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.
Once upon a time, photography was a waiting game. After you clicked the shutter and removed the exposed film from your camera, each step to get to seeing the end result required patience. You’d have to wait for the developer and fixer to prepare the negatives for printing. The prints themselves took time as well. If you weren’t able to do this yourself for whatever reason, you’d need to send the film off to a lab. That could take up to a week or more, depending on the lab you selected. While I’m young enough to adapt to various new electronics with ease, I’m also old enough to remember sending my film off to a lab. Gotta love being born in the mid-80s!
I started thinking about this after reading a post about one woman’s memories of the photographers in her life and her dabbling in the craft. While I didn’t grow with darkroom enthusiasts nearby, I do have some darkroom experience. When I was in fifth grade, I did an experiment comparing the effectiveness of suntan lotions and sunblocks. Given that I grew up in Florida, this seems like a perfectly reasonable science fair project. 😛 Anyway, to control for differences in melanin, I used black and white photo paper. I slid a sheet of paper in a clear plastic report folder that had four taped sections. I applied the sun lotions to separate quadrants and set the folder in the front yard for an hour or so to get some sunlight. Once that was done, I brought the paper in the house for development. I was in fifth grade at the time, so I was allowed to do some of development work. The thing is, we never obtained the light bulb needed for darkroom work, which meant I was truly in the dark. The reason we didn’t get the bulb was because we converted the guest bathroom (my bathroom) into a darkroom for this project. I set everything up and stuffed a couple towels in the bottom of the door to ensure no light came in to muck up my prints. It had been a real chore getting all the chemicals and photo paper, but we did get all the materials. Keep in mind this was back in the mid 90s, and I lived in a small town. I’m surprised there was even a photography store that had everything in stock. Armed with fixer, developer, rinses and bins, I set to work developing my sun exposed science project prints. They turned out pretty well, and it certainly got the attention of my classmates come time for the science fair. I don’t know what happened to those prints. I kind of wish I still had them.
The point of that story is I know how to wait. Having put my hands in the developing chemicals at a fairly young age (before I even started taking my own pictures) gave me a chance to understand the processes photographers have gone through many, many times. It’s not a quick process, especially when you’re doing all the processing yourself. When I started taking my own photos in my teens, it was back to the waiting game. I’d take my disposable cameras and APS canisters to Publix and later Walgreens so they could send it to their offsite labs (as many outlets with in-house processing lacked APS capabilities for the first couple years). That involved waiting a week or so for my photos. This was especially annoying when I was 15 and took nearly 100 photos for my grandparents’ 50th wedding anniversary. Since my family bought the film, I did not get the negatives back and barely had a chance to look at the prints before handing them over. I had only been taking pictures even halfway seriously for a year at the most, so that waiting game was kind of annoying. It got a little better once I got out of high school and got a job in a photo lab. I’d still opt for next day service since it was cheaper, but I got to look at my photos right away. It was a good time. 🙂
Along the way, film gave way to digital, both for my personal endeavors and throughout the photography world. This wasn’t an instant catalyst to instant photos, but the wait time shrunk significantly. For those who embraced digital right away, there was still a need to visit a photo lab and stick your memory card in the appropriate slot. Then you’d go through and select the prints you wanted (not to mention making edits). While you could get your prints within an hour at most, those kiosk areas got crowded and a little unsafe for others in the store. Half the time, if I was helping someone at a kiosk I had to also play traffic cop to ensure nobody got hurt. I left the photo lab in 2005, but since I still took pictures, I kept tabs on what changes developed (heh). I was making photo CDs of my digital pictures pretty regularly, so I could see when the commonly used equipment started to shift from cameras to phones. It’s fairly recent, all things considered. Even when the first iPhone rolled out in 2007, people were really relying on their separate camera photos up until 2009-2010. That’s when the shift to cell phone cameras began. It didn’t really pick up for another year after that, but now everything is available instantaneously.
How do I feel about it? I’m of two minds. On the one hand, I can appreciate having something more readily available and not requiring extensive processing. This can be especially useful in the wake of disasters, crimes, or other events that would benefit from real time photography. On the other hand, I’m dismayed at how having photo editing software in smart phones is making everyone think they can take pictures. Even though I’m a photographer, you couldn’t pay me $80 billion to set up an account on Instagram. It’s all not my aesthetic, but that’s mostly because I’m not up for filtering my photos to an oblivion. Some people may complain about snotty attitudes from some photographers regarding what constitutes “real photography”, but I can understand why some people who have extensively practiced the craft get upset. When I worked in the photo lab, I saw a lot of things that could go wrong with taking pictures. While it’s not as likely to see the finger in the lens mistake these days, camera shake is still a problem with any form of camera, and completely out-of-focus have diddly to do with art. It looks like a drunk person’s point of view, at least from where I’m sitting. I could go on about all the various basic things I’ve seen people do that they think is cool but is not going to be taken seriously by anyone with even a passing interest in the craft. I acknowledge that even with taking pictures for just about half my life now there are still things I can do to improve. The thing that bothers me the most about the instantaneous nature of photography these days is that the speed of the process tends to obscure the weak points in a photographer’s craft, thus hindering improvement and progress.
On that note, enjoy some photos I took at Blank Park Zoo way back in April! Since the weather was rainy when I went, I’d like to go back in more pleasant conditions (and with a longer lens). It was a good time.
I know it’s been a while since I’ve posted. Believe me. I know. In the last few months I’ve been completely besieged by work related work. That phrase is courtesy of one of my co-workers. 😛 Anyway, since it’s National Photography Month in the US, I figured I’d try to get some more posts in even though I have done a whole lot in the way of photography partly due to my job. So as I try to wrap things up with those photos, I figured I could tell you a little bit about my earliest days in photography and about the very first camera I could call my own.
Between the end of eighth grade and the middle of ninth grade, a good amount of my spending money ended up going toward disposable cameras. I had a lot of social fluctuation during that time, and most of it was not pleasant. Because pleasant moments were hard to come by, I started taking pictures to preserve the moments worth remembering. It didn’t take long for me to always want a camera in hand, and I also awaited a high school band trip to DC. A few months before that trip, I received my first camera as a Christmas gift.
It was a point and shoot, which was fine by me at the time. I didn’t have super serious design on photography at that point in my life. It was a pretty idiot-proof camera, to boot. You simply dropped the film into the designated slot, and all the winding was automatically completed. It was also fully automated, so the only thing I really controlled was the ISO of my film and the flash. I adored it and took it out for a good bit of practice before taking the camera with me to the nation’s capital. In fact, just about everything except for the last two photos in Snapping Through School comes from that roughly three month period. By the time I went on that trip, the camera felt familiar in my hands, and I was ready to get on a bus with a bunch of bandos for a few days’ worth of wacky shenanigans. I caught some of those moments on film for sure, but I soon found that this little APS camera did wonders for the monuments and other more static sights along the way. Back then, I had no idea when my next visit would be, so I needed to make sure my pictures turned out well. To my surprise, I had no instances of fingers in front of the lens during this trip (although a few photos were really blurry). After that, I was recruited to take pictures for my grandparents’ 50th anniversary, and those turned out fairly well. Unfortunately, I don’t currently have any of those photos digitally stored. I wish I did, as I took one of my favorite portraits at that celebration. I used that camera for about five years, pretty much to the point when the APS technology was rendered obsolete by the digital revolution. Those were five crucial years in developing my interest in this hobby, as I did manage to capture moments that aged well enough to go into my portfolio last year. I actually think if I tried to use that camera now I’d become frustrated with it very quickly because I’ve grown accustomed to setting my own aperture, shutter speed, focus and white balance. On the other hand, it would be a good way to exercise my skills in understanding light and finding ways to manipulate it with limited tools. I’m tempted to grab a disposable film camera to test this. Maybe I will some day. 🙂
Not too long ago, I stumbled across an article that shared tips on getting children into photography. It was a really good article and reminded me of the photography history in my family. I have shutterbugs on both sides of the family tree. My dad; his oldest brother; my mom’s dad; and at least three cousins have all dabbled in photography that goes beyond the family/vacation snapshot. Of everyone that’s still alive, I’m probably the most active on the photography front. I’ve even starting tabulating what it would cost to set up my dream DSLR rig. Hey, I want good equipment when I go to see the Olympics in Rio in 2016!
So what about my family of shutterbugs? I admit I know far less than I should. I do know that my dad took many photos with an SLR camera that he used right up until I graduated high school. Likewise, my mom’s dad was the original owner of Kaito (my Yashica). As for my uncle, I have some pictures that he took that were in my grandmother’s collection up until her death. My uncle is an arts enthusiast and has explored many types of visual and performing arts. My time spent in his company has exposed me more to his paintings and percussion-related endeavors. That is not to say that he’s not interested in other art forms. He made a journal for me when I was 10 years old, one that gave me a space outside of my diary to try out some creative writing. Given the age of the photos (taken when my dad was in middle school) and my relatives’ other interests at the time, I’ve concluded that the same man who created my first creative writing journal is also responsible for these photos. They’re actually very small prints, a format not seen today and most likely not having been taken on 35mm film. The negatives are long one, so I actually have very little information on what was used to capture these shots. I’ll figure it out some day.
Why’s that? One of the things I gained from my family was an appreciation of technology. My mom’s dad actually taught me how to use a computer when I was five. He also showed me many of his old slides and some of the older cameras he and my grandmother still had even after the technology was phased out. As a result, I discovered the importance of appreciating the old and the new. This dual understanding came in handy in the middle of the previous decade when digital photography became more widespread among the prosumer and consumer audiences. So while I have not worked with every format ever invented, I’ve developed a desire to learn more about them. This is one reason why I don’t want a Nikon D800 right now. I understand that its capabilities are designed to match that of a medium format camera, something I may not be ready to try for a long time. I will probably spend more time learning about the lost film formats before even considering picking up a D800. It’s a habit picked up from my family, to look at the past before plunging headfirst into the future. With my family’s introductions into the practice and art of photography, though, I know I’ll be snapping photo for many years to come. AS my mother once said, it’s what I do.
While harvesting my archives for film photos to post, I realized I have way too many photo CDs. Unfortunately, with APS rolls, it’s next to impossible to get more than one roll burned onto CD at a time. I machines I worked with at Walgreen’s automatically spit out the roll and burned the CD before another set of negatives could be loaded (an issue that did not come up with 35mm film, so you could load several sets of negatives onto one disc). In the interest of getting my photos preserved at a discount, I decided to just burn all the rolls individually, not really thinking how many I’d have. Including the digital photo CDs (which hold many more images per disc), I had at least 150 at my peak. I’m whittling it down bit by bit and have compiled most of the photos on mass collection discs. A few events get their own discs without getting mixed up with other photos (e.g. my first trip to Minnesota, the photos from Hurricane Season 2004 and my trips to Central Florida). It’s kind of a slow going process, hindered by the fact that my CDs were not originally organized in chronological order. My photos aren’t really organized that way now with the consolidation, and I’m okay with that. I’m not using most of these photos for anything at the moment, and the prints I had run off are better organized. I just like having the backup. That said, I needed to do something before I ran out of space in my second CD holder. I have a lot more space for CDs now, which is good considering how many more I’ll be making in the immediate future. It’s a good way to look back on what I’ve done as I set my sights on my photography future.
Let’s take look at some more early film exploits. I wasn’t too hardcore into photography during my high school years, but I did like to go out with my camera. Though my APS camera was far from top of the line, I considered it to be my good camera and was rather selective of where I brought it. Many of the most photo-worthy moments happened on band trips that posed too many opportunities to lose or damage my good camera. Finding moments to go out and shoot things for the sake of taking pictures were rather rare, especially given my very busy schedule. However, there were enough excursions and moments where my APS camera could go. Here are some shots from my high school years up to my graduation in 2003.
I had a realization not too long ago that I’ve held my photography hobby for 13 years or so. That, of course, means that I did not start on digital. I am hankering to take up film photography for kicks and giggles but to also force myself to think about photography a little bit differently. I also want to see how what I’ve learned on my own about composition and lighting translates onto the plastic and how my progression has been made in film photos.
I got my first APS camera in 1999 (having used disposables prior to that), and having a multiuse camera really got me into taking photos more frequently. The camera came in handy during my trip to Washington, D.C. in the spring of 2000 and tagged along for a number of other trips for four years after that. I’ll show some of my favorite photos from my film era over a couple entries. I know that none of them will measure up to what I have taken these days. Still, it’s interesting to see how my photography journey has progressed (or at the very least meandered).
The photos in this installment were taken in Washington, D.C. and Savannah. I will actually be back to both of those towns next year during my spring vacation. I haven’t been to either of these places in over a decade, so it will definitely be a time to explore them from a photographic standpoint. I have very happy memories of both of these locales, so I may spend less time taking photos and more time getting caught up in the nostalgia. We’ll see. In the meantime, enjoy these vintage shots. Vintage definitely applies to the last one, where I made the mistake of pairing 400 speed film with sunny conditions. So hello, overexposure! In this case, though, I rather like the effect. Just don’t expect me to go all out on vintage. At heart, I am a realist.
In this installment, we’ll take a look at my pictures from D.C. and Savannah. I haven’t been to either city in over a decade (in other words my mid-teens) but will be going back next spring. It will be a delight to see the city with new eyes, eyes that have more training to get vivid photographs. These cities have happy memories associated with them, so I eagerly await the chance to return. In the meantime, join me as I journey back to the year 2000. The vintage look of the last photo, by the way, is completely unintentionally. I had a roll of 400 speed film, so the shot was a bit overexposed on a sunny day. In this case, though, I think the shot looks pretty decent. It’s just a far cry from my far more realism-oriented style that I’ve developed since then.