Most of the uncredited photos on this blog are mine. Things like book covers and movie posters obviously aren’t. Some were taken by Cathy, my profile shots are professional pictures by Tesa Morin, and some were taken when I handed my camera to a friend (most recently Cynthia and Tommy Elf) and said “here, shoot a few pictures while I talk.” But the vast majority are mine.
I’ve always had an interest in photography, but I never took it seriously until I started blogging. Pictures help illustrate what I’m writing about and they quite literally add color to the page. And they’re critical for getting noticed on social media. Necessity is the mother of invention and also of learning – I’ve learned to be a better photographer because I wanted better pictures for Under the Ancient Oaks.
Some time ago I wrote on Photography and the Sacred. That post explored the question of when you should take pictures of sacred sites and events and when you should keep the camera turned off. Today I’d like to talk about what I’ve learned from photography.
I’ve learned to see things as they are. I shoot a lot of Nature pictures: trees, flowers, fields, rocks, streams, animals – you name it, I’ll take a picture of it. If I’m in a new place I’m always thinking “what can I use on the blog?”
There have been many times when I’ve downloaded pictures from my camera and been disappointed: the colors don’t look right, or they’re washed out in the bright sun, or the sky looks bland. I used to think I needed a better camera. But what I’ve found is that the vast majority of the time the camera is capturing the colors exactly as they are in Nature. The colors look bland because they aren’t artificially enhanced like what you see in advertising. They aren’t “perfect” like you see on TV.
Sometimes what we’re told is “right” isn’t. Nature is beautiful just as it is.
I’ve learned to look at the whole picture. Shoot anything other than a posed shot in front of an artificial background and you’re going to have something in the way. The pictures in A Year at Stonehenge are so good in part because of the skill of photographer James O. Davies and in part because they show the stones in a variety of natural settings. But they’re also good because Davies had access to Stonehenge at times when the public wasn’t allowed in – there are no people in his photos! Cathy and I went early, but I have no pictures of the circle without other people in them.
People, other animals, trees – they get in the way of the “perfect” picture, but they’re part of the whole picture… and they have as much right to be there as you do. What else is in the whole picture that you don’t see until it gets in your way?
I’ve learned the importance of viewpoint. I used this example last year in a post titled Rewilding: Privilege and Reality. I took this picture less than 50 feet from the alligator. Pretty dangerous, right? Except here’s what you didn’t see – I took it from the safety of the boardwalk. The fact that you’re isolated from the alligators doesn’t mean they’re not dangerous.
Just like the fact that you’re isolated from fracking or from militarized police doesn’t mean they’re not dangerous either.
I don’t have Photoshop – it’s too expensive, and it’s available only as a monthly subscription. I use GIMP, which is free, and has most of the same capabilities. I’ve learned how to do basic photo editing.
Here’s a photo I took at the Mound of the Hostages at Tara in Ireland last year. When I wanted to use it on a flyer I didn’t want the gate in the picture, so I took it out. It was a fairly simple edit, but it still took a bit of work. More complicated edits can take hours of work.
We can make packaging, old consumer goods, and other trash disappear, but it’s still there. There is no “away” to throw things.
The stereotypical tourist with a camera is a stereotype for a reason – it’s easy to get caught up in taking pictures and miss out on experiencing a new place or an event. That’s something I have to be mindful of all the time. But photography has taught me a few things I might not have learned otherwise.
For camera geeks only. I’ve had several cameras over the years, as photographic technology has advanced. Right now I occasionally use Cathy’s point & shoot and sometimes I use my iPhone (which takes very good pictures if you have enough light), but my main camera is a Canon EOS Rebel T1i with the 18-55mm kit lens. I also have a 55-250mm for long shots, and an f/1.8 50mm prime I bought for low light photography. Turns out it’s too long for what I want it for, but when I have the time to set up a shot, it works beautifully. I desperately want a full frame camera with an L-series lens, but right now I have other financial priorities.