Friday, August 23, 2013

It's not the camera

There is something about photography that can grab you by both sides of the brain and the heart all at the same time if you let it.  That is one of the things I like about it so much.  There definitely is a technical angle about optics and light and managing it all, and clearly there is a creative, artistic element as well.  You can tell when the neurons hooked to all of those centers are firing at once. If you are the photographer, and you feel that, and see the results of your own work, you are hooked. You might spend more or less time with a camera in your hand at various stages of your life. But that sensation is always lurking, waiting for a chance to spring back to life...

I suppose some people manage to avoid being so captured by photography, but perhaps they have their own passions. There should always be some passion in life for something. I feel fortunate that I have a number of passions, and photography definitely is one of those. I don't always have the time to spend on it that I would like, but I am reminded that the passion is there when I get a camera in my hands and start feeling the grip, the texture, the weight and then I feel my heart flutter a bit.

I was reminded of that passion, and the role of the photographer who holds the camera, recently when I acquired an Olympus OM-D. I decided to go retro (that is a great term for people in my age group who don't like thinking antique or just plain old. Suddenly, we, and all the stuff in our closets, are very stylish and trendy. OK, maybe we aren't but our stuff sure is). I got the black and silver version because it reminded me of my old Pentax. How I loved that Pentax. I spent years photographing motocross races across the state of Georgia and beyond with a Pentax SP 500. Yes, that is correct. I photographed motorcycle races with a camera with no autofocus, match-needle metering, a ground glass focusing screen, and a top shutter speed of 1/500. And a 50mm 1.4 lens.  Screw on. But the screw mount wasn't that much of an inconvenience because I only had one lens for most of those years.  Hard to believe when I think about what is considered a starter camera kit these days. 

With a 50mm lens you have to get really, dangerously close to some very fast moving motorcycles. Very dangerously close.  Did I mention dangerous? And fast.  At minimum, you eat a lot of dust. Thick red dust, in this case.  At best, you get some amazing photos and you really learn how to handle a camera and how photography works. I covered the races for a motorcycle newspaper that published not only my writing but lots of my dangerously close photos of very fast moving motorcycles and proudly smiling trophy winners, all created with that old Pentax. That thing was built like a tank. I spent years coated with red clay dust and the camera innards were clean as a whistle. I wish I still had it. I "upgraded" for a newer version with more bells and whistles and fancier technology years later and always regretted it. I've seen the SP 500 on Ebay and had to fight the urge...

So back to the Olympus. It is quite a bit smaller, and definitely lighter weight, not much bigger than my favorite coffee mug, actually. But when I held it, I thought back  to that old Pentax, the one that got me hooked, that black and silver gleaming under the New Mexico sun. Maybe the reminiscence was helped by the fact that there is plenty of dust here, too, even if it isn't red.  The Olympus can do things I couldn't have dreamed of in my Pentax days. So I made the decision not to read the manual (those who know me well are in shock after reading that, I'm sure).  Figuring out the basic controls was easy. It feels different enough from my regular gear that I am using it as if it were a completely new tool, to see things in new ways.  I want to recapture some of the creative, just the camera-hands-eyes combination that served me so well in my Pentax days when there wasn't anything automatic to work with and just that one lens that led me dangerously close to very fast moving objects.  I can taste the dust again just thinking about it. I look forward to feeling more of that passion for what it is like to create a really good photo.  Good photographers all know it is not the camera that makes the difference.  This camera can do a lot, but I am looking forward to discovering more about what I can do.  

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Stop! Don't Shoot!

Just reading the title should get the point across. The casual use of the word "shoot" among photographers is more than a little inappropriate. And a lot annoying. As a wildlife/nature photographer, the fine art arm of my work, the idea of shooting anything is repulsive. I probably don't need to point out that the same sentiment applies to portraits and events that I (don't shoot) photograph. Get a couple of photographers together and you'd think it was the O K Corral. "What are you shooting these days?" Which could mean subject matter, or it could mean equipment being used. "Oh, I was out shooting some birds at the refuge last weekend." Pity the innocent bystander who has to listen to all this talk about shooting birds, or perhaps the knowledgeable conservationist who knows that "shooting" is not allowed in the refuge. Imagine a call to the warden to report someone was "shooting" birds there.

Here's another reply I've overheard. "I shot my nephew. He's a senior this year." Let's hope that someone overhearing that conversation does not mistake this for a bizarre coming of age ritual. The Satere-Mawe, an Amazonian tribe, does use bullet ants for a coming of age ritual as boys in the tribe become men. But even they don't refer to it as "shooting," though they would be more justified than photographers given what the bite of a bullet ant is supposed to feel like. I never want to find out. And I certainly never want to be shot. With anything.

I am definitely an outsider in this regard among my photographer colleagues and friends. I cringe when I hear of anything being shot. And I will continue to respond to questions about "what are you shooting these days" with reference to "I recently photographed..." or "I've been working with some new lenses..."  or "I'm a Canon user." I will never say that I "shot" or "am shooting" anything. It seems in bad taste, especially in the current social context. I hope the day doesn't come when I am so complacent at the thought of anything being shot that I don't cringe at least a little at hearing this, even when I know the context. 

Health care workers realized this a long time ago and stopped talking about giving "shots," opting for more professional, and accurate, terminology.  A "shot" is not reasonable slang for "injection" or immunization. Shots don't belong there; shots belong in discussion involving weapons, where all the meanings of "shot" can be understood in context. And I suspect "shots" will continue to be part of bar language for some time as well. I don't see that one changing. But I really wish photographers would stop all the shooting.

If you are looking for someone to photograph your portrait, ceremony, event, or farm, drop me a line.  I'd love to talk with you. And you can be sure I won't be shooting anything.