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Carousels spin, the world goes round. | by Zeb Andrews
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Carousels spin, the world goes round.

As I have practiced it, photography produces pleasure by simplicity. I see something special and show it to the camera. A picture is produced. -- Sam Abell


"Automatic" means bad. -- Jake Shivery


A pinhole image of the carousel at Jantzen Beach I took this past winter sometime or other. We took Owen down for a spin or two on the carousel, so I had some time for a few long pinhole exposures. The first couple times around I think he was terrified, but he got accustomed to the crazy lights, piped-in music, slightly demonic looking horses and was enjoying himself by the end. I would have paid decent money to have known his thoughts in those first few minutes though...


In terms of the quotes, I figured I would use this image for the second part in my little "mini-series" on my experiences learning and teaching photography. The first quote speaks for itself, and I think is an invaluable lesson for all of us to always remember (though I think all of us will only sometimes remember, and only some of us will always remember). I think simplicity lies at the heart of most good photography, by that nature, most good photographers.


Now, I don't mean simplicity in the manner of shunning technology, use only the most basic of equipment, and all that. I mean simplicity in one's approach to photography. As I was talking about in an earlier post, start by getting a camera that fits you, that is not more than you can understand or operate. And then learn it, understand what it is always doing and why. Keep your photography simple and easy to understand and you will become a better photographer.


Ah, but here is where simplicity is a bit duplicitous. I also don't mean simplicity in the manner of setting your camera to all-auto-everything-all-the-time mode. You know, the mode that is actually represented on some cameras with a green smiley face? (I think this idea was thought up by the same people who named the Contax AX personally) Without trying to be mean, this mode is often referred to as the "dummy" mode, which in a brutal sense of the word, it is.


Ok, let me explain my thoughts on this a bit further. One of the reasons we sell manual cameras so often to students, or rather, recommend manual cameras to students, is to force them to learn the basics. To learn what a shutter speed is, or an aperture. What happens at f2.8 versus f22. To learn how to read an exposure meter and what 1 stop under will do as opposed to 1 stop over. To be able to read the manual dial off a flash and correctly expose a photo using fill-flash and no flash meter. To be able to focus properly for goodness sakes. I sadly know a number of people who have trouble focusing, not because they have poor eyesight, but because they have spent their entire photographic lives with either auto-focus cameras or point and shoots.


Again, let me slow down for a moment. I am not nay-saying automatic. In fact I think in some situations having auto-focus or auto-exposure or TTL flash metering is preferrable to doing it manually (though I never ever think it is essential). What I am trying to convey here is that if you want to effectively use these features, and in turn your camera, and in turn be a better photographer, you need to understand the principles and the technology behind them. You have to know that when the program mode automatically selects 1/30th of a second while you are shooting your 300mm lens hand-held you are probably going to get blurry photos.


But it is more than that really. It is more than just simply having an understanding of what that machine in your hands is doing. As Sam Abell might say, it is the difference between you showing something to your camera and your camera showing something to you.


And this is a hard lesson for us to remember because automatic technology makes things so eeeeasy. It makes it quicker. It saves us from having to think or worry. But how often is quick and easy also the same as a job well done? Sometimes it is sure, but often it is not. Technology in this case softens us, and spoils us as photographers. We forget who to do things on our own. We forget that photographers survived for decades without TTL flash metering, without 3D matrix meters, without 9-point autofocus...


I attended a workshop once by RMSP and listened to a captivating lecture by Craig Tanner who had a lot of insightful things to say. One of his best was to learn to gauge your exposure without using a meter. Everytime he went out he would make notes of the conditions he was shooting in and the exposures in those conditions. Eventually he got to the point where he didn't even need his meter and just stopped using it altogether. By paying attention, taking notes and by gods, learning, he had become his own exposure meter. By doing so he explained that he was able to stop worrying about exposure. He was no longer a slave to his meter, constantly ducking back behind the viewfinder to check it. The time he used to spend thinking about exposure, he spent thinking about the picture he was going to take. He removed exposure as a distraction to his photography.



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Taken on March 13, 2008