Style? What style?

About 20 yrs ago, I began teaching myself how to play the banjo. Since I had become a fairly competent guitarist earlier in my life, I had a reasonable idea of what I was getting myself into. Being self taught on most things that require a bit of skill, it followed that learning the banjo would be the same. This time, however, I tried something a little different. I imagined what I would end up sounding like if I didn’t just try to copy what I saw others doing; if I didn’t look too closely at what ‘proper technique’ was, and if I went out of my way to avoid trying to play along with what the big-shots were playing.

In other words, I was somewhere between a mushroom growing in the dark, and a cargo cult.

What I ended up with, was something quite different than what I was hearing others do -when I started really listening to all the nuances, and variants. Some things that others could do fairly easily, I found really hard to do, and other things, that I was told were quite difficult, I had no problem with. I also noticed that there aren’t really very many people who played like me at all. I found a couple of ‘old time’ banjo players who were somewhat similar, but only for certain things. For better or worse, I had come up with something different.

I’m self taught with a camera as well. I’ve read a few books on the mechanics, and principles, (mostly when I started out) and still, to this day, look for tips, and suggestions on how to improve, but I’ve never taken a course on photography, or composition. (Heh… maybe it shows?)

I’ve made conscious decisions on how I shoot; like shooting in B&W, and using more shadows, and darkness in my shots, even to the point of arguably underexposing things, but that’s what I like. At least for now. (I remember reading an interview with Steven Spielberg years ago, where he was discussing his craft. He was talking about cinematic style, and he mentioned that he liked to film the light, whereas, someone like Martin Scorsese films the shadows. Wow! That really hit home with me, because that’s how I see envision things too, and now thanks to Spielberg, I’d be able to explain myself!)

I know that how, and what, one photographs determines one’s style, but I don’t really think about it. I just try to get the camera set to where I like it, and then take the picture. Pleasing myself always seems to be best. And just like learning to play the banjo, painting your house, or even what clothes you choose to wear, requires a little bravery, and confidence if you’re going to do things your way. Nothing wrong with wearing bright red socks with a charcoal gray suit, but you could raise an eyebrow or two, and in certain circumstances, it’ll even piss some people off.

Sometimes I think that ‘style’ is a term best used by someone other than the person doing the creating.

I suppose it just boils down to perseverance. At least it does in my case. Stick with something long enough, and it seems as though more and more of your personality comes out.

Or, again in my case, keep beating your head against the wall, and maybe you’ll actually learn something.

On shooting concerts

Shooting concerts, or how not to be a public dickhead.

Over the years, I’ve given quite a few photos to indie (broke) bands. Why not? I enjoy shooting them, and they probably need promo shots, so it’s a win-win situation. Plus, shooting unknown, or new bands, or even bands that suck, for that matter, is a great way to learn, and try new ideas out.

I’ve spent my entire adult life either playing, working, or drinking in bars and clubs, and I can’t even begin to guess how many thousands of bands I’ve seen. On the surface, I’d probably describe myself as a jaded old fuck, but every once in a while, I’m mildly amused with myself, when I realize that some band, -and it’s usually somebody no one’s ever heard of, and probably never will, is really impressing me. Guess I’m not as apathetically burnt out as I usually think I am. It’s especially cool if the band goes on to be popular. (I say that not in the sense of meaning that I’m some kind of talent spotting visionary -I’m not, but that it’s nice to see something I think is good, go on to further success.)

I find shooting concerts lots of fun, and not too hard if you’ve got half-ways decent gear. The trick is, as with most things, is to know what you want. Which also means knowing what you don’t want. Just as important.

I don’t use flash. I have one, and I’ve seen some folks get awesome results with them, but I don’t like how it illuminates everything in the shot, and changes how the concert actually looked. Plus, it’s usually really annoying for anyone nearby -least of all, the subject.

I try to be as quick as possible. Get some shots, and get lost. Hopefully. 

I’ve found that if you’re polite, and either tell, or imply (sometimes it’s too loud for verbal communication) that you’re going to be brief, people really don’t mind if you’re in front of them for a few seconds. Make sure to thank them when you’re finished. I’ve never been turned down. Not even once.

Have your shit prepared before you start shooting. Check your exposure. Are all the settings on your camera where you’d like them to be? Check them a second time.

Shoot a LOT. Shooting live bands is one -if not the only time, that I have my camera set to burst mode. Things happen fast. The lighting is usually changing quite quickly. Autofocus, while really quite spectacular on modern cameras, isn’t perfect -especially if you’re shooting wide open. Take more pictures than you think you need. There’s nothing worse than shooting a band, and thinking that you’ve got something great, only to realize once you transfer them to the big screen of your laptop, or pc, that you didn’t get what you thought you had gotten. Shit.

Practise, and make sure you’ve got your shit together before you even start firing off shots, and you just might get something that you’re happy with!

Well, at least you won’t have those around you calling you a dickhead for blocking their view, or blinding them with your flash.

When is a camera not a camera?

…when it’s a fucking video camera!

This is the other side of yesterday’s post.

I’ve mentioned elsewhere, that I don’t shoot video. Well, that’s not entirely true, I have shot maybe three or four with my phone, but my camera cameras are still video virgins. I have no interest. At all.

But hey, If you shoot video, good for you! If that’s your thing, enjoy it. But as it is, right now, your thing has affected my thing, in ways that I’m really quite annoyed with.

Just about every major camera out there (mine included) these days is apparently quite capable of shooting fairly stunning video footage. 4K this, 1080p that, super-duper frame rate -shit I know nothing about. I just pulled those numbers out of my ass, uh… I mean, I just threw those numbers out there, because I’ve seen them used to reference video quality. They’re all Greek to me.

What’s that you say? ‘Well then just don’t used the goddamned video feature, asshole!’ Obviously, I don’t.

The problem I have, is all of the extra video features, are making cameras bigger, heavier, are a bigger drain on the battery, and add too much clutter to the layout of modern cameras.

‘Well, just turn that shit off.’ Trust me, it is.

But you want bigger batteries, because you want to shoot longer scenes, and that requires a heat sink to disperse the heat generated; and they both add bulk and weight. You also want image stabilisation, in either the camera, or lens, or both, and there’s some more added weight. You want the option of movie film simulations -which is just another thing for me to trip over. 

I know I’m in the minority here. Extra shit sells. It’s what the consumer demands! I guess the consumer demands the capability of not only taking shitty pictures, they want to be able to take shitty videos as well.


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