Saturday, November 14, 2009

Living with My Photography Critic

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Paul Butzi recently wrote about taking pictures when you have no idea why you are tripping the shutter. I hope Paul won’t mind, if I jump on the bandwagon and sing a few verses of “Me, too”.

I still have an enormous amount to learn about photography (it pains me to think how much), but I am getting more and more satisfaction from it. And, that is true partly because I am trusting myself more to differentiate between occasions that are predominately study periods and those that are more about simply doing. Yes, of course those lines are blurred, but from one outing to another—or from one portion of an outing to another, there is shift in emphasis. There are occasions when I am mostly intent on learning a new technique—drilling basics into my thick skull, and sometimes I am just playing scales.

But, if I want to feed the passion, I need to have times when I simply do what I do as best I can at that moment and trust that six weeks from now, a year from now, my skills will have improved. That is, they will improve, if I keep doing this and paying attention to what works as well as what doesn't. I just have to be certain that I am paying that attention after the fact, not using it as a club over my head while I am photographing.

Long ago, I noticed that a great percentage of my photographs that I like best—on those rare and special days that I like any of them—are those that I took while shooting out of my mind. Even in the early stages when I knew almost nothing, a surprising number of the images that showed progress had been taken when something somewhat surprised me, I raised the camera, and clicked the shutter before I had time to think my way through the image.

Now, more and more, I am giving in to the impulse to shoot with abandon. I am learning that what catches my eye—and my heart—is most often a fleeting moment. By the time I think about it, the moment and the magic are gone. The more I study the scene, the more certain the best moments will escape me. If I get bogged down in analyzing, I trip the switch and activate the nasty voice in my head that nags, “That light is never going to work.” “Better look again. Is this framed properly?” “You didn’t check your exposure you are just going to delete this. You’re wasting time.” Some days the voice is particularly insistent. But, I am gradually training the nagger to speak when spoken to, leaving me to place increasing trust in my gradually improving skills and my intuition.

Of course, I’m not merely wandering about drooling and hoping that wonderful things will pop up in front of my camera and that my muse will always whisper “Now” at the ideal moment. I am comfortable inviting my intellect to take charge, or at least participate, if it honestly seems the best way to solve a problem. But, for better or for worse, I go about my photography, at least part of the time, trusting that when I have no clue as to why my shutter finger twitches at a specific instant—much less what is filling the frame, I don’t ask questions. I just let go and enjoy the moments.

After all, that nagging critic in my head represents the part of me that can be paralyzed by the specter of failure. The message behind all that nagging is “Don’t take chances. Work cautiously. Play it safe. D
on’t prove you are a loser.”

When I tell the critic to take some time off, I have a grand time and sometimes there is a bonus. I may make more mistakes, but I also make more pictures that I like. Not a bad bargain for trusting myself and following impulses. I wouldn’t recommend it for crossing streets, or choosing life partners. But, I think following impulses can be a swell idea, when you have a camera in your hand.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Old Toys and New Obsessions

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I'm glad that I stirred up some curiosity. But, Earl added an element of urgency by claiming that he was turning blue and passing out from holding his breath. He is a big kidder; still, just in case, I thought it would be better to quickly spill the beans. Besides, I have another shoot scheduled for tomorrow afternoon and some preparations to handle before then. Today, the fog is thicker than the proverbial pea soup. Tomorrow could prove very interesting. I'm sure there will be lessons to be learned.

I hope you didn't have your hopes up for something truly exciting here. I think you know me better. This isn’t really a big deal—just something new to me. First, I have to say that there are a gazillion things wrong with the photos here. They pretty much stink in more ways than I can count. For example, don’t you just love the line cutting through The Husband’s head? And that shadow into his camera right eye. Wow! Charming, no? No. I was thinking only about exposing for that sky and a certain kind of light on his face. It would have been nice if we had had a ladder handy to get his head up in the clouds. The second photo? Another long list that I won't start on. Still, you have to crawl before you can walk, right? Maybe this lighting business is ho-hum old hat stuff to most of you, but there are plenty new challenges in it for me.

The idea of working with more than natural light has been rattling around in the back of my mind for some time. The problem was that it was way back in a well-hidden corner and, mostly, I ignored the rattling. Probably close to two years ago, I bought a 580EX flash. Then maybe a year later, I got the 430EX. I was curious and was certain that, eventually, I would fully explore studio lighting. From time to time, I did play around a bit with both flash units, but the whole notion of using anything other than natural light just never quite took. At one point, I briefly considered selling at least half of my lighting equipment. However, before I could act on that thought, I would always have a flurry of interest that lasted a minute and a half. Long enough to put off selling—not long enough to develop any expertise. What it came down to was I didn’t have that much interest in shooting things that you could bring indoors. Horses and landscapes in the living room? Probably not. Don’t ask why that obvious disconnect didn’t stop me up front. Sometimes, I’m just slow.

Finally, I have gotten a glimmer as why those speedlights have been taking up space and have begun to investigate, with some seriousness, using supplemental light outdoors. It’s not something I have grasped readily, unfortunately. Rather, it has been a major challenge. Still, if you aren’t terribly smart and you lack talent, the next best thing is being stubbornly persistent. I have read I don’t know how many articles online in an attempt to cram some of this information into my brain. Yes, it still feels much like trying to jam a square peg into a round hole, but I know a little more now than when I started. I have photographed the strangest things in our house and burned up more than a couple of AA batteries. But, I am beginning to get a sense of where I want to go with this.

The next steps include a great deal more experimentation outside, because that’s where I really want to work. Moreover, I have to catch The Husband with spare time and in a willing mood. (Tomorrow I have another subject and The Husband is going to be provide me with a voice-activated lightstand.) Getting a handle on this new thing is going to take quite a while and yes, the delay of winter will exasperate. This is a lousy time of year to finally figure out where I want to go next. But, it's comforting to know that I have that stubborn persistence thing on my side. Because, there are images in my head and, by gum, I want to see them on my monitor someday.

Detours and New Directions

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Whew! I’ve been running half-a-dozen different directions most of the time, and then barely functional for a couple of days. Hmm. Not so unusual, come to think of it. As a result, I am behind on most of the things that I like to keep up to date. I haven’t had time to read many of the new posts at the sites of fellow bloggers much less leave comments, and I have sadly neglected my own blog. I have a fistful of new photos that I want to post here, but I don’t yet have them ready. To top it off, I am still recovering from a sick day. Side note for the youngsters out there: When you are retired, “a sick day” means you are just plain sick. It doesn’t mean a day when you are feeling less than your best, or a day taken off to handle errands.

Since most of the diversions in the last week have been pleasant ones, I’ll talk about those and put the others behind me. The first of the month, I did a photo session with two friends and their horses. Even the obstacles presented by a far less than an ideal background and not-so-great lighting didn’t spoil the fun.

Much of the time the last week was been taken up by a new interest. No, I haven’t taken up skateboarding. I don’t know who insists on promoting that rumor, and my “Sweet Home Alabama” experience most certainly did not convince me to sign up for Dancing With the Stars”. It’s all about photography, and you will hear more about it in the days to come. Believe me, you will probably hear more than you want to, since I am quite immersed in this. Isn’t that mean to leave you hanging? Remember, at my age, and with my humdrum existence, one does what one can to muster an air of mystery and excitement.