We live in amazing times. The technological, societal and social changes that have occurred over the past century are mind boggling. I grew up in a small immigrant home, with no air conditioning, no fancy electrical devices (we had a hand-wring washing machine) and no technology of any kind. We got our first colour TV when I was 16.
Today, my life is surrounded by convenience gadgets and entertainment toys of all form and function. I connect more than 20 devices to my home internet network to provide everything from the service to write this post to the automated voice that wakes me in the morning to the electronic keyboard and wonderful online instructor that are teaching me how to play piano. No one born in the mid-20th century could have predicted how far we could come.
Despite those changes, some aspects of our society still could stand with some improvement. Women do not equally participate in all aspects of business, culture and sport. We don’t always get recognition even when we do. Even in my little world of hobbyist photography, the vast majority of people who are accomplished artists and who offer their expertise to others are male. I wanted to bring forward some of those challenges in this post. Maybe some of this applies to you. If so, it would be great to share experiences and advice.
One of my goals as a retired senior citizen is to indulge all of the interests I’ve developed over the years, now that I have the time and frankly also the money to do so.
I’ve had a long standing love affair with all things in space and space-related. By that, I mean all things off our own planet. From the early days of the Gemini and Apollo programs in the US, I’ve been gripped by a fascination around what and who could be out there. And of course, Star Trek and its offshoots only served to romanticize the idea that strange, wonderful adventures and discoveries could lie beyond our atmosphere.
I had some good fortune when younger to connect with people that worked on these challenges, at least from the point of view of humans living in space. But I’ve come to realize that humans in space is more of a challenge than we know how to solve right now, and I will never live to see permanent residence of any human anywhere other than on the Earth. But there are other ways to explore beyond our tiny speck of a planet, and I have settled on astrophotography as that method for me.
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.
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.
We are all looking forward to a “return to normal” as Covid-19 is wrestled to the ground. We seem to get hit in the face repeatedly as we wrestle though. But I’m confident that eventually, there will be no Covid-19 driven restrictions.
But the world has changed, and normal just won’t be that. We see signs of it everywhere – job postings that are not filled because potential employees are afraid of being in service industries, chip shortages, no trucks to ship products, no fresh produce, gas prices that are ridiculously high, more and more people working from home, and my favourite, cameras that are announced one day and cancelled the next.
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.
One of the areas that frustrates me in photography is adjusting a photograph that is “noisy”. Even with dedicated tools, I find it hard to make any meaningful improvement in the quality of the photographs I adjust. My noisy photographs seem destined to be noisy. When I adjust the sliders, the edges I want to be crisp and clear are often muted, while the remainder seems unaffected. Not at all the outcome I want.
Even more baffling is sharpening. Related to but opposite in intent to managing noise, applying sharpening leaves me even more puzzled, since I often see little to no change in my photograph. And then there’s import sharpening vs. creative sharpening vs. export sharpening. Sharpening for screen vs. sharpening for print.
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!
I’ve decided in 2021 to step out of my comfort zone and try new things. Why? The residue of 2020 and its horrible effect on my well-being, plus the fact that in 2021, I will officially become a senior citizen. Both have been and are scary. But in some way, both have inspired me to fight back. Getting older reveals obvious changes in body and mind, and I want to control both of those if I can. My biggest fear, revealed only to all of you, is that I might start to lose my rationale self, lose my curiosity about the world and start to forget people, places and events. There is a history of that in my family. I can’t have that happen. What better way to address that than to try new things, learning as I go, keeping the mind fresh and tuned. So what’s the plan? Continue reading “Jumping Into the Deep End”→