The Reluctant Photographer

I have written before about my previous love of cameras and photography. I have also told how I rarely take photos now, and despite keeping up an interest in new equipment, I am unlikely to return to my former obsession with all things photographic. With regard to blogging, I have often speculated that this blog might be more entertaining, if it was peppered with appropriate and relevant photos, everything from holiday snaps from the 1970’s, to some background pictures of Beetley Meadows, and other places I write about in Norfolk.

Those of you who read all my posts, will also be aware of why I have chosen not to do this, and how I admire those other bloggers who put so much work into their photography, and how it is presented in their blogs. This is not a blog about photography, as it is primarily about writing, nostalgia, films, and music. I cannot deny that some photos might make it more accessible, and I have no doubt that they would attract more readers, more followers, and my blog would be generally more ‘fun’ to view. I am not going down that route though, but it has occurred to me to consider why. Why my interest in photography waned so dramatically, and why I started to look at photos less as a fan, and more as a critic.

I have taken a lot of photos. Holiday shots, portraits, friend’s children, weddings, landscapes, riverscapes on the Thames, and still life set ups. I went out, on numerous occasions, just to take photos, and not just to go somewhere that might present opportunities to do so. I took close-ups of trees, driftwood, old ropes, rusty metal, deserted factories, bleak industrial landscapes, and urban decay. I sneaked candids of tramps, and old people, with interesting faces. I used long lenses, to catch subjects unaware, and climbed high buildings, to capture wide-angle vistas. I sat freezing in the dark, attempting to get definitive night shots of castles, and fishing boats in harbours. I often took two cameras, so as to duplicate shots, in colour, and black and white. I stretched out on my back, flat against the cold pavements of London, lens pointing skyward, to get unusual angles, on familiar buildings. I waited for sunsets, or rose before dawn, anything to achieve the perfect shot.

But it never happened.

There was some success, a few pleasing images. I would sit with the newly-arrived pack of 8×6 prints, a waste paper basket between my knees. Flicking through 216 exposures, six rolls of film, most of the prints going straight into the bin; the ‘keep’ pile getting smaller every year, the costs of the hobby spiralling. How many sunsets can I shoot? Did I want to do another wedding as ‘back up’ photographer? Where was the continued attraction in lonely night shots? I photographed my favourite places; Tower Bridge, Canary Wharf, London Docklands, so many times, I grew tired of anticipating the same results. People were complimentary, but then they only had a compact camera, and appreciated the effort, and the effect of different lenses. Like many before me, I invested more money in newer, and different equipment. The intention was to motivate, and perhaps improve quality, by changing technique.

That didn’t work either.

The last time I took some photos with my SLR, actually went out, intending to take photos, checked exposure, focus, and composition, was in 2011. A trip to Prague, for Julie’s birthday. One camera, one lens, and a very photogenic city, in the cold, clear air of January. No simple holiday pictures, but looking for angles, places of interest, as well as iconic tourist spots, like the Charles Bridge. This time, the camera was digital, and I could check the results on the screen after shooting. Nothing breathtaking; nothing new, or fresh. Just holiday shots, after all that. I started to become critical, not only of my own efforts, but those of others. I abhorred digital manipulation, Photoshop, post-capture embellishment, and all the ‘benefits’ of the digital revolution. There was insufficient sharpness, I felt, and everything looked soft, and manicured. Photos could no longer be trusted to be authentic, and sunsets could be inserted into otherwise indifferent landscapes, to polish up the results. What was the point of it all, when it was just touched up on a computer? Photography had become part of the computer age, and it had evolved into something different, something I was no longer that good at, and requiring skills I had no desire to learn.

This week, I was compelled to take some photos, to show the problems with my wood burner, the configuration of the chimney, and the water leaking inside the house. The supplier wanted evidence that could be e mailed, and it had to be current. For speed and simplicity, I used my phone. A simple, five megapixel, HTC smartphone camera. No viewfinder, no choice of aperture, no exposure adjustments, or unusual lens configuration. Just look at the screen, and move the phone about, until the desired object was in the frame. The flash fired automatically, and even though I wobbled about, and my finger shook on the trackball ‘shutter’, the results were all excellent, and just what I needed. Thirty-One years of cameras, film rolls, accessories, equipment bags, and countless hours of study of lenses, exposure, and technique. Why?

I have become a reluctant photographer, and sometimes wonder if I will ever bother to take another photo.

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17 thoughts on “The Reluctant Photographer

  1. O wow, and to think I am only using a digital camera all these years that I am in love with taking shots of my garden blooms and lately my one-year old grandson. I don’t even know how to manipulate a photo the way some people do. All I do mostly is crop them so they remain raw shots,the way I love photos to be.

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    1. There is much to be said for ‘raw’ shots Arlene and I am pleased to see that you are still taking them, and usually with very good results. If they please you, provide you with good memories, or an interesting pastime, then that is what is really important.
      Best wishes from England as always, Pete.

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  2. Interesting perspective, I really don’t see the point of investing in camera equipment, I will never develop a fascination for photography, and digital editing to me is a bore, I admit, I never do it, with the exception of cropping, might explain the quality of my photos. Even on holidays, I prefer to live in the moment rather than spoil it by lifting a camera. I have always been a reluctant photographer, so that element of each post is a struggle for me. One aspect I enjoy about your blog is that there are no photos to distract from the content.

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  3. I have never been obsessed by photography, and never owned a camera with interchangeable lenses. I know about apertures and shutter speed, but have never managed to figure out how to make them work. I use a decent bridge camera now, but for years (pre-digital) I only had a cheapish Fuji instamatic – upgrading to one that did panoramic shots, but you had use the whole film that way! But I adore photography – things just catch my eye and I want to capture them. The digital age suits me well as I can now take loads of photos and hope that one of them is good. I’d like perfect, but that’s not going to happen unless I put in some of the effort that you obviously went to. And got a better camera.

    I have always been pretty much against unnatural photos, but recently I’ve started playing around with different effects and found that actually I like some of them! More art than photography, but still if the result is pleasing to the eye, it can be acceptable. I think. Some people do go overboard with vignettes and harsh saturation, subtlety is key. You’ll have to let me know what you think as I have started to post a few on my blog. Be honest!

    I don’t own a smartphone, mine is a very basic Nokia which does have a camera, but any photo I have taken with it has ended up being deleted! However, my daughter has one, (and she also has a very nice dSLR Canon camera), but the ease with which she took a photo on our recent trip to Battle, edited it on the phone, uploaded it to her FB account and emailed me a copy in less time than I would have got my SD card out and on to the laptop did make me wonder WHY bother with a camera unless you are a professional??
    Jude xx

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    1. Perhaps I should have been clearer in my post Jude. It is not so much about manipulating images that you have taken, trying to make them sharper, or maybe printing a colour shot in B+W for effect. My issue is with unnatural, or faked photos, often described as ‘Art’, to avoid the fact that they were not actually there, recording the image. The use of stock photos, work other than your own, or completely changing exposure on photos using software, instead of at least trying to take them correctly in the first place. That is the sort of stuff I was on about.
      I know it is a lost cause, as photography has moved on, and is not the thing I used to enjoy.
      As far as your own work, if you are not using apertures, and letting a bridge camera do all the guesswork, then you should be really pleased with yourself, as your results are always better than good, and often excellent.
      You are also doing the most important thing, carrying a camera, and looking for things that catch your eye. And you ‘adore phtography’, something I used to say, a long time ago. Pretty much what it is all about, in the end.
      Regards as always, Pete. X

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      1. OK. I see where you are coming from. Yes I must admit falsifying the entire photo goes against the grain. I once saw an image of a guy on a camel where a sunset had been inserted, the shadows were all wrong and it looked fake. I suppose photos have been manipulated in terms of exposure etc. since the beginning if you had your own darkroom.

        I do need to get on top of the manual settings though. I am never going to get the winning photo if I don’t.

        Oh, can you give me some feedback about my new theme? There is the option to showcase 6 posts at the top of the post page (which I did at the start) or a slider to move through them (which I have set now) or not to have any at all so you see the last post. Which do you prefer to see? I’m not sure what works the best.
        Jude xx (from a very cold and foggy Ludlow, though woke to an amazing sunrise!)

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        1. There was always historical manipulation of photos, the computer just made it easy for everyone to do it.
          As for your theme, I like the header photo, and the scroller for looking through posts works well. If I had a criticism of that theme, I would say that I don’t like the white on black, to the left of the page. To me, it seems incongruous, and darkens one side completely. Perhaps you could widen the page, giving the images more room, and put the other widgets at the bottom? I don’t know if this is possible though.
          It was worth a try, for a fresh look at least.
          As always, Pete. x

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          1. Mmm… thanks for the feedback. I can remove the right sidebar, but I don’t think that alters the width of the body, just centres it, having looked at others who use the theme. Only pages are full width (look at Me and My Travels) and that is still narrow.

            Also I can change the colour (I’m also not keen on white on black) IF I upgrade i.e. pay $30 for the privilege! I’d need to feel I can live with the theme before I do that.

            I’ll live with it for a bit longer, see whether it puts people off 🙂

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      2. OK. I see where you are coming from. Yes I must admit falsifying the entire photo goes against the grain. I once saw an image of a guy on a camel where a sunset had been inserted, the shadows were all wrong and it looked fake. I suppose photos have been manipulated in terms of exposure etc. since the beginning if you had your own darkroom.

        I do need to get on top of the manual settings though. I am never going to get the winning photo if I don’t.

        Oh, can you give me some feedback about my new theme? There is the option to showcase 6 posts at the top of the post page (which I did at the start) or a slider to move through them (which I have set now) or not to have any at all so you see the last post. Which do you prefer to see? I’m not sure what works the best.
        Jude xx (from a very cold and foggy Ludlow, though woke to an amazing sunrise!)

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  4. As you know Pete, I am just starting off with exploring the world of photography. I have no idea why it has taken so long or where I expect to take it?

    One thing I definitely agree with you about is the manipulation of images. Okay, burn, dodge or what ever its called, but adding sunsets or photoshopping things into an image has no interest for me.

    At the moment I have to find some images that have influenced/inspired me, I’m expected to take these to college and explain why I picked them. I know the images I want and can not find them on the world wide web. I have emailed the guardian and the met police, as well as one of the photographers involved in one of the projects from the mid 80’s.

    The reasons I want to find these particular images are that they are honest, powerful and make a direct challenge to the viewer to take a better look at themselves. In truth the images have probably influenced/continue to influence me in a way the photographers couldn’t have imagined.

    Kind regards,
    Jim.

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    1. I hope that you manage to find those shots Jimmy. You are starting out on something that could turn out to be the best thing you have ever done, or the most frustrating. Whatever the outcome, you will undoubtedly get something from the process.
      I was influenced by the work of Henri Cartier Bresson, Bert Hardy, and the set pieces of O Winston Link. Also by the Hollywood studio photographers, Ansel Adams, and Diane Arbus. And Arthur Fellig, known as ‘Weejee’. Look him up, he did some amazing crime scene photos, as well as terrific portraits of the underclass of the USA.
      Keep at it Jimmy. All the best mate, Pete.

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  5. I was into photography many years ago — not quite to the degree as you’ve described yourself but somewhat heavily invested, for me. I sold my camera and what equipment I had to help get me through the 2nd winter in Vermont. I find that I love digital cameras because basically, all I want from photographs is family shots and reference photos for my painting. I love being able to keep the few I want in a file on my computer and delete the rest. I still have many photo albums and a big suitcase full of photos I can’t quite throw away. I don’t miss the hassle of film or film cameras. I’m discovering that for the amount of photography I do now, I might as well throw the digital camera away and just use my phone camera.

    The Polar Vortex with accompanying deep freeze seems to be dissipating and now we’re getting ready for a deluge of rain. Hope things good with you..

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