the lazy photographer


I remember my first camera well, though I can’t remember what it was called. It was a little flat black thing that used 110 film, the kind that came in a plastic cartridge. It had no settings, no special lenses, no way to adjust the focus. You could use a flash with it, a separate cartridge with maybe 5 or 6 individual bulbs which you could plug in on top of the camera, and which you’d throw out once each of the bulbs had flashed exactly once. The camera was passed down to me in maybe 1978 or 1979, when my sister was given her first 35 millimeter camera. I was thrilled with my camera, and used it for many years to take an assortment of grainy, blurry, badly composed pictures that were, nonetheless, precious to me.

I had various other cameras in later years (including, eventually, that same 35 millimeter that had been given to my sister). I would periodically take pictures of things to remember where I’d been, or what was going on. I would take snapshots. What’s more, my camera would sit untouched for months at a time.

About 6 years ago, before a trip to Japan, I got my first digital camera.

It was on that trip that I had an epiphany about taking photos: I had never consciously made an effort to consider composition. Composing had meant little more than “getting what I wanted to take a picture of in the frame before pushing the button.” However, having taken painting and drawing classes for several years, various lessons had apparently sunk in. About color. Light. Contrast. Composition. Negative space. Suddenly, I actually paid attention to the image that was in the frame as a whole. The photos I took started to look more like interesting images, and not just images of interesting things.

About 5 years ago, John started getting serious about photography. He read, he studied, he really learned the technical aspects. It didn’t take long before he had completely surpassed me in terms of photography skills. Watching him work, and seeing the results, I started learning, too. The photos I was taking started looking worse and worse to me. For one thing, my little point and shoot couldn’t hold a candle to SLRs. At the same time, I just couldn’t see myself lugging around a camera that was 10 times the mass of what I was used to. I mean, that would require effort.

After Phoebe was born, I started taking a lot of pictures. And I do mean a lot. The quantity of photos, however, didn’t much improve the quality. I just had more chance of getting lucky with a good shot. I used my little point and shoot because it was small enough for me to keep handy.

In the last couple years, I progressed a bit more with composition. I learned to change my position to find more interesting angles, and it’s not unusual to find me squatting down or climbing up. I notice the light, and the background even if I don’t make efforts to manipulate them.

When John got me a shiny new camera last year before our Spain trip, I wasn’t convinced I’d really use it. It had an intimidating array of options. Figuring out what they were seemed like it would be effort.

But, you know, I haven’t gone back to my point and shoot. Not even once. The improved quality of the photos, just by virtue of having a better lens, made me not want to turn back.

Even so, while I take quite a few photos that I really like, I take almost none that I really love. Of the ones that I love, almost all are happy accidents, flukes in the midst of a gazillion bad and mediocre shots.

My photos rarely look the way I want them to.

Part of why I have undertaken this daily photography project is to change that, and get my photos to more closely resemble the images in my head.

As of a few weeks ago, I hadn’t done much with settings. I hadn’t fiddled around with lenses and serious lighting gear. I’d barely entered the realm of manual focus. I could probably count the number of times I’d used a tripod on one finger.

I’m happy to say that in the time since then, I have made progress with changing settings, have mounted a flash, have used manual focus regularly, and have swapped my lenses back and forth.

A couple of nights ago, I even grabbed John’s tripod. (It’s okay. We’re married.)


John sent me a link to this graphic a few months ago. I find it fascinating, and a pretty good portrayal of my own path. I haven’t been able to track down the original author of it, as it’s been posted all over the place. But the link from which I grabbed it is here.

29 responses to “the lazy photographer

  1. that’s a good photo for cornered. ;)

  2. I’ve been following all y’all’s 365 project, which is particularly interesting because I read your blogs, too. Your photos hold your ‘voice’ just like your blogs do. But anyway. Here’s what I wonder: What is the difference in what you’re trying to say — what you’re trying to convey — in a photograph you put on Flikr vs. a blog post?

    My photos are my blog posts’ illustrations, but of the clipart variety. I don’t think they tell *more* of the story than the words do.

    • I love what you said about our photos holding our voices like our blogs. It would be an interesting test, to see if people could pick out the “author” of the sets of photos based on our blogs.

      As for your question about the difference in what I try to say with a photo…hmmm…I’ve been thinking a bit about that. I think I use photos in varying ways. I often use a photo as an illustration for a post, in a clipart-esque way, just as you say. It’s primarily for aesthetic reasons, to break up all the text. The photos I post on Flickr have been more about the visuals for me–elements of composition, lines, colors, etc., while at the same time trying to choose photos, as much as possible, that in some way represent where I was and what I did on that given day. I guess that I’m trying to convey a story with the *set* of photos I’m posting , more than a different story with each photo. I may think about this question some more, though. (What, are you trying to distract me from my work with thought-provoking questions?)

  3. I was very impressed with your new camera when you were here and also admired your diligence with lugging it around while I lazily had my tiny point & shoot in my bag. I can understand the “never going back” thing, which is why I’m hesitant to take that next step. Though when I was in Malaga last month my friend Michelle (professional photographer – check out her website) had me attach my point & shoot to her tripod and the difference was amazing. Made me think, which is always dangerous.

    “It’s okay, we’re married”
    Ha!

    • Your friends photos are really gorgeous, az.

      The lugging of the camera has turned out to be not as bad as I thought. For one thing, my camera is not as big as an SLR, so I can fit it in whatever bag I have with me.

      I’m just really starting to play around with a tripod, but it really does make a huge difference in low light conditions. Have you ever tried using one of those tiny little flexible tripods for your tapas photos? They aren’t as cumbersome, and they might still get some of that difference you noticed when using your friend’s tripod.

  4. Yes, there is a lot more to photography than I ever realized. Interestingly, I don’t think I would have come to realize this if I didn’t start blogging. I still use a point and click (albeit a pretty good one) but recently a photographer friend of mine changed the auto setting and my pictures are remarkably better. Amazing!

    • I know what you mean, Rima, about realizing that there’s more to photograhy than you’d thought. I confess I used to imagine that photography was somehow “easier” than, say, painting or drawing. In some ways I now think it’s harder! I mean, for example, if you want a black background in painting, you just paint one in! In a photo, you have to manipulate the light and/or the environment.

      Blogging has also taught me a lot more about photos, too. Or at least the posting of photos has inspired me to want to learn more to have better photos to post!

  5. I love that graph!

  6. Interesting post! I wish I were more motivated, but I think I’m in the first phase of post-digital burn out: too many saved images + technical difficulties – time = apathy.

    • I’m familiar with that equation, De. Especially the too many saved images bit. I’ve been really trying to delete a good chunk of each batch I load right away, but the numbers of photos in my library are pretty out of control. Much like the clutter in our house. Ack. But at least I don’t trip over the digital photos.

  7. Love this post! Looks like a great little camera. Is it little, right? I’m looking for a good alternative to my point and shoot – or just a better quality point and shoot. I have two DSLRs, which I LOVE, but like you, I don’t want to lug them everywhere. But we really can’t afford to get another camera right now.

    I used to think I was a pretty decent photographer, but now I think I suck. I’m not so good at the technical aspect of it. I’ve stopped doing a lot of editing on my photos, which was a conscious choice. I’ve become pretty lazy with actual photography since Charlie was born. I want to get better; I would love to have a photography mentor; but I’m also tired.

    • Thanks, Leslie! I’ve been thinking about writing this post for ages. It always feels good to get one of those out of my head and onto the blog. (Again, there’s a clutter problem. I have too many post ideas in my head tripping me up when I finally have time to write.)

      My camera is pretty small. It’s about the size of the old rangefinder film cameras, if you’re familiar with those. The camera body itself is not much bigger than some of the earlier “small” point-and-shoot styles, and then the lens size is variable. I usually keep the smaller lens on.

      I’m lucky to have a photography mentor in the house, though I hadn’t thought of him in those terms, exactly. But John has really encouraged me all along to take pictures and learn stuff.

      I’m still pretty lazy with the editing. I do some minor editing in iPhoto, but it’s mostly to correct exposure shortcomings from the original shot.

      And for the record, Leslie, I love your photos!

  8. “A couple of nights ago, I even grabbed John’s tripod. (It’s okay. We’re married.)”

    Bahahaha! Glad you are getting braver with your photography, I just dabble, but I wish I had more time to really learn all of it.

    • Glad I could give you a chuckle, Kyla!

      I’ve always enjoyed your photos, and there’s nothing wrong with dabbling. The nice thing about this sort of hobby is that you can learn things gradually or intensively.

  9. My blue line remains very low on the graph regardless. There is always more to learn and more to do. I love this post: it describes so many of our journeys. And I love the Project. The best Alejna moment is, of course, the tripod shot.

    • Well, hopefully the project will help you to push your blue line up a ways, Mary. I’m enjoying the project, too. I always find that I am more productive when working in a more structured way. Deadlines are crucial for me, and the constraint of a getting something new to post for each day has really pushed me.

  10. I’ve been admiring your photos. I love how you play with light and reflections and shadows. Thanks for sharing a bit of your photography journey! I’m somewhat heartened to know that you’ve overcome the laziness factor (to some extent) to get where you are. Gives me hope for myself!
    As a point-and-shooter without much (any) technical knowledge, my photos frequently fail to live up to my intentions for them. And that’s when I manage to take photos at all. It’s hard enough to remember to bring the camera with me, never mind lugging around a “real” camera with fancy lenses.
    For years I have been toying with the idea of taking a photography class to learn a bit more of the technical stuff. Maybe someday!

    Oh, and I think I may have had the same first camera you did. At least, I remember the cartridge film thingy. I’m only on my 4th camera, actually. I got my second one when I was a senior in college, in order to take pictures of my friends before we graduated and moved on. Sometime during the four years I spent in Italy (probably the most photographically prolific time of my life), it died and was replaced by my third one. I acquired my fourth one–and first digital camera–soon after moving back to the U.S. in 2006.

    • Thanks for the compliment on the photos, Sally. And thanks for noticing about the reflections and shadows. I’ll admit that I’ve been working on a private somewhat secret set of themes. In fact, the first month was reflections, and now I’ve moved onto shadows. At the 28th of this month, I’ll move onto something else. (Actually, I initially planned to go for reflections for the whole year. Clearly I was insane! It only took me about 2 weeks to get rather tired of reflections. So that was when I decided to try going month-to-month.)

      John took some online photography courses, and he had some pretty good luck with a couple of them. The nice thing about those is that you can largely work with your own schedule, since it’s often hard to fit an actual class meeting into a work schedule. I may try one of those at some point, too.

      I’m shockingly up to about 8 cameras in my life. At least one broke, and one I lost on a trip. 2 were hand-me-downs, and at least 3 were gifts. Come to think of it, I can only remember buying two of the cameras for myself. Maybe 3. I guess 4 if you count the antique one I bought as prop for a play, but aht puts me at 9 cameras. That seems like a lot!

  11. We had a camera like that in the 70’s. It wasn’t mine. The family owned it. My Aunt Vi worked at Kodak in Toronto (just in the plant) but she had an in on what was snazzy, cheap and fun, camera-wise.

    When I got my digital SLR I didn’t think I would use it much b/c it was just to unweildy. I imagined getting it out for special occasions and that would be it. This almost became a self-fulfilling prophesy. I ended up buying a point and shoot this spring after having the DSLR for over a year b/c I never made the effort to take the big camera anywhere. That’s partly why I started 365. Here I had this great camera and I seldom used it.

    Now, just over a month in, I can’t imagine leaving the house without the camera. It no longer feels big. Instead, it sits the pocket of my hand as if it’s meant to be there. What I need to do know is read the manual thoroughly. I find that most days I get shots that would be FANTASTIC if only I did x, y, or z. There’s always something wrong, you know. The legs are in focus, not the eyes; the depth of field doesn’t serve the shot, the moment I wanted to catch moved faster than my shutter speed. I can get (some) shots if I stop and think in a dunder-headed way, but most of the things I want to shoot demand precise settings and quick reflexes.

    Right now, I feel as if I get a decent shot a day (but not always) simply b/c I am taking over 100 shots a day. Like you, I want to increase the knowledge/instinct so that my reliance on trial and error isn’t so very haphazard.

    Oh, and I want to get my sense of humour into my picture-taking. Right now my shots are so earnest. I need to get more comfortable with the camera so that I will be more playful.

    • I’m glad to hear that even lugging around an SLR can feel normal, Sue!

      I know what you mean about finding things wrong with shots afterwards. But I guess that’s part of the learning process, and helping us move beyond the “all I shoot is pretty” phase.

      And what’s this “manual” of which you speak? Does one really need to read it, or can’t one put it under the pillow and absorb the knowledge?

  12. I did a 365-like project with my beloved Polariod Joycam; cheap, but the film was pricy. When I had the Jesusphone I took hundreds of pictures, and learned how to post directly to the blog from the phone (yay for lazy posts!). I am a terrible, overly-ambitious photographer, and I’m probably not going to get much better, but the greatest value I’ve found from it doesn’t lie in the photos but in the way it makes you take new notice of the beauty around you all the time. The way you feel when you’re out somewhere and you think “I have to blog this”, the way it opens eyes within you when you have a creative outlet to share, that’s what daily photography did for me, and now that I’ve got a digital camera again, what I hope it will do again.

    • Great point about the way having a creative outlet gives you new eyes, rain. I definitely see a lot more interesting things that I might otherwise have missed. I’ve become much more aware, for example of texture and changing light.

      I hope you’ll be sharing some of the fruits of your new digital camera!

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  14. Love that graphic! Watching photographers in action I assume would help too. By watching you that one evening in Chicago, I learned a lot. I learned to not be afraid of trying new angles, not to be afraid of getting close to the ground, not to be afraid of what other people may think (well, this one I still need to work on and I don’t think I can take picture of strangers in the street…) I learned to look at things differently, through my lens. One hour. I learned so much that I believe I started taking better pictures just after that one experience watching you. Ok. I will stop gushing now.

  15. My husband is a very dedicated photographer with about five million cameras. I’m more point and shoot/snapshotty, and I think that’s fine, too. Both styles have their purpose

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