I love taking pictures. I’ve been doing it most of my life – that is, before technology was cheap and prevalent enough to afford most kids their own cameras.
I remember that first fisher-price camera I had – the blue plastic body with rubber edges, 9mm film cartridge, and the flashbulb magazine thing. (Which smelled SO good after discharge – I swear I huffed that thing every single time the flash was used.) When in high school, I took several photography classes. My Papa’s Canon AE-1 with assorted lenses and accessories was used all over that school. Whether dumb luck, or some as yet undiscovered talent, I actually shot and developed some really great photographs. I used a camera as the crutch to shyly ask for my first kiss to the woman who is now my wife, while standing on her parent’s doorstep. And then we were married and started a family where I’ve taken 10′s of thousands of photos with digital cameras.
I’ve always marveled at great photography, be it Sports Illustrated action shots, coffee table photo books of Colorado or Washington state (places I’ve lived), or anything in between. And while I’ve always been transported and inspired by photography, I can pinpoint the moment it became a true obsession for me:
A trip to Maui for my Father’s wedding several years ago led to us walking Old Lahaina Town (I think it’s one of those things you are required to do if in Maui). There, we walked into the Peter Lik Gallery. There was one photo in particular (amongst the many indescribable photographs on display) that stood out the most. It was a shoreline at day break, and the color of the shot was an amazing pink hue. Upon reading the description of the photograph, I was floored to learn that it was simply the use of the camera with something like a 15 minute shutter-speed which resulted in capturing the rising sunlight just so. Photoshop played no part in what I was looking at. Right then and there I decided that I wanted to learn to use a camera to produce the same kind of magic.
Yeah, it sounds corny, but I started practicing, tinkering, snapping a bajillion shots of nothing, just to see how it all worked. I went out in the middle of the night until I had a solid grasp on photographing the stars and landscapes at night. I setup a rig to try to capture water droplets at impact. I did all kinds of things with the camera that probably looked really dumb, and burned through many, many hours. But I learned how to do things with the camera.
I got to know a professional wedding photographer and he was great enough to allow me along to be a second lens on a couple of his smaller weddings. I learned a ton both from the experiences, and from talking with him. I shared photos I’d taken on my own for constructive criticisms. At one point, I showed him a photo I’d attempted for a Yearbook Senior Picture. The young man was a whiz at solving Rubix Cubes. (We’re talking, totally fussed up, to solved in 30 seconds!) So I wanted to try taking a picture of him solving the Cube, using an extended exposure to capture the motion of his hands and the Cube. I set the camera to what should work for the lighting and the time I needed the shutter open. I took a few shots. They were cool, but unfortunately all of him moved, so his face wasn’t in focus at all, though I did get the cool blurred hands as they solved the puzzle. When I shared the story and the photographs with my Photographer friend, he simply replied – “You should have just taken the still shot, and used some Photoshop magic to recreate the motion of his hands.”
I have a lot of respect for my Photographer friend. He does AMAZING work. But that comment he made, caused much of my world (so far as photography is concerned) to come crashing down. The realization that most of what I see these days – and love – in photographs, probably isn’t a true-to-the-art photograph, was an idea I’d been naively hanging on to. Peter Lik put the idea there – I know it’s possible. But those on the front lines, doing this stuff daily have so many computer resources at their finger tips, that who knows what’s true art (meaning, a camera-produced photograph) anymore, and what’s a nice photo that’s been made incredible in post-click editing.
I’m all for processing my photos, but edits should be clearly stated. The difference? HUGE. Processing – even in the digital age – is the task of getting the raw image out of the camera, and adjusting the lighting, contrast, color, etc to be what you saw when you clicked the shutter release on the camera. Editing however (at least in my mind), is when you start swapping pixels around – changing the original composition of the image you saw. Don’t get me wrong – editing can be fun, and I surely enjoy dabbling from time to time – usually when I see something in my head when I snap a picture, and know how I want to tinker with it when I get it into photoshop – it’s a vision.
I still spend most of my time behind the camera, challenging myself to take photographs with my camera, and the understanding I have of its capabilities. It is pure, and it is a skill that I think is rapidly being lost in this digital age. I’m not claiming to have that skill, mind you. But I’m certainly putting forth the effort to keep my hobby of photography as pure as I feel it should be.