10 years ago. Jerpoint Abbey, Ireland
It began at a grave. Even then, my photographic life was transitioning into more and more professional work, so when I found myself traipsing about Ireland, just taking photos for the heck of it, I wanted to try to do something different than thousands of other tourists. But the thing about graves is that they don't really do much that's interesting. So … shallow depth of field? My 70-200 could certainly do that at the long end, but the frame was too tight, and uninteresting.
Wait. I had An Idea.
The way invention often works is that the mass of striving, stumbling human minds just waits until the conditions are right, and then related ideas begin popping up. Set the precursors, and you start seeing multiple people work toward inventing calculus or the theory of evolution … or the far less consequential but quite fun idea of slapping together a bunch of panoramic images to make images that are otherwise impossible without extreme labor or digital creation.
And so, with the scene set of panorama creating becoming easy enough to just try things and hope for the best, I was neither the first person to independently come up with this idea … nor the last (sorry Joel Grimes!)
So, while the pictures were fresh and exciting to me, the part I’m more proud of comes after: Young(er) Ryan realized that this was not some idea of staggering irreplaceable genius, but just a really neat idea … so the key was to see exactly what can be done with it, and then sharing ever single bit of that knowledge, quickly and completely.
Looking back at the pictures from 10 years ago, one conclusion is obvious: I am bad at taking vacations. Panoramas dominate the rest of the trip -- and experimentation. Two hours later, before I even know if this works, I am trying to pano an entire two-story building (verdict: it works, technically, but not worth the effort). Two days later I am capturing candid action in panorama … something even now I very rarely do. Lighting with it, trying off-camera flash (tip: keep the power low), poking around the edges to see what worked. And somewhere that week figuring out that the math was (with a perfect planar stitch) the same as a teleconverter in reverse.
And, the important part: sharing all this, right away. Not to sell workshops: I wouldn't for years later, and it would be five years until I made a video I could point people to when they wanted in-depth help. Just because knowledge should be free. To me this is the best impulse of media of all kind, carried into the social media world.
But in ways I've been apologizing for it ever since. "Hey world! You probably know this already but it seemed pretty cool. I probably won't be so good at it since my work is about people and meaningful moments captured in very tight time frames, none of which says 'do this as a panorama,' but here you go!"
Even as I write this I cringe inside because it seems so self-promotional, even when being self-promotional is how someone running a business puts food on their table and self-promotion is the default mode of today's Internet.
Five years ago — September 2013 — that. I let my web site basically die. I shelved a helpful tutorial I had spent thousands on producing just from hearing the voices of not-yet-existent forum trolls yelling "Is he claiming he invented the composite?" (Not at all; I just made it extremely efficient in the pursuit of laziness.) But I also did a great deal of work on the person who I was away from the Internet. I went from the guy who probably scared a few assistants with my intensity (truly sorry for some of those drives though NYC traffic) to someone who has written this entire thing on his phone because he's watching my baby son sleep.
What comes next is, I hope, building on the good and letting people say what they may. We have seen more and more the weird darkness of social media … but watching this one neat idea of had 10 years ago branch out, be taught in colleges I attended, and carry the name of my father and son to many people struggling to pronounce "Brenizer," I remind myself of its possibilities.