Jack of all trades, master of none…?

This is something which has been troubling me for a little while now. Over the past month I’ve been increasingly thinking about what I intend to study at university as it’s only a few months now until I’ll have to make my choices and submit my application form. In regards to what I want to do at university I’m currently torn between…(wait for it)… politics, journalism, human geography, geology, genetic engineering, microbiology, business management and then you can add on multiple media courses to that list. Something tells me that 15 years from now, providing I have some sort of stable income, I’ll have multiple degrees.

Now, this brings me onto the subject of this post which is a bit more media orientated than the introductory paragraph would lead you to believe.
I’ve involved myself in the world of digital media for quite a few years now, I think I started when I was thirteen (four years sounds about right, probably longer). I wanted to make the things I admired, I wanted to design cool stuff that other people would admire. I had always be into painting, drawing and sculpting (I still am) but I wanted to do it on a digital level, so, I got myself photoshop CS3 (yeah, I was definitely younger than thirteen since CS4 was released late 2008). I just started clicking buttons and playing with the tools. Seeking a pat on the back from my mother whenever I felt I had accomplished something new, it’s really amazing what satisfaction the little things provided. I remember freaking out thinking I was so cool when I was able to make a multi-colour gradient, now-a-days I have actions set up so it takes less than 2 seconds to do such a thing.
Through experimentation I learned quite a lot about photoshop, but I felt as if there was more I could do; more I could learn. I turned my attention towards video. I spent quite a lot of time editing videos of random clips or even of xbox game clips, anything to learn more about colour grading, transitions, angles, titles, shakes, crops, overlays and… well, you get the gist. Video is an amazing media form which I always like to keep an eye on, It’s slowly revolutionising the world of the still photographer and I’d really rather not get left behind.

Video opened my eyes to many things, motion graphics and sound design in particular. My time with sound design was short lived but I feel I learned just enough to get me through any situation I may encounter, my intention was never to learn how to build digital songs – I’ll keep the music production to my guitar and harmonica. But I spent many, many sleepless nights experimenting in Adobe After Effects and trying to get over the very steep learning curve. It’s quite a shame now that since I’ve been away from it for so long all my hard work seems to have been wasted. I found After Effects amazing as a compliment to video production, but it didn’t do quite what I wanted it to do. The 2D animation wasn’t right at the time, although, the physics simulators were very intriguing. But alas, on I moved to Cinema 4D for 3D design and my God, that was extremely fun. 3D design is hands down the best way to waste 8 hours making little to no progress on something (that may sound sarcastic, but I’m deadly serious – it was amazing fun). From Cinema 4D it was on to blender for animation and character modelling and then one day, I found myself, in Adobe Lightroom, editing RAW files. I had practically gone full circle and ended up back at the start.

A few days ago, I purchased some photoshop magazines as composite images were starting to attract my attention. After a few hours of reading and watching the accompanying DVDs I ended up spending hours in photoshop doing what I had always wanted to do: create stuff. The satisfaction gained from creating something from scratch in unmatched. I honestly think I could take the best photo in the world but still consider building a 3D computer model of a human face to be far superior.
Well, since purchasing those photoshop magazines I’ve returned to Sony Vegas, After Effects, Illustrator, Cinema 4D and Blender.  If I’m so attracted to motion graphics then how come I’ve chosen still photography as what my life pretty much revolves around? I don’t know, but I sure as hell ain’t giving up photography.

And so this brings me on to what’s been troubling me. People say that you can be great at doing loads of things but you’ll never be able to perfect your skill at one particular thing. It’s got me thinking, many photographers take up a role as a videographer since it’s really simple once you understand your exposure triangle pretty much. But could there be any way of connecting still photography with 3D design, for example? Sure, maybe if I wanted to create digital art such as the work seen in the desktopography exhibitions but is there a practical use which I could integrate into a photography career?  Is there a place for motion graphics/animation amidst this photographer/videographer/designer dilemma? Perhaps I’m way in over my head.  Sure it’s useful, it’s always handy to have experience in slightly relative fields. But in any situation will it actually pay off to be a jack of all trades? Or should you really channel your energy and time into perfecting one thing? – Is there a market for a jack of all trades?

Maybe I’ll study business at university.

Last night I opened up Cinema 4D and After Effects CS5 to piece together a short little video intro for my future videos on my youtube channel. It’s proper short (7 seconds) and is only a few hours of work – most of that time was re-learning how to export illustrator paths into Cinema 4D and then work the extrude NURBS tool and the camera animations, I ended up doing everything the long and hard way but it was enjoyable none-the-less. There are some obvious problems, especially with my render settings and lighting, buts still… check it out!


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Stuart Comerford

Award-winning photographer. Writer/Director of the feature film "The Kids Aren't Alright".

One thought on “Jack of all trades, master of none…?”

  1. Its like you read my mind! You seem to know so much about this, like you wrote the e book in it or something. I believe that you could do with some p.c. to power the message house a little bit, however other than that, this is wonderful blog. A great read. I’ll certainly be back.

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