Tuesday, February 10, 2015

A matter of focus

It's taken me years to learn how to take pictures. I've had a professional-grade camera since 1971 and worked as a darkroom technician for several years at the local weekly newspaper.

I could tell a good picture when I saw one, but taking one was another matter entirely. I spent hours looking at my contact sheets. For those of you unfamiliar with the term contact sheet, it's a photograph made by placing several strips of negatives across a sheet of photographic paper. The exposed contact sheet is an 8x10 with rows of tiny black and white pictures that you have to view with a special viewing glass. These were used before digital photography made review photographs instant.

Even though I knew the elements of good photography - composure, depth of field, light, and shadow, taking good pictures was still hit and miss for me. I knew how to compose and how to manipulate shutter speed and aperture to get the exposure I wanted,  but my pictures often seemed to be missing something. 

I've spend countless darkroom hours gently rocking a tray of foul-smelling chemicals under a dim amber safelight. Some would think those hours wasted, but I learned a great deal about what doesn't work.

It was Jilda who pointed out that you could have a photograph doesn't have to be technically perfect to be good. 

I silently scoffed at her notion at first, until she picked up a Vogue magazine and began flipping through. She started pointing out photographs of models and asking if the photographs were perfect. With my technical hat on, I looked at the pictures. Many of them were little off center, and for some, the exposure seemed a little dark for my taste, but the models looked sensational. 

Rethinking my approach to photography seemed like the right thing to do. Gradually, I began to pay more attention to the subject. I changed my focus, so to speak.

I'm still a long way from being as good, but my percentages have improved over time, I follow several bloggers who take outstanding photographs Hillary over at The Smitten Image comes to mind, but there are many others.

Photography is like writing, playing guitar, dancing, or golf. The more you study and practice, the better you get.

It's good to understand that the road is long.


  1. I thought photography was just taking a lot of pictures and some would come out good. Following photo bloggers has taught me how much of a talent it actually does take. And yes, Hillary is a very good example of that talent.

  2. I have actually decided that I am going to take a beginners photography class in the Spring... I would like to know the basics as I don't have a clue how to take a decent picture... :)

  3. My Father was a photographer and I benefited from so much he taught me. I live in a family who all love to work at taking pictures. I have been going through pictures my Dad took from the 1920's through the 1980's and am framing some to display. I wonder about all the digital images we are taking now, though. So many of them are back in files that may never be seen again....

  4. Most of us point and shoot. I am sure there are many talented folks who have 'learned' a trade, and there are those famous guys who 'IT APPEARS' just point and shoot, but seeing the pointing and shooting does not show the brain work that is going on 'automatically' due to study and practice.
    I worked with Navy Photomates in the intelligence end of the USN. They and their dark rooms with the light on and strange smells, always intimidated me. (smile)

  5. The only thing I worry about when I take a photograph is "Is it crowded with distracting clutter, is it taken at a good angle or height in relation to the subject, is it good lighting and what is my photograph supposed to be for. I like my photograph to convey a feeling of being there.

    Mind you, I don't know anything about photography but I know what I like and that's about it.
    Years ago taking photographs was quite an exercise unlike now with all the latest technology.


  6. You totally surprised me, Rick. Thank you for that. I was reading and nodding along with you.. agreeing that I don't really know what I'm doing either but somewhere along the way I figured out what Jilda pointed out to you. I still can't say that I know what I'm doing but I enjoy it immensely. Thank you so much for the very kind shout out. You've made my day.

  7. I envy people who take good pictures. I want to change everything so much that it's just easier to paint.

  8. Anonymous12:20 PM

    I think you have to have a photographer's eye, which you DO--I ALWAYS enjoy your photos!!

  9. How wise of you to listen and take the advise of someone you respect. The blue sky is almost blinding. Nice picture.

  10. I do think you have to have an artist's eye when it comes to photography. I enjoy taking pics and certainly wish I could be better. I'm thinking of taking a class this spring to see if there is any hope for me! Hillary always blows my mind with her photos...she's amazing! I think the pics I've seen here are pretty darn good too! I like this one!

  11. There's a lot of information floating out there; it's good to know someone who has a handle on it. Have a great day, Rick!

  12. I love seeing other peoples photos, I do not take a good photo I always look horrible in them and if I take a photo of someone else it is a game of hit and miss

  13. i love hilary's photos and her blog! :) i have so little photography skill but enjoy seeing others' talents in blogland.

    as for comments, i wish gmail would at least put the AOL and Yahoo comments into spam so i could find them there. they just reject them completely. at least they still publish on the blog.

  14. All your pictures are great to look at in my opinion.

  15. My photography is something I work on all the time! I have books and have taken courses through Craftsy. I became acquainted with Craftsy through running their ads on my site. They have good classes that have helped.


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