Sheer Joy

I got my first camera over 30 years ago… it was a Minolta X-700 35mm camera, well before the advent of personal computers, camera phones, Photoshop… and even before auto focus. It was state of the art gear at the time though, with auto exposure, aperture priority and shutter priority modes and a sync socket for professional flash units. I didn’t buy the camera to make money, only to finally have a camera that didn’t disappoint me every time I got my film back from the lab. I wanted to have clear pictures of my kids and pets for me to look at and enjoy. I got the camera to experience the sheer joy of photography.

Red Fox Napping

Red Fox Napping

It never occurred to me that I could make money with a camera until I was going through a divorce… a guy at work admonished me to be sure to keep the camera, that I could make money with it! I didn’t really think too much about it at the time but I knew that I wanted the camera anyway, so it was the one thing that didn’t go out the door with the ex along with everything else I owned 😦 But… as it turns out, child support is expensive and so was photography at the time. Buying film was pretty low on the things to do list and the camera remained unused in the bag for years, except on special occasions like trips to visit the kids and my rare trip to Phoenix with my buddies for the first annual Phoenix Marathon.

In he early 90’s, the computer business was changing rapidly and I could see the writing on the wall… there wasn’t going to be much use for mainframe operating systems analysts much longer. I wondered what I was going to do for a living if my computer career went completely south. People kept telling me that the pictures I took were better than the ones they hired someone to shoot and I recalled the words of my friend about making money with my camera. So I thought what the heck… a little research about how to go into business and I put out my shingle. A decade of senior portraits and wedding photography later I purchased my first digital camera, the Canon EOS-1D. It was awesome and without the cost of film and processing to consider I could finally consider my dream of becoming a stock photographer. Those were great times, not many photographers had made the transition to digital, prices for images were good and the internet was exploding along with the need for quality imagery. The future looked bright!

But then the price of the cameras came down, image quality at all levels improved by leaps and bounds and it wasn’t long before everyone was getting in on the action. Not long after I started submitting images I had a large enough portfolio that I could count on receiving a check every week and I was making plans for a new career. But it wasn’t long before the industry was awash in imagery, prices were crashing as big players cashed in trying to corner the market with profits on volume and razor thin margins.

Now I’m lucky to get one minuscule check in an entire month. Photographers are treated like dirt by the agencies who profit from their work, some taking as much as 85% for themselves and their stock holders while often paying the photographer just pennies for an image. Stock photography has become barely worth the effort, in fact it has become little more than an insult to the artists.

So today I almost left my camera behind, what was the point in bringing it along? But as I strode along through the woods I was glad I had it with me. I love the feel of the cold steel in my hands, the sound of the lens jumping to attention in it’s effort to quickly focus and the clack of the mirror scrambling to get out of the way in less than a thousandth of a second to make way for the light to come pouring in through the lens and onto the sensor. Today I didn’t see much, the mountains were the same, the trees the same, the lighting the same… but I was still happy to be carrying the camera. Then I spotted the distant fox sunning himself in the prairie grass. The animal was way too far away to get a salable shot but I stopped to shoot anyway, I couldn’t resist. As I shot the images I thought back to the days of my clunky manual Minolta X-700 and the joy that it brought me to just create for the sake of creation. Not that long ago I would have passed the fox by knowing that he was not going to make me any money… but now I realize, I still love photography and I still love creating for the sake of creating.

Once again, it may be time for a change in philosophy, from a mind focused on business to simply a camera focused on the sheer joy of making pictures. Mr. Fox here could be the turning point, the first sign of a new life focused on joy instead of profit.

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Photography Book

I believe this is some sort of record… 9 years to read one book. In my defense, it was lost for quite awhile, packed in a box in a storage unit. Extreme Digital Photography by Johnathan Chester. I still remember finding this book, not too long after I got my first digital camera. The book is about photography under harsh conditions such as weather, natural disasters and adventures in amazing places. I remember I was so excited, the pictures were magnificent, the stories fascinating and the information critical, or so I thought.

I started reading the book, and for reasons I can no longer recall, put it aside to put out all the fires that began cropping up in my life. Eventually we prepared for the move to the mountains by renting a storage unit and the book ended up in the aforementioned box which I then lost track of in the move. Years later I found the box and safeguarded it along with some boxes of important film and prints from the 90’s. Then of course came Tricia’s illness which allowed zero time for concentration on a book. Finally, after all these years, I am in the same place at the same time as the book with time to read it.

The book still feels good in my hands, the excitement to learn new things still smoldering and the pictures still magnificent. The information unfortunately is a bit dated. New cameras and chips are a good part of the discussion in the book, but at the time my Canon 10D was cutting edge. Two megabyte chips were out, but not all cameras could accommodate such awesome storage. Six megapixel cameras were the new standard, unless of course you were a real pro and could fork out the $7000 for the eleven megapixel pro model. Only one year earlier I had to pay $600.00 for a half a megabyte high speed chip.

Elk Herd

Elk Herd

Now of course very affordable DLSR cameras are in the twenty megapixel range. A thirty gigabyte high speed chip is only $30 or so and I just purchased a terabyte backup disk for only $40. It is breathtaking to consider how things have changed in a decade. The book recommends bringing along a film camera and one hundred rolls of film as a backup…  It might be difficult to even find one hundred rolls of film these days, who knows, I haven’t bought film in in a decade.

However, many subjects in the book are as relevant today as they were nine years ago. Electronics are still vulnerable to the elements as are our frail human bodies. Lenses still struggle in extreme temperatures as do batteries and backup equipment. The images captured by the writer are as awesome today as they were a decade ago, and I’m excited that I am finally getting the chance to read the book. Oh… one other thing… now in order to read the book I had to make a trip to the Dollar Store for some reading glasses so I could actually see the text…