Saturday, December 22, 2012

Photographic Confessions


I have a confession to make - I'm not a very "serious" photographer. Don't get me wrong, I love my photography and at times I take it quite seriously. But I don't do most of the things that "serious" photographers do, and tell you you have to do.

A photographer friend recently asked what settings I'd used for one of my winter shots. I had to admit I didn't know, I just shot it on automatic. Honestly, I take virtually all of my photographs on automatic. Most of the time I treat my DSLR like a big point and shoot camera. I don't think it's anything to be ashamed of - automatic is pretty darn good these days.

If you read photography books (as I do) they'll tell you that you have to override the exposure when taking pictures of snow and ice. I didn't, and I think they turned out ok.

They'll tell you you should carry around and use a tripod, preferably a big heavy one. I do own a tripod, but I rarely use it.

They'll tell you you should use polarizing filters and neutral density filters, and graduated filters. I don't. I bought a polarizing filter but I never seem to have it when I need it. Or else I have it, but I forget to use it.

Just to be clear, I'm not saying this advice is wrong. I'm just saying you don't need to interpret it as "you must do this", instead you can take it as "if you want the very best possible results, then you should do this".

I almost never use manual focus, even when I know auto-focus will have problems. Honestly, I don't think my aging eyes are going to do any better than the camera. I do find it quite useful to set the focus to the center point and press the shutter halfway to focus on a particular part of the scene.

If I think camera shake or focus may be a problem, I take multiple shots to have a better chance of getting one that works.

handheld at 1/5 of a second (!)

I have a single 18 to 250 zoom lens. It's slow and because of the large range and relatively small size, it isn't the highest quality. If I was serious I'd have a whole range of expensive fast lenses that I'd have to carry around and switch back and forth. And then because I was switching lenses I'd have to worry about cleaning the sensor. Sorry, not for me.

It's not that I don't know enough to be "serious". I grew up with manual cameras. My father was a "serious" photographer. He used multiple cameras and lenses and tripods and lights and filters and manual exposures and all the serious stuff. I used to help him set up and take down and work in the darkroom. I enjoyed helping him, but it was never my thing.

I do photography to exercise the other half of my brain, to be a little artistic (or at least aesthetic) for a change. I spend all day being logical and analytical, the last thing I want to do is spend my photography time calculating exposures.

You'll hear serious photographers say they want to spend the time to get it right in the first place, rather than adjust it later on their computer. Personally, I'd rather shoot from the hip, and fix minor issues later.  I want to enjoy what I'm photographing, not be focused on technical issues.

One thing that really helps, if you're going to shoot from the hip like I do, is to shoot RAW. This gives you a lot more leeway to adjust the photos on your computer. That means you need a camera that will let you shoot RAW. Most consumer level point and shoot cameras don't.

RAW isn't anything complicated, it just means that the camera records the image without a lot of processing. That means you need to do some processing afterwards, with a program like Lightroom or Aperture. (the modern day equivalent of having your own darkroom) On the other hand a camera that records JPEG's (like most consumer cameras) processes the images into "final" form within the camera. Because the JPEG images have already been processed you have much less ability to adjust the afterwards.

I accept that by not being "serious" I'm sacrificing a certain amount of quality in my photographs. But I'm not trying to sell them or make a living from them. As long as they please me, and hopefully a few of you, then I'm happy.

Of course, that doesn't stop me from being jealous of the results of serious photographers. I look at their super amazing images and I want to cry with jealousy because I know I'll  never be that good. But then I remind myself that what matters is that I enjoy my photography.

I hear people say they want to "learn" photography, by which they usually mean "serious" stuff like shutter speed and aperture. There's nothing wrong with knowing that stuff. But really, if you want to learn photography, my recommendation is to take photographs, lots of them, and enjoy doing it.

the plant in my office, taken sitting at my desk

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