Around this time last year, whilst I was still on vaguely speaking terms with all familial units, I used some chicanery and creative monetary organisation to purchase a digital SLR camera. My reasons for doing this were as short-term-focused as many of the other reasons I do things, but I like to take pictures. Going through a large collection of pictures that I have taken and picking out the best of the lot is a joy for me. Especially when an unexpected and pleasant result is found.
And up until a month or so ago, I was very enthusiastic about taking photographs with this camera. How much so can be seen in the fact that during the last twelve months, I have taken more than 13,200 still images of everything from abandoned shopping trolleys to wandering ducks. Even if one fails to account for the fact that the majority of the images in question were taken during the first eight months, that works out to an average of about 1,100 pictures a month. And mind you, that is just the stills that I have kept, not the ones that I loaded into my computer’s photo-organisation software, looked at, and decided were not salvageable for whatever reason (usually being too dark or out of focus). Nor does that figure include the ones that I took, looked at later on the camera’s monitor, and decided to scrap right there and then. But during the last couple of months, I would be surprised if I have taken even a full memory card’s worth of shots.
This is what I mean with the title I have assigned to this writing, stating that enthusiasm can be like mania. Mania needs the right kind of stimuli to keep it going, just like arousal or anger. And whilst it is still very fun to go to the local park that can be reached with a half-hour walk from my current residence and take photos of the ducks, well, it is like this. On my photo-containing external hard drive, there is a folder Raws / Duck Photos. Duck photos in turn has numerous folders under that, dividing the photos by the group in which they were shot. There is a total of 72.77 actual gigabytes, that is, 72,757,510,463 bytes, or 4,046 “items” in Raws / Duck Photos. Whilst I am sure there are plenty of things ducks can do that I would like to get a still image of, and I regret that I deleted one image where I released the shutter at just the right moment as a duck was urinating, I think that unless these criteria are met, 4,046 images is more than enough. Which means that there are not a whole lot of subjects readily available that I really feel an overwhelming desire to get photos of. When you have one picture of suburban areas you are not that keen on, you have them all. And do not get me started on the people. Yes, Queenslander, I have a high-medium specced camera. No, that does not mean I find you even remotely interesting enough to get a shot with you in it, except by accident. In fact, I will show a few examples of photos of random Queenslanders I did find interesting enough to press down the shutter release on and take actual images of, as opposed to using as a subject to calibrate the automatic focus. Yes, I use automatic focus a lot of the time. Eat me if you think that makes me any less of a photographer.
This shot is one of the kind that I do not get to take very often. You see, as malleable and direction-accepting as Humans can be, getting them to do something in front of a camera that is genuinely interesting, picturesque, or even not boring, is surprisingly difficult. Do people in random situations do things that are worth getting an image of? Sure, probably more often than they think. But getting the camera pointed at them at the right time to properly capture that interesting thing is a bit of a lottery, especially if one is taking the pictures clandestinely or on the spur of the moment. Although a lot of planning goes into professional photos, a sizeable majority of the photos that one sees on today’s brave new world Internet have about as much planning behind them as many of today’s cities. And their content tends to reflect that.
The photo above is an example, however, of what a person has to be in order for me to bother with releasing that shutter. Namely, interesting. I do not know anything about any of the subjects in this shot. I would have liked to get both the old lady and the individuals on the rug in focus, but that would have entailed an exposure time that was unacceptably long for two reasons. One, subjects who are unaware move so freely that they all would have come out blurred anyway. Two, the longer the exposure time, the steadier the camera needs to be during the entire exposure, so without the tripod I did not have, shooting with a longer exposure would have been a useless exercise anyway. But the point here is that the gentleman in this shot looks as if he might have an interesting story or two to tell. That is what separates a subject who wants to get in front of the camera and annoying yell to look at them from a subject who is otherwise about as interesting as a colonoscopy.
Then there are images like this one. A good, dynamic shot of another photographer is nice. A good, dynamic shot of a photographer taking a picture of their subject can make for an interesting image. One type of shot that I would like to get more of is myself taking a photo of them at the exact same time that they take a photo of me. But that is one for another time. The point here is that the people who appear in this shot not only looked interesting (already an unusual thing in Queensland), they also appeared to be doing and thinking interesting things.
Truthfully, when I left one part of Queensland (a “rural” shithouse that should be bombed back into the stone age) for another (a “suburb” that would have met the same description twenty-five years ago), I thought I was escaping the dearth of interesting things. I thought I was escaping a lot of things, to be quite honest, including a basic culture that treated people who were autistic but grown-up enough to see over the counter at a bar as if they were unpeople. Being able to take photographs like this without drawing idiotic and often quite frankly more often than not unsettling attention (seriously, Australians further out of Sydney than Parramatta or Blacktown seem to think personal space is a videogame) is something that I will be forever grateful for, forever and ever, in an urban or suburban environment. Amen.
So I guess the question now, other than why I can never seem to get anything productive done, is what I am going to do in future in terms of the photographs I take and how. I think that we can safely conclude that the enthusiasm and rapid-fire photography of the local park and its wildlife is definitely not happening for now. I do know for a fact that when I do find myself back in any part of Sydney (and that is when, not if), I will be going from location to location around that city, taking pictures of anything and everything. I probably have some photos lying around somewhere, more than likely in the purview of my parental units, that show places like Parramatta, Guildford, Merrylands, and more inner areas of Sydney in all of their glory years ago. One thing I would like to do is take photographs of Parramatta and its surrounds as they are now, and put the resulting images in comparison frames next to photographs from twenty years ago. I miss the place, but I also feel a certain sense of being better for having left it for a while and learning to appreciate what I remember about it.
Do I still enjoy taking pictures? Oh, absolutely. And when I learn something that changes my approach to attempting different things, that brings me a certain joy that cannot be easily described. For instance, the revelation that I could get the depth of field or focus that I wanted whilst using the macro lens by increasing the length of the exposure made me think, in a chuckling fashion after the fact, about why I am such an idiot that I did not honestly think of that before. Things like that leave me puzzled about how certain folk equate slow learning with poor learning. Granted, there are some things that can draw understandable frustration when it takes a person time to learn them. But everyone has their own way of learning, and whilst it does not take me long to learn something well when the right method is invoked, it does seem to take an inordinately long time for would-be teachers to figure out that the manner in which they are trying to teach me might not be the optimal one in my case.
Take the immediately above shot, for example. Long have I known that there is an interesting relationship between the vertical position of the camera relative to its subject and how large that subject appears. Take a look at the photo above. Resolution and scaling down notwithstanding, it gives the impression that the man in the photo is pretty large and to be taken seriously, yes? So it would probably come as a surprise to someone who does not know me from Adam and is only seeing me through the full-scale version of this picture (which is about eight times larger) that the subject is only about five feet, eight inches, and a fraction tall. That is the power that simply lowering or raising the camera can have over subject-perception.
Truthfully, I have never learned anything quite so well as when I do it entirely on my own initiative. This is why the school system of the 1980s and early 1990s proved to be such an abject failure with me. Because instead of learning things by example or practical application, the school system I speak of expected me to just listen to whomever they decided was a sufficient authority figure and take whatever they said as read. Even when that person was leaving out vital pieces of background, or even foreground, information that might have anchored me more firmly into the subject. As Mister Miyagi (the late, great Pat Morita) said during The Karate Kid. There is no such thing as a bad student, only a bad teacher.
The manner in which I have learned to properly use, or at least get decent results from, the macro lens reflects this simple fact. For months, I was simply trying to aim and shoot with the lens, using the camera with the settings mostly automatic. Needless to say, this did not work very well on most occasions, especially when the ability to keep more than a small dot in the centre of the frame in focus was required. But then I started investigating things like shutter speed, exposure times, and other such fun parts of the process. The result of that can be seen in the above photo. I forget how long the exposure time was, but I painstakingly set this shot up and kept my hand in the “pose” you see in the frame for at least a couple of seconds. That might not sound like much, but when your upper arm is prone to violent spasming when you are trying to grip things, it is a bit more challenging at random times.
That stuff on the end of the cotton bud stick you see in the photo, by the way, well… let me put it like this. After coming home from a trip to the McDonald’s near my place of residence, and finishing off the cup of diet Coke that I had brought home from there, I found something in the bottom of said cup. That is the thing on the end of the sick. I am unsure how it got in the cup. For all that I know to the contrary, or about the matter in general, it could have been in the cup, seen by the Queenslander who served me, and promptly shrugged at then dismissed. In fact, given the quality of service that typifies Queensland, that would not surprise me in the least.
As to what that thing is, I can only guess. Given that I drank a whole cup full of diet Coke with that in it and suffered no ill effects that I can think of, I am not going to lose any sleep over it. I have certainly seen (or bitten into) far more disturbing things in food products that have been put in front of me. But yeah, it is certainly quite disconcerting when you finish off a large cup and look into the bottom, finding that in there.