What Shooting Film Has Taught Me

It must have been sometime around the year 1973 when my interest in photography really started. The reason I remember this is because my father brought home a few photography brochures from the office he was working in. On the cover of one of those brochures was the brand new Canon FTb SLR film camera. What a beauty. I can remember how much I would have liked to have been able to use a camera like that, but unfortunately, it was just not in our budget. Advance to the year 2016 and I am now the proud owner of a mint FTb with a 85mm f1.2 lens. It only took 42 years but I am finally shooting with that dream camera of my youth.

Film photography was how I started out as a photographer, and I still enjoy shooting with it today. I taught myself how to develop, scan, and print both black and white and colour negatives. I can honestly say that shooting with film has taught me more photography skills than any of my digital cameras will ever teach me.

I suppose though, that it’s the process of shooting with film that I enjoy the most. It’s getting away from that instant gratification thing that has made me have more of an appreciation for producing an image that is interesting and meaningful.

Today I’m a hybrid photographer. I own and shoot both digital and analog cameras. I cannot however, tell you how thankful I am that I started out with film and using film cameras. I guess I’m a dying breed as the new generation has grown up with digital. But it sure is nice to see so many younger people shooting with film SLR’s and really enjoying it.

So why then, do I think that I’ve learned a lot using film cameras? Here are some of my experiences:

1.) Shooting with film has taught me to think about what I’m doing with the camera. I’ve got 36 frames on a roll and I want to make them count.

2.) I have learned how to really evaluate exposure. Many of my film cameras either don’t have meters or have meters that don’t work. As a result I’ve taught myself how to carefully measure light using an external light meter or the sunny 16 rule.

3.) Film cameras have taught me the basics of understanding that photography is really the ability to see as well as having a good grasp of ASA (ISO), shutter speed, and aperture. Most film cameras have shutter speeds and apertures in full stops so they are easier to understand how different combinations work.

4.) I have learned that careful developing and film handling is critical to producing a good undamaged, clean negative.

5.) Shooting film has really taught me a great deal about how to see colour in the world. I’ve learned all about primary and complimentary colours, and how they manifest themselves with different film stocks. Thanks to film, I have a better understanding of what to look for when shooting colour.

6.) Film has taught me that sharpness and focus are often way overrated. A good photograph is not the sharpest photograph or the one that focused precisely.

7.) Film has given me an appreciation for the film aesthetic. I love the subtle differences in various film stocks, and I embrace grain like I couldn’t do with digital.

8.) Shooting film has made me patient. I’m no longer in a hurry to see my images. In fact, usually by the time I’ve developed the roll of film, I’ve completely forgotten that I even took those photos. That just makes it all the more sweeter.

9.) Film photography has led me to learn all about photography history. If you don’t know where you came from, you won’t know where you’re going.

10.) Large format photography has brought the joy back into shooting. I think the reason for this is because it requires a great deal of effort. And looking at an image on the ground glass that is upside down and flipped left to right, has forced me to pay attention to the edges of the frame and carefully consider my composition. The satisfaction I get from seeing a large format print beautifully composed, exposed, and handled is like no other.

So there you have it. There are many more reasons why shooting film has helped me as a photographer, but I think you get the point. If you are a new photographer and have never tried film, I encourage you to do so. Even if you buy a used SLR on Ebay and shoot a few rolls a year and have a lab develop them for you, you’re bound to enjoy the experience and learn a lot about photography.

Happy Shooting,

Doug

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Photographers: Who Do You Really Work For?

One of the most important lessons I’ve learned in photography is to make sure you have a clear set of goals and you know exactly where you stand as far as your abilities go.

On a daily basis I think about the realization that it is the photographer not the camera who is the instrument. And that more than anything else, I want to continue to develop my vision. I want to produce photographs that are not only unique, but are somehow useful. They must carry some weight or possess some poetry. I have no desire to make photographs that are the same as someone else’s. I have no desire to make photographs that are useless and totally devoid of any kind of reason for existing.

I have learned that nobody including myself, cares about photographs that exist purely to demonstrate a level of skill. And nobody cares about photographs that are perfectly composed or executed.

If I can look back on my year and be proud of all the things I’ve learned and some of the images I’ve taken, then I’m ok with that. If I can be proud of having a vision that is my own, or if I’ve overcome obstacles that stood in my way, then I’ve achieved something.

Especially important is to realize that if you’re a somewhat average photographer, and by that I mean someone who perhaps lives in a small town, someone who works full time doing something other than photography, or runs a small business, or doesn’t have any corporate backing, or someone who doesn’t have people promoting them or working for them, someone who doesn’t get invitations to do presentations or guest blog posts etc. that you should know who you’re really working for.

Your real boss is you. I’ll repeat that. Your real boss is you. And the only person that really cares about your work is you. You need to measure your progress against all you’ve learned and done in the past year or two. If you’re happy that your photography and your vision is progressing, then you can and should consider yourself to be success!

Do not make the mistake of falling into the social media trap being someone who measures their worth based on Facebook or Instagram likes. They mean nothing. Many on social media who like your images do so only to get a like back for themselves. It is a reflection of the times we live in. It’s the way of the world.

I can upload what I consider to be the best image I’ve ever done to Facebook and be lucky if it gets 5 or 10 likes. In fact, most people simply don’t care about what you’re doing as much as they care about what’s going on in their own private worlds. It’s a fact of life. And that is completely normal. I recently self published a 132 page book of black and white images with important writings on some of the most valuable concepts I’ve learned being a photographer. Now, if I was a young photographer looking to learn something that would certainly make them better, it’s a no-brainer to get a copy of the book. It has the potential to take years off one’s uphill climb to seeing. Do you want to know the reality of the situation? Not a single copy has been sold (even at zero profit margin) to any friends, any local photographers, or any family members for that matter. Did I push the book? Other than a single blog post and about a half dozen posts to Facebook, not really. But the truth of the matter is that nobody is as interested in what you’re doing or trying to accomplish as you yourself are.

Understand that the reason you do what you do is is for you! It’s for your memories in twenty or thirty years from now. It’s for your kids. It simply doesn’t matter if you spent 2 years or 4 years putting together a project of your greatest efforts. Nobody cares unless you put an enormous amount of time and effort into promoting the product. And even then, it will likely be only about 2% of the masses that are even remotely interested in giving it a look. It’s a fact. And it’s certainly not a problem unless you expect something to be any different. That’s normal.

I strongly encourage any photographer to print their images and archive them into an album. Put your completed photo books in a library for your kids to enjoy someday. After you’re gone, your husband or wife may really enjoy looking back over all the memories and the special way you saw the world.

These should be your most important goals as a photographer.

Don’t ever fool yourself.

Do it for you. Do it for you.

Happy shooting as always. And this Christmas give yourself a pat on the back for a job well done. You damn well deserve it.

Doug

Nobody Writes About This Stuff

Nobody writes about this stuff…

All across the internet you’ll see an endless supply of information about the latest and greatest cameras. You’ll see all the technical stuff about megapixels and sensors. But at the same time you see next to nothing about the importance of seeing and visualizing what it is you want to do with your image.

The way it works is like this:

1.) The photographer

2.) Situation

3.) Light and atmosphere

4.) Choice of lens

5.) The camera

What does this mean?

1.) The photographer

Everything you’ve ever seen and experienced in your life contributes to the way you see the world. Your feelings about things and your interests come into play. The way you’ve been treated by others and your own little personality quirks – your sense of humour and humility influence your vision. It’s the total package. It your likes and dislikes. It’s your fears. It’s your emotional state of being. It’s the sum of who you are that has a huge influence on what you take photographs of and how you take them.

There is also all the things you’ve ever learned about photography – including good habits and bad ones, that influence not just how you compose and shoot the image, but how you process it after it’s shot. It’s a collective recollection of all the stupid mistakes you’ve ever made and all the almost invisible tiny little details you’ve learned along your road.

2.) Situation

The success of a photographer has a great deal to do with not only your personal set of circumstances, but also on your work ethic. How much are you willing to sacrifice to get a good shot? Are you willing to put up with being cold and muddy? Are you patient? Are you prepared? Do you practice your photography on a regular basis? And then, as a result of these things, your photography depends on the opportunities you create for your pictures and the situations you put yourself in to get the image you’re after.

I’ve always said that it’s important to consider the photographer’s own personal situation and take that into account. Remember that the next time you look at photographs. If someone works a demanding shift job at a steel plant in Pennsylvania, you can’t really expect them to have the world’s finest collection of Burmese Tiger photographs.

Always take into consideration the effort that the photographer may have made to achieve the image. And consider where they are in their photography evolution.

3. Light and atmosphere

There are numerous ways you can draw attention to the subject you’re photographing such as contrast, colour, light, focus, motion etc., but light and atmosphere have a enormous effect on the impact your photograph has. When you think about it that’s what you’re doing – you’re recording values of light and darkness (contrast or lack of contrast). The atmosphere determines the overall mood of the image.

4.) Choice of lens

How do you see the scene? How do you wish to render it – like your eyes see perhaps? Or, do you wish to bring out the importance of the foreground? Perhaps the background needs to be emphasized. In short, how do you wish to tell this story? Choose a focal length that helps you to achieve this.

5.) The camera

Do you notice how far down the list this is?

A camera is just a box between the film plane/sensor and the lens. It has a shutter. It’s real importance is that it is easy to use and functional. It should get the job done and it should be minimally obtrusive. What I mean is that it should not be a distraction to what’s really important – what’s going on in the world in front of you.

When you choose a camera, choose it for the right reasons. Choose it for its simplicity. Choose it for its ability to accomplish a certain task. Choose it for its convenience. Don’t choose it thinking that it’s ever going to give you better images. Because in almost all circumstances it won’t. (I’m not going to mention the specific exceptions because you probably already know what they are.)

Anyhow, put that in your pipe and smoke it for awhile…

And happy shooting always,

D.

Invest in Yourself

I’ve always considered one of the very best investments a photographer can make is not in camera gear, but in knowledge. All too often, I see fellow photogs buying more gear and never even considering investing in self-improvement.

As a background, I live in a rather small town or city of about ten thousand people. I know almost everyone owns a camera here, and a good number of those people have spent upwards of a thousand dollars or more on camera equipment. The strange thing that I’ve noticed is how many are willing to make a sizeable investment in a camera and then spend almost no time, energy or money learning how to be a better photographer. The message needs to be hammered home – a new camera is not going to make you a better photographer!

I have been rather blessed that all my life I have been one with a curious nature. I love to investigate things and am constantly solving problems and learning how to do things – even in my dreams. I have a background in education and know the importance of learning – the empowerment and freedom that an individual can acquire through knowledge and bettering themselves.

Fortunately, I am someone who rather enjoys figuring things out and have always been adept at teaching myself. However there are many people who either don’t have the time or simple don’t enjoy learning things on their own. Many people are better at learning by seeing and benefit greatly from the experience that a teacher can provide.

For those of you who are often frustrated with your photography or trying to understand your camera, I urge you to take advantage of many of the resources that are available so that you can become better at what it is you want to do.

Here are just a few of the things you can do to make yourself a better photographer:

1.) start collecting classic photo books

2.) look at the works of the masters

3.) study the history of photography

4.) enroll in workshops and webinars

5.) find a mentor

6.) try to use your camera every day

7.) write down your questions and figure them out

8.) study art

9.) watch the cinematography in movies

10.) go for a walk every day and begin to notice things

If there’s one thing that is for sure, it’s that you don’t become a better photographer by sitting around wishing you knew how to do something.

In an future blog, I will make a short list of some of my favourite books that are in my collection. In the meantime, I am offering a workshop for local people on November 13th, 2016 that teaches you all about understanding exposure and metering – not just for digital, but also if you shoot film. I have also just released a new book about some important concepts in photography and contains 111 photographs. Perhaps you or someone you know would love to be a better photographer. Here are the links:

https://www.eventbrite.ca/e/the-essentials-of-exposure-and-metering-for-photographers-tickets-28960530727

http://www.blurb.ca/bookstore/invited/6586054/7242156bb99274ddde8b98b26ac6dc8ea8008ffc

Happy Shooting,

Doug

What Makes a Good Photographer?

I was asked an interesting question the other day by a friend who was interested in photography: “What is it exactly, that makes a good photographer?” Put another way, “What is it that separates a lousy photographer from someone considered to be a really good photographer?”

I should first state that we are not talking about amateurs versus professionals here. We all know that there are many amateurs who produce very compelling images.

So after I gave the question a little thought, I narrowed it down to 3 very basic things:

1.) vision

2.) skill set

3.) the opportunities you have or create for yourself for taking great pictures

So let’s look at the first item – vision. Some people are born with a good photographic vision, others not so much. Vision is the great thing that really makes your photographs different than mine. It’s unique to each of us. From the day a photographer first pick up a camera, they are continually trying to improve their vision. The way we see the world is something that develops over time. Even the greats who have been taking photographs for over fifty years are still trying to see the world in a new way. When it comes right down to it, the way our brains, our eyes, and our hearts render the world is the essence of our photography. It is an ever-evolving process of teaching ourselves to see in a different way.

The second item on my list is a very easy one to comprehend. The skill set that a good photographer must possess involves things like how well you understand basic camera fundamentals, dynamic range, flash, gesture, contrast, color, light, tonality, computer software and file handling, measuring exposure, post processing techniques, communication skills, and a host of other things.

Finally, good photographers are ones who create opportunities for themselves. The best photographers have portfolios that are worthy of showing. To do that, it meant that they had to  work hard at what they do. They get out of bed early to be ready for the morning light. If you’re a landscape photographer, you travel and position yourself to find great locations. If you’re a street photographer, you generally will want to live in a spot that is well populated with an active city life. A wildlife photographer has to know the behaviour of their subject so they can be in the right place at the right time.

Good photographers are constantly educating themselves about new techniques. They practice using their skills on a daily basis. They plan photography excursions. And they communicate with others to arrange sessions. They make things happen so that their collection of images grows along with their bank of knowledge. Good photographers put themselves out there in the world. They don’t just sit at home and wait for something to happen.

I’ve always said that the best photographers are the ones who can consistently create compelling images of any subject in any environment or set of conditions. They combine their skills with opportunity and then apply their vision.

Happy Shooting,

Doug

Which Photographers Do I Admire the Most? My answer may surprise you.

I must say that although social media is a huge benefit when it comes to helping a photographer get their name known, I can’t help but feel that it is also the number one culprit that encourages the modern day hunger for immediate visual gratification. Combine this with the millions of images that hit the net everyday, and the end result is that your images are probably of little value to anyone but yourself. Don’t get me wrong. I’ve done many photos for people who will forever cherish those images. And it’s always wonderful to be able to make someone smile with a nice portrait of a child, sibling, or parent. But so much of what I see online now is all based on perception. And it is a simple character flaw in all of us that allows the scheme to work.

For example, I’ll bet the average person thinks that if photographer A has more Facebook likes than photographer B, he must be a better or a more valued photographer. This clearly isn’t so. It could be that photographer B just doesn’t give a rats ass about likes or that photographer A gives away prints or sessions in exchange to get more likes. In another example,  I’ll bet you that if a photographer in New York is selling a 8 by 12 print for 500 dollars, you’d probably think it must be better than the print sold by the photographer in Boise, Idaho for 90 dollars. Perceived value and marketing are everything for the modern marketeer.

And quite frankly I get a little tired of seeing photography magazines that are full of ads trying to make you believe that you’ll never amount to anything in photography unless you buy their camera or their lens. People are always trying to sell something. If it isn’t a blog with affiliate links, it’s e-books, or photoshop actions or something. Everyone wants their piece of the pie. And I guess there’s nothing wrong with that, because after all it’s just consumerism and it’s the way we’ve all been brought up. But my point is that so much of photography out there isn’t about photography at all! It’s about pushing a product or a service or trying to gain notoriety in some way. And most of the time the person with the best marketing skills will come out on top.

I know it seems like a rather negative point of view, but ask any artist out there and I’ll bet that at some point in their endeavors they have been totally disillusioned with social media and the whole idea of sharing their images at all. After all they have most likely been the victim of rude comments, internet trolls, or a total indifference toward their work. If only your spouse could get a degree in marketing and agree to quit their real job to help you out getting your art where it belongs…hmmm

Like I said earlier, it really pays to remember that your work will always be most valuable to you and only you. It’s the journey and the enjoyment you get out of being an artist that will always be the most important thing. If people cared about your work they’d be buying it and hanging it up on their walls before you could get your next images up on your computer screen. It’s much easier in this day of instant gratification to ignore a post, or simply like it with a click then forever forget it. All that expense, dedication, travel, patience, talent, and hard work ends with a click of a button on Facebook. Wow.

So getting back to the title of this post, I am reminded of a student I helped out this past year. She was really just starting out in photography. We had many conversations about light, colour, shadows, contrast, technique, and composition. She would ask questions and share images for critique. I watched her work progress from simple snapshots to brilliantly composed landscapes full of feeling and wonder. I watched her struggle trying to see the world at a focal length longer than 17mm. I saw the proud look in her eyes when she showed me one of her wildlife images. She was beaming. And rightfully so. That my friends, is what photography is all about. In one year, I saw the progression of someone’s work go from the beginner stage to that of an inspiring artist with vision. She has since moved to another continent, but I will always feel the most satisfaction as an artist myself to have been able to help someone do what they love to do.

Those are the photographers I think of. The ones who are trying hard no matter what level they’re at. The ones who make the effort. The ones who’s work goes largely unseen. I admire them because they’re in the trenches doing what they have a passion for. I admire them because their thoughts are consumed with learning to see again. And although they are the photographers who go unnoticed, and they are the ones who’s hard work will never likely gain any appreciable audience, they are the ones I admire the most.

Happy Shooting,

Doug

The Grand Illusion

I recently read an article somewhere that danced around the idea that prospective photographers should spend more time, money, and energy on lessons and books rather than on camera gear. It was something that hit home for me instantly.

 Ever since I can remember I’ve been good at teaching myself and discovering things that I want to know more about. All through school I often thought, “All you have to do is attend and listen.” But there’s more to it than that. You also must have the ability to sift through material and weed out what’s important and what’s just noise.

 The fact is, some people are better learners than others. They not only have an easier time going through subject matter, but they also seem to comprehend it better. But why?

 With a background in education and career in a field that is very technical, I have spent a great deal of time thinking about different teaching methods and ways that people learn. I’ve really enjoyed being able to apply some of my ideas to my photography lessons and workshops. And it gives me a great deal of satisfaction seeing people put newly learned skills to use and get more out of their photography.

 But every time I open up a photography magazine I can’t help be amazed at the barrage of advertisements for cameras, lenses, and gadgets of all kinds. A new photographer must certainly think that buying any of these things will without a doubt make them a better photographer. “If only I could afford a 5dmiii, my photos would be a whole lot better. It’s my t2i that’s holding me back.”

 There is an illusion out there brought on by manufacturers that it’s gear that makes you a better photographer! And as a result, many blame their poor photos on the camera, or the fact that they need a bigger zoom lens etc. etc. I can guarantee you that if your photos are not great with your compact camera, then they won’t be great with a new DSLR either. There is no magic piece of equipment that will make your photos the envy of national geographic if you don’t have a good understanding of general principles of photography and how to apply them.

 It’s almost Christmas, and thousands of people worldwide will be receiving new cameras. That’s wonderful. It’s always nice that someone has something that can give them enjoyment. But I hope they don’t fall prey to the misconception that the new camera is magic, and that it’s going to transform your photos to the extent that they’ll soon be on major magazine covers across the nation. 

 I know many many people who have spent hundreds of dollars on new cameras only to discover that their pictures look the same. Not only that, but now they need to spend even more money to make their new camera as versatile as their old one was! They need a couple more lenses, a few filters, a tripod, a photo backpack, and an assortment of software programs now.

 I know this all sounds rather negative, but my point is that for most people, your hard-earned money is probably better spent on lessons, and a few really good books. Just think how many books you could buy for the cost of a new camera body. Just think of how many lessons you could attend for the cost of one new lens. Just think of how many webinars you could take or excursions you could go on for the cost of all that new gear.

Upgrade your camera body only for a good reason. Perhaps you’re an established photographer and you’d like to sell large prints. A camera with higher resolution and lower noise levels might be worthwhile for you. Perhaps you’d like to try your hand at wildlife photography. That camera with a faster burst shooting rate may just help you out. And there’s certainly nothing wrong with having a few better quality lenses. But if you’re relatively new to photography and have never learned to take your camera off “auto”, then a new camera and better lenses isn’t going to help you.

 What is going to help you?

 1.) Learn to take better photos with whatever camera equipment you have now by taking a few lessons from a good teacher. Learn the principles of photography and how to apply them.

 2.) Add to your skill set by taking lessons or webinars in portrait photography, landscape photography, post-processing etc.

 3.) Spend a year taking photos with the camera you have now and one lens. You’ll have a better understanding of your camera and the way that lens “sees the world”.

 4.) Buy a few really good photography books. Learn from people who know what they’re talking about. Study really good images.

 5.) Don’t be tempted to buy new gear only for the purpose of having it. You should have a really good practical reason why that piece of equipment is going to help you with your photography.

 6.) Don’t seek inspiration in new gear. Seek inspiration in great images, and old masters.

 7.) Slow down. Force yourself to try different techniques. 

 8.)Learn the camera you have now – it’s strengths and weaknesses. 

 9.) Don’t be lazy. Move around. Shoot from different perspectives. Use your feet for your zoom.

 10.) Be there! The hardest part of photography is making the effort.

 

The ultimate goal is for you to improve your photography skills and enjoy yourself doing so.

 Above all, if you have no plans to learn how to take photos by using a shooting mode other than full auto, consider sticking with your compact camera system. Save yourself some money and a great deal of frustration. It’s probably better suited for you and your style of photography.

 

Happy Shooting,

 

Doug