What should the serious amateur concern himself with?

Discussion in '35mm Cameras' started by Mike Henley, Dec 4, 2004.

  1. Mike Henley

    Mike Henley Guest

    (I'm inviting discussion/debate, not seeking personal, prescriptive
    advice. I'm also cross-posting because I think it's a general issue
    that's relevant to both. de-cross-post your reply if you wish)

    What should the serious amateur concern himself with?

    I guess a simple, individualistic answer could be to do whatever he
    pleases. But there are a few who had learned the basics, settled on a
    satisfying set of equipment, taken their happy snapshots, and are
    seeking an artistic mission (hence, the *serious* designation I pose).
    I oftentimes, unfortunately, see amateurs who seem to imitate
    professional or commercial shots, reproducing cliche after cliche,
    eventhough they're not bound by the demagoguery of the market. My
    personal opinion is that amateurs should stay clear of professional or
    commercial grounds, unless they're planning to turn professional at
    some near point in time. But, of course, each to their own. I guess
    some people get some satisfaction from thinking that their shots look
    professional or commercial, which would be understandable if it was a
    technical mastery that was the point, but disagrees with me when it
    actually is the choice of topics and treatment, as is often the case.

    One of the interesting views I've come across from some on these groups
    is of the amateur being a historical documentarian, taking images for
    posterity, particularly of a certain locale or populace that happens to
    be his, that may not otherwise be covered.

    So, after this introduction to clarify it, I pose the question again,
    and invite views; What should the serious amateur concern himself with?
    Mike Henley, Dec 4, 2004
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  2. WOW! Good question!

    But first! Let's link question with .... quest and quest means "The act
    or an instance of seeking or pursuing something; a search"

    with association: to Old Frech and Latin - to seek.

    This turns the question into a quest about a quest (with me so far?)

    And my view and answer?
    To quest or to explore is inherent within us to a greater or lesser
    degree in this case the answer is: I don't really know :)

    Prhaps the question should be rephrased to: what does the serious
    amateur hope to gain?

    Aerticulean Effort, Dec 4, 2004
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  3. Mike Henley

    bmoag Guest

    Photoshop/color management/hi quality ink jet printing.
    If you can do those things you can spend the rest of your life pondering the
    other stuff.
    bmoag, Dec 4, 2004
  4. Mike Henley

    Jeremy Guest

    I was the one that posted the epistle on freezing a moment in time. Let me
    expand a bit on that subject.

    I, too, was one of those guys who thought that he was going to become the
    next Ansel Adams. But after several years of producing what were
    essentially just snapshots that were a cut above what an Instamatic could
    do, I lost interest in photography. I concluded that I could not ever
    produce anything professional, because I did not have the time and the
    commitment to doing this type of work. Also, I realized that I didn't have
    an artistic bone in my body (bet you never heard anyone admit THAT before!)

    It's true. I am no artist and never will be.

    Then one day I fell into an entirely new genre--I submitted some photos of
    very mundane scenes to my high school alumni web site. And people all
    across the country--who had previously lived in the same home town as I
    did--began emailing me thanking me for the memories. One year later, and
    150,000 hits later, the site was quite a hit--at least it was to the many
    folks that had memories of those very ordinary places that I had recorded
    and posted on the Web for all to see.

    And that is when I realized that there were other uses for cameras rather
    than just trying to produce works of art. And my cameras took on anwhole
    new meaning for me.

    I have been taking documentary photos of all sorts of places over the past 5
    years. And I truly believe that my photos of ordinary scenes will be worth
    more over the long term than all those artsy images that appear every month
    in the photo magazines. I mean, how many "interesting angles" do we need?

    So I have developed a few principles about my style of picture-taking:

    1: I almost always use a normal lens. I want to record the objects without
    any apparent perspective distortion. When using my digicam I set the focal
    length on my zoom lens to approximately 50mm. I never zoom in or out if

    2: I use a tripod as often as possible, to maximize sharpness. I use a
    cable release or the self-timer to fire the shutter. I swear, the
    improvement in the images has been striking!

    3: I use a lens hood virtually all the time (I even have a digital camera
    that takes a lens hood).

    4: I often bracket. I want to try for the best possible exposure, because
    my photo may very well be the ONLY photo of that scene. I want to try to do
    it right.

    5: I do not try to embellish or improve the view in any way. If there is
    litter on the ground, it appears in my photograph. I won't choose a better
    angle, to get it out of the way. My goal is to shoot a very straightforward
    image--one that accurately depicts what the scene looked like. The good,
    the bad, the ugly--whatever was there.

    6: My shooting style is more oriented toward what a Large Format
    photographer would do. Lots of time spent setting up the camera, checking
    the exposure, levelling the tripod, etc. I prefer a few good images over
    hundreds of "machine gun" shots.

    7: I try to see the artistic qualities of mundane things, rather than try to
    manipulate the image to turn something that is ordinary into something
    artsy. I'm getting better at doing this. Perhaps this is my artistic vein
    after all.

    I have found that I can literally stop time with my camera. I do not know
    of any other photographer that does this sort of work, and I truly believe
    that I have developed a style of shooting that is unique to myself. The
    challenge is to train myself to look for interesting places, things, etc. in
    the ordinary, everyday places that we all see every single day. The strange
    thing is that those scenes are transitory. What we take for granted, and
    think will always be there, one day disappears.

    I am currently focusing on the many former industrial sites in Philadelphia
    that have become abandoned after the City had shifted to a service economy.
    The abandoned freight lines are still there, the signs painted on the brick
    buildings are fading, and the City is talking about clearing it all away and
    building residential developments on those former brownfields sites. I
    intend to save their images while they can still be saved. Who knows what
    value they will have in the future?

    I may yet become famous for my work--but not until long after I'm dead.
    Jeremy, Dec 4, 2004
  5. Mike Henley

    Jeremy Guest

    Here is an example of a postcard that was typical of what was being produced
    in the first 2 decades of the last century. It is one of tons of similar
    specimens being offered on eBay:


    This style of photography was a big part of my inspiration for doing
    documentary images. It was just an ordinary small-town street corner. Why
    anyone would photograph it--and would try to sell it as a postcard--is
    anyone's guess. But these images are priceless in the sense that they show
    what a particular place looked like--long after the inhabitants have passed

    There are scenes like this all across America, that are going undocumented.
    Search eBay for postcards, and you can see thousands of examples of this
    very straightforward style of photography.

    Is anyone doing this sort of work anymore? I am fascinated at seeing images
    of places that no longer exist in the form they were when the image was
    Jeremy, Dec 4, 2004
  6. Yes, I hear you...
    Right. You've found your niche. Go for it!

    There may be some theoretical matters you need to delve into. There's
    nothing special about 50 mm. Artists' drawings often tend to be equivalent
    to about 80 or 90 mm, I'm told. As for "perspective distortion," do you
    mean unnatural perspective from shooting with a wide-angle lens too close to
    the subject, or do you mean barrel and pincushion distortion? The latter
    are lens faults and the remedy is to get a better lens.
    Yes... How much attention have you been paying to shutter speed? I'll bet
    at 1/200 or faster, the tripod doesn't make a difference.

    But you're on the right track. People expect documentary pictures to be
    full of fine detail.
    Good principles (including the ones I'm not re-quoting)...
    Right - There are many things around town that I wish I had photographed.
    Old buildings with a story to tell... and one day they're gone!

    The approach I would take is: Make your work available to the public; don't
    try to impress art critics; just put it out there somehow so that if people
    like it, they can find it. The right audience will find you.

    Keep going!
    Michael A. Covington, Dec 4, 2004
  7. Mike Henley

    Ric Trexell Guest

    I agree with this idea. The book that sort of made me realize that some day
    the pictures I take that are just your average run of the mill shots is
    "Steam Steel and Stars" with the photography of O.Winston Link. If you are
    into trains and photography you will like this a lot but it is a book that
    would be interesting to just history buffs. O. Winston Link is probably as
    famous to some as Ansel Adams. Link took all the photos in this book a
    night. This is at a time when he had to have his own flashes made and
    rather large ones at that. Although at the time he was just capturing the
    last steam trains of that railroad era, he also captured a time gone by that
    we would be amazed at today. For example a man sitting at a railroad depot
    office and there isn't a computer or touch tone telephone in sight. Kids
    sitting in a big Buick watching a movie at an outdoor theater that shows a
    jet on the screen which probably was something out of the Korean war. All
    this as a steam locomotive goes by in the background. The pictures we take
    today will be looked at by people 40 years from now and they will wonder how
    we ever got by with those slow computers and cell phones that you had to
    actually push buttons to dial out. Ric in Wisconsin.
    Ric Trexell, Dec 4, 2004
  8. Excellent views J

    I think this emphasises the importance of the amateur photographer

    One who seeks to satisfy a quest that is not income generating and has
    peer merit or appreciation outwith cash flow generation

    Amateurs do it for love, professionals do it for income?

    Well put anyway

    Aerticulean Effort, Dec 4, 2004
  9. Mike Henley

    Jeremy Guest

    The O.P. hit the nail squarely on the head, when he noted that amateurs tend
    to have a sameness in their photos. I certainly was one that fit that
    description. I literally stumbled upon documentary/historical photography
    (is there a name for this type of work?)

    Admittedly, I was seeking an answer to the question of how best to exploit
    my camera equipment, and the answer appeared one day--after 30 years. Most
    amateurs, I believe, don't ask the question at all.

    What does a guy need $2500.00 worth of gear to take photos of his vacation
    to Disneyworld for?

    I have come into possession of a 60+ year old family album, with upwards of
    500 photos taken around WWII. They are posed, small, and of typical amateur
    quality, but they are incredible in that they depict my relatives (most of
    whom have passed on) in places that I would never have seen them in. Tons
    of shots of my uncle during his stint in the Navy in Hawaii, my father in
    Paris during the War, my mother, grandmother and aunts back home, and 2
    precious photos of a grandfather that died 5 years before I was born. I had
    heard much about him, but would never have been able to focus my thoughts
    upon a mental image of him had it not been for those shots.

    I wasn't born until years after WWII. Who could have thought that one day I
    would see images of my father, in military uniform, in Paris during wartime?
    (I didn't know they existed until I was 50!)

    I realize now that (for me at least) it is not about the technical quality
    of the image. Sure, I want the image to be sharp and clear with saturated
    colors, but even a poorly-made image can be precious. Especially if it is
    the only image available on that particular subject. Get images, and stop
    worrying about all the little details.

    Millions of cameras out there, owned by people that probably don't know what
    to do with them once the holidays are over. Sad.
    Jeremy, Dec 4, 2004
  10. Composition?

    - Siddhartha
    Siddhartha Jain, Dec 4, 2004
  11. Mike Henley

    TAFKAB Guest

    Ask yourself the question: what do you want from the hobby? Do you want
    artistic expression? Do you want to create a record of events or history? Do
    you want to capture action? You may just shoot for a while before figuring
    out what you want to accomplish, and you may decide that you shoot simply to
    experience the joy of producing nice images. Some peole shoot at random to
    see what the image will be, some just like using nice hardware to make
    snapshots. Fire away, and seek your own level. It's easier now, since
    digital has allowed us to expirment without financial penalty.


    TAFKAB, Dec 4, 2004
  12. Mike Henley

    Alan Browne Guest

    Others have stated "Composition" and I agree.

    As important, maybe moreso, is seeing the light and seeing how it will
    record on film. Exposing so it will record on film the way we
    envision. This is both art in the seeing and technique in the

    Entangled in the above is perspective, pattern, relationship, color
    and how they are used to communicate.

    Simplifying the image and communicating the subject effectively.

    The serious amateur should not ignore technical quality in his
    equipment, but this does not necessarily mean bankrupting himself to
    achieve it. There are many quality photographic tools that are
    affordable, both new and used.

    Finally, to improve, one should subject himself to review by showing
    his best work, entering competitions, posting on the web for comments
    (a la [SI], for example), joining a photo club and otherwise
    participating in photography with other photographers. There is a lot
    to learn, and many experience people who are too glad to help... in
    this one must develop ones own approach and style.

    Alan Browne, Dec 4, 2004
  13. Mike Henley

    Big Bill Guest

    I think the OP was asking what the composition should be of.

    For example, I enjoy old railroad locos. I don't do exhaustive
    photographic studies, but I shoot them when I find them.
    Also zoos.
    Also some local events (for example, a Cars, Planes & Other show last
    WHatever takes the amateur's fancy is fair game. He's not limited to
    what sells or what the client wants. The amateur can shoot anything,
    and as much of it as he wants (or can afford).
    If shooting local street scenes is what's wanted (and I may look into
    this myself; things change so fast), that's a valid pursuit.
    My point being: the amateur can shoot anything he wants to. It doesn't
    even have to be worthwhile, or have a point. A series of pics doesn't
    even need to be coherent. They don't even need to conform to any
    definition of "good." Being an amateur opens one up to almost the
    entire world of photography, and the amateur can take or reject any
    part of it he wishes. Even composition. :)
    Big Bill, Dec 4, 2004
  14. Mike Henley

    teflon Guest

    Any 'serious' photographer should be striving to get the most out of
    whatever equipment is at hand, and being satisfied with the results.
    teflon, Dec 4, 2004
  15. Mike Henley

    Mike Knott Guest

    You have that raw honest passion for creating images. Nothing else is

    Mike Knott, Dec 4, 2004
  16. Mike Henley

    Bob Hickey Guest

    Nothing, I don't believe "Art" is an intellectual exercise at all. I would
    say that think/talk is the fastest way there is to squash talent or vision.
    There's only so much energy building itself up for "Art", and draining it
    with arguments of LPMs or MBs or the cool colors next to warm colors lead to
    nothing but analysis paralysis. Bob Hickey
    Bob Hickey, Dec 5, 2004
  17. Mike Henley

    me Guest

    When you apply the words should and should not to art or artists you risk
    stifling creativity. Your question is valid only if you dismiss the concept
    that photography is an art form.
    me, Dec 5, 2004
  18. This really does raise some interesting questions.

    For example, why paint the roof of the Cistine chapel with anything
    other than white paint? Raw plaster (of the time) had a nice color too.

    So why go to all the trouble, expense and effort of securing the
    services of an eccentric artist?

    Then, why does it retain attraction to this day.

    By empathising with technology - the artists work will seem dated.

    By empathising with something intangible, abstract and at the same time
    tactile, physical, real and with presence, then the artists work will be

    It is (IMHO) the agelessness that is undefinable. If it could be
    defined, it would then it could be repeated.

    Musicians work with a finite number of notes with finite duration,
    Other artists work with finitely many colors on finite sized media.

    Blues musician - or even, dare I say it jazz? - work within a framework
    of beat and percussion.

    By defining the limits of the techniques we (IMHO) do not limit the
    creativity of the genre

    Thus spake Aerticeus (C) 2004
    Aerticulean Effort, Dec 5, 2004
  19. Mike Henley

    Tom Hudson Guest

    I agree completely. If you follow the rules you may get some good
    photos, but you'll never take a photo that someone else hasn't already

    I got a camera to take photos of my son growing up. I would take him out
    for walks in his push-chair, and I'd take photos while we were out (at
    the time, generally butterflies and flowers). It just turned out that
    people liked my work (it's taken a while to convince me they weren't
    just being polite - and someone commissioning 'art' for their house).
    Personally there're only 3 or 4 photos I've taken ever that I really like.
    My point is that originally I took photos for something to do while my
    son slept; later I took photos because I enjoyed it; now I take photos
    in part because I like that other people like them - it means I'm doing
    something right and might even be good at it.
    So what you should be aiming for is results that satisfy/please the
    intended audience: you, your family, your friends, historians in the
    next century. This with one major qualifier - if you feel nothing for
    the subject it'll come through in your photos and you'll be extremely
    lucky to get a good shot. Pick a subject you have some affinity to,
    something that you personally find visually interesting, then try to
    capture it on film (metaphorically at least).

    It may seem like obvious advice, but I think most people take photos of
    things because they're things you're 'supposed' to take photos of (as
    someone said).

    Actually all of this poses another significant question for me.

    Post to follow....

    Tom Hudson, Dec 7, 2004
  20. Depends on what his interests are.

    Nowadays, 'landscape' is all the rage.

    You don't see too many people photographing railroad yards or factories
    or poor neighborhoods or street bums or condemned buildings, even
    though these have much more visual interest than rocks and trees.

    Just don't copy what ANYBODY else has done. Photograph what you find at
    the sides of the road.

    Dead animals/skeletons. (Today I saw a deer that had been killed by a
    car at the side of a bridge. It was split open and rotting.)

    Road litter.

    Broken/rusted signs.

    Old churches/Stained glass.

    Factory workers getting out of work.

    Pickets on strike at the plant.

    Kids playing baseball/soccer/football.

    Abandoned industrial sites.
    You get the picture?

    uraniumcommittee, Dec 8, 2004
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