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When I got interested in Photography, I headed for the internet and spent quite a bit of time on Ken’s site Kenrockwell.com . Ken Rockwell (for those of you who don’t know) is an outspoken photography blogger who gets a lot of publicity, often for his seemingly contradictory remarks about where he stands in the world especially in the battle of Canon Vs Nikon.

I suspect there is a lot of envy out there; many would love to have the page ranking of Ken Rockwell’s site (around 2 million visitors a month), and it’s always easy to criticise. Personally I think Ken is great, and a lesson to us all.

Here are some things we can learn from Ken.

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How would you like to be able to afford to buy the latest cameras as soon as they came out? Not long ago, people would have laughed at you for suggesting that you could make a living by writing a blog and putting it up on the web for people to see. They would of course be wrong. Ken Rockwell makes a living from the web traffic and affiliate links to the products on his site, and he’s not the only one doing it.

It makes sense that if you help someone in some small way, you should benefit also. It’s what economy is all about. Your benefit doesn’t have to be physical effort; it can be advice, or an idea, or it can just benefit someone in a way that they find valuable.

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Like him or not, Ken does the tech-spiel rather well. If you want to know how well a particular lens or camera performs then his site is loaded to the gunnels with data reaching back over decades. As a vault of information for the photographer looking into purchasing equipment, its a go-to place.

You can’t blame him for selecting the popular equipment (Canon, Nikon and more recently Fujifilm) to focus upon; he’s appealing to the mass market, and website traffic pays his mortgage very nicely thank you. Most of his critics couldn’t be bothered to go into such detail about the equipment on show.

Ken’s site exists as a photographic encyclopaedia resource. The key to making your website really pay for you is to produce timeless material. In this regard, photography is a great subject. The cameras and lenses are expensive, last for a long time and pass through many hands in their useful lives, so his website material doesn’t need updating too regularly and he will always have a regular stream of people interested in the information he has compiled.

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Despite what many critics would have you believe, I think Ken knows what he is talking about when it comes to photography. After just a brief glance at his website, you might wonder why you would take any advice from him, such are the ‘family holiday snap’ nature of many of his camera reviews.

Ken does claim to be a professional photographer, but all that means is he does it for a living. It would be true, even if all he did was buy the latest cameras, write reviews on them, take photos of his children and post them on his Blog. He makes a living from photography. It makes him a professional photographer.

I actually like it that he doesn’t take himself too seriously. A lot of people are going to use their cameras to take photos of their family and children, so it benefits them to see what ‘that’ might look like.

Other camera review sites seem to have regular haunts for their camera testing, and these location shots I find dull and formulaic. I’d rather see photos of people than pictures of a poorly lit alleyway behind ‘the office’ in dispersed light.

Ken does understand photography, and how to expose photos properly, and having a technical background he understands and can communicate the technology behind the cameras in a way which appeals to his audience.
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If you know anything about PR, you will know the old phrase “any publicity is good publicity”; (I’m not sure that publicist Max Clifford is saying this anymore, but it did work for a while).

As you know, Jeremy Clarkson is a hugely popular, old school chain smoking hack turned international TV star. But why is he so popular? After all his head is shaped like a giant potato, he is not remotely attractive to look at, and despite being intelligent and friendly, he does voice some rather extreme opinions that make him look like a mad old git.

Well, he’s an eccentric Brit which makes him interesting for starters, but the main reason he is so liked, is because he is not afraid to say what he thinks. He is the antithesis of the British Politician, who never says what he thinks.

Whether we know it or not, we like characters who are true to themselves, those not afraid to vent opinions that we may hold, but feel that we cannot (or should not) articulate. This is the essence of good journalism. It is a mood which resonates with the reader. The journalist, the writer, has the skill to put into words what other people are thinking.

The more media attention Clarkson gets, the more viewers he gets, the more books he sells and the more money he makes. Why publicise yourself, when you can get other people to talk (and write) about you for free.

Ken Rockwell gets a lot of stick and he is laughing all the way to the bank. Consider that he may even be rabble-rousing on purpose. Do what works for you, not what you think the world wants.

There are far too many people in the world who attempt to pander to everyone to make them all feel better. Art (and photography certainly falls in the same category), is a sensitive subject, but opinions are just opinions, we all have them. It doesn’t make me right and you wrong.

We have different beliefs and different ideas of what we like and what we want. Often purchasers look to people to validate the decisions that they have made in buying the right camera, or the right lens. What they really wanted was to know themselves what they should do.

I’m sure Ken doesn’t mind being a source of information that encourages people to click on his affiliate links, but I’m sure if it came down to it he would probably say that if you are asking me whether you should buy a new camera or lens, the answer is no.
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Ken is a big fan of photographic film, and film photography is for people who know their sh*t. In this sense he scores some kudos points.

When I started off shooting film, I took Ken’s advice and went with slide film and the WYSIWYG benefit. The initial results were pretty bad, but they did teach me a lot about photography, and the use of light, exposure latitude, apertures and shutter speeds, and how to deal with high dynamic range scenes.

I think I jumped in at the deep end. Truthfully, shooting negative film will give you better results to start with, but you need to find a good lab to scan your negs. When you get the hang of it, and you can nail your exposures, you can move over to slide film.

Ken Rockwell calls film the “real RAW” format. I like this attitude in the sense that a well exposed film photograph is a testament to good photographic technique. By contrast modern digital cameras will produce better results from the off, but they do take something away from the photographer’s skill. I still think that if you know what you are doing, you can get nicer looking results with a film camera than you can with a digital one.

I’m not suggesting if Ansel Adams was alive today, that he would still be using a view camera instead of shooting medium format in RAW and getting busy in Photoshop.

He was such an advocate of post processing techniques that I’m sure he would have loved the advances modern digital photography has brought to the table.

But there is no substitute for knowing and mastering the basics of photography, and if you shoot film a lot, you’ve got to know what you’re doing because digital is a lot more forgiving, and the camera does a lot of the work for you.

There isn’t much fancy electronics in a film camera. The Fuji GF670 and GF670W and the Voigtlander bessa III and III W (basically rebadged Fuji GF670 with a different finish) is a MF film camera that you can buy new today, but it is still a pretty basic user experience compared to a basic digital camera. If you can shoot a film camera well, you know what you’re doing.

5 Things we can all learn from Ken Rockwell (hint: not much to do with Photography)

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