Sunday, September 05, 2010

Why I am a photographer

I have had a wide range of hobbies, as does most people over the course of their lives. And like most, many have gone by the wayside. I think one aspect of maturity in a hobby or an activity is that you are no longer merely an actor performing techniques, but you either guide others (through teaching or through organizing a community) or you are pushing yourself in the practice of the art. In photography, this observation comes through in the form of commentary on digital cameras, especially digital SLRs. One big criticism is that the advertising around cameras fosters a view that being a good photographer was only a matter of a big (and expensive) camera and big (and expensive) lenses, completely neglecting the elements of skill and practice and understanding of light.

Art Institute

Cellist at play

I started photography with a manual SLR. Center-weighted meter, manual focus, manual aperture, manual shutter speed. After that was a point and shoot. An Olympus Epic known for its good 35mm f/2.8 lens and being a hockey puck (indestructible). It was a few years before I even bought my first auto focus/auto exposure camera. Continuing my ways, my favorite camera was a manual focus, manual exposure rangefinder (i.e. what cameras were like before SLR was invented). This was characterized by fast (wide aperture) prime (non-zoom) lenses and frequent use of black & white film. Also known as "this is how Cartier-Breeson and Capa did it"

Louisa and Sheena talking by the eternal flame

There's soup in the pot

Part of being good is taking time to learn the fundamentals. Learning the ways of light and shadow. The limits of the sensor (film or digital). How to see relationships in a scene. How to see a relationship unfold so you can be ready at the decisive moment.

Hello great-grandson

Mynas over the Chao Phraya River

My investment in equipment pales in comparison to the investment in study and practice, and I like to think that it shows.

For my involvement in the arts, photography is my only practice of it. So to improve means to find ways of improving your skill. And one of the classical ways of developing creativity is to put in place boundaries that force creativity in other ways. Thus my preference for using prime lenses and black & white. It becomes the frame in which I develop. And the expectation is that when I do use color and zoom lenses, the skills and ability to see that is developed carry over.

Schenley Bridge over Panther Hollow

Three glasses at Cafe Havana

Sunbeams in Todd Nature Reserve

Like many things, I have adapted as the technology behind photography has changed. My rangefinder is now rarely used, since the chromonegative film I had always used is no longer available. I now have a digital SLR and a set of zooms. But the manual focus primes are still what I take most of the time and that goes well with one of the smallest APS digital SLRs on the market. Most of my photography is not intended to push my abilities, but to record the events of life.

Lawrence and S talking music

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