So Start Already…..

So on my other notebook, I was doing a review on my recently acquired Nikon P520 and one of the topics I briefly mentioned was this thing about not “seeing” things to take photos of.  I thought I might expand on this a bit.  One of the things I find, is that quite often, we caught in what I call the “rut of life”.  You know – get up – head to work – work – head to home – eat – sleep – repeat.  Weekend – toss in stuff you couldn’t get done during the week and repeat.  One may be fortunate enough to have a hobby they can pursue and actually be able to have time to enjoy it :-)  For me, up until a couple or 3 years ago, that was me – in a bit of a rut.  Photography for me (going back to the 35mm days) was a passion that I turned into a career for a while – actually not so much the picture taking side, but photo retail.  When I came out of that one, it was the recession of the 80’s and once I got out of that, the camera was used for casual “stuff.  Chasing the “art” – learning, advancing, whatever just went away.  A combination of both time and money just didn’t allow for a lot of photo stuff.  When you are scrambling to pay the bills, photo drops to the bottom along with anything that isn’t required.  I was actively starting everything else but a hobby I once loved.

Fast forward to a couple of years ago – a long deserved, short vacation started to get my interest in photography back up.  This time around it wasn’t the money so much as the time – I was doing more than I ever did between work (I’m an IT Business Analyst), I have revenue properties, do renovation work, and somewhere in there, I needed to find time to get “back in”.  To say this was an interesting journey is only putting it mildly :-)  With the experience I had from 35mm to applying that to Digital, plus a very methodical path, I’m starting to be in what I would call a good place.

Notice I said “starting” :-)  I’ve talked about this before.  This time around the path was very different – I had very limited time and that time was limited to noon hours.  That meant commuting life which meant keeping things small and light.  With my other daypack things, the camera also had to be small.  There was no doubt in the long term I would end up with DSLR’s and that has happened, but in the beginning that was how it started.  One of the things that I’ve noticed in being entrenched in technology, is that with the people I do know, and I do know more than few, our lives tend to run along the same lines.  Ours, for the most part is what I would call a “thinking” career path.  We use are heads and the tools provided for us help us think faster and more efficiently.  Have you noticed that i many cases, the hobbies tend to be a little more physical?  Biking, working out, hiking/walking – things that pull the mind in a different direction?  For me, I used to shoot pool, golf and take photos as a few hobbies – something that required a “head shift” away from technology.  You know – smartphones, to me are both good and bad.  They are good from the standpoint of keeping us “connected” but bad because we stay connected to the point where we forget to do anything else :-)  AND something many forget – we tend to stay connected to work longer than we should.  Being a consultant, I only get paid when I work, and my contracts restrict me to an 8 hour day, so a bit of a saving grace.  I remember the days of being an employee and cranking upwards of 1100 a year overtime.  I’m sure that was appreciated when I got “re-structured” :-)  Probably the best thing that happened to me 🙂

One thing that I do find, though, is that as much as I enjoy photography and the passion is there, I still hit those “voids” and I sometimes wonder if its because I’m thinking of other things and forgetting to look.  You know that old saying “Stop and smell the roses” ?  Well – it applies to photography, and if you lead a high paced life, who has time to stop?  That kinds dawned on me over a discussion on filters – polarizing filters, actually.  For me, I tend to underexpose a bit on a bright sunlit day.  I have used polarizing filters in my 35mm days, but in today’s world, the majority of shots I take, don’t always require one.  When I was doing scenics and landscapes, that filter was a must – in what I do today, I very rarely use one because there aren’t filters to fit the majority of them.  For my DSLR’s though – different story.  I guess the bigger question here – when I REALLY REALLY look at what surrounds my photo ops, a BIG chunk of it has been around while I am in the middle of something else.  In fact the majority of my cameras were purchased with mobility in mind. I very took out a slice of time to just take photos.

When I did start to take that time, that was when the equipment up scaling started.  Dedicated photo shoots brought me back into the world of DSLR’s and here I am.  Does that mean I don’t use my other cameras?  Absolutely not – they get used a lot more than my DSLR’s.  Still.  The DSLR’s or eve the more sophisticated equipment is only used for the dedicated stuff.  I have been taking some of this out but not near as much as I should.  My travel cams, for instance, have more functionality for what I do.   Recently, I acquired a Nikon P520 – a bridge camera with a whopping 42x zoom. Neat camera in it’s own way, but surprisingly inflexible for certain types of shots.  BUT – I decided to carry this every day to see how I would use it and see what it could do.  I also used my CADEN triangular sling along with my daypack to see how this combo works.  It does surprisingly well well, but more important – it keeps a camera handy.  It’s much more useful than I ever imagined.  If I really wanted, it would easily fit my D3200 – I originally got it for that anyway:-) 

Caden Bag

This wild acquisition spree of mine over the last couple of years (maybe a little longer… :-)) has allowed me to look at quite a range of cameras and to understand digital in quite a big way.  I know I still have a lot learn, but if you put the technology piece a little away from the art, the art itself  hasn’t really changed to me.  You still need to see.  You still need to study to get better.  You need to keep taking pictures that you can study so you can get better :-)  The camera is merely the tool to get you there :-)  To me, I enjoy the high quality of photo that a DSLR delivers.  BUT, in saying that, I also don’t believe that it’s the be all end all either.  I hear this so much from the DSLR perspective – the Compact System Cameras are starting to reach a point where they can compete with DSLRs  – in a few years they’ll catch up.   Functionality maybe.  Maybe from the perspective of the very serious amateur or pro, but from my side of the fence, if the “tool” can catch your “vision”, how much does it matter?  You know, to me, we serious amateurs tend to be a cynical bunch – we scoff at the quality of photos on Facebook, but I think we miss a very vital piece in doing that – it caught the moment for that person.  Sure they maybe shouldn’t have posted it, but that’s not the point.  They caught that moment.  A little deep maybe but still.  I tend to have a camera with me all the time – I don’t always see that with the DSLR folk and I also hear a lot of regret about not having a camera when a photo op is there.  And then there’s this matter of “perception” 🙂

For me, I tend to be quite reclusive about my photos.  By that, I mean I shoot mostly for ME.  Yes, I shoot events for other people, etc. but when I take photos for my own pleasure, I have my own perception of what constitutes a good shot.  I am open to others looking and criticizing my work, and that’s fine, but in more than a few instances, I DON’T want that sky to be more blue or those clouds to be more distinct, thank you very much.  If I got the shot that I envisioned, is making that sky more blue or making those clouds more distinct gong to make that shot better?  For me, no.  It wasn’t what I saw at the time.  Now, if that shot was going to be published or leant itself well for a great landscape, that’s different.  Would I take additional shots with that in mind?   Absolutely!!!!  Why wouldn’t I?  Even in the world of digital, there’s no reason not to take the extra shots.  It’s cheap so why not? 

One statement I see all the time is about making your shots better.  To me, that’s very much a “it depends” type statement.  We are talking about someone else’s opinion.  Learning about composition, etc. is one thing.  Altering colors is another.  To me that’s a very subjective issue.  Let’s take a quick look at a couple of things.

Colors – I prefer my colors to be slightly richer so I tend to use the vivid setting or something close.  For skies, I do like the bluer blues, but not always what a polarizer does.  I tend to underexpose slightly to enhance blues.  Reflections?  I’ll use the filter to knock out reflections, but not all the time :-)  Sometimes I want them there.  The flips side of things – what happens if you can’t get a polarizing filter for my camera?  Ahhhh… something to think about… if this is the type of thing we are intending to do a lot of, it that enough justification to move up to a different camera?  What are the sacrifices for the increase in size?’’ 

Composition – for me, I enjoy “conversations” around composition.  There’s always a different way to look at things and those “things” or topics are the things that lead you into thinking about different directions.  Looking at things differently……  The super zoom cameras got me heading in a very different direction and a fun one to boot :-)  My perspective on being able to fill frames with shots I couldn’t have achieved before even back in the 35mm days.  Macro work at 40 ft :-)  Landscapes and scenery for instance took on a whole new perspective from the more technical aspect.  I could use a smaller camera but still end up with a good quality pic.  Less cropping.  The thing to remember here, is that despite the fact  the sensor may not be as large, if you can fill the frame, the image quality is going to be pretty good :-)  Might not be good enough for some, but in keeping a bit of perspective – more than enough for what I do. 

Genres or Specializing – Depending on how far you want to take this or to put it another way, perhaps taking photos as a career path, one may want to start about being better in one area than another.  There are a lot of other factors in this, but unless one takes a lot of photos across a lot of different areas, to me, getting a strong interest there becomes important.  For me, over the last couple of years, buying all this gear was to discover or re-discover what my interests might be.  This time around, I’m approaching it very methodically.  Before, I didn’t have the business knowledge – now I do and I look at photography as an “option” going forward.  For now, I’m taking photos of anything that catches my eye and seeing what flushes out :-) 

What I’ve discovered in doing this is a couple of key areas have emerged and some have not gone away :-)  I still like close up work, but light boxes are fascinating to me.  I still love doing landscapes and having the big zooms available to me have changed my perspective on landscapes.  My grandkids brought back my interest in candid photography.  A couple of events I shot for my wife (I got volunteered – free in other words), got me thinking REALLY hard about free-lancing AGAIN…., My interest in real estate (I own a few properties)  prompted me to study  architecture and learn more about reference shots.  Having the cash to acquire the gear to exploit along the way brought back the passion.  Reaching the point where I felt a DSLR would be a step up was a landmark for me. 

The DSLR’s – One of the key things for me in moving to this class was battery power and, of course, image quality.  Even here though, I stepped carefully and added as the need arose.  Event shoots that were fast paced and required me to use flash was one reason.  My other cameras just didn’t cut it here.  Battery power – on the big shoots where several hundred photos were going to be shot – didn’t want to be swapping batteries.  It started with the D3200 and a kit lens.  That led to the addition of the 55-200 and SB400 flash.  A BIG shoot prompted the D5100 and the SB710 flash.  I needed a high speed prime for portraits – 50mm f1,8.  Close ups with plants prompted the Micro Nikkor 40mm f2,8.  An awesome deal on a Tamron 70-200 manual macro lens allowed me to get closer farther away.  The Nikon D5100 was an interesting choice and required a lot of research.  I wanted a second body but was stuck on direction.  My first inclination was to go to the D7100 with the 18-140.  Research showed that the D5100 was a better low light unit and that was another area of interest.  More important – would 16mp against the 24mp of the D3200 be a factor.  No, in the end.  Because It was last years model, I got a clearance price and that second body got me back into the equivalent of “free lance” mode.  At this stage of the game, I can do pretty well anything.  Do I use these a lot?  Actually, more than one would think but at the same time, not as often as I should.  A lot of my photos still revolve around mobility so unless it’s something where I need that “extra” they don’t come out.  In the big picture – it brought some new things into the art – AGAIN. 

When I get those times (and they are rare for me), where I actually get a moment in time coupled with the urge to take photos – I try to find things that would be fun to take photos of.  OR I take a take a photo of something or look at something that might seemingly look boring and see if I can turn it into something interesting.  In many cases I don’t get extra gear, just camera in hand and start to “see”.  I look up/down, close in, back away and zoom in, whatever.  For me, this is an exercise in looking and seeing.  AND sometimes, a whole new area opens up that becomes fascinating for you.  For me, an area of intense interest was the travel cameras with their crazy 20x zoom.  I can’t even get close to what these cameras do with even my more sophisticated gear, but all of sudden – wildlife, buildings, etc. took on a whole new look.  My latest foray into this space was the P520 with its 42x zoom – fun took on a whole new meaning :-)  All things considered good image quality for hand holding at 1000mm 🙂

DSCN0187 DSCN0188

What was a little stupid about these shots, is that I’ve been at this bus stop for a few weeks and have owned the P520 for about the same amount of time, and it was only in the last few days I actually “saw the shot”.  I have looked at this for a couple of years now and it was only now I saw this?  Sad in it’s own way, but then again……. I walk by much more as well.  Downtown Calgary is a photographer’s paradise for buildings, sculptures and people and I probably walk by more photo ops than I will ever find :-) 

The one big thing that the P520 acquisition did for me, though, and coupled to the Caden bag, was it got me shooting more than normal if there’s such a thing as normal :-)  The last few months, my photo taking has sort of come in surges.  There are days when I’ll take 20 or 30 of one area and then nothing for a few days.  Then, something catches my eye and away I go.  Right now, this has been a low time for me and if anything with the fall colors, I should be taking hundreds of photos of the outdoors, but you know, for some reason it’s only been a few.  This used to be one of the times where I took thousands of photos in the 35mm days.  AND this was over and above the free lancing things.  This time around, its been different….very different..maybe it’s age and maybe I’m just being more methodical than before.  I’m being a little more critical than perhaps I should.  Interestingly, its been with the Nikon P520.  I think a lot has to do with trying to find out the limits of the camera.  I do know that if I take out any of my other cameras, I’m not like that.  The P520 tends to be slower to autofocus and maybe..just maybe.. I’m thinking through the shot more. 

For me, in learning digital and in learning what these cameras can do, the one big thing that I’ve enjoyed is learning the limits of what these things are capable of.  It’s sort of odd reading about this from today’s photographers as they keep saying about learning the camera and what it can do as that’s a basic I learned a long time ago.  In 35mm or film, this was an essential – there was not automatic.  A built in light meter was a luxury and even then, one didn’t really “trust” them.  You used a handheld one just to be sure.  OR you simply knew the manual settings.  Today’s meters, I’ve found are pretty good for the most part and understanding how the meter works, to me is also important if you are going to use that auto or programmed auto mode.  For me, I tend to stay in Programmed Auto for most of my units and in the area of ISO 100-200 wherever possible.  This gives me the highest quality if photo and rest is up to me :-)  The other function with today’s units is that Scene mode – they work surprisingly well and should not be overlooked, IMHO.  They can be handy for certain shots.  Again – “seeing” the shot and getting the camera to reproduce like YOU saw it.  One area where I find that the smaller cameras come in handy, is when I’m looking for real estate.  Nothing like a travel cam or smaller with a wide angle lens to get those reference shots 🙂

For me, also, is the fact that I don’t post process all that much if I can help it.  I’m not a believer of fixing it in post.  My goal is to “get the shot the first time”, or as close to it as I can get.  Post for me, is perhaps a bit of cropping and maybe a bit of brightness/contrast control but not so much in color correction.  There are certain shoots where post can’t be helped, but getting it close the first time sure reduces that time :-)  To me, there are other things in life other than post processing.  Like taking photos :-)   Even with the shots my wife does for her volunteer things – she’s surprisingly good and I do a bit of cropping and a bit of color correction at times, but not all that much.  AND, most of her stuff gets published. 

And then there’s blogging 🙂 If there’s one thing that gotten me going in taking photos, its shooting to enhance a topic I think of.  AND, I’m behind on a few entries :-(   The photos are sitting on my camera and over the last few weeks, work has taken precedence (again….) and matching photos to blogs has fallen by the wayside.  However, in saying that, the main thing here, is that I am taking pics :-)  The downside of blogging, is that it does suck up a huge amount of time and in many instances, my thoughts for blogging come in surges.  “They” say one should be posting consistently, but in my case, I don’t expect to have followers – mine is more towards “brain dumping” :-)  I even journal, though that’s a bit sparse as well, but for me, it’s therapy in one sense. It helps me put some sort of order where there’s chaos :-) 

The blogging started a long time ago, actually and I now have two blogs – one on technology and one on photography.  I’m finding that I’m actually quite motivated to take photos for the blogs :-)  What can be a killer, though, is not having the time to work on any given entry.  Wow – it can get a little scary.  I could be writing on any of 3 notebooks at any one given time on any topic. It’s one thing on weekends, but sometimes, I want to capture a thought while I’m at work, and get on a roll in that first half hour before I turn on the clock or it’ll be while I’m doing something else….  I’m coming off contract in the next few weeks, so maybe ….. 

Unlike many people who are trying to learn the craft, I haven’t really been in that position where I could literally “plan” for a day of shooting, or even for a window of time – that’s one of the big changes for me from before.  Indirectly, that was also the reason I ended up with so many cameras too.  I was fitting a camera to a given situation. Went a little overboard perhaps, but now, in the end, I quite well equipped too :-)  My windows of time are typically while I’m on a jaunt or between tasks or something like that.  See – stop – shoot.  Onward.  There are some times, however, where I do have to stop, setup and shoot.  These tend to be around my light box stuff.  I do a lot of reference photo work.  By that I mean, shots of real estate interiors/exteriors, technology items.  These are photos that require fairly controlled lighting and in many cases, like the light box stuff, staged.  Neat stuff if you have the time.  Sometimes, I do have to make the time.  Weekends don’t even give me that much free time.

So far, it’s been a hoot.  With more time……. 🙂


About gkamitomo
IT Busines Analyst

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