I have a T shirt with the legend, “Nobody Reads Your Blog” emblazoned on it. Funny as hell and most likely true was what I thought when I bought it. I wore it proudly for a while but it was always a little tight even when I was racing cycling fit. I gave up the racing and the shirt no longer fits but that is a good thing because I no longer believe the sentiment behind it.
The thing is, I read blogs, lots of them. Yes, many are poorly written by enthusiastic people with little experience and consequently, when it comes to photography, are of little interest or use to me. Of course there are many exceptions, thats why I continue reading and searching. I would love to be someone who contributes to the list of quality photographic blogs. Yes that is a big ambition, but my intention is not to brag or try to show how clever and talented I am. My intention is to share some of my experiences and perhaps, if I am fortunate, to give back a little to an industry that has been so kind to me.
I would like to help people make better images and to enjoy photography more. I want to focus on the positives, why not, its more fun. Carrot more than stick is always better in my opinion. Remember Kodak? When I was a kid they published a book called the Joy Of Photography. It didn’t totally avoid the technical but its approach was about having fun at the same time. I liked that.
Here is what I am not going to do. No slating of other blogs and photographers. No focus on equipment. No clickbait style lists of things to do or not do. No complex engineering. No rules of composition. No rabbiting on about the best equipment.
So lets begin.
I started taking photos and developing and printing in 1975 when I was 14. Photography totally consumed me and within weeks of developing my first roll of film I was telling everyone that I was going to be a photographer. I pretty much gave up on all other activities, especially school, not smart. I aquired a Minolta A5 rangefinder camera, still have it, and a weird little light meter that gave a rough guide to exposure. I would take a light reading and after adjusting for the film ASA, as we called ISO in those days, would transfer the settings to the camera and start shooting. I would keep going with those settings until I noticed a change in the light. This was actually a fairly standard method of working.
Why the little story about an antiquated work flow? Because it worked and it worked well. With less dynamic range than current digital systems, with less post production control, with poorer lenses more prone to flare, with less accurate light meters, it still worked. On occasion I would forget my light meter and then I used the f16 rule. This simple rule was designed to help guess exposure and stated that on a bright day if you set the aperture to f16 your shutter speed should be whatever your ASA(ISO) was. Ilford FP3 developed in Acutol (6 minutes, diluted 1 to 9, 20C, agitation once for 10 seconds every minute in case you are interested) gave me an ASA of 125 so 125th of a second was my shutter speed. For sport I would open up the lens two stops to f8 and bump up my shutter speed to a 500th of a second. Focussing became a little more critical but on the 45mm lens f8 was still manageable in terms of depth of field. Over time FP3 upgraded to FP4 and I changed developer from Acutol to ID11 but the system kept working. And it was fun. We had less going on with the camera so we engaged more with the subject and that is key to what I am going to say next.
Today we have much more dynamic range and hugely more post production control, with Adobe Lightroom and Photoshop, than we ever had in the darkroom. That should make things easier. We also have auto ISO, zoom lenses, auto focus and multiple auto and manual exposure modes; yet we fuss with thirds of a stop, constantly adjusting exposure as we interrupt our creative workflow, micro managing and double checking every frame on the LCD screen with clipping warnings in place and three channel histograms giving yet more information.
Auto focus, auto exposure, auto ISO, no film to advance or change, powerful zoom lenses, all were designed to make things easier and more fool proof. So why do I see photographers agonizing between shots and simply not becoming engaged with the subject? Do you want to be an artist or a camera jockey? Being an artist requires a particular creative mental state and that state is kind of tough to achieve when you are fumbling with a camera. Generally, the more people fuss with gear the less confident and the more distracted they become. That has a bigger negative impact on the success of an image than being a stop to two out with exposure. No one ever made a good image staring at a histogram, so stop it. Stop chimping. Stop fiddling with the exposure. Stop zooming in and out. Take a photo. Have fun. What do you have to lose?
Actually you do have something to lose. You have the sense of anxiety that all the camera settings give you to lose. Let the camera take care of the stuff that cameras are designed to take care of. Focus on whats in front of the lens and what is in your mind. Ignore the camera. Before you begin the session choose the ISO, focus mode, lens, exposure mode, drive mode and anything else that you think will suit what you want to say, then shoot. Don’t keep referring back to the camera. It must work for you, not you for it. Look through the viewfinder, really look. Drop the camera from your eye and look at the subject. How do you feel about what is in front of the camera? What do you want to say? Compose, shoot, compose again, shoot again, move closer or further away, perhaps drop to your knees, try moving left or right. Its you and the subject now. Not the camera.
Over time you will become more fluid and confident. You will have more fun. You will see more and be more aware of opportunities. If you are a relative beginner you might find yourself struggling with camera controls. If that is the case stick the dam thing on full auto and shoot away. There are no awards for struggling with complex settings, only for great images. In time the knowledge and confidence will come. Meanwhile relax, let the camera do its job and you do yours. Your job is look, feel, think, see and communicate. Oh and to have fun, never forget to have fun.