Learning to take better photos – Part 1


My backstory:  It began in the 1970’s for me as a young boy watching my father take photos of all the significant events in my life: birthdays and Christmas day.  But with the cost of film only a few photos were collected of my formative years.  Every image tells a story though.  A little while later my dad began to collect SLR camera and his primary one was the Canon AE-1. He would carry this camera with him, along with a 70-300 mm zoom lens on backpacking trips (the camera body and 55mm lens alone weighed 590 g).  I marveled at the images of the backcountry he would return with.  Waiting with anticipation for the film to be process and a stack of prints to be delivered to the photo shop in the mall, photos were a marvelous way to tell and supplement the stories my dad would share about his adventures.  During high school I took graphic arts where we would roll our own film into canisters, head out into the school and take photos of objects and people at various settings, to return to the lab and enter the dark room.  What a magical experience to see the light capture on the film show up in the dark.   Then began the printing of these black and whites.  None of my photos were contest worthy, but I was really impressed by my ability to capture an image in a way that other wouldn’t see.

I have had a number of 35 mm film cameras since graduating high school.  Nothing in the SLR world as that was too expensive for me, but the point and shoot small cameras.  One of my goals then as it is now is to capture the sights of the places I would go.  My Nikon did not weigh much in comparison to dad’s Canon AE-1, but did have a small zoom lens built in.  On a weekend it was common for me to use a whole roll (36 exposures) on one outing or even for a day trip.  Fortunately my dad worked at London Drugs so I could justify processing film as he was able to get me a discount on it.  But still I had to consider my film economy.  Having little formal training I forged ahead trying to take panoramic pictures of mountain vistas by taking a series of images, then physically taping them together for display in my bedroom.

Years later after I was married, we bought our first digital camera.  How fantastic that you could see the newly captured image on the little screen on the back!  Do I need to take another as no one was smiling.  It was hard to tell on the little screen but a vast improvement over the 35mm counterpart I had just given up.  Some will now argue the benefits of analogue film over digital, and each has it’s place.  Today, I know of no one using analogue film, but remember it is 2016.  The digital camera was a great little device which could interface with a computer to download the images which were then sharable on a memory stick or through social media.  For me it when I joined Facebook in 2007 that digital photography began to have more meaning for me.  A picture is worth a thousand words.  Not long after I acquired my first smartphone with a camera.  What a cool little device but I couldn’t take very good  pictures with it, so I carried on using the stand alone device.  It was okay, until one day my camera was stolen from my truck.  Thus endeth a dedicated device.  From that point on I used my iPhone 3 and 4s for everyday family pics and capturing the scenery of our outings.  To the river for salmon fishing and hiking and kids in the backyard playing.  And the images started to get better once I accepted what my little 3mm focal length digital camera embedded in my iPhone could only do.  Then I would watch my friend Jeremy take pics with his similar device.  His pics were amazing.  What was his trick?  He is a very capable 35 mm and digital photographer.  So I would hangout with him and watch how he would use his camera and also photo editing software builtin to the iPhone and on his computer.

The trick, understanding how your camera functions and setting up the photo so as to be able to capture what you were seeing with your eye.  Apps are important for manipulating the image by adjusting contrast, brightness, highlights and such.  But more importantly is the ability to see something creative in the ordinary that is around us all the time.  That is taking time to smell the roses and also to take a picture of them.  Haha.

My photographic journey is still ongoing with my iPhone 6 which has a 8 megapixel camera and I’m enjoying taking pictures of things around me.  If I’m out fishing for the morning to walking with my wife about our neighborhood, my iPhone 6 goes with me.  It’s quite something to have a camera available to you all the time.  I take pics of everything.  People say to me, “why so many pictures Carpenter?” and my response, “with out them you can’t do anything with them later.”  So am I wasting electrons by taking so many pictures that aren’t getting used?  Maybe but that’s better than burning through rolls and rolls of 35 mm film.  But none is a waist as I enjoying sharing my view of the world with my friend and family.

Maybe later I’ll share some of my favorite photo apps and software with you.

Carpenter out!