I am writing this blog to apologise. I am apologising about not replying.
You see, almost eleven years ago, when I started teaching workshops I used to say to my students, “if you have got any questions after the workshop, just drop me an email” and this was fine. I enjoy helping people overcome problems they have with their photography, helping them select the right gear or giving some help on good locations to try, so it was no problem to get a couple of emails a month with questions and to answer them.
Little did I realise that over the years the just how the volume of questions would grow. I have now taught somewhere between a thousand and two thousand photographers. (I stopped counting at a thousand). I have nearly four thousand followers on Twitter with more on Facebook and Instagram. Writing for magazines such as Outdoor Photography and On Landscape has increased those who follow what I do and I love social media (especially Twitter) and interacting where I can with like-minded photographers. Many of my customers have become good friends who I now know well too. People also find me via Google searches.
However, the difficulty for me over the last two to three years has been the exponential rise in messages I am getting with questions about all aspects of photography. I get asked about gear (asking for my thoughts on the relative merits on one lens over another, which camera body or system to opt for, which travel tripod to buy and whether to get a ball head or a geared head… etc), locations (people wanting in depth instructions on where to park, where to shoot and where the loo’s are, oh, and can I recommend some accomodation too?), requests for critiques on images (sets of images or even whole websites – imagine the work involved in writing image critiques), printing (advice on papers, inks, which printer to buy and why are they getting a particular error message… ) as well as detailled questions about Adobe Lightroom, Photoshop, various plugins and back up strategies.
The methods of contact have proliferated too. I used to just get questions via email. Now, in addition to email, they come via direct message on Twitter, Facebook Messenger, Instagram Messenger, Whats App, Text and I even get people ringing me on my mobile (a recent example, is a client who felt it was okay to ring at 7.30pm on an evening with a problem!).
Nearly all of these questions take several minutes to type replies to. Often they can take ten or fifteen minutes or more because of their detailled, technical nature. Many then elicit a reply from the person with further questions. I then find if I answer one question from someone, I seem to become their ‘go-to’ person to ask when they have questions in future. Add to this the sheer volume of them now that I receive. It is not uncommon for me to get several a day. They come, not only from customers, but also from people all over the world just asking for advice. I am often away teaching workshops with no time to respond during the trip and so by the end of a three of four day trip I can have 20, 30 or more questions in various formats waiting for me and this is on top of my actual work which builds up while I am away. To give you an idea of the scale of the problem, I have over 120 unanswered ‘question’ emails in my inbox as of this morning (some are months old) and this is without counting those in other Apps.
This is where the apology comes. I am really sorry, but I just can’t cope anymore. For some time, many have gone unanswered or people have had to wait many days for a response but it has got to the point where it is having a detrimental effect on my personal life. People I love are suffering because I am spending hours on the laptop or mobile phone trying to respond to as many as I can. I am really sad about this as I love helping people and I know they find what little I know to be useful, but I am going to have to stop.
What is most difficult is those of you who I regard as good friends who I have come to know well over the years. Yours are the questions which I always try to bring to the top of the pile because of our relationship and you being such good customers, but even this group has become so large now I am struggling to respond to you all and I feel so guilty about this. I feel even worse when I see you again and I know I remember an unanswered question is lurking on my device somewhere.
So, if you have a question for me of the type I describe, by all means send it. If nothing else, continuing to send me questions will keep me aware of the most useful things I can blog and create PDF’s about. But please don’t expect a reply. If I can I will (please, if the reply is very short with no chit chat – maybe even just a link to the answer I have found for you via Google, understand it is just time that doesn’t allow me to ellaborate etc), but I make no promises. You will have the best chance of an answer if you send it by email. I almost certainly will not respond anymore to questions of this type by Facebook Messenger, Instagram, Whats App, Twitter DM (although if I see a general question in my Twitter stream I can answer in 140 characters, I will), or any other method the Internet comes up with in the future.
What I am going to do is try and identify the most common questions I get asked and then try to find time to write pdf’s with my thoughts on those matters. I will make these available on my website for download. Or I will write blogs on other subjects I get asked about. So you may get an email from my wife, Liz, with a link to these resources to help you, but only if you send the question via my website or to me directly by email. (It is more difficult for me to forward a Whats App, Facebook Messenger or Text to her and then for her to have to find your email to send you the link in answer to your question).
I hope you understand why I feel I have had to take this decision and write this. I have agonised over it for some time but as I stare at an inbox overflowing with unanswered messages (let alone Facebook Messenger or Whats App. I just dare not open them anymore) which I just know I can’t possibly deal with I felt it was the only way I could explain the situation.