As you might have guessed from the lack of updates here, my job almost succeeded in eating me alive. Almost.
Oddly enough, it was my job that indirectly tipped off an identity crisis when it comes to photography. When I started training, I learned that two of my cohorts dabble in the craft. One of them happens to be really good at it.I’d rather not share his work here right now (as it will probably lead him here to this blog, which I’m not ready for him to find). Feel free to leave me a comment if you wish to see it. The thing about his portfolio is it made me feel like an inferior photographer. I saw through the fisheye lens and liberal post-production work to suss out solid composition and excellent timing. I am especially impressed with his shots of birds. Given how much I like birdies, I suddenly felt a bit unworthy. The praise posted did not help things. I had a bit of a meltdown over it, and only chats with a few different friends helped me determine what to do in regards to my future in taking pictures.
Long story short, I’ve started to really accept that I’m a technician and not an artist. When I raised the question of quitting photography on Facebook on Writing.com, the point was raised about artistic photography making a statement. Here’s the thing. I don’t always see photography that way, especially artistic works. When I view photos in a physical gallery or exhibit space, I look at how the photo utilizes foreground/midground/background facets of composition. I also consider how much I can immerse myself in the scene on a base level. Ultimately, that’s what I try to do with my photography. I aim to engage sense beyond sight. I want people to imagine the texture of flower petals, the scent of a goat’s enclosure, or hear the breeze jostling objects in a scene. I do this through various in-camera/in the field techniques. I feel that the vast majority of post-processing takes away from achieving this goal. Yes, this does apply to the work of the photographer I mentioned earlier.
When I’ve dabbled in competitions, I have had some success. Aside from my YBS Top 100 milestone, I have people favoriting/voting for my photos on I Shot It. I can’t say for sure if these people are experiencing what I share on a sensory level. It’s all anonymous, kind of like an actual gallery where I’m not around to directly observe their reactions. My photos seem to do things for some people, though. I guess I have that going for me.
Ultimately, camera technique interests me way more than post-processing (even if I can stomach Lightroom). I care more about finding lenses that will best fit my budget and subjects than I do about actions. Staying quiet to not disturb the wildlife I photograph is more important to me than staying on top of photo software updates. If these priorities mean I’m a technical photographer and not an artistic one, then that’s what I am. Why I keep trying my hand at artistic pursuits I’ll never know.
Being in the technical camp means I don’t have a whole lot of support out there, but I do have some. Ken Rockwell’s op-ed on RAW files echoes some of the sentiments I have when it comes to the craft of photography. I suppose it’s nice to see someone echo my thoughts when that person’s photography background is way different than mine. As I dove back into photography courtesy of working in a photo lab, I saw some lovely things come out of developing film by placing it through automatically timed chemical baths and nearly no interference in printing. Some customers I developed film for were taking photography classes and brought their film to my store. It was fun to see their work because it was really gorgeous. Because of that, I got to see stunning work created without post-processing meddling. If there was ever a moment that my anti-manipulation dogma took root, this would be it.
It all boils down to this. I’m a technique freak that’s been trying to bite off more than I can chew. I’ve gotten lucky in that regard in the past, but this time around it finally became too much. It’s in my best interest to stay focused on improving technique since my desire to make a grand statement on a topic with my photos doesn’t appeal to me. Here’s to actually staying true to my technique-oriented self. I hope I can do this.
I have started a new job, one that I’m genuinely happy to be endeavoring on. Of course, this means changes to my routine, and every routine change prompts me to think about what is important in my life. Because I have so many interests, I have to figure out how much time I’m going to devote to them, although these choices aren’t usually consciously made. That’s…a problem, actually.
Photography is one of my interests, but it’s not the only one. I tend to take on very demanding goals when I pursue a hobby, and taking pictures is full of those types of goals. So is writing. So is running. Lately, photography is where I’ve made the most headway. On the one hand, this is a good thing in light of next year’s plans. On the other hand, this headway is coming at the cost of slacking in my other interests.
I entered Adoramapix’s Your Best Shot 2015 contest and (surprisingly) got into the Top 100 with a shot that I didn’t hold in super high regard. In previous years, I’ve made my initial selections and then asked for feedback from people on my Facebook friends list. This time around, I hard some major difficult in whittling it down to less than 10 photos. I called upon a couple of photo-happy friends to narrow down a 30 photo list before I presented the selections to people on Facebook. They listed their top ten picks, and I grabbed the photo names that appeared on both lists. The results surprised me.
In previous years, I’ve gone with close-ups of flowers or machines in bright sunlight. These subjects have become my wheelhouses, if you will. What I found safe and appealing, though, was not unanimously liked by my photographer friends. Though close ups were still dominant in the selections, the lighting and subjects all vastly differed from each other. In that mix was an ultralow light shot I snagged in the Twin Cities Model Railroad Museum in January 2014. I still need to blog about that visit, but the point is one of those shots appeared on both lists. It was also near the top, to boot. I ended up selecting six photos to share on Facebook for more general feedback. While three of them were well liked, that railroad museum shot quickly became a favorite. Even though the ISO was jacked so high that noise was a bit of a problem, I decided to go with the feedback and enter that photo.
What you see there is my entry, and that photo has gotten further than anything I’ve entered in a photo competition (and a national one, to boot). For me, it was a huge risk. I had no choice but to edit it to reduce the noise, but I made sure I spent no more than ten minutes making noise reduction/color corrections. While I didn’t get any further, it showed me I have reached a major point in my photography evolution. I have shown I can hold my own in photography competitions (even with a lower end DSLR and a kit lens). There is still plenty to learn, but I now see that I just might have a chance to make something of all the photography work I’ve done throughout the years.
At this point, the question becomes what do I do in terms of going further with photography and entering competitions? Do I want to try to diversify my subjects to get further in competition? Diversification in subjects is going to mean practicing people photography more frequently. I’m kind of doing this with sports photography so my Olympics photos look at least halfway decent. At its core, though, art (and photography) centers on triggering emotional responses, which is easier to do on a large scale with photos of people. As someone who is autistic, that is incredibly challenging. Hiking through ice caves with 50 pounds of gear sounds blissful compared to photographing other people. Portraits are not necessarily a strong point for me, and I’m not sure how much I can bring myself to practice that, anyhow. Street photography is more suited to my spontaneous approach to photography, but not having a solid grasp on the legal implications makes that a bit tough to swallow at the moment.
My instinct is to improve from a technical standpoint. This means seeking out more challenging lighting situations, such as nights, sunrises/sunsets, action in low light, and lots of other scenarios. It also means more gear grappling. I’ll probably need to bring my tripod around more as well as invest in a a remote shutter release device. I’ve already started pricing out the latter, but getting in the habit of juggling the former is going to take time. I’m not used to it. On top of that, figuring out how well that all works with an older Tamron lens is going to be an annoyance for the ages. I will most likely have to break down and buy at least one new Nikon lens to resolve the autofocus compatibility issues I’m having. Right now, my reflexes are not quick enough to execute manual focus on action shots (although I have been trying my hand at that lately with somewhat mixed results).
I have goals, and I know what needs work. That’s about the easiest part of determining what to do abot photography in the short and semi-long term. The question is what I ought to be doing with a schedule that is getting increasingly intense. I am motivated to bring my mile time down, and the training needed will be longer and more intense in the next few months. Work is also going to be a very long learning process (although it feels strangely okay right now). With writing, I have a novel project planned since I don’t have a full novel to my name. That’s about the only thing I haven’t done writing-wise. It looks like photography may have to kick back a little bit in 2015. That almost makes sense considering how much time I devoted to it last year and will be devoting to it next year. I just hope I can maintain the skills I have.
I promise I have lots of photos waiting in the wings to be posted. However, I’m a little swamped due to writing commitments and a boatload of changes at work. I’ve taken trips; received new equipment that is related to photography; and taken a little time to revisit some older photos. As a result, I’ve been on a bit of an organizational spree. That spree prompted me to revisit the I Shot It photography contest site. It’s a place where I usually end up appearing only once a year or so. I’m guessing it’s because I’ve only gotten one vote and two favorites on any of my photos. Without my photography at least getting favorited or voted on for the free contest, I don’t have a whole lot of motivation to participate. The thing is, it’s actually a pretty easy site to navigate. The prizes are also decent (especially with their Leica partnership), and it’s open to a variety of photography of styles. For these reasons, one would expect me to be more active. I’m not, though, and it’s made me ponder if making an effort to participate more is even worth my time.
Even though I’m a hobbyist and will probably not even reach the advanced amateur stage, I would like to think that someone liked what they saw. I’d be thrilled if I won a free competition or even got a mark of excellence in a paid competition. I’m not seeing either of those things happen anytime soon. I know people will tell me that I need to keep putting myself out there. Since I’m very much a behind the scenes sort, I hate the idea of being prolific. It makes me feel worse than a whore. At least if you’re a whore you have a remote chance of getting some form of pleasure and/or payment. When it comes to photography competitions (at least on I Shot It) I feel like Sisyphus. I know it’s useless, but I keep doing it so that I can get an idea of what people actually want to look at when it comes to photography. After all, there might be a day when I decide to do something wild and crazy with my photography work such as enter it in the State Fair Fine Arts competition. As I said, wild and crazy. Might not happen. Ever. And yet, the photos contained within might get entered in a competition someday, even if only at I Shot It.
Before I begin, I’d just like to make it clear that I adore alliteration. Ask anyone who’s known me for a long time, and they’ll confirm it. Anyway, I stated back at the beginning of the year that I was going to make a portfolio. I haven’t reneged on that and am in the process of selecting possible photos. It’s a pain going through 12 years of archives to find the true classics. While I have selected some more recent photos for consideration, I aim to make my portfolio representative of the total time I’ve been taking photos. After all, there are some photos I took in 2000 that have stood the test of time very well. I would be remiss to not include some of them. This process is still ongoing, but I anticipate having it completed within the next week or so. When I have my photos uploaded and selected, it will be time to conquer the next step in this process: setting up the portfolio book.
The only thing that I even kind of know is I’ll be using a classic black background. Since I have a tendency toward vibrant colors and don’t anticipate many black and white photos being included, black strikes me as the best all-around choice for having my photos pop. Then there is the issue of the title. I have a few choices but need some help narrowing it down. So you know what that means. Poll time! I encourage anyone reading this to click an option, and I’ll combine this poll’s results with its sister poll on Writing.Com to select the title. Click away!
On that note, I’ll leave you with a taste of my most recent photo adventures: wandering around the North Shore of Minnesota.
I know I’ve been terrible about posting lately. I’ve had a lot of other things going on that have shifted my focus from photography. When I have been thinking about photography, it’s mostly pertained to the types of cameras people have. For example, I was quite disappointed to discover that Oscar Pistorius is a member of Team Canon. 😦 Such a shame. I have started moving toward getting my portfolio ready, so I figure I better get my fair recap on.
This year I spent a lot more time in the barns. My normal ratio of animal to non-animal photos is normally 30/70. I went 60/40 this year. My husband and I were in the barns for a good three hours (taking some breaks to eat because many of the animals were being fed when we showed up). Part of this extended visit in the barns stems from dealing with constant fluctuations in the lighting, and manual was really the best option for dealing with the barns. It worked in my favor, giving me a chance to see what I’m starting to grasp and what I can concentrate on next year. The Moo Booth is by far the most difficult venue. It’s large, dark, has high ceilings and very little in the way of light in general (unless you’re right by one of the entrances). The poultry area has become my favorite over the years because there are some really good pockets of light and can even be somewhat doable after sunset. For anyone going to the State Fair, I also recommend the horse stables, as the lighting is also good there. The swine/sheep area is also pretty decent in terms of lighting since there are large windows on the sides of the building to let the sunlight shine through. I have no idea about the other animals on exhibit (e.g. llamas), so I’ll try to get to those buildings in the coming years.
I don’t really have any set goals for next year, other than trying to get more photos of geese, ducks and turkeys. I think I have the gist of photographing chickens (which is unpredictable but often fortuitous). Regardless, I have come to find that photographing animals is something I truly enjoy. It’s possible that it is my niche, but I would like to take on more wildlife photography before making that decision.
2012 has been a year for venturing into previously uncharted territory. This has proven especially true for nighttime and low light photography. I had no plans for this at the beginning of the year, but it happened, anyway. If I had to guess, finally switching over to manual settings on my P80 a few months ago catalyzed my forays into this practice. Since then, I’ve done a few night shoots (including fireworks), and much of my photography at this year’s State Fair was in low light. I can’t say any of it is good, but it’s better than what I have produced in the past. The details are starting to get clearer. I just know that there will come a point when Cameron’s processing just won’t be efficient enough to get the best low light photos possible. I think when I get that down pat I’ll obtain that D5100 I’ve been eyeing for so long. I hope so, anyway.
How many times have you heard/read someone say “It’s all in the eye” when it comes to photography? It’s a quote that’s tossed around so much in regards to the craft that it feels a bit like the “write what you know” cliché (which I can’t stand, but that’s beside the point). Still, I don’t disregard it because it’s the closest anyone gets to touching on the physical requirements to take a picture. If all you’ve ever done is held a compact point to your face and shoot, you might be surprised by the physical demands of photography. They gradually increase as you take on more challenging photo situations. This is especially true with outdoor photography. On top of that, well, the eyes do have it. It has taken me quite a long time to appreciate the true value of eye health when it comes to taking quality photos.
One thing that I don’t see addressed much anywhere is the involvement of your body in taking photos. Physical activity is a part of photography, whether it involves kneeling, walking between settings or even just balancing a camera properly. The other physical trait of photography is how your head feels. Remember the Memorial Day weekend post from last summer? When I went on the house tour in St. Paul, I ran into the door frame of my in-laws’ minivan and hit my head. It was painful, and I was only able to go on tour due to sheer luck (in-laws had ice in the car, and a nearby relative had abundant Advil). Even though I was able to stand up straight and wasn’t seeing double, I wasn’t completely right. I got pictures I liked, but I know that if I toured that part of St. Paul again my pictures would be a lot different because my head has been much better protected since that accident. Other injuries that have compromised my photography include knee problems, ankle twists and overexertion. I actually dealt with these types of problems when I went to Wisconsin Dells late last month (and will feature in a future journal entry), which lingered a bit during my Minnesota State Fair visit (which went very differently than in years past in terms of taking pictures). Injury and overexertion affect what you see, how your brain processes light and how you hold the camera. Even being uncertain about your physical state can take your mind off the subject in your viewfinder, compromising your shots. Actual injury will slow your reaction time, resulting in missed opportunities.
I have a feeling things will change when I finally get around to seeing an optometrist. Right now, I use no corrective lenses of any sort even though I’m a bit nearsighted. Hooray, accelerated academic track and all the tiny fonts those books entail for a 17 year old. Woot…or something. As a result, I have practiced photography with eyes that are not 100%. Truthfully, my vision is fairly strong without corrective lenses of any sort. That’s somewhat odd despite the fact that I had lazy eye as a kid and wore glasses during much of elementary school. Even so, I know I’m missing something. The eye exam will most likely result in a prescription for contacts; I would be extremely surprised if it didn’t. I imagine that my ability to process detail will become more precise, allowing me to manually focus with increased accuracy (an area where I have had some success but not a lot). It may also help me react more quickly when it comes to action photography of any sort (sports, marching bands, active animals, etc.).
Yes, it’s weird for anyone remotely interested in photography to discuss physical health. For me, it’s just a part of life. I was never a super athletic type. However, my health record has been somewhat spotty my whole life, so it’s hard not to catalog changes in my physical well being. I have found that I physically react when I’m taking pictures and have started to seriously consider the effect of health on my craft. Between lugging equipment, moving between venues and needing to react, photography requires a solid mind and body. ON that note, enjoy some pictures taken with a sound body and relaxed mind. Gotta love Como Park and Zoo!