Once Upon

Once Upon

Saturday, 1 February 2014

Lens is More.....

I am often amazed at how good the images produced by 'hobbyist' photographers can be...(especially those who use the natural world as their subject, obviously)...and I genuinely enjoy viewing their results, and have the greatest of admiration and respect for their skill, application and creative talent.

I myself spent a little over ten years making my full-time living as a professional photographer and I'd like to think that I know one end of a camera from the other...and maybe understand what it takes to make what could generally be regarded as a 'good' photograph.

Digital photography with it's related computer application now gives us all almost infinite creative possibility at the touch of a button. The most ordinary of photographs, and even 'duffs',  can be altered, corrected, tweaked and generally manipulated to produce stunning images from pretty nondescript beginnings. Nothing wrong with that, I say.....and some would say that this digital manipulation is actually a creative art form in itself.

Yet, my good listeners, I wonder how many photographers who in their life-time through no fault of their own,  have only ever known 'Digi', can appreciate the art of getting it right in the camera, first time, one shot only, with no all improving  'post production' computer magic to utilise. I know it's a bit of a clich├ęd discussion now, but none the less interesting.

I assure you I am not an old-fart reactionary when it comes to photography.....I use all aspects of digital advantage myself as a matter of course...(no choice really for general purpose!)...I no longer ply my trade as a Pro. Phot. and in fact have turned full circle when it comes to picture taking.....becoming a fully paid up member of the point and press brigade (though I do get a smug sense of satisfaction that my casual snaps still tend to do the trick, thank you very much!)

 however, just out of interest......

It was not that long ago..........My camera of choice was a Bronica SQA medium format with various lenses, backs and assorted paraphanalia including a whole rack of filters and attachments. My camera case was made of industrial strength armour-plating, about the size of a small family hatchback, and held a warehouse stock of flashguns, light meters, spares and a whole array of impressive pieces of complicated hardware that to this day, I have no idea as to their purpose....


..and of course, a shedload of boxes of FILM.

Yes FILM. Boxes of foil-wrapped rolls of film. Film of different
ASA speeds for different purposes.
Each roll of film allowed twelve shots only. Kodak VPS III.
The fact that twelve shots was the limit on each roll of film was one of the many factors that determined the creative process of making each and every shot count. Every shot had to be got right.....in the camera.
The cost and process of producing a finished paper print was also an aspect that necessitated not making mistakes...either creatively or technically.
Every shot had to be visualised and considered.

Light measured, ambient and reflected.....
Focus, composition, exposure, depth of field, shutter speed, aperture all manually applied before every shutter release. Click....shot taken. Once.
Maybe if the occasion warranted, I would 'bracket' the shot, using different apertures and shutter speeds.
The precious unchecked, un-previewed intended pictures, were sent off, still unseen on their film-roll,  to the lab for processing.
About a week later, my negatives were returned with my 'proofs' in 5x5 inch paper print format, rough 'machine' prints, from which I could see for the first time the fruits of my pictorial labours.
If I had actually got it right in the camera, each print would be exactly as I had intended.....exposure/composition and the subject matter presented as originally envisaged..if not, ....tough.
I could then return my chosen negatives to the lab to have hand-printed enlargements made, cropped to format.
Usually took another week.
Of course, this was for commercial colour prints......

Black and white photography was a totally different ball-game all together....and in fact, in all honesty, was the more involving and interesting, and potentially creative process.

This was done in-house, up front and personal....
Hours spent in the dark-room juggling toxic chemicals in order to magically conjure up images.

Films/negatives unwrapped and loaded onto spools to be annointed and soaked in potions and odourous fluids....

Trays of Developer....Stop- Bath.....Fix...and Rinse.....washing lines of pegged up dripping prints...the constant gurgle of running water.....

Boxes of different 'grades' of photographic paper to produce different 'effects'.....

Mysterious light emitting machine....The Enlarger.....into which negatives were fed and the image projected onto your choice of paper......cropped/shaded and dodged by waving your hands in the projection beam to lighten/darken specific areas of the picture......timing test strips and experimentation to eventually produce a single 'one-off' print..never to be reproduced the same again.

Each print, from start to finish taking a lot of time/skill and creative effort to produce.     It was great.  I miss it.

Nowadays, all can be achieved literally at the touch of a button, instantly, in the comfort of your own armchair.

However, never mind the technicals, the process, the equipment or the technology.....they are just tools.
The image is still made in the eye of the photographer.

The only criteria by which a photograph can be judged 'successful' or not.....is by the emotional response it evokes in the person viewing it.
A technically poor image can be unbelievably effective, yet a technically perfect image can be pretty bland.

As ever, appreciation will always be entirely subjective, of both technical and creative aspects.

That poorly exposed, out of focus, un-composed grabbed snap of dear departed Auntie Florrie laughing, often has more worth than the perfectly formed character study portrait if indeed the snap causes more emotional response than the formal picture.

Yet, conversely,  the artistry of an intended and creatively worked image, whatever the subject, composed and knowingly executed  as a piece of art has immeasurable, and incomparable value.

All hobbyist photographers have the potential to produce valued images.....IF they have 'an eye'.....its easy, especially with the current technology.
They choose the subject, they choose the time, place, creative approach and the purpose of the photograph is their own....and have the tools to produce it....
The professional, however, more often than not, does not choose the subject, time, place, approach or purpose...........(try getting that first time in the camera!).......and then have that image objectively 'judged' on emotional response AND technical application.
It's different.

I have friends who are keen hobby photographers, especially nature photographers, some are pretty talented, some are taught formularics,  but it would be very interesting to see if they could produce results to order, and to an unfamiliar brief......and without the marvelous benefit and creative advantage of easily applied digital technology.

As I say, the stunning images that regularly appear from bloggers on this site are wonderful to see, and I enjoy every one of them......some are truly wonderful, and display not only a high level of skill and creativity but an impressive knowledge of their subject so as to capture the image in the first place......

Pointless to harp on as I have just done.....at some length!...really. I know.....
I suppose its a bit like saying a modern driver would be struggling with an old Model T Ford.....course they would....and anyway, why would they bother.......modern cars are so much better.....................but still......in the words of Deep Purple, it makes me wonder.....

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