Photography is an interesting hobby/occupation: there is so much to learn to simply take competent photographs. Some (ok, including me) believe that learning the basics is key to eventually being able to express yourself artistically. But some come at it the other way around – using their artistic nature to develop their photographic eye, then learning what is needed to express it digitally, often through trial and error.
I grew up in and worked in very technical arenas – my parents worked in fields where following the rules was paramount and expected, and where training and development were necessary to be able to work in their fields at all. I then spent a career in an engineering company (an electric utility) where “creativity” was not really encouraged and could have devastating consequences.
One thing that has always surprised me about photography is the number of professionals who describe themselves as “self-taught”, never having taken a course or even read a book about photography.
I’ve seen naturally-talented photographers many times, who with some minimal help understanding buttons and dials on their cameras, can create amazing works of art, all in-camera. They develop formulas for success and are able to apply them without ever formally learning either the technology or the practice of photography.
I’ve seen others not so talented who failed repeatedly before figuring things out and then going on to have successful careers. They too eventually lock down their formulas for success through simple hard work.
I recently listened to an absolutely superb podcast by Brenda Petrella, creator of the Outdoor Photography School. This episode was in response to several viewer questions about how much creative license is appropriate in landscape photography.
This has been a long standing debate, as you will see in Brenda’s piece – very long standing. Artists have been the subject of critical opinion for centuries. The difference since the invention of photography is that photography, by definition, is a documentary record of the light and colour in a scene. Its starting point, by definition, should be realistic. Or is it?
Some of us amateur photographers participate in competitions, in our local camera clubs and even more broadly in open events such as national competitions or perhaps in specialized events such as landscape or wildlife photographer of the year in our own countries or globally.
The reasons we enter competitions vary widely. For some of us, it is about seeking recognition, so let’s just admit it out of the gate. For others, it’s validation, confirming that others see your work the way you do. Still for others, it’s about self-development and improving our own scores year over year. We also seek out points of comparison to see what we might work on next.
Hello and Happy 2022! Hope you had a pleasant holiday season and were able to enjoy it with family and friends, despite our ongoing Covid challenges. As mentioned previously, I spent the holidays working at a camera store and thoroughly enjoyed the experience. But now it’s back to my photography. I’m dedicating myself to it this year, and hope to show much more new work shortly, so stay tuned.
But learning continues to be a focus as well. I thought I had heard of almost everything to do with photography – yes, there might be some obscure piece of equipment I had never heard of, but in terms of genres, I thought I knew it all. Not so. Listened to a great podcast driving to work about a totally new (to me) genre called “vernacular photography”. What is it? Read on.
October is a wonderful month in so many ways. Cooler temperatures, changing scenery, more exciting landscapes top my list. But it is also a month for new and exciting technology. Many photography companies, whether hardware or software producers, release new products and new updates to existing products. This month has been ridiculously full of pent-up demand for new stuff and the manufacturers did not disappoint.
This article won’t review all of that. Many blog and vlog posts have already done so. Instead, I want to talk about one feature nobody seems to have really highlighted. Last week, Adobe released the latest versions of Photoshop and Lightroom, to much fanfare and focus on its superb and enhanced capabilities. The new masking tools are phenomenal. You can also do more and more with automation and “neural filters”, and even drop in assets and have them automatically be absorbed and “harmonized” into the scene you are creating. But there is even more for you to know.
Nice weather arrived in the last couple weeks, so working on a computer has become second priority – I missed my last blog deadline. Sorry. It was so worth it though – being outside in the garden has been a gamechanger for my mood and attitude.
Also, our camera club season has concluded, lockdown is still in place and I’m now left wondering what to do with all my “free time”.
There is the aforementioned garden to maintain, a backyard pond to enjoy and summer breezes wafting through the air. True, but night falls eventually.
Early summer is often a time to take stock, to clean out, clean up. In 2014, I started the tradition of preparing a photobook each year of the images of mine that I felt most emotionally connected to through the year. That lasted until 2018. I have a few years to catch up on. What better time than now. So I’ve set that as one of my summer projects, along with producing some larger prints of these very same images.
Many photographers have commented on the value of a tangible book or print. It somehow gives life and depth to the images we capture. And if an image is already compelling in some way, personally or technically, a hard copy seems to double that feeling. Understanding why can be the first step in a wonderful journey of discovery – corny but true.
I really enjoy image critiques – no seriously, I do. I always appreciate an independent point of view, even if it is wrong. Ok, ok, but seriously again, I’m not talking about the criticism of a judge in a competition. I’m talking about the guidance from someone with experience in the same genre, who has discovered their own voice, and has the ability to see basic flaws in the work of someone who has not yet made that discovery.
I had that experience recently, attending yet another photography conference, where participants were asked to submit images for comment. The person who offered the critiques is someone I know and admire and who, in my view, has the infinite right to offer “coaching” to those less fortunate.
Although we all submitted images, only a few were selected for review and sadly, mine was not one of them. I had to live vicariously through others. But even that can be a good thing. Here’s why.
I’ve had the pleasure since 2014 of immersing myself in photography full-time. Prior to then, it was a hobby, indulged in only when other things didn’t demand my time. Since then, it’s been the other way around. I can honestly say that it is the one job I have had in my life that I have truly loved. It isn’t really a job, either, for the simple reason that I don’t depend on income from it to live.
You approach things differently when you love doing them. Everything about the subject fascinates you – even the mundane can have some appeal. But for me, every time I learn something new and am able to apply it, it’s better than anything else in the world (except family, friends, health and comfort, of course).
Acquiring lots of knowledge eventually labels you an “expert” and someone said that in reference to me the other day. I immediately corrected them and said I was still learning. But yes, in that particular area, I had pretty much figured it out. I stopped to think what it means to be an “expert”. The answer is interesting.
Sorry for the delay in posting this. A bit of rebranding for the website led to a new email arrangement which, despite all attempts to anticipate issues, went into the dumper on the day of launch (Feb 1). All is now fixed, but this article is late because of it.
It’s an interesting time for camera manufacturers and an even more interesting time for camera consumers. Simultaneously, on the same day, I read of Canon’s banner year, the problems every manufacturer has delivering product to market, the overall world decline in camera sales and Nikon’s gripping financial loss. The next day, Sony released a powerhouse camera with specs to entice any gear nerd.
But there is a most interesting irony in all of this: the as noted move away by consumers from conventional cameras, while at the same time the global glut of posted images that demand to be shared. It’s a bit frustrating, really, reflecting a society more focused (pardon the pun) on convenience, instant gratification, social networks and recordings of their personal experiences rather than on art, culture, creativity and expression.
Some of those posted experiences leave a lot to be desired. I must say that I don’t care to know what someone had for breakfast or how far they jogged that morning or whether they can balance their dog on their head. But, I must admit that even I enjoy getting photos of my young great nephews, smiling and laughing, occasionally while covered in food.
So social experiences definitely have their place. Some might even argue that they present a more creative outlet for everyone, not a less creative outlet. Coming up with an idea that makes us laugh at these most trying times does deserve applause. And especially when those experiences have to fit on a phone screen or be contained within 30 seconds of view time.
But artfulness is not art, craftiness is not craft. I still need my fix of both. And that is harder and harder to experience, I’m finding – not because of the pandemic.
Every generation of photographer has faced the same issues. Changes in technology lead to changes in what society finds appealing (although it’s a bit of a chicken and egg discussion about which comes first). The very fact that an image could be captured (after minutes or even hours of exposure) was the first great appeal of photography in the 1800’s. Then only the very rich could afford to do those captures, and the images memoralized either family generations or big industrial or political accomplishments.
“Instant” cameras and disposable cameras brought the same capability to the average consumer in the 1960’s and that was where I first discovered photography. I remember the square plastic boxes, with round plastic lenses and the flash “cubes” that attached to the top, fired once and were discarded. Then the big advance of 4 shots per cube. It was amazing. My family couldn’t afford film, so we have little to no such instant memories, so only when I got my first job and had my own money could I spend just a bit on this new “fad”.
It was incredible when I actually bought my first real interchangeable lens camera, a Yashica Tl Electro in the early 1970’s. I couldn’t really afford it, but I didn’t care. I wanted it, and going into debt was ok with me. My first taste of instant gratification and of compound interest! I only had one lens for it for a couple more years, but that was ok too.
Then, career and other demands took over and being immersed in photography was not really an option. Like everyone else, I took pictures on vacation and for special events. I always said I would get back to it and learn the “art” of photography, but never did, until I retired. I still have that camera, and it still works, although I don’t use it now.
It’s now been 6-1/2 years since retirement came calling. I’ve immersed myself in all things photography for that whole time, including two full years at school. It’s been glorious. And yet, I honestly can’t yet say that I am an artist. I love the technical challenge of taking a good picture, but so easily miss the best angles and perspectives and stories. I watch the true artists around me not worry about their gear (beyond the basics) and create magic with a unique view or dash of colour. That’s what I want, that’s what I need. Not the instant gratification of 500 likes.
But I honestly have no idea how to proceed. So I’ve been procrastinating more than I would like. Ideas for projects scribbled on paper but not planned or executed. Bits and bites of tabletop scenes loosely stowed in the spare room, waiting for ?
I don’t seem to be alone in this. Numerous admired photographers lament the fact that they are stifled right now, even when they have good ideas to pursue. Some of it is just opportunity – “stay at home” doesn’t provide much of that. But there’s a mind shift at work too. I’m worried that we won’t recover when the authorities finally say we can.
One idea is to try a new form of art for a while and see if that kickstarts the other. For the next few months, I’m going to try learning to play piano. And to get out my drawing pencils from school. Perhaps the emotional beauty of a piece (assuming I don’t butcher it completely) or finding just the right shading on a pencil sketch will bring back the brain cells that are stifled. Who knows. But I have noticed that the best photographers (those who make art, not pictures) are also artists in many other ways ranging from painting to the preparation of food. So let’s give it a try. I’ve always said I love learning something new. It’s time to put money where my mouth is. Come on brain, show me what you got!