Tagged: simplicity

My Photography

My photography is my hobby.  It is what keeps me thinking and helps fill up my time.  If I am not taking pictures or working on pictures I am usually reading about photography on the web; but that isn’t enough.  I started this blog to create another avenue for keeping busy; but it still isn’t enough.

What I photograph depends upon three factors.  One, I find that I need to like the camera and lens combination.  I have to like to use it.  The weight, ergonomics, build-quality, etc. need to feel right in my hands.  When I go out to gather photographs I carry my camera in my hand most of the time but I use a strap around the wrist or neck for safety reasons in case I drop the camera (it has happened).

The second ingredient is a suitable subject.  I like to make lots of pictures on a daily basis but I don’t like to have to travel far to find them.  During the last two years the bulk of my pictures have been made while walking about the grounds here at Homewood at Plum Creek.  Since I don’t photograph many people in the interests of privacy, I find that my subjects are very limited.  I mostly have to photograph mini landscapes and the sky if I use the images on my blog.

The final factor is that I need to be interested in the complete process of making the picture.  It needs to be fun for me.  Since probably the easiest part of photography is taking the picture, I concentrate on seeing the image as I walk about and then on discovering the picture within the picture as I develop it on my computer.

The above two images are representative of my preferred photography.  While taking one of my recent daily walks I took around a dozen pictures.  The two above were parts of color pictures of a much larger area.  When I looked at them on my computer I wasn’t interested in what I saw.  They were just the same old scenes that I saw almost every day.

One other part of the “interest factor” is simplicity or minimalism.  I tend to prefer simple scenes that aren’t too cluttered.  When confronted with a large image my first reaction is to look for the “picture within the picture”.  I start cropping out subsections of the original picture and then I try various techniques in the development process to eliminate the clutter and confusion.  One of my favorite techniques is to eliminate the color.  I try to draw your eye to the element of the image that first attracted me to take the original picture.

Now you know what I most currently prefer to do with my photography … make images that others didn’t see:

  • Make pictures that can be taken with a hand-held camera that is easy to carry on my walks.
  • Find subjects within walking distance of my home.
  • And use my processing to find and make the image within the picture … images that most wouldn’t have seen the way I saw it, even if they had been standing right next to me when I took the picture.

Some refer to this type of photography as contemplative photography.  If you are interested in seeing what others do in this genre, take a look at this web site.

Do I also like to make other photographs?  Yes, but I have drifted to the above situation because of the confluence of the events of aging, location, economics, etc.

Does this mean that is the only type of pictures I will show in my blog?  No.  I have another over-riding urge and that is to make pictures every day and I don’t usually find the kind I most prefer to make; therefore, I will still occasionally take the more common “snapshots” of whatever goes on around Homewood and use them to fill-in between the images I most enjoy to make.

Getting back to something I mentioned in the first paragraph … my current level of photography isn’t enough to occupy all of my available time.  In addition, I am finding it harder and harder to find subjects to photograph under the limitations I have alluded to above.  I need to find new opportunities to make pictures and to expand my interests.

While I have several ideas in mind, they all have a downside.  Most of them will not expand my immediate opportunities to create pictures for this blog; therefore, the frequency of my blog posts might go down and become more erratic.  My goals will be to find additional outlets for my time that eventually lead to additional photographic opportunities; but in the interim, I should be able to continue to post photographs even though they might be less frequent.  Don’t be alarmed if you see gaps in my posting.  It will be because I’m exploring other things.

The Time is Coming

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The time is coming when we will have to live within our means.  In addition, our means will be shrinking.  I am using the pronoun “we” to mean all of us, especially in the U.S., including our government and corporations.

Our problem is a case of interacting, compounding concerns.  Our debts have increased while productivity has slowed down.  We have increased our debts and expectations based on assumptions that growth will continue and that we will be able to pay off the debts in the future.  Unfortunately, growth cannot continue indefinitely within a closed system.  We are approaching the limits in affordable natural resources such as oil and many mineral resources.  We are reaching the limits in finding/exploiting resources around the globe.  The best approach for the future is reuse of materials, increased conservation, greater efficiency, and sustainable living.

At the same time that we are reaching limits, we are facing increased demands and costs.  For example … the wild fires out west.  Fighting them is expensive and we are facing limits on our ability to fight them.  At the same time we might be faced with increased costs of an unnecessary war in the mid-east.  And don’t forget that we haven’t recovered from the financial devastation caused by Sandy in the north-east.  What if we now have another major storm hit the country?  What about the other costs coming caused by global climate change?  Where will we find the funds and other resources to restore the areas destroyed?  Going into greater debt based on future growth is unrealistic.

Our financial system is another factor.  It is only as strong as we are confident, confident in our ability to pay off our debts through future growth.  When that confidence erodes, interest rates will rise on borrowed funds and we won’t be able to afford to borrow.  We might not even be able to pay-off past debts.

There have always been those who have preached on the corners that the world is coming to an end.  Rightfully so, we didn’t pay them much attention; but I’m now thinking that the future definitely isn’t going to be like the past.  I see no way that recent standards of living can be maintained, at least those dependent upon commercially acquired material goods.

The time is coming, has arrived, for major changes.  I am sorry if you don’t see it, don’t understand it, or don’t believe it; but, I am not a street corner prophet.  I try not to be an alarmist.  I am confident that when we take all the factors into consideration that my beliefs are rational and warranted. It is time to change our perspective about the future and make changes.

Prime Challenge

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I have decided to try to only use 20, 35, and 50mm prime lenses on 1.5 crop frame cameras for my photography for a period of unknown length.  I’m doing this to determine if I can manage without long zoom lenses.  I’m going to hold off on making any additions or changes in my cameras and lenses until I have given myself sufficient time to try this experiment.

This will change what I photograph and probably slow me down; but I’m approaching it as a challenge.  It will have a major impact on my photography and the answer will have a significant bearing on reducing camera weight, size, cost, and complexity.

I have an additional incentive in that there have been several times in my life when I could not walk without the aid of a cane.  If/when that happens again I wish to be able to handle my camera with one hand.

In the meanwhile, I’m going to learn about the power of constraints.  As David duChemin says:  “We need constraints. They force our hands creatively, and while many advocate embracing constraints, I suggest we go one better and create them.”

I will try hard to be successful with this effort since it has such potential to be enlightening and to simplify my photography.  It would both reduce the weight of my gear and reduce the time spent fiddling with the composition.  It also will help to teach me to see in just a few focal lengths.  I’m going to try to make 35mm (effective 52mm) my primary focal length but I will use a wider or narrower focal length when necessary to get the picture.

Fine-Tuning my Preferences

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I like bright colors but I often prefer just B&W (black and white) pictures so I switch back and forth.  I like B&W because I prefer simplicity.  With B&W I can more easily concentrate on the bare essentials of the picture.  It is easier to eliminate the non-essentials or features that distract.  In addition I like shadows and it is easier to portray them with just B&W.

I am always curious about what makes a good picture.  I find that I can’t define what I think makes a good picture and I don’t know how a picture will turn out until after I develop it and try various approaches in how it is displayed.  For me, the only way I have of measuring a good picture is how it satisfies me over time.  If I enjoy looking at it over and over or if I find myself being drawn back to it over a relatively long period, I am then able to believe that it is a good picture … at least in my eyes … and I find myself going back to higher contrast B&W pictures over and over.

Over time I’m also finding that I don’t enjoy, as much, making what I call “snapshots.”  Those are the straight-forward color “record” shots.  The recording of scenes as everybody else thinks they see them.  I don’t know all the reasons for that but I do know one reason.  They are easier to do and pictures right out of the camera usually suffice.  They don’t require much time spent on the computer in working with them.  If I were still working and didn’t have much time for development of pictures, I might find that mostly that was what I was doing … recording things as they were.  That is how I got into photography … recording travel scenes.  But now that I have the time and, in fact, are looking for things to do with photography, I enjoy working with them on the computer.  I like trying to draw out the essentials of the scene as I “see” them … not as others see them.  I also find that it is harder to make good B&W pictures.    You need to be aware of things like tonal contrast, line, texture, shape and form, and how they translate into a monochrome image.

Does this mean that I will mostly work with B&W pictures?  The answer is no because of another over-riding reason.  I like taking and working with pictures (all/any pictures) and the scenes that are better in this style of B&W are limited.  In addition I like variety, therefore, I will continue taking any and all the pictures that I can manage to see and I will utilize the development process that I think works best.  But don’t be surprised if, over time, you start seeing more B&W pictures on this blog.  In addition, I expect that as my preferences mature that they will influence what lenses I use as well as what camera.

Photographers Have Options for Reducing Weight

In this past year I have read many blog articles about how some photographers no longer like to carry big heavy DSLRs when they are out walking and/or just shooting for their personal pleasure.  They are suffering from having carried heavy camera bags their whole life.  Their backs are giving out.  All of them are getting older, just like all the rest of us, and it seems that many are making a change in their cameras as they age.  Some replace their big heavy DSLRs with smaller, lighter, mirror-less compact system cameras such as the Sony NEX or Olympus or Panasonic micro 4/3 system cameras while others keep their big DSLRs for their business use, but get lighter cameras for their personal use.  In all the cases that I have read about, they put the emphasis on downsizing the camera; but, I would like to make an observation that there are other variables in the equation for reducing the amount of weight carried.

I speak from experience.  As I started having problems carrying my Pentax K-5 and lenses, and eventually had back surgery, I made the decision to sell my DSLR system and replace it with something lighter.  I tried many micro 4/3 cameras and lenses.  I found they reduced the amount of weight that I was carrying around but they also decreased the quality of my pictures in low light situations and created adverse problems for me with camera ergonomics … a case of arthritic fingers vs. small buttons too close together.  Since I did not like the negative aspects of the downsizing route that I had taken, I went back to a K-5 DSLR camera as well as lenses for it, and sold all of my other cameras.  I decided to make other changes to reduce the weight and increase the quality at the same time.

I agree with many older photographers that it is necessary to reduce the total weight of the gear that we carry with us … it is just a fact of getting older, especially for those of us with back problems.  But I decided to keep the advantages of my DSLR and to reduce the weight in other ways.  I’m in the process of using my heavier, longer zoom lens less and less and using prime lenses more and more.  As I mentioned in my last article, I added a Pentax 21mm prime lens to my set of options.  If I find that I can’t carry my 55 – 300mm zoom lens as much as I did (was on my camera the majority of the time), I will also change what I photograph as well.  It might mean fewer pictures of wildlife.  I hope to primarily use my 21mm, 35mm, and 50mm prime lenses and change the type and style of my photography to fit that choice of lenses.

I haven’t had an opportunity to really try my new 21 mm lens, but I did take one picture with it yesterday when I made a quick trip to a market.

Hanover Market

Hanover Market

The lighting in the market wasn’t the best so the above picture was taken at an ISO of 400, f/4.5, and 1/50 sec with the 21mm lens.  I’m thinking that this lens will make a nice travel lens since it is light-weight, very small (only 1 inch long), and makes for a more discreet camera-lens combination for carrying while touring.  One advantage of the lens is that it also gives me nice depth of field coverage and it crop-zooms fairly well as noted in the following crop from the center of the above picture.

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In addition to having smaller, lighter gear to carry, it also allows me to carry it in a smaller, lighter bag as I make another change.  I have found that having a strap on my camera creates problems.  In the first case I decided that carrying a camera on a strap around my neck or over one shoulder was one of the problems relative to my back pain.  In the second case, I found that the strap attached to the camera lugs also occasionally got in the way of my hands … even when using a wrist strap.  The solution that I’m now trying is neither a neck, or shoulder, or wrist strap.  I have gone back to a system that I tried two years ago in which the camera is attached to my camera bag by a tether.  It is the system as shown in an earlier blog article (click here).  The picture in the article shows my older K-7 camera but the size is the same as my current K-5.  I’m also using the same bag as shown, but I might try some other bags before I deem the one shown as my preference.  It will depend on how many lenses I take with me.

At the beginning of this article I mentioned that all the photographers complaining of the weight of their system only talked about changing cameras … not lenses; but I don’t think that means that they haven’t also changed lenses.  Several photographers have switched from their heavy DSLR cameras to cameras like the Fujifilm X system.  Since these cameras currently don’t have long zoom lenses available yet, it either means that the photographers didn’t use long zoom lenses before or else they have also made a change in focal range as I am trying.

In reality, photography isn’t any different than other aspects of life.  As we get older we have options relative to reducing the burdens on our life.  Photographers can change cameras or they can change lenses, or/and they can change what they photograph.  All of us, photographers or not, will have to make similar changes in our lifestyle to reduce the impacts of our non-sustainable lifestyles.  We will all end up making changes and downsizing.  We will have to cut back and do less with less.  It’s time to make changes while we are able to adapt.

Aging Photographer Issues … Traveling Less

As I have mentioned in other articles, photography is almost synonymous with traveling.  Many of us, including myself, got really into photography after we started traveling and wanted pictures to help us remember the wonderful things we experienced.  As we got older and traveled less due to medications, physical ailments or lack of funds, some of us, myself included, have wondered whether it was the end of photography for us.  The answer is … it doesn’t have to be.

The solution is to find new opportunities to practice your photography.  Often, before we started taking lots of pictures of our travels, we took pictures of our kids as they grew up.  We recorded events when they were young and growing.  Why not go back to recording the events of our lives as we grow older?  That is just one opportunity that we have, but there are others.

One approach that I am trying is to just photograph smaller things close to home.  I am finding that it takes a totally different perspective on life to start noticing the “little things”.  It isn’t as easy as it sounds.  I walk the same paths over and over and try to find new things to photograph.  Often this means taking my walks at different times of the day as well as different times of the year as well as looking from a different perspective.  The above picture is an example of this.  Instead of looking for a “grand landscape” to photograph, find a detail or two to photograph.

Another approach is to photograph your own neighborhood.  Walk the streets and pretend that you are traveling.  Look at everything as if it were your first and only time to see it.  You might be surprised with the results, especially if you combine this approach with the above approach of looking for the small things.

If you are still looking for things to photograph, you can go even closer and look for even smaller things.  Try macro-photography.  Buy a macro lens and take pictures of flowers and insects.  I haven’t tried this yet but it is on “my list.”

Another way of expanding your photography is to take your pictures in raw format (if you aren’t already) and work with them in LR4.  With a good camera, you can also make multiple pictures out of one shot with a little cropping and a different development style.  I hope to make better photographs even though they might be fewer in number and of different subjects by learning different styles and learning to better use LR4, and maybe eventually also get Adobe Photoshop CS6.

One result from changing what you photograph is that it might mean that you need a different camera or lens.  Before you go down that route try photographing different things from different perspectives with the cameras you have and then decide if you need a different camera.  I’ll address the most likely changes in cameras suitable for aging photographers in a later article.