Sunday, November 18, 2012

It's time for honesty

This is an open letter to my friend, Looki. Looki and I got the same camera at about the same time - the gorgeous Olympus PEN. Looki immediately went out and purchased digital photography magazines, signed up to blogs and fora and began shooting away. She has her own blog on which she just posts photos which document her increasing artistic prowess. In fact, she has two blogs, one dedicated just to tree photography!
I rely upon my semester of Year Eleven photography where I learned about f-stops and shutter speeds. 

Dear Looki,

Stop having fun, wherever you are – I need a heart-to-heart.

I have the sneaking suspicion that since I got the PEN, all my photos are turning out shit and I should never have gotten rid of the fixed-lens Panasonic. 
No, not quite true. 
The photos I take which I like, I like more than the best ones I used to take with the Panasonic. But, by and large, most of the happy-snaps I blast off are at least one sizzling flashbulb less (on the 1-to-5 sizzling flashbulb scale of photo quality I just made up) than the ones I used to do with the Panasonic.
The reasons for this lack in overall quality are basically:

1. Laziness – I’m not used to getting up and moving and finding the best spot. The 18x optical zoom on the Panasonic got me used to slouching in a chair and taking really nice distance shots with something it called “Telephoto Macro”. Yes, I thought that was an oxymoron too.

2. Lack of practice - The only time I'm practicing taking photos is when I'm, well, taking photos. Sounds silly, but instead of carrying my beautiful camera everywhere and keeping an eye out for good shots and practicing getting the lighting right, I just stow it until I go to a thing where I want to take good photos and then spend approximately half the time being at the event and the other half squinting into the screen, fiddling with settings and getting yelled at for taking too many photos of everything.

3. Lack of seriousness - The PEN rewards dedication and commitment. It's almost like it's got a built-in pedometer. But instead of counting steps, it just counts the amount of time you spend actually working on taking better photos. My favourite collection of photos were the ones I took when we went to Clare recently and I took big bunches of time roaming around, just getting it right.

4. Lack of light - I sound like I'm kidding, but this is one for the tech-heads. I was pondering the difference between the old Panasonic and the new PEN and wondering why the hell shots I used to take in restaurants and at parties were great on the old one and grainy on the new one. I Wikipedia'ed. The Panasonic had f2.8 and the kit lens on the PEN is f3.5. So where I'm pointing my fancy new camera at the same things and letting 'er rip in Auto mode, like I used to with the Panasonic, the PEN is freaking out and upping the ISO and dropping the shutter speed to compensate.

So, speaking of compensation, I am obviously setting out on the foolish path trodden by many an amateur photographer: I am going to buy my way out. This is probably sitting at around Step 12 of photographer Mike Johnston's 25-step photography course (brilliant and funny article - read! Laugh! Relevant!). So, there is still the bucks in PayPal from the sale of my Panasonic, which I always said I'd put back towards photography, rather than blowing it on Lego. But if I do go ahead and invest in a good low-light lens like the Panasonic 20mm f1.7 or the much newer (and considerably more expensive) Olympus 17mm f1.7, I give these undertakings: 

1. I will not be lazy. I will get off my arse and move around to take better photos. 
2. I will practice. I sense a lot of garden shots taken in the evenings. But that's working full-time for you.
3. I will be serious. Balls. Fart. Bum. Not that serious, but I will start carrying it around more. And posting regular photos. I will even try to turn off the Instagram filter occasionally.

Looki, I am extremely jealous of have been inspired by your photography (and your kickarse Nikkor). Tell me I'm not spending my way out! Absolve me of my greed and sloth! Did you go through this same soul-searching? Or did you just pony up for the new lens and start shooting?


ps. Should I get a Telephoto as well? And a tripod? And a bag?


  1. I should probably read the instructions for my Sony, but I'm much too lazy so just leave it set on auto and snap away. Most of my photos turn out okay and that's good enough for me. For now.

    1. Don't even get me started on Mum's point-and-shoot Cybershot. Best frickin photos I've ever seen.
      Maybe I should stick to this writing gig. At least I'm not SPENDING too much money...

  2. Wow, there's a lot to this post. I'm too tired to make a well structured reply (or apparently to be able to spell today), so I will reply in non-consecutive (?) dot points.
    1. Quit flattering me already. I might get a big head like Dan.
    2. I'm not quite sure I'm always having fun (*PhD*), but I do generally find photography relaxing. Except when travelling it can be a bit tiring, as we discovered the other day in Cairns after a gazillion photos of trees and blurry eyes, I couldn't even be bothered taking what was an awesome set up for a shot. And my motto is always take the shot.
    3. I think you need to relax. And stop worrying about taking great shots. I don't. At least not until I look at them later. Sure, I often think about my shots as I'm taking them, or put some effort in, sometimes struggling to capture what I had in mind. But mostly it's subconscious and that's often better. And I worry enough about other things to worry about my photos.
    I'm guessing your Pany allowed yourself to not take your photography too seriously, so you could have more fun. Probably the same thing with the filters and the Holga.
    4. I think I probably have an advantage over you in terms of subject matter: more holidays with awesome or inspiring scenery that anyone could take a good photo of, and less happy snaps so when I do take photos it's for taking photos. Although having said that, a lot of my travel photos aren't great because they're more about recording the moment or "look at that awesome thing", than photography.
    5. I have to take photos pretty much every day of trees, so if I don't keep posting photos I'm going to be faced with a lot of shit photos I don't post. I guess that's a bit of a motivation.
    6. Taking photos of trees gives me a creative constraint, but also means everywhere I go now I am looking at trees and opportunities. The reason I started the tree blog, was because I was running out of ideas for photos. My brief was 'everything' which is too broad a scope for me to handle.
    7. Macro telephoto is not an oxymoron. I've actually got some nice little close ups with my telephoto. Though not very sharp.
    8. The 3.5 aperture is not great for non-flash night photography. Having said that, even with the Nokton, I don't think many of my hand-held night photos have been great. Just passable. But it is handy for reasonably-lit party shots of people when you don't want to whitewash them. But yeah, being a manual lens I'm forced to choose all the settings which is a good thing.
    9. Loved the 25-step photography course. However, before investing any additional lenses, I made a concious decision that this system is most suitable for me (or I'm blissfully ignorant). It is lightweight (good for cycling to work, travelling which is pretty much when I take all my photos), good quality, and the lenses are relatively cheap. I think I can avoid the upgrade cycle. I'm very close to my perfect quiver, which I'm sure I'll change a little over the years, but too much stuff and I won't use it.
    I can upgrade my camera body when I'm completely sick of it (or when the 'pro' one comes out). I guess I'm lucky I started with the system for me, which happened to be a good entry level for someone who didn't even know they were going to be into photography. Before that I was on my mobile phone camera. Dan suggested trying his point and shoot, but it had neither technical proficiency nor CHARM. I think you need at least one of those.

    1. 10. Before you get any equipment, first figure out what kind of photos you like to take the most (genre, focal length). Then figure out your greatest annoyance/limitation. Check this fits with the kind of photography you want to do, and that it will actually improve it by itself. Practice with the potential focal length you might buy. 17 and 25 are supposed to be good general purpose lengths, but longer (like the 45mm or 75mm) are good too and might be good for portraits if you take more of those. Maybe take a few weeks with your goal to be taking photos at 17, 25, 45? See which one you like? Sounds like you want a good quality prime, with some bokeh. Just a matter of which focal length is best. Don't worry about size, they're all small. The smallest compromise on quality which will just be frustrating.
      11. It took me a good while of photography experimentation and reflection to realise that whilst part of me wants to be a cool street photographer, and I'll still have a go at it, it is not really my thing. Thus I don't need to focus on getting the best equipment or skills for it (which is not much really anyway). Instead I love plants, landscapes and outdoors, so I'm just going to end up taking more photos of them and enjoy it. This narrows my optimal equipment choice a bit (even though it means anything from macro to telephoto to wide angle).
      12. I think my equipment philosophy, is buy the best, starting with what is necessary for the type of photos you enjoy and want to make the most of (e.g. landscapes), and only when you find yourself hitting that wall a lot, i.e. you're constantly using the boundary of your current equipment's capabilities and you desperately want to go further, or the equipment you have is just so damn annoying to use that you don't use it. E.G.:
      13. I bought the wide angle, because I really wanted to get more of the scene in my shot. I love the look of wide angle and do a lot of landscapes, trees, and travel.
      14. With the Nokton 25 0.95, I was struggling against a low light limit (and hated flash); loved the look of bokeh and the sample shots; liked the 25mm focal length which is kind of the same as we see and can be used for landscapes, close ups, street photography but can be used for portraits too (which I do less of but is handy to have). Also being a generalist means I can use it as my default lens, a plus for me as I am often too lazy to change lenses or am on the move. Also I found an unbeatable price.
      15. The kit lens I use less, since the other two mostly replace it. The 40-150 is great for different kinds of shots, including travel, canoes and birds. But it aint a sharp prime, and I don't love it. It's mostly functional. Also, I really want longer. The birds are just too far away. That's why I have my eye on the 75-300, but the price is high so I will wait until I can get it cheaper. Or they come out with a sharper prime.
      16. My other coveted lens (maybe imminent) to complete my quiver is the 60mm macro. 60mm would be handy for portraits and random shots, but most importantly I'm loving the close ups on my Nokton and want to get even closer. Fits in with my landscape photography nicely, and $500 aint bad.
      17. But first, I got a tripod. Boring, but I saw how much sharper landscapes can be with one, and I keep having to up the ISO on a lot of my shots, or just not take a photo at all (oh, the shame) because I didn't use my old tripod cos it was cheap shit and a pain in the arse. So I bought a good one that is light so I will carry it, is enjoyable to use, and the best so I will not need to upgrade until it dies.
      18. I should probably get and learn to use a decent flash. Or even make a diffuser. But I'm not terribly motivated.
      19. To summarise, save up for the lens you really want. Then maybe a tripod, if you need it. (I have one going free that is okay as long as you don't move the camera). Get a bag if you've not enough room. Don't worry about a telephoto unless you shoot birds or portraits or sports a lot.

    2. Now you have to read all that because I am too lazy to edit. Enjoy.

    3. Oh my god you're the bestest. And, although it's long, you actually clarified a lot of what I'm thinking. But the FUN bit escaped my attention. You're right about the Panasonic being more 'fun', but it wasn't any more difficult to use (you should see my fingers on the PEN's buttons and switches). I'm just hoping that the 'low-light' issue that I've identified as being able to solve (read: buy my way out of) with a bigger aperture is a solution. The kinds of photos I like ARE low-light, portrait shoots. The Gouger Challenge has provided all kinds of photographic challenges and low-light portraiture is the name of the game.

      One thing that the kit lens HAS taught me is to stop relying on zoom for framing out a shot. With the Panasonic you could take a decent portrait from across the room, but with the PEN you actually have to get off your arse and be a bit pro-active. I don't mind that because I think candid portraits aren't as exciting to me as interactive ones. I don't know.

      The one thing I prize above equipment is portability. This basically pins me as a guy who will be wearing a khaki waist-coat with 19 pockets in about 20 years to the eternal shame of my family. But currently, I would rather avoid a photography manbag and actually walk around for my shots when I'm out rather than leaving the whole kit at home.

      And I did bring it to work today.

    4. We'll take you to the tall trees when you come over.

      Sounds like the 17/20mm could be a way to go, nice all purpose lens. Primes are fun. You will have to get closer too. The Olympus reviews are coming out, looks like it might be a bit nicer with focussing.
      45mm would be even better for portraits though and is sposed to be pretty neat. And you can get it for $329.
      But if you want to take only one lens, nothing beats a zoom. Maybe you can get one of those lens holsters?
      Keep an eye out, Black Friday is this week if you're ready to pounce.

    5. Or you could just borrow my 'excellent in low light' Canon G1X from time to time when you need it. I wouldn't mind!


An explanation of The Joy Division Litmus Test

Although it may now be lost in the mysts of thyme, the poll below is still relevant to this blog. In the winter of 2008, Mele and I went to live in Queensland. In order to survive, I bluffed my way into a job at a Coffee Club.
It was quite a reasonable place to work: the hours were regular, the staff were quite nice, it wasn't particularly taxing on my brain.
There were a few downsides: In the six weeks or so that I worked there, there was about a 90% staff turnover (contributed to by my leaving). This wasn't seen as a result of the low pay, the laughability of staff prices or the practice of not distributing tips to staff, rather it was blamed on the lack of work ethic among Bribie Island's youth.
However, one of the stranger aspects of the cultural isolation that touched our lives during our time "up there" was the fact that nobody at my work had heard of the band Joy Division.
The full explanation is available here.
But please, interact a little further and vote in my ongoing poll. The results are slowly mounting up, proving one thing: people read this blog are more well-informed about Joy Division than anyone who works at the Coffee Club on Bribie Island.

Have you heard of the band Joy Division?

Chinese food, not Chinese Internet!

Champions of Guess The Header

  • What is Guess The Header about? Let’s ask regular “Writing” reader, Shippy: "Anyway, after Franzy's stunning September, and having a crack at 'Guess The Header' for the first time - without truly knowing what I was doing mind you - I think I finally understand what 'GTH' is all about. At first I thought you needed to actually know what it was. Don't get me wrong — if you know what it is, it may help you. I now realise that it's more Franzy's way of invoking thought around an image or, more often than not, part of an image. If you dissect slightly the GTH explanatory sentence at the bottom of his blog you come up with this: “The photo is always taken by me and always connects in some way to the topic of the blog entry it heads up.” When the header is put up, the blog below it will in some obscure way have something to do with it. “Interesting comments are judged and scored arbitrarily and the process is open to corruption and bribery with all correspondence being entered into after the fact and on into eternity, ad infinitum amen.” Franzy judges it, but it's not always the GTH that describes the place perfectly that gets it. “The frequent commenters, the wits, the wags and the outright smartarses who, each entry, engage to both guess the origin and relevance of the strip of photo at the top (or “head”) of each new blog and also who leave what I deem the most interesting comment.” It generally helps if you're a complete smartarse and can twist things to mean whatever you feel they should mean - exactly the way Franzy would like things to be twisted." - Shippy Blogger and GTH point scorer.
  • Nai - 1
  • Lion Kinsman - 2
  • Will - 2
  • Brocky - 2
  • Andy Pants - 2
  • The 327th Male - 3
  • Mad Cat Lady - 3
  • Miles McClagen - 4
  • Myninjacockle - 4
  • Asheligh - 5
  • Neil - 5
  • Third Cat - 5
  • Adam Y - 6
  • Squib - 6
  • Mele - 6
  • Moifey - 7
  • Jono - 8
  • The Other, other Sam - 14
  • Kath Lockett - 15
  • Shippy - 19
  • River - 32