The same coworker I read with is also a film major. As a result, he’s both fond of and knowledgeable of cameras, and after work today we convened, found a bench several blocks west on Spruce, and he began teaching me the preliminaries. He’d brought a beautiful Nikon with an 18-55mm lens for me to use, one he shares with a friend. I’ve been dying to learn more of the technical elements of photography and practice on a high resolution camera for as long as I can remember — my budget has constrained me to point-and-shoots, and while they’re impressive for what they are, there isn’t the same manual level of technique involved, or ability to capture the minutest details.
Since it was my first lesson, we mostly kept to adjusting the f-stop feature and focus. Both were decently new for me, though, and gave me plenty to experiment with for a first shoot. By the third minute I was seeing in a new way — highly sensitive to tricks of the light, the way it reflects off surfaces like glass and water and brings more images into sight, the way it can overtake one side of a scene and leave the other untouched. Adjusting the focus, I began to make mundane things the centerpiece of the scene, or maybe let something in the background take the stage.
We talked about the way photography forces you to think differently — it’s a slower, more deliberate, more creative, calmer way of seeing the world. The manual setting gives you more control and more decisions to make, which I worried might be taxing but was in fact more relaxing and intuitive. The more decisions you have to make, the slower and more creative you become.
I could have walked around for several hours, and would have, had the battery not died after the first couple. I took enough pictures to notice a pattern in my (newly born) technique and the things that pique my interest. Apart from interesting reflections and tricks of the light, I found myself oddly drawn to trash, cast aside. Spills, discarded coffee cups on ledges. I also find humor much more obvious if I’m paying attention to the images around me: faces in inanimate objects, ironic signs or symbols. Some of this I knew about myself, but using a more advanced camera allowed me to explore it more fully.
Of all the images, far fewer than a third were worth saving or commenting on, but I did get a few good ones. Nothing to write home about, but compared to past photos, I feel like I’ve learned something and progressed a bit.
Mostly I was struck by developing a sense of awareness. I rarely look at things; usually I just look through them, caught in a looping pattern of generally negative or anxious thoughts, which is neither productive nor creative. The camera quieted these thoughts. It made me want to capture things that actually exist, right in front of me. This general theme isn’t a revelation really (how many times have people driven home some version of this point?), but it did surprise me today, and remind me how restorative the process of making art can be.
It also reminded me how damn badly I want one of those cameras.