Boys and girls, pressure is a wonderful thing. Capable of making one feel “alive” if one chooses to feel alive. I should know because I feel as though I am under a few cubic miles of pressure. As those who've viewed my photographs on this site might have noticed but were too polite to mention aloud... I suck. I'm going to lay 50% of the blame on my inexperience and lack of skill. I'm going to lay the other 50% on my camera. It's got a “1/2.3-inch sensor”. It wasn't easy but I figured out that this unusual measure is roughly .4348”, a smidge under 7/16-inch or 1.104cm. Please don't ask how I came to that figure, just know that for this posting I spared no effort.
I truly think I've got just enough of “the eye” to do alright at photography. I'm still very green and I've still got miles and miles to go before I'll have learned the full skill. However, I'm not at all confident in my little Fuji. It's an okay piece, I suppose, as point & shoot cameras go. It'd do nicely for taking pictures of the nose miners for grandma in Coral Gables. It'd do nicely for taking pictures of a car or house you were about to put up for sale. Heck, it'd do nicely for a lot of things.
For serious photography that would be hopefully the source of an income in the future? It's like traveling into battle against Alexander the Great and his whole army...with a slingshot and a handful of stale breadcrumbs. Small sensor, handcuffed controls, big shutter lag, and an ISO function which produces tremendous noise on any setting but 64 (and 64 is pretty noisy too!)... That's not exactly a tool for high-performance photography. I don't know as much about photography but I understand cars. Using my little Fuji S1800 as a camera I intend to use seriously... It's like using a 1990 Chevrolet Lumina as a drag car. It'll serve nicely up to a certain level but beyond that point it's worthless. Can't compete, can't be souped up any hotter. It's not competitive beyond a certain level. I feel like my little 1800 is in the same sad boat. It's a good little shooter for what it is, but it's no high-speed/low-drag tool. It's got two aperture stops. It's got a tolerably capable shutter but with the handcuffed ISO... anything 'faster' than a 100 ISO is going to result in noise that's ugly and hard to cope with in post. I've yet to figure out a filter that works well to knock down anything more severe than the mildest noise and at ISO 100 the noise is worse than mild. At 800? It's not something I'm ready to tolerate because it's another strike I don't need. Weakish composition, poor lighting decisions, and less-than-interesting subjects are enough handicaps for me to overcome, but those are things I can overcome.
I cannot compete in the modern market, even with photos taken In the golden hours with strong composition of the most intriguing subjects, if my camera won't translate what I am seeing onto the memory card. When the element that compelled me to stop and take a shot isn't translated cleanly to the memory card, we've got problems. Those are problems I cannot overcome.
I can and will learn to take a compelling photograph. Not just for the “commercial” market, but as an artistic expression. I've been hearing a lot of BS about how“the camera doesn't matter, composition is king” and while I understand the thought process, I do not entirely agree. You must have top-quality compelling shots, you must have shots that make people stop and look. However, if you're capturing top-quality with a point & shoot made more for the soccer mom who wants gam-gam to see the nose miners, you suffer. I've had 20 photographs rejected by a stock photo agency. Yes, it's just 20, but I seriously believe that those same 20 photos would have made it deeper into the process if the exact same scene had been captured with a better quality camera.
Being brutally honest and looking at the reasons those images were rejected, 18 had unacceptable noise which I agree with. 11 of those had weak focus which I agree with. 10 of those had post-processing errors (*), 3 had poor composition.
(*): I admit, I'm learning both how to take good pictures and edit them. That's, as I'm learning, two totally different endeavors. How I handle the photo after it's in the program does matter. So, I'll take full blame for 13 of 20 being rejected. I chose the composition, I chose the editing practices. That's me.
When an image is shot at ISO64 and is still too noisy... Who “owns” that blame? When the autofocus doesn't offer crisp focus and there is no manual focus option, who is to blame? On every shot, I had what appeared to be a focus lock on the subject, my viewfinder indicator was yellow, not red. I did my job. The camera didn't do it's job. More accurately, it did it's job but it did it at the level of a 6 year old $229 point & shoot. The level of a 6 year old $229 point & shoot isn't high enough to do what I crave to do.
Am I blaming the camera? Yeah, and I know it's a “poor carpenter who blames his tools.” When I have no control over focus and I do everything I'm supposed to do that should guarantee a perfect focus lock, and I get a partially blurred subject... I'm inclined to be a “poor carpenter.” When I play the shot out using the settings that are appropriate in the environment and the output is substandard, I blame the tools. When I get a substandard result from the “best” settings in manual mode and in automode on the same subject a few seconds apart, I'm left to believe that I am not entirely responsible for the flawed output.
For the past 6 years I've been playing guitar a lot. Back in '10 I bought a $49 (ugly dark blue) Rogue-brand acoustic guitar off Amazon and learned the basics. At the same time I bought some light gauge strings and wore them out and the next eleven sets with them. I became okay. The kind of music I'd been listening to wasn't well suited to the acoustic style so I finally decided to step up to the ranks of the electric guitar and started shopping. I decided if I was going to buy one electric, I needed to buy a good electric. My ol' Rogue Acoustic was pretty good but since money was infrequent and sparse I decided I didn't want to be buying guitar after guitar. I'd shop around, do my homework, and find the right guitar for the kind of music I liked that had enough flexibility to do what I wanted. In the end I put down $399 on an Epiphone ES339.
Those licks I'd mastered to 90% on the acoustic? I was playing them at 100% accuracy and speed with the light and low action of the Epi on day one. Chord changes were easier and techniques I “didn't have the touch for” were suddenly much easier with a more sophisticated guitar. In the grand scheme I figured out what had happened: I'd gotten the Rogue and it did exactly what it was designed to do, it got me hooked. It allowed me to play a few licks that sounded good, it let me learn the ropes, and it let me feel the limitations it possessed. It let me plonk down $49 and find out if I really wanted to play guitar. The whole idea could've been a passing fad with me and within a week the piece would have gone to the storage shed, never to return. The Rogue got my wheels turning and let me find out if pickin' guitar was something I was willing to commit to as a hobby.
This so closely mirrors the road I've gone down with my Fuji that I realize that the Fuji has done the same thing. It gave me just enough functionality to let me see this passion I have. To make me look forward to loading the photos onto my laptop, to feel that anticipation to see if that shot I've been thinking about since I pulled the shutter actually came out as good as I hoped it would. To make me want to shoot more to achieve that great shot. To make me want to do this. Everything I look at now, I look at and can't help but ask what settings I'd use. (Not the hardest task, the Fuji doesn't have a lot of options beyond shutter and ISO, and ISO is kind of “set and forget”.)
When I got my Rogue acoustic I obsessed with it and became skilled thanks to my obsession. I'd spend every available waking minute I could studying scales, chords, rhythms, and learning to make the guitar an extension of my hands. The obsession leveled off when I found my place within guitar and got into a “zone” that worked for me. Since 2012 I've occasionally (and secretly, as my mother doesn't think it proper to play guitar in a beer joint) played with a local band as lead and rhythm guitarist in bars and I've played for a cut of the tip jar.
The obsession? It's identical to the one I now feel about photography. Today was an off-day so I didn't have any big obligations. I spent the lion's-share of the day studying photography, reading up, learning, packing my brain with knowledge. That's basically the same thing I've been doing for the last month or so: using 99% of my free time to become an ardent student of the art and skill.
I'll need it. At the start of this post I mentioned pressure. I have plenty and I feel it because I've done something. I've ordered the camera equivalent of a Gibson Les Paul. Big chunka money to be paid monthly for a camera, two lenses, a few other goodies and it's all on the way. The tracking info says it'll be here on the 6[SUP]th[/SUP]. I strongly suspect this will be the longest six days ever, because... I'm screwed if I can't cut it. If I'm wrong, I'll have a pretty big monthly bill coming in for quite a while and nothing to show for it. If I'm the biggest reason my shots weren't good enough, then it's going to be an intensely bad situation for me. I made the decision, just like with guitars, to buy one camera that will last me a while and I've done my homework. I've got a camera coming that's got the capability with the longer lens of making a mockingbird fill the frame at the distance I'm seeing them at regularly.
I'd had my eye on a Nikon D3000. Something about this one caught my eye and I chose it instead. This mirrors something that happened with the guitar thing. I'd eyeballed a much “better” guitar that was cheaper and when it came time to plunk down some money I bought the more expensive piece. Same here, though not by much. It's a Canon EOS Rebel SL1 with an 18-55mm lens, a 75-300mm lens, and a few other stocking stuffers that'll come in handy. With this lens and bundle group with the D3000, I'm not entirely sure the resulting package wouldn't have cost a bit more than the Canon package. I also get more megapixels and a few extra things to go with it. In side-by-side comparisons, the Nikon loses on all fronts but one: it's a little cheaper. The problem with that is that it's not as much money but it's also not as much camera. In a shoulder/shoulder drag race, Canon is ahead by several lengths.The Nikon D3300 beats the pants off the Rebel, but the place I got the Rebel from had one listed for $200 more with a similar package (200mm lens). I think I got the better deal, plus I couldn't get the D3300 without having to put up some initial cash and I had/have very little of that stuff. The Canon may not be National Geography quality, but I'm not there either. If I turn out to be I sincerely hope any success I have can fund the next big buy. If that happens I'm thrilled. If not, I'll find my place in the world and make it work for me. Creativity is versatile.
Now the pressure rests on my shoulders. When it gets here, the ball is in my court. It's on me to justify this debt I've signed on for and I can only do so by taking good shots and doing my job. I despise the way I feel because I really didn't need any more stress on my plate, but... it was important enough for me to buy, so it's important enough to go through with.
Mentally, I'm pushing myself into an interesting place. I...I kinda feel like a rookie professional rifle shooter in many ways. There are many parallels between photography and shooting and I'm noticing them all. It takes steadiness, calmness, coolness. You've got to be fast enough to get the shot off, but slow enough to make that shot count. If you rush it, you miss it. You've got to know what you're doing and learn the limits of the tool in your hands. You've got to be able to adjust your “aim” (in a camera it's the aperture, shutter, etc.) for the target. A good shot is a good shot, a bad shot is a bad shot, and while you cannot live by luck alone you'll never see anybody passing up a lucky shot if they can make one. They even call taking pictures “shooting”... Plus, for every one pro shooter making a living with a rifle, there are ten thousand who see it as a "someday dream".
With a gun I'm comfortable because I know I'm a pretty good shot. I can hit what I'm aiming at and I can sometimes hit shots that some might miss. I'm not good enough to go pro but I haven't committed myself to going pro. I've figured out that to make a good shot with my camera, the breathing pattern is almost identical to shooting a gun. At the “bottom” of a breath there's a natural pause that makes the upper body still for a moment and if you time your shot for that split second between heartbeats you'll hit good with both a gun and a camera.
I do find it intriguing. I have quite a bit of experience in shooting guns and I see many parallels between the two, and I bought a camera that's name sounds like a gun.Hopefully-with a following wind, fair weather, and more than a little luck-I might be able to shoot people, animals, and a whole lot of other things for fun.... and profit. I intend to fully use that line if I become a success.
“So, what hobbies interest you?”
“Me? Oh, I just enjoy shooting animals, people, children, and many other things with my Canon. It's great fun, and some have made a lot of money doing it. Photography can be quite lucrative if you're good at it.”
All that's left? I gotta get good at it. I'm ready to get busy on that front. Stress or no stress, pressure or no pressure, easy or dead simple, I'm as ready as I'll ever get to embark on this journey before me. I've got just enough skill that I think I have a chance and just enough bravado to survive a few hard knocks along the way. Come on Big Brown Truck, I'm waitin' on ya!