How good do you think you are? (Do I think I am?)

I’ve never been one to handle compliments very well -which is odd, because I’ve spent the vast majority of my life creating things; plenty of which will end up getting critiqued, complimented, or commented upon.

I know I’m fairly competent; sometimes good, and occasionally, I’ll capture a truly great image. That’s bound to happen if you continue to pursue a passion for a few decades.

Seems to me, that eventually a person who creates reaches a point where it’s beyond their judgement to decide just how good their creation really is. 

Revisiting old shots is a great way to give you a bit of perspective of where you stand, how much you’ve improved, and perhaps, what you can still learn from.

The above two images are from different periods time over the course of my photographic journey.

The first is from, I’d say, about 1991-2? It’s from a slide that I took, and duped to digital many years later.

I titled it ‘Flatland.’ Should have titled it ‘The Horror.’

This shot, is something that I thought was ‘passable’ at the time. (I did think it was worthy of keeping, after all!)

Where do I begin? The horizon is not straight. THE BLOODY HORIZON ISN’T EVEN STRAIGHT!!! (How do you even manage to miss that, Joe?) It’s over exposed. It’s poorly framed. The colours are horrible, the contrast, terrible…

Looking at it, I can sort of see what I was trying to do, but the execution of my ideas was less than poor. 

The scene seems to have a lot of potential. Interesting clouds; great big blue sky; incredibly flat horizon; a slowly disappearing line of old hydro lines.

I saw a semi-decent scene, thought I’d take a picture of it, and fucked it up, in every conceivable way!

I had a reasonably good camera, I was shooting on slide film, (someone MUCH better than I, convinced me that slide transparencies were far superior to film) and, apparently, I had a healthy dose of ‘beginners overconfidence.’

Hello Dunning-Kruger effect!

Ok, let’s move on to the second image.

Please! Lets.

It’s a shot I took about 6-7 years ago, of a little village on the Bay of Fundy in New Brunswick, called St. Martins.

Much better, but there’s still room for improvement.

It’s a little harsh, not only because I took it when the sun was almost directly overhead, but because I over-processed it a bit too much.

I would have liked it to be a bit wider -it seems like there’s too much, in too small a space, but, in  my defense, all I had with me that trip was my little Fuji X100, with its 35mm equivalent lens. I couldn’t have stepped further back, or I would have ended up in the ocean.

Overall, it’s nothing too spectacular; to me, it’s a reasonably well done holiday snap shot.

Two different images. Taken about twenty something years apart. Vastly different technically, and aesthetically. 

I’ve learned some things. But, perhaps more importantly, I’ve learned that there’s always plenty of room for improvement.

Digital versus analog

I think I can confidently say that I’m going to get safely into my grave without purchasing another vinyl album, another DVD, or another roll of film. 

Movies that I want to own, I have stored on a hard drive. Same with all my music. About ten years ago, I copied my collection of hundreds of CDs to hard drive. (My music, movies, and pictures are backed-up in triplicate)

I digitized all of my slides, and prints that I saved over the years, then painstakingly cleaned them up, adjusted colour balance where needed, and repaired any errors that occurred when they were duped. 

Surprisingly, there weren’t that many. Out of the hundreds, upon hundreds of rolls of slide and print film that I shot over a 10-15 year period, I only ended up with about 300-400 images. And even a lot of those aren’t much to write home about.

I’m ruthlessly brutal when it comes to self-editing. Well….  at least with photography!

I mentioned in the previous post about having done my time with darkrooms, and I can say the same about analog cameras.

I’m not going back.

I don’t care what some people say about film today; that it’s much more ‘organic’ than digital; that it somehow looks better than digital; that the cameras, and lenses were somehow more ‘real’ back then…..

No, no, and no.

It’s true that in the first ten years or so, of the existence of digital cameras, analog was, for the most part, the best way to go.

But those days are over.

Digital easily beats film in every way, and even in some ways that film can’t even compete in. (Like changing ISO from shot to shot.)

I hung in with analog for so long, that by the time I fully switched, the market was so saturated with second hand cameras and lenses, that my beloved Nikon F3 wasn’t worth much, had I even wanted to sell it. I ended up giving it away with most of my expensive lenses that I had amassed over the years. I’ve still got an old Pentax, a plastic Diana 120 film camera, and an ancient Kodak folding camera from about 1915 that sit on my mantleplace.

However, seeing younger folks running around, snapping pictures with old analog cameras doesn’t bother me a bit. Let them hand crank the film through their cameras. Let them figure out how to shoot film fully manually. Let them learn how to procure film and find decent processing labs. Let them wait for a day or two until they get the results of their efforts. Let them figure out why a lot of their shots didn’t turn out…

I did.

I’m not just being a cantankerous old man here. (Actually, I AM a cantankerous old man -and it’s getting worse as the years go by, as will become increasingly apparent as I get deeper into writing this blog. Just not in this instance!)

Using an old analog camera will eventually make you a better photographer. You have to think more about what you’re shooting. You have to take your time. You’ve got to be better at analyzing what what went wrong -when it inevitably does; you’ve got to learn what all the dials, knobs, and rings on your camera and lens do, and in a lot of cases, you’ve got to manually focus.

These are all great fundamentals to help you on your way to taking better pictures. 

So to all the younger folks out there with their second-hand retro cameras: Have at it! Have fun!

Just don’t try to tell me that it’s somehow better.

Black and White

I made a decision a couple of years ago to only shoot in B&W. 

Once I felt that digital imaging was able to properly emulate the look, and feel of monochrome images, I was all in.

Winter in Kensington Market. Nikon D700, Nikkor 24-70 f2.8

It took a while.

Seems to me that from the very beginning, just about every digital camera was offering the option to shoot in black and white, but what we were getting was really just an option to remove the colour. 

That’s not how black and white works.

In the past, images shot with black and white filters looked dull, lifeless, and flat. Contrast was weak, the supposed ‘grain’ that was introduced looked like shit, and tonality was very limited. 

What you got was B&W without the character.

Fortunately, these days, technology has reached the point where black and white photography is as good as it was pre-digital. 

A good camera, and some decent software will give you spectacular results -if you put in the effort.

But, even though it’s as good, I don’t really think it’s quite the same. (Fuji, for instance, who makes the cameras that I use these days, has an in-camera sim in their more recent cameras, that they say replicates ACROS, their famous B&W emulsion from the past. I don’t think it does though, but it sure looks good!) However, in it’s own way, it’s just as dynamic, and pleasing to the eye as ‘the old stuff’ ever was.

Occasionally, people who see some of my stuff, will mention that they used to ‘fool around in the darkroom in high school’, or used to ‘like developing pictures in their home darkroom.’

I did too. 

But not any more. I spent enough time fumbling around in the dark, tripping over things, spilling chemicals on myself, and straining my eyes. I ain’t going back. 

The above image was shot years ago -2011, on my old Nikon D700. Processed in Nik Software’s Silver Efex Pro.

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