of getting inspired to shoot photos. Just listen to the lyrics and how the song makes you feel. If it’s loud and angry my photos tend to be daring or dark. If it’s peaceful and mellow then my images tend to turn out that way too.

Photo Groups

Taking photos can be a solitary event or even a big social event. Granted the Covid19 pandemic killed a lot of social gatherings and prevented a lot of my shutterbug friends from getting together too. Now, with vaccines, things will be different in the summer of 2021 and onward, fingers crossed!

  1. Join a photo group

I’m active on Flickr, which is by far the best photo-sharing website out there. Sure Instagram and others are popular now but Flickr has the best groups. You can 100’s of groups that cater to your interests and interact with people there.

I’ve made many friends that have inspired me to become a better photographer. I routinely meet up with fellow shutterbugs and do photo walks. Join a group and meet new people that will inspire you.

A Day in NYC with Friends

{{< resize-image src=”friends-nyc.jpg” alt=”Photog Friends in NYC, (c) Thomas Ott 2021″ caption=”Lee, Ann, and Me in NYC, (c) Thomas Ott 2021″ >}}

  1. Take part in a photo challenge

One of the great things about Flickr groups and meeting people is the random photo challenges they have. I’m currently in American Photographer where each group thread is a subject that anyone can post to, like a game. For example, the New York City thread is all about New York City whereas Joker’s Wild builds on some similarities from the previous photo, and so on.

  1. Join a voting game

A great but defunct Flickr group was F/64. Whenever a new game was to start, photographers would sign up and you’d be randomly paired with another photographer.

There would be a theme and you had 24 hours to submit a photo on that theme. Your opponent did too. Then people would vote and whoever got the most votes would move on to the next round. This kicked your inspiration out the door.

  1. Organize or Join a Photowalk

Joining or organizing a photo walk with a bunch of shutterbug friends is extremely fun! Most of the time these happen in cities or at a studio, but it’s a great way to get inspired by other people shooting photos. Plus, you make it a social affair too! Photowalks have always inspired me to take more and better photos.

Get out of your Comfort Zone

We all get comfortable and tend to shoot the same type of subject with the same camera settings over and over again. Here are some tips on how to switch things up and get inspired by pushing yourself outside of your comfort zone.

  1. Try a different genre

Do you shoot landscapes or portraits? Why not try street photography? Scared to shoot a model, get together with a friend and hire one for outdoor lifestyle shoots. Try a new genre and it might inspire you to shoot some great new photos.

  1. Put yourself as the subject of the photo

This one can be scary but instead of you always being an external view of a scene, why not put yourself into it? I’m a big fan of Rebbekka’s work where she puts herself in her photos.

Reconstructed Tom
  1. Make a personal project

If you start thinking to make work on a project your inspiration will automatically kick in. Want to make a personal project about your dog or cat? You can start shooting where they sleep, how they interact with people, etc. The ideas will become endless. Just think of something close and dear to your heart and make it a project. The inspiration will flow!

  1. Create a photo documentary/essay

Likewise with the personal project above, creating a photo essay or documentary about something that you find interesting from a historical perspective could be inspirational. The historic NJ canal system, which was built during the Revolutionary War, exists in my area. I’ve always wanted to trace the original path and photograph what it looks like now. It’s been abandoned and some parts still exist, but making it a documentary would be pretty cool.

  1. Volunteer

Another idea to get your creative juices going is to volunteer your expertise for a cause. I know a friend that helps take photos of shelter dogs and cats for adoption. Her ability to make the animals look great has increased the adoption rate at the shelter, a win-win for her and the animals!

  1. Create a website or blog

Another great tip is to start writing and posting your thoughts with your photos on a website or blog. This way you start thinking about creating content and what images you need to support your

  1. Take Your Camera Everywhere!

Taking a camera everywhere is easier than ever. We have smartphones in our pockets and the best camera is the one you have on you. If you have a point-and-shoot (P&S) camera (mine is the Ricoh GRD or Canon G11), even better. You get better battery life and IQ from point and shoots, although the iPhone is starting to surpass a lot of P&Ss’ now.

You never know when you see a funny scene or something that makes you go “I should take a picture of that!” If you had your camera with you, you could.

Tom and a *big a$$* camera

What If No One Ever Saw Your Photography?

I came across a curious YouTube video a few weeks ago where the creator went into a philosophical discussion about creating photos and having no one ever see them.

He referred to Vivian Maier, a woman that died in 2009. She had let her storage place lapse two years prior and all her contents were “won” by John Maloof, Ron Slattery, and Randy Prow. In her storage space were decades of developed and undeveloped film of her street photography work.

© Wiki Media Commons

Vivian spent all her free time photographing over decades and never showed anyone her work. It was only just before her death that her work was shown and took the world by storm.

Can you imagine a person like her in today’s world with an iPhone, Instagram, and Facebook?

I can’t.

She was a Socialist, a Feminist, a movie critic, and a tell-it-like-it-is type of person. She learned English by going to theaters, which she loved … She was constantly taking pictures, which she didn’t show anyone. via Wikipedia

She never posted her work on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram. She never did it for the likes, recognition, or adulation.

If the right people didn’t find her work, after letting her payments lapse, she would’ve died in obscurity. No one, except her living relatives, would’ve known who she was and her odd quirks.

My initial reaction was “OMG, how lucky we are to know her work” but how many Vivian Maier’s are out there? And how many will we never know?

Why Shoot if You’re Not Going to Show?

In today’s FOMO world and siloed social media, we’re driven to create content and share our photographs. If our creative work is well received we might get a like or a comment. On the surface, this instant feedback is good. You can learn faster and course-correct as needed.

But the darker side to instant feedback is that you get hooked on it. You might tie up your entire self-worth or voice as a creative in little likes and hearts.

I find that incredibly upsetting. We are more than just social media likes and hearts, at least I’d like to think we are.

Plus, developing your style and your voice takes time. It takes making mistakes, falling, and getting back up again, time after time, to develop who you are as an artist and photographer.

Perhaps it might be a good thing NOT to show your work for a long time or even at all. You need time to find your voice and develop your style if you want to be an artist.

Some find themselves faster than others, and some — like yours truly — can take decades.

Here’s a mental exercise. What happens when you do show your work and it’s not well received? Do you then change your style to match what general society likes or wants? If you were to change, what is the reason why? Is it for the likes and hearts?

If you couldn’t care less about the likes and hearts then it begs the deepest and hardest question to answer, why do you shoot at all?

This, dear friends, is a question I struggle with. Why do I even shoot at all? What is my voice? What is my style? What is my message? Do I even need to have a message?

Box of Positives & Negatives

My partner and I moved our entire family to a new house 5 years ago. When we did I boxed up all my old positive slides and negatives in a box and promptly forget where I put them.

A few weeks ago I found them again and was amazed at some of the old work I did. Granted, I have to scan them in (and I’m lazy that way) but I held the positives up to the light and remembered.

© Thomas Ott

I found my old landscapes from New Mexico and my 3-week exploration of the desert Southwest. I found my scrap metalwork at Port Newark. I found my old flower work.

And I found 100’s of negatives that need to be sleeved and stored. A lot of work that I will reserve for the winter if I have time.

© Thomas Ott

That box of positives and negatives reminded me of Vivian Maier. She photographed and stored her work, never to be seen again. I photographed and stored my work and forgot it. Did Vivian forget her work too?

A Life Worth Living

If I died my family would probably throw them away, a large part of my life gone. I would hope they would at least look at them before they tossed them away, but the probability of that is very low because everyone lives digitally now.

My images, good or bad, are pieces of my life. They provide a window into my past life, a place where I’ve been.

Then there are photographs of me that other people have taken. One day when they die and their work gets thrown away, that photograph of me will be thrown away too.

Will my life have been meaningless? Watch this NY Times video, it hit me hard.

In a world where photography is cheapened, a world where we hustle, a world where we live and die by the likes and hearts, is there any true meaning to photography left?

I say yes.

Its meaning can take many forms but its first and foremost’s meaning is what it is for you.

This is you. When you snap that shutter, it’s you.

A self-portrait is you. A photo of that rock you took, is you. A photo of your loved ones, it’s you. A photo of your lover, it’s you.

This is it. This is your life, the wonderful meaning that is you. Photography is just another way to bring meaning to your life if you let it be.

If you let photography be the avenue for your self-discovery and your meaning then the likes and hearts don’t matter. They become noise around you, and you are the signal.

Your work matters, if it’s only for an audience of one.