Masters of Photography….?

Posted in Photography at 11:46 am by Justin

I was practically born with a camera in my hand.  My earliest memory of owning a camera was when I was about 5yrs old (give or take a year or so), and that first camera was an old ‘120’ camera.  That camera took 120mm film, which is considered ‘medium format’ in old-school Photography lingo, but I remember having so much fun with that camera shooting whatever my tiny little heart desired.  Thinking back, I kinda wish I knew whatever happened to those photos – but I digress…and I’ll do that a lot in this post.  My point here is that I’ve had a camera in my hand from as early as I can remember, and finally in High School, my Grandpa gave me one of the coolest things ever…his old 35mm SLR camera.  It was an old Nikon EM body, and sure, it only had one lens (the standard 55mm that came with most cameras at the time), but I feel like that is where my skills started to develop.  I learned about ISO speed (film speed), shutter speed, and aperture – all components that are the core of taking a great photograph.  If you flub one, it could ruin the shot by either over- or under-exposing the frame.  I also learned about how aperture plays a part in depth-of-field (how clear the picture is past your focal point…like a face), and armed with this new knowledge, I ended up with a spot on the High School yearbook as a photographer my Sophomore year.

Fast-forward to today.  I’ve been through a few cameras since then (mostly SLR…and still have them tucked away), and gained quite a bit of knowledge since…I’m still not a rockstar like Ansel Adams or Helmut Newton by any means, but I’ve taken my fair share of great photos.  About 10-12yrs ago though, a technological revolution began that changed the industry forever; the digital camera.  Digital versions of cameras, from your basic point-and-shoot to full-on SLRs began replacing their older film counterparts.  This wasn’t so bad in the beginning; digital had a bit of catching-up to do as far as quality was concerned, and then about 10yrs ago digital was finally on-par with film…if not a wee bit better.  Other advantages started coming to light in favor of digital photography – instant review, no more costs wrapped-up in film, development, etc.

Now let’s back up a bit to the film age.  Somewhere in the late-80s to early-90s, point-and-shoot cameras started coming with what I like to call ‘idiot settings’.  These are the settings you set for different environments that you’re shooting in, like at night, sports photography, portraits, scenics, etc.  These nice little features enabled more versatility with your standard point-and-shoot camera.  The problem was that these settings started making their way into SLR cameras as well, essentially allowing you to ‘dumb down’ the camera and allow it to do ALL of the work…basically turning a nice SLR camera into a basic point-and-shoot camera.  Now let’s go forward again, to today.  The technological advancements in digital photograhpy since it’s inception a dozen years ago are amazing to say the least…but with all the ‘automated modes’ and higher ISO speeds (still considerd film speed, even though there is no film…an explanation can be made later) that newer cameras can achieve, it allows a user to take some amazing photographs….without hardly any thought going into the shot whatsoever.  Let me side-step this for a minute and come back to it in a bit.

Over the past year, I’ve had the privilege to shoot many concerts – most local acts, but some were big-name acts (Thanks again Paige Montgomery!).  One reason for diving into concert photography is because I feel that it’s the perfect medium to perfect one’s low-light photography skills…which is an area I’ve always felt that I’ve been lacking.  One thing I’ve realized is that my equipment (while still a great workhorse and takes great photos in daylight) is a bit inadequate when it comes to low-light conditions…especially EXTREMELY low-light.  Sure, I can (and have) use a flash, but a flash tends to wash out the cool stage lighting and highlight all the background stuff you don’t want in the photo, like cables, cabinets, gaffer’s tape, etc…So I bought a faster, higher-quality lens (because the ones I’ve been using so far have been the average ‘kit’ lenses, which are not that ‘fast’ when it comes to light….again, I’m getting into the technical aspects here) so I could try and shoot sans-flash.  It helped a bit, but even in SUPER low-light conditions, the photos aren’t very clear – they end up grainy, or even a bit blurry because of the settings I have to run in order to try and let enough light in.  So I made another realization.  I need a new camera…which brings be back to the ‘idiot-proof’ topic.  It really is a double-edged sword; on the one hand, you now have hardware that allows you to take photographs that weren’t capable with the hardware of even 5yrs ago.

I guess it’s all in perception, but I feel like while these technological advancements are great for the industry as a whole, I also feel like they’re stripping the skill from the art.  I guess it’s one of those things that’s good in the right hands, but hurts in the wrong hands.  With what’s available today, anyone can take some pretty cool and creative shots just with their smartphone thanks to the software settings available.  You couple that with just these new, entry-level DSLRs, and everyone thinks they’re a pro photographer all of a sudden.  Now you have instances where, instead of hiring an actual photographer (you know, someone that makes a living from it) for things like Senior Photos, Wedding Photos, etc., now people are having just a friend or relative with a cool $300 camera take the shots…and quite honestly, they’re turning out quite good.  This is all due to the settings and controls within the camera that I’m talking about — it allows the camera to do ALL the work, and all the user has to do is point and click.

Needless to say, it’s frustrating and maddening to me, and yet there’s so much more to this topic than what I’ve written.  Anyway, I’ll wrap it up for now, but feel free to weigh-in with comments and opinions.  Maybe I’m getting upset over nothing… *shrug*

– J

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