Monday, August 24, 2009

Photography / No More Boring Rocks

I like to play around with cameras. Yet another surprising revelation, I know. Would you also believe that I kind of like books?

I never really did much with cameras until I was in my early twenties. I don't really know why. It just wasn't my thing. Then, sometime around 1998, I picked up a nice Olympus point and shoot to take with me on my first big trip outside of Canada and the United States. I loaded up on lots of film, poured over my Lonely Planet guidebook and headed off for 9 days in Mexico City and Oaxaca.

The trip was amazing. It was the gateway drug that has kept me wandering around and around. The pictures? Uh. Um.

Let's see, it went kind of like this. I took 9 rolls of film down there and pretty much filled them. I got them developed as soon as I got back and started showing them to my parents and sisters. First up was a boring picture of old rocks. Next up was another boring picture of old rocks. With the pattern set, I continued through 9 rolls of really boring pictures. Kudos to my parents for not falling asleep halfway through.

What did I do wrong? No people. No action. No thought given to composition. No thought given to much other than a lot of thoughtless snapping. I guess I figured having a nice camera would automatically equal nice shots.

It doesn't.

So, I worked at it a bit. My next big trip was to India and Nepal and I made a point of trying to do a better job. I tried to overcome my fear of shooting people (something I still haven't cured myself of, but more on that later) and I came back with some nice shots. Sure, there were still issues but this time I took some shots I actually liked. Actually, I just found the box where I stuffed all those pics and now I'm dying to get a good scanner to digitize them.

After that, I made the move to an slr camera and took an introductory photography course. That's when I realized there was a whole lot more to this photography thing than seeing something nice and pressing a button. I'm not saying I use the rules of composition all the time, but at least I have an idea of what should be done.

As I said, I still have a bit of a problem with taking shots of people or, more specifically, taking shots of people I don't know. I was thinking about this the other day when I chanced upon WNYC radio's street photography contest ( Going through all the entries made me wish I was more comfortable taking shots of people. I love the spontaneous nature of a lot of this work. There's a vibrancy there I'd love to capture. Check out the site. All the videos are short and I think there's a lot to learn. If you only watch one, watch the winner, Joe Wigfall. His thoughts on art are pretty inspiring. If you watch a second, watch Bruce Gilden's and tell me what you think. I'm caught between being creeped out (popping a flash in people's faces just seems wrong) and a strange sense of appreciation (he is chasing his vision and doesn't seem to get beat up for it).

Anyways, watching these videos makes me want to try some candid street shots. Actually, this takes me back to the photography course I took. One of the assignments we had was to wander around downtown Toronto in the evening and take pictures of various street scenes we chanced upon. No one passed the assignment. We were all too timid and wound up doing everything possible to avoid taking pics of people, missing the whole point of the assignment. I'm thinking a do-over may be in the works.

In other camera news, I've begun to covet old soviet rangefinder cameras. I started looking at them on the lomo website ( and I'm intrigued. Almost enough to make me consider playing with film again. Almost.

(While we're talking about photography, check out to see how good photography is done. I bought a couple of prints from her at last year's Toronto Outdoor Art Exhibtion.)


Daibhin said...

Sometimes for work I have to take photos of events and it makes me nervous. I always afraid I am bothering people by taking their photos.
I hope you post some of your India and Nepal photos!

Barbara Bruederlin said...

I would love to take good photos, but mine are all horrid. I admire the hell out of people who can find that perfect shot.