the Proto Photographer

Amateur photography and the risk of being found out

Amateur Photography

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[photo credit:Aaron Kaffen @ http://www.protophotographer.com]

Taking photographs in public, especially photographs of people, and even more-so as an amateur, lends itself to a certain amount of doubt and introspection. 

First, you find yourself asking, “What if they see me?”   This question is especially worrisome as someone without any claim to the title of Professional Photographer, as, then, you’d at least have a reasonable answer.  Who would question your intent if you said, “I’m working on a piece for the Times” or “Part of my dissertation is to capture moments of true humanity”? 

Short of that, you’re just a creepy person with a camera who, by their estimation, has no right on earth to invade their privacy in this manner. 

Second, you start questioning what you’re doing there in the first place.  You didn’t set out that day to capture these people.  You don’t get paid for it.  Your human subjects simply boil down to an exercise in framing or composition or stealthiness. 

Before you know it, you’ve simultaneously experienced buyer’s remorse for every piece of probably-more-than-you-need camera equipment you’ve ever bought and start wondering if everyone around you knows that you’re a fraud who tries to make up for woefully lacking artistic integrity with an encyclopedic knowledge of Nikon camera bodies dating back to the early 60’s.  Of course they do.

Finally, you wonder if you ought to take another shot, and that’s when you see, in the periphery, a couple holding each other.  Like a Schrödinger experiment, the embrace is simultaneously and indiscernibly passionate and benign, happy and sad. 

The framing lines in your viewfinder become crosshairs.  The enraged crowd in the distance sounds like a perfect counterpoint.  So they’re worked into frame. The brick flooring beneath the couple dissolves into a negative space filled contrast and providence. 

Nobody notices the shutter.

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If someone asks you if you’re a photographer … you say YES!

Amateur Photography

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[photo credit: Aaron Kaffen @ http://www.protophotographer.com]

Once enough of your friends have seen you lugging around your five pounds of camera equipment and watched you crouch artfully to get a most interesting picture of a most uninteresting thing, you’re bound to be asked by at least one of them if you’d be willing to take pictures of something for them. A “job”, if you will.

They’ll do this because, lacking any knowledge of photography, they assume that your D90 is a magic black box that craps out pretty pictures, and that your crouching pose is a practiced stance handed down from photographer to photographer for generations. This is, of course, completely untrue. But they hardly need to know.

You’ll have a moment of hesitation, after being asked to take on this “job”, when you consider that you’ve never done anything like what your friend has asked of you. Let it pass and just say “yes”.

This is your chance to experiment. These projects allow you to practice getting shots that you have to be able to get. They give you an excuse to rent equipment that you could never justify getting otherwise, and that you, quite frankly, have no idea how to use properly. They put you in a position to take yourself seriously and hold yourself to a higher standard.

And it’s okay when the pictures you take for your friend fall pathetically short of that standard, because any friend who would mistake you for a photographer is bound to mistake your work for photography.

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Shoot from the hip … aim for the head

Technique

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[photo credit: Aaron Kaffen @ http://www.protophotographer.com]

Photography is filled with happy accidents. Even the most wizened of professionals, when reviewing their work, surely find elements that they never even noticed in-frame, but that add the kind of beauty that only comes when practice meets providence.

The trick is to find the balance between control and surrender that’s appropriate for the situation.

When shooting in-studio, the expectation is that the elements of the room are in your control. Even your model, alive or still, is relying on you for guidance, shape and purpose.

But now you’re in a dark bar. The colors on the walls are vibrant, but what lighting there is comes by way of TVs, string lights and a few 60-watt bulbs hanging from the ceiling. Your options are limited so you set your aperture small and your shutter-speed to ten seconds. The camera is set down on the top of the booth, pointing in the direction of the bar, and the shutter is released by the timer. You’ve done all that you know to do, given the circumstances.

These situations require accident to step in. The universe has to take control of all of the elements you can’t. Maybe it can get someone to stay still enough to be in focus. But probably not. Ten seconds is a very long time.

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