A year back in the saddle

When I was a teen I enjoyed using my Canon AE-1 to take photos but didn’t think much about photography itself. I had some help learning the basics of photography from the journalism teacher and from older friends who were far more in tune with the art of photography than I would have been able to understand at that age. I was still more focused on technical tips about how to operate the camera versus the more important topic of what pictures I should take. Yet, I marveled at the incredible images in Time, Life, National Geographic, and other sources that featured some of the great photographs of the 20th Century.

Now, thirty years later I’ve enjoyed reviving my interest in photography. I decided in 2018 to get a new camera, a couple of lenses and the basics to get back into an art I’ve always been part of but now with a keen interest in good photography, not just taking photos. This time around, I wanted to relate to the composition of a photo, to the unique moments I always saw but didn’t capture. Lessons would be learned along the way, but a year since I made that choice, I’ve been very happy I did. It was just the right time.

For twenty years, I’ve been running a web company for creatives and mastered most of what can be done with Photoshop for design purposes but working on photographs is different than designing for websites. Instead of aiming for a presentation to emphasize the works of artists, in my photography I’ve enjoyed finding what wound up in the photo and drawing the eye to appreciate its unique perspective or in some cases how the colors, shades or shapes created an interesting visual. But without a good base photo, none of that was worth wasting the time in post-production.

One of the frustrating yet fun part of the past year was all the little learning lessons that stack up to make a better and more prepared photographer. Little errors in planning or execution of shooting led to root memory changes. For example, I was fortunate to have an opportunity in early January 2019 to go out to the Everglades. Driving out into the darkness where I knew the light pollution would be incredibly low was exciting because on a new moon night I anticipated I’d see the Milky Way in its full glory, and find the lovely starry night I did. However, I forgot the camera tripod foot on the nightstand at home and though I remembered my tripod, I had no way to mount the camera. My spare footer for another tripod wasn’t going to work because it wouldn’t fit. Instead, I prefocused and stuck my camera in the camera bag and spun it around on the hood of the car to go for the effect. Yet, out of 100 photos I attempted, only 6-7 were worth keeping. I was very bummed about this but I decided instead I’d be glad I learned, practiced and enjoyed seeing the gorgeous cosmos we lived in. Fortunately, 3 nights later I had the opportunity again, remembered my camera mounting foot, tripod, OFF, and all the basics down. I even managed to test a few preview adjustments that made it easier to focus, get the lighting right and even better, it was the real New Moon night.

Other lessons learned happen to all photographers at one time or another ranging from having the wrong lens on for the moment or not having the settings ready for the moment (I shoot in manual mode almost always). But one of the hardest ones happen because I didn’t have my camera at all and just had to enjoy a great shot pass me by and accept that it was a unique moment that wouldn’t be captured. Life shouldn’t be lived behind the viewfinder all the time.

In the modern era of internet, social media, and mass amounts of portals for learning, photography online is a robust community to dig into. From FStoppers, Ted Forbes, Sean Tucker, Evan Ranft, to enjoying the Masterclass video of Annie Leibovitz, I was able to enjoy top notch creative direction. For education on the history of photography I enjoy, I have been enjoying the creativity of the late Vivian Maier, discovering why Henri Cartier-Bresson is considered one of the greats, and explored how many of the shots I enjoyed through my life came to pass. Each informed my creativity and giving me room to enjoy finding what I wanted to do in finding my unique voice in this medium. Like my studies of jazz, blues, world music traditions, I’ve enjoyed seeing the evolution of the creativity of these masters over time, of their era and in context of evolving technology.

Last, where to take this…
While my path might wind up taking this skill set to become a profession, I’m only focused on being enriched by how it augments my sense of appreciation for the world around us, the enjoyment of catching a moment that was too unique to forget, and sensitivity to details that I might previously had taken for granted. While it is easy to get caught up in the technical efforts that are required to get a good photo, the spirit of photography should be a moment of zen, where what is simply so is observed, captured and transcendent of words to a deeper part of our consciousness.