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Kando Trip: A Collective Learning Experience

“Hey dude, can you, like, turn that light off?  We are trying to shoot the stars, man...”  The voice came from above me and the South of my position.  It was just a voice in the darkness. This is how I was greeted after climbing to the top of one of the foothills around 11pm last night on my first attempt at astro photography. I had my camera on a tripod and I was experimenting with exposures but the back lcd was lighting up during each 13-second shot and it was affecting the guy’s images. I moved up about 20 feet closer to the voice in the darkness.

And then, I dared to speak into the darkness. “Hey, why are my images all yellow?” The voice came back, now less irritated and a little more patient, “you gotta set it for tungsten dude.”  “OK,” I replied. It worked great and now the yellow turned into beautiful shades of blue and purple and the contrast seemed to increase. So I tried again. “Hey,” says I into the darkness, “my stars aren’t sharp. Is it focus or something else?” No man, you gotta use the self-timer cause of your lousy tripod.”  My tripod was indeed lousy and cost me a whole $35 four years ago. “And make sure your focus is set for infinity.” Check.

It was at this point that I stopped staring at the blank but very bright LCD during each 13-second exposure. I began holding my hand in front of the EVF so the back would shut off each image I captured. Another voice from my left spoke, “there you go man, thanks!”

And so it was that an “Artisan” (read that as ‘old dude with tons of experience at the top of the photographic game’) came to encounter a couple of “Collectives” (read that as young millennial social-media-savvy photographer geniuses) on the top of a mountain in the dark above Santa Barbara.

Later on, I found the voice that first spoke to me was attached to a young guy who was sitting on the back of a golf kart drinking a beer and eating a Rice Crispy treat as his camera was automatically shooting exposure after exposure with the aid of a non-lousy tripod and something called a “Genie.”  Now that was a better way to shoot than what I was doing for sure.

We didn’t have name-tags during the day-time to allow us to distinguish between Artisan and Collective. There are over a hundred exposure-creatives up here on the Sony Kando Trip 1.0 this week in Southern California, but after the first day, I began to figure out how to spot the “Collectives.”  The Artisans gather together for meals and often go in small groups to various activities. We stick more to what we know and since we're all spotlighted on the AlphaUniverse.com website, we can sneak looks at, and find out what our competition’s experiences are. On the other hand, the “Collective” are infuriatingly curious and introduce themselves to each other like crazy at every opportunity. And so here is guide to begin to figure out who they are.

First, there is a tell-tale visual cue as they all have massive smartphones with white power cords constantly attached to ever-present Li-ion power supplies which they sometimes hide in their pockets or clothing. Second, when you talk to them, eye contact is optional as they are all tweeting, typing, and “pushing” their way into oblivion, engaging a thousand or so internet fans who seem not to have jobs. It’s constant engagement at all times. I suspect they all have myfi units also hidden somewhere too as they can always find internet when my old iPhone cannot.

Third, we Artisans are perfectly happy to spend our time in paradise showing up early to all meals and finding the bar and chocolate whenever available. The Collective folk are always plotting to escape from campus to go and shoot that “wicked canyon an hour or so to the North.” Mind you, they are planning to shoot an image that has been shot over and over but no matter, they are fiends to duplicate and post their versions instantly at capture. They seem more interested in getting up early to explore and staying up late to socialize. 

Clearly “Kando” has multiple meanings. Yes, it’s all about creativity, but I think Sony’s genius extends to more than just making futuristic cameras and sharp lenses. It seems that this Artisan needed a “Collective” kick in the ass. We need to better harness the internet and make it our bitch, like our younger counterparts masterfully do. And yet, the Collective can use some photo tips from us AARP card carrying pros. It seems like the Artisans can shoot and get published and get paid, but we often lack the vigor and vitality of “The Collective.” No two groups need each other more, and here Sony is providing, massaging, and quietly facilitating this collision and collusion of sorts in the foothills above the Pacific.

My heart is filled with wonder for the beauty we have been surrounded by this week. My belly is full of gourmet food they keep pushing at us, meal after meal. I am particularly grateful to know how to “airdrop” from my iPhone to my MacBook Pro without the need of wireless (who knew?). Some kid who felt sorry for me saw I was actually e-mailing images to myself so as to get them on Instagram. Archaic and ridiculous, I know.

I am full of knowledge and experience and can make a single picture with 30 mono-block heads, and while I rule my Sinar P, I have a lot to learn from the good young people of every color and race with me here at El Capitan Canyon. I hope I can come again next year with a need to get schooled rather than teach, to absorb more than I exude. Put simply, I have a lot to learn about how to continue to be a shooter in the 21st century. And so, as the sun comes up on our last day, I’m going to march down the mountain from my cabin and sit with the “cool kids” and ask just what kind of power supply is best for my sad little iPhone 6.  I’m not going to say a word about my four covers of Sports Illustrated, because they happened more than a minute ago and are therefore not relevant anyways. I’m going to learn all I can and try to nip at the heals of these social media photo and video experts.

Kando is not all about creative warm fuzzy. Kando is teaching me some hard lessons about staying in this game. I am energized and ready to take on new challenges when I get home.