As we are quickly approaching the middle of August, and stores are starting to display and advertise “Back to School” (a term usually music to parents’ ears, but maybe more-so this year), it’s a grim reminder that vacation season is also quickly coming to an end.
The corporate world is different than school, obviously; but there’s a certain freshness as most are back from their children’s dictated leave for a break from the hustle and bustle. A time when all employees are back in the office together for the first time in months, gives it that back to school feel to it.
Just like the yearly school photos, now is a great time to update your own business headshot for your company’s website or your LinkedIn profile.
I like to do on-site sessions, giving it an environmental feel to the frame. It is up to you, as I also have a studio on site where you are able to come as well, if you’re looking to get out of the office.
Click on the floating “Book Now” tab on the right side of the screen to book a free consultation.
There’s an old saying that I like to believe: Everything happens for a reason.
I could go through the history of my life and there would be many times that I could use individual examples of points when, at the time, I asked myself, “Why did that happen?” There are also a lot of other examples that happened, that seemed rather normal. But when I look back at both, I say “Ahhhh, that happened to prepare me for this.” Or that’s what I like to believe. It makes the bad memories a little easier to digest.
But for the longest time, I didn’t apply it to my photography. But I have seen the light. (No pun intended.)
Even today, there are a lot of instances when I forget. “What is the reason for this photo? Why did I take it?”
Reason. It is the first and possibly the most important brick in your path. In fact, as I have learned over the years, it should be within every brick in your path. The reasons will change over time, just as everything changes. In fact, the reasons may change not only from day to day but even from hour to hour or even minute to minute.
I started out before digital cameras and my reasons were the same from day to day: to capture the places I had visited. With a limited budget for rolls of film and developing, I really had to pick and choose what I took photos of, at this point in my path, time of day had no influence on what I took photos of, but I had to choose wisely. This scan of a film print of my trip to Florence, Italy in 1996 is the photo I credit to starting my photography path, is a perfect example of my first reason: to document the places I visited.
Over time, the purchase of my first digital camera helped change my reasons. With not having to pay for film and developing I was able to start taking photos because I thought something looked nice and/or colourful. But that lead to something else. I will call it “the vacuum”. This was a time along my path when I was taking pictures just for the sake of taking pictures. I would take the photo, and in many cases multiple photos for no other apparent reason other than to just use the camera. Sure many of the photos were nice, but if you had asked me at the time why I took those photos. I probably wouldn’t be able to give an answer. Looking back at those photos I still wouldn’t be able to give an answer, and I even ask myself, “Why did I take a photo of that?”
Even today, I still catch myself asking why I did something. The good thing is now, when I have to ask myself that question, I pull myself back and concentrate on the reason. It reminds me of a time I was filming an episode for a TV programme. We just got to the top of Namsan, a mountain in the downtown area of Seoul, South Korea at night. The remains of the old city wall are still very well preserved, and there were square holes in the wall that the soldiers could shoot from to protect the city. I crouched down and took a photo of the city through one of these holes. The director asked me why I took that shot. My answer was “I thought it might look cool.” That’s when he turned off the camera and it was brought to my attention that, that couldn’t be a reason. So I came up with a story: With South Korea being a world leader in televisions, I thought that the wall represented a TV and the hole was the screen and all the lights of Seoul below were the pixels of the screen. Well, that didn’t go over very well either. Do you know what? The actual photos that I took were nothing close to the way I had hoped, and they were just plain bad. This experience is what finally made me realize once and for all that there has to be a reason for the photo and to the photo. I took those photos thinking that they would look cool and they didn’t, because I had no real reason for taking those photos.
Having a reason will lead you down the path of composition, f-stop, and shutter speed.
There must be a reason. This is true for all photos, and it does not matter the situation. Are you taking the photo with the phone that you just hurriedly pulled out of your pocket so you can post it on Facebook or Twitter? I feel that if you would like to have a better photo you have to have a bigger reason than “Just to post it.” I would guess that the resulting photo is either going to be blurry or unflattering. Now if that’s the look you were going for, then, great. But chances are you weren’t.
You have to make a quick decision, 1. Do I enjoy the moment in its entirety? or 2. Do I want to share this experience with my friends and followers?
If you chose #2 and pulled out your camera, make it count. Share the experience. The experience that made you want to share it to begin with. Don’t just press the button or shutter at the first possible moment your finger touches it. Relax, wait, try and get that moment that made you say to yourself, “Wow, I wish ________ was here to see and experience this,” so that ________ will be able to see it and experience it. Chances are that if it is one of those experiences that you wished others were there to share with, it will either happen again or continue.
If it is one of those very short experiences, (trust me when I say I’ve had my fair share) I smile while nodding or shaking my head in disbelief or awe of what I witnessed and I am thankful that I was able to see it and experience it. One such situation that happened to me a while ago, I was set up waiting for the sun to rise on the coast and I noticed something fly behind me, bigger than a seagull, but I wasn’t sure of what it was. I didn’t see anything, but as I turned back around there was a large Eurasian Eagle Owl flying about 2-3 metres in front of me and my camera. My knees got weak and I froze as its two bright orangey-yellow eyes stared at me as it flew by. It wasn’t until 3 minutes later that I remembered I had the camera in front of me with the shutter release in my hands. Had I tried getting those shots of it as it flew by, I will almost guarantee that those haunting eyes would never have had the lasting effect that they had.
If you hastily press the shutter and the photo doesn’t turn out they way you hoped or remembered it, in my experience, one of 2 things might happen, and both will sour your memory of it. The first thing is spending too much time in post-processing trying to “save” the photo. It becomes an obsession, and after hours and hours of work, it may still not turn out the way you want or remember it. It will only turn the memory into a bad experience because you spent too much time on the post processing that it went past fun, it became “work”.
The second thing that might happen is that the photo is so unflattering that it warps the memory that you had of the experience. You go back and look at the photo a few months or years later and think to yourself, “That’s not exactly how I remember it.” But because you have a photo of it that doesn’t lie, you could start to think, “Well, maybe it wasn’t that great after all.” And since it has been proven that our memories of events aren’t as sharp when we are photographing them, it will fade into the background of your mind. Which really would be a horrible thing, because the reality was that it was a spectacular experience.
As I mentioned earlier, your reasons can and will change over time and even from time to time. You could be shooting a rainbow to show off its colours and size for your friend in Europe to see, and then shooting a tornado that suddenly appeared to send to the local news paper or TV station. Situations can change that quickly.
The next time you have your camera in your hand, ask yourself first, “Why am I taking this photo?” You might surprise yourself with your answer, and by asking this question it will allow for your first step towards more meaningful photos, and it might make choices on shutter speed or depth of field easier.
In this second photo, the reason for the shot was to capture the two boys playing together both as a memory for the two boys, but also as a history shot of when I was their age playing with my brother on the beach. I wanted to show that no matter how much the world is changing, some things pass down from generation to generation, surrounded by the strength and stability of family and friends. I wanted to show the movement of the water, the symbol of life as it flows and to give a sense of how quickly the boys were moving and playing to show how quickly people act throughout their lives, but surrounded by the stable rocks of the mother and father (the 2 larger rocks) and the true friends (the smaller rocks) as they stand true and strong throughout their lives to serve as protection from the outside elements, the rough water on the other side of the rocks as well as a holding the stormy skies at bay. Because of these reasons, it allowed me to choose a slower shutter speed and get a lower point of view so that the the parental rocks appeared larger. For me, the reasons have changed over time. As I’ve said before, each brick is different, and sometimes I go back to the first reason of wanting to document the places I’ve been.
Now, about controlling the reason…
Oh, wait… what’s that? What do you mean I can control the reason? Well, now. That changes everything… But we’ll save that for another time.
There’s been something on my mind for quite some time. I think it is something that a lot of people need to stop and give a long hard thought about.
I, like many of you, wander around the vast space that is the World Wide Web looking at images that many of you have photographed. I also read the same articles and blogs as you. There’s a chance that I’ve even read yours. I also read a lot of the comments to many of the articles. It’s always interesting to me to see the debate that most articles stir up, usually accidentally.
There’s one topic that isn’t much of a debate, but I’ve noticed a trend that contradicts what many people either think, and definitely say.
Over the last little while, the big mirrorless versus digital single-lens reflex camera debate. Which one was better? Will mirrorless ever replace DSLRs? Are DSLRs dead? Is the mirrorless camera a trend? Surely you’ve seen them, heard about them, and maybe even threw your views into the fray.
As funny as it may sound to you now, for those of us of a certain age, these were pretty much the same questions being bantered around about 20 years ago when the digital camera entered the market and prices started to drop within reach of the avid amateur.
This post isn’t about this argument. I want to bring in the smartphone into the conversation today. There’s no denying the fact that the photographic abilities of today’s smartphone have come a long, long way. I look back at my first device that had a camera-my Sony Clié NR-70- and thought that the photos were good enough for my trip to Mexico instead of bringing a camera. (Unfortunately, I have no idea where it or the photos are now.) Upon my arrival to Korea in 2003, I didn’t see the need for a cellphone. I went my entire first year without a cellphone, instead using that money to buy my first camera, a Nikon F-65.
My second year here, I started to see a need for a phone and bought a second hand one. It was the Samsung V-200. I still have a few files saved from the camera on that phone. At the time, they were good enough for grabbing the spontaneous shot while you were out with friends or that first in-match 180,
or a surprise fog over the mountains behind the Olympic Bridge.
The Gap is Getting Smaller
Today’s smartphones’ cameras and image quality are very good. Can they do the same as a mirrorless or DSLR? As of the date of this post, not yet. Will they ever? Only time will tell. But that gap is much smaller today than it was in 2004 when those photos were taken and Nikon’s 6 megapixel D50 was still a year away from being released.
That gap is so small that I know first hand that National Geographic magazine has published photos taken with phones in their stories. My jaw hit the floor when I was told this bit of information. One of the photographers that I talked to even went so far to say that most of the photos he takes are now done with his phones instead of his camera.
What are you really trying to say?
Photographers are a strange bunch.
Let’s try to figure it out, shall we?
On one side you have: “The best camera is the one you have with you.”
On the other side, that same person (not you, but others) will turn around and rip into someone for not having a pro-level DSLR camera to shoot with.
So what is it? The camera doesn’t matter, or it does?
Another hot topic that gets a lot of people’s blood boiling for some reason is when someone writes an article or post about that one non-photographer person who compliments a photo with the comment on the lines of, “Wow, that’s a great photo, you must have an expensive camera.”
I will guarantee that one of the adjoining comments will be, “Wow that was a great meal you must have an expensive stove.” followed by “Wow, that’s a great painting, you must have expensive brushes.” (Which actually falls in a little bit of their own ignorance as much like the camera, the better quality brush, paint and media, the better quality…well you get the idea, but we’ll save that one for a later post.)
For those keeping score, they get upset when someone judges a photo based on the camera, saying that the camera is only a tool, but they get upset when they compliment the fine tool that they have, and they get upset when someone else’s tool doesn’t match the price of their tool.
But that’s not all
This is the thing that confuses me the most…
If the camera is just a tool, and it doesn’t matter what tool or camera you have, why do many people feel the need to post a photo and writing “I shot this with my phone.”
What game are you playing?
It often feels like when someone posts a photo with “I shot this on my phone,” they are doing one of 4 things.
Showing off, or;
Building an excuse;
At first, when I first started reading this, if felt like it was the photographer’s way of saying sorry for the poor image quality, or it was a shot that needed a telephoto lens but was greatly restricted by the ultra wide angle of the typical phone camera.
Then it dawned on me that some of these photos really didn’t have much wrong about it, and it almost started to feel like some people were writing it to say, “Hey look how good I am. I got this photo with my phone and it’s a lot better than the photo you got with your $4000 camera/lens combination.
Then it got to the point where photographers would use it on a photo that they were proud of and think is a strong photo in composition, light, colour, and interest. But when another person not nearly as enthusiastic about it would comment that something needed to be corrected or changed, it becomes a way of saying “I could have done better if I had my ‘real’ camera.”
Then it turned into a way of saying “Please don’t post any negative comments about any aspect of the photo, my fragile ego can’t handle it.”
There is an obsession with camera gear. I get it. I’m also curious as to how the newest lens or camera can help me. (I’d love to have that new instant wood camera with the bellows in my hands just to play and experiment.) But if gear doesn’t matter: “The best camera is the one you have with you,” then why is it so important to tell other people that you shot it on a phone?
At the end of the day, I feel a lot of photographers both the creator of the photograph and the audience of said photograph, need to get past the gear and just appreciate the photograph for what it is… a photograph.