Philosophy about Photography

Knowing Your Gear

After a couple of refreshing conversations with my Aunt and a close friend about various aspects of photography, it has inspired me to start a new series, “Philosophy about Photography”. A series based on my love of wisdom about the art of photography. Along with my thoughts and ideas that I’ve gathered from my time behind my camera. Let’s kick things off with the importance of knowing your gear.

When people around me see my images and realize I’m a photographer, the most frequent asked question, “Is whatever camera/brand any good?”And after a  bit of Q & A, I could steer them in a reasonable path to a camera that should suit their needs. But now… my answer is totally different. If asked the same question today my response would be, “Heck no, that camera is complete garbage!” Lol The fact is all of them are, if one doesn’t know how to use it properly. Gear doesn’t make one a photographer. In my opinion, one must have a firm understanding of exposure, an eye for what makes a stunning image and lastly know the limitations of his or her gear.

Sadly, I had to dust off my gear for this shot.

So, the obvious question is “How does one get to know their gear?” There’s plenty of ways but I want to share two habits I feel strongly about and use myself. I’ve written about both in the past and feel it’s time to revisit them both. First is to sit down and read the manuals of ALL your gear. Discover and experiment what it can and can not do. Then as frequently as you can, put what you learned into action. And not just once a month or only when you go to some event. Bring your camera everywhere you go as much as possible. Take photos of anything and everything. And don’t be afraid to test out those unused functions and features. Try, fail, learn and repeat. There’s no question, you’re going to fuck up some images. But it’s OK, just as long as you learn from your mistakes. The sooner you get rid of the idea that every image you capture is going to be perfectly exposed, razor sharp and beautifully composed the better off you’ll be.

And the second method I want to share is to develop a shooting routine. One that helps you slow down, focus in on what’s catching your eye and aid in how you’re going to capture an image. Talk to photographers that share their thoughts, knowledge and experience of shooting with you. If they have some form of a routine, try theirs. If it works, cool. If not, change what doesn’t. Heck add whatever that helps you and make it your own. Here’s a link to my shooting routine,

Both of these methods can help you get familiar with the controls and functions of your gear. Forming a muscle memory that allows you to change your settings thoughtlessly and effortlessly. The added benefit of knowing your gear is that it is a huge confidence builder. And having that confidence in yourself behind the camera is not only priceless but necessary as well. Time in time again, you will start to rely on your skills as a photographer and not the luck of spray & pray.

My perception of photography is that it is about creating images that gets people to have some form of an emotional response. Gear is only a tool that allows you to do so. And that’s why I feel it is so important to know how to use them properly. Thankfully the more time you spend behind your camera creating images, the better you’ll get at it. I would love to hear about any habits or practices you all have and use when it comes to knowing your gear. Please share them in the comment section below.

Stay safe and thanks for stopping by,

Steven

The Zoo visit

While visiting the Detroit zoo, you suddenly discovered you have the ability to not only hear but understand all the animals around you. But to your dismay, they’re enthusiastically bitching about humans and how they’re carelessly destroying “Their” planet. As you curiously wonder around eavesdropping on Mother Nature ‘s confidential narrative, you hear hints of a coming calamity that they all seem to know about. And that this upcoming event would eliminate the human population and how joyful they are for it to happen. But just before you learn the details of how this extinction event will play out, you hear a tiger abruptly say with a fierce authority, “Shut up! That one can hear us”. All the animals fall silent, coldly turn towards you and stare at you with an unquestionable look of resentment and dissatisfaction. And as quickly as the Doctor Doolittle like ability came to be, it quickly fades. Disturbingly, the last thing you clearly recognize from them is a devilish laugh that quickly spreads from one enclosure to the next.

Tiger pic

Until next time,

Steven

Answering the call to Photography

I’ve been keeping myself occupied with my models. But last weekend, I didn’t want to spend it torturing plastic again. Sunday morning, I felt the familiar itch to go somewhere locally and do some photography. So, I grabbed up my gear and headed downtown. I had no expectations about this brief trip. I just wanted to spend some time behind my camera. While driving to Detroit, I figured something on Belle isle should be in bloom. And the large patches of yellow lilies on the approach to the bridge to the island was very promising. Once there, the crisp morning light illuminated the Detroit skyline against some approaching dark and moody clouds. I made my way over to the fountain where to my delight the Cherry blossoms were in full bloom.

Soon the angry sky was overhead, the sharp contrasting light faded, and a light rain slowly overtook the island. And in a spirited pace, I made my way back to the comfort of my car where I sipped on my coffee and reviewed my shots. With the rain beginning to let up, I wondered if there were any tulips in bloom around the conservatory. As I got closer, I spotted numerous colorful signs of spring blossoms. But unfortunately, the conservatory was closed. That was strike one.

Well, let’s go hit up those patches of lilies before the bridge. I headed off the island and found parking close by the lily patches, but this would be strike two. The passing rain clouds was still hiding the Sun, making the shots flat and muted. But my itch to keep making photos was still strong. So, I drove into downtown to look for other spring blossoms. If anything, it would chew up some time for the sky to clear and maybe come back to the lilies later.

answering_the_Call_5

Driving through the city, rekindled my love for Detroit. All the familiar sites along with some new ones. But still no tulips. So, I headed down Grand River boulevard to check for some new street art. There were a few blocks that was the epicenter for graffiti in Detroit. But now, there’s barely any to be found. I did manage to spot a new piece by Sintex and other artists. I’ll call this a foul ball.

With the sky slowly clearing and my desire to photograph some tulips unfulfilled, I head back downtown. I made my way to Campus Martius and guess what was in bloom and seem to be peppered everywhere? Tulips! Red, white, yellow, pink, orange… holy fuck! Where can I park? Eagerly searching for a spot, minutes seemed like hours and all the pretty little petals would be dead and gone before I would find a parking spot. After what seemed like a week, I found one.

Parked about two blocks away from the little beauties, I’m now facing a problem. What lense to bring? The 24-70mm or the 70-200mm? Fuck it, the 24-70 should be enough Right?! I slapped in on my 5DSR, put everything else out of sight, lock up and make my way to the plethora of tulips. Finally, tulips in bloom and in some gorgeous light. But after about 5 or 6 shots, I found myself wanting more focal length. The 24-70 could not get in close enough to produce the images in my minds eye.

Time to hike back to the car, switch lenses, walk back and continue shooting. This time, after the first few shots, I heard myself say, “I love this lense”. Home Run!

After using up all my bag of tricks and finally fulfilling my desire to photograph some tulips, it was time to head back home. Despite the hiccups, it was good to get out of my pandemic weekend routine and practice one of my other passions.

Until next time, stay safe and keep busy!

Steven

The Story Behind an Image, Part 6

Ever since 2004, I’ve had a passionate love affair with photography. And come to discover that I have a fondness with photos that comes with a story. Over the years, I have shot a few of them. Here’s the next installment in my “The Story behind an Image” series.

Part 6: The start of a new chapter

This story starts back in 2005 after months of penny-pinching saving, I had finally recovered and upgraded my gear from my break in at my apartment. I acquired at the time Canons new 20D and both their 100-400mm zoom and the 400mm F/5.6 prime lense. But after shooting with both at various events, I felt having them both was redundant. And wanted to narrow it down to one lense I preferred most.

It came down to the classic photographer’s argument of zoom versus prime. What’s more important, versatility or clarity? For me the brighter exposure and its tack sharpness of the 400 5.6 won me over. As well as its image quality was far superior to the zoom and it was an absolute joy to shoot.

Another contributing factor why I got rid of the zoom was during this time in my juvenile love affair with photography, I had a growing concern about the “look” of my images. Specifically, what’s going to set my images apart from others? Especially images from those who attend the same events as I. Since the vast majority of air show photographers prefer using a zoom lense over primes. I chose to shoot strictly prime. But doing so comes with its own issues. The most obvious is its lack of versatility in its inability to zoom. The way I coped with this inability was to concentrate on composition and trying to fill the frame with my subject with little to no negative space.

It’s worth mentioning during this time the highest resolution sensor Canon had was only 16 megapixels with the 1D mk2. Which was totally out of my price range. With such a low megapixel count to today’s standards, tight cropping was very noticeable, and you saw it in the image quality. And my 20D was only 8.2 megapixels and it struggled to shoot 5 frames a second. Without a consistent high frame rate, it made it pretty damn difficult to get a full frame uncropped image of a close flying aircraft successfully.

It was also during this time I discovered I fancied capturing images of warbirds much more than the sleek modern jets. To me, they are like living machines with these old massive engines for hearts. I love the fact that they were painstakingly restored by hand and maintained with great affection. And I sought out aviation events that cater to them. In July I stumbled upon “The Greatest show on Turf”. A warbird show that is held on a grass field in Geneseo, New York. From my apartment in Michigan, it was nearly 6 hours away. If I remember correctly, my plan was to drive to Geneseo on Saturday and stay the night at a hotel. Check out Sunday morning and head down to the show. Then after a day of photographing airplanes in the summer sun, make the grueling six-hour trip back to Michigan so I can go back to work bright and early Monday morning. Looking back now, I was 29 at the time and I know I can’t handle a weekend of that pace these days.

I remember on the drive over being so intoxicated with excitement about the show. I’ve never been to that part of New York before as well as seeing warbirds operate on a grass field. Entertaining all my wild expectations about this virgin show of mine, I drove on into the night. After arriving at the hotel, I found something for dinner and was off to bed.

From the hotel, it was a scenic 30-minute drive to the airfield. And my unexplored airshow questions had a child like rhythm to them in my head during the trip down. The most frequent was, what direction is the crowd line in relationship with the path of the Sun? That has become my main and driving question of what aviation events I will attend. And to my surprise, the event runs southwest to the northeast, with the crowd line facing northwest. Meaning the Sun was to be at are back for most of the day. But come late afternoon, it maybe a bit tricky but nothing that could not be avoided.

I recall flying started early with trainers then worked its way to the fighters. And earlier on in the show the vintage aerial display was interrupted by two New York Air National guard F-16s and performed a couple of spirited passes. I quickly switched over to aperture priority, selected F/5.6, composed my subject and held the shutter down. And as quickly as they showed up, they were heading home. While chimping, I came across the image that is so closely tied to this story.

Since I began shooting aviation events, there is always that one image you want to be razor sharp. You must remember; this was 2005 and the resolution of the LCD screens on the back of cameras were shit. What looked sharp on the rear screen versus what is sharp on your monitor were two different things. The show continued and afterwards I said my goodbyes to sleepy little Geneseo and drove back to Michigan.

After an interminable and exhausting day at work, I finally got to view my images for the past weekend. And to my amazement, the one image I was fixated on was absolutely razor sharp. When viewed full size, you can clearly read the name of the crew chief on the side of the canopy. It’s what this image did for my confidence in my abilities as a photographer and was a turning point in my photographic journey. My mindset changed from “I hope I can” to “I can” capture images with the look I want. Like any creative individual, having the confidence in yourself and your gear is huge. It’s ironic, I went to Geneseo to capture warbird images and unexpectedly gained confidence in an image of a modern fighter.

FAR_71

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< The Story behind an Image part 5

 

 

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