Today’s reflection on ‘stuff I like to do’ is about photography.
Like going record shopping, taking photos has sort of become my ‘thing’. Unlike going record shopping, this is a fairly recent development, and I had a pretty steep learning curve.
I took a beginners’ course a while back, which gave me a good start. It helped me with a core understanding of the mechanics of the camera, a basic sense of how light works, a bit of insight into concepts of composition, which way around to hold the thing and so on.
Since then, it’s become one of my favourite things to do. I’ve been on a couple of organised photo walks, but actually, I hardly go anywhere without a camera – and in fact, I’ve started going places because I have a camera.
I have no ambitions to be a professional photographer. It’s a tough field to get into, expensive to set up, and I suspect it needs to be your whole career focus to really do it well. Besides, I may have improved substantially since getting that initial bit of instruction, but I have no misapprehension about how my work stacks up against the kind of stuff that ends up in National Geographic, for instance.
That said, I’ve had some nice compliments about some of my photos, which is very encouraging. But of course, the more you pay attention to your own work, the more you see the room for improvement. I’ve been lucky enough to spend time with some very good photographers recently and have been given lots of tips and have been recommended some things to read and study.
Equipment certainly helps. I was given a 50mm / f1.8 prime lens for Christmas, which was an exceptional gift and a radical step up in what I’m able to achieve with the camera. But of course, you get better at photography by taking photographs. And fortunately, that’s something I enjoy doing.
I haven’t yet settled on a preferred style of photography. So far, it’s ‘pictures of things, people and places’, which is a fairly broad brief. I’ll often look around and think “oh wow, that light is amazing” and grab my camera – so as a result, I have many, many pictures of sunsets.
But other times, things are just interesting so I take their photograph.
I tend not to set things up too much. Generally speaking (though this is a guideline rather than a rule) my photographs are not posed. I’ll tweak a little after the fact – straightening a wonky shot, cropping, making a few exposure adjustments, desaturating, bumping up the contrast – that sort of thing. There’s no overarching ‘look’ to it all, but I tend to know what I want with any given set of photos and there’s generally consistency with any given set or outing.
I’m tempted to get into the street photography thing. Something about snapping life as it happens and capturing ‘real’ moments appeals to me. There’s no shortage of life out on the streets of Birmingham – and I’m going to be travelling to a bunch of places with a range of interesting sorts of people.
I think as a genre, street photography is what tends to appeal to me most in other people’s work.
I do like a good portrait, and there are some fantastic landscape, wildlife, macro and abstract photographs that I’m a big fan of – but right now, I think street photography might end up being my thing.
It takes me a while to build up the courage to go and take random photographs of complete strangers (though I have been known to do it). I have less of a problem asking people their permission, which can take the spontaneity out of the photo, but also give some nice results.
That’s not a complete stranger, by the way. That’s my friend Ynaiã in São Paulo. And maybe it’s a little posed – but you get the idea. I’ll give it a try and see where it ends up.
So in terms of that ‘barometer for quality of life’ I’ve been talking about recently, if I find myself out and about taking photos of stuff, then 2014 is going pretty well.