My way of seeing
If you need a four-leaf clover, I’m your guy. For some reason, I’ve always been good at spotting the ones that are just a little different.
Little things, strange things, different things, and things overlooked have always interested me in photography, too. Not only in still-lifes and landscapes, but also in live subjects such as musicians. A singer’s hand gesture from a side angle, for instance, can be more interesting to me that a frontal shot; a glance or a facial expression can nudge my camera and lens in that direction.
I’ve always been drawn to light and how it interacts with different objects and textures. For some images, I like fairly directional light that allows me to play with shadows and textures; for others--for instance, macros of lichens and such--I prefer softer, more diffuse light. (Overcast days are perfect for macro photography--and portraits, too.)
I also like contrast--in colors, tonalities, textures, and also in focused and out-of-focus areas. The latter explains my love of fast lenses, which wide open can make the focussed portion of an image stand out sharply against a blurred background.
There are so many things to see, so many things to focus on, and so many ways of seeing them. . . . I try to let each scene, each subject speak to me in its own way, to lure my eye this way or that. I don’t think the importance of taking time to see what’s around you can ever be overemphasized in the photographic process.
But perhaps this quote from Wynn Bullock sums up nearly everything I think I’ve been trying to say here: “Mysteries lie all around us, even in the most familiar things, waiting only to be perceived.”
Some shooting preferences
One of my preferences is to use ambient light--that is, the light that’s part of the setting. That light may be natural or “artificial,” and I may control it with small reflectors or by adjusting shades, blinds, and curtains. But it’s very rare that I use flash: there are photographers who are artists with strobes and such, but I’m not one of them.
In composing an image, I try to get as close to my subject as I can so that I’m working with the whole frame. That helps me get just what I want, the essence of a scene without excess. Robert Capa used to say, “If your pictures aren’t good enough, you’re not close enough.”
I tend to frame things horizontally, as that’s the way my eyes work. But there are times that a vertical composition is what’s called for, and other times that an angle in-between is what works. . . .
I prefer to shoot manually--that is, manually adjusting the aperture and shutter speed, and also focusing manually. Because of this, I tend to use older, non-AF lenses that have focus and aperture rings made for hands-on work.
Many photographers use zooms, but I’ve always gravitated toward prime lenses, the faster the better. With primes, knowing which lens will get you the image you’re after, and where and how to position yourself with that lens, is critical. Right now my favorite lenses are my Pentax M 50mm/1.4 and my Pentax K 85mm/1.8 (though I'm also very fond of my not-so-fast K 28mm/3.5).
One reason I like to use fast lenses is that their shallow depth of field when wide-open lets me emphasize particular things within the frame. They also come in handy while working in low-light situations, which I often do.
A photographer’s mind and eye are his or her most important tools; after that, it’s light and glass, and fast glass is where it’s at.
Yes, I still have a darkroom set up in my basement, though I haven’t used it in a long, long time.
These days I use Adobe Lightroom 5 for “developing” my images, which for my purposes is far better than Photoshop. I nearly always retain a 3:2 aspect ratio (the same as in a 35mm negative), and I crop only when I need to. I love black & white, and often use my own dark sepia split-tone setting.
A few thoughts on gear
I’ve been photographing since I was a kid, though back then I had an Ansco box camera. Eventually I graduated to my dad’s wonderful Kodak Retina Reflex S, and I finally got my own 35mm, a Fujica ST-801.
At some point I switched to Nikons (and a slew of Nikkor lenses), but I wound up selling nearly all my Nikon gear in order to migrate to Pentax DSLRs. I rebuilt my lens collection with Pentax glass, almost exclusively opting for manual-focus lenses that are 25 to 35 years old.
But I didn’t switch because Pentax is better than Nikon: Pentax is simply better for me and how I work. When someone asks me which camera they should buy, my response is nearly always the same: so long as it can do everything you want and need it to, buy the camera that fits best in your hand, the one that feels comfortable and familiar. The Pentax K-7 and K-5 are solid and fit wonderfully in my not-so-big hands, but that doesn’t mean they’re best for everyone. So don’t be afraid to try something other than a Nikon or Canon, even if that’s what the salesman keeps pushing. Olympus, Sony, Panasonic, Pentax--whatever feels best in your hands and still does everything you need it to, buy it. Even if it turns out to be a Canon or a Nikon!
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