Do you show people what was there or what you saw?
It all came about because I joined (re-joined) a photography club. They have exhibitions and shows during the year, so I looked at the programme to see what I had that might work. The easiest picture to show is one you have already taken, so I trawled my files to see what I had and liked.
It’s an interesting exercise, but it can be a depressing one. It’s great to look again at pictures I like, to remember the circumstances of when they were taken and to get a small confirmation that I can sometimes take good snaps. The counterpoint to this is the depressing realisation that so many of them are dull or trite: I took pictures of what was there in front of me with little interpretation.
It feels the same as taking pictures of graffiti: it’s not your art. It exists in a scene and a picture of it is just a record of its existence. It’s not your creativity, it’s theirs. Using the graffiti as an element in the picture can be creative; using it as the picture is not. The same with paintings and sculpture – a record of them just shows you were there. Using them as an element of the picture shows your brain was there too.
After I got over the slump of feeling useless I realised that even though I had only captured what was in front of me, it was the basis for further interpretation. For the purists, even Ansel Adams treated the basic negative as a musical score to be interpreted in a performance. And no, I am not about to express depth of field through interpretive dance. Not with my knees. But I can take a picture and make it more like what it was I saw. I’ve done this before – I have a picture of a friend’s motor bike. It’s a basic picture of a bike. But what I saw in its location is what I turned the picture into – something more moody.
The original shot has detail in the engine and so on, but that wasn’t the point of the picture.
This is probably not news to anyone, but it has got a bit of my enthusiasm back. I hereby declare to never more show pictures I think are boring (unless there is a reason to do so). Of course, your opinion of my pictures may differ. But I’m promising myself – if I’m going to show pictures to other people I should show them what I feel or what I saw, not just what was in front of me when I pressed the button.
I was all set to go to the big photography show at the NEC, what was it – two years ago?
I hadn’t been to it for years. The last time must be six or seven years before that. But this year the date didn’t clash with anything and my mate was also free. Plus there was going to be an analogue section, and all my heroes would be there.
The last time I’d been was with the same chum. The big thing at that time was printer makers showing-off insanely large inkjet prints from rolls of paper.
Then the covid thing started and we wavered about going to what would surely be the National Virus Exchange. My mate’s health is not of the best and he is even older than me (hardly seems possible, but true). So he decided to take the sensible option and dodge the bug. I was planning to go anyway and tell him Nikon were giving away free lenses. And then it was decided for us when public life was cancelled.
Until now. I decided at the time to keep my ticket for a future event. A month or so ago an email arrived asking if I wanted to go to the newly-arranged show. We rebooked, and the boys (true for small values of boy) are back in town!
To be honest though, the show is more about an outing with my mate than any kind of gear-hunt. We’ve had fun before looking for the most expensive camera or most useless gadget. I wonder what the big thing will be this year – probably video.
The planning for this show is going to take some thinking. Do I take a camera? My first thought is obviously, yes. But would it just be virtue signalling? (Let’s not go all dark academia here) Do I have a genuine reason or am I going to swan about with a camera over my shoulder so that people don’t mistake me for an amateur? Actually, I don’t own anything that could be mistaken for good, let alone professional. So, no showing off.
Film camera? Why? At best I will be taking snaps. I want speed, zoom and automation and I will want to post this the week after the show, so it has to be digital.
My mate of course doesn’t suffer from this existential angst. He packed away his medium format film gear the moment he got dig’ed up. (He still needs to sell it to me for 50p, but there’s time yet). But he was after new stuff and hoping that the show will let him play with options or do him a deal. So we’re off to see the wizard, with me playing bad cop when anyone quotes a price.
Next question: do I take my business cards? An easy yes – they have my contact details on. What about my Fup Duck tee shirt? (Yes, there is such a thing). Why not? I could do with a second reader. And some Fup Duck stickers too, if only to put them over Nikon or Canon logos. Actually, that would be playing the arse – I’ll take them in case anyone asks about the tee shirt.
The proper logistics are fun though. My pal lives 30 miles away, which on wiggly roads takes an hour. He’s coming to me and dropping off his thirsty motor. From me to the NEC is two hours for nearly four times the distance, even with my driving. I’ve barely had to put fuel in my car since 2019 so this will be a shock to it.
As we are still in the time of Covid, the entry tickets are timed. Being blokes we ended up with slightly different times. So I’m in first, meaning I get the coffees in. I’ll tell him I got the last of the free lenses too.
The show was smaller than in the past, so we actually went in together. Talking to someone on one of the stands he said that there was more room between the stands, which was good, but he’d been told that there was to be no selling off the stand. There was plenty of that going on elsewhere, but that was fine. My pal was looking to try and hopefully buy around £1,000 of camera, but nobody had one of this type. He took a shine to a time-lapse camera instead, but this was the stand that was following the rules. Nay probs – he’ll be hitting t’interweb when he gets home.
My delight was the analogue sector / stand / area. And I got to briefly meet some heroes. Hamish Gill was punting the Pixl-latr, Steve Dowling had some prints from the new Agent Shadow film – very nice, even pushed. Graeme of Sunny 16 had brought some caramel shortbread made by his partner Sinead. Paul McKay of Analogue Wonderland was dashing about in a dashing manner and speaking to an audience. They don’t know me from a bar of soap of course, but I listen to them on podcasts so it’s like I know them.
And I bought some Pyro developer from Zone Imaging Labs. Ooh, and Tetenal are back from the dead – or as the guy on the stand explained to this grinning and congratulatory fool, it was a financial restructuring. Turns out he’s one of the new owners, so I’m told. Anyway, they have restructured themselves back to life and will soon release their developer pills in the UK. Incidentally, the Pinsta stand is selling a version of the Afghan Box Camera, which is poignant.
My other delight was all the prints on display. The stands and show may have been the methods, but this was the results. It’s always interesting to look at other people’s pictures. It got me thinking that I really need to print more. A good print is by far the best way to appreciate a picture.
What did I learn from all this? That it’s the people that count. You can admire all the lenses you like, but the fun was in talking to people on the stands. The pictures too – it’s the results that count, not how you got there.
What did I not need? Any form of camera more than my phone or any business cards or stickers.
We did run a count of people wearing cameras. I got 14. But so what? I had two in my bag. There was also an action area where there were opportunities to take pictures of people juggling balls or riding bicycles, so why not bring a camera? Same if you are buying a lens – why not bring the camera you want to use it on? I should stop being snarky and just enjoy what we all do.
And the idea of using my little economical car went a bit skew on the way back when we got caught in a traffic jam, in the sun, with no working air conditioning.
So yes, the boys were glad to be back in town. Let’s see what next year brings.
I got into a real rut during the covid lockdown and isolation and just about stopped taking pictures. I had packed a lot of my gear away to do some house decorating and didn’t feel like taking it out again. My scuba diving was on hold and although I was taking lots of country walks, landscapes are really not my thing.
Lethargy is a terrible feeling – you are blocked from doing something, then you lose interest in it. Work didn’t help – working from home turns out to be more intensive and less enjoyable than working in the presence of other people. What I needed was a kick up the aperture.
So I have joined a photography club. Or rather, a camera club. It seems that it was called a photography club when it was formed but changed its name. Perhaps I’m making something of nothing, but I do hope the emphasis is on photography and not cameras.
I know I have been critical of club culture in the past, but this was a way to change what I was (not) doing and challenge myself with something different. It was also a reason to get out of the house. And to unpack the camera kit, too.
The first thing to look at, of course, is the programme of speakers. Double drat that I missed someone talking about underwater photography, but he’s coming back to talk about sports photography. Beats still life.
What could I contribute? Well, I did run a learning session on PhotoShop at the previous place and I do have my cookbook for obtaining certain effects, so that might have some value. And after writing that I remembered that I also write a blog (duh!). Not that I can preen, but it shows that I put at least a little effort into my photography.
The first good news was that my local library, where I saw that the club actually existed, had an exhibition of their work. All pictures of animals (although aren’t I supposed to call it wildlife?). Pretty good. They also had a small box of leaflets with little posting box. The leaflets were a few questions asking the reader what aspects of their photography they were struggling with or wanted to improve, with space for contact details. Even better. This looked like a group that were helpful and inclusive. Not like the attitude you often see online where anyone who knows less than the respondent (troll) must be stupid. Or even worse, female. (You know what, guys? You can also use your finger to press the shutter button).
Oops! Deep breath. Put down the troll-hammer. These look like nice people.
So the first meeting was judging the entries to a club competition. And being the plague years, it was done online. This is actually way better than the club judgings I have been in before. Everyone can see the picture, for a start, plus everyone can hear the judge’s comments. And there is no muttering from the back of the room. I’m sure there is plenty of muttering, but it’s on the chat channel and not out loud.
The subject of the competition was minimalism, and as we know, I do like a bit of that.
And straying off the subject, as I do, it got me thinking about how you judge a picture. The obvious subjective judgement is how it makes you feel. I’m not talking about cute pictures of kittens here, but what emotions does the picture create? The good ones will have you running around with your hair on fire, the other stuff makes you shrug.
That doesn’t help in a competition though, when you are supposed to use objective and repeatable criteria. And, like all good standards, there are several to choose from.
The Guild of Photographers lists 12 items. A club may have its own scoring. How about some criteria that survived the scrutiny of Mensa? Or something quite specific to macro work?
It looks like all of them broadly agree on what is good and bad. Or perhaps compliant and not. What would be interesting would be to score some of the great photographs against these schemes. Or perhaps not, because what makes a picture great is my simple rule 1: how does it make you feel? This leaves no way of comparing one against another, which is what the competition is supposed to do.
So I’ll leave it as it is. A club is a social thing and we run little competitions as much to get feedback and appreciation as anything else. And I am very happy with that.
But, do I enter pictures that I think have impact, even if they are technically poor? Or do I enter my technically best pictures? Or do I enter the stuff I’m experiment with to get some feedback? Do I put photos in to impress the judges and get points, or do I show the pictures I like most?
To be true to myself I think I am going to show the pictures that I like and I would be happy to show other people. It’s as simple as that.
I love being an amateur photographer. I am not a professional – I don’t need to make enough (or any) money from my pictures to live on. I don’t need to do marketing or sales. I especially don’t have to do accountancy.
I don’t need likes, which is probably just as well. I am not an influencer and I don’t need reader traffic to generate income. Out of curiosity, visits to shops was called footfall (when we used to go to shops). What do you call visits to your Instagram – eyefall?
I don’t even need to please other people. That makes it sound like I’m some weird Onan the Cameraman, but I do this thing because I want to and I like the results. Actually, that still fits the Onan label, but bear with me…
My wife, who is clever and learned, tells me about internal and external locus of control. In this context, are you driven by internal standards or external targets? That of course led down the rabbit hole – if you could take anything you liked from a shop without paying and nobody would ever know, would you? Would you still be good if nobody was looking and would never know?
So what has philosophy and ethics got to do with photography? Quite a lot, though it’s not really the point of this piece. Perhaps another time…
What it all means in this context is who your pictures are for. I’ve taken pictures at the request of other people and those people are the measure of my success, where that means they are pleased with the results. But the amateur stuff, the pictures I take most of the time, are taken to please me. I am my audience and my critic.
It’s taken a while to get here. Over the years I have taken pictures just for the pleasure in taking them. I always wanted to take good pictures, but I was happy to snap everything that came along. By good, I mean good to me: results I liked. What it took a long time to realise is what subjects I really liked. That let me relax and stop fretting about the things I didn’t like and focus on what I did. For example, cars are boring, but details of cars or cars doing things? Much more interesting. People are always interesting, but people doing things are fascinating. Or there is the odd and the weird that sometimes turns up in juxtapositions or looking with a alien eye. This sort of stuff I love. Which is the meaning of amateur.
Nobody tells me what pictures to take or how they should look. Nobody judges my pictures (well, of course they do, but in their head). Comparison is the thief of joy (as someone said), but I’m not asking to be compared.
It all sounds very self-congratulatory though, doesn’t it? Like humble-bragging. It’s not meant to be and I’m sorry if it sounds like it. What I am is happy that I like taking pictures that please me, and they don’t have to be for anyone else. It’s a great freedom and I intend to stop worrying and enjoy it for what it is (satisfying, difficult, engaging) and worry even less about what it isn’t (successful, famous, etc). I will cover my walls with pictures that make me happy.
I’ve done a thing I never thought I’d do, and bought an SLR that is not compatible with my Pentax kit.
Up until now all my SLRs could share the pool of lenses. This new one stands alone.
Why was my head turned? A cheap and interesting lens. It was the beginner’s kit lens at the time this camera came out in the late 70s, and probably since. It’s 55mm focal length and f2.2. So far, so modest, but I heard it could give interesting results. It has four elements in four groups and the online wizards say it’s a Zeiss Unar design. This is the ancestor of the Tessar, the difference being that the air-gapped pair of rear elements in the Unar are cemented together in the Tessar. So you could say it’s not as good but cheaper to build than a Tessar.
I had a bit of fun (true for small values of fun) a while ago comparing bokeh and rendering between different types of 50mm lenses. What I hadn’t got at the time (or since) was a five element lens. I didn’t even know there was a design with four. But now I do.
It was on eBay as an Adaptall-2 fitting, which was great. It turned out to be Fuji bayonet with an Adaptall-labelled rear cap. No matter – the lens was very cheap and a bit of searching found a very cheap Fujica STX-1 body to fit it to. Even together the pair fell inside the Sunny 16 cheap shots challenge rules. We like cheap when we are experimenting.
The lens is certainly cheap. It has a plastic body and a five blade aperture. The camera is cheap too – it was Fuji’s entry model in the late 70s and early 80s. It’s totally mechanical, with a top shutter speed of 1/750. Mine has a dent on the corner and the crank is missing from the film rewind. But it works. It’s also the early version of this camera with a meter needle rather than LEDs, so it’s pre 1982, making it around 40 years old. But the meter works, so hurrah for cheap old cameras. Even so, who cares? It’s the lens I’m interested in.
So what does the father of Tessar look like? (I was going to call it John Durbeyfield, but that’s just too obscure). Quite hard to focus in dim light, but that’s more to do with the camera’s screen than the lens. It feels very plasticy – focusing it or changing the aperture feels like bits of plastic sliding on each other rather than brass or aluminium. It doesn’t rattle like some old lenses though, so that’s a bonus. Closest focus is 0.6m which isn’t bad. Some people have raved about its bubble bokeh, but I’ve seen so many adverts claiming that anything from a telescope to a microscope is a bokeh monster that I don’t really believe them.
As I’m not sure about the camera’s light seals I shot it first with the tail end of a part-used film. No light leaks apparent, so all seems well.
For the camera buffs it’s a basic SLR and works just like they all do. The shutter speed range and the one in use are visible at the left of the viewfinder with the meter needle on the right. A half-press on the shutter button switches on the meter. There is a lock for the shutter release so it’s safe to leave the shutter cocked. This is a cheap and basic camera that would (and still does) do the job. The only real drawback, then as now, is that you are largely confined to Fuji lenses. The flange distance was less than M42, so there was an adapter available at the time that could get you access to a wider range of screw-mount lenses. Whether the adapter is still available I don’t know, and I have no wish to use this camera with my M42 lenses – this is to mount the mighty Unar.
So how did it handle? Like a film SLR. All the usual controls in the usual places. A little limited in bright conditions by the low top speed, a little limited in dim conditions by the small maximum aperture and a dim focusing screen. And the lens? At the usual range of distances and apertures, just like any other standard lens. I’m not going to point it at a resolution chart or even a wall – what’s the point?
These are the first shots out of the camera. First test of course is to recreate the bokeh shots I did, but using Wilson’s fruity friend.
Nice and smooth with a hint of double image in the white bench.
The possibility of a bit of swirly in the background.
Again, nice and smooth. A bit of double image or outline in the strand of plant, which mean it may well do the fabled bubble bokeh.
Still, for what it cost this is fun. Fun enough that I used it for the Casual Photophile Challenge.
PS – the Classic Lenses Podcast then did an episode on this lens. Looks like mine is a good one for not being cracked.