A while ago, I got to talking to a friend on Writing.com, and his comments spurred Identity Crisis. However, these’s one aspect of his comments I didn’t cover there, and I actually forgot about it until a month or so ago when I attended a premiere at a local photo gallery. That aspect is audience expectations.
Steve (said friend) said that artistic photography should make some sort of statement about reality. I’ve already stated the reasons I disagree with that idea. In recent weeks, though, I’ve found I might not be the only one. Let me clarify that. I’m not the only one among photography consumers that merits technique and aesthetics over commentary. This is a mindset that can be found even among some (semi) professional photographers. This exhibit was held at Minneapolis Photo Center, a place I didn’t even know existed until last summer. It’s a place that you really only know about if photography is a big deal to you.
The premiere was really crowded, and I had to wait a bit to move from photo to photo. As a result, I had a chance to do some eavesdropping. It was incredibly fascinating. Many people who attended the show focused on the form and technique photographers employed. The nature (heh) of the exhibit certainly encouraged technical remarks. Even so, there were a lot of comments that could apply to most photo exhibits. In particular, I heard one gentleman remark on people downright abusing Photoshop to turn photos into paintings. I totally understand that complaint. Even so, at least these individuals used Photoshop in a plausibly convincing manner.
It was a pleasant surprise ti hear so many people focus strictly on what was in front of them. (Pardon the pun. Again.) There wasn’t any speculation about the photographer’s intent or any larger message. It was people simply enjoying the photos at face value. More to the point, it was people who regularly peruse photography taking everything at face value. Seeing and hearing people admire (or criticize) the images themselves proved enlightening. It also made me wonder about other photography audiences.
I admit I haven’t been around non-photography audiences as much as I’ve been around those who are more immersed in the photography world. When I’ve been around the former, the comments are less technical. At the same time, there aren’t many people seeing the exhibited photos as grandiose statements. Some people remarked on how the photos reflected the times. Others noted very general observations about the composition of the photos. You could hear a pin drop when nudity was involved. Hey, I live in the US and am speaking from experience in US museums. What do you expect? In any case, the comments were broad and superficial even in museum settings. I found that to be intriguing. I think I’ll need to make some more observations, though, to see if this holds up.
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 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. 🙂
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!