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Confessions of an amateur photographer Victor Vivaudou

HumanityScape Publishing 1

Confessions of an amateur photographer: Or How I stopped worrying and learned to love my photographs. By

Victor Vivaudou Copyright: 2009


Contents introduction what about me the big deception equipment the basics art editing the good the bad the ugly the print mattes and frames portfolios the hunt the business file under “boring legal stuff� places I’ve been to photo assignments epilogue



introduction It has been my experience that many serious amateur photographers don't like many of their own images. Yes, there are some images that we are extremely proud of and may go to great lengths to display them for others to view. However, we are our own harshest critic. We forget that what we see in an image may be entirely different from what another person sees in them. We may see flaws in an image that might actually improve it or the flaws are not nearly as important as we think they are. We spend thousands of (insert your currency here) in cameras, lenses, lighting and other equipment. Frequently trying to convince ourselves that the money spent is justified because we won't miss that next great shot or it will increase our "keepers". And this does not include the money spent on classes, seminars and trips to exotic locations in an effort to capture the perfect shot. We are addicts, addicted to photographic perfection. But like any “pie in the sky” goal, we are chasing the unattainable. That does not discourage us from trying. Sisyphus could have been an amateur photographer instead of pushing a rock up a hill. Partly, this is an account of my personal journey to accepting my artistic limitations and technical flaws and just having a good time being a photographer. It is also meant help others get past their own personal hang-ups regarding their work and enjoy the hobby more by letting them know it is ok to shot, print and display photos that may not good enough for National Geographic magazine. An additional goal is give some advice to hobbyists so they may shoot better photos and enjoy doing it. This is not an instruction guide, nor are there any deep insights on making the reader the next Ansel Adams. There are plenty of books and websites devoted to that. Also, it is an emotionally cathartic way to get past some of my own anxieties about showing my work to others. Perhaps, it is just the semihumorous ramblings of a guy who likes to take photos and learned to stop being neurotic about it. If you find the text boring, just look at the pictures. That’s what most people do anyway. 5

what about me It is the intention of most photographers new to the hobby to take good photographs. Long ago, I wanted my photos to be as good as the postcards I’d see on vacation. It took me many years to achieve that. Eventually, I turned away from that goal and started developing my own style. My family used to wonder why I rarely took pictures of them. Well I don’t really like photos where the word “cheese” may be involved. I usually find landscape, candid, texture and nature photos more interesting to take and enjoyable to look at. I find them more artistic than the people photos that I take. That is not to say that photos of people are not artistic, I just don’t like mine. I was afraid to show anything that was not "print worthy". By print worthy, I mean large prints suitable for framing or publishing. When someone would say: "Oh, you’re a photographer, can I see some pictures?" Unless I was ready with a portfolio of my finest shots, usually I would find some excuse for not dragging them out. If they were insistent enough with something like: "Don't be silly, I’m sure you take great pictures." That usually didn't help and only made me think about all the bad shots I’ve taken. I want to say right now that I am not referring to snapshots. The pictures taken at the family reunion or of kids playing in the backyard and certainly any shots taken at a party are snapshots. And of course, pretty much any picture where the word "cheese" is uttered. “What do you mean snapshots are not art?” You might be thinking, and rightly so, who am I to decide that snapshots are not art? Well, me. As far as I’m concerned, those photos are to preserve memories and moments for the people involved. Are they photography as art? Probably not. Perhaps, I’m a snob, but with rare exception, snapshots are not art. Photography is an art form. “Well artsy-fartsy, smartypants what is art then?” You


might be asking. To me, art is the creation of something of beauty or the interpretation of life or nature with the intention of making it beautiful or evoking an emotion. Now I know that I just hit a hornet nest with a stick, but I don’t care. That’s my opinion and I’m sticking to it. At least, for now. A wedding guest gave me prints of the shots she took at my wedding. I liked them much more than the wedding photographer’s shots. And I mean that in an artistic way. Are they art? I don’t know, and I don’t care. What about other forms of photography like photo-journalism? They are not trying to make something beautiful; they are trying to capture a moment in time sometimes with the intention of evoking an emotion in the viewer. Sometimes it is just to save a thousand words. Some of the finest and most beautiful photos were taken by journalists without any regard as to whether it was art or not. Steve McCurry probably had no idea


that Sharbat Gula’s portrait (“Afghan Girl” cover of National Geographic Magazine, June 1985) would become so iconic. I guess it depends. The journalistic image can become art even if the journalist never intended it that way. I was obsessing about my photos; scrutinizing too many little details and not seeing the beauty that may have been obvious for others to see. For a long time, I was rarely happy with my images. Did I go to classes or seminars? No, I suffer from “I’ll figure it out on my own” syndrome. I may have been a couple steps removed from neurotic. I’m better now; sort of. I thought about using a large format view (or field) camera, but aside from being a little expensive, they are heavy and time consuming to use. I played with a medium format camera for a while, but even that was a pain in the butt to use. It took decent shots, though. The great thing about digital cameras is the instant feedback and ability to retake your shot while you still may have the moment. Part of the problem is with all this technology, we are still no closer to creating art than Ansel Adams was. The process is faster for sure, but not necessarily better. In some ways, I almost felt obligated to take great images every time I picked up the camera to shoot. That may sound irrational and I may need therapy, but it can be compared to performance anxiety. When I didn’t get the images I had hoped for, it bummed me out a little. Here is an analogy. I own a modern European sports car and an old VW Bug. When I’m in the sports car, I feel the need for speed. If I’m at a light and some guy in another sports car gives me the nod, the gauntlet has been cast upon the ground. I grip the wheel tightly and prepare myself for the launch. When 8

I’m in the Bug, I have no such feelings. I can tool around at 40 miles per hour all day long and not care if I hold up traffic. The Bug has two speeds: slow and slower. I almost feel I’m wasting the performance of the sports car if I don’t use it. In the Bug, I know everyone will go past me. I’m ok with that. No problem. I had to force myself think that it is ok to go 40 miles per hour in the sports car. I had to use the same mental trick when it came to my photography equipment. Does that mean I went back to my Pentax film camera? No. Instead of trying to force a good shot, I let the shot come to me. Maybe the analogy is not perfect, but I think it illustrates a point. Interestingly, the more I showed my work to other people, the more I relaxed about the quality of my work. That may sound a little cheesy: “Maybe you just feel better about your photos because some ignorant fool or sympathetic friend told you they liked it?” I think the realization was they saw the beauty of the photos very differently than I did. I would focus (no pun intended) so much on the minor flaws, that I would frequently miss the beauty of the shot.


the big deception It is entirely possible that all my worst fears and anxieties about my photography are true. Maybe my work does suck and no one will tell me. Maybe I should have invested all that money in a mutual fund so I can retire a little earlier. At parties, maybe my guests are whispering; “Can you believe he actually framed this crap and hung it on the wall?” I’d like to think none of that is true. Am I vain? Maybe. Do I like it when people compliment me on my work? Yes. Do I have room for improvement? Definitely! If I did retire early with the money I saved, what would I do? Buy the early bird special at the local diner and watch reruns on cable when I got home? Probably not the path to a long self-actualized retirement. I would love to spend my retirement as a full-time photographer just to prove that I’m not a fraud; at least to myself. Photos can make people irrational. When the news interviews a person who just lost their house to a fire or flood, the interviewer usually asks; what is the most important thing to them? Frequently, it was their photos. Why are photos so important to people? They remind us of memories of loved ones or happy times. Like an old photographs, our memories fade with age. The memory of those happy times or loved ones mellow over time and even some not so fond memories seem better. Photos, even faded ones, can bring a flood of fond memories. My mother had something like a dozen photo albums. Big ones, full of pictures of people I mostly didn’t know. She knew all the people and the years the pictures were taken. She passed a few years ago and now I have these albums. What do I do with all these photos? They don’t mean anything to me. Almost everyone in the pictures is gone. There is no one left to give them to. That is a tragedy;


thousands of memories frozen in time, waiting to unlock a flood of emotions. It would make a great time capsule for some archaeologist to find a thousand years from now. Perhaps this is why I don’t take many snapshots of my family or friends. In fifty years, no one may care about those photos. I’d like to think that a photo I have taken of something beautiful or thought-provoking will live on long after me. I still take snapshots at the family outings, but I give away most of the prints. My wife does not understand me in this respect. Neither does anyone else I know.


equipment Cameras are a funny thing. Most consumers want convenience in their technology. They may purchase a product because of all the technology in it, but they don’t want to have to figure it out. It just needs to work as simply as possible. We, as consumers, will spend considerable amounts of money on these technological wonders even if we rarely use them. A friend of mine used to work at Polaroid. I had mentioned that I was interested in buying one of the less expensive self-developing instant film models for some business purpose I can’t remember now. He said don’t bother buying a cheap model; spend the money on a better model, because the cheap ones are not designed to last more than one hundred photos. I was floored. My dad had a few Polaroid Land cameras and they always lasted for many years and hundreds of packs of film. My friend said that the average consumer of cheap instant cameras took an average of 35 pictures with the camera. It turns out that the more expensive cameras like the SX-70 Land camera were very good. I borrowed my dad’s camera. Don’t ya just love planned obsolescence? When I was a kid, I hated having to wait the few minutes before my dad would let me peel apart the photo from the developer paper. I remember the chemical odor was very strong. I would peel the papers apart to reveal the image, almost like magic. Then he would apply some stuff to the front of the photo. Some sort of fixer, I think. I doubt that those chemicals were good for a young kid to be breathing. I started taking photos from the time I was eight years old when my dad gave me his old Kodak Brownie. He had bought a Nikon F a few years before. He sold it shortly after this time. Sigh. Even back then, I rarely took normal snapshots of my


family. My mother used to complain that I had very few pictures of our family. I still have that camera, but it takes film no longer available. The question I asked myself even back then: “why don’t my pictures look like what I see?” and “Why don’t my pictures look like postcards when I take a picture of the same thing?” Unfortunately those questions would not get answered for a while. My interest in photography did not get serious until I was in college and I bought a Pentax 35mm SLR with a 50mm lens. A few photo books and a bunch of film later, my photos were beginning to shape up some. After college, I started taking products shots for my own business. They were not as good as the $250/hour (1988 dollars) photographer wielding a large format view camera I hired for a while, but they were good enough for the catalogs we were printing. I had a dramatic career change (read: my business failed and I had to move on.) I moved to New York City looking for work. After a good friend helped me out, my new career was consuming a chunk of time sufficiently large that I put my Pentax in a drawer. In May of 2000, I bought my first digital camera. It was a three megapixel affair from Sony for $1000, not including accessories. And we know how important is it to accessorize? Is that an unfair characterization of men’s buying habit? Perhaps, but I digress. It actually took decent shots. So there I was with adaptor lenses, extra batteries and very expensive memory cards (64Mb for $189-ouch!) The bug had bit again-hard. I was having a ball. I never had so much fun with a camera as I did with that Sony. Auto-focus, auto exposure, built-in flash, push button zoom; this thing was idiot-proof. And the best part of all: no film costs. I could take all the shots I wanted for free. It got better, it had an LCD screen on the back to preview my shots 13

and delete the crappy ones before anyone else could see them. I know film cameras had some of the automatic features for quite a few years, but I didn’t one of own them. So this was some pretty gee-whiz technology to me at the time. Of course, now you can buy a much better camera for fifty bucks. Oh well. But like all flings, the fun would not last. I kept wanting more; more camera features, more lens options, better camera performance and most importantly; better quality images. I started researching digital SLRs. The Nikon D1 had been on the market for a bit over a year, but at $5400 without a lens, it was way too much money. I went plowing through my drawers looking for my film camera. And there it was: my trusty old Pentax 35mm. It was back to manual focus, manual shutter/aperture settings and loading film. “Program Mode” exposure was the big technological advance on that Pentax. I had stopped using it more than a decade before because it blew chunks. It did not get the exposure right for what I wanted. It was fine for snapshots and other non-artistic pictures. Somewhere off in the distance I hear someone’s teeth grinding about what is considered art. I briefly dabbled with a 6x6 medium format film camera. Fun to play with, but ultimately it was not for my style of shooting: the lazy style. I still use it on occasion for fun. However, buying good film, development by a professional lab, printing proofs and then scanning the film is expensive and time consuming. I like digital much better.


I went on quite a few trips with both the Pentax and the Sony. I guess I don’t need to tell you which took the better photos. That was when I started looking at DSLRs again. The prices had dropped a lot and the cameras were great. I had a life altering decision to make. Do I stay with the Pentax K-mount or change to another mount like Nikon or Canon. Anyone that has had to make that decision knows how agonizing it can be. My Pentax primes made spectacular images; my third-party zooms were paper weights. Canon had since become the vanguard of DSLRs over Nikon, but Nikon was still holding its own in the marketplace. At the time, the digital offerings from Minolta, Olympus and Pentax were definitely second tier compared to Canon and Nikon. This narrowed the choice down to two. After extensive research, I decided that they both had a mostly equivalent stable of lenses, flashes and accessories. And, of course, all third-party manufacture’s lens worked on both. I played with both camera lines and liked the Nikon cameras better. The comfort, handling and ergonomics suited me. Now, photographers have spent the last 25+ years debating whether the Nikon/Nikkor or Canon camera/lens system is better and will continue doing so long after the IT industry has found a way to obsolete the photography industry. I could spend the next hundred pages examining the relative strengths and weaknesses of each system. Suffice to say, they are damn close to each other in most areas. I am firmly in the Nikon camp now. My trusty Pentax is back in the drawer slumbering until I have the urge to shoot 35 mm film again. The Sony has been passed down to my


wife, who was just as happy with a disposable film camera. My camera bag got so heavy that it made me pine after the salad days of when I started using the Sony for the first time. I had two D-SLR bodies with two lenses. Being that I am inherently lazy, I have zoom lenses. The first Nikkor lens came with the camera. It was the “kit” lens. The Nikkor 1870mm/f3.5-4.5 AF-S is actually a decent lens. Not a great one, but one that made good images. That is until I snapped it in half. Now, it’s not so good. That was not a happy moment in my life, but not an all together tragic one either. I had my eye on the then new Nikkor 18-200mm with the vibration reduction (VR).

Unfortunately, a week after I bought the lens, I fell off a boat with my camera and that lens around my neck. That sucked hard, but luckily I saved the 400 images from the memory card. However, I liked the lens so much, I bought another one. The camera is dead, though. I had to go out and buy a new camera. Darn. (Tongue firmly placed in cheek.) I also bought the Nikkor 80-400mm/f3.5-5.6 with VR. This was the lens that made me buy a used D1H for sports and nature photography. The lens does not have the built-in autofocus motor, so I needed a camera with a more powerful auto-focus motor. When the revolution comes, I’ll be able to defend myself using the D1H as a club. What a solid, massive hunk of technology it was in its heyday. It is a bit long in the tooth now, but 8X12 prints are great and 11X17 can be decent depending on the image. I also have the usual accessories to make the kit reasonably portable, like a carbon fiber tripod and a monopod, ball heads, flashes, filters and the like.


Lenses. Lenses. Lenses. What can I say about lenses that has not been debated over and over and over again? Some are good; some are great and some blow chunks. Maybe some day I’ll build a miniature Trebuchet and launch all my crappy third-party zoom lenses into a lake. Please don’t take this as a knock on third-party lenses as a group. There are many that are quite excellent and occasionally better than their NikkorCanonMinoltaOlympusPentax counterparts. I happen to have had some crappy third-party lenses from my 35mm film days. Yes, I intentionally did not bunch Leica and Zeiss with those others. Would you rather have Sigma’s best lens over any comparable offering from Leica or Zeiss? Yeah, neither would I. Among hobbyists, I have found two main camps of lens-istas: those that only buy the lenses made by their camera manufacturer; and those that hunt through the offering of the third-party lenses looking for the hidden gems. Of course, there are some that buy both, but including them would muck up my comparison. Those that only buy lenses from the same company as their camera usually want to feel assured that they have the finest or most compatible lenses made for their camera and don’t want to know about some second-rate, also-ran lens made by some company he/she has little interest in learning about. The other type wants a quality lens, but does not want to spend the big bucks on the big name lenses. This applies to both the new and used lens buyers. After extensive research and much trial and error, he/she will have put together a complement of lenses that gives them good value. Good image quality for a good price. Then there are those consumers who buy what the salesman suggests. What overly polarized group of lens owners do I fall into? I would say the first group, but that could change in the future. I have tried quite a few lenses from third party lens


manufacturers, but they never quite fit my needs. There are as many reasons to choose a lens as there are photographers out there. I have been tempted by some of the offerings from Sigma and Tokina. But so far, I have only purchased Nikkor lenses. Don’t even get me started on most of the cheap “kit” lenses available today, even if they are from the camera maker. (Even if they have the camera makers name on it, they usually are not made by them). There are some notable exceptions (like the Nikkor 18-70mm/f3.5-4.5 AF-S), but nearly all of the $100 wonder-zooms suck. Back in the day, a 35mm SLR came with a 50mm prime lens, also called a “normal” lens. By and large, most are excellent and some are exceptional. The worst are only good to very good. The 50mm f1.8 is the most basic lens and easiest to make. It is nearly impossible for a lens manufacturer to screw them up. Every lens manufacturer makes one. The year I bought my Pentax, Consumer Reports rated the Pentax 50mm/f1.7 number one. I don’t know how much CR knew about rating lenses back then, but it was more than me, so that is what I bought. (They also rated the Pentax camera I selected number two behind another Pentax camera.) Later, I bought the Pentax 28mm/f2.8, also an excellent piece of optic. I have had some cheapo zooms, but I’d rather not talk about them. They sucked! I did not choose Nikon as my digital camera system because of the lenses. This confuses most people from both Nikon and Canon camps. The Nikon faithful think Nikkors are the best by far. The Canon camp think Canon lenses are equal to or better than Nikkors. I liked the Canon lenses and the Nikon cameras. Yes, I know, I’m going to Heck for that. But I could not buy them that way, so I went with Nikon. I like the handling of their cameras and I am more comfortable with Nikon bodies. Well, now that I have pissed off everybody; let’s move on. Bokeh is very “in” these days. In the 70’s and 80’s, very few people talked about it. Now, it shows up regularly on most photo forums about lenses. For those that don’t know, bokeh is a Japanese word for the out of focus part of the image beyond 18

the depth of field, usually the background in a close-up with a short depth of field. I think that bokeh has always been an important part of many artists work; however, the Japanese were particularly keen on it, and it took a while for the rest of the photographic world to really get excited about it. I really like the look of good bokeh and I am glad when lens makers don’t overlook it when they design a lens. Like I said before, one could spend a lot of time comparing the two lens systems; and many do. I will not do that. If one compares two equivalent lenses from Nikon and Canon, the imager and the photographer’s skill will probably play a more prominent role in the outcome of the image than the lens. My final thought on lenses is this: Cameras come and go; quality lenses are forever. Buy the best lenses you can afford; they are an investment. Do you need a DSLR with some expensive lenses to capture good images? Definitely not! There are many point and shoot digital cameras that do a great job at making good images. You don’t even need to spend a lot of money. I have submitted prints from a point and shoot camera to photography shows and they were well received. Many of the photos shown here were taken with a point and shoot digital camera.


the basics I know, I know. Reading about some dude’s equipment is about as much fun as watching paint dry. I have a point, though. Really, I do: perfection. Searching for perfection, but I was broken down on the “too much photo equipment” highway. “Wait!” Some of you may say: “Two cameras and two lenses is nothing.” That may be true, but I was getting more stressed than ever about my photos. I was accumulating quality equipment, but I was not any happier with my art. I was Sisyphus pushing a six pound camera/lens combination up a hill and not getting as many good shot as I had hoped. Guess what? Perfect photos do not exist. “What about some of the great photographers like Ansel Adams, Henri Cartier-Bresson, Robert Mapplethorpe, Annie Leibowitz, etc?” Some of you may retort. Good point, except that I read somewhere that 90% of the work of an image is done in the darkroom (or on a computer). They created much of the beauty of their work while processing the images, rather then taking them. Adams took some of his first photos with what is now an over one hundred year old camera that he bought used for a dollar. Now we have Photoshop and other photo editing software instead of darkrooms. In my film days, I never developed anything in a darkroom. I always used a lab. Now I do everything digitally, including scanned film. That does not mean that photo editing software will make perfect photos.


Nor did Ansel Adams or any of the others make perfect photos. What Ansel Adams and other great photographers did was to establish a high water mark for others to strive for. Some have surpassed it, but not many. Want to improve your photography? Exposure and focus are probably the two most important skills for a novice photographer to learn. It may sound like a no-brainer, but you would be surprised how many times you can screw those up. Some might say composure is more important, because you don’t want to see a bunch of headless people in your pictures. I can’t argue with headless people. However, composition is more intuitive and usually anyone serious about this hobby has usually conquered headless people in their shots. A level horizon and the rule of thirds are important also. Exposure is the relationship between the amount of light that hits the imager (film or digital) and for how long. Now-a-days, the cameras are pretty damn good at this part of the image-making process. Back in the manual camera days, you had to decide the aperture and shutter speed. Getting the hang of it is a lot different than mastering it. There was a time when photography classes would not even let you bring a camera that was not all manual. Most classes now probably don’t care. Sharp photos are more than just well-focused images. The autofocus feature on most cameras is ok, some are even good. However, the camera does not know what your subject is. It may focus on the tree in the foreground and not on the sunset in the background. Most of the point and shoot cameras are not so good at focusing on the things I want to shoot. The DSLRs have a different problem; they are almost too smart and will focus on the things it thinks are your subjects. Manually tweaking the focus can become an important part of your image taking process. 21

However, out-of-focus or blurry images may be your intention-especially motion images. Short depth of field requires proper focus and proper exposure. It is very difficult for an automatic camera to do it well. Frequently, the camera screws up one or the other. Long depth of field is very easy to do-think landscapes. One thing I need to mention is ISO. ISO refers to the sensitivity of the imager, whether it be digital or film. The higher the number, the more sensitive the imager is. But, there is a snag. The higher you go, the more “noisy or grainy” the image is. This can result in degradation of image quality, especially with digital. Although, many photographers prefer black and white films with a grainy look; digital noise is rarely considered a good thing. This reminds me of a time when I was in one of those big-box electronic retail stores in the mall. I asked the young salesman if a particular camera could shoot in the dark. He pointed to the ISO feature on the camera. Realizing he knew next to nothing about photography, I decided to taunt him. “How does it focus in the dark?” Again, he referred to the ISO feature. When I informed him that ISO was imager sensitivity, his eyes glossed over and said that ISO made the camera work in the dark. I could not take it anymore. I proceeded to explain exposure to him. He said that they never explained that in the training class. That was the amazing thing; he took a class to be that ignorant about how a camera works.


editing It seems there are endless ways of editing or tweaking the image to get the artist’s desired effect. The most common purpose of editing photos is to correct color, exposure, contrast, cropping, removing red-eye, etc. for printing or publishing. In the digital domain, photo editing software performs all of these functions and so much more. For the novice just learning to tweak their own images, don’t jump into Photoshop right away. While it is the premier software package for graphics professionals, there are a lot of excellent consumer-level software products that are cheaper and easier to use. There are even freeware programs out there. I suggest trying some of them out first, many of them are easier to use and more focused on tweaking or fixing photos. I used Photoshop for many years and continue to use it. It is great, but it is complicated with a dizzying amount of features. I eventually got annoyed with the expensive upgrades and having to upgrade my computer to keep up with this resource hog. Now I frequently use a few freeware image editing programs that do 90% of what I asked Photoshop to do. Also, your digital camera may have software bundled with it, try one of those first before you go out and buy expensive software. The novice may ask: “How do I know if my images need editing?” Sometimes the problems are obvious, like redeye or an under exposed image. Other times, it is not so easy to evaluate the image. Critical cropping, color correction, white balance, shadow or highlight exposure, sharpness, digital noise, etc. may need to be fixed. These and other problems may be quite subtle to detect for the novice. One of the biggest mistakes I made was to not showing my photos to other photographers. Had I done this earlier in my journey, I may have matured as a photographer faster. This is one of the benefits of classes and seminars. So the next step is “How do I edit my images?” There are too many software packages on the market to explain the steps. 23


There are however, many books and tutorials on many websites to learn it. Also there are lots of forums on the subject. “I don’t want to learn all that; I just want to take pictures.” Well that is ok, but editing photos is probably the best way to increase the number of “keepers”. What’s more, you can turn a good image into a great image. I have a photo of seagulls on a railing that I took in Manhattan on a snowy winter day. I always loved it, but it needed help and I was not sure how to edit it to bring out the best in it. I consulted a curator of an art show and a fine art printer. After a little careful cropping here, some exposure adjustment there and some other subtle changes, it bowled me over and many people who saw it later at an art show commented on it. It became the great image I always knew it could be. The interesting part is that it was a two megapixel image from an early generation digital camera taken as a JPEG. You can just take pictures and try to be happy with how they turn out, but if you want to be serious about this hobby, learn how to edit your photos. Editing a photo is sometimes a more difficult skill to learn than actually shooting the photo. Before digital scanners, the steps to achieve a properly exposed print of an image had to be repeated each time the print was made. Photographers had to keep a reference print and a written procedure to ensure print to print consistency. Other considerations from the chemical era that would affect editing choices were type of film to use; the presentation of the photo (print, publication, documentation, etc.) and


artistic preferences. In the digital domain, once you edit the image in the software, you save the file and most of the steps are not needed to reproduce the same print. What a tremendous time saver. This assumes the same computer setup, color space, monitor profile, printer, drivers, etc. is used to make the print. “If you take the picture correctly in the first place, you should not need to fix it afterwards.� That is true, but in reality many factors can affect ultimate image quality. With film, most photographers are disciplined about exposure, focus and film type for the subject matter. Many photo opportunities do not allow proper setup time and only large format cameras allow taking Polaroids to judge focus and exposure. I would not know if I blew the shot until I developed the slides. Re-shoots are usually not an option. Bracketing was a great way to hedge your bets and improve your chances of success.


Many photos require editing even if the picture is taken correctly. Some factors have nothing to do with the image capturing process. If the image is going to a publisher, the digital file must be compatible with the pre-press and printing equipment. Cropping is an important editing function. Now earlier, I mentioned most hobbyist photographers have learned to compose their shots reasonably well. Once you open the files in your favorite software, you may find distracting elements in your photos, such as shadows, body parts or something in the background. These elements may draw the viewer’s eye away from the central element in your image. You may want your image to be a particular size ratio, like 8X10, but your camera takes 2:3 ratio images. Part of the image needs to be cropped. This also applies to wide-format landscape and square shots.


Many photos require editing even if the picture is taken correctly. Some factors have nothing to do with the image capturing process. If the image is going to a publisher, the digital file must be compatible with the pre-press and printing equipment. Cropping is an important editing function. Now earlier, I mentioned most hobbyist photographers have learned to compose their shots reasonably well. Once you open the files in your favorite software, you may find distracting elements in your photos, such as shadows, body parts or something in the background. These elements may draw the viewer’s eye away from the central element in your image. You may want your image to be a particular size ratio, like 8X10, but your camera takes 2:3 ratio images. Part of the image needs to be cropped. This also applies to wide-format landscape and square shots. “If I had shot this in RAW, I could have rescued the image!” I have uttered this lament more than a few times. I have learned the hard way that you can screw up a shot no matter how careful you were in taking it. There are other times that you had no time to setup a shot and just took the picture hoping it turns out. Shortly after getting into this hobby, most novices will hear or read about the RAW file format. Most serious digital cameras offer this in addition to JPEG and maybe TIFF. The RAW file is the actual data captured by the imaging chip before the camera processes it into an image. It’s kind of like a film negative. When you download the RAW file to your computer, you have to process the file into an image using software on your computer. This can be a tedious process, but the biggest advantage to doing this is you can make many changes to the file to improve the quality of the image with the least amount of image


degradation. “How can this be? Editing is supposed to improve the image, not degrade it.� The more heavy-handed one is with the sliders in the software, the more noise and digital artifacts are visible in the final image. You get image editing flexibility that may be required with extensive editing. If you screwed up the capture of your image, some really extreme editing may rescue your once-in-a-lifetime photo. In the digital domain, mastering the basic techniques of image correction is a required skill. If you are considering photography as a career, mastering advanced editing techniques may be required.


art Art is a strange concept. We have all heard and experienced the phrase “one person’s art is another’s crap”. Most people will agree that the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel by Michelangelo is a great work of art even if you don’t like it, the “Dogs playing poker” painting on velvet, not so much. After you have been to Italy and looked at the art that is everywhere in that country, your perception of what art is may change dramatically. Paintings, architecture, landscaping, sculpture, pottery, furnishings, clothes, food; almost everything is presented in a visually or tactually appealing manner. Even when something is unadorned, the Italians somehow make that beautiful, too. That is a good segue to one of my philosophies on art. Understanding how the art is created may lead a person to appreciating the art form more. Many people have heard about the “musician’s musician”. There is some music that few casual listeners like. Free-form jazz is a good example. It takes decades of experience, masterful skill and superb musicianship to do it right. For some musicians, it is the top of the mountain. Just as rant, I am very irritated by those people that when you ask them “what kind of music do you like” and they answer “I like everything”. Then I press them and ask “Do you like jazz?” “No.” “Do you like opera?” “No.” “Do you like classical music?” “No.”


“Do you like Country or Western?” “No. No.” It turns out that “everything” is only Pop music. Most art evokes an emotion in the viewer of a particular piece of art. The same piece of art may evoke a hundred different emotions in a hundred people. That is one of the great things about art. I don’t like interpretive dance, but it does not matter, the next person may be moved to the point of tears by its beauty. We, as humans, need to experience emotions. Without the emotions, we die on the inside. From cave paintings to the Italian Renaissance to the Victorian Age to modern day, art is engrained in our human evolution. Most of us have a need to express emotions; art is a powerful primordial expression of emotions that can transcend languages and cultures. Another great thing about art is the interpretation by the viewer. They create their own special meaning to the art. A former co-worker had a black and white photograph hanging above his desk of a pair of man’s hands held out in front of his body. They were dirty and had calluses. I would stop and linger for many minutes staring at the photo every time I passed it. I was captivated by that photo. I would think about the man. Who was he? What did he do? Why did the photographer take the picture? My co-worker probably thought I was stalking him. I can call my dreck art and there is not a damn thing you can do about it. I don’t even have to explain it or justify it. I can just call it art. That being said, there is good art and not so good art. Obviously, beauty is in the eye of the beholder. No matter how tacky


or ugly that beauty is. If you can relate to the subject matter, you will probably find it appealing. A dog-owning gambler may like the “Dogs playing poker” painting more than a flower-loving gardener. Does that mean that the gardener’s Georgia O’Keefe paintings are more beautiful than the gambler’s “Dogs playing poker” painting? Probably, but that is not the point, the point is who are we to make that judgment. I have always had an appreciation for Victorian architecture. Some find it too busy or fussy. That may be true, but that was in vogue during that period. The Victorian artisans loved to adore most any available surface. I am sure that there is no shortage of theories on the evolution of the Victorian aesthetic; here is mine. When the industrial revolution and the Age of Reason dominated western culture in the late 17th century and 18th century, utilitarianism was a predominant aspect of everyday life. The working classes had little time or money for adornment. They were trying to rise above peasantry, poverty or the austerity of some religions. Art was mostly the domain of the wealthy. The wealthy surrounded themselves with beauty. They built beautiful estates with gardens and mansions filled with works of art. The monarchies of Europe jockeyed for prestige and built beautiful public works to demonstrate their wealth and power. Around the time Victoria become Queen of England, the middle class was coming to prominence. They wanted to be wealthy, or at least appear that way. They were throwing off the shackles of austerity and embracing the values of those they were trying to emulate: the wealthy. The middle class wanted to surround themselves with beauty, also. The Industrial Age had an interesting side effect, it could mass-produce beauty. That may sound like a contradiction, but if you can mass produce a wagon wheel, why can’t you mass


produce a sculpture? And they did. There was backlash against austerity. Suddenly, every middle class home was filled with beautiful objects. The cost to produce a beautiful vase was just a little bit more than to produce a plain one, so they made it beautiful. The transportation system had also improved with the steamship and railroads, so shipping mass-produced goods were cheaper than ever. This is my theory, and for now I’m sticking with it. So, how does this relate to photography? In a few ways; the photographic process was invented during the Victorian era; the Victorian era was the end of the age of the craftsman; and I think the end of this era began to see the artists become marginalized in western society. The wealthy art patrons were becoming scarce and technology was becoming a more important part of life. Our appreciation for art did not wane, it changed. Maybe it was put on a pedestal. Museums popped up everywhere and there was renewed interest in fine art.

In the early to mid-twentieth century there was a reversion to utilitarian efficiency and productivity. Everyday art suffered in my opinion. That beautiful vase could be made cheaper if you made it plainer. Fewer raw materials and less labor created greater efficiency. In the later half of the twentieth century, political correctness and positive affirmation to improve one’s self-esteem became apart of the cultural landscape, now you can call anything art. Some artist nailed a 6-inch piece of rope to a wall and called it art. And someone else actually bought it!


the good What about my photography? Is it any good? Would anyone want to put it on their wall? Here is an entirely biased answer: yes. Some of it is good. I read an article online on how to rate your level of accomplishment in photography. It was an informative article that made it easy to rate oneself, but I had a big complaint with it. Do you rate your best shots, your average shots or your worst shots? It didn’t say. Not all my shots fall into one category. A few are excellent, some are good, many are mediocre and a few suck. It also didn’t take luck in to account. Frequently, the shots that get the highest praise are the ones that are just a passing moment with little to no preparation time; usually just enough time to turn on the camera and shoot. Sometimes, If I think about a shot too much I make it worst. In reality, I don’t really know if it is any good.

I used to think that I should not say whether my photography is good or not. Now I show my work to people, if they like it-great; and if they don’t like, they can kiss my butt. I don’t care so much anymore. I admire people who have no hang-ups with letting the world see their work. The problem I have is sometimes you have to say; “That’s great!” When it is not. I hate it when someone compliments my work and they are just being polite.


I’m very proud of some of my work. It was my intention to create a book of my best work, but with no commentary. I realized that maybe a few photographers might relate to my angst. In addition, it would give me the opportunity to share some of my work with others. I have been to a few photo shows that were a lot of fun, but I have heard stories of condescending judges and patronizing exhibitors at some art shows or festivals.


the bad A lot of my work is not really bad, but in some ways flawed; some more so than others. For those that are unsure what a flawed photo is, I’m not talking about your finger over the lens or holding the camera crooked, or taking a picture of someone’s foot. I’m talking about small things like a distracting thing in the background, an off-level horizon or an unintended lens flare. The great thing about a flaw, though, is sometimes it can make the shot better. It can add interest to an otherwise boring shot. I have even cropped out the subject and printed only the person that walked into the scene. The smallest thing can turn a flawed shot good or a good shot great. Back in my film days, I might not know for days or weeks what the outcome of a shot was. That was a lot of the fun. With digital, I lost the anticipation of opening the envelope of prints or slides. The upside is instant gratification and being about to reshoot right away. If you take a lot of shots and delete all the bad ones and show only the good ones, what kind of photographer does that make you? If you are able to critique your work and distinguish the good from the bad, then that is part of the learning process. The more shots you take, the more good images you will make. It is not a numbers game; it is practice and learning. A friend of mine took 12,000 shots in the first 3 months of owning his first DSLR and deleted most of the bad ones. He showed me about 200 good images. A year and a half and 50,000 shots later, he had improved a lot. Sometimes there is nothing technically wrong with a photograph you have taken, yet it is just not right. Maybe it is not interesting enough. Or, maybe it is not visually pleasing to the eye. Don’t get hung up on these trivialities. Throw it out there and see how people respond to the image. Also, after a time, an image may grow on you that you did not like at first.


the ugly Now we get the part that gives me the most anxiety, the really bad ones. Most of my friends and family are very supportive and not very critical. I’m ok with that. I expect more critique from my photography friends. I have chosen to not include these photos. If I’m going to the trouble of publishing a book with my photography in it, I’m not going to put crappy photos in it. Much of the time, I leave the camera on automatic. I hear some people now saying; “that’s why some of your shots are not good, you have to use manual settings to make it right.” Well, I used manual cameras for twenty years and I have lost lots of shooting opportunities fiddling with the cameras. Also, I have found the modern cameras are faster than me in many situations. In some situations, I set my digital camera on manual, usually when auto settings let me down or I have the time to setup the shot properly. Life is a compromise. Could I get obsessive and shoot everything manually? Yes, but I run the risk of annoying others even more than I already do, especially my wife who has to wait for me while I’m composing a shot. Or, I can leave it on auto and re-shoot the few that look bad on the LCD screen. I have rescued many a photo after downloading it to my computer. Years ago, I had a night-shift job with little to do, so I learned to correct images in Photoshop. I’m pretty good at it now.


black and white I am very fond of black and white photographs. I love the texture and nuance of an image not burdened by color. The image forces the viewer to really look and find the beauty. I have nothing against color images; most of my portfolio is in color. Black and white can really stir the soul or express an emotion in a way that color cannot. Photography is all about light. With color, the whole spectrum is used and interplay of colors is very prominent. With black and white, there are only shades of grey; light and dark. Subtle differences are more difficult to see in the image. This is where Polaroid test shots and bracketing are very helpful if you shoot film. With digital, you have instant feedback on your camera and the ability to edit the image in software. With digital, I always shot in color and convert it later on the computer. Sometimes a photo does not work in color and I convert it to black and white. Usually, it improves the image. Image correction with software is different with black and white verses color. Some artists like to add color tones to achieve the look of a particular type of film emulsion. I find it more difficult to edit black and white images than color. Color is very visual, while black and white tends to be more emotional. I prefer my black and white images to have a lot of contrast. I think it adds drama and impact. It is easy to create a boring grey mess. Take a class and practice.



the print Some years ago I started using a fine art printer to make prints of my better photos. And more recently, I started working with them to tweak the image to make a better print. Well, it ain’t cheap, but boy is it worth it. Plus they will make proofs in different ways and you get to pick the best one. Now, if you are making a few 8x10s to give to a few friends, it is not necessary to spend $10-50 per print. Going on-line and having it done for $2 is fine. The results of using a fine art printer were never so obvious than at my first photo show when I showed the seagull photo mentioned earlier. I have seen some photographs blotchy or poorly printed photos for shows. The subject matters were fine, but they are asking $250-1000 per framed print. If I’m asking $150-300 for a framed print, it will be professionally printed. The variety of papers and printers available to the photographer is staggering. One nice aspect of working with a fine art printer is they will suggest the paper/printing combination that might work best for your work and some alternatives. Not only does it save you a ton of time, they know more about printing than you do. The ultimate results are worth it to me. On-demand photo books are proliferating the internet. I made a custom print-on-demand (POD) book of some of my work and it turned out great. It was portfolio style book. There is a wide range of quality out there. So do your home work, be careful and look for promotions, rebates or e-coupons. These are not books that you publish; they are just an alternative to putting prints in an album. I got a nice hard cover 11.5”x15” book that was competitively priced with the cost of prints and a nice album. For those wishing to print a book and selling it on Amazon or retail, that is a different animal. You have to go through a publisher. They will arrange for an ISBN number to be assigned


to your book and then your book needs to be printed. Here is your biggest challenge: do you try to find an agent to accept your manuscript or do you self-publish? Both have their pluses and minuses. An agent is usually only interested in a known quantity. Like a professional writer, in-demand topic or established genre. If you approached an agent and said I took some photos of my trip to Italy, I doubt you would have much luck. If Rick Steves wanted to publish a book with his photos of italy, agents would be falling over themselves to represent him. The quality of the photos and writing may have little bearing on how successful you are with landing an agent. There are those who do get agents on their first time around, but very few and very far in between. Going at it yourself used to be fraught with a lot of peril. Until recently, many vanity press publishers had many creative ways of separating an aspiring author with his/her money. Now with print-on-demand (POD) technology, you can have it done quite cheaply without a thousand books sitting in your basement unsold. Heck, you could almost use your home printer and cheap binding machine to publish a passable book. More recently POD photo books have become inexpensive also. For $100 you can get an ISBN number then print 10-20 books and be on your way. Frequently the POD company will package the ISBN, a small quantity of books and list it with a few on-line book sellers, like Amazon, for a decent price.


mattes and frames The aesthetic impact of a photograph hanging on the wall is profoundly influenced by its presentation. That is where mattes and framing comes in. Just like a painting, many, if not most, photographs are more visually appealing with complimentary framing. The color and size of the matte can greatly enhance the presentation of the image. I have not really figured out what exactly works, so I just place a print of the photo against many colors and textures of matte until I see something I like. I doubt there are any hard and fast rules for choosing mattes. Usually I choose an off-white matte. By the way, many galleries and photo shows want a white matte and a simple frame. The amount of matte around a photo is very important to me. I like a lot of matte surrounding the photo. I usually go with three to five inches on each side. That may sound like a lot of matte, but it really isolates and highlights the image. So an 8x10 print in a 16x20 inch frame looks great. The frame is a very personal thing for the artist. Some like elaborate classical frames and others like sleek euro-styled frames. I prefer frames with the thin front and a deep side profile in a satin-finished aluminum. I present my images with a heavy matte and a light frame. A lot of money is spent on “White Space� in advertising. If you have ever had to buy ad space in some printed format (like magazines, newspapers, billboard, etc.) you know what I mean. White space, also referred to as negative space, is the part that has nothing printed on it, and is an integral part of graphic design. The matte acts as white space and directs the eye to the subject (the photo in this case.) Protecting your prints is also a consideration. Mattes need to be made from acid-free paper


or the print could deteriorate over time. Frames serve an important protective function aside from physical abuse; ozone will start damaging prints in months and over years there will be visible deterioration. Ultraviolet light is another enemy to prints, although with the new pigment inks, it is less of an issue. Displaying a print is about presentation and protection; matte and frames do that. Some artists don’t use either mattes or frames. Full-bleed is the opposite of negative space. The image covers the entire media. A full-bleed print has its place. I find that the larger the media, the less the matte and frame become important. If your print is 30x40 inches, a lot of matte around the image would be huge and you would probably have to special order your matte for big bucks. Large prints are frequently mounted on gator board or some other suitable substrate. Gallery canvas wraps has come into vogue. That is where an image printed on canvas is stretched around wood frame and the image also wraps around the frame, giving it an almost three dimensional effect. As far as protection is concerned, the print can be treated to resist ozone and UV light. If you’re going to sell your prints, think about the buyer. A collector is going to want it signed, maybe numbered and protected. The casual buyer typically wants a pretty picture to hang on the wall-usually something that matches the dÊcor. Either way, for all but the larger poster sized prints, mattes and frames are the way to go.


portfolios This is probably the most difficult part of presenting my work. It is essentially the packaging for your product that you are going show gallery curators or other agents in the business. I have no good advice for the novice in how to put together a portfolio. I have gotten some conflicting advice from professional photographers. Some say that you need a theme, others say put you best work together. My only advice is whatever you choose to include in your portfolio, have a good reason that you can defend to anyone questioning your choices. Some portfolios are easier than others. Wedding shots, portraits or photos of a trip to a


particular location go together naturally. Selecting your best work for a gallery owner can be nerve racking. Go with your first instinct and with what feels right. I suspect you might be better off than if you were agonize over the selection process. When I made my first photo book, most people thought it was my portfolio and everyone had questions about some of the selections. Mostly I said that I liked the photos together. The book was images I want to show off to friends and family. It was never intended to be a portfolio. It has since sort of turned into one. If you are going to shop your portfolio to galleries and art directors, it may pay to find out what they are looking for and make a few changes. Stick with a basic theme,


though, unless they are looking for landscapes and all you have are animal photos. Otherwise, you don’t want to change the overall presentation of your work. Some galleries may ask to keep your portfolio. I don’t know what to say to that. You may never see your portfolio again. It is a compliment that they like your work enough to keep it for future reference, but portfolios can be very expensive to put together. I suggest offering a proof book or contact sheet with your information and a link to your website. Websites are a great way to show off your work, if not a requirement in the digital age. I have been given many recommendations regarding how elaborate to make my website. Some have told me to spend a few thousand dollars and “do it right”. Others have suggested that I use one of those free photo-sharing websites. Yet others have insisted that a print fulfillment website is the only way to go. The good thing about having your own website is you will have it available for as long as you are marketing yourself and your work. Free websites come and go depending on how much money they can make off prints or advertising. Also, find out how safe your personal information is on a free website.


the hunt There are artists, amateur photographers and working photographers. Artists use the camera as tool to create their art. Maybe it is combined with some other medium, or the image is manipulated or changed to create something entirely different. In many ways, the camera is no different than a canvas or a block of clay. It’s just a tool. Amateur photographers are a strange and varied bunch. Some love the technical aspect of creating images; some love the artistic expression, some love collecting photographic equipment and some love the hunt. They are hunting for a great shot. Traveling to interesting places or exotic locations to get that special shot can be exhilarating. I met a sports photographer who worked for a newspaper. The interesting thing about him was that he was not really interested in sports. Yet he loved to shot sports. He didn’t remember any team or player names after the assignment was finished. I love capturing the shot. I love to travel and bring back images that most people don’t normally see. I also take postcard type photos and snapshots. On a trip to Puerto Rico, my favorite shot was taken in Old San Juan of a boat tied to a dock. It was simple scene that no one was looking at. Another favorite of that trip was a man standing in the door of a bar. Many artists see beauty in simplicity; myself included. Sometimes what others may find mundane, I frequently find interesting.


I can’t afford to go on photography trips, either with a group or by myself. I do try to make my vacations into opportunities for collecting images that I like. However, humping around twenty or more pounds of camera equipment can be a drag. Not to mention the very real possibility of damaging or losing it. My wife and I try to choose vacation destinations that will be fun and/or relaxing and yet visually interesting for the purposes of getting good shots. My wife is not a photographer, but she does like to take pictures, also.


the business Many, many, many books have been written about the business of photography. The problem with business is most artists hate business. Nobody minds the money that you can make selling your art, but the problem is you have to think like a businessman to sell something. Let’s say you were the only artist in town and everyone had to go to you to get their art. You hang a sign in front of your house, and the customers would just knock on the door and buy your art. Well, that would be awesome. However, it is not that easy. Most of the time, you have to reach out to an audience that is looking for your type of art. Once you have found your target customer-base, you have to get them to look at your art. Then you have to persuade them to buy you art verses all the other artists vying for your customers attention and money. Once you have interested them in your art, are they willing to pay what you are asking for it? You have to spend a lot of time and money to sell art. It requires a lot of business skills to make a living selling art. Doing photography for income is viable, but have reasonable expectations. If you build up a reputation, there may be demand for your work or your services. That is the good part. The bad part is you may be asked to do work you don’t want to do; or at a time you don’t want to do it. Once you start turning down work, demand for your services could diminish. “The best way to ruin a good hobby is to turn it into a business.” I don’t know if it is credited to anyone, or just a cliché. The paradox is if you are good at business you can make a lot more money as a businessman then as an artist. If you are good at art, you may have to supplement your income with a job until you acquire some business skills. Most artists don’t want to become a businessman, which is why they became artists. Sometimes it’s better to keep photography as a hobby. Working photographers do need a plethora of equipment to perform a variety of the photo assignments. The cost of doing business always involves tools regardless of your trade. There was a time when some newspapers or agencies


purchased photographic equipment for the staff photographers. However, it is less common now. There are legions of freelance photographers, including the so called “paparazzi�, that are providing a huge quantity of images for publications and the internet. Then there are wedding photographers who need to be prepared to capture most of the moments that make the special day special.

Studio photographers are a bit different from those that shoot on location. Most have a clear vision of what they expect the final image to be. A lot of preparation goes into most studio photo shoots. With the cost of assistants, talent (models, etc.), makeup artists, hairdressers and other associated expenses; re-shoots can be outrageously expensive. For working photographers, the camera is also a tool, but it is their only tool (including lenses, lighting, etc.) to capture images for a business purpose. Wedding photographers, photo-journalists, studio photographers, sports photographers, research photographers, stock photographers, et al; all create images for the express purpose of selling them. That is not to say that they are not artists, it’s just that photography is a career endeavor in order to make a living. Many, if not most, commercial photographers have an artistic eye and a passion for the images they create. But at the end of the day, they are looking for a paycheck. If you are planning on becoming a professional photographer, make sure you understand the cost of doing business (financial and emotional) and your chances for success.


file under “boring legal stuff” I like candid shots of people, but in this age of privacy and security, it is not polite to photograph people without their permission. What’s more there are issues if you publish a photo of a person without a signed release from the person in your photo if you can identify them in the photo. It is kind of a catch 22. You can’t get the shot you want without their permission, but if you get their permission, you probably won’t get the shot. That’s if they don’t call the police on you. Obviously, portraits and weddings don’t count and drunken college kids on spring break don’t notice until it is too late. I could go on about this, but the laws are changing so fast, anything I say here may be incorrect in the future. If you plan on selling your work, do your homework, it could save you legal or financial headaches.


places I’ve been to Travel is probably my favorite subject for photography. You don’t have to travel far to get great shots. I’ve been out walking my dog and picked up a few stunning images, but traveling on vacation is what I truly love to do. Beautiful countries like Italy are ripe with photo opportunities, but you can find some really great shots in little towns in the United States, also. Eaton, Colorado is a little one or two traffic light town on the plains. There are no mountains in view, no cities within 75 miles, just on the outskirts of farm country and prairie. I was just driving around exploring the area during a visit to my sister-in-law’s home about 40 mines away. I came across a classic car dealer that was closed and some old cars were outside in the back lot. I had a grand time taking portraits of these rusty forgotten ladies. I’m sure they enjoyed the attention also.

I’ve been to the Caribbean quite a few times, Italy twice (and planning more visits); quite a few states in the Union, Ireland, Holland a couple of times, Mexico twice and Canada. Not all these locales are represented with photos in my collection, but I enjoyed them just the same regardless of whether I got good photos or not.


I recommend taking your camera whenever possible. I got my shot of seagulls standing on seawall railing while walking to my car after work. I don’t go on dedicated photography trips to foreign lands or exotic places, but I do go on day trips. I live about 2 hours south of the Catskills in New York and about and hour north of New York City. Sometimes I’ll just get in my car with a friend pick a direction and drive. There are plenty of interesting places to go in ones own back yard. Just about any place has interesting things to shot if you look with a keen eye and try to avoid the touristy type photos. Just because you find the area around where you live boring, does not mean that others do. Also, learn to find the interesting or unusual in that which is familiar. You might be surprised at some of the photographs you can add to your portfolio.


photo assignments Giving yourself photo assignments is a great way to improve your skills as a photographer. Not only are they fun, but you can track your improvements with a similar subject matter. Most photo schools give out assignments and then the instructors evaluate the work and offer constructive criticizism to the students. Not everyone has the time or money to go to school. Try to find another outlet for advice on improving your work. A good way is find a photography buddy, preferably one who is better than you. Don’t discount the advice from a layman. I consult my wife sometimes, because she knows good work from bad. If she does not like it, I re-examine the shot looking for ways to improve it. Photo clubs are a great way to meet other photographers. Most are hobbyists that sell their work now and then. Some are professionals. Almost all love to help novices grow and develop their talent. If you don’t like a particular group, then join another one. On my last trip to Italy, I gave myself the assignment of shooting doors in Tuscany. The people I went with thought I was a little nuts, but I had a lot of fun finding doors to shot. The hard part was selecting the few to add to my portfolio from the over 100 that turned into keepers. Some years ago, I shot sunsets in Aruba. Sometimes I do not intend to shoot one subject matter, but a particular locale may lend itself certain photographic opportunities.


epilogue There are many important areas that I did not touch on or elaborate; also there are lots ramblings that I could have condensed. I hope this was helpful or at least entertaining. If not, I hope you like the pictures. There are many great books and websites out there to explore, but the best way to learn is to get out there and just do it.


This collection of anecdotes and reflections describe an amateur photographer’s journey of rediscovering why photography is an incredibly fulfilling artistic outlet. Twenty-five years of anguish and self-doubt have given way to personal and artistic confidence. There is a little bit of opinion on many subjects related to photography, art and personal development. The self-deprecating humor of this book will amuse and maybe show other amateur photographers struggling with their own work, that they should stop worrying and learn to love their own photos.



Profile for victor vivaudou

Confessions of an Amateur Photographer  

This collection of anecdotes and reflections describes an amateur photographer’s journey of rediscovering why photography is an incredibly f...

Confessions of an Amateur Photographer  

This collection of anecdotes and reflections describes an amateur photographer’s journey of rediscovering why photography is an incredibly f...