Ok, so anyone who knows me had to know that at some point this blog was coming. So, here it is.
I’ve been taking photographs properly (almost obsessively) now for around six months now. So I figured it was a good time to think about where I’m at and kind of reflect on the er…story so far.
I’ve always liked taking pictures, but I’ve always only ever used my phone. I was given a 10 mega-pixel Kodak digital camera for Christmas about 10 years ago but didn’t really use it. I found it in a drawer a few days ago, and it inspired me to write this post.
As I said, I like taking photographs, but they were always of nights out, or me pulling stupid faces, or candids when my mates weren’t looking. My first camera phone was a Sagem MY-75 and it was second-hand when I got it. I’d take pictures of random things just because…well, I could. It had a two, three, or maybe a four mega-pixel camera, certainly no more than that, and a fifteen second video capacity. Fifteen seconds. Primitive by today’s standards, but back then? State of the art dahling!
Before I go on let’s hold our horses a minute. Some of you may not be familiar with the term ‘mega-pixel’, which is fine, because I’m going to explain it really quick. Ready? Here we go.
A digital image is made up of millions of tiny, microscopic coloured squares. These squares are the ‘pixels’ and are arranged into specific patterns to form the image, which our brains translate into something we recognise as a picture. It’s like a giant jig-saw puzzle. I did say this was a basic explanation!
If an image is ‘pixellated’ these squares are really obvious to see.
The term ‘mega-pixel’ (MP) means a million pixels. So, for example, if your phone has an 8MP camera, that means your phone captures images at eight million pixels and uses them to build the photograph you see on the screen. A photograph taken with a 20MP camera will be a lot clearer, sharper and more detailed than a photograph taken on a 12MP camera, simply because there are more pixels to build the image. The image will be the same size as the one out of the 12MP camera, but they’ll be packed a lot closer together.
Still confused? Ok, let’s try another analogy.
Think of a computer. A computer stores information in ‘bytes’, terabytes (TB), gigabytes (GB), and megabytes (MB). Each byte is a small piece of information amongst millions of bytes. A byte is a single unit of computer memory, so a pixel can be likened to a single unit of a whole picture. Pixels are also how screen resolution is measured, but I’m not going into Pixels Per-Inch (ppi) or whether AmoLed is better than LCD because I’m really not that bothered.
Inevitably phones got better and the cameras improved with more and more mega-pixels, which just meant I was taking higher quality images of the same crap, pint glass, take away food, my mates drunk. I carry a phone with a 14MP camera now. Not that you care.
I still wasn’t really that bothered about photography though, as a hobby or maybe even a profession. It just wasn’t something I was into. All that started to change however, in June of 2014.
I was at home flicking around on YouTube, as you do when you can’t sleep – or is it just me? Anyway, I came across a video on something called ‘Smartphone Photography.’ What the hell is ‘Smartphone Photography’??? I clicked the video and stated to watch it. By the end of it I was even more curious. I remember looking at my phone thinking ‘the camera on my phone was better than his…and he got some nice pictures there.’ After about two hours or so I’d watched two short(ish) documentaries and loads of five-minute snippet videos on this ‘Smartphone Photography.’ My interest was aroused.
So feeling inspired I downloaded the app that this lot seemed to be using. It was free, but later I discovered my phone had virtually the same software already built-in, it just looked a bit different. Nice! I took a selfie and started to edit in inside the app.
I’m not sure exactly when it happened, but it happened. I suddenly found myself wanting to take photographs. I was literally looking for things to take pictures of. My dog flees the room every time he sees my phone now, bless him.
As I was looking for better quality editing apps I discovered Photoshop (some say the pinnacle of image editing software) had an app for Android. I bought it and began to put the images of my poor, harassed dog through the wringer.
I needed to take more photographs. I had to find other things to shoot. I headed into Liverpool City Centre with my (long-suffering but ridiculously patient and supportive) girlfriend, and we wandered about all afternoon taking pictures, right up until it got dark.
And I loved it!
The pictures from that day were all processed through the Photoshop app on my tablet. I still use it, but not much anymore.
So it went on. I bought a notebook and began to make lists of places I wanted to go and take photographs. I asked people if they knew of anywhere. I shyly showed a few photographs to some trusted, honest people and their responses gave me the little bit of confidence I needed to stick my nose through this intriguing door. And it smelt good!
I began to watch tutorial videos on light, composition and editing. Suddenly I’d found videos on all kinds of different photography fields and styles. Landscape, portrait, product and macro photography. Street photography, cloudscape photography and something called ‘Bokeh” which is Japanese for ‘blur’…blur photography? What??? I soaked it all up and couldn’t stop. I scribbled page after page of notes in this little notebook I’d bought which has now become my bible, and I don’t go anywhere without it.
The last weeks of summer 2014 (which was an amazing year for me by the way) literally vanished as I sat at my computer transfixed by all of this.
My girlfriend and I were planning a trip to Rome around Christmas time. It wasn’t our original idea, but it sure beat the Isle Of Mann – not that there’s anything wrong with the Isle Of Mann.
I decided I didn’t want to be taking pictures of one of the worlds most ancient cities on a phone. I was getting serious now. I wanted a DSLR. I needed a proper camera! I found one too.
After agonising and arguing (with myself) for something like 20 minutes over a milkshake I strode across the street to the camera shop, slapped £130 on the table and got my trembling hands on my first DSLR, a Sony A300.
It didn’t have many bells and whistles but it looked like it had the basics to get me started. My child-like excitement was severely tempered when I got it home though. Looking at it on the table, all shiny and refurbished I realised that…I had NO CLUE how to work it!
I smashed through tutorial after tutorial. The controls of the camera, the best set up, lenses, triggers, lighting, flashes, soft boxes, diffusers, filters, reflectors oh good god! What had I been missing out on here?!?
I acquainted myself as much as I could with controls on the back of the camera. This was no Kodak point and Shoot. It’s a heavy, monster of a camera. I had to go and take photographs. It was the only thing to do. Off I went, alone this time.
I’d heard photographers in the videos I’d watched describe taking pictures alone as a zen-like, soothing experience. and it kind of was, I didn’t exactly become one with nature but it was relaxing, although the pictures I took were horrendous! Some were too dark, others were too light, most of them were out of focus and all of them were boring. I needed some more help. So I bought a book, and read it cover to cover.
I looked at cross-sections of cameras and learned how they actually worked. From the aperture blades to the shutter-doors, the lens cap to the pentaprism, and what the hell is a Diopter? I learned it all! Which mode was best to shoot in at what time? When did the best light occur during the day? What was hard light? Why was it hard? What was soft light? What made it soft? What was the difference? I chewed through all of this quicker, and with greater effect than I’ve ever disseminated anything. It was sticking! I could remember the tips, tricks and lessons I saw after just one run-through.
I’m sure you’ll appreciate how amazing this was for me when I tell you that I have to check my watch twice for the time, and I never know what the date is.
After I little while I was starting to see how the ‘golden triangle’ or the ‘photographers trinity’ worked and began to learn about apertures, shutter speeds and ISO numbers. I started to understand, recognise and appreciate how these three things were intricately connected, and how they all affected each other. I kept finding new things to study. F-stops, focal length, depth of field. every time I started to get a grip on one thing, I found three more things I needed to learn about.
No doubt about it now, I was well and truly hooked. I was waist-deep in photography quicksand and I was preparing to hold my breath.
I started to work on the pictures I’d taken (remember, Photoshop on my tablet?) I won’t try to hide it. I can’t. They were awful! They were shockingly bad, and you can’t make a silk purse out of a sows ear, but it was practice. I forced myself not to care about the images so I wasn’t bothered if I lost them. I didn’t have a clue what I was doing, I tried this, I had a crack at that, I give the other thing a go and whoops! image deleted. It was trial and error, and if was definitely a trail and there was a lot of error but I was starting to learn. Looking back now my first 100 or so attempts weren’t very good at all. Over-saturated, under-exposed, completely the wrong colours. They were like little mini accidents all in a row on my screen. Remember, this was all completely new to me, I’d never done this and I was trying to teach myself. My eye was getting better though. Slowly, but surely, I was getting better at it.
I’m not going to sit here and tell you I got it right first time. I didn’t. I nearly packed the whole thing in more than once. One particular evening, after I’d been out all day battling with the camera to get it to do as it was told, I came home, cold, tired and hungry – with a huge blister on my foot from all the walking I’d done – sat down, uploaded my images…and accidentally deleted the lot! I almost cried that night in anger and frustration. I think that was the closest I came to binning the camera and forgetting about the whole thing.
I kept at it though. I was determined I was going to get at least a basic understanding of how to do this no matter what, and for a few weeks everything else be damned! I didn’t want to eat, had to force myself to sleep and I hated leaving the house to go to work. I sat for hours and hours tinkering, fiddling with the settings in the Photoshop app, experimenting with every kind of alteration I could find. I was officially obsessed! The only other thing I remember making a conscious effort with during those few weeks was my relationship. Thankfully.
Then, by chance, I found a better camera. I was on now! I started using it and within a couple of days my New(ish) Nikon D3100 (yes, another entry-level one) became my primary camera. The Sony (which I do still use) was relegated to second place. I started accumulating gear after this. Lenses, flashes, tripods. I went into Liverpool City Centre for a haircut and a shave at a new gents’ barbers, and came back with a camera lens! After a while I bought a new laptop and the full Photoshop program, and a graphics tablet. I began to freak out at how complicated Lightroom seemed to be and I wasn’t getting anywhere with it.
Then I had a bit of a revelation. I realised I was trying to go too fast. I was trying to learn everything in a few months and it wasn’t going to happen. So I relaxed. I slowed right down and went back to basics. Taking photographs.
Now, when I go out to take photographs I take photographs. I try not to worry about the post-processing bit. Just get out, with the camera and capture what I see. Once I did that I found out what they were talking about in those videos. The ‘Zen’ of photography if you like.
So, with patience, practice, gritty (yes, gritty) determination and more focus (excuse the pun) than I’ve ever thrown at anything in my whole life, my photography is, hopefully, improving. Even if it’s only slightly. I’m under no illusions. I’ll probably never stop learning. I hope I don’t, because learning is half the fun right? People I’ve spoken to, people who’ve seen my work seem to like it, but then they may just be being kind. Either way I’ll be sticking with it.
The addition of a brand new editing suit, a Facebook page, this website, and hopefully a dedicated Twitter account, plus some personal projects I have planned will all, fingers crossed, spur me on to improve and learn.
It’s not often I’m gripped by a passion. If something’s too hard, or takes too long I tend to give up. Not a trait I’m proud of. Photography though, whether you like my images or not, has become an all-consuming obsession! And I’m not giving it up for anybody.
At the end of the day though, the gear doesn’t matter, it’s the photographs that count.
Ok, left a bit…chin up a little…lovely, look over there…beeeeaaaauuuuutiful!
Dave C. Bannerman