Favorite photos of the year? Decade?

After a cursory, half-assed perusal through some of the thousands, upon thousands of pictures I have taken over the last decade, 
I came up with these three. Actually, I had pretty much made up my mind earlier, while lying in bed.

The first, for my favorite picture of the year, was taken on a Portobello Beach in Edinburgh -something most visitors wouldn’t normally equate with Scotland. Highlands, Scotch whisky, castles, haggis… sure. But beaches? Not so much.

However, there are miles of lovely beaches all over the country, and with my camera, and a couple of tins of lager packed into my bag, I took the time for a few leisurely strolls along a couple of them.

Typically, for that time of the year in the UK, (autumn) if it’s not already raining on your head, you’re about to be rained upon, or you have just been rained upon. The weather changes constantly. Quickly.

Makes for some dramatic light, and interesting skies though.

The second, for my picture of the decade favorite, was taken just a few minutes after I had purchased the lens used to take it.

I was walking up Yonge st. here in Toronto, firing off lots of test shots so that I could check the lens’ performance once I got home.

I was about to snap a shot of something across the street, and just as I pressed the shutter release, this amazing looking character stepped into the frame, and amazingly, the autofocus picked her out. I couldn’t have gotten this shot even if I had tried!

I consider it a self portrait, of sorts. She more or less took her own picture. I was just holding the camera!

And because I own this website, I get to make the rules -so I included a second favorite picture of the decade.

My wife, Pamela, taken a couple of years ago, posing in some stacked slabs of granite here in Toronto’s Trillium Park.

There’s a passage at the end of Anthony Bourdain’s ’A Cooks Tour,’ where, after travelling the world in search of the perfect meal, he comes to the conclusion that (I’m too lazy to look it up, and quote it verbatim) the perfect meal isn’t just about the perfect food.

It’s about having great food, in great company, in an ideal setting.

Same as photography. The above pictures aren’t necessarily award winners. That’s not the point.

They make me happy. I was happy when I took them, and I still get a little happy when I look at them.

The first, I was on holiday.

The second, I had just bought some new shit.

And the third is my wife. No explanation needed.

Happy New Year! 

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.

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