Returning to Photography

Shoes on Bench

I've always been interested in photography. As a kid, I'd take my dad's film SLR out for a spin every once in a while. I also had a bit of time in the early 1990s with another film SLR and another in the early 2000s. Now, I'm picking up a DSLR and getting back into the hobby.

On its face, photography is no more difficult than writing. If enough monkeys bang on enough typewriters for enough time, something interesting will emerge. The difficulty comes in limiting how much effort goes into producing each interesting thing.

I'm approaching photography based on how I do writing. Practice. Practice. Practice. And a bit of editing and getting feedback from others.

When I teach an introductory course in creative writing, I use Self-Editing for Fiction Writers, Second Edition: How to Edit Yourself Into Print for two reasons: most students aren't going to make a career out of writing fiction, and if they can avoid the big mistakes, they might stumble on something interesting. As with any writing workshop, I want the student to know how to put themselves in their reader's shoes when they read their own work.

Writers don't edit when writing, and don't write when editing. They are two distinct processes. Trying to edit while writing means we reject idea after idea when we should be writing them down. The result is writer's block.

Before the advent of digital photography, when we had to use film, each shot cost in film and processing. Every dozen shots required us to change film rolls. We had to remember (or write down) the camera settings for each frame so we could compare different images with different settings after developing the film. Feedback loops weren't tight enough or cheap enough to let the student shoot a lot of film and learn. Typewriters and paper are a lot cheaper.

Now that we have digital cameras with flash storage for hundreds of images without an interruption, we can afford to turn off our editor when selecting shots. Do we see something that could possibly in our wildest dreams be interesting? Go ahead and take the shot. No need to reject opportunities when it's easy to do so later at almost no expense to us.

I'm slowly learning to turn my editor off by taking my camera with me when I walk along Sligo Creek. I took a few hundred photos yesterday and have yet to find one that I like well enough to post, though a couple came close. That's okay. That's how I learn what works and what doesn't.

I'm also drawing some inspiration from music, namely études. These are compositions designed for study, though quite a few have made it into the standard concert repertoire. They are works of art that serve a didactic purpose.

Similarly, there are study ideas all over the web. None of them are necessarily art, but they push you to explore or develop particular techniques.

My current photographic étude is a series of images exploring texture and color in man-made structures. Each image will focus on a single color—red, orange, yellow, green, aqua, blue, purple, and magenta—as well as black and white. I'm learning how to see color in the environment, how to manage color in Lightroom, and how to compose images in Photoshop.

If there's a conclusion to this, it's that if we can identify techniques that we need for a particular art and can find a way to practice those techniques in a way that helps us learn from our mistakes, then we can manage to learn pretty much anything. It doesn't matter if it's writing, music performance, photography. Even computer programming and mathematics.