Well here it is, my first blog post! Very exciting! Let me introduce myself. I’m Russ Williams and I came to photography late. I’m in my mid 40’s (nearly!) and have always enjoyed taking pictures without really knowing it. It wasn’t until I got a smart phone with a half decent camera and some apps that allowed me to be creative that I realised just how much. So I bought myself a camera and thought I would instantly become a photographer. That was four years ago…..
When I first started I didn’t really know what I wanted to photograph, all I knew was that I loved being out, happily snapping away. What I didn’t love was coming home, loading the pictures into Photoshop or Lightroom and realising that I didn’t really have a picture worth keeping. At first I didn’t really understand it, it should be easy right? I paid a lot of money for this camera, I should be getting at least some good shots. In truth, I probably had a 1 in 50 hit rate. For every 50 shots, I would probably have 1 good one. Although this was more by accident than design!
It took me a long time to realise that I wasn’t getting good photographs because I didn’t understand what photography was. I understood the camera, I taught myself how to expose for the conditions, and I understood depth of field and how to focus. These are the easy bits to learn, because they are solid and locked down. turns out though, they are only tools to help you achieve the desired result. Opportunity, composition and patience are actually the harder things to learn because these are abstract and not really something you can teach.
So I started out with Landscape photography, I had a really cheap tripod, a kit lens and access to a bit of countryside. Landscape should be easy, I thought, its just taking pictures of big pretty things that don’t move. It doesn’t carry any extra costs other than equipment and travel and virtually all of the countryside is pretty and picturesque. Wrong on all counts!
That’s when I had my first revelation. The countryside is really difficult to photograph! Pretty doesn’t mean photogenic. What I didn’t know back when I was starting out is that it isn’t the countryside that makes a great picture, it’s the choices that the photographer makes, that makes a great picture. The way the shadows and dark areas give depth, the way the light plays across the scene. How lines moving through the frame bring the viewer in, how the focal length of the lens, wide and open or long and compressed, give the pictures either room to breathe or to fill the frame with tight closed drama. What I was managing to catch was flat and dull. There was no life to the pictures, nothing to draw a viewer in, no contrast between the light and the dark, no depth. The sky was always too bright, or the land was always too dark. The focus wasn’t consistent through the frame, so maybe I didn’t know how to manage the camera after all! That’s when I took a breath and thought ‘well there’s more to this than meets the eye!’ pardon the pun.
So then I tried street photography. Again, I’d go out for a long walk and just snap away at things that I thought looked interesting. A doorway here, a church spire there, and again I’d come home and there would nothing of any real interest for me to get excited about. Street isn’t at all about any of the things that I just mentioned in landscape photography. Revelation number two, Street is about people. Its about how people interact with each other and with the environment, little one frame stories. Its about spotting where a story might happen and getting ready to press the shutter button at the exact moment that the story happens. Cartier-Bressons defining moment. I didn’t really understand it until last weekend, when I spotted a busker with two girls just a little further up the street watching him. I tried to get a good shot of the two elements in this story, but just couldn’t get anything, so I thought I’d try to get something different. I moved. I went and stood behind one of the girls. Not too close, I didn’t need to be part of the scene as I had a long lens attached, and then it happened. The busker finished his song. The girl who had been largely indifferent to the busker started to applaud, the busker looked right at her with a big smile and as I was stood behind the girl I got the story. At that point, at that exact moment I understood what street photography was about. Unlike landscape photography, getting the settings in the camera are secondary. They should be broadly right but It was the moment that mattered.
Anyway, enough of this rambling. To answer my original question, am I photographer?, I suppose the answer is, I’m on the way to being one. I now know what I don’t know. I love the challenge. I love trying to translate the amazing landscape in front of me into a photograph that will make people hover over the next picture button before moving on.. I really enjoy getting out and about and spotting little stories. I am more of a photographer now than I was all that time ago with my smart phone. I like the control that I have now, how the camera is a tool that allows me to create the images I want, rather than the software doing the work. Don’t get me wrong, there are some really good iphoneographers out there, but to me that is documenting rather than creating. And I like to create. I also like taking pictures of Bands. More on that another time though!
So ‘till next time!