The Big, Free Light in the Sky

I mentioned I’ve been walking a lot, and taking my camera with me, but I can’t recall writing about why it is that I’ve taken fully 90 percent of my photographs outside.

In a word: light.

Since photography is nothing more or less than capturing light, pretty much everything you do with a camera is down to the number and qualities of the photons around you. And if you’re both a beginning photographer and poor, you’ll quickly discover that the cheapest and more readily-available source of good lighting is the Day Star hovering in the sky.

I live my life by the weather, now.

My phone says it’s going to be bleak and rainy? That’s a writing and desk day. Butt in the chair, crank out or clean up words on the screen, and keep the coffee brewing.

When the forecast says partly cloudy and 70 degrees, though? That’s when I steal an hour or two and head into the great, big studio we call “outdoors.”

Because, unfortunately, that’s really the only way I can manage to shoot anything and not have it look like desaturated ass.

The light in my home is truly abysmal, with windows in all the wrong places, and far too few lamps to do anything about it. About my best hope to get a good photo indoors is to wait until after dark, set up in my kitchen, and do long exposure light painting with a flashlight.

That’s…less than ideal.

Don’t get me wrong, I like going outside to shoot. It’d just be nice if it was more an option as opposed to a requirement.

There’s hope, yet, though. It looks like next month I’ll be able to start building up a decent lighting kit that I can set up and break down with relative ease. I’ll be starting with a one-light setup, but I’m picking my lights and accessories (like stands and batteries) with the plan to expanding it to a three-point system and beyond.

With any luck–and a lot of saving my pennies–I’ll have a passable studio set up by the time winter hits and my desire to go outside hits its annual low.

Processing Photos Never Ends

I’m finally, almost caught up on my photo edits. Six hours spent in Lightroom and Photoshop this weekend took me up to my most recent shoot, and those shouldn’t take too long to get through.

Tagging, selecting, cropping, color correction, tweaks…I think I finally have a workflow that works, but I still know so little about all of this that I’m sure it’ll need to be adjusted.

So. Many. Hours.

If I didn’t know better, I’d blame my backlog and seemingly-slow pace on the fact that I’ve only just started taking photography seriously. I do know better, though. By which I mean, I’ve listened to and read the complaints of so many others photographers with this exact same problem that it’s pretty much just something I need to accept.

It’s a universal symptom–if you’re a photographer, you always have a pile of pictures to process.

And the pile never gets any smaller.

What’s more, it never really takes any less time to get through it, because as you get better at spotting and making improvements, you make more of them. Yeah, maybe after a few hundred photos you’ll be able to crop and correct your white balance in record time, but now you’ll be tweaking the contrast, and oh! Now you notice your saturation is a little off. And ah ha! You finally figured out what your histogram means by “highlight clipping” and why it’s bad.

It never ends.

Never.

That’s why I’m mostly leaving the edits for literal “rainy days,” and trying to set aside Thursday afternoons to take up the slack when I need to.

I figure if I’m only about 500 photos behind, I’ll consider it a victory.

Too Many Interests

At the risk of sounding like a broken record, I’ve really gotta pare down my interests and learn to focus.

For the most part, I’ve been managing to stick to my guns and keep doing the things that need doing: the novel’s getting written, and it’s been a while since I’ve let a weekday go by without posting something here. I’d call that progress.

But oh man, the rest of my time has just been shot to hell by one distracting, tangential pursuit or another.

Photography? I don’t know if it’s fair to call that a distraction anymore. I’m enjoying it, seem to be a little good at it, and I’ve been sticking with it consistently enough to feel like I’m building up my skills. That said, I have no idea what I want photography to turn into.

Is it something I want to do for fun?

Is it something I think I can make money at?

Having gone forty years without even thinking about visual art of any sort, the idea of pursuing one seriously is so alien to me that I can’t wrap my head around it. So, I haven’t really bothered to try. I’m just doing it, and worrying about what it’s going to be later.

Then there’s poetry.

I’ve been meaning to write a proper post about this interest for a while, but it’s probably not happening anytime soon. Suffice it to say, I started digging into poetry a few months ago—its methods, its classics—and enjoyed the experience enough to try my hand at it. And while I can’t say I have much skill at versification, I can say that I like it.

Unfortunately, I’ve neither been reading nor writing poetry with nearly enough consistency to get much of anything out of it. I maybe spend an hour, broken up, every other week on it, which means it’s little more than a depressing distraction.

A distraction, because I’ll have nothing to show for the effort. And depressing because doing any makes me feel like I should be doing more.

Finally, there’s the newest distraction: film making.

Look, Ma! It’s a still from a movie I inexplicably spent half an afternoon making!

Holy hell, where did this come from?

My DSLR camera actually takes decent video, and there are quite a few guides on how to go about doing just that. So, in the spirit of trying to learn the various features of my camera, I decided to shoot a few test videos in my house.

Just to know how, you see? Nothing more.

Two days and five hours of Adobe Premiere later, and I’m looking at a reasonably-creepy, 56-second scene and writing notes about a short film it inspired.

What’s wrong with me?

Whatever it is, it’s getting old. I have things I need and want to do, and while they’re getting done, fighting all the distractions is leaving me exhausted at the end of the day.

And not the good kind of exhausted, like you get after a great workout. It’s the bad kind, like you just spent twenty hours running from a horde of zombies and know you’ll have to do it again the next day.

Whatever.

I’ll just write this on the list of things to speak to my therapist about.

Look Where Others Don’t

The photo I shared here yesterday is one of my favorites, and while I haven’t commented much on those I’ve posted before, I can’t help but talk about this one.

My daughter and I were walking around downtown Keene, when I ducked into an alley and shot this as she muttered: “There he goes again.”

love alleys.

They’re full of interesting things, and what’s more, no one ever seems to notice just how wonderful they are.

Out on the street?

Nine out of ten times, what you see out front has been hand-crafted. Windows washed, sidewalks swept, brickwork scrubbed—gotta keep it clean for the tourists.

And while I don’t mean to sound derisive or elitist, I find scenes like that boring as hell. There’s no energy or interest to be found in a well-kept facade.

But out back, down the alley? No one bothers to pull the weeds, paint the drain pipe, or wash the lone window overlooking the dumpster.

And that’s the good stuff.

That’s where you see the real rhythm of a place—employees on a smoke break, the stray cat nosing a forgotten sandwich, a beam of light illuminating unkempt vines that have been challenging the brick for decades.

I love absolutely everything about the picture above.

The lines of the poles, that patch of light on the wall, the pallet. The vines, the wires, that tire track—everything. Not a single thing in this photo looks out of place to me, and not one bit of it was planned out or made beautiful for the public.

It just is beautiful.

Wherein I’ve Started To Take Pictures

A couple updates ago, I mentioned that I’ve been a bit busy, and not just with that science-fiction novel I keep vague-blogging about. Things like what, you ask?

Things like photography.

Broken Carbon
Broken Carbon – A self-important self-portrait.

I’ve had a good DSLR camera for more than a year now, but haven’t done a thing with it. I really only bought the damn thing as an excuse to get out more during the summer—the theory being that the allure of snapping wildlife photos would make me more inclined to leave my house—but that working about as well as expected, so the camera’s sat on a shelf this whole time.

Fast forward to a couple of weeks ago, when I decided that owning an expensive camera, and not knowing anything about photography, was kind of like owning an expensive guitar, but not knowing how to play even one song by the Ramones.

(I came to this realization partly because I’ve been learning more about art and art history lately, but that’s a topic for another post.)

So, I started doing some research. Skimming the camera’s manual, watching a couple of YouTube videos on the basics of photography, reading some blog posts filled with made-up words like “f-stop” and “histogram.” All the things one does to pick up a new skill in this our digital age.

The result? Well, I can’t speak for what you might think of the self-portrait above, but I’m happy with it—and the handful of the couple hundred other photos I’ve shot since finally using this camera as something more than a bookend.

And holy hell, this is sort of fun!

Even considering how often I get absolutely lost in the maze of ISOs, apertures, shutter speeds, focal lengths, and the seemingly bottomless rabbit hole of concepts and numbers I’m still only slightly convinced I know anything about. Learning how to compose a semi-decent shot, learning how light works, learning which sorts of subjects I’m interested in—it’s all kind of awesome.

That last one’s especially thrilling for me, since I’ve only ever really considered photography from the more “journalistic” side, rather than the “creative” side. That is, I’ve always looked at photography as a way to record reality as it is. It doesn’t have to be about presenting what’s there in all its literal glory, and instead can be about pretty much whatever the hell you want.

You don’t have to take a photograph—you can make one.

That’s probably obvious to people who aren’t me, and who actually learned to appreciate the visual arts before age forty, but you know what? Better late than never.