Brian's Photo Blog — Article 211
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Fed Up With Photography!
Saturday 22 December 2012   —   Category: Thoughts
Fed up with photography? Did that title grab your attention? Isn’t it blasphemy to utter such words on a Web site dedicated to photography? Have I finally lost ALL my marbles?

Photographic enthusiasts, like all enthusiasts, tend to nourish their enthusiasm with many of the modern trappings available for such hobbies: clubs, courses, seminars, books, magazines, Web sites, forums, et cetera, et cetera. As enthusiasts, we long to totally immerse ourselves in the universe of our hobby, learning all about the latest techniques and equipment and opinions. If we can only acquire enough knowledge and experience, we will be able to excel at our hobby, and perhaps even become renowned for our exceedingly great abilities!

Slowly, imperceptibly, the passion for our hobby that we started out with becomes deformed into a passion for expertise in our hobby. For example, in the realm of photography, we can easily become more and more captivated by the need to achieve and compete in photography, rather than just enjoying photography in and of itself. It’s a subtle difference, and an equally subtle process that takes us from the one focus to the other.

We become consumed with thoughts such as: If only I could just get that one piece of expensive equipment, the quality of my photographs would rise to a whole nother level! If I could just sit at the feet of this or that photography master! If only I could win this or that competition, or have my work published in this or that magazine! Unfortunately, the quest to excel is never ending, and becomes more and more difficult as time goes on.

Before we realize what is happening, the trappings of photography are transformed into a trap, conspiring to keep us on the hamster wheel of performance and rivalry. Instead of continuing to serve these false gods, the time has come for me to fling myself from the hamster wheel and start again from scratch.

In order to regain my fizzled-out photographic passion, I’m going to be abandoning all the trappings and traps which have been sucking me dry over the past year or so. I've already quit the Corvallis Photography Meetup Club. And, oh, how I wish I could do so with the Valley Viewfinders Camera Club too! But I was silly enough to volunteer to be the Monochrome Print Chair for the club year, which means I’m in charge of the black and white photo competitions. Therefore I’m obligated to continue my participation through the end of June 2013. If I had been content to remain a regular member, I could have quit the club as of now — live and learn!

However, I will be taking some time off from Valley Viewfinders until the end of March. I plan on taking a community education course at Linn-Benton Community College, and the class meets on Thursday evenings, at the same time as the camera club. Because there are no black and white photo competitions at the club during this time, I will not be shirking any of my responsibilities during my absence. Also, I might be able to manage playing hooky at a meeting or two in April and May before I can finally disentangle myself at the end of June.

Magazines are next on the chopping block. During 2013, I’m going to let my subscriptions run out to the three photographic periodicals I currently receive: the British Photographic Monthly, the American Outdoor Photographer, and the British/American Cameracraft.

In the end, these magazine just confuse my mind, inflame my gadget-lust, encourage comparison and competition, and stir up feelings of envy and inferiority, among others. I don’t think they have really helped me become a better photographer, just a passionless, burnt-out one! They make me feel like the guy on this magazine cover, struggling to climb the pinnacle of photographic excellence — I need to get off that cliff before I fall off!

Then there are all my books about photography. In these magazines I’m weaning myself from, the famous photographers who write some of the articles invariably recount how they were aided in achieving greatness by studying the works of other famous photographers. So I have dutifully been putting together a modest collection of books by such “masters.” Unfortunately for me, I have not been very inspired by looking at their photos, nor have I thereby been catapulted to even a semblance of greatness! Instead — just like with the magazines — I’m more likely than not to be afflicted with feelings of envy and inferiority. On the other hand, there are some books of photographs I really enjoy looking at — not because I expect to be a better photographer by studying them, but simply because they are beautiful pictures.

I also have a number of books on the topic of photographic technique. One that I finished recently was Digital Landscape Photography by John and Barbara Gerlach. They have very strong opinions about the best way to take photos and use your equipment, but it didn’t take me too long to realize that you can’t believe everything you read!

For example, the Gerlachs say that you don’t need UV filters on your lenses to protect them from damage, and that the extra glass degrades the images. So I obediently took all the UV filters off my lenses, and then went out on a photographic outing with my unprotected lenses. To my horror, I found that the glass on some of my lenses was being marked or scratched by the plastic lens caps! Fortunately, as soon as I got home I was able to polish out the marks. Then I immediately put the UV filters on all my lenses, never to be removed again. I was very lucky that their bad advice didn’t cause the ruin of one of my expensive lenses!

The Gerlachs are also very strong proponents of the so-called back-button focusing. This is achieved by adjusting the settings on your camera so that pressing the shutter button down halfway no longer activates the auto-focus. Instead, the auto-focus is controlled by one of the programmable buttons on the back of many higher-end cameras. Both in their book and at their seminar I attended in November, they insisted emphatically that back-button focusing, using a tripod, and manual exposure are the techniques you should use for successful, efficient photography.

Well, that may be true for them, but it’s not true for everyone, and it’s definitely NOT true for me! As I have been using the Gerlach technique for a couple of months, I have found that it hinders my photography rather than helps it. I have a method that works for me, but I’m not trying to convert people to it, and I’m not telling them it’s the best way to take pictures. Once again, I have discovered the hard way that you can’t believe everything you read, and that you can’t blindly follow advice, even from photography “experts.”

In light of everything I have shared above, it shouldn’t be surprising that I have cancelled my five-day photography Yellowstone Snowmobile Tour next February, led by the Gerlachs. On such outings, they force the participants to use their methods of shooting, which, as I have recounted above, does not work for me at all. So why spend all that time, effort and money to subject myself to frustration and irritation, just so I can “learn” from “experts?” Of course, I will REALLY miss experiencing Yellowstone in the Winter, but that’s the way it goes sometimes.

In withdrawing from many of the trappings of photography — clubs and seminars, magazines and books — I hope to return to a pure and simple enjoyment of photography, without all the clutter. It could be that this desire is similar to that of Henry David Thoreau, who, as recounted in his famous book Walden, withdrew himself from the trappings of modern life for about two years in order to experience “a plain, simple life in radically reduced conditions.” Perhaps this quote from Thoreau applies to me as well:
If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer. Let him step to the music which he hears, however measured or far away.
UPDATE: I contacted the VVCC club president, and ask if he would release me from my responsibilites in the club now, rather than wearily plodding on until the end of June, seeing that my heart had already completely left the group. He graciously consented, so I’m starting off 2013 totally free of any camera club memberships!
Brian's Photo Blog — Article 211
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