Thoughts on Photography

Me taking a picture of me

Photography has become one of my favorite hobbies (not to mention half the reason for this website), so I wanted to talk a about why I like it and my approach to photography.

Why I Like Photography

I have always considered my self to be a creative person, but until recently I haven’t thought of myself as very artistic. The distinction I always made was that creativity is being able to envision something new or interesting in your mind and artistry is the ability to turn that vision into something real. My fine motor skills have never been up to the task of drawing, painting, or other things considered traditionally art. I’ve done martial arts for many years, and though I very much do believe it is an art, I never felt artistic doing it. I never reached beyond the level of controlling my body and practicing what I had been taught. It was never my vision.

Several years ago photography started to peak my interest. I had remembered that one of the first gifts I received was an old camera and a kids book on photography. At the time, I really enjoyed reading the book (well mostly looking at the pictures, because I couldn’t read, but I digress) and playing with the camera. I decided to revisit this hobby and realized it was perfect for me. No fine motor skills needed (aside from holding the camera steady). I could actually create my vision for a picture. Plus it was an excuse to spend some time wandering outside.

My Style

I primarily do macro photography (up close shots of things that create ~1:1 scale image). I like this style for a couple of reasons. The first (and most arts-y sounding might I add) is that it lets me highlight the beauty of the things that surround us in day-to-day life. Whether it be rust on a hinge, a budding flower, or other hidden treasures in our environment, people tend to ignore things they see on a regular basis. By taking pictures of “normal” things in interesting or beautiful ways, I help show others that everyday things are truly amazing. The second (and most pragmatic-y sounding I will add) is that it’s really easy to take pictures of everyday things, because they’re everywhere (duh). I don’t need to go hiking to find a beautiful landscape shot, nor deal with other people moving around and being impatient for portraits.

My Approach

A Picture a Day

As with all things, practice makes perfect. Doing something fun or recreational can be hard for me to justify if I have no extra motivation. That’s why when I first started, I decided I would require myself to upload a photo every single day. This adds the extra pressure of making all the photos public for critique and additional motivation to not mess up the schedule. This was reasonable, as it gives me flexibility around when I have to go on a shoot, but still forces me to work it into my schedule. Of course this has helped me improve my skills, but it has also helped catalog how my abilities have changed over time.

Unfortunately, there can be a bit of time between going on shoots. In order to get myself to go out more frequently I am setting a higher bar for what I upload, so there will be less “upload-able” shots per shoot.

Opinion on Editing

For quite a long time I was against editing my pictures. I felt that it was cheating. Relying on post-production was not acceptable. The picture would be good straight from the camera or I wouldn’t share it. On the pragmatic side, this also meant I didn’t need to spend the time editing before uploading.

However, I realized at one point that there had been many pictures that were so close to being upload-able, but I was essentially throwing away, because they needed to be edited. Are my photography skills to blame if the sun glare on the screen made it hard to see or the room was too dark to properly adjust the camera settings? I didn’t think so. Not to mention most other photographers edit, so I was handicapping myself if I didn’t try a little. I came to the conclusion that editing can’t make a bad photo great, but it can make a good photo amazing.

So I’ve been editing most of my phots to varying degrees since Fall of 2017. Still no expert at it by any means. But if I can improve my photos just a little bit, then I will. At the end of the day, most people don’t care that you did or didn’t edit a picture, they just want to see something they like.

Carrying My Camera

I’ve taken the phrase “The best camera is the one you have with you” to heart. I always carry my camera with me, plus an extra lens. I don’t want to see something that would be an amazing picture and realize I can’t take it. To facilitate this I have a Peak Design Everyday Backpack that let’s me make convenient compartments to hold camera gear in addition to all my other school supplies.

My Workflow

So my current camera is a Nikon D3300. I primarily use a 35mm prime (I just love the bokeh ability of primes), with a smattering of other lenses for when I need them. Once I’m ready to store and edit photos I pop my SD card in to my Arch Linux rig and use Rapid Photo Downloader to (surprise) download the new photos and organize them by date and time. Once that’s done, I sort them into batches (i.e. all the ones I’m editing go into a folder based off the edit date). I open up Darktable and start rating photos. Once I get through them all, I delete everything rated too low and then move my favorites to their own favorites folder (I am amazing at naming things) to be edited. Once that’s done I run a few custom scripts to compress, watermark, and post-ify them. Finally I upload them to my server to be posted on the blog.

Of course, all the software I’ve mentioned is open source. There is an excellent organization dedicated to free and open source photography called pixls.us where you can find out more information about this.

Summary

Photography is an excellent hobby because it offers an artistic outlet without requiring the same skills as other traditional arts. It gives me an excuse to explore and enjoy the world around me. Not to mention easily share it with others.

Till next time,
- Matthew Booe