Over the weekend I entered a photo challenge titled “artificial light”. This was the first photography challenge I’ve entered and at first I was very pleased with what results I was able to present; however, the more I look at it the more I second guess some of the decisions I’ve made. This post is dedicated to that experience and what I’ve learned in the process.
My first camera was a Canon AE-1 that I bought in college many moons ago. The price tag at that time: $500.00. There is something powerful about capturing an image only from a view finder and then developing pictures in a dark room by placing sheets into a chemical bath. While I may not make it sound all that romantic, the outcome was always awe-inspiring – partly because, as the photographer, you were finally presented with the outcome of your art. I know I’m rambling, but my point was that you captured that image looking through a view finder and basically cropping, framing, angling and capturing the light content right then and there. We didn’t have photo editing software to nit-pick the imperfections out (though we could control how long we allowed the negative to expose on the sheet and also crop the image). This forced us as students to become very conscious of what we were looking at and how the camera was interpreting it.
As life continued on for me, I put my camera aside for many years – only pulling it out when I had an extra $20 to spend on film and developing said film. Then digital cameras became the go-to (and I’m not complaining; cost-wise & ease of use, I love what the digital cameras have brought to the table). Looking back at my experience with the two different technologies and joining that photo challenge opened my eyes to the fact that I’ve been treating my personal digital photo taking adventure poorly. I look at the small screen on the back of my point-and-shoot, click the button and [usually] edit my digital photo. By no means is this a bad or wrong way to go about it, but the recent challenge presented a problem if that’s the way I’ve been doing things (unless of course I’ve misinterpreted the rules of the challenge). Upload unedited, raw images straight from the camera.
The benefits of these restraints from the eyes of an amateur photographer:
You need to compose in the shot. Your whole thought process changes when you can only upload one photo, and that photo may not have any edits. I began thinking of what I could shoot that entailed ‘artificial light’. When I finally decided to do a photo shoot of a board game I set up the game and started playing by myself just to get pieces out organically. I placed this cheap drafting / table lamp I had on the table. The original idea was to get the whole lamp in the shot so you could see the neck of it angled, hopefully centered over the board game. Behind it I placed a cheap white form board that we had bought for a school project some time ago, though never used. As I playing with positioning my camera it became apparent that that shot I WANTED was not going to happen because the board was too small to get the whole image without the wall and window blinds peaking out from behind it.
You need to get creative, even if your first idea starts falling apart before it ever happens. So I had easily sunken an hour into playing this board game by myself and setting up the equipment, I wasn’t going to just pack everything back up because idea #1 was not going smoothly. As I continued to play with the composition and camera position I noticed the lamps figure produced a shadow that bounced off the backdrop board – so I tried using that instead. After that first shot I tried playing with the camera settings to achieve different effects.
With a new found enthusiasm I continued taking pictures; zoomed in and out of the subject, re-positioned the tripod, placed the camera on the table and back on the tripod again. It was actually very enjoyable. The goal was to take a picture that would not be edited in anyway other than camera settings. This forced me to rethink the way I’ve been taking pictures. I’m not saying that many digital photographers skip this step, I’m saying that I have been skipping this vital step basically since I put my Canon AE-1 in the desk drawer. If you are interested in photography and are an amateur like myself, I highly recommend entering into challenges where your file is your submission – you might find it as helpful and exciting as I did.